Monday, April 27, 2015

Ex Machina

      A  literate sci-fi thriller that's long on dialogue, short on action but  still compelling due in large part to it's terrific cast and stylized visuals.

       Oscar Isaac stars as a billionaire computer genius who designs an artificially intelligent robot in female form, he names Ava. He brings Domhnall Gleeson, one of his employees and a computer genius himself, to his home to test the self awareness of Ava. Breaking the film into "sessions" the story progresses into a game of cat and mouse between the two men with Ava as the catalyst.

        The script is filled with discussion and questions of humanity and self awareness but dissolves into a predictable final act that distracts from the literate mind games that precede it. The acting is first rate though and Mr. Isaac continues to raise the bar with each of his new films. Alicia Vikander co-stars as Ava and is an exciting new talent. As the two men square off, Ava raises the stakes, turning the increasingly intense sessions into a game of survival.

        The camera holds the viewer in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film, heightening the building tension between the characters  but the dialogue heavy script eventually collapses under it's own weight until all that is left is "the twist" that most will see coming.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wild Tales

   An Academy Award nominee from Argentina, this dark comedy is an outrageous look at revenge told through six unconnected short stories.

    The first story hits a little too close to reality after certain events in the news but the film makers could not have anticipated art imitating life in this particular instance. After that, things get nastier but filled with much dark humor.

     The film is in subtitles but visually rich. The cinematography is outstanding and a lot of the camerawork is  shot from unusual angles and beautifully framed.

      The film was written and directed by Damon Szifron and while there is some inconsistency in the story telling, overall the film is very entertaining and he definitely leaves the best story for last.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

White God

            A remarkable Hungarian foreign film featuring a cast of real dogs (no CGI) that will tear at your heart and leave you speechless with an astonishing final frame. 

             Before I go any further, know that there is a disclaimer right at the start that all the dogs in the film came from animal shelters and after the film was done, they were all adopted out. Furthermore, at the end it states rather boldly that no animals were harmed during the making of the film. All violence is simulated and the local Humane Society monitored all filming very closely.

              Lili is a young teenage girl with divorced parents. At the start of the film, she goes to live with her father for three months and brings her dog Hagen with her.  After trying to cope with a dog he really doesn't want, her father leaves Hagen in the street and drives away with Lili crying in the back seat. From this point the film navigates back and forth between Lili  and Hagen, both trying to survive in their own way.

                Hagen is played by two brothers, Luke and Body and it's hard to tell them apart. They are beautiful animals, very expressive and incredibly trained.  After of series of heartbreaking adventures, Hagen ends up in an animal shelter with 250 other dogs and the last third of the film takes an unexpected twist unlike anything you have ever seen.

                  If you love dogs, be warned that even though it's all simulated, the on screen violence is hard to watch. This is not a Disney film. There is a 16 minute documentary on Youtube about the making of "White God". I recommend it first to prepare yourself for this amazing film.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Furious 7

      The franchise ups the ante with outrageous stunts, non-stop action and serves as an emotional tribute to star Paul Walker, who died ironically in a car crash before filming ended.

       Director James Wan pulls off impossible action sequences with the help of unsung hero stunt men and women and more than a little CGI work. The extended bus chase and rescue is a mini movie in itself. Fans know what to expect by the seventh film in this series and they will not be disappointed. The script piles on the non-stop action so much that by the final sequence, it's become mind numbing, completely over the top, and almost too much.

       The original cast is back, led by Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Michele Rodriguez. Tyrese Gibbons and Ludicris are also along for the ride providing comic relief. Actually most of the best one-liners belong to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson who also co-stars but only has scenes book ending the film. Kurt Russell joins the franchise as a shadowy government official. The film is so loaded that one villain is not enough. Jason Statham is the main adversary but Djimon Hounsou also plays a key role as the secondary villain.

       Possibly the best CGI work in the film is keeping Mr. Walker's memory alive throughout the film. Utilizing his two brothers as stand-ins and movie magic, Mr. Walker truly appears to exist throughout the entire movie. A short video montage of scenes from his past films in the series complete a moving tribute at the end.

      Being the "comic book" action film that it is, despite all the fighting, shooting and explosions, people barely bleed or break a sweat, let alone bones but reality is not what this franchise is about. It's about entertainment in the action adventure genre and in that respect, it fully delivers.