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Film Review: Ex Machina

Ages ago I saw the trailer for this ‘indie’ film – directed by The Beach writer Alex Garland – featuring relatively unknown actors and a really interesting looking plot. Then I completely forgot about it until I was bored over the holidays and accidentally stumbled across it thanks to the suggested watch-list on IMDB. So I watched it and I was not disappointed.

ex machina

I love films about artificial intelligence. All the various forms and manifestations and imaginings these types of stories come up with never cease to amaze me, and lately, possibly bore me, because so many of these stories fall into trope-ish territory and become extremely predictable while trying to be thought-provoking.

Ex Machina starts out feeling familiar but strange, playing with the ‘mad scientist’ theme while giving us a ‘normal dude’ to champion through all the indie-film weirdness. Then comes the main body of the plot, which starts to feel even more familiar and predictable, and I endured with a multitude of sighs thinking I knew exactly where the story was going. Without ruining a rather unexpected and pretty interesting ending, suffice it to say, I did not see that coming and found the twist rather refreshing and genuinely thought provoking about how our humanity could be used against us by more subtle and insidious machines. Honestly, I felt a lot more freaked out by some of the ideas presented in this film than I have with any other AI story.

There was a lot to like about this movie, but I think Garland (writer and director of this movie) still played it safe in presenting male human characters creating and becoming entranced by a beautiful, sexy, sensual female android. There was literal objectification of women going on in this movie and not in a snarky, feminist-undertone kind of way. The entire premise actually relied on the tired idea of an average man being beguiled by a beautiful woman, a femme fatale even. I think it would’ve been fascinating to explore the same story idea with the genders reversed.

That said, this movie still made me think long after the credits rolled and I really enjoyed Alicia Vikander as the android Ava. Ex Machina gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: The Martian

Back in March, I reviewed this book knowing I would eventually end up seeing the film, which I did!

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It’s a proven fact that any book-to-movie adaptation is going to divide an audience into those you think it was done well to the point of being fantastic and possibly better than the text, and those who think it was done badly to the point of being a travesty against the written word itself. It’s rare that someone who has enjoyed a book – loved it even – will take the middle ground with the film adaptation. Strangely, I find myself feeling about the movie quite the same way I felt about the book, which is that it’s helluva entertaining, but lacks gravitas, and thus I’m in that liminal middle-ground regarding this adaptation.

The Martian is Ridley Scott in high-gear, not quite Gladiator gear given a few peculiar editing sequences (more noticeable if you’ve read the book) and no breathtaking Hans Zimmer score to accompany it (I honestly could’ve even remember the music in the movie – composed by Harry Gregson-Williams who can certainly compose some awesome scores!). I actually went to the cinema to watch this with my husband who has read the book too and a few other friends, none of whom had read the book – so opinions after the credits rolled were going to be interesting, and I suspected, divisive.

So…

I enjoyed the film. It was funny, managing to capture quite a bit of Mark Watney’s humor while maintaining its PG rating, and Matt Damon did a good job of showing a more emotional-psychological aspect of the character. I still wanted more however. The tone of the film was kept light and breezey, at times even lighter than the book, playing up the absurdity of his situation rather than the serious life-or-death nature of Watney’s every action and decision. Consequently, the movie – like the book – was highly entertaining, but was a little disappointing because it seemed to make his journey appear a lot easier than in the book. What made the book exceptional was how it showed Watney’s thought processes and his step by step ‘applying the scientific method’ approach to everything he did. In the movie, much of his space-MacGyvering is whittled down to Eureka moments that never really show just how intelligent, adaptive, and resourceful the character is in the book. Those who have read the book will undoubtedly be disappointed that certain key parts of the narrative and some particularly nasty mishaps on Mars are left out of the film altogether. Because a lot of the method gets skimmed over, if addressed at all, there are certain things that simply are in the film without any explanation – such as the ‘balloon’ on the rover. This frustrated my friends who hadn’t read the book because they felt like they had missed something, and this frustrated me who had read the book because it was clear the movie-makers had missed something! That said, the scenery is spectacular and at no point did I ever not believe I was actually on Mars. For that reason alone, I am extremely thankful I went to see this on the big screen.

