Film reviews: Her | Robocop | Cuban Fury

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Siobhan Synnot casts her eye over Her, Robocop and Cuban Fury plus the pick of the films released this week

Her (15)

Joaquin Phoenix stars in 'Her'. Picture: Complimentary

Joaquin Phoenix stars in 'Her'. Picture: Complimentary

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: * * *

IS IT better to have logged on and loved, than never logged on at all? That’s one of the questions in Spike Jonze’s Her, a film where a man becomes infatuated with his computer.

Theo (Joaquin Phoenix with a fetching porn star moustache) lives in a futuristic Los Angeles where the traffic problems have been resolved, lighting has become more flattering, and the men wear super-high-waisted trousers, as if Simon Cowell had won a fashion war and imposed waistband chestwarmers on humanity. By day, Theo composes sentimental letters on behalf of other people for a company called beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. At night he logs on for clumsy phone sex. In other words, he is a cog in a world where simulated intimacy isn’t just acceptable but commercialised. Already, our recognition modules are thrumming.

A recent divorcee, Theo is depressed and lonely until he upgrades to a new operating system run by a Siri-like programme called Samantha. Once she’s booted up, she checks his emails, sorts his diary, makes jokes and asks him about himself. Theo is beguiled, not least because she sounds like Scarlett Johansson, or to put it another way: a woman who has smoked Gitanes since primary school. Within days, he realises that his computer is turning him on, and Samantha confesses that something is heating her circuitry too. They start dating, and Samantha proves a low-maintenance girlfriend who never seems to fight his choices and can be popped into his top pocket as a smartphone.

As we know from computers such as Hal in 2001 and Proteus in Demon Seed, there’s all sorts of horrific potential in a computer that has too much access to our codes, but Jonze isn’t interested in sinister possibilities. Even when Theo updates his status and goes public with his cyber-relationship, no-one is hostile, or even particularly surprised. “He always wanted a wife without the challenges of a real person,” says his ex-wife (Rooney Mara), while a work colleague encourages Theo and Samantha to join him on a double date.

Phoenix is remarkably good here, especially since Jonze hasn’t programmed him as anything more than an archetype in a fable about a growing addiction to virtual lives, where people become more detached and computers become more intimate.

Pondering big metaphysical questions doesn’t need to be ponderous, but Her is such a gentle satire that it can feel like a sluggish couple of hours. Jonze is a writer-director with some intellectual ambition, but Her feels like a diet version of his work with Charlie Kaufman, especially when it becomes apparent that Jonze is not going to engage fully with any particular idea. Instead, he’s content to toss out some intriguing leads to his audience.

As man and machine grow closer, there’s an attempt at physical sex that doesn’t satisfy anyone, and it emerges that the relationship may not even work as a meeting of minds, with one of them coming to realise that they can always upgrade to another model. In the end, however, Her is a binary exercise: a beautifully shot provocation that is more interesting as a conversation on the way home than as an experience in the cinema.

The Lego Movie (3D) (U)

Rating: * * * *

WHEN he served as a judge at a film festival, Homer Simpson stumbled upon one of the great truths of arts criticism. “Barney’s movie had heart,” he accepts. “But Football In The Groin had a football in the groin.”

The Lego Movie takes its promises seriously too, and there is indeed Lego here, as well as a ton of references that Lego users will appreciate, such as the Lego spaceman whose worn chinstrap has broken in exactly the spot that a generation of kids have complained about to the manufacturer. But unlike Transformers, or GI Joe, The Lego Movie not only stocktakes its toy-based characters, but offers a fun and freewheeling family movie too.

The basic plot concerns Emmet (Chris Pratt), a Lego figurine who is supposed to liberate everyone from the tyranny of President Business (Will Ferrell), the snag being that Emmet is a paid-up member of conformity, who enjoys autotuned anthems, never misses an episode of Where Are My Pants and thinks President Business wants to glue everyone in their place for their own good. After about 30 minutes of this however, the film becomes something bolder and more anarchic, zipping between different Lego worlds, encountering Lego celebrities such as the Batman who only builds with black bricks “or very, very, very dark grey ones”, or showcasing a brilliantly funny Liam Neeson as a conflicted two-faced Bad Cop/Good Cop. The whole thing is a Danish interlocking brick system fever dream – and a kick in the pants, if not the groin, to filmmakers who dare follow it.

On general release from Friday

OTHER RELEASES

Robocop (12A)

Rating: * * *

A remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1980s satire about a policeman

re-engineered into a law enforcement machine. Jose Padilha’s update employs many of the same moves, but not the original’s sly, subversive humour.

On general release

The Missing Picture (12A)

Rating: * * *

Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh uses clay figures to recreate life under the Khmer Rouge and the devastation caused by Pol Pot’s regime. It is ingenious, poignant and resonant, if lacking in narrative momentum.

Selected release, Edinburgh Filmhouse, 17-20 February

Bastards (18)

Rating: * * *

France’s Claire Denis shapes a moody sexual thriller with bags of atmosphere, but it’s too allusive to generate much tension.

Selected release, GFT, Friday to 20 February

Mr Peabody And Sherman (U)

Rating: * * *

Dreamworks revives a TV cartoon about a genius dog and his adopted human son. Few will recall their time-travelling adventures from the 50s and 60s, but the update is surprisingly bright, sweet and suitable for its target audience. It may even be educational; if you want a nice family Christmas, advises the Greek warrior Agamemnon, then don’t stay with Oedipus.

On general release

I Feel Like Disco

Rating: * * *

The Glasgow Youth Film Festival concludes with lonely gay German teenager who is obsessed by the 70s and folk crooner Christian Steiffen. The tone is a bit uncertain, but director Axel Ranisch captures teen awkwardness well.

Selected release, GFT, 12 February

Cuban Fury (15)

Rating: * *

Nick Frost plays a disillusioned salsa champion who restacks his heels in order to win the heart of Rashida Jones. Frost and the cast have obviously trained hard to avoid being murder on the dance floor, but the inept script is like Strictly Come Dancing in concrete boots.

On general release from Friday

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