A sweet film about a scared lady who never aged past 29. Decades later she finds true love, but will she go for it? Kinda soppy (as you’d expect), but all in good romantic-fantasy fun. Beautiful set design and costuming, and touching performances from Blake Lively, Ellen Burstyn, and Harrison Ford. Grade: B+
Smart, intriguing, and not afraid to stare straight into the tough questions about AI. Genres wobble a bit at the climax, but it’s a well-executed film. Grade: B+
Blade Runner. A.I. Terminator. Transcendence. I, Robot. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ghost in the Shell. There are scads of films out there about robots, artificial intelligence, and how man-made machines could one day become as “real” as we are. A metal-and-microchip Pinocchio, if you will. Ex Machina is the latest film that asks whether we should test those boundaries, and it’s a fascinating thinkpiece of a film.
Code monkey Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter series) wins his company’s lottery; he gets to spend a week with the company’s owner/CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year). Once Caleb arrives — after a very long plane ride into the depths of BFE Nowheresville — he’s asked to run the Turing Test on Nathan’s latest creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander, looking like a younger Natalie Portman). BTW yes, this test is named after the man on which The Imitation Game is based. Ava is a beautiful piece of machinery, with lifelike hands, feet and face. But the rest of her leaves no doubt that she’s 100% machine. As Caleb begins to question the incredibly human-like machine, he becomes fascinated, and Ava becomes attached. But what’s really going on; is she truly feeling something? Is he? And what does that mean?
As the film spools out, we learn a whole lot about Caleb’s motivation, and Nathan’s. And there’s a whole lot of Deep Thoughts fluttering around as well, from a human/machine’s ability to love, fear or lie…and what how we interact with others says about us as people, and as humans. These ideas come at you constantly, and though they are definitely topics worthy of consideration, there’s really no time to sit back and contemplate these as the story unfolds. Guess that’s better than long stretches of boredom that would afford such navel-gazing. Still, as these ideas slam into your personal cerebral cortex, it’s tough to absorb when scene after scene demands more of your brain-cell time.
Ex Machina does depend on a bit of the ol’ computer cliche characterization; Caleb is a guy that works and sleeps, with little social interaction. Nathan the computer savant would rather be researching than interacting with “real” people. AI Ava is curious about the outside world, and seems to long for the company of others; a 180 from her creator Nathan, who prefers a housekeeper that can’t speak English.
Writer/director Alex Garland (Never Let Me Go, 28 Days Later) manages to keep interest high while doling out bits and pieces of each characters motivations. Richarc Conway and the folks at Millennium FX create CGI that blends so well into its surroundings that it’s easy to believe the story. And cinematographer Rob Hardy is able to create gorgeous wilderness vistas as well as cramped red-lit underground bunkers/research facilities. And the actors deliver performances that are lifelike (Ava), compelling (Caleb) and subtly broken (Nathan).
Still, with all the good I had to knock my overall love down a notch for one reason; the climax. Ex Machina goes from a thinkpiece of a film to a flat-out thriller towards journey’s end. That helps things if you go see this with a group of friends and want to discuss what could possibly happen. It’s not Birdman in it’s “WTF just happened” vibe, but with the shakeup in pacing and story? I had more than one Scooby Doo head-shake moment as I tried to figure out when the film tipped into thriller category. (Gotta admit that Garland’s work on 28 Days Later does come in handy when he tries to deliver suspense. He’s definitely no one trick pony.)
If you dig AI films, catch Ex Machina, and then head home and re-watch Blade Runner for a double-feature about those that long for true existence. Ex Machina will definitely play with your feels, and make you really think about life and artificial life.
The boys (and gal) are back and this time the artificial intelligence super specimen known as Ultron wants to wreak havoc on the world and drive the human race to extinction. Well you know the Avenger’s won’t be having that! Want to be one of the lucky few with a set of tix? Sure you do, and we mean lucky because the studio isn’t giving us very many – so you’ll need to work to win. Details below the banner.
Ah those Bella’s…young, gorgeous and great pipes to boot, what’s not to love about this crew? The Barden Bellas are back for the follow up to the 2012 smash hit that had you re-singing the pop songs through the ages. This time, an embarrassing performance snafu boots them to the bottom of the acapella world, but you know that won’t keep these gals down (especially with Rebel Wilson in tow). An international competition beckons that no American team has ever won – and you know how the Bellas are gonna rock it! Wanna catch the Baltimore screening with us? This one’s gonna take some moxy, some soul, some glitz & glamour if you can…and of course a YouTube account. Click below the banner for contest/ticket details!