The verdict on this film is much like the verdict on the book: entertaining, engrossing while watching, humorous and good press for NASA and science in general, but not a story that will leave me thinking, pondering existential questions, or haunted by the plight of this lonely astronaut – all things I believe this story should and could’ve done without losing any of its cool sci-fi-ness. Still, this scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Crimson Peak

I don’t think I have ever been this excited to see a ‘horror’ movie before and man was it a disappointment.

*WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD*

crimson

Judging by the trailer, this film was going to be a campy, Gothic horror-fest complete with a haunted house on the bleak British moors and buckets of faux-blood. Actually, I was most excited for this film because it didn’t look all that terrifying (I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror) but looked more Gothic and grotesque, which I adore! So, off to the cinema I went.

Firstly, I remember now why I stopped going to the cinema and would rather wait for films to come out on DVD/streaming-sites. The inconsiderate asses behind me talked non-stop and even took photos of their popcorn (I just can’t even!!) with flash during the freaking movie!! My irritation at the selfish imbeciles behind me no doubt eroded some of the pleasure I might’ve derived from the film.

That said, it took almost an hour’s worth of two-hour run time to even get to the titular Crimson Peak! I thought the entire film was set in this rotting estate replete with bleeding walls, but nope, first we had to endure a bunch of back-story and long-winded set-up. By the time we got to the blood-soaked house, I was almost bored despite the charming good-looks and distinguished awesomeness that is Tom Hiddleston when he plays aristocratic British characters.

Now the house itself was spectacular and well-worth the wait, but what I thought was blood from the trailer was in fact red clay and iron ore leaching into the ground and turning it red – somewhat anti-climactic. And the horror of the house, combined with the appropriately unexpected frights courtesy of ghosts so grotesque they were more humorous than frightening, was pretty much all this film had going for it. I expected a lot from the story. I expected the house to be more, I actually expected it to be sentient. I expected the siblings to have a lot more going on in their past than an almost justified murder of a cruel mother and illicit love affair. Siblings falling in love is no longer as shocking as it used to be. Blame the Lannisters maybe, but this revelation wasn’t a revelation at all and the sort-of love scene between Tom and Lucille was barely a love scene at all, so the whole thing just fell flat for me. The only part of this story that horrified me was that Lucille murdered their mother at 14 when the mother found out her children were lovers. When Lucille was 14, her brother was 12. And they were lovers. People, THAT’S the true horror story!

Despite the underwhelming plot and predictability of the scares, the acting was on point for this penny dreadful-esque story and the cinematography was spectacular. Seriously, I would watch this film again (the second half) just to ogle the scenery and that delightfully dilapidated house.

Perhaps I went into this with my expectations far too high. I may or may not have confused Guillermo del Toro with Terry Gilliam, and when you go into a film thinking Brazil and Tideland only to be met with the guy who did Pacific Rim, well, it was my own fault really. That said, it was still reasonably enjoyable, although I don’t think this will give horror fans the frights they want, and won’t be nearly sinister enough to satisfy Gothic fiction lovers. Basically, Crimson Peak is little more than a flirtation with the macabre that’ll keep yours eyes entertained while you chew on popcorn. A disappointing 2.5/5 ink splats for this.

2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Film Review: Into the Woods

Who knew Chris Pine could sing? Certainly not me when I started watching the film version of Into the Woods knowing only that it starred the Cup Song girl, Meryl Streep as a witch, and Johnny Depp as an insane wonderland creature as per usual. Those were the reasons I sat down to watch, and those were the least of the reasons why I loved it!

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Musicals. You either love them or hate them. I’ve met few people who are indifferent toward movies where actors spontaneously burst into song, and Into the Woods is a musical. Unlike many of my peers, I spent my childhood watching musicals. The old-fashioned kind like My Fair Lady and Showboat, Oklahoma and Camelot. While other kids were singing along to Spice Girls, I was singing full renditions of songs from Oliver and Annie! I was also part of a stage arts academy, frequently performing in musicals and Broadway-style shows, particularly all the Andrew Lloyd Webber stuff. Point is, I grew up on musicals and still have a passion for them to this day with one of my all time favorite films being Across the Universe. When my favourite SFF genre and music combine, I am truly in heaven! (I really should write a review of Repo, the Genetic Opera *makes a note*).

