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

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

A Review: This is 40? It is Miserables.

We rarely see anything in the theater anymore, so I am just catching up on last year’s movies.  Recently, I have watched This is 40 and Les Miserables, and that is what I am going to remember when I start to feel huffy that I only get to see new releases in theaters when there are Marvel comics characters involved.  Iron Man has never let me down.  Judd Apatow?  Hulk needs to smash.

I watched This is 40 and found myself actually squinting at the screen in consternation.  Who were these horrible people?  Horrible, useless, vapid, whiny, irresponsible, awful people.  You’ve got Pete and Debbie, a couple who are turning 40 years old, their kids, Sadie and Iris (13 and 8ish), and their assorted family and friends.

Pete owns a failing record label.  It is failing because he only wants to sign musicians he likes, and he appears to have terrible taste in music.  We find out that Pete has missed a mortgage payment and rental on his office.  He paid $30k for a neon sign to hang inside his office, though, and he appears to be paying for his father’s living expenses?  Oh, and he is hiding all of this from his wife, who he appears to hate.

Debbie owns a retail store incongruently staffed by Charlyne Yi and Megan Fox.  If you are going to hire one of those women to represent your brand, you are not going to hire the other, lest you cause great brand confusion.  She is utterly useless.  She thinks one of her staff has stolen $12k from her but does absolutely nothing about it, other than to take one of them out for dinner to discuss it.  She seems to hate her husband and her children.

If Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann had any chemistry, (or if Leslie Mann could act) it might work, but this was just bad.  You can pretty much see every moment when Action was called, and Cut brought blessed relief–especially, and most strangely, in the scenes between Mann and her real life daughter, Maude Apatow. 

Those children in the movie?  Is that what other people’s kids are really like?  If so, how did they make it out of childhood?  Actually, it was the terrible teenager who made me really hate the parents. 

To sum up, this movie is a masturbatory exercise in middle-aged ennui.  Two bored, pretty, white people, who can’t manage their money, who refuse to take responsibility for themselves, and who are leaving their children to be raised by Apple, have problems because neither one of them can act like an adult for longer than 10 seconds in a row.  I hated them, and kept hoping worse things would happen to them.  That’s not how a movie is supposed to make you feel.

No stars out of 5–there was nothing redeeming about this movie.  Not even the costuming.  John Lithgow was redeeming, but he was wonderful and Lithgowian, and did not belong in the movie, so I don’t give any points for him.

I had higher hopes for Les Miserables.  It’s been a long time since I read the Victor Hugo novel, and I’ve only seen the play in bits and pieces, so I was excited.  Maybe if I’d seen it before Oscar season, it would have played better to me, but by the time I sat down to it the other night, all I could see was Anne Hathaway’s acceptance speeches.

If you aren’t familiar with the plot, the movie opens on Wolverine, who is serving out the end of a prison term for having stolen “a mouthful of bread.”  General Maximus Decimus Meridius is his jailer, who reminds him he got 5 years for stealing the bread, and 15 for running from jail.  But, he hands Wolverine his walking papers and they sing to each other the equivalent of, “I’ll be watching you.”

Wolverine has to choose between good and bad, he chooses good and goes on to become mayor of a slumtown.  Princess Mia Thermopolis works at one of his factories, where she has nicer hair and teeth than anyone else because she pays attention to her hygeine.  She is also hiding a baby back home, and for some reason this pisses off the other factory women who insist she be fired.  Since she’s refused to put out to the factory foreman, he fires her.  Wolverine is too busy hiding from Maximus to save her.

Princess Mia sells off all her worldly possessions, including her hair and teeth, before finally selling her vagine.  Blah blah singing about dreams and tigers–

Do any of you have trouble getting into a show if it is overly dramatic?  I mean, there is drama, and there is wank.  Les Mis, the movie, is wank.  Maybe it’s because of the extreme closeups, and because you can see the actors working so hard to emote, whereas in a stage production you are taking in the whole of the actor and the actor’s surroundings?  I don’t know.  But rather than being impressed and touched by the strings of saliva in Hathaway’s maw, I was just a little bored.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel for Fantine.  I felt for all the prostitutes in the scene–I feel for the other prostitutes more.  Maybe that’s it?  Why Fantine?  Surely she wasn’t the only girl out there who was working it because the rent was due.  But she was the only one out there weeping over how much her life sucked.  And since she pretty much sings about what a party girl she was before becoming Teen Mom, I’m not sure where my sympathy is supposed to lie?  Maybe if she’d been nicer to her coworkers, she wouldn’t have ended up in such a mess?  Maybe if she’d just embraced the role, she could have released her own sex tape and gotten a reality show?

Anyway…  Wolverine adopts Karen Smith from her caretakers, Borat and Mrs. Lovett, and tries to make a new life for them where Maximus can’t find them.  Karen’s weather-telling tatas fall in love with a cute spare who sings like Kermit the Frog, who is loved unrequitedly by an actual Broadway performer with amazing pipes. 

Then it’s all confusing with singing and pining, and fighting, and who cares because Fantine was actually the best part of the show.  And, Anne Hathaway did an incredible job, and deserved her Oscar.

3.5 out of 5 stars.  I gave it an extra half star because I enjoyed how uncomfortable Russell Crowe looked the whole time.

Bonus mini-review:  Silver Linings Playbook.  What was that?  That was it?  That won Oscars?  Dang.  2 out of 5 stars.