Film Review : Ex Machina (2015)

IMDB Score – 8.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 90%
Metacritic Score – 78/100

Directed By – Alex Garland
Starring – Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno, and Alicia Vikander

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.

Let me start off by saying that I’m extremely happy for Alex Garland. I’ve been a fan of his since 28 Days Later. His stories, while flawed at times, always strike me as interesting and unique. His novels and short stories such as The Coma have inspired some of my short story writing that I do independent of this website. I’m a fan. I was excited to hear he had directed a film and even more excited that his film is doing so well. It only means we’ll be seeing more of his mind on screen soon enough.

That being said, I loved the film.

There’s something about tiny films that appeal to me. Alien is a much better horror film than it’s sequel Aliens to me. Why? There’s less space to move around. It all takes place on the ship and deals with one alien. It’s more personal…intimate. Aliens is a fine film, but it’s more of a Terminator 2 type of film where they took what was great about the first film and then turned it up to eleven. Ex Machina is an intimate film. It takes place mainly in one location, the multi million dollar estate of Nathan, the CEO of Bluebook. Bluebook is basically the combination of Facebook and Google so right off the bat you know how rich and smart the man is. Caleb is a programmer working for Bluebook and wins a contest sending him to his boss’s home. There we find out that Nathan has built an AI and that Caleb was brought there to test it.

The first scene of the film is brilliant. It doesn’t meander around who Caleb is or what exactly this company does. We learn that later as the film progresses. We’re given a 30 second dialogue free set up and away we go into the world of this house and it’s inhabitants. I just love how that was done. Garland and his DP really took their time with the aesthetics of this house. It’s obviously a very modernized home with the latest and sometimes one of a kind technology. Garland makes sure to hold the camera at precise points to vaguely foreshadow certain plot twists later in the film. I love films that I can watch a second time and catch new things. I haven’t seen it a 2nd time yet, but I’m going to. There are so many points in the beginning of the film that can be recalled later in the film as being significant. I think that may be the best highlight of the entire film for me. It’s just so tight and clean, just like every inch of Nathan’s house. The dialogue between all three inhabitants is sharp, often funny, and always engrossing. Once Caleb finds out why he is there, the real show begins.

Alicia Vikander.

Yeah, I wasn’t aware she was a thing either. That’s changed. She was fantastic in this. It should be taken with a grain of salt however because her performance isn’t something flashy or grandiose. This is a small and quite performance. Most of the time we see her as Ava, we see her bare robotic body with just the front half of her face. Vikander was tasked with portraying the emotion and thought processes of a robot using only her facial expressions. This is why I find her performance so good. She was able to draw me in so well and actually believe that she was an AI with her own conscious and intelligence. Her sessions with Gleason were engrossing to watch.

Has Oscar Isaac just become my favorite actor? That’s hard to say, but he’s certainly in the discussion now. I think I can safely say that both he and Michael Fassbender are the future of male actors. They have not been in a bad film, not delivered a bad performance, and have pretty much been getting better with each role. He’s able to portray Nathan as somebody who you seem to like judging by the way he talks to Caleb, but somebody who you just don’t seem to trust. He reminds me of Jack Torrance before he went crazy in The Shining. Even in the beginning of the film you can tell something is off. Something just isn’t right about him. His drunk scenes were the best and may have been in the greatest dance scene I’ve seen in a long time. His co-star Domhnall Gleeson is solid but really takes a back seat to Vikander and Isaac here. I feel her started to skip towards the end of the film. It may have to do with the circumstances his character got into, but I just wasn’t with him towards the end.

That’s the gist of the film. What I haven’t talked about, and will dance lightly around, is the way the story progresses. There are scenes in with I was on the edge of my seat, not from excitement, but from pure envelopment of the story. It lured me in. It had my full focus. I didn’t check my phone to see what time it was. I didn’t wonder what I was going to do after the show. I was just fully enveloped in this tightly written sci-fi. There is a lot to discuss at the end of the film. Who was the villain here? Did so an so deserve what happened to them? I’m still not entirely sure who’s side I’m on. That’s what a great screenplay does for me. Makes me question myself.

