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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Life + Arts

Monday Movie Madness: SXSW films you’ll be seeing soon


exmachinaposterCaleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a top-quality programmer for Blue Books, a large search engine company, and has just won an invitation to spend a week with the company’s creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), in his remote house away from life’s distractions. Caleb learns that the house is actually a research facility and that Nathan’s been working on a product, Ava (Alicia Vikander), whose artificial intelligence he wants her to test.


Ex Machina is leading a science fiction resurgence with what will be looked upon as a masterpiece film about Artificial Intelligence, how we view consciousness, and the susceptible nature of man and machine. Films have tackled the subject of A.I. before and have always viewed them from a human lens. Here, we’re asked to observe from all sides of the discussion and even engage with it, as we find ourselves unsure of what to believe. We’re also asked to feel and welcome the A.I., rather than observe it for its differences. What you have with Ex Machina is a science fiction film which will redefine the genre and have audiences leaving with an altered sense of reality.

Writer/Director Alex Garland has been a major force in science fiction with his screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine and the fact that those films also made huge waves in the realm of Sci-Fi. Ex Machina feels grounded in reality and the science behind the A.I. and the jargon that the leads spout is all sound. The progression of the story is perfect, with each beat revealing a bit more and bringing the audience closer in. Garland’s script is brilliant, effortlessly creating internal dialogue as you watch the film and leaving you to think about how you would actually respond to an A.I., if you could tell it was one in the first place. The discussion that took place in the large audience was unreal and had everyone giddily discussing their own thoughts and theories. To me, that is a result of outstanding Sci-Fi.

Domhnall Gleeson has been a very likable actor and is one who can fit himself into any odd role. He ramps up his intellect for Ex Machina, describing the Turing test and going into explanations as to how Ava might work. He’s not too outgoing, but the intricacies Gleeson brings with his subtle facial expressions and longing gaze really emphasize how this character sees the world. He’s both impressed and taken aback by Ava and their interactions prove to be somewhat reminiscent of two people beginning to fall for one another. Gleeson’s concerns mirror the audiences and watching his paranoia set in really makes for a disturbingly good time.

Oscar Isaac leads this cast with another astounding performance which borders between genius and madness. Issac’s character is already a God to the world and his obsession with creating A.I. only sees him getting further away from humanity. His isolation has had a clear effect on him, leaving him practically an alcoholic and unsociable. His interactions with Gleeson prove upsetting and obnoxious, but Isaac lights up as soon as he hears about how amazing his invention is. He’s clearly not telling the truth and Isaac’s ability to incite fear in Gleeson and the audience will really leave you dumbfounded.

Alicia Vikander undoubtedly gives the best performance in a role that will be continually looked upon as years pass. Her Ava is filled with so much wonder and desperation and the consciousness that she develops is something we haven’t seen before. The CGI is incredible and her motion capture performance is seamless. Vikander displays some traits that are uniquely robotic, but a look into her mind and her aspirations will have you believing she’s as real as anyone. The fear and the arousal that she feels when surrounded by Isaac and Gleeson only secures your interest in her character and continues to blur the line between humanity and artificial intelligence. The ideas of test being performed and deciphering who is the real subject all hinges on Vikander’s exceptional delivery of the dialogue and her ability to read the room.

Trainwreck_posterAmy (Amy Schumer) doesn’t believe in monogamy, thanks to her cheating father (Colin Quinn). She lives a perfectly content life involving sleeping with many men. She’s not a settle-down type of girl until she’s asked to write an article on Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a sports doctor who’s oddly close with LeBron James. Amy’s sister Kim (Brie Larson) is already married with a child and finds herself unsure and alone while sorting out how she feels.


Trainwreck sees Director Judd Apatowsoar to new heights in this collaboration with Amy Schumer and her tremendous screenplay. Sitting at the premiere for this film was a big deal and the audience’s reaction really speaks to just how hilarious and effective this film really is. On top of the fact that this film will solidify the notion raunchy women can lead big budget films, it also confirms that those same women can write as well as, or in this case better than many of Hollywood’s funny men. This film is the best step forward for women in comedy and a step in the right direction for female screenwriters as well.

Amy Schumer has impressed me with her unapologetic stand-up and hilarious show on Comedy Central (insert Inside Amy Schumer plug), but she absolutely blew me away with both her performance and writing abilities in this film. She’s quick-witted, raunchy, observant, and she brings such life to her character. She’s not afraid to be dirty, but more importantly she’s not afraid to be conflicting with her emotions. She’s a flawed, insecure character and Schumer plays her precisely like that. For her first film, Amy Schumer is absolutely incredible and made a lasting impression on me. I wholeheartedly believe that she’s going to be the new face of comedy and after this, she’s definitely earned it.

