The Monuments Men ***
The Lego Movie ****
It’s a typically perverse Spike Jonze gambit that the ‘her’ in Her (15A) is not a real woman, but a computer operating system called Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Jonze is best known for movies such as Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002), both of which thrived on a surreal blend of reality and fiction. In Her, which is set in the near future, the reality is that of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who pens letters for a website called Beautiful Written Letters. Recently separated from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore has slumped into functional depression. When he installs a new OS system on his computer, however, he begins to see the world anew as the OS — Samantha — experiences life vicariously through Theodore. Soon the pair start to fall in love, but the very notion is too preposterous to take seriously — or is it? A very modern love story, Her addresses our 21st century infatuation with technology, in the process asking pertinent questions about how far we’re prepared to go in terms of integrating our physical and intellectual capabilities. Is love a uniquely human condition? Or are machines — or their operating systems — capable of emotional and physical involvement? These are fascinating questions that we will very probably need to answer in the very near future as artificial intelligence becomes ever more sophisticated, although the questions are buried in the subtext here, underpinning a love story that offers a neat twist on a pleasingly old-fashioned tale. Phoenix is excellent as the romantic Theodore, a complex character who grows increasingly aware of his own failings as a man and a human being as Samantha’s consciousness evolves. Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt provide strong support, while Jonze — as writer and director — maintains an acerbic tone throughout, subverting our expectations of what a contemporary romance should deliver.
Based on a true story, The Monuments Men (12A) follows an ageing platoon of specialists into battle during the latter stages of WWII, as they attempt to track down and liberate the priceless art being plundered by retreating Nazis. George Clooney directs and also stars as Frank Stokes, the platoon leader given the thankless task of marshalling a group of art experts (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville, aided and abetted by Cate Blanchett) who are rather more impressive as scholars than soldiers. On one level it’s all rather charming, as the ill-suited veterans try to adapt to the hellish conditions of front-line warfare, and the running joke of Damon’s undercover spy waging a one-man war against the French language never gets old. That said, Clooney — who also co-wrote the script — struggles to establish a persuasive tone as he blends offbeat humour and knockabout banter with a race against time to recapture Europe’s greatest art works. It all bumbles along pleasantly enough but with no great urgency, as the platoon splits into various teams with their own mini-missions, their successes counterbalanced by moments of pathos. If you’ve ever wondered what a Raiders of the Lost Ark / Dad’s Army mash-up might look like, this is for you.
Everything is Awesome, sing the little plastic characters in The Lego Movie (G), and you’d need a heart of stone not to sing along. A tongue-in-cheek riff on The Matrix (1999), the story centres on Lego construction worker Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt), an ordinary guy mistaken for ‘The Special’ by rebel forces trying to bring down the tyrannical President Business (Will Ferrell) and his despicable plan to glue together every piece of Lego in the universe. An animated movie in which all the moving parts are made of Lego, it’s a delightfully subversive piece that gleefully satirises conformist consumerism, even as it unabashedly markets its iconic plastic bricks in every single frame. It’s difficult to resist a movie that manages to toss together Lego, Batman, a Lord of the Rings spoof and a Star Wars slap-down all in one brief scene, and there’s really no good reason why you should. A freewheeling, zany and occasionally surreal tale that plunders the archives for a bewildering number of cultural reference gags, The Lego Movie also packs a hefty emotional wallop just when you’re expecting another punchline. Don’t miss it.
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