Is Ex Machina yet another in a long line of Promethean caution tales? Or is it a misogynistic nightmare about the evil extremes of genius? Or wait…is it in actuality a crypto-feminist manifesto? Or…is it like Dave Eggers The Circle or Spike Jonze’s Her a satire of a somewhat scary, occasionally lovely “watch out or we’ll be doomed in a split second if we aren’t careful” future just around the corner? With its slick production values and blank slate aesthetic, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is all of these things and none of them.
When a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) working for a Google-gone-mad-like company gets chosen to spend a week at the founder’s (the ever chameleon-like and always engaging Oscar Isaac) hideaway estate to work on a secret project, and it turns out to be the testing of new AI (the weirdly alluring and borderline creepy Alicia Vikander), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is all going. Continue reading →
Was it really that smart of Noah Baumbach to open his latest “comedy” by making us read a scene of dialogue from a play? Even if it is an Isben play…and even if it is pertinent to the film’s major theme…which is essentially beware of the young? Hidden beyond this stroke of semi-alienating pretension is an almost accessible, quasi-mainstream comedy, Baumbach’s most enjoyable (though far from best) yet.
Well, at least it immediately lets you know you’re in Baumbach territory. Our main characters are a documentarian/professor (Ben Stiller) and his producer wife (Naomi Watts). Only in movies, especially movies made by people like Woody Allen or Noah Baumbach (just like in any Franzen-esque pseudo-literary novel where everyone is a writer) is everyone involved in movies or the arts. This once seemingly hip middle-aged couple have lost their mojo, and they try to get it back by befriending a couple who came to one of his classes, an aspiring documentarian (Adam Driver) and his pretty, young artisanal ice-cream making wife (Amanda Seyfried). I balked at what the film was trying to make me believe…that Adam Driver (one of the most unlikable actors gracing the horizon of stardom) was supposed to be this generous, non-ironic, admirable seeker of truth and drinker of life. Ah, but alas…(spoiler alert!) things are not all what the seem…or in Driver’s case, turn out to be exactly what I suspected…this hipster douche acting like a hipster sage was in actuality…a hipster douche!
As is always the case, Baumbach peppers the film with sharp observational (sometimes judgmental) comedy and sound-bites amidst his odes-to-Woody conversational set pieces. Continue reading →
…softball with Mattingly and Canseco…Ken Griffey’s grotesquely swollen jaw…Steve Sax’s run -in with the law…we’re talking Homer…Ozzie and The Straw.
In honor of Opening Day 2015 I thought I would take a trip down memory lane. As much as my yearly fantasy baseball league helps me stay in tune with the crop of current stars (Kershaw and Kluber – I bow down to yee…but you will never replace in my mind Greg Maddux or John Smoltz)…they’ll never compare to the memories of watching the stars of my youth…like those who appeared on the greatest episode of The Simpsons ever where Mr. Burns attempted to build an unbeatable softball team. Ahh, I miss those halcyon days of steroids and other recreational drug use (cough cough Doc Gooden and The Straw)…of battery throwing (I still hate you JD Drew!) and Bash Brothers.
With a looming getaway to Chicago and tickets to this year’s July 4th game at Wrigley Field secured, I’ll be able to chalk another park off my bucket list. Here’s a run down of my fields of dreams where I have spectated over the years (complete with slightly exaggerated “memories” and vignettes to accompany them)… Continue reading →
I picture the caption for the screenshot above to be something along the lines of, “Jenny, baby, look, we’re in one of the worst films ever made!”
I couldn’t help, while watching the travesty that is Serena, of the infinite monkey theorem (and believe me, thinking about the infinite monkey theorem is a better way to spend two hours than watching Serena), which states that if you sit 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters for an infinite amount of time, eventually their random keystrokes while churn out the works of Shakespeare…or any given text, really. Any given text. Like Christopher Kyle’s feces covered script for Serena. Had monkeys actually written the script for Serena, at least we could’ve said, “Hey, 100 monkeys at typewriters wrote that? That’s not too bad considering it was monkeys…but let’s not try this again…like, ever.”
But it’s not just the script for Serena that is so bad. It’s everything. Every damn thing is awful. Continue reading →
A. J. Edwards, a student and artistic son of Terrence Malick, opens his debut film with cold, haunting shots of the Lincoln Memorial. A crackling Malickian voice-over of a backwoods fella talkin’ bout being Lincoln’s cousin and having lived with him for a spell when he was just a boy in Indiana begins to shape the story as the image moves to a rambling creak. Water is transporting us back in time, back into a dream, and we’re suddenly there watching young Abe make his way in the world. The film ends just a brief 90 minutes later with a chilling bookend…a nicely appointed cabin in Illinois (a clear step-up from the backwoods cabins of his father) where that same warbling cousin waxes about the moment Lincoln’s beloved stepmother (Diane Kruger) learns of his passing. It’s the grand beautiful stuff of myth.
Watching The Better Angels and comparing it to the work of Malick is akin to comparing painters from the same family. One can’t help but think of the generations of Wyeths or Renoirs. Edwards does something Malick never did – he films in black and white – but the movements and framing and pacing and focus are eerily the same. A low shot panning up to an open gate…or door…or window. The actors and actresses moving about as if in interpretative dance. Beautiful music. Ethereal cinematography of nature. There’s one shot of Lincoln’s mother (Brit Marling) on her death-bed where Edwards actually photographs her last breath…you see it hang in the air after her exhale, and its captured in a perfect light. Dust and smoke and light…the black and white photography does wonders for all that Edwards and Malick love to capture.
