FILM REVIEW: HER

her

STARRING: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
GENRE: Romance/Drama

In a futuristic love story, Joaquin Phoenix plays a depressed loner trying to recover from the end of his marriage. Refusing to sign divorce papers and move on with his life, things begin to look up when he installs an Operating System (OS) named Samantha and the two become close.

In Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, who, despite the sound of his name, is a gifted writer and not a wizard. Theodore works for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, a ghastly sounding company where Theo writes letters and lives vicariously through the emotions of others as he suffers from depression following his separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). One of the biggest problems this film has is convincing audiences that employing a company to write heartfelt letters to your loved ones on your behalf has any merit as a thoughtful and beautiful act, and not just a half-arsed idea which is devoid of any real emotion. This appears seriously flawed; how can Theodore be hailed as such a great writer if all he does is regurgitate stories people send him with the small adjustment of making them sound a bit fancier? In the film, Theodore is shown to be the fairly stereotypical sweet, flawed loner that we often encounter in romantic comedies; the character is likeable yet often frustrating. Theodore may also seem familiar due to the fact that Phoenix’s performance appears to be hugely based on the character of Leonard Hofstadter from The Big Bang Theory. From his appearance to his mannerisms, the similarities are striking and so off-putting that I often just expected Theodore to start talking in scientific jargon or come out with some sort of Star Trek reference. It feels a little like because Theodore occasionally plays video games and is competent with a computer, the filmmakers just thought ‘well Theo might as well just be Leonard’.

Within around 10 minutes of the film starting, Theodore has installed and started to fall in love with his OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). These Operating Systems are advertised as having consciousness and are therefore basically real people without bodies. Theodore only finds out about the existence of OS’s after walking past an advert for them, because this is the future and conscious AI seems to be no big deal. It is not long before almost everyone has an OS and many people are forming close bonds with their own Operating Systems. Because this all happens fairly quickly – and the film is over two hours long – the film did become boring in the middle. By 10 minutes in, the plot was well underway and then it felt a bit like nothing else happened or progressed until the final 15 or so minutes. This is another case of a modern trend in which films are far too long because someone seems to have decided that longer means better. Although beautifully shot, Her perhaps could have benefited from fewer scenes of Theodore’s aimless night-time wanderings around the unrealistically empty city.

In what is billed as an alternative love story for the modern age, Her is not all that much of a love story (perhaps a bit deceiving as it was shamelessly released on Valentine’s Day). The film often fluctuates between portraying how humans and AI can co-exist peacefully and simultaneously being a cautionary tale against humanity’s increasing independence upon technology. The idea of a romance between a man and an OS is quite interesting, and departs from the typical, perhaps less realistic dystopian view that advancements in technology always equate to machines taking over the world. Although not your typical feel-good romance flick, Her does not resemble a science-fiction film either; despite its technological plot. In some respects, this seems quite apt. The depiction of technology in the film is not too far-fetched, and scenes portraying masses of individuals blocking out the world with earphones whilst talking to their hand-held devices should resonate strongly with audiences. It is refreshing that the film shows technology to be commonplace, and does not resort to any sci-fi clichés in order to have a plot revolving around a computer.

Her is a film that is without a doubt beautifully made. The shots and the colours capture the spirit of the film brilliantly. The futuristic setting was exhibited subtlely and this ensures that audiences are more able to connect with the characters and the plot; especially important as the film is supposed to be a love story. The filmmakers also did well in crafting a personality for Samantha and on occasion it was easy to forget that she was not a real person. The focus of the film was of course mainly on Theodore, so much so that a more appropriate title for the film would have been ‘Him’. Theo’s loneliness, his awkwardness and his faults are portrayed very well, whilst the film did also have some good dialogue and funny moments; in particular, the scenes in which Theodore’s cute video game sidekick appears. The cast of Her is quite impressive, however much talent was wasted. Rooney Mara appears mainly through dialogue-less flashbacks, Olivia Wilde pops-up for two minutes as a blind date and even Amy Adams, who as usual does brilliantly, is criminally underused. Furthermore, as Her is both written and directed by Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) audiences may have been expecting something a little more original, more exciting and more absurd.

SUMMARY: Visually pleasing and often enjoyable, save for the fact Phoenix plays a character from The Big Bang Theory. 

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THE BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT: MAC AND ME

Children tend to be easily pleased when it comes to films. If the film is aimed at them and the characters are available to purchase in doll form for a hefty price tag, the chances are they’ll like it. But what happens when you re-watch your childhood favourites through the perspective of your cynical and miserable adult self?

