Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - Her, The Monuments Men, Cuban Fury, The Lego Movie

Her (15, 126 mins)

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Joaquin Phoenix stars as a lonely man who falls for an interactive computer programme
Joaquin Phoenix stars as a lonely man who falls for an interactive computer programme

Her (15, 126 mins)

Director: Spike Jonze

5 stars

It's possible that there hasn't been a film quite like Her since Synecdoche, New York.

It's a film that functions as an incredibly smart, all-encompassing science-fiction-drama-romantic-comedy and which takes us to an exalted destination that director Spike Jonze and his contemporaries like Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman seem to have been leading us their entire careers.

Her is set in a near future where Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a letter writer, expressing sentiments for people unable to make their own.

He's lonely following the break-up of his marriage, and buys a new operating system for his computer and mobile device, a fully intuitive and interactive programme (with the voice of Scarlett Johansson) which goes by the name of Samantha.

Samantha basically functions as a friend and an interface for almost everything Theodore does in everyday life.

At first this is scheduling meetings and answering emails, but soon she starts to become a constant companion, to the extent that Theodore begins to fall in love with her.

If that seems like a silly premise, essentially someone falling in love with their iPhone or an offshoot of The Man with Two Brains, rest assured that the execution is anything but.

Instead this is something unique and substantial that uses technology to explore fundamental emotions and feelings of consciousness and love. Standing testament to that is, when complications arise, we feel them deeply.

It's a film bursting beyond the brim with wit, imagination and verve. As a bonus, it also happens to be incredibly funny, which is a miracle when you consider the potential for sentimentality.

As sci-fi, it's presented with a subtlety rarely attempted by filmmakers, with gizmos and software that aren't outlandishly beyond what we currently have.

Visually too it deals in unobtrusive styling, with today's Shanghai ably standing in for tomorrow's USA.

Phoenix has never displayed such empathy on screen before, and the chemistry and tenderness between Theodore and Samantha is tangible, even though Johansson's voice was only added after the fact in place of Samantha Morton.

But it's the extent of the themes and ideas being dealt with that marks Her out as something lasting. Our reliance on, and relationship with, technology is simply the starting point for a seemingly intimate drama that manages to say something about almost every aspect of our lives.

Love, longing, loss, death, spirituality, it's all in there to sweep you along on waves of elation and sorrow.

It's rare to find a film in any genre that casts its gaze so profoundly into the depths of the human heart, and there's really no measure by which Her isn't a triumph.

See it if you liked: S1m0ne, Ruby Sparks, Robot & Frank

The Monuments Men (12A, 118 mins)

Director: George Clooney

1 star

So you've got George Clooney directing a cast that includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett alongside Clooney himself.

You've got a World War 2 setting with all the promise of adventure that offers, and you've got a caper-like plot in which Clooney's soldier must put together a squad of experts to save as much priceless art from the Nazis as they can.

And yet they've managed to scrape together something that's a special kind of lifeless, so inert it almost beggars belief.

There's not a trace of forward movement as Clooney and co split up all over Europe for a bunch of unrelated episodes that are little more than sketches, each of them of little relevance or interest, with a grab-bag of tones ranging from fluffy to maudlin.

It's more Dad's Army than Inglourious Basterds, but it's not a caper, it's not a comedy and it's not a drama, thanks to featureless characters with no personalities to speak of.

And what's the point of casting all these stars if they're not given anything to do?

It's a terrible waste of their talent, and it's a terrible waste of our time.

See it if you liked: Kelly's Heroes, The Train, The Good German

Cuban Fury (15, 98 mins)

Director: James Griffiths

2 stars

Nick Frost takes on his first solo starring role and also came up with the story for this amiable but unfortunately rather flat comedy.

He plays Bruce, who, as a teenager, was mad on salsa dancing, but bullying made him give it up.

Now, 25 years on, he never dances until he learns his new boss (Rashida Jones) is into salsa, and he sees this as a way to woo her.

With Frost mostly playing it straight, it's left to Chris O'Dowd as his smarmy colleague and rival for Jones's affection to play to the cheap seats, with all the actors doing just fine.

But though not without some nice moments, it just all hangs together poorly, never really offering any freshness to the plotting or even zip to the dancing.

Bruce's relationship with his old dance teacher (Ian McShane) plays around a bit with the pupil-mentor set-up, and this is a sweet enough effort that just needed better writing and direction.

See it if you liked: Billy Elliot, Step Up, Shall We Dance

The Lego Movie (U, 100 mins)

Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

3 stars

Everything is awesome, if all a little Orwellian, in the Lego world in which this animated comedy based on the much-loved toy bricks is set.

Thanks to a prophecy, everyday guy Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is mistaken for the Special and joins with the resistance against President Business (Will Ferrell), who is up to something or other no good.

With a wonderful physical representation of Lego using computer animation, this is visually impressive stuff, with a silly tone and passable slapstick comedy.

The voices are just right too, with Liam Neeson especially fun as Bad Cop.

But it's very much a one-trick deal - things get built out of Lego, they explode and then they get built again.

Take away the Lego element and you're not really left with much at all once the initial novelty has worn off.

Warners unleash their DC characters, which is fun for a bit, in particular the merciless mocking of Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) for being eternally dark and gloomy.

Other cameos are fun and there's a good plot development late on that makes some worthwhile points about the power of imagination. But for the most part this is just lacking a bit of heart and is often as much a marketing tool as a movie.

See it if you liked: Wreck-It-Ralph, Toy Story, The Smurfs

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