MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EX MACHINA and ANNIHILATION

MZNJ_SNDF
now playing

bars

MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back again, this time with the two feature films from writer/director Alex Garland. For those who like visually striking and thought-provoking science fiction, read on…

ex-machina-poster

bars

EX MACHINA (2015)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Ex Machina is a great little thought-provoking piece of Sci-Fi from Alex Garland, who wrote the cult favorite Dredd and the equally thought-provoking Sunshine. It’s his first directorial effort and as such, it shows he is as adept behind the camera as he is the keyboard.

The film opens with Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee of the internet company Bluebook, being chosen to spend the week at the remote home of the company’s CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb arrives and finds this is not a social event, but he is there to assist in testing a Bateman created artificial intelligence housed inside a very life-like robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Though as Caleb begins his test to see if the A.I. is truly self-aware or just responding to programming, he starts to believe that Nathan may have a dark side and there may be far more to Ava than mere machine.

To describe the story anymore would be to ruin a really interesting and entertaining piece of Sci-Fi from British writer/director Garland. The film obviously takes us to places that we originally did not expect from our opening sequences and certainly more than one character, human and/or machine, may be more than they first appear. Garland brilliantly guides us into his set-up and gets us very interested and emotionally invested in what’s going on and then, slowly starts to pull the rug out from under us, gradually, so we at first don’t realize it. Does Bateman have a hidden agenda?…does Caleb?…or does Ava? It’s a subtle but intense journey to find out what is really going on in this remote home/research facility and one that leaves us thinking about where artificial intelligence ends and sentient life begins. It’s a subject also touched upon in last year’s equally intriguing The Machine, but Garland doesn’t bother going onto the broader implications of A.I. as weapons or something as equally cliché or grandiose, but goes deeper than that to a far more intimate and emotional arena. Just how human can these creations get…and what effect will that have on us? Where does programming end and legitimate emotions begin? Where is the line and when does it disappear?…and what if it does? Do we treat these ‘machines’ as such, or as humans? Garland definitely posses a lot of intriguing questions while skillfully entertaining us with a story that can be equal parts endearing and disturbing. On a technical level, this modestly budgeted thriller has a really interesting visual style with a stark contrast of the gorgeous Norway locations used for the exterior sequences and the colder and more sterile interior of Bateman’s home/lab. The interiors sometimes evoke Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey with it’s almost sterile and functional interior design that contrast it’s occupant with Bateman’s, casual, shoeless and unshaven appearance. Garland has a nice eye for shot framing and it is captured well by cinematographer Rob Hardy whose lighting adds a lot of mood and atmosphere. There is also a very moody electronic score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow and the special visual FX are excellently carried out in presenting Ava and some of the more fantastic elements. A very impressive production on a limited budget.

The cast is excellent! Domhnall Gleeson is perfect as the programmer whisked into the lair of his company CEO and shown wonders he never expected. He obviously starts to have feelings for Ava and the actor makes you believe these feelings are real…and you understand his actions based on them. Oscar Isaac creates an eccentric yet brilliant man with his Nathan Bateman. He is also a man that seems troubled and may have a very dark side and Isaac let’s that bubble just below the surface before our story really starts to show Bateman’s true nature and agenda. As Ava, Alicia Vikander is totally enchanting. We understand how Caleb can start to fall for her, despite her being a machine and Vikander makes her innocent, yet intelligent and gives her a charm and vulnerability which is very convincing…and distracting. Rounding out is Soyona Mizuno as Bateman’s personal assistant Kyoko, who doesn’t speak any English and Mizuno gives her a nice air of mystery that suits the story tone.

In conclusion I really loved this movie. It’s thought provoking, skillfully crafted and keeps one intrigued and guessing. It is intelligently written, but avoids pretension and it can be very very entertaining and a bit disturbing when it needs to be. Definitely made my list of best films of the year for 2015.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 4 (out of 4) Avas.

ex machina rating

 

 

 

 

 

**************************************************

plus

bars

ANNIHILATION (2018)

Biologist and former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) hasn’t seen or heard from her commando husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) for over a year. When he finally shows up at her door sick and disorientated, a black ops team abducts them both to a secret location designated Area X. There Lena finds out there is some sort of disruption called “The Shimmer” surrounding an area of land with a lighthouse being it’s point of origin. This “Shimmer” is slowly growing and everything and everyone sent into it has never returned…except for Kane. Now Lena volunteers to join a four women scientific team, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), geologist Sheppard, (Tuva Novotny) and Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) to enter The Shimmer and find out what is going on inside. What they find is beyond belief and whatever it is, it’s changing the DNA of all lifeforms trapped inside it as it expands.

