Her (2013)

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Technology has provided the amazing ability for us to connect with people all around the world, but with those glowing screens in hand, technology has also created a new barrier to real human connection. We are of the generation where we almost have a stronger bond with our smartphones that we do with the people around us, “socializing” through social media rather than with the other human beings sitting at the same dinner table.

In Her, we see what happens when this phenomenon is lifted to the next level. In the near future, people are introduced to the “world’s first artificially intelligent operating system.” This goes well beyond the Siri voice assistant into what appears to be a self-aware consciousness, complete with personality. You interact by voice, speaking to the OS as if he or she were a real person. The OS can sift through your emails, call up your contacts and set up your dating profile, but it can also be a casual conversation partner… just like a real person.

The trouble, as we see through protagonist Theodore Twombly, played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix, is that people start to build real relationships with their OS partners, moving even further away from real human interaction. Indeed, he falls in love with his OS “Samantha” (and who wouldn’t when she has the voice of Scarlett Johansson?), all while going through a difficult divorce. It’s haunting and it’s truly troubling, but Her is also one of the most beautiful and charming movies I’ve seen in a very long time. How is it that Theodore is able to capture such sentiment and such emotion in his ghostwritten letters, but he cannot do so in his own relationships?

And we are not that far away from the reality depicted in Her‘s near future. This goes beyond Lars and the Real Girl, building upon some of the struggles we see in movies like A.I. and I, Robot, except the artificially intelligent “robot” has no physical form. Samantha is both present and absent, simultaneously here and everywhere else. She exists, but she doesn’t.

The entire cast — from Amy Adams as friend Amy to a barely recognizable Rooney Mara as soon-to-be ex-wife Catherine — is simply stunning. And let’s not forget about the positively amazing score, as performed by Arcade Fire. Her is a movie that is perfect for our increasingly digital lifestyles and it serves as a warning for what happens if Siri, Google Now and Cortana intrude too much into our real human lives. But the appeal is undeniable. As Theodore says in the movie, “There’s something that feels so good about sharing your life with somebody.” Even if that somebody is just lines of code.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

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I will admit that I wasn’t always a fan of Will Ferrell’s particular brand of comedy, but it has grown on me over the years. I really enjoyed the first Anchorman for its utter outrageousness and stupidity, so I had high hopes for Anchorman 2. While the movie surely has its fair share of laughs, the material is really start to run dry on Ron Burgundy and his crew from San Diego.

We get many of the same cliches, including a royal rumble of sorts with other news groups, tossed in with inexplicable plot twists that don’t really add much to the movie. But I suppose that’s almost the point. If you liked the first Anchorman, you’ll get some chuckles here too, but the originality and cheeky charm is lost. That’s not how you stay classy.

21 & Over (2013)

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Falling even deeper into the well of stupidity, we find a fairly typical college comedy involving lots of drinking, lots of partying and lots of confused relationships. In 21 & Over, we have a group of three friends who decide to go out to the bar for a drink, but one of them needs to be home early because he has an important interview the next morning to get into medical school. Of course, he’s the Asian one. And of course, he parties a little too hard, gets too drunk, and his friends don’t know how to get him home.

The senses of time and logic are thrown completely out the window as we encounter a marauding buffalo, angry sorority sisters and a lead cheerleader with his possibly homosexual entourage. It’s immature and low-brow, to be sure, but that’d be forgivable if there was a little more substance or wit here. This is what happens when you take The Hangover, replacing the Wolf Pack with forgettable, typecast college kids.

Shutter Island (2010)

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You get the sense right away that something isn’t quite right about this isolated mental hospital for the criminally insane. Leonardo diCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, the US Marshal sent to investigate the disappearance of a woman from Shutter Island. She apparently drowned her three daughters before being admitted to the island, but now she has seemingly run away. Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem and Teddy keeps digging in further, peeling away the layers at an attempt to reveal the truth.

In this sense, you get some elements of Inception and Sucker Punch in there. I can’t really say much else about the plot without spoiling the surprise, but you will develop your own suspicions as the movie goes on. What I will say is that Martin Scorsese has once again done a masterful job at creating an incredibly moody picture that is decidedly dark and brooding in its approach. If you like films where the setting and atmosphere can be characters on their own, you’ll find a lot to like in Shutter Island. Just know that you can never leave.