Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ex Machina Movie Review

Synopsis: A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

Ex Machina is a very smart movie across the board, down to the pacing to its writing to its execution. This is a slower film than most, but the ideas within it are so fascinating that it never loses your attention, often times my mind wondered about what would come after every corner to only be surprised by the film toying with the narrative I wanted to happen versus the one that is unfolding before me in the best of ways. Unlike most scifi films that only dips their toes within its premise, Ex Machina goes further than most and is brave enough to not hold your hand when it decides to just drop you into this world with no real context. The idea of artificial intelligence and the meaning behind it, is on display; creating life through technology, does that warrant your ownership to it because it is not truly alive through our human means of existence? How would It view its creator?

All of the characters are archetypes of what you've seen before although never crossing that line into cliche. Nathan(Oscar Isaac) a billionaire, genius from a young age with the ego that matches that denomination, who has locked himself away from the world for fear of his creations being stolen. Celeb(Domhnall Gleeson) is your eyes to this world, a sympathetic computer programmer who discovers the reason for his involvement may not be as he originally thought as hinted by the A.I. counterpart Ava(Alicia Vikander) who has an innocence that not only entrances Celeb but us the audience. Even though they may seem stereotypical, the writing is very tight; every piece of dialogue is to progress the story, characters do things that don't contradict with what they have done before. The performances are played well, each deliver upon the role with subtle nuances, especially Viklander who sells her performance to such a degree that it makes us feel for her to a fault. You never truly trust anything that you see but the performances are so natural that its hard to trust if a character is being genuine or if they are moving the pieces in their favor.

Directed and written by Alex Garland, who previously wrote 28 Days later(2002) and Sunshine(2007) with this film being his directorial debut. With its estimated 12 million budget, it’s used very wisely, it feels bigger than it actually is even though you really only venture around one location. The set design is quite phenomenal, it works as a beautiful environment as well as a thematic play on the narrative. Claustrophobic at times that relate back to the nature of these characters, the use of locked doors parallelling Ava’s situation. The security system that locks down all doors when the power is hit reinforces Nathan's phobia of letting his secrets escape, each room small like their own compartments for Nathan to store his creations and ideas with cameras that can observe every conversation in each room. Garland does a phenomenal job directing but it is clear that the writing takes the stage, as that is where most of meat of the film lies. Viewers that want a deeper meaning behind the premise can find plenty to ponder about.

Although at first I did not like the ending, as I mentioned before of the narrative playing on my expectations, it remains true to itself. "Not like" is not completely true, as I did like what I was seeing, it was just the emotional impact that it had on me. While others may cry foul at the ending, the underneath themes of how women are treated is also very apparent and it plays off of that very nicely. After I let my mind rest on the ideas I think that this is the best ending it could have with how the film handles its tone. I believe that if you have an interest at all with scifi then you should definitely see Ex Machina, it’s got all the right elements to make what I believe is one of this years best films.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It Follows & Furious 7 Review

It Follows is a great little independent movie, its a very refreshing throw back to classic horrors of the 80s. There is a sense of dread and tension throw out with some great use of effort put into the production, the total synth score along with the zoom pulls of the lens and the very much retro feel of the world. If not for the use of a cell phones and props, I would have thought it's time period was the 80s. Colorful cast that is easily recognizable by their look and the use of simple dialogue to set up these characters, if you are a fan of horror you will easily see them, although it is not to a distracting degree. Except for maybe a certain "Young Johnny Depp" like character, but it is more of a homage to nightmare on elm street. The monster itself is quite fantastic, like with Freddy, Jason, or with Michael Myers, they have their rules and gimmicks that are fun on screen. The "monster" is very much an allegory for a topic that I will avoid because of spoilers.
I loved the use of the camera, very simple but stylized enough to give you an uneasy feel of the possibility of death coming around the corner. Sometimes it doesn't even pay attention to the monster but with a clever use of blocking of the scene and the use of direction of axis to the camera, you are always aware of it even when the characters aren't. The simple tracking shots following the characters make you question if you are viewing from the monsters perspective. The simple use of darkness and open areas really ramps up the tension, it's almost like the director is telling us the monster could be coming from an areas that the character is not looking. Such so that when it finally uses a close-up, the nerves telling you to look away are at an all times high.
Things are not quite so great though, there are times where I believe the pacing could have been a bit quicker to help sell the the climax, a bit more of a build up. Scenes could have been cut down to benefit the the viewers current emotional state, it's slow burn works but when the climax hits you feel underwhelmed because you were not yet in a heightened state of emotion. This is evident in it's ending as you are still slowly flowing along, then a sudden cut. Some viewers i attended the showing with had an audible "huh? " as did I to a certain degree. I was aware of the scene and what it was trying to do but it really needed to put itself into gear to sell it. Still, it does not ruin the movie as a whole. Its sometimes John Carpenter-esk amazing score done by Disasterpeace, with an exception of a few notes that verge into chip tune that kind of threw me out for a bit seeing it in a film. It reminds me that horror can still be refreshing, that some filmmakers still put effort into their films. If you are a fan of slow burn horror movies then this should be up your alley, if you don't I would still recommend picking it up on VOD and watching it on a big screen if you can.
As a pallet switch, I also saw Furious 7, what a stupid ridiculous fun ass movie. It's plot is very much ridiculous, but I kinda wish it was a bit more simpler, as it was a bit too convoluted for this type of movie. Characters are trying to find the antagonist, but in order to do so they need to go here, and then go there, finding this device but oops it's over here now, ya-de-da. Add on top of that trying to make Lettys(Michelle Rodriguez) subplot to work along with dealing with the fact of closing Paul Walkers role as Brian. They could have cut Lettys subplot all together and just have Pauls instead, and just cut the middle section. Would have made it more smoother. But what it does do right is the ridiculous action, if you want cars going fast into other cars it's here. Explosions? Present. Giant wrenchs versus car chassis battle? They got them,  DUAL HANDED! The cgi could have been a bit better at some spots, but it worked. One annoying part was the camera work and edit, the opening scene could have been fantastic if it was one tracking shot, but with its constant use of time ramping I couldn't tell or cared by the 6th time they did it to throbbing licensed music. Also, you don't hire Tony Jaa and constrains his one great talent of being a great martial artist and to some degree stunt man, by constantly shaking the camera or cutting when it is clearly him doing those stunts. Dwayne The Rock Johnson makes an appearance, maybe even almost cameo in relation to him being in this movie. Although when he is in it, he steals the show.
On the subject of handling Paul Walkers exit, they handled it well, even emotionally. Through out the movie when ever his character is in danger, there's a sense of tension not knowing how they will handle it. Good on them for doing it respectfully. Another great part is seeing Kurt Russell making an appearance, although it's a little strange seeing him actually old, he's always the fun guy with so much energy and snark and charisma to go around, good thing he still had a ton left compared to Grandpa Harrison Ford. Why hasn't Russell been in more movies recently, why have that not happened yet Hollywood? What the hell is wrong with you?... eerrr-ah hmmm. If you want a fun movie to kick start the summer onslaught of blockbuster movies, this will do it.