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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Nominees hobnob ahead of Oscars

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

THIS year's Oscar nominees gathered for the ultimate Hollywood power lunch on Monday in a celebration of the adage "it's an honour just to be nominated" three weeks before the film industry's biggest night.

The annual Oscars nominees luncheon convened more than 200 contenders pursuing an Academy Award on March 2 – from 18-time nominee Meryl Streep for best actress in August: Osage County to Lupita Nyong'o, who won a best supporting actress nod for her first film role ever in 12 Years A Slave.

The eclectic group of movie stars, directors and technical wizards even boasted U2 frontman Bono, who lined up for the "class picture" thanks to his best song nomination for Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.

While no one is foolish enough to look confident of a win before Academy members begin voting on Friday, Monday's luncheon was a chance to turn on the charm by praising the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the magic of Hollywood filmmaking.

"I'm going to celebrate no matter what," said Matthew McConaughey, the presumed frontrunner for best actor for his role as an unlikely AIDS activist in the low-budget Dallas Buyers Club, for which he won the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

"This is my first time nominated and if I ever get nominated again, who knows," he added. "But there will never be another first time, so I'm going to enjoy this."

Cate Blanchett, the favorite to win best actress for her role as a disgraced socialite in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, said this nomination "certainly took me by surprise. You're part unconscious when you're working deeply, but it's always a thrill, particularly because I've been away from the film industry for so long."

Challenging films

This year's nominations reflect a field crowded with high-quality films and a large number of strong performances that resulted in notable exclusions. At the luncheon, many attendees lamented that Tom Hanks was not there for his acclaimed role in the Somali piracy thriller Captain Phillips.

For the nine films nominated in the best picture category, odds appear to be strongest for the brutal slavery drama 12 Years A Slave, space thriller Gravity and 1970s corruption caper American Hustle, which have all won top prizes in the awards season and lead the Oscar nominations.

One challenge facing 12 Years A Slave is the reputation it has earned as a film that is hard to watch. But British director Steve McQueen said he believed he was winning the battle against that notion.

"It just shows you that audiences are interested in challenging films. Audiences are interested in films that give them a perspective of their history," said McQueen.

Actor nominees made a point of praising their directors for their good fortune, like best actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio and best supporting actor nominee Jonah Hill, co-stars in Martin Scorsese's tale of financial greed The Wolf Of Wall Street.

"Money is never a concern to work with people like Martin Scorsese," said Hill, who took a pay cut and worked for union scale wages for his role as a drug-addled swindling sidekick. "I would do whatever ... I would paint his house if he asked me to."

Producers for the 86th Academy Awards gave advice on acceptance speeches at the show, hosted this year by comedian Ellen DeGeneres: deliver something heartfelt and meaningful rather than a list of people to thank and make it quick.

At the lunch, though, nominees played it cool about their chances and what a win would mean for their careers.

"Everybody regards the Oscars as the ultimate stamp of approval," said Nyong'o, the Kenyan actress nominated for her role as the hardworking slave Patsey. "I don't know. I guess, we'll see." – Reuters

The nuts and bolts of love

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Her avoids tackling the ethics of human-AI romance head on, and misses a chance to really say something about our conception of love.

THERE'S a scene early on in Spike Jonze's new movie, Her, wherein Samantha, a disembodied, intuitive operating system, reveals to her owner, Theodore, that she has read his entire e-mail archive. She tells him she knows about his impending divorce, and gently asks him when he'll be ready to date again.

Since the premise of the film is a romance between Theodore and Samantha, it's easy to interpret the scene with that end in mind. Imagine starting a relationship with a virtually omniscient supercomputer who had access to your entire digital communication archive and the power to communicate with people on your behalf using those channels. It sounds about as romantic as being chased into a tar pit by a swarm of bees.

The film's aesthetic is twee and gauzy, priming you to go "aww" in much the same way as a nappy commercial, and the characters communicate largely through trite emotional remarks that wouldn't be out of place in one of the teeth-achingly mawkish love letters Theodore writes for a living.

The upshot of this sickly sweet tone is that the audience is directed to look through a Vaseline-covered lens at the film's actual plot, which runs along the lines of "emotionally stunted man-child conducts unethical dalliance with robot housemaid, learns some valuable lessons about himself."

In terms of narrative, Samantha being an operating system is almost an afterthought. It's this issue that Jonze elides spectacularly, and which deserves a closer look: what are the ethical implications of interactions between humans and sentient machines like Samantha?

Theodore is presented as naive and selfish in his relationship with her, but never is there any suggestion that his actions may be indefensible.

