Posted in movies, sci-fi

A Review: Ex Machina


There is very little new in the world of cinema, with every movie seeming like a rehash of something else.  So, it’s nice when a story at least reaches back far enough that I can tag Ovid as inspiration, or Mary Shelley.  Both Pygmalion and Frankenstein are done to death, but when they are done well, you know you’re getting a quality narrative.  Ex Machina is both done well at once.

Domnhall Gleeson stars as Caleb, your run of the mill programmer, seemingly selected at random to visit with his boss, a Hughes-ian billionaire, tech-genius-recluse, Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac.  Once I’d suspended my disbelief, made it past all the hyphenates and exposition required to set the stage (Genius Nathan has selected Caleb to come and be the human interface in a Turing Test for his AI prototype), I was all in.  That’s about the time Alicia Vikander was introduced as Ava, the AI.

Alicia Vikander as Ava, in Ex Machina.

It would be impossible for me to tell more of the story without spoiling the twists, which play out more as long, slow curves in this quietly paced, richly filmed movie.  What I will tell you is that there is a sequence that will go down in my mental history as the weirdest, best, most horrifying dance number I’ve ever seen–for about twenty different reasons.

If you enjoy food for thought, you’ll have a veritable buffet of topics to consider, ranging from what makes us human, to what constitutes consent.  If you just like to look at pretty things, you’ll do equally as well.  Vikander is luminous.  It takes quite a face to make a bald robot head look pretty.

Even a quarter of the way through, I was feeling anxiety and empathy for the characters–all the characters.  Even the one who never spoke.  All the anxiety, and about half the empathy turned out to be for good cause.  The rest of my empathy?  It would spoil the movie to tell you what I walked out wondering, so I won’t.

At 108 minutes, it felt like really short, but it was perfectly timed.  No scenes felt wasted, and nothing dragged on.  It was just right.

It’s rated R for full frontal nudity, though that was presented in such a way that it didn’t even feel like I was looking at boobies, and for mild violence.  I only hid my eyes once.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

-0.5 because I hated Isaac’s beard so much.

Posted in movies, Reviews

Movie Review: Elysium


Elysium.  I’ve seen worse.

(Spoiler free for your reading pleasure.)

Kidding.  I have seen worse, but it really wasn’t bad.  It’s not my kind of entertainment–I like my action peppered with one-liners and better looking heroes, but it was good for what it was.  Matt Damon is always excellent.  Alice Braga was great.  Sharlto Copley was a terrific bad guy, and was clearly having more fun than anyone else in the movie.

The plot was thin, but the smoke and detritus from the many explosions plumped it up a bit.  It was a sci-fi/action movie, and for that genre, it was a little better than all right.

What made it problematic?  Mainly, Jodie Foster.  I had no idea it was possible to be wooden AND chew scenery at the same time.  She was awful. I actually turned to B and asked, “When did Jodie Foster get to be terrible?”  I’m still flummoxed.  Maybe she’d had bad shrimp?  I don’t know.  All I know is that her wig and her calf muscles were doing most of the acting.

The other big problem for me was the fact that Matt Damon was the only white guy on Earth, and he was also the only guy who could save Earth.  They could have at least cast a few white extras to make it not-as-obvious that he was the blue-eyed, blond Messiah.  I’m white and I was kind of offended that the only character in the movie who was pure of heart and motive was a white guy.  Everyone else was some variety of hoodrat, save for the one female character, who had to be in peril and saved by the one white guy.  This role would have been perfect for Vin Diesel–and how often do you get to say that?

Oh!  There was one other white guy who lived on Earth, but he was just a bad boss character.

Did I laugh?  No.  Did I cry?  What do you think.  I cried at Glitter.  Of course I cried–there were sick children and sad Matt Damon.  Sad Matt Damon is enough to make anyone cry.  Sad Vin Diesel just makes you remember to buy prune juice.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

Posted in movies, Reviews

Movie Review: SHARKNADO!


