Ex Machina

Ex Machina

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

The Best Time Travel Films of All Time

2013_05_07 Predestination_0407.tif

There’s currently a film on VOD called Predestination, which has to be one of the trippiest time travel flicks I have ever seen.  Based on the Robert Heinlein short story “All You Zombies,” directed by the Spierig Brothers (don’t worry, I didn’t know who they were before this either) and starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook (if there is any justice, a star should be born here) as two temporal cops hopping through time to stop the crimes of the Fizzle Bomber, it blew my mind that this had not been given a major theatrical release.  Had the similarly minded Wachowski Siblings made this right after The Matrix, it would’ve been a huge hit and they would probably be remembered today for the latter and not the former.  But it blew my mind more for what it was able to achieve in storytelling.  It’s impossible to talk about what happens in detail without giving away major plot points.  Early on I had a hunch what might be happening, but I was totally floored by the depth of what was happening and how the filmmakers dragged us down deeper and deeper into this endless temporal loop.  It makes no sense while simultaneously it makes beautiful sense in its own twisted logic.  It made me wonder…could this actually be one of the greatest time travel movies ever made?  Only time will tell…

…for the purpose of this musing list, let’s be optimistic on its lasting impression and notch it at number 10.  Let the rest of the countdown begin:

Somewhere in Time

9.  Somewhere in Time (Jeannot Szwarc, 1980) – Legend has it this was one of the first films to find success in the early days of video cassette rentals (ahhh…somewhere in time indeed).  I remember making my parents let me watch it with them when I was very young (maybe 6 or 7) because Superman (Christopher Reeve) was in it, and it left me confused as I didn’t understand how one of King Henry’s wives (Jane Seymour) was still alive and acting in movies.  Also during this timeframe in my life I was similarly confused as to how a medieval Saint (Joan Van Arc) ended up staring on TV’s Knots Landing.  At any rate…lush visuals, haunting music, a beautiful setting and a love story beyond time has made this a huge cult hit, and rightfully so.

Happy Accidents

8. Happy Accidents (Brad Anderson, 2000) – This is not a romantic comedy.  I repeat: this is not a romantic comedy.  It’s actually one of the best time travel movies ever made.  It’s a shame Brad Anderson has never really found the huge success he deserved after delivering a trio of thoughtful, well done genre pieces (this, Session 9 and The Machinist).  This one is also a bit of a miracle as it made the always annoying Vincent D’Onofrio actually likable for once in his miserable acting life.  Oh yeah, and Marisa Tomei is lovely here, too. Continue reading

The Cathedral of Space and Brand Survival in Interstellar

Interstellar 3

Christopher Nolan might not be the incomparable artiste that Paul Thomas Anderson has become, the lyrical poet that Terrence Malick succeeds at being, or the rabble-rousers that the sicko David Fincher and the pop pastiche-aholic Quentin Tarantino are…but damn it, he’s the best Brand there is in Hollywood.  You know what you are getting every time you see a Christopher Nolan film, and unlike, say a Michael Bay, you should be ecstatic you’re getting it.  He’s going to entertain you and make you think while conjuring his own impossible cinematic dreams, attempt (sometimes clumsily but always admirably) to tap into a zeitgeist, dazzle you with his technical skill, twist the plot and up the dramatic ante every time he steps behind that camera.

His sprawling space opera, Interstellar, is no exception.  It is at times wondrously ridiculous and miraculously beautiful in its ambitions

In the not so distant future, food is running out from over-population and environmental calamities that have produced a new Dust Bowl.  There people are forced into farming as society has transformed from one of innovation to one of scraping by that has been branded as “caretaking.”  It is here where the widowed Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) eeks out an existence with his son and daughter, Murphy (played by Mackenzie Foy as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult), while he dreams of his lost opportunity to be an astronaut after a test flight crash and the disbanding of NASA years earlier.  The boy has already been tested by the school system and found to be a perfect candidate to be a farmer, while the smart-as-a-whip Murphy gets suspended for bringing a book to school that teaches the Lunar landing as a fact and triumph of the human spirit, when the new consensus teaches it was Cold War propaganda (and no one should ever dream of space travel again as growing food is the only noble pursuit).

