Ex Machina


Swanner: A young man (Domhnall Geeson) working for a hi-tech firm wins the chance to spend a week with the CEO, to see where the company is heading and to learn about what new technology they’re working on. Once he gets there, he sees the company is working on AI, Artificial Intelligence, and is asked to evaluate the new female AI. If this sounds a bit Twilight Zone, I thought the same thing. Director/writer Alex Garland seems to gravitate towards these storylines, with past scripts for 28 Days Later, Dreed and Sunshine. Here, like the others, he paints a world of what might be our near future.

It also posses the question, if you give a computer conciseness that doesn’t mean it will like you. We’ve seen this storyline before, where the computer gets consciousness and then try to saves us from ourselves, or just wants to rule the world. Even in something like Blade Runner, where they just wanted to survive, one man thinks they are too advanced. Garland keeps this film very intimate with just a handful of characters. I think it worked better here as we find ourselves in quiet moments where the AI tries to not only win the young man over, but the audience as well. 

Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, The CEO doing his best Al Pacino… which is enough to turn anything living or not on edge. This is actually the best I’ve seen him, wherein his last two lead roles he’s been more of the victim, he is definitely in charge or at least he thinks he is. Alicia Vikander plays Ava, a beautiful AI who needs this young man’s blessing if she’s to survive. I liked the way the film has you waiting for something to happen, the problem is that it doesn’t happen enough so the middle gets a bit sleepy. Sci-fi fans will like the film but it’s pace and lack of explosions might disappoint most audiences. 

Swanner: 3 stars

The Water Diviner


Swanner: In the studios description of the film The Water Diviner, they say “An Australian man travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and locate his three missing sons.” This is the plot of this film at it’s very core, but there is so much more to it. Russell Crowe stars as the Aussie farmer who travels to the other side of the world, in 1915, looking for the three sons he sent to battle, only to assume that all three perished, as did an entire generation of young Australian men. This is a movie about war and the damage it does to everyone it touches

Judd: This is Crowe’s first time directing a large blockbuster, having three shorts and a documentary under his belt. While I think he did an adequate job, I think the scope of this particular project may have been a little too vast for a first-timer. The movie has a little bit of everything: graphic war scenes, serene countryside, a foreign bazaar, love, heartbreak, life, death, corrupt religion. The only thing missing was a scene at the kitchen sink.

Swanner: This story is very epic so directing and staring in the film was quite ambitious. Crowe’s acting performance was very good. He’s still a very good leading man and he seemed extra comfortable here probably because the director let him do whatever he wanted to do. Clocking in at just two hours, the film is heartbreaking but still moves well and never becomes somber.

Judd: I also feel that the overall tone of the film was inconsistent, and the blame for that falls directly on Crowe’s shoulders. There is a scene in the last 15 minutes where one character beams a very uncharacteristic smirk for the situation, and it was so jarring to me that it almost outweighs the memories of Jai Courteny’s glorious bare and furry chest. Almost.

Swanner: This is basically the Australian version of Saving Private Ryan. It starts with the ugliness of battle and spends the rest of the film showing what’s left after the carnage. I didn’t really notice filmmaking problems because I found the performances so good. It sucked me in and carried me through to the end. Where Private Ryan bored me, this film haunts me. There are so many moments that had me clutching the pearls, which I eat up, and I loved the historical aspect of the film.  Crowe may have bitten off more than he could chew but for me he told me a lovely story about the power of love and family.

Judd: The script also left me a little cold with the whole bit about the widowed hotel owner. I understand they had to show death affected both sides of the battlefield, but I think there was plenty of that with just the farmer working with the Turkish army. Giving him a love interest is gilding the lily.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars
Judd: 3 stars

The Age of Adaline

Blake Lively Films "Age Of Adaline"

Swanner: Coming out wide all by itself this week is Age of Adeline. The story of a woman who, after an auto accident, never ages again. The film begins with her origin story and takes us through 75 years of Adeline, changing names and occupations, and escaping from the bad guys that would study her to discover her gift of mortality. At 107 years old, Adeline falls for a young man only to discover his father is an old lover.

Judd: The movie opens with a very Rod Serling-like narration, and this voiceover is heard at several times throughout the film. It’s a gimmick, for sure, but it’s one I rather enjoyed. The issue with this movie is that is dedicates the first hour to her backstory that, for anyone that’s seen or read a vampire-based romance story, is far too common and accomplishes very little progression of the plot.

