Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chris's Review: ‘Ex Machina’ is an engrossing, satisfyingly cerebral sci-fi film

The idea of artificial intelligence and human-like robots interacting with people is utterly fascinating and is widely explored in the future worlds of sci-fi movies. But in reality, it is far more of a philosophical, and even physically terrifying, conundrum.

Many of today’s great tech minds have expressed awe, desire, and fear over this very topic – as very cleverly outlined in the ominous advertising for the new film, Ex Machina.

    “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
     – Stephen Hawking

    “AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last.” 
    – Elon Musk

    While many films have touched, or even focused, on both sides of that coin, very few have explored both sides as thoroughly and effectively as Ex Machina.

    Like a more contained Blade Runner for the digital age, Ex Machina probes deep into the minds of creator and creation alike. The brooding Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, an Elon Musk/Mark Zuckerberg hybrid genius, who is a confusing mix of congenial, mysterious, and intimidating. After creating a groundbreaking search engine, he has taken the next step in AI evolution by creating Eva, a nearly flawless humanoid robot. He is well aware of the ramifications of his creation, but casually dismisses them. He is not a mad scientist, just an arrogant one.

    Built with a mesmerizing mesh silhouette, Eva is angelically embodied by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander. Delicate and complicated, manipulative and childlike, it is fascinating to watch her evolve as the film progresses. She learns and adapts quickly, which only makes her more fascinating, yet foreboding. The film does a terrific job of humanizing her. The audience, fully aware of what she is, truly cares about her - perhaps we have already failed the Turing test.

    The other human element in this cinematic Turing test (a frequent reference in the film) is Caleb, the polar opposite of Nathan, played by Domhnall Gleeson. As an employee of Nathan, Caleb is the winner of a company-wide contest selected to visit his boss’ top secret mountain laboratory to help test Eva’s consciousness.

    Everyone (and everything) in this film is incredibly intelligent. The three characters play a continual game of chess (another frequent reference) with one another – and the audience. Motives are questioned, allegiances are switched, and actions are surprising even when they are predictable. From the start, Caleb is seemingly just a pawn in their game, but he eventually attempts to take matters into his own hands. Everyone has an agenda and nothing is revealed to the audience until the filmmakers want us to know. And often our assumptions are wrong, likewise for the characters in the film.

    Though Caleb is the obvious surrogate for the audience, he is not the only relatable character. Quite knowledgeable, but not nearly as smart as he thinks he is (like the audience), this everyman is highly susceptible to emotion (like the audience). Just when he thinks he has figured it out (like the audience), a new wrinkle is revealed. Similarly, Eva also shares connection with the audience. She is constantly learning and building upon previous knowledge (like the audience). She catches on as the action unfolds before her (just like the audience). But with all characters, nothing is at is seems.

    Ex Machina does hit some familiar genre notes – it’s unavoidable – but in the end, it explores them far more deeply and satisfyingly than its predecessors. The film is a multi-layered commentary that plunges the depths of such heady themes as consciousness, voyeurism, technology, and our very existence. The film is a fully engrossing trip, one of the most satisfyingly cerebral sci-fi films in quite awhile, and easily the best film of the year so far.

    * * * * ½ out of 5 stars

    Tuesday, May 5, 2015

    The Marvel Movie Lists

    Now that AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is out and people are basking in its awesomeness, the time is here to rank the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So far, eleven films from this Universe have been released (sorry, while X-MEN is Marvel, it is not part of the Cinematic Universe). With no signs of slowing (there are at least ten more films planned for the Universe), it should be stated that this is one incredible franchise. Crossing over that many properties and characters was a gargantuan task and should be considered one of the greatest successes in film history. So we proudly present . . .

    The Marvel Movie Lists

    Dan's List

    11. The Incredible Hulk
    I respected the risk of not doing an origin-story film, but the lack of good dialogue was hard to take.
    The usually stellar Ed Norton, was reduced to nothing, as most of his scenes were stunt doubles or computer generated. It's by far the weakest film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    10. Thor: The Dark World
    A beautiful looking film, but it's a complete snooze fest when Loki is not around.
    It lacks the charm of the original and instead tried to "go dark", (just look at the title).
    This would have been better off as a romantic comedy with Thor and Jane.

    9. Thor
    Beautifully shot, funny and just campy enough to maintain its integrity in the Universe.
    I loved all of the stuff with Thor on Earth, and Natalie Portman should be in every movie.
    Throw in the best work of Kat Dennings career and the badassness of Loki, and it was a good time.
    Don't be fooled by how low it is on this list, Thor is definitely a solid popcorn flick.

