Cinema Review: Her



DIR/WRI: Spike Jonze  PRO: Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay   DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema ED: Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen   MUS: Owen Pallett   DES: K.K. Barrett   CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara

Theodore (Phoenix) decides to alleviate the perpetual loneliness he’s felt since his wife (Mara) left him by purchasing one of the new-fangled, fully sentient operating systems that exist in The Future. Each operating system is personalised to your needs so Theodore’s manifests as Samantha (Johansson); a funny, brash but sensitive female companion who quickly becomes a valuable presence in his life. As their relationship develops, Theodore begins to question the boundaries of just what we currently understand a relationship to be. Meanwhile Samantha begins to evolve too and what looks like a very typically-structured love-story about relationships morphs into a quirky drama about life, love and the existential quandaries of creating a constantly evolving, sentient artificial intelligence that has to deal with the tangled mess of human emotion that comes with love.

Her is a fascinating film to experience, partially for the contrast it constantly confronts you with. On the one hand it is a very conventionally told love story but the actual characters involved in the story are what make it stand out. You’ll constantly catch yourself having to be reminded that you’re just watching Joaquin Phoenix talking to a disembodied voice, so convincing is the situation the film presents. The key to that success is two-fold. Firstly, the word-building is seamless. This is unquestionably one of the most eerily believable depictions of the near-future we’ve seen in recent years. There are no flying cars, just neater smartphones with more impressive screens and the ubiquitous presence of a Bluetooth-style headset.

The film also trusts its audience in terms of how this world is presented. It never patronises the viewer with some bland audience-surrogate character that has to have everything explained to them. Rather the film simply presents its world as is and trusts you’ll pick it up as you go. It helps that the dialogue and writing in general are very natural; it never feels exposition-y. There’s also far more humour than you might expect, this is a genuinely laugh-out-loud funny film. Be it the film’s surprisingly well observed commentary on videogames, the humour that innately arises from the nature of the leads’ relationship or just good old fashioned, well-timed swearing; Her never takes itself too seriously which helps add weight to the more grounded and sombre moments.

As important as the world-building is, Jonze’s direction is the real triumph. The poster for this film is far more indicative of the viewing experience than you might think. It’s a simple close-up of Phoenix’s face and that is in essence most of the film. A lesser director might have featured some kind of animated woman or hologram (or a blinking red light if they were feeling particularly ‘clever’) to visualise Samantha but Jonze just elects not to ‘show’ her. Since a shot-reverse-shot is out of the question, the camera simply stays on Phoenix’s face throughout the couple’s conversations and it works far better than it should. You may feel by the end of the film that you’ve seen Joaquin Phoenix’s face from every possible angle but it really is to Jonze’s credit that he can shoot that in such a way that it’s constantly interesting to watch. It’s also a fiendishly clever work-around to compensate for the inability to show Samantha’s reactions. An actor of Phoenix’s talent and ability to disappear into a role is an ideal choice to carry an entire film such as this with his face alone.

It’s quite difficult to find much wrong with Her. To an extent the story loses momentum toward the conclusion and slightly contrives an endpoint to Samantha’s arc in a manner that feels like it was done out of a sense of requirement to the genre more than anything else. Throughout even this portion of the film though, the dynamic between the leads remains engaging and Phoenix gets to show off even further. Similarly the various facets of this vision of the future continue to be interesting to see and learn more about.

In any other year (read: any year where 12 Years a Slave wasn’t a contender), this would be a worthy film to win ‘Best Picture’ and it’s a film that definitely embraces the true spirit of sci-fi. It never comments on the society it’s created, it merely details and explores it and lets the audience come to its own conclusions. The world is believable, the characters are well-rounded and the performances (especially Phoenix and Adams) are effortless and compelling to watch. Her is much more than a simple love story yet it’s also, at its core, a thorough exploration of a relationship that just happens to be a little unconventional.

Whether your interest is comedy, drama or sci-fi, this film caters impressively well to all. Besides, Arcade Fire provides most of the music, what more could you want in a film?

Richard Drumm

15A (See IFCO for details)
125  mins

Her is released on 14th February 2014

Her – Official Website


Cinema Review: Side Effects

DIR: Steven Soderbergh  WRI: Scott Z. Burns  PRO: Scott Z. Burns, Gregory Jacobs, Lorenzo di Bonaventura  DOP: Steven Soderbergh  ED: Steven Soderbergh   DES: Howard Cummings  CAST: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

It’s a big day for Emily Taylor (Mara). Her young husband Martin (Tatum) is being released from jail after serving four years for insider trading, and it should be a chance for the young couple to start all over all again, and maybe recapture the glamorous lifestyle they had. But then Emily drives her car into a wall – and it doesn’t look like an accident.