It’s my film of the year so far. It provoked a lot of interesting theories as far as creation goes. It made me more afraid of the future than I already am. It provides two incredible performances from Vikander and Isaac and needs to be seen for the dance scene alone. I’m glad it came out when it did because it’s going to be buried by Avengers, but if you’re trying to see a film and want to duck around the Marvel crowds, this is your film. It’s one of the better sci-fi films to come out in some time and is a wonderful sign that Alex Garland will be making thought provoking films for a long time.

4.5/5




Double Review! : Coherence (2014) and Starred Up (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%
Amazon Instant Watch

Directed By – James Ward Byrkit
Starring – Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Nicholas Brendon, Elizabeth Gracen, Hugo Armstrong, Alex Manugian, and Lauren Maher

Strange things begin to happen when a group of friends gather for a dinner party on an evening when a comet is passing overhead.

This is going to be one of my shortest reviews. Why? I am not going to ruin the privilege of seeing this film as blind as I did. All I knew going in to the film was the IMDB plot summary above and that it was a sci-fi film. That is all you’re going to get too. I didn’t add the trailer. Don’t watch it. It gives too much away. The film is currently on Amazon Instant so if you have Prime you can watch it for free. If you don’t have prime, find it on VOD and pay for it. You won’t be disappointed if you love sci-fi and mindbending movies.

I’m pretty much going to end it after this. This certainly isn’t a masterpiece. It is however a film with a completely unique story and consists mostly of improvised dialogue and low budget film making that is both impressive and promising. The acting splits between amateur and really good. Baldini and Brendan are the standouts here. I hope they do more things.

See the film. See it.

4.5/5

IMDB Score – 7.5
Rotten Tomato Score – 98%
Amazon Instant Watch

Directed By – David Mackenzie
Starring – Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell, Anthony Welsh, David Ajala, and Peter Ferdinando

A troubled and explosively violent teenager is transferred to adult prison where he finally meets his match – a man who also happens to be his father.

Well, Jack O’Connell is going to be a fucking star. He’s already breached into the public eye with his role in “unbroken” but this is the film that he shines. He’s a powerhouse. He’s a wrecking ball. Think Tom Hardy in Bronson. It’s that good of a performance.

Starred Up isn’t a pretty film. It’s ugly. The brutality behind the violence is troubling to watch at times. It’s a hard look into the British prison system. For those who grew up with Oz and Shawshank Redemption, this is going to be different for you. Guards aren’t always right around the corner and when they are, they don’t usually have the upper hand. There were many moments in this film that made me confused as to who was really running the prison. Fights break out and are left unattended for minutes. Assaults on guards don’t really end too bad for the inmate. In fact, it’s like getting the shit kicked out of you is almost a daily hassle, for both the inmates and for the guards. Enter Eric Love, a 19 year old kid who is as explosive as they come. Right from the get go he is rubbing oil on his body in preparation for guards bursting through his cell door. I told you it’s like Bronson. Starred up however is a bit less theatrical than Bronson. It’s a realistic view at just how fucked up it can be in prison. It sheds light on how far prison officials are willing to go or how blinded they can be that there are people in those cells that need help. Its eye opening.

A lot of the film is a bit hard to understand. I don’t mean story. I mean I had problems getting through the mumble mouth cockney jargon that these prisoner conversed in. It really is a whole other language but I got through it without the subtitles. I’m proud of that. Ben Mendelsohn, who is fantastic in this by the way, plays the father of Eric and at times is completely non-understandable. That Mendelsohn though. He’s been acting like that since Animal Kingdom. I don’t want him to change. He’s always a menace whenever he’s on screen and I love it. The relationship between father and son is interesting in prison. You can’t always take peoples shit, including your fathers in fear of looking weak, but you also need to look out for your son. I think this is the main focal point of the film for me. The relationship between father and son here is handled beautifully and comes full circle by the films end. There is also a great sub theme by which a young anger management counselor, played by Rupert Friend, tries to get some of the more violent and angry inmates to calm the fuck down. Those scene were like Dead Poets Society except instead of poetry we’re dealing with pure insanity filled rage.