    8. Captain America: The First Avenger
    Solid origin story, full of good ole Greatest Generation nostalgia.
    The only (slight) problem with Captain America is that he is just so darn sincere ... and moral.
    I always like an edge to my comic book heroes: Batman, Wolverine, Tony Stark,
    They do their best to have a good time with how square he is but, let's be honest, the other Avengers are just more fun. However, I do feel bad that he missed his date.

    7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    An underrated part of this film was the TV tie-in with "Agents Of  S.H.I.E.L.D.".
    You could still enjoy it without the TV backstory, but it definitely rewarded you for weekly viewing.
    It also had impressive action sequences, a lot of Black Widow and the welcome addition of Falcon.
    Again, don't be fooled by the placement on this list: this movie is worth your time.
    On your left!

    6. Iron Man 2
    The highlight of this film is obviously Mickey Rourke as the villain Ivan Vanko:
    "Where eez my bird?" "Droid better." "This is not my bird."
    Unfortunately, Mickey wasn't very happy with it how it turned out:
    He accused Marvel Studios of making him one dimensional with bad editing.
    Don't worry Mickey, I loved it anyway and you're still the man.
    Rumble Fish for life!

    5. Avengers
     They assembled and it was awesome.

    4. Iron Man 3
    IRON MAN 3  has great action, story, wit, style and (real) substance.
    In perhaps his best turn as in-flux hero Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. reminds us why this franchise became so huge, so fast. Downey and director, Shane Black, furthered a genre that was becoming increasingly obvious and easy. They delivered a complete film, that will entertain people of all ages and is far greater than the usual Summer Blockbuster. Read my original review here.

    3. Avengers: Age Of Ultron
    Yeah, I said it.
    This movie is better than the first.
    Even when the fate of humanity hangs in the balance their banter is still on point.
    James Spader killed it as the voice of Ultron and the Twins (Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch) were dope.
    Are you hammer worthy?

    2. Iron Man
    Ah, Tony Stark, so glad to have met you.
    I remember hearing about this movie and thinking it was going to be awful.
    However, the rejuvenated Robert Downey Jr. and the directing of Jon Favreau, left me satisfied.
    Iron Man showed that comic book films can be serious, but also funny.
    Make sure to thank RDJ if you meet him, his performance saved the Universe.

    1. Guardians Of The Galaxy
    The Marvel Universe was becoming too procedural and repetitive:
    Enter a rag tag group of trash talking Aliens to save the day.
    Guardians gave us a lot of new things to digest and it was exactly the breath of fresh air needed.
    I like this film more every time I watch it:
    The action, the music, the wide-shots, the deep focus and of course, that title screen!

    Chris's List

    Spoiler Alert: I love Captain American and don’t really care for Thor

    11 - Thor: The Dark World
    I know I have seen this movie, but honestly, I hardly remember anything from it. There were some aliens, right? Loki is probably funny and the best part. That’s all I’ve got.

    10 - The Incredible Hulk
    An oddity for sure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – simultaneously a sequel and a one-off. A decent film, but Norton is still an odd choice for Bruce Banner. Ruffalo is better.

    9 - Thor
    Thor again, but this one I actually do remember. And I did like it, but it’s obviously on the lower end of the scale for Marvel. It’s not Chris Hemsworth’s fault, and it’s definitely not Tom Hiddleston’s – maybe it’s the rainbow bridge or blue aliens or the small NM town setting.

    8 - Iron Man 2
    While not great, it certainly was not the trainwreck everyone thought it was upon release. Sure, it paled in comparison to the first, and ultimately overshadowed by the third, but it’s still a fun film. And Robert Downey, Jr. sparring with Sam Rockwell will always be great. Plus, it introduced us to Black Widow.   

    7 - Avengers: Age of Ultron
    I liked the Avengers sequel, I just didn’t love it. I thought it was overstuffed, forced, and a bit hollow compared to the first and all other MCU movies, but still a really fun ride. Check out my review here.

    6 - Iron Man 3
    A great movie that I loved after seeing it the first time, but then, kind of forgot. I caught it again a few weeks ago and was glad to see it still did it for me. Ben Kingsley and the twist were excellent. Give director Shane Black more movies!  

    5 - Guardians of the Galaxy
    I had my doubts about this one from the start, but I am happy to admit that I was wrong. A super fun movie, thanks to Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, and even Vin Diesel. I wanted a bit weirder though (like I was promised!).

    4 - Captain America: The First Avenger
    I love the period setting that helps separate it from all other Marvel entries (the war bonds montage is terrific). Also, has one of the best supporting casts in any Marvel movie – Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Haley Atwell, and Toby Jones. Plus, old school Hydra is the best kind of villain-producing factory.