Found-footage goes social media, with remarkably spooky results. Though there’s really no build-up of the Big Haunting Bad beyond “she’s dead”, Unfriended lets you feed your voyeuristic tendencies and delivers genuine chills. Grade: B+
Poor Laura. You go to one backwoods kegger and really get sheisse-faced (almost literally in this case), and some douchecanoe posts your horrible night on YouTube. What’s a girl to do? Well, Laura killed herself. And a year later, a group of her friends — who seem to be hopelessly addicted to Skype — find there’s an outsider in their group call. An outsider with the subscriber info Laura used to use. As the night progresses, these six friends go from annoyed to horrified…to dead. Let’s just say I’ll never again play “Never Have I Ever” without getting a slight chill.
Yeah, this is another “found footage” genre flick. But as it’s about modern high schoolers — and how technology can get hacked by The Beyond — it works here. Excellent use of all the social media things; from Skype to Facebook, YouTube to Spotify, they’re used just like you’d use ‘em at home. Director Levan Gabriadze gets a special high-five for his use of Spotify as voice/playlist-from-beyond. Nice touch. There’s also a nice touch to the film editing, with it’s quick-cuts and constant rapid flashes from one Skype account to another, from Skype to YouTube to Spotify to Facebook and it’s rapidly growing comment feeds.
Two things thew me about this film. The first? Laura herself. Earlier press info had said that Laura was “a vicious bully” before her suicide. But there’s nothing about the kind of person Laura was before the video, or after. She’s simply someone these kids knew and were friends with, who had a horrible video posted about her when she was at her weakest. Perhaps some editing cut the negative view of the victim in order to make the kids that bite it seem more deserving of their fate? Not sure, but I kept waiting to see more about who Laura was…to no avail. [Note: I notice all mention of Laura being a bully before her shaming has been cut from IMDb. So perhaps this was indeed a change of direction for the storyline.]
The second? The complete lack of tech savvy behavior on the part of these Generation Z kids. They click open JPG images sent from unknown sources, don’t know how to clear Skype, and install strange downloads. Heck, according to the backstory Laura had been dead for a year, and yet nobody had memorialized her Facebook page? That helps the story along, but didn’t help me get lost in the moment. Instead, I kept thinking “why didn’t anyone do [X]?” And nobody ever thought of ditching their laptops and running over to [X friend who just drew the death short straw] rather than simply watching said friend die on camera? Of course, I could say the same thing about stupid teens in 80s horror flicks — going outside in the dark when you know there’s a killer? In your underwear? — so perhaps I’m just being curmudgeonly. Get off my lawn!
Kudos to screenwriter Nelson Greaves (Sleepy Hollow) for being able to combine cyberbullying, teen suicide and straight-up horror in such an effective, creepy way. But what really resonated with me was the way Unfriended played with who the Big Bad really was. Laura might possibly have been a Queen Bee when she was alive (and is definitely a force to be reckoned with after death), but as the story unfolds her former friends end up thoughtlessly turning on each other as things get progressively worse. Who is the real evil entity? Perhaps not Laura…
Once I got past the “are we sure this isn’t a stoner comedy?” thing, True Story drew me in. Is it awards-season worthy? Well no, probably not. And that’s probably why it’s here in April rather than November. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an intriguing story well told. Grade: B+
If movies and TV have taught us anything, it’s that America loves itself a good whodunit. Or even a good already-know-who-did-it. Let’s face it, we all love watching true crime. So when Michael Finkel’s memoir True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa got the multiplex treatment? I had to see what was up. And I’ve gotta say I was impressed with the way they handled such a convoluted story. IRL, Longo lived a life of the low-grade sociopath (aka “person with antisocial personality disorder”, for the psych majors out there.) Longo was forging checks, committing petty theft and using fake ID. Soon after he and his family moved to Oregon, his wife and children were found dead. Longo fled the country, and was put on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. When Longo was found in Mexico, he had been going by the name of Michael Finkel, a journalist that had just been fired from the NY Times for fudging his research. Meanwhile in Montana, Finkel hears about how his name was used by a stone-cold killer, he has to find out why. And getting a book deal out of the whole sordid mess wouldn’t be a bad thing either…
Okay I’ll say it; when I first saw that James Franco and Jonah Hill would be playing Longo and Finkel? I thought “oh wow, this is gonna turn into a bottom-feeder comedy.” But nup. They play it straight. In fact, they dust off their respective Award-level chops and really dig into these roles. Doesn’t hurt that Felicity Jones — last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Actress in The Theory of Everything — plays Finkel’s girlfriend (now wife) Jill. Together the three of them play a cat-and-mouse game with the truth; Longo telling his side, Finkel trying to figure out what he believes, and Jill remaining wary of Longo’s hold on her man. My favorite scene has to be when Jill finally confronts Longo. It didn’t happen for realsies, but the performances by Franco and Jones are spectacular. They truly inhabit their characters, and the scene had me holding my breath. Don’t worry, I started back up soon after. Oxygen rules!
