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Movie Breakdown: Ex Machina (Noah)

April 17, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I can sit here and write out every reason why this is the most exciting film to hit theaters this year, but I won’t. I’ll just say, this is the most exciting film to hit theaters this year.

The Reality:

It’s been a strong few years for genre films. We’ve seen audiences start to embrace (re-embrace) the idea that science-fiction and big budget blockbusters don’t have to be two-hour orgies of explosions and muscles (though hey, in the right hands, we’re all okay with that as well). We’ve seen horror films slowly start to come back from the perilous edge of shit they tiptoed on for so long. Hell, we’ve seen comic books and their celluloid kin reach new heights of both popularity and creative savvy. It’s a fucking good time to be a genre nerd. And still, every once in a while you get a film that regardless of the sea of quality it’s floating in, manages to transcend the concept of genre, and help to rewrite the book on what interesting, science-fiction can be. Ex Machina is that film. Written and directed by superstar genre writer (and novelist to boot) Alex Garland, Ex Machina follows Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson, quickly becoming one of my favorite actors), a programmer for a Google like company that wins an office raffle to join the company’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaacs in a truly fantastic asshole performance) for a week at his estate. Upon arrival (the entire film takes place in the confines of Nathan’s ultra-modern, underground home) Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava (Alicia Vikander), an advance bit of AI that he needs to test in terms of how convincing it is. What follows is a wildly entertaining, if not somber, discourse on the evolution of artificial intelligence and what it means to create sentient life. Through Caleb’s blossoming relationship with Ava, and his tenuous interactions with Nathan, Garland is able to explore the concept of what humanity is, and how we impart it to the rest of the world. It’s the mark of a talented director to be able to express big, mind-boggling concepts (for me at least, I’m a Film Major) through the interactions of 3-4 people, and Garland does just that, extrapolating these impressive concepts by beautifully executed pairings of his tiny cast of characters. Each interaction plays off the one that comes before it, until the final act of the film, where everything that’s come to bear, well, really comes to bear. This is a benchmark for modern sci-fi, a film that every thing else should aspire to. You can call me hyperbolic all you want, this is a modern fucking classic.

The Lesson:

It was Danny Boyle who was making the end of Alex Garland’s scripts feel like off-kilter, fairly shitty action movies. Silly Boyle.

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In Review: SXSW Film 2015

March 26, 2015

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Now that I’ve had a few days to put the chaos of SXSW behind me, I’m ready to divulge what I thought of the ten films that I saw during the festival.  For fun, I’ve sorted them from best to worst.  Read on.

Ex Machina

As I was walking out of the Paramount a guy in front of me looked over at his friend and excitedly labeled Ex Machina as an “instant classic.”  I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it is a great film.  The directorial debut from Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd and more) is a heady sci-fi thriller that had me engaged and on the edge of my seat right from the start.  Oscar Issac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Viklander are absolutely great it, and I suspect that all of their character’s actions will be the subject of drunken debates for years to come.  I can’t wait to see Ex Machina again.

Furious 7

I’m prefacing my comments about Furious 7 by noting that I truly adore the entire Fast And Furious series.  All of the films are self-aware adrenaline rushes that aim to delight the senses, and I can’t think of a better example of escapism than what Vin Diesel and the gang have done over the years.  With all of that being said, it’s only half accurate to say that I went into Furious 7 hoping for more of the same.  Yes, I wanted the crazy car stunts, heavy handed monologues from Vin and more, but the death of Paul Walker meant that the film needed a sizable dose of sensitivity to go along with the speed, and I wanted it done right.  I wanted to see Walker honored and not just awkwardly dealt with because it had to be done.  Thankfully, all turned out well, and nothing about the film feels forced or tacked on.  It’s big and crazy (just like it should be), but then when it needs to get small and intimate, it does.  Good on director James Wan for taking what could have been a huge mess and turning it into a triumph.

Trainwreck

If you’ve ever seen a Judd Apatow film, then you’ve seen Trainwreck.  It’s funny, raunchy, 20 minutues too long and loaded with quotable bits.  Amy Schumer is charming and hilarious in the film, and I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t become a new go-to for female roles in comedies.  Also, LeBron James is pretty damn solid in it.  Who knew he had such good comedic timing?

Love And Mercy

Brian Wilson’s story is interesting, complicated, sad and totally not something that should be crammed into a single film.  Somehow though, Love And Mercy works.  Director Bill Pohlad wisely just shows only the necessary portions of the two most important stretches of Brian Wilson’s life, and Paul Dano and John Cusack both do a wonderful job of portraying the famed artist during those times.  I highly recommend you see it regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of Wilson.

The Final Girls

The Final Girls is a horror comedy that follows a group of friends who get sucked into their favorite slasher film and then must figure out a way to survive.  It’s super meta and very much a spiritual successor to Cabin In The Woods.  Now, just so I’m clear, I’m not saying that The Final Girls is as good as Drew Goddard’s 2012 hit.  A sizable amount of jokes miss completely and often the “world” that the characters exist in makes no sense at all, but overall it’s a fun time that will play well for those who enjoy clever horror movies.

Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is Doris is about an older woman (Sally Field) who is doing her best to woo a much younger man and make up for the all the years she lost while taking care of her sick mother.  I found it to be charming, funny and heartfelt, but also too goofy for its own good.  Fortunately, Field is so great as the troubled, but tenacious Doris that you’ll probably be too caught up in rooting for her to even notice when the film tries to throw itself off the rails.

Honeytrap

Honeytrap deals with a series of unfortunate decisions made by Layla (competently played by Jessica Sula), who desperately wants to be accepted and loved.  It’s depressing.  See it only if you’re in the mood to be reminded that some people have practically no shot at a better life.

Just Jim

Directed by and starring Craig Roberts (Neighbors), Just Jim is a coming of age film that features a twisted sense of humor and interesting characters.  Check it out so that you can see Emile Hirsch in full-on bizarro mode as Jim’s mentor.

Quitters

There’s not much to like about Quitters.  The main kid (Ben Konigsberg) is quite possibly the most unlikeable character I’ve come across in a long while, and I spent much of the movie hoping he would get hit by a meteor.

Brand: A Second Coming

Brand: A Second Coming is nothing but an eternally long wad of nonsense.  I know Russell Brand said he didn’t want to show up to the SXSW premiere because he felt watching it would be “uncomfortable” for him, but I think it’s because he knew it wasn’t any good.

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