Swanner: What I thought was odd about that was that I wasn’t bored by the long origin story. The meat and potatoes didn’t come in till probably 90 minutes into the film so when the story gets moving it’s a fast last 30 minutes. The film is a romance more than anything and to that they did well. There were plenty of tears during the last half of the film but it’s not over labored. The tears were organic and welcome. 

Judd: I can’t say that I was bored either; surprisingly, not being a fan of romance films, I can say that this one didn’t completely nauseate me. The Twilight Zone feel of the movie gave it appeal beyond that of your run-of-the-mill tearjerker. Don’t get me wrong, the movie still suffers from the unbearable stereotypes of the genre. The romance is a “whirlwind”. Our male lead, Ellis, (Michiel Huisman) a wealthy philanthropist falls for a bookish and chilly librarian (Blake Lively) for no apparent reason and repeatedly insists she go out with him until she caves. She remains cold and distant, because of her Big Secret of course, yet he can’t imagine life without her. Blech.

Swanner: It’s because you don’t understand love at first sight. It’s a must for these romances, and it’s real. Look, you either have the chick flick gene or you don’t. I was right there with Adeline as she fought back Ellis, but love is too strong an emotion. At 107 years old she’s doing pretty well and Ellis is a catch. I thought this was really good and really the only thing this film was missing was a love theme. A tinkling of the keys to remind us what love is all about. 

Judd: Evergreen, Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. A Time for Us, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. East Bound and Down, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field — Themes from the most romantic movies of our time. I do love a good “love theme”, and one would have improved this movie, if only a little.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars
Judd: 2 ½ stars



Swanner: On the anniversary of a bullied girl’s suicide, six friends are being stalked by what they think could be the dead girl’s ghost. Using technology to give us a new cinematic look at a film, all the action takes place on the computer screen of Blaire, one of the high school students being stalked. This story telling technique has been done before in shorts and by Modern Family but never for a full length motion picture.

Judd: While I hope this is a gimmick that burns out, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this kind of movie as mobile technology becomes cheaper and our lives are increasingly lived online. It happened when “Pro-sumer” camcorders became affordable, and we’ve been cursed with “found footage” movies ever since 1999, thank you very much Blair Witch. Moviemakers are already using texts and tweets on screen, so an entire movie on Skype was inevitable. However, having Modern Family beat Unfriended to the punch and also show how dynamic a movie like this can be, Unfriended comes across as a stagnant bore. Not only because there is no movement on screen, but because our characters embody the absolute worst in youth (all generations), and the unprecedented capability of cruelty today’s youth can inflict.

Swanner: Until you mentioned it, it hadn’t crossed my mind. Blair Witch. Sixteen years of mostly terrible “found footage” movies, and you’re right… here we go again. This filmmaking is cheap and lazy, and will probably be very easy to orchestrate. Knowing that,  it’s gotta be hard to make all of that exciting. I did find I was rooting for the killer ghost towards the end. We learn all the characters were terribly ugly human beings once our spirit taunts them with their own secrets and lies.

Judd: What can you expect when the price of admission is more than the budget? The movie clocks in at 82 minutes, with the first hour being nothing but texted conversations in silence — yawn — and the six kids wondering who is the mystery seventh,the one lurking on their conversation. While I think the movie, as a whole, was crap, I have to say that I was completely entertained in the last 20 minutes – when things actually started happening. This could have been a decent short had it been written better, with someone to root for.

Swanner: I know the idea behind it was good, I just don’t see most people liking this. When I say most people, I mean older people. The lack of action and the last 35 minutes of screaming and crying should turn off that entire demographic. Now, the younger people will at least accept this new format, but the lack of caring will undoubtably kick and join me enjoying the slaughter, when we should be hoping for survivors.

Judd: With Modern Family, we’ve seen the potential this genre can have. It doesn’t have to be  static boxes on a screen. Cinematic effects can be utilized without taking away from the feel of looking over someone’s shoulder. Add to the lifeless visuals six characters who are absolutely despicable, and what reason do you have to watch this movie? But I have to say I enjoyed it more than The Gunman, not that it counts for much.

Swanner: 1 ½ stars
Judd: 1 star

Monkey Kingdom


Swanner: Every year Disney brings out a documentary in celebration of Earth Day. This year’s offering is Monkey Kingdom. The film follows a newborn monkey and its mother as they struggle to survive within the competitive social hierarchy of the Temple Troop, a dynamic group of monkeys who live in ancient ruins found deep in the storied jungles of South Asia. I borrow the description from the studio because what I saw was a single mother trying to survive with her new born in the Asian jungle.