Judd Apatow, a man, a tweeter, and a director I’m very fond of, has been fighting for the female voice in comedy for years now. All the work he has done on HBO‘s Girls has brought Lena Dunhaminto the public eye and now he’s ushering in new talent with Schumer. Apatow, who usually writes his own material, handed over the reigns to Schumer, which is not an easy thing for a director to do. The trust he has in her abilities and the cast speaks for itself when you watch the film play out. There’s the funny and serious arc that’s common with Apatow films and the way he progresses the film is much quicker than his other films, making this film the perfect amount of time, comedy, and emotion.

Bill Hader has always made me bust a gut whenever he’s on-screen and that wasn’t any different this time around, except for the fact that he also made me smile often because of how he plays his character. His comedy never overshadows Schumer and he plays his character more straight than anyone else in the film. He’s vulnerable here, but has that loving look in his eyes and his connection with Schumer is actually quite a realistically beautiful thing. He also works extraordinarily well with LeBron James, who it turns out is actually insanely funny. James and John Cena (a lover of Amy’s in the film), two very masculine men, have no issue with showing a softer side to themselves and their delivery is responsible for some of the films biggest laughs. You can’t forget the wonderful Brie Larson, who keeps the film firmly emotionally grounded.

Anyone who’s seen a Judd Apatow film understands that his films deal with a lot of darker comedic undertones which reflect the reality of the world we live in. The drama in his films never comes off as corny or unbelievable because it’s almost too realistic. All jokes aside from monogamy and the way Schumer behaves, her character is incredibly insecure and so are all the others. The comedy isn’t as much as mask as it is a reflection of how these characters have lived their lives, but the poorly timed comedy reflects their lack of comfort. Schumer really emphasizes this in the relationship with her father which may be written off by some at first glance, but is actually one of the keys to why the film works as well as it does.

7CB-POSTER-20x30Larry (Jason Schwartzman) is unapologetic about being himself, which constantly gets him into trouble at his job and ultimately gets him fired. Unemployed and spending too much time with his bulldog, the only thing motivating Larry to get a job is his sick grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), whom he visits every week. He also meets with his grandmother’s nurse, friend and dealer, Major Norwood (Tunde Adebimpe). Larry’s new boss, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta), motivates him to enjoy his new job, and things begin to look up.


7 Chinese Brothers caters heavily toward the camp who love deadpan Jason Schwartzman playing someone down on their luck, which is why I enjoyed it more than some of my peers. Schwartzman and his film roles often prove wrong the theory that “loser” characters can make an interesting movie. His characters are also very grounded in reality, only enhancing how real the world he inhabits is. Now, this film isn’t always funny and does suffer from scenes which go on too long, but it was one of the funnier films at the festival.

Jason Schwartzman is the acting version of Wes Anderson, a quirky man who’s constantly telling the story of an unusual man. Here, Schwartzman is working a blue-collar job and finding himself detached from the rest of the world. Some of that feeling is warranted, as he’s constantly joking around and not afraid to overstep boundaries. His humor may be inappropriately timed, or just off-beat, but Schwartzman wins you over with his unapologetic nature. He’s himself and he’s not trying to fit in. The observational humor is also quite funny, as Schwartzman throws out some of the most obscure references. Whether he’s talking to his dog, or attempting to flirt with women, Schwartzman never drops the ball and completely sells the role.

Writer/Director Bob Byington spoke to the audience after screening this film and his humor was right in line with Schwartzman’s. He was completely deadpan about everything and he scored large applauses, as he was a dead ringer for Schwartzman. The two work very well with the dialogue and nothing he says ever seems out-of-place. There’s a great deal of focus on Schwartzman’s dog (in the film and in real life) and how he interacts with it which reveals more about his character. Byington also directs a great deal of physical humor as well, serving as a nice reminder that physical comedy is wildly underused and undervalued.

Olympia Dukakis as Schwartzman’s grandmother in the film was a fantastic casting choice, as she’s more than his equal and is unafraid to be cold right back to him. She’s a spunky woman and she’s prone to telling it how it is, which make some of her words affect Schwartzman more than she realizes. She shows more range when she empathizes for his character, but she’s her absolute best when she is having these honest conversations with him. Eleanore Pienta plays her loving boss in spectacular fashion, riffing with Schwarztman from time-to-time, while also discouraging him with her relations with other men.

