There’s a rumor that a major figure of the French cinema, retired from public view, now cannot even go to the movies in his waning days: four, five minutes would pass and he would shriek in bloody horror as if from waking terrors. He would not only have forgotten what he was watching or where he was but the very function of images advancing in the darkness. I began to forget the breathless, teetering, tottering, careening, catapulting “Avengers: The Age Of Ultron” about twenty minutes into its 141-minute running time, but slouched instead of shrieked. Zoom, quip, wham, smirk, quip, blam! Quip! Oh so much too-muchness on an inhumane scale. Read the rest of this entry »
For his directorial debut, “Ex Machina,” novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine”) crafts a deceptively simple social comedy deeply invested in ideas about artificial intelligence, the nature of desire and the mind-body divide. But cheekily glib, oft-vulgar banter between its two male characters—a billionaire inventor (Oscar Isaac) and the so-bright employee/programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) he’s chosen for a one-man Turing Test—and a female robot (Alicia Vikander) that can flirt, think and scheme—likably mask the hoped-for profundity. (“Ex Machina” could have easily been called “The Imitation Game.”) Read the rest of this entry »
“Chappie” is cheeky. Or, Punk as fuck, or maybe “Zef as fuck.” Co-writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s third Johannesburg-set feature is not the robot movie anyone watching the coming attractions might have expected. (The film’s pre-opening Wednesday-night screenings for critics across the country were followed by a wave of harsh, obstinate commentary on Twitter that meant to kill.) Many of the scenes, plus a wanton vocabulary of variations on “muthafuckah” and “Jesus Christ,” are more purposeful provocation rather than an internationally legible pop fable. (Along with some very suggestive sentiments about the mind-body divide.) Read the rest of this entry »
Don’t we all want a furious, jumbled intelligence like Doug Liman’s to fashion memorable pop? The director of “Go,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” opens the snap-pop-crackerjack visual static of “Edge of Tomorrow”—a title which sounds like a lost Powell-Pressburger film—with a teeming montage, an immersion more than exposition of how the planet has arrived at apocalyptic war. We’re battling voracious aliens called “Mimics” and a surge on the beaches of France, Operation Downfall, seems to be humanity’s only chance for survival against the onslaught from the edge of the world. The 2013 meteor showers in Russia’s Ural region are one shard of the opening’s epochal busy-ness as is the image of a mute, pop-eyed Wolf Blitzer next to a “United Defense Forces” general played by Brendan Gleeson: a cruel portrait in a fraction of a second.
The lasting mystery of “Transcendence” is why it fails so completely, starting with its title. It could have been called a dozen other things, including “Singularity,” “Technophobia,” “Perturbia,” “Who, Me, Frankenstein?” or, maybe, “An Inconvenient Bust.” The first feature by cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception,” “Moneyball,” “The Dark Knight Rises”) suffers from a script aiming for present-tense future shock that mashes up an unholy hybrid of movies past and clichés everlasting, notably “The Lawnmower Man” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” Eight, ten minutes in the only hope was for the movie to gain a pulse and become deliciously bad. I slouched further in my seat. [Plot details follow.]
Jonathan Glazer’s third feature, and his first in nearly a decade, “Under The Skin,” reduces Michel Faber’s 300-page-plus 2000 novel to a quintessence: how would an alien see our world if it were to walk among us, if it were to hijack a human form and harvest us by exploiting elemental desire?
The form the unnamed creature assumes is Scarlett Johansson’s, and in the production and post-production of the movie, plot and narrative peeled away in favor of sound and image, and the alien’s encounters on the real-life streets and nearby beaches of Glasgow, Scotland. It’s maximal minimalism, of the kind of heightened sensation you’d expect from the maker of “Sexy Beast” and “Birth.” In a way, his character is the ultimate consumer, shopping for men among the faces on the street, who will be literally taken by desire?
“Oh, yeah?” Glazer says, smiling slightly, on a recent Chicago visit. Then she is, too, as she begins to take pity on her prey. “Yeah, there is something interesting about the fact that for someone to live, someone else has to die.” Read the rest of this entry »
(A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) Fifty shades of grayscale: Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 “Alphaville” is eternally nouveau, fifty years passé. One of his most entertaining movies is also one of his most timeless. Drawing on a post-Bogart gumshoe character that Eddie Constantine had already smoked and drank his way through in Z-level Euro-thrillers, Godard creates a future landscape entirely from cannily curated elements of Paris, 1964. The City of Light becomes the portal of portent. All you need to make a movie, or at least a nagging, haunt-your-dreams pre-neo-noir, is a gun, a girl and simmering philosophical asides. The shadowy web etched by cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s black-and-white photography is countered by the luminosity of Godard’s then-wife and matchless muse, Anna Karina. Her eyes shine as the corners of the city lurk, mute yet ominously expressive. Fittingly, this object from the past that partook in an imagined future, of an urban dystopia ruled by a brute computer called “Alpha 60,” is newly restored, cleanly pixillated into the present tense of rapid-fire 1-0-1-0-1-0 sequences of data. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s nearly the future, but it’s just now for Theodore Twombly, a successful professional writer of assuredly sentimental personal letters. The world is more automated than anything imagined by the cold wizards behind Google Glass: in an elevator leaving work, Theodore murmurs to the tiny device in his ear, “Play melancholy song,” and after a few bars, refines, “Play different melancholy song.” In a softly lit, given-to-orange-red Los Angeles, shot partially in Shanghai, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) procrastinates on finalizing his divorce while thinking of what went wrong with his wife (Rooney Mara), while having a warm, Platonic, female-male friendship with his neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), a married documentary-maker and programmer. His sentiments shift when he buys an operating system for his computer, an intuitive entity that listens to you, that understands you, which dubs itself Samantha and has a chipper, flirtatious, intimate, slightly husky voice: Scarlett Johansson. A.I.-yi-yi: she’s got the emotional intelligence of a lover and a mother. Read the rest of this entry »
Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to “TRON: Legacy” is a sleek, glassy repository of curated design, as much a lexicon of coolly appreciated influence as a functional motion picture in its own right. “Oblivion” took its first creative breath as an unpublished graphic novel by Kosinski, who shares story and writing credit here, and it has the kind of magpie fecundity you’d hope to find bursting from the pages of une bande dessinée freshly re-inked into English. But as a movie, it’s like a data mind-meld, a terabyte farm of all the films Kosinski has ever steeped in, a reduction to one singularity, an uberfilm that displaces all that it came from. But sad for the film’s fortunes, “Oblivion” requires story and actors, and it has Tom Cruise at his most Cruise-ey. Read the rest of this entry »
In Rian Johnson’s fine and fantastic “Looper,” a man in the near future confronts men from the farther future and dispatches them from the face of the earth. It’s a savvy variation on the hitman genre and a magpie fashion of gently-brushed-in science fiction that manages to entertain in its small details of the everyday while proposing and prompting notions about our existence in the eternal now, the split-second we’re always holding, losing, anticipating with each breath and fleeting thought.
I think old Tom got it first and got it best, but Johnson is oh-so-very-close with his fine and fantastic third feature. “Old Tom” would be T. S. Eliot, and the poems would be those of “Four Quartets.” There was much drop of jaw while watching “Looper,” but it was not too far in when I remembered a single, singular, exquisite, simple passage. Stories about time travel open onto corridors of paradox, and “explanations” readily detonate. The most soothing passage I know about movies working Möbius rubber-band strips of time travel is part of a poem: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past. / If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable. / What might have been is an abstraction / Remaining a perpetual possibility / Only in a world of speculation.” Read the rest of this entry »