I guess it's rare these days to see visions of the future that are not down beat dystopias. The popular worn out aesthetic from Brazil and Blade Runner is used a lot, and all these worlds are created where technology is everywhere yet has it never been cleaned and nobody owns anything that looks new. You can use flying cars but no-one seems to own a decent light-bulb. Outside of thematic reasons and storylines, the idea of the high tech meeting low living standards serves a strict purpose; those run down apartments some how feel realistic despite it being an unlikely outcome for people that always want the latest thing. So with Spike Jonze's latest offering it's unusual to see a different type of grounded reality - the glimpses of new technology are background details and subtle changes in fashion. It's hardly Star Trek, but unless you consider the idea of sentient iPhones and motion controls in videogames being normality disturbing it's not really a bleak outlook. While this is a world where bright colours, high pants and mustaches are in fashion, at the heart it's simply a story about the distance between people in a time where social media does anything but bring us closer. And yes, it's a romance involving a guy and a computer.
Joaquin Phoenix is social outcast Theodore. This isn't because of some deep rooted cliché problem, but that he is going through a divorce - he's losing what he feels is important, and struggles to get involved with existing friends. Instead he's absorbed in his work - in the most on the nose aspect of the story he works for a company that writes letters for people. They may use wireless, voice activated cell phones and flashy computers but now they talk to each other even less. Someone else composes their romantic letters, and their personal family matters are now in the hands of a writer. Things have become hands free and hands off - so when an operating system that features a new intelligence arrives on the market, it seems perfectly plausible that these consumers will become hooked and develop friendships with them. I think only one person in the whole story even blinks an eye at his newly formed romance; his ex wife who feels that Theodore is unwilling to deal with real people. In a way she's right of course, but it questions the idea of what is real as the computer systems advance and mature so rapidly. It challenges this idea as the human half of the couple begins to seem selfish and the artificial personality grows beyond it's physical restraints.
Initially I was a little disappointed that this wasn't in the vein of Jonze's oddball drama Being John Malkovich. It does have a sly sense of humour but isn't in line with that strange world with all the weird characters and fantasy elements. This is more of a companion to his sad robot short I'm Here - a melancholy, romantic character piece. Phoenix is very good as someone having to act in reaction to a bodiless voice and the supporting cast includes Chris Pratt and Amy Adams as his surprisingly relaxed friends as they too learn about this new girlfriend and the operating system itself as it becomes more widespread. Of course equal credit has to go to Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Samantha. They pull of the idea of a real relationship really well as things go through the expected ups and downs as well as the problems of a character without a physical form; ultimately build to a conclusion which is the most sci-fi part of the story. This is also a great looking film with a lot of striking design work and a handful of small futuristic elements that are downplayed. But this sums the story up, a drama that is pretty on the outside but has a lot of food for thought under the surface.
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (2011)
One of the few real life documentaries that I have seen in a long time, this surprising movie is something I happened across online just recently (shout out to Scott C's Great Showdowns). The subject matter is really interesting, as master of sushi Jiro Ono and his life are explored. This includes his dreams of course, and yes the title is correct; but they also take time to discuss his ideals and the standards of perfection he is still committed to furthering. The food all looks amazing thanks to some neat photography techniques, even for those without a taste for raw tuna and wasabi it's worth a look. A dry sense of humour and a few somber moments of reflection on life choices and career building help it have a varied tone that is always fascinating.