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As a child I had a quite a hatred of Disney films which has accompanied me into adulthood. This meant I was forced to look beyond the world of cartoon princesses and singing lions to keep me entertained throughout my childhood. My parents were therefore given the task of finding alternative age-appropriate films, one of which was a little film called Mac and Me. For those of you unfamiliar with the title, you lucky people, it is a film depicting the story of an alien who befriends a young disabled boy. Cashing in on the E.T. trend six years too late, the film was a financial disaster and most people are blissfully unaware of its existence. “Perfect”, they must have thought, “she’ll love that!”

Yep, sure looks like a quality film

Yep, sure looks like a quality film

My childhood memories of Mac and Me are hazy, but I am reassured by my parents that I loved it dearly. So, when by some miracle the film was released on DVD and found its way underneath my Christmas tree last year, I relished the opportunity to re-watch the film and to finally understand why my child-self had blocked out all memory of this visual apocalypse which parades itself as a children’s film.

As I briefly mentioned, Mac and Me follows the same basic plot as E.T. only with more product placement. On some strange planet, Mac and his hideously frightening alien family are transported to Earth by the world’s least advanced space machine which literally sucks them up with its vacuum cleaner hose attachment. Once on earth, Mac (which totally stands for Mysterious Alien Creature and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that McDonald’s financed the film) is separated from his family and hides out in the house of wheelchair bound Eric (Jade Calegory) and his family. After saving Eric’s life when his wheelchair speeds off some sort of suburban cliff inappropriately located in the middle of the neighbourhood, Mac causes all kinds of trouble, decorating the house with plants and stealing people’s Coca-Cola. At this point it is worth mentioning that these extra-terrestrial beings appear to survive solely on Coca-Cola and Skittles. Although completely illogical in every sense of the word, the filmmakers’ main concern seems not to be for the plot but for the amount of product placement they can cram into this movie. Subtlety is not the film’s strong point and the product placement becomes so bad that McDonald’s actually becomes a part of the plot; there is a long song and dance sequence filmed at a McDonald’s restaurant at which point Ronald McDonald himself makes a cameo appearance. The filmmakers could quite easily convince the public that it was all just an elaborate McDonald’s advert rather than an alien and hamburger filled cinema nightmare.

Although insane, sometimes hilarious and genuinely terrible, Mac and Me is not one of those so-bad-it’s-good films. Most of the film revolves around this small alien creature hiding from Eric’s mother and evading the clutches of some bumbling, inept NASA agents. This becomes dull very quickly and, despite the fairly short running time, the film does feel like it lasts for all eternity. Even though the NASA are portrayed as ‘the bad guys’, I struggle to believe even children aren’t rooting for them and shouting “Just find him already!” at the screen in hope that the torture will soon end. I also doubt that children will be too interested in the lame, boring and unresolved love story between Eric’s brother Michael (Jonathan Ward) and the neighbour who, wait for it, works for McDonald’s. The film does become slightly more entertaining when Eric and Michael take Mac to the aforementioned McDonald’s birthday party, skinning a teddy bear in order to provide Mac with a disguise. Unconvincing and absolutely terrifying, the idiots at the party are convinced that the alien-bear is just a technologically advanced toy, even when unable to resist the catchy tunes at the party, Mac begins to breakdance. Now, I would not recommend this film to anyone of sound mind, however, this scene definitely is worth watching.

Accomplishing the seemingly impossible, from this point on the film gets worse. We are subjected to scenes of Mac, like some sort of alien Pied Piper, driving a child’s jeep around the suburb whilst followed by all the dogs in the neighbourhood. The dire special effects don’t even seem worth mentioning considering how bad the rest of the film is. Things take a dramatic turn for the worst toward the climax of the film as it looks as though Mac’s alien family may die. However, just in time to save them, Eric and Michael revive the dying aliens with some much needed Coca-Cola.  Alive and reunited, the extra-terrestrial family wander into a supermarket and cause havoc with watermelons and, unsurprisingly, cans of Coca-Cola.

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The film ends with a bang as a shootout ensues in the supermarket after Daddy Alien gets hold of a gun. Although I’m not under the illusion (and would certainly not recommend) that you will go away and watch this, I won’t spoil the ending for you.

The Benefit of Hindsight: A truly, truly awful film. I am depressed that I wasted any of my childhood on this atrocity.

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THE CO-OP CHRONICLES: F.E.A.R. 3

The Co-Op Chronicles are our venture to find the best Co-Op games on steam. Your guides through the land of Co-Op games are two insufferable and ill-informed guys from England.

I am Andrew. I’m a cynic, I hate everyone and therefore I feel that I’m the perfect person to investigate the world of Co-Op games. ­­

And I’m Joe. I’m an immoral wastrel whose main purpose in life is dodging responsibly and consuming sandwiches, I’m Andrew’s reason for hating the world.