At hospital, the on-call psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Law) believes she’s not suicidal, but she does become his patient – and the search for a drug that will help lift her ‘fog’ of depression begins. Things improve, but then it goes sideways; she begins to sleepwalk, loses her sense of time, and then there’s another possible suicide attempt. Nothing’s working, so after consulting Emily’s former therapist Victoria Sibert (Zeta-Jones), Law cautiously prescribes ablixa, a new ‘wonder’ drug he’s acting as a consultant for.

At this stage, the fim takes one of its many turns and things aren’t all they seem as Soderbergh skilfully lays out his revelatory drama. An incident results in Emily being shipped off for court-ordered psychiatric care, but then a question mark forms over Dr. Banks and his actions. Was what happened a terrible side effect of ablixa, the drug he prescribed? Is someone else to blame here?

Mud sticks though, and now Banks becomes front page news. There’s a medical enquiry, and he quickly begins to lose everything: patients, the consultancy, and then his practice. His psychiatrist his sessions with Emily have to continue though, and he becomes suspicious about her. Some of the things she said don’t add up, and the stock prices for a rival to ablixa have soared in the wake of this scandal; can the two things be related?

Then Banks receives some compromising photographs in the mail, and a story from his past comes back to haunt him. His wife Dee (Vinessa Shaw) leaves him, taking their son, and Banks realizes that he’s being set up, and there’s nothing he can do about it – except work with his patient, Emily, to find out what’s going on…

Apparently Soderbergh’s last movie before his retirement, Side Effects is a low-scale thriller that again marks another tight collaboration between him and writer Scott Z. Burns (they worked on Contagion and The Informant! too). Soderbergh – again working as his own cinematographer and editor under assumed names – keeps the tension up, and though there are some good performances from Rooney and especially Law, there’s a distinct lacks of thrills and danger.


Whether there’s the suggestion of a huge medical industry conspiracy or not, you still expect Law to get into some real trouble, be in real danger – but here it’s more garden variety career and family ruination. When you start with a bloody stabbing and get into lies and deception you expect more of a drama spiral, but never the less it’s a solid piece of modern filmmaking. No matter what, make sure you check out the great ablixa ‘website’:

James Bartlett

15A (see IFCO website for details)

Side Effects is released on 8th March 2013

Side Effects – Official Website


Cinema Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Tattoo this

DIR: David Fincher • WRI: Steven Zaillian • PRO: Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin, Søren Stærmose, Ole Søndberg • DOP: Jeff Cronenweth • ED: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall • DES: Donald Graham Burt • CAST: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

The news of this ‘Americanisation’ was not exactly greeted with open arms, since the original was released only two years ago, and Noomi Rapace found to be the The Definitive Girl. But director David Fincher has played it relatively smart, refusing to move the story from its original Swedish setting, and even though the story is told in English, most of the cast speak in strong Swedish accents.

The one exception being Daniel Craig, as the new Mikael Blomkvist, who retains his English accent, but integrates new levels of strengths and weaknesses into the character. The story of his fall from grace after being found guilty of libel, to being hired by Christopher Plummer’s rich family patriarch to find the murderer of his niece, an event which took place 40 years prior, is played out with such slow burn tension that you don’t even notice it creep up on you.

Meanwhile, Roomey Mara’s Lisbeth Salander blasts off from the get-go. Promptly after being hired to do a background check on Blomkvist, Salander is violently and sexually assaulted by her state-appointed case worker. This is not a movie for the faint of heart, and Salander’s revenge is sure to have the entire audience looking away from the screen. Soon she is hired by Blomkvist to assist him in his case, and the plot of the movie kicks into top gear.

But this is almost 70 minutes into a 160-minute movie, and Fincher is here to take his time. Every shot is framed immaculately, every edit is timed precisely, every music cue introduced perfectly. He gets some career-best performances from his large cast, and Mara can rest easy knowing that her version of The Girl is just as unique and memorable as Rapace’s.

The only fault with the movie lies with its original material, and is the same problem that plagued the original adaptation. Once the main plot wraps up, there are still some 15 minutes of miscellaneous storylines to wade through, and while they are setting up for the sequels, on their own they feel superfluous. However, speaking of the sequels, it is generally regarded that the original adaptations of The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest dropped the ball, so here’s hoping Fincher and co. return to show them how it’s really done.

