Ex Machina Non Grata

Ex Machina - posterA24 films continues its leadership among independent film with Ex Machina, a thoroughly engrossing psychological sci-fi drama.  Taking Her and adding a physical dimension to ultra-humanlike AI did not quite reach Her heights, nor does probing Under the Skin attain that lofty plateau.  As good as Ex Machina is, it doesn’t push the envelope of machine-human interaction in the way it might have.

Ex Machina - text blockSo, driving home, I thought “it’s a solid 8.”  That one could consider it the double episode Star Trek always wanted to muster but never quite could.  That it worked as pure psychological drama, like a good Mamet film.  That we are dealing with a robot is almost beside the point, and that nothing fresh was brought to bear on the ever-more-explored theme of AI.

But my mind kept buzzing about Ex Machina into the night, giving me fits when trying to fall asleep.  That kind of resonance is always a good thing.  I still think the same basic story could have been set 1000 years ago — i.e. without the sci-fi elements.  But what’s undeniable is the powerful dramatic story at hand, a beautifully constructed, masterfully played chess game.  9/10

Flashdance Flashback

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Sundance HD has been airing Flashdance (1983) recently, which certainly puts the iconic 80’s hit in a new light.  Though it was one of my favorite films when it came out, the best viewing I could muster in my formative years was via VHS tape and 19″ Sony Trinitron.  55″ HD makes a big difference.

I was so impressed with what I saw that I considered a “Cinematic Greats” post.  Then I watched a little more and realized how meaningless that category would become once I threw Flashdance in with the likes of Bound, Fargo, and After Dark, My Sweet.  There is obvious cheese in no short quantity here — including the watered-down, Rocky-based plot — and Michael Nouri as the male lead is an absolute hack.

But the spirited dance numbers, original music, and Jennifer Beals’ winsome performance push it into positive territory.  I agree with the criticism out there, but when I see a Tomatometer rating of 33% while Blade Runner sits at 91% and is considered by many to be among the greatest of all films, well, that’s backwards-world.

Despite its flaws, Flashdance holds its place in the pantheon of iconic 80’s pictures, and, as such, is highly recommended and essential viewing — just make sure to watch in HD, and with decent sound.

Christian Bale Movies on Netflix

For some reason, “Ryan Gosling Movies on Netflix” has endured as by far the most popular post on my site.  Ironic, I think, considering the post is no longer accurate  — only All Good Things remains.  Too bad, but that’s the here today, gone tomorrow nature of Netflix.  And also a little funny that that’s my most popular post; I think it’s hitting Google when people search, which they could just as easily do directly on Netflix.

Christian Bale movies - text blockWith that, I wanted to point out two outstanding Christian Bale films currently on Netflix.  A friend of mine and I disagree on who’s the better actor – Ryan Gosling or Christian Bale.  It’s clear to me that Gosling has demonstrated greater breadth, but Bale is no slouch.

The first Christian Bale film I wanted to highlight is American Psycho, the visionary masterpiece I wrote about in 2013.

When you’ve had adequate time to recuperate from that, check out The Machinist [prior post].  It is not quite the complete triumph of American Psycho, but it’s still a great film.

Netflix includes a handful of lesser Christian Bale films, such as Out of the Furnace.  But American Psycho and The Machinist by themselves are worth six months of a Netflix subscription.

Friday Fun Flick: Teeth

Teeth - poster large

Speaking of novel vectors in cinema.  Carina Chocano, for the LA Times:

YOU could never accuse Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of artist Roy) of pandering to market expectations. His first feature, “Teeth,” is a dark, gory and hilarious sendup of contemporary prudery, teen horror films, Christian abstinence programs, rampant cultural misogyny and latent gynophobia in ancient mythology that plays serial castration by vagina dentata for laughs.

… Campy, shameless and sophisticated, Lichtenstein’s debut is gutsy and original, and it makes “Juno” look positively tame by comparison

Teeth is not a masterwork by any means, but it’s a fun film that fills a niche found nowhere else in film.  You’ll have a good time with this one, and won’t forget about it any time soon.  Available via iTunes rental.

Film Brief: Furious 7


Furious 7 strings together one insulting, preposterous moment after another, then measures in a dose of callous pandering in the form of a disingenuous moral on the power of family bonds.  Which could be forgiven if there were any sort of a story to follow.  The result is mind-bogglingly monotonous and a chore to sit through.  The only virtue we are left with is a bit of eye candy, but the depravity of this film counteracts its minimal assets to yield my lowest rating.  1/10     Furious 7 - text block


TV Notes: Better Call Saul

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Just a couple thoughts on AMC’s Better Call Saul, which wrapped up its first season last night.  First of all, and I know I’m a little late to the party, but boy has TV gotten a lot better.  I first became aware of this phenomenon in 2010 with Mad Men, the most exquisite television show ever produced.  With FX’s Fargo, and now Better Call Saul, the idea has been cemented that television has the capacity to better many movie offerings — especially with the cinematic dead zone we are now in.

I loved the Fargo series, despite the occasional gappy logic.  With Better Call Saul, I missed the first three episodes — marketing it as a sequel to Breaking Bad didn’t get my juices flowing, only because I’ve never watched Breaking Bad.  The entertainment value isn’t quite to the level of Fargo, but boy it’s good.  I love western settings done right, e.g. Electrick Children and After Dark, My Sweet.  Now we just need to wait for season 2…. which could be another year.

According to the Wikipedia entry, the entire Better Call Saul series of ten episodes will be available on Netflix any day now.  That’s good, because I really want to check out the first three episodes that I missed.

Cinematic Greats: Bound

Bound - poster

Terrifically fun, highly stylized modern film noir with lots of dark humor — in 2008, I wrote:

Bound, 1996, with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, is a delightful mob movie with a twist – the mobster, played uniquely with humor by Joe Pantoliano, becomes the target of a plot against him by his wife (Tilly) and Gershon.  I saw this in the theater when it came out.  It is the only movie I can think of where after about 10 minutes into the film, I was literally on the edge of my seat for the duration of the picture.

Bound - text blockRoger Ebert awarded his highest rating:

“Bound” is one of those movies that works you up, wrings you out and leaves you gasping. It’s pure cinema, spread over several genres. It’s a caper movie, a gangster movie, a sex movie and a slapstick comedy. It’s not often you think of “The Last Seduction” and the Marx Brothers during the same film, but I did during this one–and I also thought about “Blood Simple” and Woody Allen. It’s amazing to discover all this virtuosity and confidence in two first-time filmmakers, Larry and Andy Wachowski, self-described college dropouts, still in their 20s, from Chicago.

So in other words, for a dose of the Wachowskis, you’re better off watching Bound — even a second or third time — than opting for their most recent offering, Jupiter Ascending.  It’s funny that Bound ended up a somewhat forgotten film, while their Matrix enterprise became completely ubiquitous, a staple of cinema.

BONUS!  Bound’s available on Netflix.