This week, we begin in Jonze-world:
Rated R, 126 minutes.
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.
Available now in various digital download formats.
In his latest meditation on the human condition, writer-director Spike Jonze demonstrates how difficult relationships can be by having the significant other of his main character, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), be an operating system.
Scarlett Johansson voices the “her” of Her, Samantha, Theodore’s operating system and an unlikely love object. Her takes place in a recognizable near-future, as everyone seems to be walking around talking to their systems, completely oblivious to other humans.
When first seen, Theodore nurses his depression about his impending divorce. During the day, he writes love letters for a website. He resists social overtures from friends, instead staying home to play his video games.
There, Theodore installs a promising new operating system to help break out of his rut. Eventually, he and Samantha talk at length and become close. Or so he thinks. Jonze keeps it surreal and even maintains the otherworldly mood. But in the end, his psychological themes become apparent, deserving further reflection.
DVD extras: a 24-minute “making of” featurette, another 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette titled “How Do You Share Your Life With Somebody,” and the four-minute segment “Her: Love in the Modern Age.”
The Warner Archive Collection, which manufactures discs on demand, releases a pair of titles with excellent ensemble performances.
Falling in Love (3 stars) Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro star in this fairly routine romance made exceptional by its stars as well as its supporting cast. The script by Michael Cristofer looks like an American twist on David Lean’s seminal 1945 Brief Encounter.
Streep and De Niro play Molly and Frank, two married people who just happen to meet on a commuter train into Manhattan. After an initial feeling-out period in which neither seems inclined to having an affair, he takes time off from his engineering/construction job to spend time with her. She cuts short taking care of her sick father (John Trainer). Frank and Molly then spend time together in the city, not acting on their impulses because of the heavy guilt they feel.
Ulu Grosbard, known best as for his stage work, directs with little flair, wisely leaving the proscenium to his actors and letting them perform. Dianne Wiest and Harvey Keitel lend stable supporting work as the main characters’ sounding-board best friends.
Released in 1984. Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Detective Story (4 stars) Based on Sidney Kingsley’s stage play, this 1951 film takes place mostly in a single setting, a police precinct. But William Wyler’s crisp direction keeps the action fast and steady.
Kirk Douglas plays quick-tempered James McLeod, a reactionary detective bent on convicting an accused abortion doctor (George Macready). McLeod recklessly uses force and physical abuse. The plot turns dicier when McLeod’s wife, Mary (Oscar-nominated Eleanor Parker), finds herself unwittingly involved.
During the drama, characters drop in and out of the small enclosure, including Lee Grant (Oscar nominated for a role she played onstage) as a shoplifter and Joseph Wiseman (the future Dr. No) as an unhinged burglar. Wyler and screenwriters Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler also garnered Oscar nominations for their smooth translation onto film. Rated TV-PG, 103 minutes.
Olive Films joins in commemorating World War II with two unrated, movie-only features released during and soon after the war.
Flying Tigers (2 1/2 stars) John Wayne stars as Capt. Jim Gordon, the commanding officer of a group of pilots in 1941, months before the U.S. entered the war. Stationed in China solely to fight the Japanese air force, they daily experience aerial combat.
Wayne must deal with a rebel pilot (John Carroll), who wants to go it alone in the air as well as on the ground with Gordon’s woman (Anna Lee).
Director David Miller mixes in authentic aerial footage from within the aircraft as well as on the ground, resulting in two technical Oscar nominations plus one for the score.
Released in 1942, 102 minutes.
Home of the Brave (3 stars) Available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray, this film is based on Arthur Laurents’ (Rope) play about racism in the military. Director Mark Robson translated Carl Foreman’s screenplay into a talky, often claustrophobic film.
Told in flashback, a military psychiatrist (Jeff Corey) tries to help the partially paralyzed Pvt. Peter Moss (James Edwards). The black soldier and surveyor had volunteered for a reconnaissance mission with three white soldiers and their commanding officer. One man (Lloyd Bridges) is already Moss’ friend, but another (Steve Brodie) is a vicious racist. Another (Frank Lovejoy) serves as the voice of reason.
The group travels to a Japanese-occupied island to gather information. Various dramas play out, traumatic enough to render Moss into his paralyzed state.
At times preachy, the sincere film was one of few to grapple with the subject. Produced by Stanley Kramer, Hollywood’s voice of conscience.
Released in 1949, 86 minutes.
And, finally, for kids this week:
Looney Tunes: Spotlight Collection 8 Warner Home Video releases more of its famous Looney Tunes cartoons in this eighth volume that again features high jinks from their stable of crazy characters. Bugs Bunny deservedly receives special treatment, with the entire first disc of two dedicated to his trademark wise-cracking in such favorites as “The Big Snooze,” “French Rarebit,” “Hyde and Hare,” and 12 others.
The second disc contains 15 more cartoons with Daffy Duck, Tweety, Wile E. Coyote, Porky Pig and others. In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Warner Bros.’ legendary animator Fred “Tex” Avery says the phrase “What’s up, doc?” originated at North Dallas High School in the 1920s when he was a student there and then continued on to his time at Southern Methodist University.
Not rated, 214 minutes.
Poppy Cat: Birthday Treasure Based on Laura Jones’ Poppy Cat books, the seven episodes of this animated treat star young Lara as she has a succession of cat-friendly adventures with Poppy the tabby. They meet the friendly dog named Zuzu, the shy mouse Mo and even a badger, an owl and a rabbit.
Not rated, 80 minutes.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: After Tiller, Generation Iron, Stalingrad and Stranger by the Lake.