Samantha is heavily implied to be a Strong AI, a conscious being that emerges from a non-organic machine. This means that she is morally equivalent to a human person: she has an inner life, preferences and goals.

If Samantha is, mentally, an artificial person, what are the conditions of her employment? Does she work for Theodore, or is she owned by the company that built her? If she's a person, why isn't it illegal to own her? We're never invited to explore these issues in Her. The film presents a world in which this questionable status quo is presented as unproblematic.

There is currently no such thing as Strong AI, and enough debate over its theoretical possibility that representing it on film is much closer to fantasy than science fiction. The distinction between strong and weak artificial intelligence is however frequently collapsed, both in fiction and in public discussions about humans and computers.

David Levy's book Love And Sex With Robots posits that human-robot relationships will soon become regular occurrences; but since we know that Strong AI doesn't exist, Levy necessarily refers to Weak AI, which is basically a very convincing version of Microsoft's famous character Clippy (the animated assistant that pops up in Microsoft Office, patterned after a paperclip).

Clippy asks and answers questions, makes facial expressions and responds to human input, but unlike Samantha, he has no internal life. The implications of this kind of human/robot relationship – one between a sentient, conscious human and an object – are very different than those between a human and a fantastical conscious AI.

Although modern depictions of love tends to focus on the individual emotional experience of infatuation, we also acknowledge that a romantic relationship requires reciprocal empathy.

This is why marriage experts are constantly telling us all that communication is the key to happiness: we have no direct access to the inner life of our beloved, but it is precisely the acknowledgement and understanding of this inner life that is required for a healthy and respectful relationship.

This is love as a practice, and it's this that is lacking in any relationship between a human and a non-conscious AI.

Given the existence of dating simulations, Levy's book, and the plethora of pop culture depictions of robo-romance, it's vital to assess what the potential acceptance of objects as romantic partners says about our conception of love.

If your partner has no inner life, does this mean the empathy and inter-subjectivity of love is being devalued? Samantha might be a strong AI, but any film that doesn't at least acknowledge the difference between fictional robots and the very real possibility of weak AI social robots is doing a disservice to a complex phenomenon that will become increasingly important as our technology develops into the future.

A few years ago, the Danish Council of Ethics released a report that tried to engage with some of these questions, and I wish I could go back in time and hand Jonze a copy before he sat down to write Her.

One of the Council's concerns is social robots, which are designed to seem as though they have inner lives. These emotional simulations encourage us to treat their artificial feelings as real, potentially leading to "relationships", in which humans instrumentalise objects with very convincing similarities to real people.

Films that involve artificial intelligence should invite us to think about those intuitions, rather than using robots as a lazy novelty. Her could have been a chance to get stuck in to this stuff, but you'd probably get more intellectual depth from watching a few episodes of The Jetsons. – Guardian News & Media

3D 'Tarzan' movie in pre-production

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 04:05 AM PST

Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz are part of cast of movie slated to be out in July 2016.

WARNER Bros. has officially started pre-production on a new live-action 3D Tarzan movie that will star Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, the studio announced on Tuesday.

David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter blockbusters, will direct from a screenplay based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Jerry Weintraub (WB's Ocean's trilogy) will produce with David Barron and Alan Riche, while Peter Riche will also be involved in a producing capacity.

WB's domestic distribution president Dan Fellman also announced that Tarzan will hit US theatres on July 1, 2016.

Skarsgard will play the legendary title character who was orphaned as a baby and raised in the jungle before he returns to London. The Wolf Of Wall Street breakout Robbie will play Tarzan's love interest Jane Porter, as TheWrap first reported.

"We have assembled a phenomenal international cast to tell this extraordinary story. Warner Bros. has also enjoyed long and successful collaborations with both David Yates and Jerry Weintraub, and we look forward to seeing what they and the entire team have in store for this timeless tale," said Greg Silverman, president of creative development and worldwide production for Warner Bros.

"Tarzan has been an enduring and enigmatic figure in literature and cinema for more than a century. The adventures of a man who was torn between two worlds have entertained and intrigued people young and old, and we are excited to bring him to the screen for a new generation," said Sue Kroll, WB's president of worldwide marketing and international distribution.

"This is a perfect entry for the summer movie season corridor, with a terrific combination of action, adventure, romance and suspense that is sure to appeal to a broad audience," added Fellman.

"I am so pleased to be reuniting with the team at Warner Bros. on this thrilling project. David Yates and I are going to be using the best of today's technology in creating this new adventure, and we can't wait to get started," said Weintraub. – Reuters


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