Films I Saw This Week 01/06/2015
Ex Machina (2015)
If it wasn’t for Black Mirror’s ‘Be Right Back’, Ex Machina could easily be described as ‘Charlie Brooker meets Her’. Sci-fi writer Alex Garland makes a bold debut with the story of Domnhall Gleeson’s Caleb, a search engine coder who wins the chance to stay at boss Oscar Isaac’s dream home/research facility. Rather than relaxing, however, Caleb has been chosen to perform the Turing test on humanoid robot Ava (Alicia Vikander).
If Gleeson and Isaac are great in familiar roles (overwhelmed geek and moody genius, respectively), Vikander is outstanding in the most convincing on-screen android since Michael Fassbender in Prometheus. While suffering from the usual pitfalls of first time director’s (awkward dream sequences, unnecessary shots), it’s enlivened by the usual experimentation and weirdness of a debut feature. It stumbles a little in its climax, and some will be put off by its slow, tense mood, yet Garland makes Ex Machina work, and it mostly falls into place as a very engaging and unusual science fiction film.
The Crossing Guard (1995)
Forgotten by time it may be, but Sean Penn’s directorial debut The Crossing Guard still has plenty to offer. In a strangely vulnerable performance, Jack Nicholson is excellent as the grieving father out to kill the drunk driver (David Morse) who killed his young daughter. Morse, so good in so many bit parts, gives a career best performance as the wounded, philosophical driver out on parole. Though the film sags in the middle, with Nicholson’s monotonous drunken breakdowns and Morse’s dull romance with Robin Wright (Penn’s then-wife), The Crossing Guard does build to an unpredictable, unusual climax that makes for a rousing ending. Not an all-time classic, but certainly worth a watch.
The Woodsman (2004)
Kevin Bacon seems perpetually underrated, receiving praise in ensemble casts but seemingly never standing out on his own. Nicole Kassell’s challenging The Woodsman, in which Bacon plays a convicted sex offender released from prison, should have earned him an Oscar; instead, it quietly faded into obscurity. Bacon is excellent and surprisingly unconventional as the intense Walter, managing the extremely tough task of making a paedophile empathetic. Rather than relying on conventional tics and tricks, Bacon never plays a scene the way you’d expect him, rarely letting his emotions slip (perhaps the performance was too subtle for awards recognition). The rest of the film is fairly ordinary, if stylishly shot, and Mos Def gives a jarring performance as an asshole parole officer designed to make Walter more likeable, but Bacon is so good, he carries it from beginning to end.
The Boys From Brazil (1978)
Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, two of the history’s finest and most iconic actors, are the only reasons to seek out Franklin J. Schaffner’s rather silly and slow conspiracy thriller. Olivier is terrifically likable as a Nazi hunter on the case of Josef Mengele (Peck, intense despite his faltering accent), keeping the audience engaged as he has seemingly endless conversations with scientists and war criminals, while Peck chews the scenery as he kills absolutely everybody he comes across. The Boys From Brazil builds to a stirring climax with the two actors going face to face, but it really isn’t worth the two hours of dry, mostly unexciting events that proceed it.
Chuck & Buck (2000)
Mike White, most familiar to audiences as the real Ned Schneebly in School of Rock, gives a bizarrely fascinating performance in Miguel Arteta’s uneven comedy drama. As a disturbed man-child reconnecting with his former best friend, White is like a walking car crash, awkwardly shuffling around Los Angeles. The problem is, Chuck & Buck has no idea what it, or its leading character, wants to be. Is it a disturbing psychodrama about the line between eagerness and stalking? Is it a comedy about reconnecting with old friends? Is it an exploration into the sexual repercussions of teenagers? The film has no idea, awkwardly toeing the line between comedy and drama without ever really being effective as either.
One of the most enjoyably spectacular and spectacularly bonkers blockbusters ever made, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah received mixed reviews upon arrival; some praised it as a completely unique, daring epic, whilst some found it too weird or, at its most extreme, blasphemous. I, on the other hand, enjoyed every demented minute. Russell Crowe is great as Noah, haunted by visions of drowning and murder, whilst Ray Winstone gives a wonderfully intense performance as the evil Tubal-cain, but this is not a film about acting; this is a film entirely about visuals.
In terms of cinematography, set design, and special FX, Noah is one of the most gorgeous films I can remember seeing. The time-spanning Ark building montage is ingenious, the ‘fallen angels’ (Harryhausen-esque rock monsters) are eerie, and the creation sequence, mixing both Christian mythology and evolution, is a strong contender for best scene of 2014. Some people may hate Noah and it’s insane, over-the-top spectacle, weird biblical interpretations and glowering intensity, but there’s no denying Darren Aronofsky has created one of the most unforgettable big budget blockbusters of the last decade.
By Harry Ford
- Posted in: Films I Saw This Week ♦ Reviews
- Tagged: 1978, 1995, 2004, 2014, 2015, alex garland, alicia vikander, anthony hopkins, biblical epic, black mirror, charlie brooker, chuck & buck, darren aronofsky, domnhall gleeson, emma watson, ex machina, gregory peck, her, jack nicholson, kevin bacon, michael fassbender, michael shannon, mike white, noah, oscar isaac, oscars, prometheus, ray winstone, russel crowe, school of rock, sean penn, the boys from brazil, the crossing guard, the woodsman