Ex Machina…ex taedium?

It got a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s right up my alley – gorgeous, heady, well-acted, interesting topic, sparse. Yet, I just didn’t like this film. It was meh – at times laughably meh, even.

My five word review: Pretty, but I read Frankenstein.

As always, there may be spoilers.

Here’s the thing, the more I think about the movie, the more I want to like it. It’s just…I don’t. It was boring. At bottom, I think this is a snoozer of a plot buttressed by gorgeous film making. Let me be clear, I like slow, cerebral films. I just didn’t like this one.

Where the movie is supposed to shine is in its commentary on humanity. Quoting a review from Amber Wilkinson: “The pleasure of Garland’s film lies more in the deeper questions of what makes us ‘human’… than in the plot, which suffers from predictability.” Yes, the film is very predictable. However, the ‘deeper questions’ are also predictable, and this is because we all had to read this film in high school: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Don’t get me wrong, Ex Machina is not a retelling of Frankenstein. The set up of Ex Machina is quite different to that of Shelley’s novel. The moral of the story, however, is kinda the same. I didn’t know much about this movie before I saw it. I had no expectations going in, and I saw it on a whim. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d known more about the film. I think that would have helped. The minimalism of the film puts the content front and center, but the content fell flat for me.

Above, I mentioned that this film is buttressed by gorgeous film making. I can’t say this enough. The cinematography was stunning. There is this nice blending of the organic with the inorganic throughout the film. The acting was superb. Hat’s off to Oscar Isaac. I hated his character. I mean it. I genuinely disliked him. However, he never felt pantomime. He never felt clichéd. He was real, genuine assholery.

On another day, under different circumstances, I think I could have enjoyed this film. I even suggest you go see it. It doesn’t need to be seen in a theater, but the visuals are worthy of the big screen. Unfortunately, if I’m being honest, I’m just not convinced you’re missing anything if you miss this film.

 

 

We Don’t Need Another Hero’s Pointless Girlfriend – A Mad Max Review

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road this weekend. My five word review: This movie is fucking awesome!

There may be spoilers below. There may not be. I haven’t fully planned this post. However, there’s not much to spoil. ***Spoiler Alert*** Mad Max movie has car-based action sequences. See what I mean?

Here’s how I would describe this movie: Start with the long take that opens Touch of Evil and combine it with the chase scene in Bullitt. Next, sprinkle in countless explosions, guns, pole vaults, chained-together nipple rings, a baddie named Immortan Joe, and post-apocalyptic cars. There you have it – Mad Max: Fury Road. The movie leaves you exhausted and in need of a tetanus shot – which is the desired outcome of seeing an over-the-top action film.

There was some minor “controversy” among the Men’s Rights Movement because this film has a woman as a main character. I know. I nearly man-fainted when I heard the news, too. In all fairness to the guy who posted the initial anti-Furiosa rant, he hadn’t actually seen the movie when he was ranting, so his points were just made up out of misogynistic hatred. He can’t really be faulted for being inaccurate about the film.

Here’s the thing, this movie isn’t radically feminist. It isn’t regressive, per se, but there’s no feminist manifesto here. This film is upsetting MRAs because it actually has a reason to have a woman in the cast.

Hell, the roles played by women are mostly traditional. They are “breeders,” custodians of “the green place”, and the givers of compassion. In other words, they’re all mothers of one sort or another. However, when push comes to shove, one woman can beat a motherfucker (with the help of a bunch of other women and a mechanical arm). Consider this line from the MRA rant: “This is the Trojan Horse feminists and Hollywood leftists will use to (vainly) insist on the trope women are equal to men in all things, including physique, strength, and logic.” For all that is over-the-top in this film, this line is inaccurate. The women in the film do not equal the men in physique and strength. Not even close. They are equal in logic and driving skills. So, when we boil down the actual movie, the feminist “trope” is that women can be decent drivers. This puts the film on par with the radical feminism of NASCAR.

Anyway, this film is non-stop action. I mean it. It is relentless. Go see it, in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find. I’m not a big action film guy. I’m not a Mad Max fan boy (though I will admit to watching Beyond Thunderdome a bunch when I was young). I am just a guy who can enjoy a good film, even when it is an action film with icky girls in it.

[Edit] Here are two more reviews of the film that more explicitly call the film feminist. They do a better job of explaining what I mean by “It isn’t regressive, per se, but there’s no feminist manifesto here.”