My fear of sharks is well documented, so well documented that friends are forever sending me images of sharks out of a loving desire to frighten the excrement from my body. So, when I heard there was a movie coming out called Sharknado, I knew I needed to get in front of the train. I was going to watch Sharknado with my eyes wide open, if it required a clockworkian contraption to do it. Much as I tried to cure myself of the fear in second grade by reading every book I could find on the subject, I thought it would be healthy for me to expand my ridiculous fear of sharks in swimming pools to also include airborne sharks watch, and would make it a little harder for my friends to terrorize me.

Last weekend, I hunkered down for the storm.

I have not laughed so hard in ages.

The Fug Girls did a marvelous recap of the movie, and I am sending you over to their website to read it and weep with laughter. It is brilliant. They have screen grabs. I do not. Go read, then come back.

Are you back? Excellent.

So here’s what I loved about this movie: Everything.

It was terrible and awful in that way that comes right back around to being beautiful. I absolutely lost my mind laughing within the first five minutes, so much so that Thor left the computer game he was playing to come investigate, and stayed to howl right along with me. At one point, I was choking, I was laughing so hard.

Listen, there are a lot of different types of bad. This was the best kind. This was the kind that said, “We know we are making a movie about a tornado full of sharks, and we are going to play it out like we are 9 and 10 year old kids working with action figures. We are going to tap into our inner 5th graders and we are going to have more fun than Spielberg ever did.” And they did. I think the funniest thing to me was that they didn’t even TRY for continuity or realism in their effects. In some scenes meant to portray flooded out areas, from some angles the ground was absolutely dry. The actors were absolutely dry!

I mean, there is a scene where a school bus is stranded, with water up above its bumper. So when you see exterior shots of the bus, you see all this water. When you get a shot from the bridge above the bus, you can see right down the alley where the street is bone dry. 5th graders were directing these angles! Happy, thrilled, exuberant 5th graders. It didn’t matter because THERE WAS A TORNADO FULL OF SHARKS!

What did I not like: Nothing. This movie is my new best friend.

Worst scene: Sharks fall from the sky into a swimming pool–sharks in a swimming pool being my greatest irrational fear.

Best scene: Sharks fall from the sky into a swimming pool–sharks in a swimming pool being my greatest irrational fear. Ian Ziering douses the pool with gasoline and SETS IT ON FIRE. YES!!!

5 out of 5 stars

Posted in movies, Reviews

DVD Review: He Might Not Be Into You, But I Was Totally Into the Movie


I think Ginnifer Goodwin is one of the most adorable actresses around, so when I remembered she was in He’s Just Not That Into You, I got it.  B (because he happened to be sitting in the living room at the time) and I watched it last week.  You know what?  It wasn’t half bad.  It wasn’t great, but it would make perfect in-flight entertainment. 

HJNIY, based on a self-help book for women, follows 5 women through various stages of relationships.  Goodwin plays “Gigi”, a young woman who is looking for love.  Her in-a-bad-marriage-with-Bradley-Cooper (“Ben”) sister, “Janine”, is played by Jennifer Connelly.  Jennifer Anniston (how did these women keep each other straight on the set?) is “Beth”, who wants desperately to be married to “Neil” (a/k/a Ben Affleck) her live-in boyfriend of 7 years–he does not want to get married. 

Scarlett Johansson is “Anna”, a libidinous yoga teacher who is using Kevin Connolly’s “Conor” for validation, while striving to get into Bradley Cooper’s married pants.  Her friend “Mary”, played by Drew Barrymore, is a single, lamenting how the internet has taken over dating.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl* of the film is Justin Long (the Mac guy), who plays “Alex”.  Alex is  the love guru who takes Gigi under his wing to explain how she can tell when a guy Just Isn’t That Into Her.

The cast is great, and is what saves this from being a terrible movie.  There isn’t much of a plot, and most of the characters are difficult to like.  By the end, B had said, “I hate him/her,” about every one of them, save Mary, Beth and Neil.  I had to fully agree, though I couldn’t quite bring myself to hate Gigi because…I’ve been Gigi.

I’ve been Gigi and I’ve been Mary.  I’ve been friends with Anna, Mary, Janine, and Beth.  I saw a lot of familiar “faces” in this movie.

Cutting to the chase, there is this scene where Gigi has misunderstood Alex’s invitation to a party, and where she further misunderstands his request for her to help him keep the party food bowls filled up.  Thinking she is there as his date, she gets excited that she has been upgraded from “date” to “hostess”, and she starts working that room like she’s Caroline Astor.  The girl even cleans up the place while Alex and a leggy model play video games.

