"Her"

Writer / director Spike Jonze envisions a not-too-distant world in which technology advances to the point that our smartphone operating systems possess humanlike artificial intelligence. After creating this believable construct, Jonze takes it to the next logical place and wonders aloud if we could actually form meaningful relationships with these virtual assistants.

To answer the question, Jonze casts Joaquin Phoenix as a middle-aged introvert who uses all manners of technology as a crutch to withdraw from human contact following the dissolution of his marriage. When Phoenix's character develops the inevitable romantic relationship with his operating system 'Samantha' (the attractive voice of Scarlett Johansson) we feel happy for him and repulsed at the same time.

The quirky Phoenix is well-suited for this role and delivers an earnest, genuine performance that allows the viewer to be empathetic even as we look askance at his choices. For his talents, Jonze rightfully earned the Academy Award for best original screenplay.

While the whole premise is disturbing, the film still captivates with stellar acting, an imaginative script and subtle, rich directing. Acceptable for kids at least 13 year old. (PG-13: Sexual themes and language). 1 hour and 33 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 3 stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 2½ stars

Adults: 3½ stars

Seniors: 3 stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- a compelling, albeit warped, romance picture.

"RoboCop"

I have clear memories of watching the original "RoboCop" in 1988 on my 19" Zenith TV and Sony Betamax player. The intentionally over-the-top violence and tongue-in-cheek dehumanization in the film deeply appealed to my teenage sensibilities. And with an identical ethos comes this modern remake.

Joel Kinnaman stars as one of the last honest cops in Detroit circa 2028. Nearly killed by a criminal kingpin in an explosion, our hero is saved by modern science and the immoral CEO of a defense contractor (Michael Keaton) when Kinnaman's few remaining body parts are grafted on to a high-tech robot, making him the ultimate fighting machine.

That's when the fun begins. Who will win the internal struggle between what remains of Kinnaman's soul versus the super-suit's software, which just wants to kick bad guy butt without any of that messy human emoting?

Samuel L. Jackson is terrific in a supporting role as a cable news bloviator, stirring up the masses in support of deploying more robot police officers. The special effects are strong, and it's easy to suspend disbelief. I enjoyed the action scenes, but I wish director José Padilha had devoted more screen time to RoboCop in battle mode and less on the laboratory development (with an out-of-place Gary Oldman as the conflicted scientist) behind this bionic man.

A good choice if you're looking for a mindless shoot-'em-up film. Fine for kids 12 years old and up. (PG-13: Violence, language and drugs). 1 hour and 57 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 2½ stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 3 stars

Adults: 2½ stars

Seniors: 1½ stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- silly sci-fi action fun.

J.B. Alderman lives in Piedmont and can be reached at jason@alderman.net.