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Review – Her (15) [2014]

Her - header

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Spike Jonze – Being John Malkovich, Where The Wild Things Are, Pretty Sweet, Choose You

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Owen Pallett – The Box, The Wait

Over the last two decades, technology has taken on a greater and more controlling part of everyday life for people. From transportation to computers to sophisticated mobile phones, it is almost impossible to imagine a time when mankind lived without technology virtually running our lives. But can technology go further? Can people develop feelings for technology as if it were a complex person? This is what Spike Jonze’s impressive, if strange, indie romantic comedy Her explores.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), looking back in time, remembering when he broke up with his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara).

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), looking back in time, remembering when he broke up with his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara).

Her is set in 2025 and follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely, sad man. By day, Theodore works for a business that transcribes heartfelt messages for people unwilling or unable to speak/write such messages to loved ones; and by night, he plays 3D video games in his room and has phone sex with random women.

Unhappy with the way his life is panning out, especially because he is in the process of divorcing his childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore purchases an interactive operating system. Theodore chooses certain personality traits for his operating system and soon forms a relationship with his operating system, which calls itself/herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Her is an interesting film. The movie raises some thought-provoking questions as to what constitutes a relationship and whether a relationship needs to have physical elements for it to be emotionally satisfying. At times whilst watching Her, one forgets that Samantha/Scarlett Johansson is not physically there, such is the three-dimensional realness of her character.

Theodore out on a blind date with Amelia (Olivia Wilde).

Theodore out on a blind date with Amelia (Olivia Wilde).

Part of the reason why one subconsciously believes that Samantha/Scarlett Johansson is physically there is because of the depth of her character. Indeed, she has a three-dimensional realness that is both noteworthy and worrying at the same time. But another factor is the strength of the performances of the cast, which is aided by the excellence of the script Jonze has written, the artfulness of the film’s music, and the believability of the futuristic world that has been created.

As ever, Joaquin Phoenix plays magnificently as the odd, socially-inept, reclusive, and commitment-phobic Theodore, trying to find a way out of his own misery. Phoenix spends much of the time on screen by himself, talking to his operating system. Despite this, Phoenix carries the movie with his engagingly sensitive and highly-complicated display in a similar vein to Sandra Bullock in Gravity, and in a different way as James Franco did in 127 Hours.

Similarly, Amy Adams is splendid as Theodore’s odd, unconfident friend, with a failing marriage, and whose career has yet to take off; Scarlett Johansson provides humour, a get-up-and-go attitude, and an intelligence that makes her the envy of any genuine person; and Rooney Mara plays well enough (with the small time she is given) as Theodore’s soon-to-be ex-wife, trying to make sense of her husband’s choice to date an operating system without making the scene look laughable and ludicrous.

Theodore, unable to sleep, so he turns on his operating system to talk with Samanatha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Theodore, lonely and unable to sleep, turns on his operating system to talk with Samanatha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

However, what let’s Her down is that it is way too long and (tragically) quite boring. Her’s premise is used up within thirty minutes of its running time. This means that the film’s remaining 96 minutes feels like it goes on and on. This is a real shame, as Her is something genuinely different to what one is so used to watching in romantic comedies.

All-in-all, Her is an original and, in so many ways, is a great film. The acting is brilliant, Jonze’s script is outstanding, the music is wonderfully atmospheric, and the world the movie is set in is realistic and apt. Yet, Her should have been 45 minutes long at the most, rendering the majority of the film tedious and wearisome. Moreover, it is a weird movie that is unlikely to sit well with most viewers. Most conspicuously, Her raises the issues of what constitutes a relationship, and how far one’s relationship with technology can go. Considering how much technology has come (and will continue) to rule people’s lives, this is a troubling thought and operating systems, like Samantha, might not be so hypothetical in the not-too-distant future.

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Review – The Next Three Days (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

I’ve heard that some men will die (or kill) for their woman (metaphorically, at least). However, I’ve never heard anyone say that they’ll study every weakness in the government’s prison system in order to get their lover out of jail. There is probably a reason for it and The Next Three Days illustrates why this might be the case.

John, being a good husband, visits his wife in prison.

Early on in the film, Lara (Elizabeth Banks – Zack and Miri make a Porno, Spiderman IIII), is arrested by the police and sentenced to jail for life for murdering her boss. This leaves John (Russell Crowe – Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Les Misérables), her husband and philosophy teacher/lecturer, to look after their son, Luke. Convinced that his wife is innocent, John seeks the advice of Damon (Liam Neeson – Schindler’s List, Star Wars I, Unknown), a man who has escaped from prison a staggering seven times, to find out a way of getting Lara out illegally. John learns from Damon what he must do to free her and how difficult it will be to beat the counter-measures the state-police have in place to stop escapees from running beyond their reach. For three years, John plans every step and waits for the right moment to strike.

Whilst perhaps a little far-fetched for it to be realistic, the plot makes for The Next Three Days to be full of pulsating tension. Yet, it fails to deliver on this for much of the movie. Part of this is because the fast-beating music is inadequate and, mostly, incorrectly timed. Additionally, the film is too long. There is no need for it to last two hours and twenty minutes. If it would have been half an hour shorter, it would have made for a much better film as only the last forty-five minutes is particularly interesting.

The plans are complete and John, loading up his James Bond-like pistol, is ready to put them into effect to save his wife from a life-time behind bars.

The storyline has its exciting moments; but there are many holes in it. One cannot help but ask oneself why John’s work as a teacher is not affected by his excessive (or, rather, obsessive) workings at day and night? Or why no-one notices his plans to free his wife from prison which are on a wall in a room in his house? Or why John never questions his own sanity? Also, escaping is not an end in of itself. One still has to go with mundane, daily chores after escaping. But, unfortunately, the director, Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale, The Quantum of Solace), does not deal with these issues.

Despite the gaps in the plot, the actors do not do their credentials harm. Indeed, the acting is consistently average throughout the movie: neither especially bad nor great. Nor are they ever tested, which is a bit of a shame because it could have added another dimension (and possibly a realistic element) to the storyline. Instead, we have to watch Russell Crowe kill the dregs of society to give the film some (cheesy) action in a vain attempt for entertainment.

Thus, all in all, The Next Three Days is a disappointment. Whilst, at first glance, the film may look thrilling, if unoriginal (after-all, how many times have we seen a movie about a prison breakout?); it is not as fascinating as it should have been. It might also explain why there is no colloquial expression for someone to free another person from jail. It is far simpler just to say you’ll die (or kill) for them.

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