But strange things start happening.  Automatic technology (drones and plows) begin acting up.  There are gravitational anomalies happening.  And Murphy thinks there is a ghost in the farmhouse trying to deliver her a message.  It all adds up to father and daughter stumbling upon a secret base where, lo and behold, Cooper’s former professor, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), is leading an underground NASA team that has discovered a wormhole beyond Saturn and is plotting manned voyages to search for inhabitable planets on the other side.  The very survival of the human race is dependent on their mission, and they want Coop to pilot the next one which will be headed by Dr. Brand’s own daughter, the aptly named Amelia (Anne Hathaway). Continue reading

I Will See You Tomorrow As Advertised

Edge of Tomorrow

In a cinematic world overrun by rehashed ideas, sequels, prequels and reboots…it’s both ironic and a minor miracle that a film about resetting time over and over and over would be such a solid piece of entertainment.

There’s absolutely nothing revolutionary about Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman’s polished adaptation of the Japanese book All You Need is Kill (a much snarkier title that fits the themes very well), yet it all works.  Here’s Tom Cruise as another smug character unwittingly thrust into saving the world…yet he manages to imbue his performance with a dark sense of humor that allows you to forgive the tropes of this quasi-messianic overcooked tripe.  Here’s yet another “grunts vs. aliens” invasion/war set-up…yet when handled in a competent way, the cliché can still be fun to watch.  And here are the hive-like aliens…called mimics (for what reason???)…who can meld time (naturally) to anticipate enemy moves…that look something like a Lord of the Rings reject monster wrapped in Matrix machinery and move like octopi…that, hey, as silly and derivative as they are, when brought to life by slick effects and well-orchestrated battle madness can still seem special and cool.  Oh, and the coup de grace…let’s add a Groundhog Day element (remember the mimics can reset time) that leads to inevitable scenes of Cruise dying over and over and over again while he tries to get others to believe him and locate the Omega mimic (essentially the queen)…and in one humorous montage repeatedly is shot by Emily Blunt (his trainer and cohort in this time tripping madness) like an injured horse. Continue reading

Do Ya Do Ya Want My Khan? The Shiny Happy People of J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek

Can someone turn down the lights?

Can someone turn down the lights?

Ahhh…shit…(SPOILER ALERT!) I gave away a major spoiler of Star Trek Into Darkness in the title of the post!  Though, honestly, people, is it any surprise that Khan makes an appearance in part two of Abrams’ reboot series?  Following the trend of comic book films, it seems as if Abrams’ Treks will only be as good as their villains…which means this sequel is a slight notch above its overrated predecessor but is still a mish-mash rehash with nary an original idea to be found and completely void of the political allegory and societal mirror-holding that made the original series so…original.  I was a bit more invested in and entertained by this rehash as if you are going to rehash plots and villains, you might as well rehash the best.  I mean I can’t even remember the villain in the first film.

Though the DUN DUN DUN previews made it clear things were going to get more serious this time around, the film is inexplicably sub-titled Into Darkness…as there’s nary a moment of literal or thematic darkness to be found in the shiny happy continuation of Abrams’ shiny happy series.  Okay, okay, they do speak the words war and genocide, and alotta people die James Cameron-style when the ships get all blown up and stuff.  But you gotta hand it to a guy who just doesn’t give a damn.  If J.J. wants to do an opening nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark in a sci-fi film, well, by golly, he’s gonna jam that in there!  And if he wants to have his set designers craft an entire starship to be made of interior reflective surfaces so that his signature lens flares can go whole hog and burn your retinas…then damn it, Jim, he’s gonna do it!  And if he wants to stretch out certain emo-scenes Felicity style to the point of banality…then frick, he don’t need Keri Russell present to do that.  You see, J.J. is like that smart dorky crafty kid who grew up to be geek chic.  He’s completely hung up on the nostalgia Hollywood peddles, which has made him a golden boy in a town that loves to recycle all that is golden.  This means that many will find what he does pretty cool, but if you want anything deeper than re-imagined childhood reveries, then you better look elsewhere.

And although all the lens flares and explosions render certain action scenes incomprehensible, there are still some wondrous set pieces and stupendous special effects to be found here.  Continue reading

What We Talk About When We Talk About Cloud Atlas

It’s like Metropolis meets The Matrix meets Magnolia meets The Road meets Star Trek meets Leprechaun meets yadda yadda yadda…ya dig?

