ANALYSIS/REVIEW: ON SPIKE JONZE’S “HER”

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Speculative science-fiction is very fascinating. Often, creative visions of the future entail new visions of transportation, shiny avant-garde and all expansive cityscapes; perhaps artificial intelligence has been perfected as well. Some visions of the future include dystopian nightmares or utopian dreams. Spike Jonze’s Her takes a subtly different approach. Set in an uncannily near future (televisions, computers and smartphones have simply gotten smaller and the cities look a little nicer), the film’s biggest and most important speculation may just be one small detail that may be overlooked by many casual viewers – Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore, makes a living writing personalized letters and messages for and between other people. This little tidbit plays into the larger themes of the film, one that deals with the fact that for every advance in the world and technology that communication between people is forever indispensable but can become a lost art and skill during the development of society. After all, what good are all of these advances in telecommunications if people simply can’t tell one another what’s on their mind, let alone understand each other?

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THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS (WORST) IN 2013 FILMS

I love movies. There are what are traditionally thought up as “bad” movies, filled with technical incompetence, odd acting choices and even middle of the road films that nobody cares about. Some movies are just “awful” enough to actually be enjoyable and entertaining in a sort of junk food level. I’ve already gone at length about how weird movie reviews are, but “WORST Movies” lists are pretty damn weird as well. Some movies are expectedly bad but their ambition was pretty low to begin with and listing only those would be like making a list of worst restaurants and only including Arby’s.

Instead I’m listing ten of the most DISAPPOINTING movies of the year (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER). Disappointment can often be worse for viewers than outright bad. These are cases when a film fails to do what it sets out to do and most of these might just simply fail to entertain.

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2013 WAS THE BEST YEAR FOR MOVIES (SO FAR)

Maybe “best” is a bit much, but there was certainly a noticeable abundance of acclaimed films in 2013, and more so than others.

At the end of every year and the beginning of the next everyone from serious critics to the random passerby begins to form a “top list” of the movies they had seen. It is a celebration of the merits of the films we enjoy and a means of people to have fun comparing and contrasting each experience they had at the movies. It’s not so much that these lists are some deep evaluation, but rather an entertaining way to group the stuff we like. While MY list summarizes my thoughts on SOME of the best films of the year, I will indeed be going more in-depth on most of these as we head towards award season, and when “spoilers” generally won’t be an issue.

So here are 10 movies (in no particular order) that HELPED make the case for 2013 as a strong year for films: 

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WHY ARE REVIEWS SO WEIRD?!!!!

Movie reviews are a strange beast.

If you ask someone on the street, usually the word that comes to mind on reviews of anything from food and fashion to movies and music: CRITICISM. Actual reviews however, as they exist today are just plain odd. There is something inherently wrong with most reviews of every artistic and entertainment medium but not many people actually talk about it. Of course there are the obvious things like the fabled “author bias” and perhaps many reviews seem to be filled with varying degrees of insight and information that is often provided without context. THE REAL PROBLEM with reviews is actually that they are part of an artistic discourse where the readers or audiences are almost always at a disadvantage I.E. THEY HAVE NOT YET EXPERIENCED THE WORK THAT IS BEING TALKED ABOUT. IT’S A CONVERSATION OF EVALUATION WHEN THE READER IS AT A DISTINCT DISADVANTAGE. This puts the author of the review in the position where they must often dance around the subject at hand and again provide little to no true analysis or context on what they are writing about. Many reviews, especially those of immensely hyped and marketed franchise pieces (be they a videogame, movie, TV show or play) read like a hollow game of constant innuendos were upon which an author must:

1) EITHER LIE OR OBFUSCATE PLOT POINTS.

2) REMOVE ALL DRAMATIC IMPACT FROM THE NARRATIVE BY PUTTING IT ALL IN THE FORM OF DRY EXPLANATION.

Think about every time a reviewer ever uses the term “twist.” They have now just set up prospective audience expectations that effectively make any sort of surprise less impactful, perhaps even meaningless. Criticism, analysis and reviews are all mediums by which people are able to converse about the arts however reviews are largely one-sided conversation. They are supposed to be, and even though that carries a lot of potential problems, it’s not so much that reviewers need to be worried about spoilers but rather recognizing that you experience movies in a vastly different context from those who read the reviews. Reviewers tend to put what they discovered or experienced from a work and they instruct those ideas to the reader in terms of written word and conclusion pre-destination. This even just stems from the common experience of having just seen a movie or something before other people have – IT MAKES THE CONVERSATION YOU WANT TO HAVE ABOUT IT IMPOSSIBLE. In the end, the ideal way to review a film, TV show or game for people who haven’t experienced would just be a simple recommendation or not. Reviews as they tend to exist now are not bad things; a key thing for people reading reviews to understand is that instead of just flooding the comment thread with opinions on things they haven’t experienced yet is that they need to re-contextualize their understanding of reviews. They should perhaps just go out to experience the subject for themselves

Maybe we as fans, audiences and critics alike have just gotten used to the way reviews are, as well as our relationships with them. Many times people walk into movies with certain expectations, often perpetuated by reviews they’ve read or comments from peers. These expectations inevitably color people’s perceptions as to what they’re experience with a certain work may and even should be. Every so often however, people go to see stuff like movies “blind.” Maybe they’ve briefly seen a trailer or poster, maybe they’ve heard about it from a friend. Often watching a movie with little to no expectations can be a much more enjoyable experience than seeing one after reading a myriad of reviews, watching trailers, clips etc. Somehow, the desire for a review has become mere placation for experiencing the actual work itself. People are curious! They want to know what they’re in for or what happens in the latest installment of the series they like. Unfortunately this leads to a very strange feeling when people finish reviews. It’s like they got to experience a work of art like a movie, but through someone else’s perspective and not in its entirety. Still, reviews themselves are integrated in the marketing for certain works and the cycle continues.

It’s understandable that reviews are the way they are given the costs of both time and money for any given piece of media. Reviews can often act as buying guides of sorts! Think of all the times you’ve said to yourself “MAN THAT MOVIE SUCKED!!! I’LL NEVER GET THOSE 2 HOURS BACK!” Reviews can definitely benefit the “on the fence” audience member who is tentative and cautious about the media they consume. There is still a danger of detracting from the experience of fully immersing oneself into a work of art/media however. Approaching a creative work “blind” is truly the purest form of experiencing it. EVERY conversation you later have about a work is much more fulfilling and engaging when it’s with others who have also experienced that work because no one is at a disadvantage.

Reviews are really weird, and they lead to issues with prospective audiences to certain works but that’s really no fault on their own or the critics themselves. The issue is how people understand reviews and what they mean to them. Ideally, a review should offer thoughts and ideas that will best help prospective audiences to best experience something (whether it’s good OR bad). If the person reading (or watching) a review has not yet experienced the creative work, that means that instead of mentioning plot and other details in-depth but rather to give weight to providing a sense of CONCEPTUAL understanding to the MECHANISMS behind a creative work. An ideal review not only recommends a work but puts people in the right mind-set to experience it. The REAL conversation begins later.