Archives for the month of: January, 2017

In our continuing obsession with robots and how they’ll probably take over the world and murder us comes the entry Ex Machina. I seem to recall a lot of hype about how ground-breaking and intelligent it was. I disagree on at least one of those points.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a tech billionaire who is developing humanoid AIs in his remote mansion, because obviously he is. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a peon in his company who wins a contest to go meet the AI. Ava (Alicia Vikander) is the AI. Amid very stylish surroundings, Nathan is a giant creep, Caleb is creeped out, Ava is a really convincing robot.

MV5BMTUxNzc0OTIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDI3NzU2NDE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgTo its credit, this movie addresses a few issues that often come up in this scenario, like “why does the AI have to be a sexy lady?” The answer to that is that Nathan is a creepy weirdo, which is at least stereotypically probable. “Why does Oscar Isaac have that terrible beard?” goes unanswered. “How did we get to the point where AIs are really plausible sexy ladies without a lot of hiccups?” is, however, terrifyingly answered by a gallery of uncanny valley failed AIs. “Can robots dance?” is a glorious yes.

This movie did, at least, kind of consider how robots might think and how this may or may not make them want to kill us all.

On the other hand, I don’t know about you, but I watched Battlestar Galactica, so….

Director: Alex Garland
Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes
Score: 4/5

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It’s that time of year, when it’s too cold to go out and it’s dark all the time, and people like me find favorite movies as comforting as soup or cocoa. And Moonstruck is funny, clever, and hopeful.

Loretta Castorini (Cher) is 37, and a bookkeeper. She was once married, but he got hit by a bus, so now she lives with her parents and accepts the proposal of a total schlemiel, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). He has to go to Sicily to look after his mother, so he asks Loretta to repair the bad blood with his brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), a one-handed baker, opera buff, and lunatic. Meanwhile, Loretta’s father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is running around on her mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis) with some trash.mv5bmjiwmdy0nzyymf5bml5banbnxkftztcwote5ndk0na-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_ But then Rose gets to tell Frasier’s dad (as an NYU prof) what he’s doing wrong with his life, and she is masterful.

So Loretta ends up going to the opera with Ronny, and she gets a makeover, a really fabulous dress, and the last word in the excellent exchange: “You waited for the right man the first time, why didn’t you wait for the right man again?”/”He didn’t come.”/”I’m here!”/”You’re late!” And in fact that’s why you watch the movie. Sure, everything Olympia Dukakis says is pure gold, but the conversational sparks between Ronny and Loretta flash amazingly. There’s some implausible 80s nonsense, but you laugh and you feel, and that’s really all you can ask.

Also, this is probably Nicolas Cage’s greatest rôle. (Yes, I’ve seen Raising ArizonaLeaving Las Vegas, and Adaptation. I have seen The Rock and National Treasure as well, which are solid candidates, too, even if they’re not serious.) He’s young and thin and intense–borderline crazy, but it’s on purpose and it works. His hair is terrible but plausible, and he really works some black jeans.

Stray observations:

  • Yes, of course I’m listening to La Bohème now.
  • Loretta has the greatest walk of shame: she’s not ashamed, she looks glorious, and both the soundtrack and the view are tops.
  • I ain’t no freaking monument to justice!

Director: Norman Jewison
Rating: PG
Length: 102 minutes
Score: 5/5

This may have been the Star Wars movie we were looking for. It is both darker and more whimsical than any previous installment, and succeeds at both. Because its outcome is largely predetermined, it may lack some of the highs, but it absolutely lacks the lows.

More interestingly, this is a war movie in the way that previous forays into the universe have not been. Rogue One is willing to wonder about how collaboration, empire, and resistance actually work. The good guys squabble with each other. Moral certainty is rare. People die. It’s not exactly Armée des Ombres, but hard choices do have to be made, and victory is at least nominally uncertain. (Yeah, we’ve seen Episodes IV through VI, so it’s not actually up for grabs, but the Allies won WWII, as well, and Battle of Britain still ends on an ambivalent shrug.)

Also the new robot is amazing.rogueone

I liked it a lot, even though it left some things on the table. I wasn’t sure why they didn’t do more with Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso or Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, if they bothered to hire such recognizable and talented actors. Alistair Petrie’s head of Rebel intelligence, General Draven, should have had more to say about how reality is a thing, although Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) had a good line about it. Jyn (Felicity Jones) could have had a name I could catch–it took about two hours for me to realize her name wasn’t “Jed.”

But the fan service, such as it was, was restrained and effective. The effects were in the main excellent. Dialogue, as always, was a weak point, but the comic beats literally all landed, thanks to Alan Tudyk’s voice inside K-2SO. Donnie Yen’s wannabe Jedi Chirrut Îmwe added a new and welcome dimension to the Force.

Definitely better than Force Awakens, maybe better than Revenge of the Sith.

Director: Gareth Edwards
Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 minutes
Score: 4/5

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony.” So begins Rafael Sabatini’s best-known (though not best) novel, Scaramouche. It is the tale of the young lawyer André-Louis Moreau in the early days of France’s (first) revolution, who inadvertently becomes, in order: a firebrand, an actor, and a fencing-master-cum-politician. It is a rollicking tale told with verve and humor.

mv5bmtyxody4mzczov5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjayotyymje-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_This movie is great, and when I first saw it at the age of ten or so at fencing camp, I loved it. Tons of swashbuckling, Mel Ferrer at his most gloriously supercilious, French revolutionary nonsense, Eleanor Parker….

Unfortunately, as with Howl’s Moving Castle, this movie is only great if you have either never read the book or are capable of keeping the book and the movie in different compartments in your brain. It’s not so much that Stewart Granger is a bad André-Louis Moreau as that the script makes no attempt to make him be any kind of André-Louis Moreau. To be sure, it would be bad casting regardless, but he was all right as Rudolf Rassendyll in The Prisoner of Zenda. (Or at least the most abominable miscasting in that film was James Mason as the villainous Rupert of Hentzau.)

In turning André into a middle-aged womanizer, the film misses most of the point of him. It is the touching naïveté underlying the pose of ironic detachment that is his charm, not the pose itself. The real André is both too high-minded and too incompetent to get himself involved in a love triangle, even if presented with the temptations of Eleanor Parker and Janet Leigh, which are many and mighty. The politics–and thus André’s principles–get short shrift as well, but, to be fair, they are complicated, and this movie is not the first to shirk their involvements.

So…a 3 for nostalgia’s sake, and also: who could play André, then or now?

Director: George Sidney
Rating: tame
Length: 115 minutes
Score: 3/5