Her

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

22 August

 

Storm botnet maximum, 2007

Today marks the day when, in 2007, activity by the Storm Worm Trojan horse reached its maximum. Having been identified in January 2007, the worm spread via emails with catchy subject lines such as “230 dead as storm batters Europe”. Once the recipient had clicked on it, the Trojan horse would go to work, replicating itself and emailing itself out to others as spam. No one is really sure where the Trojan horse came from – some suggest the US, others Russia – but it was designed to work on Microsoft Windows systems, turning each infected one into a bot. The network of bots, once established, takes orders from servers whose domain names change frequently. These servers also frequently re-encode the worm, making detection difficult. This makes the botnet efficient at both attack and defence; it can “know” when it is being attacked by anti-virus investigators and can even deny them access to the internet, taking them out of the game. It is estimated that on 22 August 2007 this activity reached a maximum, with 57 million infected messages being sent out in a single day. The Storm botnet went into decline in late 2008, though it probably wasn’t as a result of Microsoft’s efforts to flush out the virus with security updates, more likely it was the result of tools like Stormfucker (a “white” or “ethical” worm), which effectively uses the Storm Worm’s own protocols to make it disinfect itself.

 

 

 

Her (2013, dir: Spike Jonze)

Having read an article about a web application called Cleverbot, which uses algorithms to have conversations with humans, Spike Jonze decided the idea would be ideal for a film. Her is that film, the story of a guy who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. And it with him, or so it seems. The guy is played by Joaquin Phoenix and the OS’s voice is provided by Scarlett Johansson. And it all starts so easily, Phoenix’s Theodore deciding to buy the “world’s first artificial intelligence operating system”, and at first being amazed as it/she starts sorting out his life, decluttering, adding entries to his diary, getting his life back on track. To make his life more efficient the OS starts asking questions about Theodore’s likes and dislikes, wishes and desires. The recently divorced single man (day job: writing emotional messages for other people’s significant “together” moments) and the OS start to get to know each other. Gradually, this turns into something more personal. In as much as he can, Jonze makes Her a traditional romance – the meet cute, the walks in the park, the mad sex, the first argument, the flaming row, the break-up. Some of this he has to finesse slightly and force into a box it doesn’t quite want to go into (it’s the walk in the walk in the park rather than the sex which sat ill with me) but you can’t deny that Jonze is doing it absolutely straight. This is no comedy, no freak show, but an exploration of a human relationship with a thing which isn’t human – though the extent to which it isn’t human (or is) is definitely territory that writer/director Jonze is all over.
What sort of a world would it be where such a relationship was possible? Jonze builds it convincingly – it looks hi-tech (much of it is Shanghai), the fashions are different (high waisted trousers seem to be in), realistic 3D video games are the sort of recreation a man comes home to after a day at the office. But for the most part it’s a world of recognisable humans and recognisable relationships – we have already seen Theodore having phone sex with someone called SexyKitten (voiced by Kristen Wiig, whose “choke me with a cat”, shouted in the throes of a well simulated orgasm, is worth a snort).
Talking of orgasms, the fact that Johansson replaced Samantha Morton as the voice of the OS – in post-production, Morton having done the whole film from inside a padded plywood box – might have something to do with ScarJo’s sexy rasp. I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past Morton to be able to purr with the best of them – she can do most things – but Johansson is the perfect choice and the film marks out the beginning of her sudden moment as the go-to woman for sci-fi oddness – Under the Skin and Lucy were both just a moment away.
It’s a simple film, a romance, with a conceit that Jonze follows right through to the end, and there’s no point detailing all the plot – though there is even an attractive, real human girl next door (Amy Adams) who Theodore doesn’t take any notice of because he’s so infatuated with this unattainable woman/machine/thing. Watching Jonze play through these film clichés is actually the point of Her. Does an extended joke need to be two hours long? Absolutely not. There’s a better, punchier 90 minute film in here somewhere. But Jonze didn’t make that film, so let’s enjoy the one he did make.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Another great everyman performance by Joaquin Phoenix
  • The peripheral casting (Kristen Wiig, Amy Adam, Olivia Wilde)
  • Scarlett Johansson’s note perfect performance
  • The cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Her – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

12 September

 

 

Johnny Cash dies, 2003

 

On this day in 2003, Johnny Cash died, aged 71. A star from the mid-50s, after discharge from the army, until his death, the baritone Cash was known as a country singer though unlike many a country act he was a Christian who aligned himself with the sinners rather than the saints. Dressing in black rather than the more ostenatious garb favoured by country compadres, he was also unusual for the way he publically acknowledged the breadth of his taste – he made an album with Bob Dylan in the 1960s, his two-season TV show in the late 60s featured the likes of Joe Tex (soul), Neil Diamond (pop), Louis Armstrong (jazz), Joni Mitchell (folk) and the Staples Singers (gospel) alongside the more expected country names such as Tammi Wynette and Merle Haggard. Later he’d team up with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, sing with U2, cover Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus. His last hit before he died was a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, the accompanying video a painfully honest acknowledgement of impending death. After the late-career renaissance masterminded by producer Rick Rubin, it made him popular all over again by concentrating on his real asset – his voice.

 

Walk the Line (2005, dir: James Mangold)

Biopics often flop about like a landed fish, gasping for a throughline. Not Walk the Line – it decides early on that it’s going to tell the story of Johnny Cash through the narrative of his romance with June Carter, and sticks to that decision, tucking all the biographical business – and Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis – round the edges. It has three other real pluses – Reese Witherspoon as the hyper-optimistic June Carter, Joaquin Phoenix as the man in black, and the input of T Bone Burnett as honcho in charge of music. In many ways similar to the previous year’s Ray, the biopic of Ray Charles, it paints its hero as a troubled individual with a dead brother choking up his conscience and a tendency to reach for drugs to celebrate the good times and to dull the bad. Jamie Foxx is probably a more convincing Ray Charles than Joaquin Phoenix is a Johnny Cash – Phoenix doesn’t have the baritone. What he does have is Cash’s mannerisms, his stance, the same cast of shoulder and his way of swinging the guitar behind his back. And let’s not forget that Phoenix is playing the complex Johnny Cash, a sinner in his own mind, a reprobate in some ways, but from some angles a man of a heroic cast who did what he did and wasn’t swayed by others. He walked the line.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Reese Witherspoon coasting to an Oscar
  • A soundtrack full of little known country, gospel and blues gems
  • Is it Joaquin singing or is it Johnny?

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Walk the Line – at Amazon