    3 - Iron Man
    Downey as Tony Stark started it all and the first film holds up as a really solid and fun flick.

    2 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    Almost my #1. Just a great action film. Chris Evans nails the moral compass that is Captain America, The Falcon is a great addition to the team (if they would ever invite him along), and the increased role for Scarlett Johansson is a big plus for everyone.

    1 - The Avengers
    Dan is crazy, the first Avengers is leaps and bounds better than the overstuffed sequel. The first is the perfect balance of each character, great story and dialogue, and an actual villain.

    Thanks For Reading!

    iron man animated GIF

    Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    Chris's Top 30 Films of 2014, and Other Best Of Lists for the Year in Cinema

    No explanations, just my Best of 2014 lists. 

    30 - Boyhood
    29 - The Imitation Game
    28 - Joe
    27 - Gone Girl
    26 - Starred Up
    25 - Obvious Child
    24 - Calvary
    23 - The Babadook
    22 - Foxcatcher
    21 - Guardians of the Galaxy
    20 - Love is Strange
    19 - Listen Up Phillip
    18 - Venus in Fur
    17 - Selma 
    16 - Interstellar
    15 - X-Men: Days of Future Past
    14 - Nightcrawler
    13 - Ida
    12 - Dear White People
    11 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
    10 - Inherent Vice 
     9 - The One I Love
     8 - Snowpiercer
     7 - A Most Violent Year 
     6 - Frank
     5 - Enemy
     4 - Whiplash 
     3 - Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
     2 - The Grand Budapest Hotel  
     1 - The Immigrant

    For more (including Best Actor/Actress, Best Scenes, and Most Overrated Movie...

    Friday, February 20, 2015

    Now Playing: Hot Tub Time Machine 2, The DUFF, McFarland USA

    Hot Tub Time Machine 2
    Official Synopsis:
    This time around, Lou (Rob Corddry) finds himself in a whole heap of trouble, and the rest of the gang must fire up the hot tub to get back to the past, but accidentally get sent to the future.
    It’s time to alter the future, to save the past which is actually just the present…

    North's Thoughts:
    Although it didn't set the box office aflame, Hot Tub Time Machine got some love when it hit video.
    Who could resist the 1980s retro charm, Lougle, and stealing pop songs from the future?
    John Cusack is missing from the gang, but I still want to ride with these dudes again.
    They've brought in the always funny Adam Scott and will surely go back to some old gags.
    If it turns out to a bad time in the tub, you can always go back five years and be happy once again.

    The DUFF
    Official Synopsis:
    Bianca (Mae Whitman) is a content high school senior whose world is shattered when she learns the student body knows her as 'The DUFF' (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her prettier, more popular friends (Skyler Samuels & Bianca Santos). Now, despite the words of caution from her favorite teacher (Ken Jeong), she puts aside the potential distraction of her crush, Toby (Nick Eversman), and enlists Wesley (Robbie Amell), a slick but charming jock, to help reinvent herself. To save her senior year from turning into a total disaster, Bianca must find the confidence to overthrow the school's ruthless label maker Madison (Bella Thorne) and remind everyone that no matter what people look or act like, we are all someone's DUFF.

    North's Thoughts:
    With genuinely funny people like Mae Whitman and Ken Jeong, I hope to get some good laughs.
    High School Movies can be amazing or amazingly bad.
    Always give them a chance because every now and then you also find a hidden gem, like Project X.
    Here are the Top 5 High School Movies Of All-Time:
    5. Clueless
    4. Fast Times At Ridgemont High
    3. The Breakfast Club
    2. Dazed And Confused
    1. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

    McFarland USA
    Official Synopsis:
    From Disney comes MCFARLAND, the true against-all-odds story of the 1987 McFarland high school cross country team in an economically challenged community. 

