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Her • Paranormal Activity:

The Marked Ones

January 9, 2014

Her (***) R

Not counting his latest endeavor, it gives one pause for thought that Spike Jonze has directed only four films in the last 15 years. Those previous films, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are, were unmistakably the work of a man with a unique vision, one who transports viewers to worlds that most filmmakers would not risk taking their audience.

Perhaps that’s why Jonze tends to work at such a leisurely pace, only settling on a project when it feels totally right to his sensibilities, as he’s stated in interviews. There is undeniably a level of passion inherent in all of Jonze’s films, uniting his body of work. That sense of indescribable uniqueness is certainly one reason, and there are others, why Jonze’s new film Her fits nicely in the pantheon of his previous work and will certainly bring much cinematic joy to Jonze’s legion of diehard fans.

The premise of Her is deceptively simple. In a not-to-distant society, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a social misfit who pens greeting cards for a living, falls in love with his highly advanced computer operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and referred to in the film as Samantha.

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

If one were unaware of Spike Jonze and his films, the premise of Her sounds like something that would be probably played for comedy.  Truth told, in a lesser filmmaker’s hands broad comedy is the goal that would have been sought with this premise but Jonze is not that type of filmmaker. He directs the film with a serious dramatic tone while injecting some humor from time to time but never losing sight of the story’s larger implications.  The result is a mostly satisfying one with a small exception.

There was a certain emotional iciness permeating the proceedings from to time.  Jonze’s films have always been known more for their outrageous premises than their emotional core and Her fits into the filmmaker’s body of work in that way as well. There are some touching scenes to be sure, but for some reason the emotional connectedness that I was expecting based on the film’s trailers never seemed to materialize in the way that I had hoped. For some viewers the experience may prove to be a bit different, however, and I will concede that point.

One of the main strengths in the film is the inspired casting of Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore. In some ways I saw his character as a logical extension of Freddie Quell, the role he embodied in his last major film The Master. There’s a certain quirkiness that Phoenix possesses that really make characters such as Quell and Theodore identifiable to the audience. This certainly makes Her sing in some of its best moments. Johansson, though never seen in the film, fills the role in of Samantha in a most convincing way, conveying the romantic longing the part calls for. There’s much to embrace in Her and although it isn’t exactly the home-run I was hoping for, it is certainly one of the most interesting films released during a very crowded holiday season. 

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (* 1/2) R

I’ll let you in on an idea I have. It’s not an earth shattering one, mind you, but one that I think might work. You see this idea came to me while being subjected to the latest found-footage opus The Marked Ones, a Latino flavored spin-off of the Paranormal Activity franchise. I’ve noticed that in nearly all of these films the audience is forced to sit for over an hour of exposition, being forced to spend time with characters that have as much depth as a stop sign in the interim. This ‘character development’ obviously isn’t something the intended audience for these films cares about to begin with. My task would be for the filmmakers to come up with one of these found-footage films that actually deliver a scare without forcing the audience to sit in anticipation for over an hour.  As it stands, The Marked Ones follows that well-worn template of setting up the audience with fake scares and plot-filler—I counted two false scares less than twenty minutes in—before subjecting them to what the filmmakers feel is a valid payoff. In the case of The Marked Ones it’s a lame payoff at best, so there’s no reason why the creators of these film shouldn’t just start bludgeoning the audience over the head right from the get-go.

The Marked Ones seems to be pinning its hopes on tapping into the Latino market that supports horror films, a niche that, frankly, I wasn’t sure existed.  Perhaps some sort of testing and research might have given the filmmakers ample evidence that this particular ethnic group frequents fright flicks on a regular basis. If so, it’s something that I happened to miss. Nevertheless, a better film might have worked wonders in wooing that audience.

Oooh! Scary! ‘The Marked Ones’

The plot is the typical uninspired, low-brow sort of thing that seems to appear like clockwork every year on the first weekend in January (Devil Inside and Texas Chainsaw 3-D are two recent and glaring examples). Here we have a high school grad, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), first developing superpowers and then behaving badly after a neighbor lady turns out to be a witch and is found dead. Jesse’s buddy (Jorge Diaz) totes a camera around and chronicles all of the otherworldly goings on, most of which will scare you about as much as your drunken uncle at the family Christmas get-together.

Supposedly, there’s a new Paranormal Activity outing heading to screens in the fall but if The Marked Ones is a prelude of things to come, I’m not so sure I’m eager to be there. Perhaps, like so many other things, Paranormal Activity has just run its course. And that’s saying something considering that the series never was that scary to begin with.

Her opens this Friday, January 10, at the Carmike in Hickory. ‘The Marked Ones’ is playing at the Carmike and elsewhere in the area.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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