Judd: After last year’s Bears, narrated by John C Reilly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Monkey Kingdom. Could Tina Fey succeed where Reilly stumbled, and did Disney learn that audiences need to see our subjects having fun and not in, what seemed to be for Bears, constant peril? I think the answer is yes, and most importantly, Disney found a great story that balanced humor and peril.

Swanner: If you remove Bears from the Disney documentary list, most are very good. They’ve been that way since my parents era but today’s documentary has to hold the attention of a generation that can’t sit still for commercials. I’m pretty sure that Tina Fey’s sweet and charming narration plus the cutest little monkeys you’ve ever seen is what makes it work. I loved that the film opens The Monkey’s theme song from the 60’s TV series. It told me to get ready for some fun.

Judd: Your parent’s era? You grew up watching kinetoscopes, so the closest thing they had to moving pictures was fire! The story of this documentary is perfect — almost too perfect. While it is about a mother trying to survive being at bottom of the social heap, it’s also about the whole tribe learning how to survive in the city after being displaced from their home by a rival gang who wore leather jackets and smoked!

Swanner: It’s true, there was a very compelling story. The bad guy monkey looked totally mean. That was some good casting. When watching the movie it looks like all they do is film these monkeys, write a narrative and call it a day. The film took over 1000 days to film so these filmmakers put in there time. Monkey Kingdom is really a perfect nature film.

Judd: I don’t know about perfect, there wasn’t one shot where a bird of prey swoops down and catches a field rodent or fish so… But, I will agree that the story was excellent, the narration was spot on and there was just enough danger to add some emotional heft.

Swanner: 4 stars
Judd: 4 stars

While We’re Young


Swanner: In While We’re Young, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a couple in their forties who’s friends have all had babies, and while they want babies they can’t have babies.   Josh tries to keep focus as a documentarian who’s been working years on his new film and is hitting a wall in his career. Enter Jamie and Darby, a mid-twenties hipster couple who become their friends.

It sounds like your standard midlife crisis film, but there is so much more brewing below. Jamie (Adam Driver) is also a documentarian and he has sought out Josh to be his mentor. This is where it stops being a midlife crisis and turns into something more ethical. Broadcast News had a similar theme and its what makes the film interesting. When is it okay for journalist to create the story? 

Lately, in the news we’ve a few journalist fabricating stories, and this fits right in there with it. Director/writer Noah Baumbach (Squid and the Whale) has stepped out of his too-indie-for-the-masses and created something that’s far from center but still thought-provoking and entertaining for the masses. Charles Grodin plays Cornelia’s father, who is also a documentary filmmaker, adding more layers of guilt and envy to the mix. Going in, I was leery of the film because Stiller has trouble being a real person on screen, many of them directed by Baumbach, but this had me totally rooting for Stiller’s character. The performances are all good and for what it’s worth… I side with Josh’s ethical dilemma. 

Swanner: 3 stars

Danny Collins


Swanner: Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is an aging rock star who receives a letter from John Lennon after 40 years. This letter makes Danny rethink where his life has gone and decides to meet his adult son (Bobby Cannivale). The film is less of a midlife crisis and more of a senior moment that will change everyone’s life. When trying to make piece with his son, he stays in a Hyatt hotel where he becomes smitten with the manager Mary (Annette Bening). The reason i mention the Bening is that although her character seems minor she’s really the conscious, the Jiminy Cricket, to Collins’ man/child.

I know mid-ish life crisis movies have been done before, but writer/director Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love) brought together such a perfect cast of characters that even when Danny sings, and it’s not pretty, it doesn’t matter. His script has moments of great pain, but this is a joyous film in its heart. Christopher Plummer plays his long term manager who’s been more of a fairy godfather because Danny really is the man he hopes he is. Jennifer Garner plays Cannivale’s wife Samantha, with Giselle Eisenberg playing Hope, the grandchild Collins never meet.

I know the rich guy who tries to find redemption sounds done before but never as well as this. Danny Collins goes on my top ten list for 2015 because it made me feel something. I became entangled in these peoples lives to the point i was silently cheering them on and emotionally a mess when appropriate. Everyone is so good in the film, but again it’s Bening, and her beautifully played Mary, showing everyone how all great supporting player should be. This is 2015’s Chef, A story about real emotions, a great script and a comfortable place to find redemption and maybe even your next big song.

Swanner: 4 stars