Another well directed sci-fi flick from writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina), this one from a book by Jeff Vandermeer. Not only is the film visually stunning, but thought-provoking, suspenseful and sometimes downright scary, too. Garland’s script only feeds us information a little at a time so we learn about The Shimmer and it’s effects on life, much as our four explorers do. The further they go into the anomaly, the more mutated the plant and animal life seems to get…and dangerously so. Along the way they visit an abandoned military base and an evacuated town where even more mysteries and abominations are presented to us. Add to this a group of women who are slowly coming apart at the seams and you have a sci-fi chiller that, at times, evokes the fear and paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing. We know it’s all coming down to a visit to that lighthouse at the center and what awaits us is chilling to the bone. On a production level, the film has some top notch visual FX and to add atmosphere to an already atmospheric film, is some wonderful cinematography from Rob Hardy and a fitting score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, who did the same for Garland on Ex Machina.

The cast is top notch. Portman’s Lena is a somewhat emotionally complex character. She’s a woman who has had no word from her husband in a long time and even then there were complications in their relationship. Now he reappears and is in bad shape and needs her help. Add to that a woman already interested in biology and cellular activity and it creates a character with both scientific and personal reasons to go on what could be a suicide mission. Portman handles it very well. Leigh is strong as the group leader and another woman with her own personal reasons to enter The Shimmer. She’s tough and strong and can be hard on the others, but she never reaches villainous levels. Tessa Thompson is the emotionally weakest of the group and she is sweet and very likable and the first to bond with Lena. Rodriguez is the tough paramedic, Anya Thorenson. While she is a strong character, she is in over her head in terms of what her mind can accept of what she sees and the actress plays it well. Novotny’s Sheppard is a likable character as the team geologist and another character that bonds with Lena on this out of this world journey. Rounding out is Oscar Isaac who plays a lot of the role of Kane in a disoriented state, except for flashbacks when he is himself and does it well. A dependable actor.

There is very little to complain about here with a film that is a return to more thought-provoking science fiction. It is also a visually stunning ride, a suspenseful journey into a dangerous unknown and sometimes, a simply scary flick. We have a solid cast of strong female characters who each have their own reasons for going where only one has returned. It’s well-written, intensely directed and shows, like Ex Machina, that Alex Garland is a cinematic force to be reckoned with and a filmmaker who walks to the beat of his own drum.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) lighthouses.

**************************************************

bars

REVIEW: TOMB RAIDER (2018)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

TOMB RAIDER (2018)

Reboot finds a young, down and out Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina) refusing to accept her inheritance by declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead in absentia. When finally forced to do so, she gets a key and clue that sets her on a quest to find out what happen to him. It leads her to the uncharted island of Yamatai where the mysterious Order of Trinity has Archeologist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) searching for the tomb of Japanese sorceress Himiko. The woman was said to be of incredible power and Trinity wants use of it. As Lara seeks to find her father’s fate, she must now also find a way to stop Trinity from accomplishing their goal.

Do-over is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey, The Wave) from a script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and is wisely an origin story that starts fresh after the previous films. It’s also refreshingly down to earth in terms of it’s story telling with Uthaug going back to basics with the action and avoiding the bombastic, over-the-top spectacle that has become the status quo. Some may find the action routine, but it evoked the old fashioned action films before digital software allowed for things to become so much larger than life and in some cases, out of control. The pace is fairly swift with an almost two hour running time and just when it starts to drag a bit, we head into the last act tomb raiding finale. The South African locations look good substituting for a Pacific island and the interiors of Himiko’s tomb are interestingly designed, though with all the previous adventure flicks in this vein, the whole traps and puzzles thing is getting very old hat. Possibly why it’s kept at a minimum. Otherwise we get some solid gun-play and fisticuffs and it makes for an entertaining night at the movies with the hope that this franchise has new legs.