    North's Thoughts:
    I love how Disney doesn't even bother with an extensive synopsis:
    Disney. True Story. Sports.
    Here's The Top 5 Disney Sports Movies Of All-Time:
    5. The Big Green
    4. Cool Runnings
    3. D2: The Mighty Ducks

    And while we're at it, Kevin Costner is really the king of the sports movie.
    Plus, he was a good athlete in real life:
    He hit a Home Run in a major league stadium during an all-star event and has a good arm.
    Sports movies are so much better when the actor can, you know, actually play the sport.
    Here's The Costner Sports Movie List:
    6. For Love Of The Game
    4. Draft Day
    3. Tin Cup

    Check Out Other Recent Editions Of Now Playing:

    Now Playing: Fifty Shades Of Grey, Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Now Playing: Jupiter Ascending, The SpongeBob Movie, Seventh Son

    Now PlayingA Most Violent YearProject AlmanacBlack Or WhiteThe Loft

    Now Playing:  Mortdecai, Strange Magic, The Boy Next Door

    Now PlayingAmerican SniperThe Wedding Ringer, Paddington and Blackhat

    Now PlayingSelmaThe Imitation GameInherent ViceTaken 3

    Thanks For Reading!
    Follow Us On Twitter For Daily Movie News And Links: @NorthSouthFilm

    Friday, February 13, 2015

    Now Playing: Fifty Shades Of Grey, Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Fifty Shades Of Grey
    Official Synopsis:
    E.L. James' kinky best-seller gets the big screen treatment with this Universal Pictures/Focus Features co-production. The steamy tale details a masochistic relationship between a college student and a businessman, whose desires for extreme intimacy pen from secrets in his past.

    North's Thoughts:
    If you haven't at least heard of "Fifty Shades Of Grey", I must assume that you live off the grid.
    Once the series of novels took off, the first question became:
    How will they make this movie?
    Hollywood has shied away from the "sex scene" in recent years.
    The days of extended, steamy montages like the one in Top Gun are long gone.
    What was once commonplace, is now often one of the first things to be cut out of the script.
    So can Fifty Shades revive a once proud Hollywood tradition?
    Audiences hope so, as the pre-sale ticket numbers were huge enough to greenlight the next two films.
    And don't forget to add the extra couple of million dollars to Shades total for theater-jumpers.
    This will be the number one movie of the week, so don't get left out of the conversation on Monday.

    Kingsman: The Secret Service
    Official Synopsis:
    Based upon the acclaimed comic book and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men First Class), Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of a super-secret spy organization that recruits an unrefined but promising street kid into the agency's ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.

    North's Thoughts:
    I've been excited for this release since I saw the first trailer months ago.
    Kingsman looks like an action packed cross between a James Bond film and 21 Jumpstreet.
    With crazy fight sequences, cool gadgets and an updated spy world, this could be great one.
    It is helmed by talented director Matthew Vaughn (if you haven't seen Layer Cake, do so directly).
    It also features the consistently great Samuel L. Jackson and Academy Award winner Colin Firth.
    Basically, it should be tons of cinemaplex fun and could become a series of films if it succeeds.

    Check Out Other Recent Editions Of Now Playing:

    Now Playing: Jupiter Ascending, The SpongeBob Movie, Seventh Son

    Now PlayingA Most Violent YearProject AlmanacBlack Or WhiteThe Loft

    Now Playing:  Mortdecai, Strange Magic, The Boy Next Door

    Now PlayingAmerican SniperThe Wedding Ringer, Paddington and Blackhat

    Now PlayingSelmaThe Imitation GameInherent ViceTaken 3

    Thanks For Reading!
    Follow Us On Twitter For Daily Movie News And Links: @NorthSouthFilm

    Friday, February 6, 2015

    Now Playing: Jupiter Ascending, The SpongeBob Movie, Seventh Son

    Jupiter Ascending
    Official Synopsis:
    From the streets of Chicago to the far-flung galaxies whirling through space, "Jupiter Ascending" tells the story of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who was born under a night sky, with signs predicting she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people's houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along-her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.

    North's Thoughts:
    I can tell this much from the trailer:
    the movie looks beautiful.
    The space ships, the cities, the aliens and the battles, could make for some epic 3D fun.
    It's written, directed and produced by the Wachowskis, who gave us The Matrix series.
    Even if one of their films flops, it will always bring pleasure to the eyes.
    Sure, Speed Racer got people fired, but it looked dope!

    The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water
    Official Synopsis:
    SpongeBob SquarePants, the world's favorite sea dwelling invertebrate, comes ashore to our world for his most super-heroic adventure yet.

    North's Thoughts:
    The synopsis and title are one in the same:
    SpongeBob On Land.
    I've got to admit, aside from passing it on TV, I've never seen any of SpongeBob's work.
    Did he start off doing theater?
    I have seen thousands of clothing items, toys, videos, and cars, so obviously he's a big deal.
    This is the best reviewed new film of the week, so go in to get your Spongebob fix with confidence.