She’s starting to clue in, you can tell–great acting from Goodwin here–but she’s not quite ready to admit that she’s been an absolute fool, so she flings herself at the passive aggressive Alex, forcing him to be blunt: He’s not into her that way.

I don’t know who was following me around that NYE party in 1991, but it was exceedingly cruel of you to put my foibles on the big screen.  Especially considering I am not getting paid for it.  Because that exact thing?  That EXACT thing?  I hate so much to tell you that I’ve been there.  I mean, right down to some of the dialog, I have been there.  Poor Gigi! 

I didn’t make the same scene Gigi does, but I did storm out in a fit of pique.  I also ended up with a very similar result to hers–I’m guessing the way her story played out is that she and Alex dated off and on for a long time.  I am guessing that his interest always held just long enough for her to trust him and love him back, then it would wane.  Each time she threw up her hands and said, “You know what?  Never mind,” he would suddenly be interested again.  But, after a couple of years of this, Gigi probably ended up with a massive crush on some other emotionally unavailable weirdo in closer proximity, and transferred her obsessive neediness onto him. 

Hopefully, Gigi had similar life epiphanies to mine, got herself straightened out and married a nice guy.  A nice guy who will watch chick flicks with her and not notice when she is cringing with embarrassment that exists on a cellular level when they watch this particular movie.

The other situation I found hitting way too close to home was a conversation between Mary and Anna, where Mary haltingly–out of love for her friend–finds a way to excuse her friend’s behavior.  There is this moment between Mary’s hearing the problem with the situation, and her reasoning her friend out of condemnation and judgment and the look on Drew Barrymore’s face is…perfect.  She played that perfectly.  Her tone.  Her cadence.  Her willingness to bend the rules for a friend she loves.  Perfection. 

There were several points throughout the movie where I found myself consciously thinking what fantastic acting choices the players were making.  Not in a negative way.  Not like I was taken out of the scene by obvious acting, but because the delivery was so spot on real-live-human-being that I had to stop, drop, and give prop.  There were some impressive deliveries, especially from Goodwin, Barrymore, and Affleck.

I give this a very, if uncomfortably entertaining 3.75 out of 5 stars. 

Where were the 1.25 stars lost?  Jennifer Connelly was terrible.  I don’t know if it was because her character was so unsympathetic, or if it was that her eyebrows were so unsettling, or if she wasn’t feeling well, but her performance just wasn’t there.  I don’t think Bradley Cooper can act to begin with, and I don’t find him as pretty as some do, so he couldn’t save the storyline of the love triangle between him, Connelly and ScarJo from being just gross and sad.  Ever think you’d see “gross and sad” and “ScarJo” in the same sentence?

ScarJo’s character was gross and sad.  I took away .25 stars just because she made me feel so icky.

By the by, I told B never to cheat on me, but especially never to cheat on me with ScarJo.  He asked what was wrong with ScarJo?  I said, “Absolutely nothing, and that is the problem.”  Not even my self-esteem would recover from that one.

*Gigi is what happens when a girl TRIES to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and don’t I know that.  Jeez.  That was painful to watch.

Posted in movies, Reviews

Movie Reviews: Monsters and Men–Super Men


HI!  Remember me?  It’s your long, lost Lane.

I am back with movie reviews of two old favorites getting new life.  Monsters University and Man of Steel.  Granted, Monsters Inc is hardly old compared to Superman, but since one is a prequel, and one is a reboot, I’m smushing them together for the good of mankind.  Or something like that.

***************SPOILER HEAVY********SPOILER HEAVY*************

***************SPOILER HEAVY********SPOILER HEAVY*************

 With that out of the way, let’s talk about Monster’s U because even though it was not the most entertaining movie in the world, I loved the message.  Not the message throughout the movie, which follows the tried and true format of two Monsters meet and it is hate at first sight, but they end up BFFs.  No, the message from the last five minutes of the movie.

Sully (fuzzy wuzzy blue monster) and Wazowski (giant green eyeball monster) meet and hate each other because Sully is a big, dumb jock, and Wazowski is Hermoine Granger.  Through a series of events, they get themselves thrown out of the Scaring Department at Monsters U, then have to claw their way back into it. 