Alicia Vikander makes for a solid heroine as young Lara. Purists may feel her petite frame does not suit the statuesque video game character she’s portraying, but she is quite the spitfire and gives Lara both a strength and a vulnerability that make her more than just megapixels. She does action scenes as good as the boys and was convincing as a young woman coming into her inner adventurer. Walter Goggins is a serviceable enough villain. He could have had a bit more gusto, but they were going for a more grounded approach, so he is not the usual pontificating, cackling villain that most movies of this type feature. Dominic West is fine as Richard Croft in flashbacks, which provide backstory and exposition and Daniel Wu is solid as drunken sailor and Lara’s back-up, Lu Ren. We also get appearances by veterans Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi, as well as, fan favorite Nick Frost.

Overall, this was a solid action adventure that stripped away the over-the-top overindulgence of today’s action films and settled for a more back to basics approach. Alicia Vikander made for a strong Lara Croft and overcame her petite stature with a tenacity and vulnerability that really worked here. The whole tomb of traps and puzzles thing is kind of worn out at this point, but there was plenty of chases, gunfire and brawling to keep us entertained. A fun flick from Roar Uthaug.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 bullets.

 

bars

THE TOMB RAIDER REBOOT GETS A TRAILER!

MZNJ_NEW_news

****************************************

Warner Bros and MGM are rebooting the Tomb Raider film series and the new flick is due 3/16/18. We are getting our first look with a new trailer which shows lots of action as fans will expect. The real draw here is that this new version is directed by Roar Uthaug (The Wave) and stars sexy Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) as a young Lara Croft. Will it be better than the Angelina Jolie vehicles? Only time will tell. Screenplay is by Geneva Robertson-Dworet who is also writing the upcoming Captain Marvel film.

Source: Youtube

bars

REVIEW: SEVENTH SON (2014)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

seventh_son_ver10

bars

SEVENTH SON (2014)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

In this book-based fantasy flick, there is an order of knights called “Spooks” who deal with beings of the supernatural. Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is the last of his order who has trouble keeping his apprentices alive. Years earlier, he fell in love with the witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) and instead of vanquishing her, imprisoned her after she became increasingly cruel and powerful. A Blood Moon is occurring and it’s supernatural powers have freed Malkin, who is gathering her forces for revenge. Now Gregory must find the seventh son of a seventh son and train the boy, Tom (Ben Barnes) to help him defeat Malkin. It won’t be easy, Malkin is prepared for Gregory and new apprentice Tom, finds fancy in the daughter (Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander) of one of Malkins servants, Lizzie (Man Of Steel‘s Antje Traue).

Based on the book The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delany and directed by Russian director Sergei Bodrov, Seventh Son is an amusing if not forgettable fantasy adventure. Working from Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight’s screenplay, Bodrov keeps things moving fast and there is plenty of supernaturally tinged action and loads of otherworldly creatures to occupy this fantasy world. Bodrov has a very fitting visual eye for subject matter such as this and the characters are endearing enough to get behind or despise depending on their role as hero or villain. The FX are well done, though the creature CGI is a bit less convincing as the settings and other supernatural elements and the story is familiar and simple enough to make it breezy entertainment, even if it won’t stay with you. There is also lush cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel and a majestic score by Marco Beltrami. The film got a lot of flack upon release and was considered a box office bomb, but for a night on the couch it passes the time surprisingly well and does entertain if you don’t expect too much.

The cast is fine for the most part with Bridges and Moore having the most fun in their roles. Both veterans have a good time with Moore especially enjoying a role needing her to go over-the-top often. Ben Barnes is a little bland as apprentice Tom, who unknown to himself is the son of a witch, but is likable enough. Oddly, Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington has a small role as Gregory’s ill-fated first apprentice and might have been a livelier choice.  Alicia Vikander is pretty and mysterious as the witch’s daughter Alice, though we have a good idea where her allegiances will eventually lie. There is also an amusing supporting cast of familiar faces as Malkin’s minions such as Djimon Hounsou, Jason Scott Lee and Antje “Faora” Traue.