1. From fearless.frivolous.feminist

2. From The Filmology I want to single out this quote from the Filmology’s review:

‘This film isn’t “feminist propaganda” as some people might accuse it to be. We as a film-viewing society have just forgotten that women can be leading action ladies and kick ass and be awesome, without any superfluous romantic subplots or gratuitous nudity moments. These women are portrayed as humans, saviours, sisters, mothers, friends and heroes, and they never have their femininity under threat because that isn’t an issue. The fact that they are women is just an uncompromisable fact that doesn’t deter their pursue of justice and freedom, and for that I salute George Miller because in the midst of all the pumped up, overly masculinised, masturbatory action films of the past many years, it is fantastic to see that this kind of story can still be get majorly released and be a success.’

On ‘Gone Girl’ the Movie

First, this will have spoilers about Gone Girl.

Second, I have not read the book. I don’t know anything about the book. I honestly didn’t really know anything about the story except that it involved the disappearance of a woman. I knew this because I had seen a trailer for the movie. This is an unspoiled review of the film, only.

I am going to defer my five word review to the woman who was sitting in front me in the theater. Her five word review as the credits began to roll sums up my feelings about the film: “What? Nah. Fuck this shit.”

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On ‘Transcendence’ the Movie

I’ve been seeing a lot of movies in the theaters recently (i.e., over the last couple years). I’ve never been a consistent movie watcher, and I generally don’t go to the theater to see movies. However, it has become a common date-night activity for me and my partner. This past weekend we saw Transcendence. Now, we plan our trips to the movies roughly 70% of the time, so we are prone to being forced to watch some less-than-stellar films (e.g., Skyline, Pompeii). My five word review of Transcendence: Bad, but it’s no Pompeii.

[Spoilers will definitely follow. Also, what follows is about 98% rant and 2% review.]

Transcendence wants to be a smart movie. It centers on an interesting topic, namely the risks of developing increasingly complex artificial intelligence. It wants to ask the questions about developing AI to the point where it surpasses human intelligence (the singularity); specifically, if it will have a positive or negative outcome. Instead, it insults the audience by thinking it’s smarter than it is, confusing plot twists for commentary.

Lessons about the singularity I learned from watching Transcendence:

1. Women are to blame.

1a. Seriously, ladies, the destruction of the world is your fault. Sure, it may come at the hands of men, but its because we love you. You should feel ashamed.

2. Luddites (with guns, cars, computers, satellite tracking, and the ability to develop radioactive bullets) will oppose the singularity.

3. Civilization’s downfall will start with a TEDTalk. You’ve been warned.

4. Psych! Actually, the singularity wouldn’t have been the downfall of civilization, if only those damn luddites hadn’t killed Johnny Depp.

5. Or am I lying? Maybe it isn’t actually Johnny Depp. It’s an ambiguous ending!

6. But, really, it’s his wife’s fault. If she hadn’t been so ambitious about saving the world, poor Johnny Depp wouldn’t have been cow-towed into maybe-or-maybe-not ruining everything, allowing us to maintain our slow descent into environmental catastrophe. Women are evil.

The thing I find most interesting about the film is the portrayal of the two sides.

On the one hand, we’ve got Johnny Depp (his character’s name is Dr. Will Caster) and his wife (Mrs. Avil Incarnaté-Caster – I’m kidding, but seriously, women are evil). They are in favor of super intelligence because they see it (and technology in general) as a means of making human lives better (ending disease, cleaning up the environment, etc).

On the other hand, we’ve got the luddites (and their allies in Johnny Depp’s former friends Morgan Freeman and the pretend guy from A Beautiful Mind). They seem totally cool with rather advanced technology (see, for example, their use of radioactive bullets). However, they are opposed to super intelligence – be it achieved through AI alone or with human/tech interfacing.

Johnny Depp pros: Saves the environment, cures diseases, heals people and makes them super strong, revitalizes some podunk town in no-where America, still really loves his wife.

Johnny Depp cons: Actually, maybe he doesn’t really love his wife because maybe he’s just the computer and computers can’t love because they don’t have souls or something. He manipulates markets and can spy on everyone. He mind-controls the people he heals, taking away their free will when it suits his purposes, making him akin to a dictator. He is still susceptible to the wiles of woman-kind (no, I’m not gonna drop this stupid, sexist aspect of the plot).

Luddite pros: Um…they wouldn’t allow a super-intelligence to mind-control you. If one arises, they’ll be on hand to artillery that shit to the stone age. Also, nature — ’nuff said.

Luddite cons: They’re cool with radioactive bullets? Really? Also, they’ll kidnap you and hold you against your will until you join their side to oppose Johnny Depp.

So, in conclusion, since both sides are happy to use you against your will, the debate comes down to whether you’d rather be controlled by the singularity (will make your life as perfect as possible, but it may only be an icky computer) or the luddites (who are human -phew- but probably can’t give you a near perfect life). Also, those who consider radioactive bullets a salient issue may consider that a strike against the luddites.