At 76 minutes, the film doesn’t feel all that long in total. There are many moments in the film, however, which stretch out the scene and the overall length and those are the moments which feel far longer. Some of the banter in the film just isn’t all that funny, but it feels as if they’re trying to be being clever about every joke. The film does emphasize some silver linings for Schwartzman’s character, but it felt as if everything in his life conveniently got worse and worse as time went on.

just-jim-posterGrowing up in a small town in Wales, Jim (Craig Roberts) was always a bit of an outcast, though he enjoys his moments of solitude. Bullied by some of the people at his school, Jim’s parents grow increasingly concerned. Then a cool American boy, Dean (Emile Hirsch) moves in next door, and decides to help make Jim cool.


Just Jim is a very admirable first effort from Craig Roberts, a very young man who is creating his own vision and style quite effectively. The David Lynch influences can be found all throughout the film and that’s something that really does help this film. Roberts isn’t playing around with new territory here, but his unique style does add something to the conversation and makes for a fun, if not curious watch.Roberts also brings much of his own life experience into the mix, only adding to the amount of effort he’s putting into this ambitious first project.

Craig Roberts, as an actor, does bring a large amount of comedy in respect to how small he is. Playing off of the fact that he still looks like he’s 15, Roberts effectively slides into his old high school self and reacts just as he did the first time. He loves his computer games and doesn’t mind isolating himself, but we do see the effects on him, caused by the bullies. Roberts also brings more emotion here than comedy, reflecting on his choices and the unfortunate events which occurred with his so-called “friends”.  His likability makes us root for him, but you’ll most often times end up empathizing with him.

Craig Roberts the writer/director has a great eye for landscapes and what he wants to emphasize with his lens. He filmed in his hometown in Wales and filmed in his old school and the film feels more authentic for it. The film reflects part of his life and his use of locations and where the character runs off to makes the film feel more authentic. His camera plays around with quick zooms and jump cuts, but also employs some wonderful sweeping motions, all taking the audience for a visual ride. When his camera lingers, he tells a story within the actors face and doesn’t rely on words to over-complicate the characters thoughts.

The addition of Emile Hirsch as the “Bad-Boy American” is one of the film’s strongest points, as Hirsch plays the bit to perfection. With his hair slicked back, a cigarette in his mouth at all times, and a leather jacket, the amount of cool that his character exudes is unreal. He’s also not afraid to call it as he sees it and he may offend many people, but he won’t apologize. He’s forceful when he needs to be, but he’s more manipulative than anything. There’s some ulterior motive that he’s hiding and it comes across more clearly the more he interacts with Roberts.

The film doesn’t run all that long, moving along fairly quickly at 84-minutes. Due to the films brisk pacing, some scenes and larger moments in the film do feel a bit rushed. Everything consequential happens too quickly and we don’t get to see enough about how Roberts’ character would have reacted. There are also some relationships in the film that aren’t fully fleshed out, which would have given the audience a better idea as to what had happened to cause any tension.

adultbeginnerslargeSuccessful entrepreneur Jake (Nick Kroll) secured millions of dollars of both his and others’ money to create new glasses technology. When things go wrong, he loses big and takes time away from his big-business life. Fortunately, his sister Justine (Rose Byrne) still lives in their childhood home with her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) and their son Teddy. Without a job, Jake becomes Teddy’s nanny, with no business experience to prepare him.


Adult Beginners is another family comedy-drama which works especially well because of its charismatic cast. The film does deal more with the brother/sister dynamic, but it doesn’t get nearly as dark as something like The Skeleton Twins. This is also yet another film that finds Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale married on-screen, just like how they’re married off-screen. The theater was crowded, the audience was receptive, and this is a film that will play well in theaters. It’s also a film that could play quite well at home because it’s not too long and it’s very easy to watch.

Nick Kroll has found a lot of success on Comedy Central with The Kroll Show, a sketch show which involved Kroll playing many wild characters, and now he’s beginning to transition into larger film projects. He plays a version of himself that’s similar to the Nick Kroll who does stand-up, meaning you get crass humor from someone who delivers deadpan jokes with a bit of a smolder. His timing is wonderful and his interactions with Byrne and Cannavale always prove humorous, most oftentimes when he’s mocking their parenting abilities. He gets across that his character is out of his element, but his performance consistently gets better as the film goes on. He’s someone you enjoy watching and want to see more of and this is a good film to gain him some notoriety.

Bobby Cannavle really won me over with his performance in Blue Jasmine and since then it’s been very easy to get behind any role he’s playing. Despite not playing the perfect husband, Cannavale exudes this desperate need to be with his family and to be a large provider for them. He realizes that he’s made mistakes, but he’s not a bad guy and as an audience member, you never think he’s bad either. Cannavale’s love shown for his with and child in the film is very sweet to watch and he brings a fair amount of emotion into play as well. When he’s alone with Kroll, the two share some great comedic moments together that will leave everyone laughing pretty hard.