Co-Op games need different elements to single player campaigns; the story must accommodate two people and not just tag someone else in the game. And you don’t want to spend ten minutes watching cut scenes when all you want to do is get playing; especially as cut scenes mean you can’t talk to each other.

They must let you play the game since you don’t really want to sit around watching long cut scenes, but most importantly, a Co-Op game should allow you to just load the game up and start having fun. The last thing you want to be doing is awkwardly figuring out how to play an overly complex game when you’re meant to be having fun with your buddy.

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I made the decision to pick up F.E.A.R. 3. It boasted itself as a psychological horror game, and that sounded cool enough. Without any research or history of the previous F.E.A.R. games, I Ioaded it up and sent an invite to my beloved partner Joe.

Receiving the steam invite and joining the party was very easy, which is very important for playing with friends; you don’t want to get bogged down in trying to work out the interface. This makes the game very accessible and you can get playing straight away.

After m’colleague had his usual issues with talking into a microphone, we got going without knowing what to expect. We were instantly greeted with a lot of cinematic cut scene. Yeah, they were nice and all, and told the story well, but we just wanted to play. We ended up just dicking about waiting for the game to start.

Eventually it started and I was Paxton Fettel, I was the ‘cool’ guy? Really? I’m not even the host? Weird, usually when you play Co-Op games the host gets the main protagonist but in F.E.A.R. 3 that does not seem to be the case. So I did what most people do when given control of super-psychic killing machine… abuse the power and start murdering and possessing everything in sight.

So, I’m Point Man? I mean, that’s okay, I can slow time and stuff but at the end of the day I’m just the generic guy with a gun? Joe’s off possessing everyone and I’m stuck here with a pistol. The Co-Op campaign just feels like a single player game with me tagged on shooting stuff. That’s never good. You want to feel like you have a part and I’m not sure I do.

The first few areas of the campaign were nothing too special; we had a jail level and a sewer level, so that’s pretty basic. Yes, they looked okay, but that’s not what I’d expect from a psychological horror. Hell, all it would have taken would be a few more creepy things. It’s an abandoned jail; all you need are some creepy voices, a few clowns and you’re set.

Why does it have to be this way?

Why does it have to be this way?

But let’s get down to the actual playing. F.E.A.R 3 has that reckless abandon feel that games can give you. I got to just shoot stuff at will and really lay down some damage. The guns felt like they had a lot of weight behind them and felt really good to shoot. How was doing all the cool things, Joe?

The powers of Paxton Fettel were great fun to mess around with, and I had powers ranging from possessing people to making them hover above the ground to simply zipping round the map. It came together and made me smile as I thought of new ways to test these cool powers. For example, warping into a guy in a room with three enemies and making him throw his grenades at his feet made me giggle much like Andrew does when he proof-reads my work.

Did you have fun though? I did at times, when I got into a proper shoot-outs with exploding barrels and shots from every angle. That’s always fun when you’re playing with a friend. It was one of the only times the game allowed for some actual co-operation. I could ask for covering fire, well covering mind control? Joe could ask me to help him with, well nothing really, Mr. Fettel had it all covered while I got shot. Did you have fun?

I did have a lot of fun during the game but that was helped by the fact that when you put two like minded people in an environment and tell them to mess around, it’s obviously going to be fun. However, there were a fair few instances whereby we would be laughing more at the game’s expense. In one scene, one player approaches a door and this starts a cut scene whereby whoever was going through is hit by a gun, wait scratch that no matter whom goes through the door, both players are hit by the same butt of the gun. Simple game fault but very fun to watch.

That's cute, I wonder what it means. "Spend time with loved ones while you can." Oh.

That’s cute, I wonder what it means. “Spend time with loved ones while you can.” Oh.

I thought F.E.A.R. 3 was decent. The game’s real plus was how quickly we could just get into games and start from where we ended. It only takes a second to get back into the game so you can play even when time is short. You can learn how to play it straight away, so you can start enjoying it right off the bat.

At the end of the day F.E.A.R 3 is good quality fun; the perfect remedy to all the serious style shooters that litter Steam. If more games understood that sometimes I want to crack open a can of something and turn some private military types into a new wall decoration using only the powers of my mind, then the world would be a better place. It’s good old fashioned fun reminding similar to the Timesplitters 3 style of Co-Op fun.

 

+Easy to join an online game

+Very quick to get the hang of

+Some very fun shoot-outs

Felt like a 1-player story line

Cutscenes didn’t transition well for 2-players

Cliché scariness more funny than spooky

 

You’ll have fun playing this with a friend, but there’s still better out there.

If you’re looking for a co-op game that isn’t to taxing on a friendship you could do a hell of a lot worse than this.

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