Joaquin Phoenix…isolated, but not for long
“HER” My rating: A- (Opens wide on Jan. 10)
120 minutes | MPAA rating: R
The sentient computer — the mechanical brain that becomes self aware — has been with us for many years now (perhaps most famously in the person of “2001’s” HAL 9000). But writer/director Spike Jonze’s “Her” pushes that idea in new and wonderful directions.
Along the way it becomes the best film of 2013.
In the near future — so near you can’t categorize the film as science fiction — a computer operating system is developed that so perfectly imitates human thought and emotion as to make the iPhone’s Siri seem like a grunting Neanderthal.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely romantic. Lonely because he and his wife (Rooney Mara) are divorcing — though Tehodore cannot bring himself to sign the papers. Romantic because his day job is writing heartfelt letters to strangers.
He works for a company that, for a fee, will compose personal letters to family members, dearly beloveds, friends and acquaintances. Apparently in this near future most personal written correspondence is limited to texting abbreviatons and emoticons. Some folks will pay big bucks for a well-written, sincere and “handwritten” letter (actually, a computer provides the appropriate font and coughs it out of a laser printer).
Theodore is a master of this old-fashioned form of communication — which only makes his sterile personal life all the more ironic.
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Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck
“AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS” My rating: C+ (Opening August 30 at the Tivoli and the Rio)
96 minutes| MPAA rating: R
Like its title, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” tries too damn hard.
The difference between effectiveness and affectation is often a matter of degree, and for my money David Lowery’s Sundance hit always lays things on just a little too thick.
Or perhaps not thick enough.
In this norish crime drama/romance Lowery apparently is trying to channel Terernce Malick, particularly the early Malick of “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” both of which took the form of dreamlike folk ballads.
Like virtually all Malick movies, “Ain’t Them Bodies…” relies on voiceover narration by one of the characters (in this case a prison escapee played by Casey Affleck). And the film unfolds in a classic small American town so frozen in time (old trucks, flower print dresses, denim work shirts, cowboy boots) that I was taken aback late in the story when one character produced a cell phone. Like a Malick effort, the movie has been photographed (by Bradford Young) so as to discover the beauty in human faces, brown Texas landscapes, and even old buildings losing their peeling paint. (more…)
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“SIDE EFFECTS” My rating: B (Opening wide on Feb. 8)
105 minutes | MPAA rating: R
For more than half its running time, Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” keeps us guessing as to just what sort of movie it is.
It begins with a handsome young man, Martin (current “it” guy Channing Tatum), being released from prison.
So maybe it’s a gritty film about Martin trying to rebuild his life after years in stir?
But then we get to know his wife, Emily (the marvelous Rooney Mara, late of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), an emotionally fragile individual coming apart at the seams. No sooner is her husband back home than she attempts suicide by driving her car into a wall.
So maybe it’s a hard-hitting film about depression?
Emily and Martin visit a shrink, Dr. Banks (Jude Law), who puts her on a powerful new antidepressant (he’s also a paid consultant for the drug’s manufacturer). Then Emily begins having bizarre sleepwalking episodes and does something really horrible and criminal.
So maybe it’s a socially-conscious film about our prevalent drug culture and an industry that tries to peddle dangerous side effects-heavy pharmaceuticals as if they were soda pop?
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“THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO” My rating: B (Opens wide Dec. 21)
158 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Like a lot of movie fans, I greeted with a big dose of cynicism the news that Hollywood was remaking the Swedish thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
That film, which introduced to the world actress Nomi Rapace as the gloriously twisted investigator/hacker Lisbeth Salander, was more than adequate. Why remake it for a bunch of ignoramuses too thick to read subtitles?
Well, I was wrong. The American “Girl…” is the equal of the Swedish version in most regards, and in its technical production vastly superior. That’s because it was directed by David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “The Social Network,” “Zodiac”), an exacting filmmaker who composes and lights every scene for maximum visual impact. (Don’t forget, the three Swedish films based on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy were made for television and suffered somewhat from limited production values.)
The tale remains essentially the same (with some minor variations) and the overall effect — a queasy blend of serial killer thriller, unrepentant male piggishness and offbeat relationship flick — very similar to the original. (more…)
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