Tag Archives: Movie Review

Ex Machina (2015)

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Many films have been made about the perils of man trying to play God, but Ex Machina actually delivers on provoking thought and discussion from it’s audience. In a time when science fiction thrillers are the proverbial dime a dozen but most don’t do more than provide mild entertainment for 80+ minutes, Ex Machina is a breath of fresh air, a piece of science fiction so uncannily real and creepy it is likely to get under your skin and stay there.

There’s a concept called the ‘Uncanny Valley,’ which suggest A.I. will actually become more and not less unsettling if they are designed and programmed to closely resemble human beings. But in a world where advanced A.I. is possible, who should you fear more; the robots or their hubristic creators? Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a bit of a nerd and an all-around good guy who happens to be extremely intelligent. When the organization he works for, a internet search engine company called Blue Book, holds a drawing to choose a lucky employee to get the meet the head honcho and brains behind the operation, Caleb can hardly believe his good fortune.

Being a genius doesn’t necessarily come equipped with an abundance of kindness or humility, that’s never been truer than it is for Blue Book’s former kid prodigy, Nathan (Oscar Isaac.) Nathan is an narcissist, an alcoholic, and a man who reaches a mentally ill level of creepy and ratchets up that creepiness a notch every minute you’re in the room with him. He is, however, a mastermind at coding, hacking, and, as it turns out, building shapely female robots. When Caleb meets Ava (Alicia Vikander,)  a beautiful cyborg with a sweet and innocent manner, it’s fascination at first sight. Nathan wants Caleb to perform the Turing Test on Ava to discover if she’s equal to a human being in her level of empathy and cognitive responses, but what happens to Ava if she fails?

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If you like smart science fiction that actually incorporates science and philosophy in it’s story and challenges you to think about the ideas it’s presenting, this movie is for you. After being introduced to three compelling characters with their own individual (and sometimes frustratingly ambiguous) motivations and needs, we are forced to ask the question; which of these people is innocent? Who has the most humanity? Who is telling the truth? Who is full of shit? If Ava is not as innocent as she initially appears, does that make her less human or all too human? Which is a scarier concept?

Where does ownership end and violation begin in Nathan’s abuse of his robots? They’re his creations, but does that mean they should have to suffer at his hands? You give life to something, but then you mistreat it, and thus abuse your power. It’s a story as old as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but writer/director Alex Garland breathes new life into the concept, basing it off an idea he had as a boy. It’s easy to think of this as the anti-Chappie (and I was one of the few that actually liked Chappie!) because while that film handles the idea of a scientist creating artificial intelligence and the ensuing complications with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Ex Machina is silk-smooth and insinuating when it comes to it’s themes.

The plot points are never applied with too much force, and it should come as no surprise to you that all the actors are extraordinary in their roles. Gorgeous cinematography when the movie dares to venture outside of Nathan’s expansive pad juxtaposes the mechanical, the manufactured, and the ‘fake’ with staggering scenic beauty. Can one be as real as the other? Ex Machina will grab your attention until the last scene.

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Free Fall (2013)

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That awkward moment when you realize a woman’s touch just can’t compare to the caress of your bosom cop buddy.

Free Fall as been described as the ‘German Brokeback Mountain,’ a comparison that will have movie fans cheering and homophobes running for the hills. I haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain for years (not since I was twelve or thirteen) but I remember I had a problem with not finding the characters very likable. Free Fall suffers from a same issue, but not to the same extent, and unlike Brokeback Mountain, which is a straight-out tragedy, Free Fall has a dark but redemptive quality to it, and features a realistic but somewhat hopeful and satisfying ending. The actors show enormous potential, and while the characters are often infuriating, they’re also authentic, and their motivations ring alarmingly true throughout.

Marc (Hanno Koffler) is a fresh-faced young cop-in-training whose wife Bettina (Katharina Schüttler) is pregnant, and whose interfering parents are living right next door and are getting a little too involved with the couple’s lives. In the police academy, Marc is paired up with his new roommate Kay (Max Riemelt) and they get into a testosterone-fueled scuffle almost immediately after meeting one another, but reconcile shortly thereafter. Marc is not a particularly great runner, so he and Kay practice by taking jogs together in the woods. One day on one of their excursions together Kay kisses Marc, and Marc reacts with predictable surprise and disgust. But there was something about the kiss; something that makes Marc (who previously never considered himself to be nothing other than a typical, heterosexual man) experience something he’s never felt, something that makes him crave more. And Marc can only disguise his feelings for so long…

I always feel bad for the wives in films like these. In Katharina Schüttler as Bettina we have a strong and determined actress, but due to a script that doesn’t emphasize much on it’s female players her character comes off a little flat. Her main role is to pry (where were you tonight, Marc? What are you playing at, Marc?) and fret while her swollen belly and innocent features give her a kind but vulnerable look. She never really comes into her own or displays any interesting personality traits. Which brings us to the romance between Kay and Marc.