Sully messes it up for them, and he and Wazowski are both expelled from school, but not before accomplishing the greatest Scare the school has ever seen.

I watched the movie with a smile, one step ahead of everything until we came to that point, at which I thought, “Oh, so here’s where all is forgiven and they go on to graduate, top of their class.”  SURPRISE!  Nope, they are well and truly expelled.

I was shocked!  I was delighted!  Consequences being presented as concrete ideas in a childrens’ movie?  Unheard of!

But it got better.  Mike and Sully went to work in the mailroom at Monsters Inc, and talked about working hard to be the best mailboys in the business.  They get promoted to janitorial staff and work to be the best janitors in the business.  They get promoted again and again, each time winning awards for their strong work.  Finally, after these promotions are presented in a montage of photos in their lockers, they make it to the Scare Floor.

I was actually verklempt.

Forget the first 9/10s of the movie.  I sat there with my son and watched a show that promoted adults behaving like adults (enforcing the consequences of bad behavior, without dismissing it because everything turned out okay in the end), and young adults learning to conduct themselves responsibly, growing up to be the strong, hard working, ethical, compassionate adults we know Mike and Sully to have been in Monsters Inc.

I tip my hat to you, Pixar.  That rocked.

3 out of 5 stars for entertainment value

11 out of 5 stars for message

 

I saw the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie when I was 7.  Our car had broken down, so while the nice people at Sears were fixing it, Mom took me to see Superman.  I effing loved Superman.  I loved Superman.  Do you hear me?  I. Loved. Superman.  I was all on board with that movie.  I loved it.

So, it was exciting for me to sit down next to my 7-year-old to watch Man of Steel.  I was sad that his experience was not so transcendent.

Like Monsters U, it was not the most entertaining movie in the world.  I would say it is because I’m spoiled to Iron Man, but that wasn’t the problem.  The problem was in the length and the storytelling.  Too much of Clark Kent wandering alone, like the Hulk.  Not enough Clark Kent whipping off his glasses and saving the world.

Oh, there was plenty of world saving action, and I understand that in the origin story, you need some points of origin, but I feel like the whole first 30 minutes could have been summed up in 5 minutes of montage-y goodness.

Do we really need to start a Superman movie with a live birth scene?  I mean, what small child sees a fully clothed woman reclining on a divan-thing, sweating and grunting and goes, “Ah, labor and delivery.”  Mine did not.  Mine looked up at me like, “The hell you say?”

Here’s what I liked:  Henry Cavill is a good Superman.  He’s got the right look, he’s got the right delivery, he’s got just enough going on behind his eyes that you believe he’s the flip side to Bruce Wayne’s tortured soul.

I thought Amy Adams was a fantastic Lois Lane, and I loved her reboot.  Lois Lane comes out best of all the characters, I think.  She’s smart, she’s driven, and she’s able to deal with the situations presented to her.  Not a lot of shrieking. 

Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner were very well used.  Both men played their roles to the hilt without chewing scenery or making you go, “Wow, that’s some good acting.”  I like Kevin Costner best when he’s playing someone’s dad.  I like Russell Crowe best when he’s–I always like Russell Crowe.  I think this is a character flaw in me.  Even when he is in a terrible movie, I like him–the flip side of my Jim Carrey hatred. Ugh.  Can’t stand him.

Michael Shannon was a brilliant Zod.  I kind of love him, too.  He’s a great actor.  Even though he has a very distinctive look, and he is typecast like whoa, he never plays the same monster twice–even if it is the same monster.  He and Steve Buscemi are the reasons to watch Boardwalk Empire.

I guess I could have saved a lot of space by just saying I loved the entire cast.  This was a wonderful, wonderful cast.  I wish the editing had been tighter, and the movie had been shortened by about 45 minutes.  I wish the score had been better. 

That’s probably my biggest disappointment.  The score for Superman should be soaring.  It should make you feel something.  When you see that cape waving, the music should make you want to rise and put your hand over your heart.  It didn’t.  Nothing about the movie did.

3 out of 5 stars for entertainment

5 out of 5 stars for the job the actors did.