Though True Story is kind of a misnomer, as the usual narrative liberties have been taken to make the story flow and give it a sense of urgency, it’s still a fascinating look at one man’s quest for redemption, another’s attempt to deliver his version of the truth…and the ways in which these two seemingly disparate goals intersect.
TwitReview: “Furious 7″ – Fast cars, fast action, Statham, Diesel, Walker, The Rock – delivering a movie that honors the franchise and the late Paul Walker.
Grade: 4 out of 5.
No April Fool’s Day joke; Reynolds and Mirren are amazing in this based-on-truth tale about a woman who wins a court case. Against Austria. To reclaim her family’s artwork that had been stolen by Nazis. A riveting film. Grade: A-
Okay fine. If someone had told me that Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren would be co-starring together? I’d have said in what universe? Love some VanCityReynolds, but he’s been on a blockbuster binge of late, whereas Dame Helen knocks drama out of the park. (Though she literally killed with her comedic timing in the Red series too.)
However, Woman in Gold shows that two great but opposite tastes can definitely work beautifully together. Reynolds plays against type as Randol Schoenberg, a nebbish of an attorney, who gets roped into helping a friend of his moms (that’d be Mirren, as Maria Altmann) with some paperwork. Said paperwork is actually a series of letters from Maria’s sister, which point to the possibility that the Austrian government has their family’s artwork thanks to Nazi dirty work. As Schoenberg digs deeper, it becomes obvious to the pair that a cover-up was orchestrated so Austria could keep the paintings, which included Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was for a time renamed Woman in Gold, to hide the lineage of the portrait. And so begins a struggle that works its way up to the United States Supreme Court — and the courts of Austria — before Altmann and her paintings are finally reunited. (What? The real story happened in the 90s, and the theft in the 40s. Long past spoilers y’all.)
Reynolds does a brilliant job of balancing cutesy nebbish behaviors and full-on dramatic performance. This story of Nazi theft, Holocaust survivors and bureaucratic hoop-jumping would be absolutely leaden if it wasn’t for the occasional bits of daily-life humor screenwriter Alexi Kaye Campbell slips in. While everyone knows Mirren could make a list of Triscuits ingredients sound like fine art, it’s Reynolds’ way with comedic timing that’s not only elevates his character, but raises his game so he’s toe-to-toe with the Queen herself.
Tatiana Maslany as WWII-age Altmann shows amazing range…to anyone who hasn’t already loved her in Orphan Black. Fans of hers will nevertheless be blown away by her performance, which could have been heavy-handed but comes off as honest and heartbreakingly poignant. Antje Traue as Adele, Altmann’s loving and free-spirited aunt, also delivers an excellent performance.
But with all of the fine work done by the actors, it was the story itself that had me on the edge of my seat. Yes, the ending is a fait accompli. Yet it’s the getting there that drew me in. One quibble though; Schoenberg’s wife Pam (Katie Holmes) feels like an afterthought, someone shoehorned in to show that the man has A Life that is pulling at him while his quest for justice goes on.
Still, regardless of that hiccup, this is one Woman worth taking a look at.
Are you ready to strap back in for the 7th installment of this adrenaline fueled rocket ride? The late Paul Walker and friends are returning to the big screen this April in what is being hyped as the biggest, baddest and most furious of all the sequels so far. Want to join us for the exclusive Baltimore screening? Sure you do, details below the press release!
Continuing the global exploits in the unstoppable franchise built on speed, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson lead the returning cast of Furious 7. James Wan directs this chapter of the hugely successful series that also welcomes back favorites Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky and Lucas Black. They are joined by international action stars new to the franchise including Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey and Kurt Russell. Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Michael Fottrell return to produce the film written by Chris Morgan.