I’m probably being a bit unfair to the film. Overall, it touches on a number of the concerns people have with the singularity. However, it does it in a dumb way. I’m sorry, but I don’t have a more intellectually accurate way of describing it. The movie is dumb. It needed to understand that cliffhangers don’t properly convey ambiguity of an issue. I get that the film didn’t want to firmly take a side, but don’t rely on the final scene to pull a switcheroo and make us ask if it really was or was not Johnny Depp in control.

Verdict: If you want to see it, rent/netflix it. You can do far worse, but this movie suffers from being bland and dumb.

 

 

On ‘Noah’ the Movie

I saw Noah this weekend, and I enjoyed it. My review in five words: pretty, well-acted, humanistic, overwrought, moving.

[This will contain spoilers, but I’m not going to spell out too much of the film in detail.]

The movie has been controversial, which is unsurprising, but I find one of the controversies really strange. Throughout the movie, the characters refer to God as “the Creator.” In fact, never once is the god of the story called “God.” As far as I can tell, this controversy boils down to some Christians forgetting that Jews are not Christians.

As I understand it (and backed up by the about.com Judaism page), Jews do not say God’s name out loud. Instead, other descriptors are substituted. In the about.com page, “the Creator” is cited as an example. The story of Noah appears in Genesis, which is a part of the Hebrew Bible. I shouldn’t have to spell it out, but just in case, this means the characters taking part in the Noah story are Jews. They wouldn’t say “God,” per se. They’d say something like “the Creator.”  As such, there’s nothing controversial about that part of the film except that it doesn’t privilege a Christian reading of the story of Noah. It keeps that part of the story historically accurate, so to speak.

On Sunday, Fox & Friends interviewed Father Jonathan Morris about the film, and I find his criticisms of Noah way off the mark. In particular, these two lines stick out: (1) “[God was an] impersonal force that tells you to do crazy things” and (2) “[Noah was] borderline schizophrenic.

Regarding the first criticism, yes, commanding someone to build an ark to house their family and the animals while the rest of creation is destroyed does seem a crazy thing to tell someone to do. However, I’m pretty sure that bit is accurate to the Bible. One of the things I liked about the movie is that it doesn’t go out of its way to justify God’s actions. Yes, it uses an environmentalist message to give God a motivation to etch-a-sketch creation while preserving the innocent; however, this isn’t treated as a justification. Aside from a throw-away line from Noah about how humans broke the world, God’s actions are just presumed to be justified. This helped the story because it allowed the narrative to focus on Noah coming to terms with his role in the eradication of humanity, and it does this without getting preachy and telling the audience they shouldn’t feel a sense of injustice about the whole thing.

This leads nicely into the the second critique. Noah wasn’t “borderline schizophrenic;” he was a human tasked with saving the innocent creatures of creation while ensuring no humans survive. That is a burden to carry, and it would tax anyone. Noah has to steel himself so that he can see the task to conclusion. If he doesn’t, everyone else’s death is in vain. If Earth is not going to be cleansed of humans, why drown anyone? Noah isn’t schizophrenic. He is trying to remain steadfast in light of the suffering that surrounds him and in which he plays a role.

The climax of the film involves Noah failing in his task, and his failure is the result of human love and compassion. Noah didn’t directly kill those who died because they weren’t on the ark. However, circumstances force Noah to kill twin baby girls to guarantee humanity ends with his family, and he cannot bring himself to kill the infants. Love causes Noah to fail God. It was a fucking great scene, and it brought a tear to my eye.

My final point regarding the criticisms, though the film does not hide the suffering experienced by those drowned in the flood, it never condemns God. As I said above, God’s actions are presumed to be justified, and the movie is better off for it. Perhaps a stark portrayal of the flood is causing people to really grasp its literal implications, and this is why they think the movie portrays a heartless deity, but the movie doesn’t actually do this. God is neither judged nor condemned in this film. The audience is left to judge for themselves.

Okay, now that I’ve praised the film, my critiques. First, as the film is wrapping up, Noah’s daughter-in-law spells out the moral of the story in case we didn’t get it. That was really annoying. Come on, respect your audience. Second, the whole Tubal-cain plot line was of little value. Tubal-cain was a pantomime villain. He’s supposed to be a foil to Noah, and he works to demonstrate the level of violence found in humans, but he comes off like a one-dimensional misquote of Nietzsche. Moreover, his plot line extends the middle of the movie way more than it needs to be. It results in some decent action sequences, but I didn’t think the story of Noah needed a scene with a large army fighting rock creatures.

My two cents: see Noah. The acting is solid, the visuals are stunning, and the story’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.