Her

Warner Brothers

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and brief nudity

Joaquin Phoenix Pushes Envelope Again In Another Mind-Bending Adventure

A few years ago, Joaquin Phoenixreleased I’m Not Here, a novel mockumentary which chronicled his supposed retirement from acting in favor of a career in rap music. What made the movie mesmerizing was how hard it was to tell whether or not he’d really had it with Hollywood, for the three-time Oscar nominee (for Gladiator, Walk The Line and The Master) threw himself into the role so convincingly that we had to wait for word of his next picture to know whether or not his new hip-hop persona was a fake.

Joaquin’s latest offering, Her, is another mind-bending adventure very dependent on his committing to a bizarre character. In this case, he plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely nerd who makes his living writing love letters for tongue-tied lonely hearts.

Just past the point of departure, we find him being served with divorce papers by his estranged wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara). The suddenly single geek subsequently searches for a new mate and finds one not at an online dating website but right inside his computer.

Sultry and seductive Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is an operating system that comes equipped not only with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence but with a velvety voice to boot. Programmed to please, she’s ever evolving and adapting herself to fulfill her owner’s fantasies, and it’s not long before Theodore falls for her, computer headset over heels.

After all, Sam gives good phone sex, going so far as to simulate the most inspired screen climax since Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. Soon, the man and software are an item, and smitten Theodore starts introducing his libidinous laptop to friends as his girlfriend.

Sorry, but I have a problem buying into such a farfetched premise, especially since the eccentric protagonist keeps up the charade when he has a chance to date his gorgeous BFF (Amy Adams) after she’s dumped by her husband (Matt Letscher) and needs a shoulder to cry on. But no, we’re expected to believe he’d rather remain in a frustrating, metaphysical relationship with a piece of software that becomes possessive and jealous of women with bodies.

Listen, this silly sci-fi storyline probably would have made a terrific Twilight Zone TV episode back in the day, but it’s a little much to ask folks well grounded in reality to suspend their disbelief for a couple of hours for the sake of such a preposterous plot. That being said, I suppose there’s a good chance that the screen-weaned youngsters of the Millennial Generation might find the idea of dating a computer perfectly plausible.

What’s in your laptop?

 

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Running time: 126 minutes

 

 

American Hustle

Sony Pictures

Rated R for sexuality, pervasive profanity and brief violence

Retro Dramedy Revisits Abscam Scandal During Gaudy Disco Era

In the late ‘70s, a half-dozen congressmen along with a United States senator were caught on camera taking bribes from FBI agents posing as wealthy Arab sheiks. The elaborate sting in which the disgraced politicians became ensnared was code named Abscam, a contraction of Arab Scam.

American Hustle is a visually dazzling retro dramedy revolving around a fictionalized account of that embarrassing chapter of the nation’s history, Set in New York and New Jersey against the gaudy backdrop of the decadent disco music era, the film was written and directed by David O. Russell, Hollywood’s go-to guy blessed with the golden touch in recent years.

Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook landed eight Academy Award nominations and netted Jennifer Lawrence 2013’s Best Actress Oscar. That picture arrived close on the heels of The Fighter, which had garnered seven Oscar nominations en route to trophies for both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in acting categories.

Here, David O. has produced another engaging and entertaining production featuring a plethora of powerful performances. This one co-stars Christian Bale as con artist Irving Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as his equally-mischievous British mistress, Sydney. They play a pair of small-time crooks pressured to help the feds catch bigger fish in order to avoid prosecution.

Reluctantly, they cooperate with Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious, if flamboyant, FBI agent who draws attention to himself by curling his straight hair and wearing trendy clothes. Self-protective Sydney flirts shamelessly with the fashionable G-Man, feeling little loyalty toward her partner in crime who’s dragging his feet about filing for a divorce from his wife.

But when blowsy Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) realizes that her philandering hubby has been cheating, the trashy loudmouth decides to bring the drama, getting even by seducing a shady character (Jack Huston) she has no idea is under government surveillance. Generating great hilarity, these tawdry love triangles escalate into attention-grabbing distractions that threaten to wreck the supposedly covert operation.

Meanwhile, the naive mayor of Camden (Jeremy Renner) is being manipulated by Irving to introduce a notorious mob boss (Robert De Niro) as well as the aforementioned corrupt politicians to Sheik Abdullah (Michael Pena). However, the hapless FBI looks more like the Keystone Cops when the agent trying to pass as an Arab can’t speak his native language when challenged.

Who knows whether any of the ridiculous incidents recreated here ever actually transpired? But guess what? You don’t really worry about the truth when the laughs just keep coming and the witty repartee remains so inspired.

Another memorable masterpiece cleverly crafted by the oh-so-talented David O!

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 138 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening January 3, 2014

 

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (R for violence, drug use, graphic nudity and pervasive profanity) Fifth installment in the horror franchise finds partygoers being pursued by supernatural forces while trying to save a pal (Andrew Jacobs) with a mysterious bite mark. With Richard Cabral, Molly Ephraim and Katie Featherston.

 

The Best Offer (R for sexuality and graphic nudity) Romance drama about an auctioneer (Geoffrey Rush) who falls head over heels for the reclusive heiress (Sylvia Hoeks) who hires him to handle the sale of her family’s art collection. Cast includes Jim Sturgess, Donald Sutherland and Philip Jackson.

 

Beyond Outrage (R for profanity, graphic violence and brief sexuality) This grisly sequel to Outrage (2010) is a high body-count crime thriller in which an outnumbered police detective (Fumiyo Kohinata) cleverly instigates a bloody turf war between two rival gangs so that they destroy each other for him. With Takeshi Kitano, Ryo Kase and Shun Sagata. (In Japanese with subtitles)

 

Interior. Leather Bar. (Unrated) James Franco and Travis Matthews co-wrote, co-directed by and play themselves in this sexually explicit docudrama reimagining the 40 minutes of lost footage deleted from the homoerotic classic Cruising (1980). Supporting cast includes Val Lauren, Christian Patrick and Brenden Gregory.

 

Jamesy Boy (Unrated) Fact-based tale of redemption about a teenaged gang member (Spencer Lofranco) who turns his life around while behind bars with the help of a convicted murderer mentor (Ving Rhames). With James Woods, Vera Farmiga, Mary-Louise Parker and Taboo.

 

Open Grave (R for profanity, disturbing violence and graphic images) Murder mystery about an amnesia victim (Sharlto Copley) who wakes up in a pit of dead bodies with no idea who he is, how he got there, or who the killer is. With Joseph Morgan, Erin Richards and Thomas Kretschmann.

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