Or maybe it was looking back on a post I wrote in this blog’s infancy (pre-spin, when it was just davethenovelist) where I listed what I proclaimed to be the Greatest Novels of All Time (which of course meant the best novels I had read up to that point in my life) and realizing how much I had read in the seven years since then and thinking about what that list would look like today. How many new entries? What would still make the cut, and would the passage of time have colored my opinion on significance, fondness and ordering?
Or maybe it was watching “The English Patient” episode of Seinfeld for the umpteenth time on TV tonight that got me thinking…damn, The English Patient…Ondaatje…that has to be one of the greatest novels ever, right? (Spoiler alert: IT IS!)
At any rate…I’m keeping this one simple and asking you to share your own lists.
It’s been a brutally cold, occasionally wet, often frozen winter here in my next of the woods, though a far cry from the polar vortexed permanently deep snow-covered winter of last year. It’s made for a great winter for reading…and my chapped hands found their way to three novels cold as ice, though only one, The Kept, haunts the imagination.
Things started out with a banal, arduous thud that was the literary equivalent of traipsing 100 miles uphill in three feet of snow to the top of a mountain with a horrible view. Richard Ford’s Canada is a long drawn out affair (it’s not until about 300 pages through the 500+ page tome that we actually get to Canada) that tells you exactly what happened in the very first sentence and then proceeds to elaborate on it ad nauseam in repetitive memoir style. Twin brother and sister, Dell and Bern, at age 15, are thrown into a maelstrom after their previously thought to be stable and clear-headed parents rob a bank in a pathetic act of desperation. Bern runs away, while Dell (our narrator) is shuffled off to the middle of nowhere Canada where he meets some unsavory characters and witnesses a murder. Getting to the bank robbery was painful and lacked even a modicum of suspense, and I don’t know how many times the narrator had to remind us of his naivety (while Bern was more wild and worldly) as he goes from one horribly boring existence to the next shaped by brief criminal acts and the occasional weirdo. I’ve never met more boring characters or read about more bloodless crimes. Continue reading →
The 87th Annual Academy Awards aired Sunday Night, February 22nd, 2015. Below were my predictions for the winners in the major categories. The actual winners were filled in after the Oscars are announced.
For some reason last year I didn’t post my annual predictions and telecast commentary, nor do I even remember who hosted or much of the ceremony apart from the fact that 12 Years a Slave rightfully won Best Picture (a rare cosmic convergence of The Davies and Oscars). I think I may have been flying up to Canada for work that Sunday night.
At any rate, after last year’s hiatus, The Spin on the Oscars is back! Neil Patrick Harris is hosting, leaving me feeling uninspired for the ceremony to break from the norm. Musical numbers. A few gay jokes. A few empty political references.
As far as the races, there’s actually a pretty good one for best picture – and if the Academy does their famous Picture/Director split, which way that goes (Boyhood or Birdman?) could also have downstream impact to Best Original Screenplay.
I might also try live Tweeting snarky or non-sensical remarks (most likely ten to fifteen minutes past relevance) during the telecast, so follow us on Twitter @schleicherspin or better yet follow @pattonoswalt as he’s way funnier than me at this stuff.
Neil Patrick had a few good puns but was way too theater-ish for a dreadfully long broadcast begging for a comedian.
There were some genuine surprises amidst the predictable in major and minor categories (see below) but the Birdman flew highest showing yet again that the Academy loves to love themselves.
The funniest tweet of the night came from Patton Oswalt and wasn’t really about the Oscars at all but instead was a mind blowing suggestion that House of Cards might actually be Christopher Nolan’s version of Foghorn Leghorn – a thought I never dared to dream. He later suggested that Matthew McConaughey had killed a railroad hobo for his hair (ha!)
I scored a subpar 15/24 in my family Oscar pool and lost out to my brother thanks to all the upsets.
A corrupt mayor of a remote Russian fishing town (Roman Madyanov) waxes bluntly that “there are a lot of assholes at the bottoms of hills” but if his character proves anything, there are even bigger assholes at the top. He comes across like a Russian version of Toronto’s own Rob Ford – only without the charm.
Another character, the gruff fish-mongering wife of a cop (an excellent Anna Ukulova), muses on men while watching her rambunctious young son, “At first you’re pretty and then they kill you.”
*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*
Andrey Zyaginstev’s Jobian melodrama, Leviathan, is full of these Russian-isms. Bookended by bleak but beautiful seaside photography from Mikhail Krichman shown in perfectly framed shots scored by Philip Glass’ tense minimalist music, the film tells the tale of Koyla (Aleksey Serebryakov – who looks ripped from the stone-cold misery of a Ingmar Bergman film), a man who the mayor, the system, and the church demand be put in his place. His ancestral home has been seized by the government at an unfair price. His wife (a seductively sad and emotive Elena Lyadova) is sleeping with his lawyer and friend (Vladimir Vdovichenkov ). His teenage son (Sergey Pokhodaev) is surly and depressed.
The characters in the film drink, eat, go shooting and screw each other in more ways than one. Continue reading →
I’m a bit late to the game as the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special aired on NBC this past Sunday, but watching the three-hour trip down memory lane got me thinking between the laughs. It’s amazing how much SNL has been and continues to be part of my routine. I was still in single digits when I watched the early seasons rerun on Nick@Nite, and it was during the Farley heyday when the teen version of me became a committed live watcher. The current season may be abysmal (only the absurdly funny “Wishin’ Boot” music video deserves repeat play), but the special reminded me how funny SNL can be and left me reminiscing about my favorite sketches over the years.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but more of an invitation for you, dear readers, to share your favorite SNL sketches.
As far as “one-and-done” stand-alone pieces, nothing in my mind tops “Consumer Report” where Dan Aykroyd plays a slimy toys salesman shucking new toys for the Christmas season, one of which is a literal bag of broken glass. Continue reading →