Rory Cashin

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is released on 26th  December 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Official Website


The Social Network

The Social Network

DIR: David Fincher • WRI: Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Dana Brunetti, Ceán Chaffin, Michael De Luca, Scott Rudin• DOP: Jeff Cronenweth • ED: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall • DES: Donald Graham Burt • CAST: Rooney Mara, Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake

Rarely are biopics released whilst the subject still lives, and even rarer to find a biopic so relevant and so current that the ink is not yet dry on the litigation papers. So we find ourselves in the very recent past, sitting across the table from an incredibly young Mark Zuckerberg, concerning ourselves with a contemporary techtacular event that effectively changed the imaginary field of the internet… and shook the more substantial world of commerce. The story of the youngest billionaire, and how it all may or may not have come to be, thus begins.

The breeding-ground of Harvard is introduced as a stellar universe in which only the brightest stars shine – and Mark is a burning star, intelligent to the point of neurosis. This pertinent fact is encapsulated in his introductory conversation with a girlfriend, in which he manages to insult everything from her intelligence to her upbringing, all in the name of showing his own resolution to be noticed. How to excel in a centre of excellence seems to be the order of the day, and Mark manages it by being unashamedly self-serving and anti-social – out-geeking even the most agoraphobic of geeks. Making an asset out of his ability to alienate people and effectively negate unenthusiastic detractors by virtue of not noticing them, Mark begins to build on his already impressive grasp of not only technology but (and here’s the clincher), the social networking of college-aged folks. An already exclusive college, Harvard – being the spawning ground for greatness – also contains many clubs and societies made even more exclusive by the inability of people like Mark, with no ‘family’ or money, to join them. All Mark did, really, was to exploit that innate desire of humans to not only be on the inside, but to feel as though they are keeping others on the outside. And so, it appears, the ‘friends’ list was born…

Were this just a simple tale of genius and creation, it would have remained a feel-good tale to aspiring IT professionals – but as with any meteoric rise to the top, people were stepped on and questions asked. When his girlfriend dumps him, Mark dumps on her in the fledgling livejournal stakes by not only lambasting her online, but putting together and releasing a website containing all the females at Harvard, allowing others to vote them as ‘hot or not’, called ‘facemash’. Mark’s initial and, it might be said, only friend was his co-conspirator Eduardo Saverin, who financed the project eventually known as Facebook, and supported him when others sought seemingly to exploit. At the other end are the Winklevoss twins – alpha males who contain not only the genetic code to get ahead at Harvard, but the requisite family name. The twins approach Mark with the idea of an exclusive Harvard dating vehicle, having seen Mark’s reprehensible ‘facemash’ programme storm the websites of Harvard, and the conundrum of who created what is born.

However, this is really a tale of Mark and Eduardo – or more correctly, of how Mark copes with ideas of friendship and alliance. The casting is crucial: Jesse Eisenberg carries a weight of character baggage to the role – he is consistently the loveable geek, the nerd with a heart and the social outcast who can be socially integrated. This is important, for while Eisenberg gives good depth and feeling to the role, his previous characters are subsumed into the persona of Mark to the extent that we root for him no matter what. On the other hand, Eduardo is played by Andrew Garfield, a soft-featured and slight man who is a relative unknown to American audiences (not for long, as he will soon be the new Spiderman). Their interaction is the most important of the movie, and luckily for all involved, they have an onscreen chemistry that makes their friendship realistic for all its perversities and their estrangement all the more genuine and heartbreaking. Fincher directs the interaction with the lightest touch, allowing a sense of untainted reality to prevail in the story – the intertwining narratives of past and present serving to root us in the downfall, while remembering the ascent.

Mark’s own Facebook page gives us a glimpse of the persona he seems to want; he says, ‘I’m trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share.’ Though he refused to be involved in the making of The Social Network, the overriding impression we get of Mark is this very encapsulation. The idea prevails that really, despite its reprehensible beginnings and controversial continuings, Facebook was – for him – an opportunity to be cool rather than rich. The Social Network is not an uplifting call-to-arms of ‘geeks’ and IT-strugglers everywhere, and is all the better for it, delivering a deep and borderline-complex window into the world of a social outcast who became a social engineer.

Sarah Griffin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Social Network
is released on 15th October 2010

The Social Network Official Website