So, Into the Woods scored points just for being a musical, then it scored additional points for presenting a dark and sometimes off-color twist on beloved Disney characters. If you’re unfamiliar with the original Sondheim stage production, do take note that despite the innocuous looking poster and the fact that this is technically a Disney movie, this is in no way a children’s movie. Well, kids could probably watch it but they wouldn’t (hopefully) catch some of the darker and more subtle things going on in this story.

The film, like the play, is an unapologetic play on fairytale tropes, frequently teetering into parody. The premise boils down to an old adage: be careful what you wish for. In this case, the whole ensemble cast should’ve heeded that warning but of course they don’t and so we get this fantastical romp featuring Little Red (the Riding Hood part implied), Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and McKenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel. Emily Blunt plays the role of a baker’s wife who inadvertently kicks off the entire story, Meryl Streep plays the witch, and Johnny Depp has a brief but super creepy cameo as the Big Bad Wolf. Also, Chris Pine plays Prince Eyebrows, er… Charming, and did I mention this guy can actually sing?

While the plot is delightfully silly in a typical fairytale kind of way, what really pulls this whole story together is the music. The songs are fantastic! If you are unfamiliar with musicals and the musical motifs they often employ, some of the finer points of humor might escape you, but for any musical aficionados or musos in the know, the score is rife with snark and tongue-in-cheek moments poking fun at the ‘serious’ musicals. The lyrics are also incredibly clever and liberally sprinkled with innuendo. I’m a little sad they cut out some of the more violent and sexy content from the stage original, but I guess they really wanted that PG rating for the film.

This brings me to Depp’s cameo, and what has got to be the most bizarre and uncomfortable few minutes of the film. Depp is brilliant, of course, and is perfectly creepy as the wolf who hungers for more than a literal nibble on the young Little Red. I’m surprised the less-than-subtle innuendo in the relationship between Wolf and Little Red even made it into this film, but I’m glad it did because the entire story is all about re-imagining these fairytales in dark and twisted ways. No, the word I’m looking for is sinister and Into the Woods has sinister in spades even when it’s cleverly disguised with humor.

I loved this film and spent a good portion of it in stitches. The problems arose when the movie actually wanted you take it seriously and tried to throw some emotional punches. Around the 1.20 minute mark, I checked to see how much was left of the film – never a good sign. It was around about here when the story tried to take itself seriously that I wanted things to wrap-up in the unhappily ever after direction the story seemed to be headed. Nope, we got another forty minutes of story that wasn’t really necessary and the Rapunzel storyline kind of got brushed aside, which did not please me because McKenzie Mauzy was lovely and deserved more screen time. So did her prince – Charming’s little brother!

Up until the 1.20 mark this film would’ve got 10 ink splats from me, but that last half hour dragged. I actually paused to walk the dog, read email and make tea, before finally finishing the thing, and while I did enjoy the rest of the songs, the same sense of black humor and tongue-in-cheek quipping seemed to disappear, leaving the ending feel a lot more traditional considering the rest of the film. That said, this was still a fun – if a little nutty – movie that I would be happy to sit through the first 90 minutes of again. The cast sings incredibly welland the music was suitably cheesy, adding to the parody vibe.

The other glaring problem I had with the film was the lack of diversity. Is there a rule somewhere that says when re-imagining Disney stories, all main characters must be white? One might argue the setting is a pseudo-Germanic Grimm-esque world and therefore PoC are an unlikely find, but that argument holds no water considering this is a ‘re-imagining’. How about conjuring up some PoC there Disney? The lack of color is made even more conspicuous by its absence when Cinderella walks into the castle past the one and only black person in the entire film. Including the profile of a black man for all of 2 seconds in a 2-hour long movie otherwise peopled by whites, is not diversity. It’s not even tokenism. It’s… bizarre. How refreshing it would’ve been to have a pair of black princes instead of Chris ‘Captain Kirk’ Pine and his blond-haired, blue-eyed little brother, but alas, I fear I ask too much from Hollywood.

Overall, I recommend this movie to fans of musicals who don’t mind off-color humor and are looking for something a little unusual and purely for fun. This gets 4/5 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2015 in Reviews

 

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