Her

January 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
Directed by: Spike Jonze (“Where the Wild Things Are,” “Being John Malkovich”)
Written by: Spike Jonze (“Where the Wild Things Are”)

The last decade of technological advances have irreversibly altered the way we humans communicate. Regular old cell phones were one thing—their ubiquity in the early 2000s led to a society where we were just a phone call away at all times. Smartphones, however, have created a culture wherein we’re connected every second of the day. From the dependable old text message to the messenger program Facebook shoved down our mobile throats to push notifications from apps like Instagram and Twitter, most people live their lives in a state of constant connectivity. Even as we go about our lives, we’re living another life online.

“Her,” from quiet genius Spike Jonze, imagines a not-too-distant future where such sought-after tech like artificial intelligence has become commonplace enough to be available for the average Joe’s personal computer. A lonely professional letter writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) downloads his copy, which boots up as a female and names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As Samantha grows and adapts, her relationship with Theodore deepens to the point of genuine love.

Writer/director Jonze could have easily made “Her” into an unsubtle indictment of the isolated way we live our lives today: noses buried in our smartphones, constantly communicating via Facebook and other social networks in lieu of real personal contact, to the point we’d be foolish enough to think an online relationship could take the place of real human interaction. Instead Jonze veers the other way and creates accepting and believable world wherein a lonely man can fall in love with an artificially intelligent operating system and have it be seen as the natural evolution of human relationships, not the laughable misadventures of a sad sack.

Bad Grandpa

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll
Directed by: Jeff Tremaine (“Jackass,” “Jackass Number Two”)
Written by: Johnny Knoxville (debut), Jeff Tremaine (debut) and Spike Jonze (“Where the Wild Things Are”)

When the history books are written on popular culture in the early 21st century, MTV’s “Jackass” TV and film series will likely be remembered as its currently thought of by the general public: a bunch of stupid guys recording themselves doing stupid and/or gross stunts, spawning legions of dimwitted (read: teenage male) copycats. That would be a shame, though, since lead Jackass Johnny Knoxville and his band of co-conspirators gleefully cook up intricate and anarchic pranks and stunts you can’t help but giggle at. Yeah, they often end with someone getting covered in vomit or smacked in the nuts, but they make it look fun.

One of the standout segments in the series featured a character named Irving Zisman, an 86-year-old man played by Knoxville in heavy makeup, now expanded to feature-length in “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.” Crotchety and hapless, Zisman is charged with driving his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) across the country to stay with his father in the paper-thin plot. Along the way, Zisman and his grandson interact with an unsuspecting public, cameras capturing the genuine reactions of real people as they see what they think is an old man load his dead wife into the trunk of his car or get his penis jammed in a vending machine.

If this formula sounds familiar, well, it is. Sacha Baron Cohen seemingly pumped the well dry with “Borat” and “Bruno,” but Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine end up avoiding the biting satire Baron Cohen went for and instead freshen up the formula with some genuine sweetness and heart.  The character of Zisman isn’t designed to expose awfulness or hatred a la Borat. Knoxville and company just think it’s funny as hell. And with the majority of “Bad Grandpa,” they’re absolutely right. Jokes falling flat are par for the course in films like this, but the gags that do hit will have you rolling. The penis in the vending machine mentioned earlier scores early (and makes you wonder who would want to ever look at a cell phone pic someone took of an old man’s wiener in Coke machine), and a farting contest between Zisman and Billy ends with a disgusting-yet-hilarious explosion of poop.

The real gem in the whole endeavor, though, is Nicoll. He’s such a marvelous straight man to Knoxville’s  antics, you’ll half wonder if he even realizes this is all a big fake out. A scene where Nicholl’s Billy happens upon a patient stranger and insists the man is his new father is funny and gentler than you’d expect, and the outrageous “Little Miss Sunshine” inspired finale turns the chubby boy into an eerily convincing pageant girl with moves better suited to a strip club. Knoxville’s cover may be blown to the point that Irving Zisman will never be able to resurface again, but at least the old man got a nice send off.

Where the Wild Things Are

October 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Max Records, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”)
Written by: Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) and Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”)
 
Not since director Alfonso Cuarón’s “A Little Princess” in 1995 has a film captured the vastness of a child’s emotional scope than Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” Based on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, the film is an artistic and extraordinarily expressive fantasy that evokes the complexities of life through a misunderstood nine-year-old boy named Max (Max Records).
 
Max is angry. His igloo fortress has been demolished by his older sister’s friends, his science teacher just announced to his class that sometime in the distant future the sun is going to die, and the family dog won’t stay put long enough for Max to get him in a good headlock.
 
Max’s resentment boils over when his mother (Catherine Keener) seems more interested in spending time with her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) rather than going upstairs to look at the bed-sheet fort he has built in his room. The snub prompts Max to toss on his wolfish pajamas and cause a dysfunctional family scene in front of his mother’s company.
 
Enraged, Max runs out of the house and through the neighborhood until he reaches a rickety sailboat that will inevitably wash up on the shore of a dreamlike island inhabited by a pack of, well, wild things.

The creatures, portrayed fantastically by visionary director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) and Jim Henson Shop designers, stomp, growl, and destroy things with the best of them, but there’s also a softer side to these characters that enhances Sendak’s nine-sentenced book. Not long before Max makes his introduction to them, the wild things crown him king after his exaggerated storytelling impresses them. The script, penned by Jonze and Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”), bristles with well-written dialogue as Max holds casual conversations during his stay on the island.

Each furry beast has his or her own personality and shares some of those traits with Max. All of them are disheartened in some way, including Carol (James Gandolifini), who is to Max what the Scarecrow was to Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Their bond grows as Max instructs all the monsters to – brace yourself for the main plot of the film – build a colossal fort where they can all live together as one big family.

The storyline, however, isn’t what makes “Wild Things” one of the most remarkable and daring family films of the last decade (although one could argue most kids are really not going to be able to wrap their heads around the more philosophical scenes in the movie). Instead, it’s Jonze’s seamless attention to the affecting relationships Max is experiencing in his parallel worlds that makes “Wild Things” truly memorable.

The entire film speaks on a metaphorical level that is imaginative and disturbing. There’s no easy answer to the sadness Max or the wild things are feeling. Jonze and Eggers don’t pretend to have one either.  At his core, Max just wants to feel safe. It’s unexpected that he would find this amongst animals who, at any given time, could swallow him whole or crush him as they horseplay.

Minimal in delivery and heavy on melancholy and themes related to loneliness and sorrow, “Wild Things,” which took more than five years to complete, is worth every second Jonze spent creating this new classic tale. It’s far removed from Hollywood and is every bit hopeful and painful as the most perceptive mind could imagine.