Overall, I had fun with this flick. It’s not a classic and it’s fairly forgettable, but also, perhaps, judged a bit too harshly upon it’s initial release. There are plenty of fantasy elements, lots of action, creatures and magic and the cast, especially our two leads seem to be having a good time. Director Bodrov keeps things moving and has a sumptuous visual eye to create a world to set this book-based adventure in. Nothing overly memorable, but passes the time on the couch quite nicely if you go in with moderate expectations.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 battle axes.

13th warrior rating

 

 

bars

REVIEW: EX MACHINA (2015)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

ex-machina-poster

bars

EX MACHINA (2015)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Ex Machina is a great little thought-provoking piece of Sci-Fi from Alex Garland, who wrote the cult favorite Dredd and the equally thought-provoking Sunshine. It’s his first directorial effort and as such, it shows he is as adept behind the camera as he is the keyboard.

The film opens with Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee of the internet company Bluebook, being chosen to spend the week at the remote home of the company’s CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb arrives and finds this is not a social event, but he is there to assist in testing a Bateman created artificial intelligence housed inside a very life-like robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Though as Caleb begins his test to see if the A.I. is truly self-aware or just responding to programming, he starts to believe that Nathan may have a dark side and there may be far more to Ava than mere machine.

To describe the story anymore would be to ruin a really interesting and entertaining piece of Sci-Fi from British writer/director Garland. The film obviously takes us to places that we originally did not expect from our opening sequences and certainly more than one character, human and/or machine, may be more than they first appear. Garland brilliantly guides us into his set-up and gets us very interested and emotionally invested in what’s going on and then, slowly starts to pull the rug out from under us, gradually, so we at first don’t realize it. Does Bateman have a hidden agenda?…does Caleb?…or does Ava? It’s a subtle but intense journey to find out what is really going on in this remote home/research facility and one that leaves us thinking about where artificial intelligence ends and sentient life begins. It’s a subject also touched upon in last year’s equally intriguing The Machine, but Garland doesn’t bother going onto the broader implications of A.I. as weapons or something as equally cliché or grandiose, but goes deeper than that to a far more intimate and emotional arena. Just how human can these creations get…and what effect will that have on us? Where does programming end and legitimate emotions begin? Where is the line and when does it disappear?…and what if it does? Do we treat these ‘machines’ as such, or as humans? Garland definitely posses a lot of intriguing questions while skillfully entertaining us with a story that can be equal parts endearing and disturbing. On a technical level, this modestly budgeted thriller has a really interesting visual style with a stark contrast of the gorgeous Norway locations used for the exterior sequences and the colder and more sterile interior of Bateman’s home/lab. The interiors sometimes evoke Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey with it’s almost sterile and functional interior design that contrast it’s occupant with Bateman’s, casual, shoeless and unshaven appearance. Garland has a nice eye for shot framing and it is captured well by cinematographer Rob Hardy whose lighting adds a lot of mood and atmosphere. There is also a very moody electronic score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow and the special visual FX are excellently carried out in presenting Ava and some of the more fantastic elements. A very impressive production on a limited budget.

The cast is excellent! Domhnall Gleeson is perfect as the programmer whisked into the lair of his company CEO and shown wonders he never expected. He obviously starts to have feelings for Ava and the actor makes you believe these feelings are real…and you understand his actions based on them. Oscar Isaac creates an eccentric yet brilliant man with his Nathan Bateman. He is also a man that seems troubled and may have a very dark side and Isaac let’s that bubble just below the surface before our story really starts to show Bateman’s true nature and agenda. As Ava, Alicia Vikander is totally enchanting. We understand how Caleb can start to fall for her, despite her being a machine and Vikander makes her innocent, yet intelligent and gives her a charm and vulnerability which is very convincing…and distracting. Rounding out is Soyona Mizuno as Bateman’s personal assistant Kyoko, who doesn’t speak any English and Mizuno gives her a nice air of mystery that suits the story tone.

In conclusion I really loved this movie. It’s thought provoking, skillfully crafted and keeps one intrigued and guessing. It is intelligently written, but avoids pretension and it can be very very entertaining and a bit disturbing when it needs to be. Definitely will go on my list of best films of the year.

-MonsterZero NJ

  4 Avas.

ex machina rating

bars