Kay and Marc are both very flawed characters at times, which makes for a fairly interesting dynamic. While Kay tends to be a little aggressive and interferes with Marc’s life, Marc can be appallingly cagey and disloyal, refusing to acknowledge what he is even to the expense of protecting Kay from prejudiced bullies on the work force. The main big bad bully in question is Gregor Limpinski (Senja Lacher,) a somewhat stereotypical but also unfortunately fairly true-to-life sexed-up misogynist and homophobe struggling under the weight of his own machismo. When Kay is discovered to have been going to a gay club, the bullying begins, and Marc doesn’t find the strength to stand up for his lover at the expense of his own reputation til the very end.

Kay and Marc have kind of an aggressive sexually charged thing going, pushing each other  and delivering some rough in the throes of passion. Marc has feelings both ways and even enjoys sex with his wife to some extent, but Kay provides him with an experience he never could have thought he’d find so weirdly irresistible. But considering his emotional dishonesty and considerable disloyalty to Kay, it’s a pretty good bet that the relationship will never get past it’s trial period. It’s kind of surprising that Kay puts in the time and energy. Although their relationship isn’t healthy by a long shot, the men actually have good chemistry and a highly potent sense of eroticism going on between them.

The characters and situations presented in this film are fairly realistic, with a genuine vibe and minimal melodrama or blatant tearjerking. Marc’s lack of likability is a  bit of a problem. It seems Marc, while not a bad person at heart, has a knack for hurting the people in his life and evading his own moral responsibilities. Free Fall isn’t one of the all-time great gay films (and it’s plot has a bit of a sense of the old been-there-done-that) but it is, as they say, ‘well-done’ and features good performances across the board.

Marc’s sexual ambiguity is another interesting aspect in an all around effective film- can you be a lover of both men and women but show a preference for one at a time considerably after adolescence? Marc’s story is a warning for all those people who make assumptions about their preferences and their part in the bigger picture too early in life, and discover that they made all the wrong decisions. Most people know whether they like men or women from the time they learn to masturbate. For some, it’s harder. Marc reminds us of that, and tells a pretty good story in the process.

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People Places Things (2015)

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Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) is a socially awkward graphic novelist and a native New Zealander living in New York whose world caves in the day of his twin daughters (Audria and Gia Gadsby)’s fifth birthday parties, when he heads upstairs during the festivities and catches his longtime girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) banging her pudgy, affable lover Gary (Michael Chernus)

One year to the day, and Will is still feeling majorly bluesey in the wake of his big break-up. Reluctantly allowed to see his girls on weekends, Will is teaching graphic art at a local college but really doesn’t have his heart in it, preferring instead to immaturely lecture his students on why life, and people in general, totally sucks. Kat (Jessica Williams,) a blunt but good-natured student introduces the lonely Will to her attractive divorcee mother Diane (Regina Hall,) and after a rocky start sparks begin to fly.

However, Will still has feelings for his moody, fickle, and completely exasperating ex, who’s having doubts about her marriage to the girlfriend-stealing Gary, and Will must choose to get over his bitterness and self-doubt and find out how to best serve the interests of not only him, but also his daughters, and ultimately move on.

“People Places Things” is one of those little movies that has completely flown under the radar, and unless, of course, you have a soft spot for the Kiwi funnyman Jemaine Clement, you’re likely to go your whole life without hearing about it. This is a shame, because “People Places Things” is good and true in a way that few American films aspire to be. Will is a very believable character, sometimes delightful, sometimes infuriating, I found myself dubbing him a ‘loser’ over his immaturity and unprofessionalism and at the same time admiring his undeniable love for his kids and his creative spark.

This movie should be called ‘When Nerdy College Professors With Too Much Knowledge and Not Enough People Skills Fall in Love.’ The humor in “People Places Things” is not as much of the ‘laugh-til-you-cry’ variety and more wry, subtle, and oddly relatable, there are no huge happenings in this film and we don’t hold that against it in the least. There is a refreshing lack grand comic misunderstandings in the arguments between Will and his love interest, Diane, they are all messy disagreements that not only very often happen in the real world, they do, every day.

When Will and Diane first have dinner together, Diane callously dismisses graphic novels as an art form. This understandably miffs Will, it is important in a developing relationship for someone to care about the things we’re passionate about, or at least try to understand why we like them. They part on less-than-friendly terms, and the viewer patiently waits for their lives  to converge again, because, hey, maybe these two could have something here. After all, the majority of movie lovers start out on relatively shaky grounds.

The actors do an outstanding job with the material they’re given, and that includes the two child actresses, whose performances are smooth and unforced. They share a genuine comfortableness with Clement, a naturalism that makes us believe they are kin. Jemaine Clement plays a man for whom social skills do not come naturally without the over-the-top ‘geek’ theatrics of popular television programs like The Big Bang Theory and Chuck. He played a similarly awkward protagonist in Eagle Vs. Shark, but his Will is infinitely more relatable and more sympathetic than Eagle…‘s creepy, maladjusted Jarrod.

People Places Things is one of the relatively ‘small’ films that get ignored yearly in favor of bigger, more robust productions. For a bit of wry real-life observational humor, don’t let this charming little comedy pass you by.’

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