Ahhhh…remember 1999?  It was sooooo cool to be a sophomore in college and watching movies, man…movies that spoke to my generation.  The old people just didn’t get it.  This was our time, and film was right there with us at the turn of the millennium saying, “Hey, ma!  Look at us!  We’re the first people to ever have these cool ideas!”  Of all the trailblazing films that came out that year, there are two that stick out in my mind the most as having been born of the moment – the Wachowskis’ The Matrix and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run.  Both played with film convention while waxing about alternate realities and parallel lives, and at the time….THEY BLEW MY MIND.  Unfortunately The Matrix begat two mind-bogglingly awful sequels that tarnished the legacy of the original, and as gimmicky fun as Run Lola Run was, it just never really held up all that well.  Though I liked some of Tykwer’s later work (Perfume still has to be one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and I was one of the few who liked The International), the Wachowskis completely imploded.  And as it turns out, all of those cool ideas were just rehashed from previous cool ideas.

Now thirteen years later after they appeared to be the second-coming of cinema only to crash and burn, the three have teamed up and concocted a dazzlingly ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s self-proclaimed unfilmable novel, Cloud Atlas – a nearly indescribable film that will infuriate those who allow it to while it should please those desiring to return to the bygone days of 1999.  So what do we talk about when we talk about Cloud Atlas? Continue reading

Raising Cane and Making it Rain in Looper

Hello, me, it’s me again!

I’m 60 years-old.  I’m retired and living in Sri Lanka on a tea farm I purchased for my long-lost love with whom I recently reunited.  Don’t ask…just go with this fantasy, okay?  She’s lying in bed next to me with her back against mine.  A balmy midnight breeze blows in through the window and the white curtains scale up the walls and then billow down.  My mind is similarly rising and falling in humidified thought.  I can’t sleep.  I saw something today that reminded me of a film I once saw a long time ago but I can’t quite place the moment or the film.  She’s half-awake, too.  She turns over to face me and runs her hand through my hair.  I whisper to her, “Were you there with me?  Do you remember that movie?  It was soooo good.  You know, the one about time travel where the guy was on the run from his future self and he hid out on that farm in Kansas with that beautiful woman and her little kid who could…” 

…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Behold the litany of reasons Rian Johnson’s Looper is an instant genre classic I will fondly recall when I’m 60 years-old: Continue reading

Alien vs Aliens vs My Childhood

Inspired by the fan-boy raving over at Condemned Movies and in anticipation of the June release of Ridley Scott’s prequel/not-a-prequel hybrid Prometheus, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Scott’s iconic Alien and Cameron’s raucous Aliens.

What kind of damned robot are you?

I have such fond childhood memories of Scott’s Alien.  Even though I first watched it at a very young age (I think it must have been around the time of Aliens‘ release so I would’ve been about seven), it’s not memories of the film scaring me that I remember most, but memories instead of my parents telling stories of how it scared them when it came to theaters in 1979, also the year of my arrival into the world.  There was pent-up giddy kid-wild anticipation in the Schleicher household as our parents regaled tales of the shock and horror and the downright badass spookiness of Alien – a film that took old-school monster-movie horror and melded it with a new wave of gritty futurism.  It was both a throw-back film and pop-avant-garde.  And I remember feeling truly special when my parents finally let us watch it.  The initial shock of the chest-bursting scene lasts with me to this day as well as fractured fairy-tale memories of a an android that bled milk, an acid-filled face-hugging bug, a pretty girl in her underwear, and a kitty that must be rescued! Continue reading

The Inception of Dreams

Slick marketing evokes Lang's Metropolis.

Roughly twelve years following their first feature films, these legendary directors delivered the following:  

Fritz Lang:  M   

Alfred Hitchcock:  The Lady Vanishes   

Stanley Kubrick:  2001: A Space Odyssey   

Twelve years after Following, Christopher Nolan invites us to dream along with him through Inception.  And while it’s operating on different levels than the Lang and Kubrick pieces, it shares in Hitchcock’s sense of dark fun and could easily be considered Nolan’s most ambitious and devilishly clever piece of work to date.  He’s an auteur with a full blessing from the studio and his audience, and the project he devised in this rarefied air is awe-inspiring.  Though there are some minor flaws, if you can’t find a way to overlook them and latch onto something meaningful in at least one layer of the dreams on display, then you have no business sitting in a darkened theater watching movies.   

Christopher Nolan’s decked-out and high-concept new film brings new meaning to the idea of stealing ideas.  In his futuristic universe, technology has developed where you can enter the mind of another through dream invasions and steal their ideas.  It’s espionage…it’s dangerous…but what’s even more intriguing is the idea of diving deep into dreams within dreams and implanting an idea that can then spread like a virus and alter the shape of one’s universe.  Whoever implanted this idea into Nolan’s mind, we thank you.   

Continue reading