Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ex Machina (Britain, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Ex Machina

1. This is a strange and satisfying science fiction/mystery/thriller/philosophy film.

2. Screenwriter Alex Garland wrote the scripts for 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, which introduced the modern idea of zombies as rage-filled, fast-running, eating machines. He also wrote the under-appreciated Sunshine. Garland not only wrote Ex Machina, he directed it as well.

3.  It's about a computer programmer named Caleb who wins a lottery at work and is flown to the private compound of billionaire genius Nathan. Caleb is going to spend a week trying to help Nathan decide if Nathan's new robot, Ava, can pass as human.

4. This is not an action film. Not in the slightest. Most of the movie consists of just Caleb, Nathan, and Ava talking to each other. But the movie gets darker and creepier as it goes along, and Caleb begins to suspect he's being played - but he's not sure how, or by whom.

5. There are a few annoying plot holes; however, Garland is a smart enough writer that I'm sure he knew about them, and just had to accept them in order for his story to work.

6. The acting is great all around. Oscar Isaac (from Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year) was especially excellent as Nathan - from the moment he appears on the screen, you know something is wrong with him, even though you can't quite figure out what.

7. Using the idea of artificial intelligence as a cover, the movie explores some deeply philosophical issues of identity, humanity, and existence.

8. Visually, the movie is full of glass and deceptively reflective surfaces, which effectively symbolize the intellectual maze that Caleb finds himself in. The ambient soundtrack is an excellent example of how sound can enhance a scene and manipulate a mood without being overly obvious.

9. If you're looking for a blockbuster science fiction movie about robots, then stay away from this one. But for more introspective and thoughtful viewers, this is a philosophical tangle of yarn that is ready for you to unravel.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tree of Life (USA, 2011)

Nine Things About the Movie Tree of Life

1. This is a Terrence Malik movie. Those that know who Terrence Malik are know what I'm talking about. In fact, this is probably the most Terrence Malick-y of all his movies.

2. The characters speak cryptically and in whispers. Make sure you have your subtitles on.

3. If you miss the beginning lines of what the nuns taught, you miss one of the main themes of the movie.

4. The movie blurs the line between parents and God -  they can all be glorious, hypocritical, and abusive.

5. There is a suggestion at the beginning of the DVD to turn the volume up loud. Take that advice.

6.  Some people say they don't understand the movie. But there comes a time in everyone's life (which may be a different time for everybody) where if you don't understand this movie, then you're either not paying attention, or you're lying to yourself.

7. Much of the movie is narrated in the first person. Malick once stated that he hoped that the viewer is able to understand that the story is their own - not that of the character in the movie.

8. The movie is about childhood, in all it's horrific glory. And it's about God, in all It's glorified horror.

9. This movie is a work of art from the opening frame to the ending frame. It's one of  the most intimately epic movies ever made. You just might hate it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Furious 7 [USA, 2015]

Nine Things About the Film Furious 7

1. It's kinda cool to see our fast and furious gang back again. But the series now needs to fit in the category of "fantasy", because everybody has become magical, indestructible superheroes, and the plot has absolutely nothing to do with reality. And I understand why the title was shortened to "Furious 7". The movie is kind of slow until the last 45 minutes.

2. For some reason, James Wan directed this movie. Up to now, he has only directed horror movies (he's most famous for Saw).

3. There are actually two plots in the film. The first is a continuation of part 6. Jason Statham plays Deckard, the brother of the bad guy in the last film. Statham is probably best known as the guy in The Transporter, and he plays basically the same character in this film. I suspect that Deckard really is the Transporter, and this is what he does between jobs.

4. The second plot is about a secret organization in the government that is looking for a hacker. Even though they have all the resources, computer experts, and hundreds of agents, they can't get the hacker. So they hire these six renegade car racers to do it.

5. The technology in the film is very interesting. It turns out that if you put a bomb on the front porch of a house, the house will explode from the inside. Also, there is now a little computer chip that allows you to look at every camera, computer, and cell phone in the world, at the same time.  Oh yeah, and if you want to override the security system of one of the richest men in the world, all you have to do is open the phone outlet and cut the orange wire.

6.  Paul Walker died halfway through filming, so the script had to be rewritten, and Walker's brothers were used as stand-ins for him. Computer effects were added onto the brothers to make them look like Paul. Yes, Paul Walker has become computer-generated.

7.  Lucas Black, the star of the 3rd "Fast and Furious" film, has a cameo in this movie. He has signed on to be in part 8 and 9.

8. The film came up with a classy way to write Paul Walker out of the story, while guaranteeing that the series will continue. And the best part of the movie is the very end, which is a tribute to Paul.

9. This movie is dumb, loud, and ridiculous. But if you know what you're getting into (and you should, considering this is the 7th movie), it's not terrible.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

It Follows [USA, 2015]

Nine Things About the Movie It Follows

1. Don't let the basic plot of the movie fool you: this movie is a surprisingly effective piece of low budget, slow-burn horror.

2. It's about a girl that has sex with a guy, and is then stalked by a mysterious entity that wants to kill her. Yeah, it sounds absurd, and maybe it is, but just go with it.

3. The movie isn't really about the surface plot. It is an ode to childhood innocence, as well as an assault on childhood innocence.

4. There are a few inventive and effective jump scares, and the movie continually cranks up the paranoia and dread. Very few movies have given me as much anxiety as this one.

5. It's hard to set the film in an exact time and space - it's full of anachronistic details. Like, there are modern things like cell phones in the movie, but nobody ever seems to watch anything modern on TV. The clothes worn by the characters are a mishmash of styles and decades. Combine all that with a strangely beautiful synth soundtrack, and the events occur in a very dream-like atmosphere.

6. There are tantalizing cultural and psychological tidbits riddled throughout the movie like machine gun holes. The most obvious is the character who keeps pulling out her e-book reader disguised as a pink makeup holder, from which she reads aloud Dostoyevsky's bleak classic, "The Idiot".

7. This is the second film by director David Robert Mitchell. I don't think he had enough money to make all the effects look like they were supposed to, but he is earning a well-deserved reputation as a visual stylist.

8. Some people think the movie is literally about a demon. Others think it's a metaphor for the dangers of sex or intimacy. I don't think those interpretations are wrong, but they are really superficial. People with those interpretations missed most of the film. The real horror is not from the relentlessly stalking killer. Nor is it from symbolized, interpersonal trust issues. The real horror of the film is existential.

9. After the movie ended, I left the theater and started back to my car. And walking down the sidewalk, in public, the final piece of the movie's puzzle swung into place for me. I understood it on a deep level (perhaps deeper than Mitchell intended) and I just wanted to go home and curl up into a ball. Just like the girl in the movie did.