1 In the touching futuristic love story “Her,” a hopeless romantic (Joaquin Phoenix in a finely calibrated performance) composes custom-tailored personal messages for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com that his desktop computer transcribes into longhand. In real life, however, he’s wounded by his impending divorce and uncertain how to move on. But he falls in love with the voice in his computer (Scarlett Johansson), a cognitive companion that responds to his dreams and desires. Spike Jonze, directing his first self-authored screenplay, balances poignant emotion with metaphysics.
2 With a vintage soul sound already proven to be timeless, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings’ new album “Give the People What They Want” didn’t seem to lose any relevance or power in the seven-month delay of its release following Jones’ cancer diagnosis. The singer is thankfully ready to return to the road (Minneapolis date: April 9, State Theatre), and she and the boys have a strong batch of new tunes to take with them, with fun forays into Fifth Dimension and girl-group territory on top of the usual James Brown-styled horn-spiked grooves. Out Tuesday.
3 Why are Labbits a favorite figurine of vinyl toy lovers the world over? Because the little rabbit-like creatures come with so much attitude. Usually, they’re smoking a tiny cigarette. But here’s a blockbuster twist. The latest series of Labbits are Marvel-themed. So the Red Skull Labbit isn’t smoking, he’s chomping down on Captain America’s shield. The best one is definitely the Wolverine Labbit. No cigarette for him either – he’s smoking adamantium. At Fifth Element, Tomodachi or at www.kidrobot.com
4 “The Past” is a compelling mystery tale wrapped in a riveting family drama, with the death throes of a marriage cloaking deeper, fouler things. Working in France, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (of 2012’s shattering Oscar winner “A Separation”) confronts grave, painful questions bleeding through several seamlessly overlapping stories. At every turn characters struggle to connect, to make peace, to forgive. This is a film about the ways the past marks us and whether we can ever remove those stains. The answer is disorienting and disturbing, as it should be.
5 Earle Labor, a scholar and curator of the Jack London Museum in Shreveport, La., has written an exceptionally well-documented biography of one of America’s great writers, “Jack London: An American Life.” London (1876-1916) was an oyster pirate, tramp, laborer, socialist, jail inmate, sailor and Alaskan gold miner before winning fame with the “The Call of the Wild” and other novels, short stories and articles. Drawing heavily from letters and diaries, Labor’s authoritative book tells London’s story in rich detail, but it’s not a breezy narrative.