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The Shelf: HER, I FRANKENSTEIN, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

This week, we’ve got romance between man and machine, the very weird after effects of man attempting to create life out of dead things, and the awkward story of several dozen women all wearing the same outfit.

Her

We’re getting closer and closer to the idea of “the singularity,” that moment when technology will catch up to the power of the human brain, able to think freely and on its own, and then eventually surpass us to the point where we either need to become one with that technology or fade away. While most movies that deal with this idea go about it from a very negative global perspective (“The machines are taking over!” Terminator, The Matrix, etc.), Spike Jonze’s Her looks at it from a very personal point of view, and discusses the way tech has at once brought all of us together and left us completely lonely in the process. It’s definitely a movie for the internet generation, and a surprisingly touching and realistic account of complicated relationships.

The film is set in the near future and centers on Theo (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely man whose marriage fell apart but he can’t seem to let it go. He spends his days working for Elegant Hand Written Letters dot com, for which he has to dictate the feelings of a client to their loved ones while the computer etches these words in the client’s handwriting. It’s an immediate way to learn about Theo’s state of mind and his soulful nature, but also society’s inability to express real emotion to each other in person. It’s at least three steps removed. All of Theo’s correspondence of his own comes in the form of talking to his personal computer, which is, needless to say, very cold. Theo then purchases a brand new OS, which is designed to learn and have personality. He wants it to be a female voice and she becomes Samantha and sounds like Scarlett Johansson.

What starts as a working relationship quickly becomes a friendship and then more than a friendship, as Samantha wants to learn about the world through Theo’s eyes. She is becoming truly alive, even though neither of them are quite sure what that means. While some of Theo’s friends, namely his upstairs neighbor and friend (Amy Adams) and his co-worker (Chris Pratt), think what Theo and Samantha have is great, his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Rooney Mara) certainly does not. Theo has a crisis and has to decide whether he’s okay with having the person in his life be a voice and thoughts and nothing more.

This is easily one of the best movies of 2013, and was very high on my personal Top 10 list. It’s a really touching and, I stress again, realistic depiction of what a non-traditional relationship is like. If you’ve ever had a long-distance significant other, you’ll be able to relate. Jonze never has the film go where you think it will, but it always feels true to both the nature of the story and the characters. On top of that, Jonze mixes parts of Downtown Los Angeles and Shanghai, China to create a kind of familiar but still futuristic city. It’s one of the most believable representations of “the near future” in any movie. It’s funny, it’s uncomfortable, it’s warm, and it’s heartbreaking. Her is a definite must-see.

I, Frankenstein

Boy, that Dr. Frankenstein was way more brilliant than we originally thought. Not only did he create life out of dead tissue sewn together and electricity surging through said flesh, but the subsequent creature is now practically immortal. Also, even though the creature is not named Frankenstein, for the purposes of being alive 200 years later, he’s taken up that mantle. So, his name is Adam Frankenstein. This is the basic, already-hard-to-buy setup for I, Frankenstein, a late January release which is already coming out on Blu-ray.

Aaron Eckhart plays Adam Frankenstein, the very old but still spry and handsome creation of his namesake, who, as he buried his creator up in the Arctic, is attacked by demons but then saved by gargoyles who want the creature to help them in their quest to destroy demons on Earth. Oh, the gargoyles were created by the Archangel Michael, did I not mention that? Adam wants nothing to do with them, but they give him a gargoyle weapon anyway so he can dispatch any demons he comes across. Hundreds of years later, he’s in modern dress and is once again called upon to help the gargoyles, this time in an all-out war between the two ancient clans of monsters.

There’s no two ways about it, this movie is dumb. Only the second feature to be directed by longtime screenwriter Stuart Beattie, I, Frankenstein was co-written by one of the writers of Underworld, and it bears so many similarities it’d almost be cause for litigation if someone else did it. You’ve got your evil race of monsters, you’ve got your “good” race of monsters, you’ve got an outsider who can’t get involved but inevitably does, and you’ve got a human/love interest there for reasons. It’s a bit Van Helsing and a bit Blade and a bit CGI-overload. Bad dialogue, incomprehensible plot, and way hokey performances. Skip it.

Orange is the New Black Season One

Netflix’s much lauded dramedy comes to Blu-ray this week as well. Following the based-on-a-true-story of a preppy and pampered New Yorker who gets sent to prison for a year because of a drugs trafficking charge from years before when she was in a relationship with a woman who did that thing. It begins as kind of a kitschy premise but it becomes something much deeper and intriguing, as we see the backstories and plights of many of the other women in the prison as the season goes on. It seems being in prison is not fun.

The cast for this show is really fantastic, with special commendation paid to Taylor Schilling as Piper, our lead character, who has to quickly learn to adapt to her new surroundings. Her arc over the episodes is really drastic, and we’re not even through her whole sentence (there is a season two, you know). Jason Biggs plays Piper’s fiance, who is finding it pretty difficult on the outside as well. He has a somewhat thankless role of “the boyfriend,” but he’s really quite good as well. The side characters become some of the most compelling, with a forbidden relationship between an inmate and a guard, another guard dealing drugs in the prison under the nose of the Russian gangster mother, and a religious zealot psychopath who hates Piper’s very being.

Now, you’re asking, if it’s on Netflix, why get it on Blu-ray? Well, there are commentaries on the episodes by cast and crew, which are pretty enlightening, as well as a few behind-the-scenes features. Not much, really, but if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably find something here to enjoy.

ALSO AVAILABLE

Eastbound & Down Season 4 – The final season of the misadventures of former sports hero turned school coach Kenny Powers.

Final Exam – This ’80s slasher movie proves standardized testing can be murder.

Evilspeak – Clint Howard summons demons in a military academy. It’s the ’80s, it happens.

Afterlife Season One – Before he wore a cowboy hat and shot zombies, Andrew Lincoln played a college lecturer who investigates the paranormal in this spooky BBC series from 2005.

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