The film is a wonderful look at a different kind of prison system. It is brutally violent at just the right times and features powerhouse performances by O’Connell and Mendelsohn. Watch out for Jack O’Connell. He’s looking like the next Michael Fassbender or Tom Hardy.

4.5/5




Film Review : Nightcrawler (2014)

Rotten Tomato Score – 96% (As of now)
Imdb Score – 8.3 (As of Now)

Directed By – Dan Gilroy
Starring – Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Michael Hyatt, and Bill Paxton

When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.

sociopath
[soh-see-uh-path, soh-shee-]
noun, Psychiatry.
1. a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

Cha-fucking-ching. What is on display during the entire two hour run time of Dan Gilroy’s debut film? Oh, just the complete and utter definition of the word sociopath. Gilroy, who has written such films as The Fall, The Bourne Legacy, and everyone’s favorite robot boxing film Real Steel, gives us a look at a perfect sociopath. Cinema has given us plenty of good examples of sociopathic tendencies before. Christian Slater played a sleazy one in Very Bad Things. We have Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gecko, Nurse Ratched from Cookoo’s Nest, and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. None of which can really hold a candle to what Jake Gyllenhaal brings to the table with his character of Louis Bloom. He is the pure definition of somebody who is unapologetic, selfish, wickedly intelligent, and completely lacking of any emotion whatsoever. The fact that he is also batshit insane also helps his case.

The film features Gyllenhaal in almost every scene. He is the one running the show. His character runs the show even though when we first see him, he has a camera bought at a thrift store and is driving what looks like to be a Dodge Dart Hatchback clone from hell. He is jobless and desperate. He tries to get a job anywhere he can, spouting off motivational phrases he read on the internet. He believes in himself. he believes he can get the job done. When he randomly stumbles across a car accident and sees that there are freelance videographers lapping at the chance to score some footage, Lou figures out he’d be perfect for this job. He obviously doesn’t sleep. The film makes it very clear with some gorgeous transitional shots that Lou is not a man of the daytime. He wakes at dusk and probably sleeps at dawn, although I wouldn’t be surprised that the man was functioning on some serious sleep deprivation. Lou starts getting some decent footage and the ball begins to roll into crazy town.

This is a wild ride. The trailer definitely portrays this film as a thriller and it lived up to it. There are plenty of great action scenes that build and sustain tension. The the craziness of Lou, the film really starts to get rolling towards the middle, culminating with a pretty tense and wild finish. The focus for me though, was the satire. This is a funny film. We have Lou and the news station he is dealing with throwing decency and morals to the wind in order to boost ratings and make money. Like earlier this fall with Gone Girl, Nightcrawler takes aim at how media, paparazzi, and general entertainment culture is killing what makes us human. Most of us I would say have compassion towards others. The film deals directly with true real life scenarios such as how every time I turn on the fucking news I’m being told about the death of somebody in the community. It’s no longer news. It’s reminders of how horrible the world can be and how careful we need to be in it. There’s a particular scene, the most uncomfortable scene in the movie, where Jake Gyllenhaal enters a crime scene and sells the footage to the news station. The on air reporters go through every single detail, on air, and describe the shit they shouldn’t be showing in the first place. Is it satire? Yes. No real news station would show the things they showed, but is it really any different than say showing the aftermath of a shooting in Queens? How bout we interview the grieving family of the 16 year old gunshot victim? It may be satire, but it’s on point. The media sucks.

It wasn’t flawless. I had issues with the end. It wasn’t that the film ended on a bad note or on a particular high note. It really just ended on no note at all. I don’t need my films to be tied up in a bow but the film just kinda of left some things unresolved and then ended abruptly. We had a climactic confrontation that led to credits. There was also some forced themes in one of the big scenes at the end that were just not needed. I don’t need to be told that Jake Gyllenhaal is a crazy lunatic. I’ve just watched him be that for two hours. These things didn’t ruin the film or anything like that. They are minor. They are however slight blemishes on what was a very entertaining and stylish film.