    Seventh Son
    Official Synopsis:
    In a time long past, an evil is about to be unleashed that will reignite the war between the forces of the supernatural and humankind once more. Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a knight who had imprisoned the malevolently powerful witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), centuries ago. But now she has escaped and is seeking vengeance. Summoning her followers of every incarnation, Mother Malkin is preparing to unleash her terrible wrath on an unsuspecting world. Only one thing stands in her way: Master Gregory. In a deadly reunion, Gregory comes face to face with the evil he always feared would someday return. He has only until the next full moon to do what usually takes years: train his new apprentice, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) to fight a dark magic unlike any other. Man's only hope lies in the seventh son of a seventh son.

    North's Thoughts:
    Love Julianne Moore.
    Love Jeff Bridges.
    So Seventh Son should be awesome, right?
    Oh well, if it doesn't pan out for them, at least we will always have this.

    Check Out Other Recent Editions Of Now Playing:

    Now Playing: A Most Violent Year, Project Almanac, Black Or White, The Loft

    Now Playing:  Mortdecai, Strange Magic, The Boy Next Door

    Now PlayingAmerican SniperThe Wedding Ringer, Paddington and Blackhat

    Now PlayingSelmaThe Imitation GameInherent ViceTaken 3

    Thanks For Reading!
    Follow Us On Twitter For Daily Movie News And Links: @NorthSouthFilm

    Friday, January 30, 2015

    Now Playing: A Most Violent Year, Project Almanac, Black Or White, The Loft

    A Most Violent Year
    Official Synopsis: 
    Set during the winter of 1981 -- statistically one of the most crime-ridden of New York City's history -- A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a drama following the lives of an immigrant and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. 

    North's Thoughts:
    This looks awesome and I love films set and/or shot in 1970s and 1980s New York City:
    Mean Streets, The French Connection, Taxi Driver, and The Warriors come to mind as classics.
    It features Oscar Isaac, who is a star on the rise:
    He scored a Golden Globe nomination for Inside Llewyn Davis and is a lead in Star Wars VII.
    Also, Jessica Chastain who is always superb and was nominated for a Golden Globe in this role. 

    Project Almanac
    Official Synopsis:
    A brilliant high school student and his friends uncover blueprints for a mysterious device with limitless potential, inadvertently putting lives in danger. 

    North's Thoughts:
    Okay, the synopsis isn't exactly detailed, but bottom line: time travel movies are always watchable.*
    Will Project Almanac become the next Back To The Future?
    Probably/Definitely not, but I'll watch almost all time-bending flicks once.
    Here's my Time Travel Top 10:
    10. Flight Of The Navigator
    9. Back To The Future III
    8. Hot Tub Time Machine
    7. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
    6. Groundhog Day
    5. Primer
    4. The Terminator
    3. Back To The Future II
    2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
    1. Back To The Future

    *Exception: The Butterfly Effect which is a horrible film and should be erased from history.

    Black Or White
    Official Synopsis: 
    BLACK OR WHITE is the story of a grandfather (Academy Award winner Kevin Costner) who is suddenly left to care for his beloved granddaughter. When her paternal grandmother (Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer) seeks custody with the help of her brother (Anthony Mackie), the little girl is torn between two families who love her deeply. With the best intentions at heart, both families fight for what they feel is right and are soon forced to confront their true feelings about race, forgiveness, and understanding. Anchored by an all-star cast and based on real events, the movie is a look at two seemingly different worlds, in which nothing is as simple as black or white.

    North's Thoughts:
    A family drama, with some heavy hitters in Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer.
    Quick Costner Top 5:
    5. American Flyers
    4. The Untouchables
    1. JFK

    The Loft
    Official Synopsis:
    Karl Urban (Star Trek Into Darkness) and James Marsden (2 Guns) star in the tense psychological thriller THE LOFT, the story of five guys who conspire to secretly share a penthouse loft in the city--a place where they can indulge in their deepest fantasies. But the fantasy becomes a nightmare when they discover the dead body of an unknown woman in the loft, and they realize one of the group must be involved. Paranoia seizes them as everyone begins to suspect one another. Friendships are tested, loyalties are questioned and marriages crumble as the group is consumed by fear, suspicion and murder in this relentless thriller.

    North's Thoughts:
    Why is James Marsden listed as the star of 2 Guns in the synopsis? 
    He headlined several films and is best know as Cyclops, from the hugely successful X-Men series. 
    Not the seventh lead in some long forgotten, Mark Wahlberg action flick.
    Plus, don't forget about Disturbing Behavior.
    Marsden, Nick Stahl, Ethan Embry and of course, Katie Holmes.
    Katie took home an MTV Movie Award for her work and the rest in history.
    Hopefully, The Loft will become Marsden's go to credit.

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    Follow Us On Twitter For Daily Movie News And Links: @NorthSouthFilm