Writer-director Spike Jonze is a man of fascinating contradictions.
On one hand, he is a co-creator of the Jackass TV series and films, which revel in bad taste humour.
On the other, he is the Oscar-nominated visionary responsible for films like 'Being John Malkovich', 'Adaptation' and 'Where The Wild Things Are', which refuse to pander to the whims and expectations of the masses.
If common sense and justice prevail, Jonze should finally get the Academy Award statuette he richly deserves for his script to this haunting and heart-breaking romance.
Her takes our fascination with technology as a means to forge personal relationships to the next level, imagining a love story between a man and his home computer’s voice-activated operating system.
Jonze elicits a tour-de-force central turn from Joaquin Phoenix as his unexpectedly love-struck protagonist and a sexy vocal performance from Scarlett Johansson as the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence, who begins to question her limitations.
Jonze wears his heart on his sleeve from the beguiling opening frames and treats his central pairing across the real and digital realms with tenderness.
Phoenix is extraordinary, performing in close-up without any other human presence for long periods.
Johansson is equally terrific and their on-screen chemistry makes our hard drives whirr with unabashed pleasure.
Star Rating: 5/5
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 94%
The LEGO Movie
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s rollicking adventure cleverly employs the latest technical wizardry to mimic the crude, imperfect movements of stop-motion animation.
The LEGO Movie is a hoot, celebrating the enduring power and popularity of a toy invented in the late 1940s.
Directors Lord and Miller, who donned hard hats at the helm of the first ‘Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs’ film, strike a delicious tone of irreverence throughout to ensure parents enjoy the ride just as much as younger audiences.
Fast-paced and crammed with primary colours, ‘The LEGO Movie’ pulls out all the stops to dazzle and delight.
The script is peppered with wry one-liners, cinematic homages and an infectious theme song – ‘Everything Is Awesome’ – that burrows into the brain and refuses to leave quietly.
Pratt, Ferrell and co deliver ebullient vocal performances, which are complemented by frenetic action sequences by LEGO land, sea and air.
The final 10 minutes provide an unexpected, heart-warming twist, guaranteed to have kids big and small grinning with glee.
Star Rating: 4/5
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 96%
The Monuments Men
Many artworks from around Europe, plundered by Hitler’s troops in the late 1930s and early 1940s, might have been lost forever were it not for the valiant efforts of the Monuments Men.
This small platoon of museum curators, architects, artists and historians, who were told old to be drafted, risked their lives to return paintings, sculptures and drawings to their rightful owners.
This fascinating true story of heroism is retold as a gung-ho ‘Ocean’s Eleven’-style caper by George Clooney in his fifth directorial feature.
‘The Monuments Men’ strikes an uneven tone between comedy and drama, which sometimes jars.
The central mission to outwit Hitler is structured as vignettes around Belgium, France and Germany, converging on Altaussee in Austria for the race to recover Michelangelo’s marble sculpture ‘Madonna Of Bruges’ from a salt mine before the Soviets sweep into the spa town.
Consequently, the ensemble cast are divided for extended periods, resulting in sluggish dramatic momentum.
Clooney, Damon and co look dapper in military attire while Blanchett comes closest to delivering a full performance in limited screen time.
At the very end of the film, Roosevelt turns to Stokes and asks, “Thirty years from now, you think anyone’s going to remember these men died for a piece of art?”
If this is their enduring legacy, perhaps not.
Star Rating: 2½
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 35%
From ‘Saturday Night Fever’ to ‘Billy Elliot’, when dance films are well choreographed, they can jive happily into our affections.
Now, Nick Frost kicks up his heels in ‘Cuban Fury’, a rags-to-sequins tale of a one-time dance champion, who rediscovers his mojo in order to impress a woman – in the face of competition from chauvinistic work colleague Drew (Chris O’Dowd).
‘Cuban Fury’ means well and has its heart in the right place.
Unfortunately, the script performs horrible missteps with some of the peripheral characters.
Also director James Griffiths introduces fantastical flourishes including a dance battle in a car park between Bruce and Drew complete with gravity-defying somersaults and friction-defying 50m knee-skids on asphalt that take away from the countless hours of work invested by the cast perfecting the complicated routines.
Jones’s love interest is too thinly sketched to deserve Bruce’s fragile heart.
Frost’s everyman is instantly likeable though and we root for him to emerge victorious on the dance floor when the rest of the film threatens to fall apart.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 55%
Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy
Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned in Peggy Holmes’s feature-length animated fantasy based on characters created by JM Barrie.
Like previous instalments, ‘Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy’ is set before the Darling children fly towards the “second star to the right, and straight on till morning”, chronicling the adventures of the eponymous fairy and her chums in the idyllic realm of Pixie Hollow.
Earlier films were themed around the four seasons but director Peggy Holmes’s chapter sketches the origins of one of Neverland’s most iconic characters, Captain Hook, and explains how the scurvy scoundrel comes to fear the sound of a ticking clock inside a crocodile’s belly.
It’s exceedingly sweet and colourful, not to mention achingly predictable, but is perhaps a bit too scary for really young children during the film’s louder interludes.
Compared to the recent Disney feature Frozen, ‘Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy’ is incredibly simplistic and the plot is disappointingly linear.
However, the scriptwriters are constrained by literary mythology that cannot be subjected to any tinkering.
The film affirms the importance of friendship with every flutter of the fairies’ wings and encourages inquisitive young minds to think out of the box. It’s a little ironic then, that Holmes’s picture allows its own imagination and invention to hibernate for the entire 78 minutes.
Star Rating: 2½
Shana Feste directs this loose remake of Franco Zeffirelli’s iconic 1981 film starring Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt, which raised eyebrows with its teasing tagline: “She is 15, he is 17. The love every parent fears.”
But parents should not fear this contemporary spin on affairs of the teenage heart.
The clumsy script, co-written by Joshua Safran, is a lacklustre imitation of the gooey romances peddled by Nicholas Sparks.
Both laughably earnest and simply laughable, ‘Endless Love’ piles on the cliches and contrivances like a club sandwich, stacking poorly sketched characters atop stilted dialogue and woeful performances.
Star Rating: 2/5
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 16%
In selected cinemas…
Sleepless in Seattle
The classic 1993 romantic comedy returns to cinemas for one day only: Valentine’s Day. Widower Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) moves to Seattle with his young son Jonah (Ross Malinger) to start anew but 18 months later, the father is still stricken with grief and unable to move on.
He telephones a radio talk show and discusses his loss with the sympathetic presenter.
Sam’s plight presses the nation’s buttons, not least those of hopelessly romantic reporter Annie Reed (Meg Ryan), who develops an obsession for the mystery man, leaving her but one course of action – to engineer a meeting atop the Empire State Building.
Director Nora Ephron never lets the whimsical tone mutate into schmaltz, spiriting up a ten-tissue treat and one big cuddly toy of a tearjerker.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 72%