I haven’t gotten to the highlight though. Jake Gyllenhaal. The dude fucking killed it. He’s been killing it pretty recently (Prisoners and Enemy) but this was just the huge loony bin cherry on top. He lost 20 pounds for the role and really seemed to dive into the character. Lou has this weird personality where everything he says rolls off his tongue like some crazy motivational speaker. He is in control at every moment. There was one small nuance, where he meets Rick for the first time, where even though Lou is in no position of authority, completely sells the fact that he is running an up and coming business. He even corrects Rick to call him Louis even though he introduces himself as Lou to everybody else. Rick is his employee and he’s going to do whatever he says to ensure he accomplishes his goals. Gyllenhaal was able to make his face contort into that of a completely out of contact with reality psycho. His eyes bulge and rarely blink. He smiles at the peak of his manipulation to drive home what he wants. He is methodical in his logic, even when it comes off with zero compassion for the other person. As stated above, he is a complete sociopath, and he should be heavily considered for major awards once the season begins.

Dan Gilroy’s debut film is a hit. People are going to squirm, laugh, and disbelieve what they see because in reality, this couldn’t happen. Or could it? Could Lou really exist in this world? Yes. You just haven’t met him yet. You have however, probably watched his work on live television. Lou lives on in the daily meatgrind of shit that is passed off as news. Those photos of Jennifer Lawrence that leaked on the internet? That was Lou. That camera guy that Alec Baldwin punched in the face? That was Lou. Lou is an entire society of people wanted to exploit the worst days of everybody else. There is a perfect line near the end of the film that sums up the entire point of the film…

“If you see my face, you’re probably having the worst day of your life.”

4.5/5



Film Review : Whiplash (2014)

IMDB Score – 8.4
Rotten Tomato Score – 97%
Grand Jury Prize Winner at Sundance

Directed By – Damien Chazelle
Starring – Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, and Nate Lang

A promising young drummer enrolls at a cutthroat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.

Wow.

Fucking WOW.

I have only clapped at the end of one movie(which was this year…Boyhood), but now I can say I clapped to two. I couldn’t help myself. The theater couldn’t help itself. Whiplash was that good. I turned to my friend with absolute glee and shouted “THAT WAS FUCKING AWESOME”. I was, and still am, completely blown away by this film. The plot is simple. Andrew (Teller) is an aspiring jazz drummer in the most prestigious school in the country. He is hand picked by Terrence Fletcher (Simmons) to join his competition band comprised of some of the best musicians in the country. While there are a small amount of secondary characters including the return of Paul Reiser, the film mainly focuses on the relationship between Andrew and his teacher; a relationship that grows more volatile by the second.

There just isn’t enough to say about this one. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t let up from the starting drum roll to the final curtain. I was captivated the entire time. I’ve had experiences with all the parties involved. I saw Chazelle’s first film “Grand Piano” earlier this year and found it to be entertaining but ultimately forgettable. Miles Teller broke onto the scene with his role in “The Spectacular Now” but is mostly known for his college party films such as “21 & Older and Project X”. JK Simmons is a brilliant character actor who was perfectly cast as Jonah Jamison in the Spiderman films and always delivers an interesting performance. All three combine to give the highlights of their careers in this film. Teller is remarkable. He completely sells Andrew’s strive to be the greatest drummer the world has ever seen. He is passionate, dedicated, and driven. Simmons is a force of nature. It is, without a doubt, the performance of the year so far. He dresses in all black. His face is stone cold and the boom of his voice is thunderous. Not even the smallest mistake makes it past his ears and of you don’t fix it on the next try, you’ll be sorry. The thing is, never was anything he did, no matter how terrifying, ever over the top. Simmons played Fletcher with a frightening sense of realism that will notch him into the lists of greatest villains of all time. This thing was full on psychological horror film for most of its running time, and I couldn’t get more of it.

