Sunday Short Reviews

Every Sunday, Gill delves into his archive of over 800 movie reviews and randomly selects three for your enjoyment! Here are this week’s…

Spike Jonze brings his bittersweet hipster sensibilities to a truly unusual romance story that, in someone else’s hands, could well have been the dumb film that many people anticipated Her to be: a rom-com about a man who falls in love with Siri. Thankfully, Her is much more mature and heartfelt than even Jonze fans might expect it to be, and in spite of Scarlett Johansson only being a voice throughout the movie, the love story between her and Joaquin Phoenix’s character is one of the sweetest and most genuine-seeming that I’ve encountered in a movie in quite some time. Her also serves as a reflection on society’s growing dependence on and interactions with technology, and technophobes will probably take this as more of a cautionary tale than a love story. The interesting thing is that it works as a creepy story as well, and the way Jonze toes the line between these two interpretations is actually quite a masterful feat. The worldbuilding of Her was the real star of the show in my mind, as the future depicted here feels incredibly prescient. All of the technology in Her comes off as a natural evolution of the technology that exists presently, and I could definitely see us living in the world of Her in maybe twenty years or so. I’ve read that the film was inspired by Jonze’s marriage to Sofia Coppola and their long-distance relationship that’s the result of them both being jet-setting filmmakers. This tidbit adds another layer to the film that those of us who have been in long-distance relationships will be able to relate to even more. All in all, this is an atypical, quirky, sweet, sad, and strange movie, but it’s one of Jonze’s best works yet and deserving of the accolades being heaped upon it.
4.25 out of 5

Pain & Gain
Pain & Gain was easily one of the most divisive films of 2013, with some critics praising it while others bashed it mercilessly. So where do I come down on it? Well, somewhere in the middle, but definitely landing on the “not-so-good” end of the spectrum. There are some good things about Pain & Gain: it’s stylishly shot (as one would expect from a Michael Bay movie), the true story it’s telling is engaging and stranger than fiction, and Dwayne Johnson in particular delivers a good performance as a man with a truly skewed moral compass. Mark Wahlberg likewise plays a good meathead, and Tony Shalhoub makes a good jerky hostage, but perhaps the greatest stumbling block that the movie faces is the fact that none of these characters is in any way likeable. Thus, I couldn’t get invested in any of them, and felt more like I was watching a freakshow: entertaining from a rubbernecker perspective, but not enjoyable per se. If you’re looking for a good reason to watch Pain & Gain, though, I can give you one. Just imagine it’s a low-grade film from the late Tony Scott. It shares a lot of similarities with Scott’s style, and whenever it strays far into Tony Scott territory, the movie manages to work. But then Michael Bay shows up again and it all falls apart.
2 out of 5

Grand Piano
This is a movie that has no right being as entertaining as it is, but Grand Piano is a taught, tense, very fun thriller. Playing like Phone Booth on a piano bench, Grand Piano tells the story of a pianist who sits down to play a concert, only to discover that there’s a sniper in the theatre who will kill him if he hits a wrong note. A greater mystery surrounding the sniper’s motivations soon unfolds, and even though it’s a lot of fun, Grand Piano deals mostly in standard thriller fare. Where the film sets itself apart, though, is in its camera work and its music. The camera is used to great effect, swooping and floating all around the theatre, and there are a number of truly impressive sequences that must have taken loads of planning to get right. The music is also excellent, and I don’t know how many of the piano pieces are actually played by Elijah Wood’s protagonist, but he manages to fake being an incredible pianist quite well. Furthermore, the filmmakers had the bright idea to have the protagonist playing the score to his own movie, and it works to great effect. Be warned that the trailers give away who the villain is, but it’s a minor thing and doesn’t spoil the story. Overall, this is a thriller that doesn’t break any new ground, but it knows its genre and makes the absolute most of it. I didn’t expect much from Grand Piano, but what I got is one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in a long time.
4 out of 5

See you next Sunday for three more thrilling short reviews!

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