Rose Byrne, whom I saw for a brief moment at the Four Seasons in Austin, is as lovely and as kind in person as the character she plays. She’s also extremely funny in a more subtle way than her male counterparts, making her jokes feel more relaxed when she delivers them. The character she’s played in her most recent comedies is one where she feels the need to prove that she can be hip and cool, but here she’s a mother and her life is hectic. Her subtle commentary about being pregnant while having to raise a child is hilarious and she knows exactly how to react with her face when her son misbehaves. Byrne also gets to be a little more emotional than we’re used to seeing her be, only adding more layers to her character and the film itself.

Director Ross Katz is relatively new to the directing world and while it doesn’t seem that way in the film, there are some smaller issues with the film’s progression that keep it from being something great. The film dives into the family dynamic in the middle of the film, but it seemed like there was still a lot more to discuss. There’s a whole micro-story with Byrne and Kroll’s parents and their childhood that would have been a goldmine for emotion and humor. Given that the film is and feels like a quick 90-minutes, there could have been more time fleshing out those micro-stories and the friendship between Kroll’s and Cannavale’s character.

boneinthethroatposterWill Reeves (Ed Westwick) is a sous chef at one of the finest establishments in East London, working alongside his girlfriend Sophie (Vanessa Kirby) and for her father Rupert (Rupert Graves). When Rupert continually comes up short of money for Ronnie the Rug (Andy Nyman), he’s sorted out real quick and Ronnie makes sure his nephew Will sees it all, making mob bosses Charlie and Lewis (Tom Wilkinson and Neil Maskell) uncomfortable with the situation. It also doesn’t help that Detective McDougal (Steven Mackintosh) is snooping around their restaurants looking for details.


 

Bone in the Throat is the most interesting culinary crime film that I have ever seen, which may be due to the fact that I’ve never seen a culinary crime film before. Combining all the best things about London gangsters and close-ups of delicious looking food, this film finds itself exploring two genres quite well with one of the most entertaining casts I’ve seen in a long while. Many of the faces are familiar and even though you can’t pinpoint where you know the Brit from, you know that you love his character. This film does get a bit odd in places and the genre mash-up doesn’t always work, but this film is certainly refreshing and a bloody good time.

Ed Westwick is famous for his role as Chuck Bass on Gossip Girl, where he smolders and swaggers his way around a wealthy life. The smolder and swagger are still a part of his demeanor here, but he also happens to be one of the greatest chefs in London who gets mixed up with all the wrong people. He goes from playing sexy and smart, to scared and uncertain in a heartbeat and he’s actually tremendous in this film. He brings such reality to his character and his handling of situations and you find yourself concerned with his well-being in an instant. He’s a likable guy as is, but you can’t help but root for Westwick as his character grows into someone you’d never expect.

I’m a firm believer of the fact that on average, British drama’s and crime films are usually a step above the many we get of each genre in America. Their films feel less conventional and their actors completely lose themselves in the story. They’re also bloody and a bloody good time with all the British expletives and their lack of guns. Combining a mob movie with cooking seemed ridiculous, but there are many gorgeous shots of people eating and how they’re eating, which reveal a lot about their character. The knives in the kitchen can cut through nearly anything and you don’t need me to spell that out for you. Such great detail goes into preparing a meal and a kill, which makes this blend of genres work better than it should.

Andy Nyman is definitely channeling some Goodfellas Joe Pesci in this film with all his sporadic outbursts, but that British accent of his and his general craziness make him even more dangerous. He’ll headbutt you if you look at him wrong and he’s not afraid to chop someone up. Nyman is unpredictably good at keeping the audience grasping their seats and he’s also a ton of fun to watch. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mackintosh, who’s calm and sarcastic demeanor make him perfect as the copper who loves to toy with the baddies. He knows what’s going on and though he can’t prove it, he knows how to play the game and manipulate everyone playing. Vanessa Kirby also has a fair amount of time on-screen and brings much a needed emotional involvement into the mix.

There is a ton of British star power in this film and most characters get a large amount of focus on their stories, which made me more than mildly upset that we only spend a few minutes with Tom Wilkinson’s character. As the head honcho, he delegates his authority and then recedes to his own restaurant, keeping his interesting character way from the audience. John Hannah, an actor whom I hold near-and-dear to my heart, also has an intriguing bit part that only allows him a few scenes to shine. He’s not around for long which is frustrating, because he brings so much to the table. As far as glaring issues with the film go, the audio is incredibly loud and isn’t just focused on the actors. We hear the food sizzle, the actor speak, and the music swell all in one and it gets hard to hear what’s going on at the beginning of the film.

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