The films writer/director, Damien Chazelle, knocked this out of the park. The editing was perfect. The pace was perfect. The dialogue and story were engrossing. There was symbolism in the cymbalism. The sound design was amazing. The music was amazing. The man has made a perfect film. It’s always a good thing when as soon as the credits begin to roll, I want to go out and buy a ticket to the next showing. The final 20 minutes was one of the most batshit emotional tornado I’ve ever experienced. In minutes, I was on the verge of tears to almost jumping out of my seat with excitement. His script is uplifting, scary, and ambitious. It tells the story of people who try to be the best and try to get the best out of people. If you have EVER been REALLY REALLY good at something, this film will show you just how much you have to go.

I just…can’t say enough about this film. I know this review is kind of short, but I really just can’t talk about this film in too much detail. I’ve noticed that most of the films I review that I consider fantastic pieces of film, have short reviews. I want you guys to experience these movies with a general idea of what to expect but to still be blown away by completely unexpected events. This film is not a masterpiece. This film is like your grandma’s cooking. It may be lasagna, but there isn’t a thing you can find wrong with it or a thing you would change. I can’t wait to see this again. I can’t wait for it to be released in more theaters so others can experience it.

Fuck it. This is my film of the year. So earned. It was just my fucking tempo.

5/5




Film Review : Grand Piano (2013)

IMDB Score – 5.9
Rotten Tomato Score – 81%
Netflix

Directed By – Eugenio Mira
Starring РElijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bish̩, Tamsin Egerton, Allen Leech, Don McManus, and Alex Winter

Moments before his comeback performance, a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright discovers a note written on his music sheet.

HEY EVERYBODY. FRODO IS PLAYING PIANO. HAHAHAHAHA.

Alright, the horrible comedian inside me had to get that awful joke out of my system before I could continue with this. Honestly, I’m not a big Elijah Wood fan. He was serviceable in the LOTR films as Frodo but hasn’t been able to carry anything as well since. That and I just find his face annoying. I’m sorry Elijah. I’m sure you’re a wonderful person but I find your face annoying. I have the same problem whenever Ben Stiller plays his neurotic Jewish character that nobody likes. I think I just get angry at neurotic sad annoying characters because I see myself in them. I just get angry every time. I generally enjoy the television show Wilfred but Wood’s sad character just gets on my nerves and he plays pretty much the same character in this film. There were other flaws in the film but it sucks when an actor just takes you out of the film from the get go.

Mira actually did a good job with this. His direction was really the only thing keeping this from being a turd. The whole “taking place in one place” film seems very boring because it’s really a one trick pony, but I’ve always thought that it was a great opportunity for great writing. Films like “Exam”, “Cube”, and “The Square” have all been successes in my eyes in how to make an interesting film with only one setting. Grand Piano takes place almost entirely in a theater during one performance. Tom, played by Wood, is a former piano prodigy who has been talked into giving his first performance in five years. Five years earlier he was ridiculed as he goofed playing a piece in front of many admirers. He now has extreme stage fright During his performance he is forced into a game that could end up ending his life or the life of his wife. Guy, this is Phone Booth with a piano. It’s a obvious reference but it really did just fit. Wood however was god as good as Colin Farrell.

There just wasn’t much to do with the premise to avoid falling into stereotypical thriller cliches. The villain, played by Cusack, talked too much. He was in enough control to plan this detail and complex situation but couldn’t keep it together during the execution. It’s a problem a lot of these films have. You cook up a scheme that only a criminal mastermind could come up with but since these types of things rarely happen, the criminal usually fucks up and burns out. There was enough tension in the film though to keep me interested but it really was just silly once the halfway point hit. Also, nobody can play piano like that and use a fucking cellphone.

Overall it was an average thriller with some cool camerawork. Fans of Wood, I know there are many, might like in more than others but for me it was just average.

Suggested Viewing – Exam, Cube, The Square, The Killing Room, Phone Booth

2.5/5