Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Love & Squalor Top 24 of 2014

This is the absolute latest I've ever released an end of the year recap, and there were times when I thought maybe I'd wind up skipping the final list.  Of all the outside projects I failed to tackle over the course of this hellish semester, though, this list has been one of the biggest, stupidest bits of lingering stress. So, as we approach the halfway mark for 2015, I bring you my list of 2014's best (not necessarily favorite) films.  Though 2014 on the whole felt less inspired than 2013, there were some stellar examples of genre films and a few interesting twists on the prestige picture.  Why say too much, though? We're already this late, let's just jump into it...

Mad Max: Fury Road



...and on the third weekend of Ultron, the crowds turned to what George Miller had made, and they saw that it was good. That it was very good, in fact.  That it was a thing of so rare and well-formed a quality that the masses agreed that this was to be the definition of "bad ass."  For indeed, it was nothing if not that...  

 Maybe I'm exaggerating, maybe not so much. The return of Mad Max has become an event picture in a way no one could have anticipated until fairly late into 2015.  There had been talk, certainly, and rumblings from the cult fandom.  Generally, though, as most were busy examining the spate of Marvel releases under a microscope, Fury Road was thundering around the bend and getting ready to blindside everyone.  At a cultural moment in which the term "action movie" has become synonymous with suited-up superheroes and the destruction of cities, Fury Road boasts both a return to roots and a necessary evolution.  Turns out, it's the movie we need. Yes. A long-after-the-fact sequel to a Mel Gibson series of post-apocalyptic car movies is the movie we collectively need right now.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2

      


If you dig through the archives and pull up my review on the first Pitch Perfect, you'll find a sour bit of writing about that film's total inability to live up to the strength of its conceit.  It didn't know how to use the strengths it had, the thing was a tonally uneven, unfunny disappointment, there was no real characterization, etc, etc.  Simply put: I didn't like it.  As time went on and that film wormed its way into the good graces of many a bored channel surfer, I found myself really growing to hate and resent it in a way I reserve for only the greatest misfires.  It wasn't just that I thought Pitch Perfect was a spectacularly flat film, it was that for some reason everyone else seemed to love it in spite of its total redundancy.  

I still don't like it. So, yes, it's a little bit surprising that I wound up planted in a reclining theater seat on a Saturday afternoon, ready to subject myself to a litany of one-note jokes and cheesy pop covers yet again. This is perhaps the finest proof that I can offer that I am, occasionally, an optimist. Even after a couple of years spent rolling my eyes over how much folks loved that dumb little movie, I came back because I had a lingering glimmer of some kind of stubborn hope.  My hatred stemmed from the fact Pitch Perfect didn't live up to the raw potential it so clearly had, and which I still believed it could display.  This time? Without the expository burdens of the first movie?  I thought just maybe the sequel would be able to live up to its comedic promise.  So you're wondering...did it get there?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ex Machina



When writing about Ex Machina one must do so with the utmost care. It is a piece of work easily spoiled not solely in terms of its story, but also in how the viewer is predisposed to view it. The film - from the mind of writer/director Alex Garland - offers little more than a sliver of revealable expository action.  Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a rather green programmer "wins" a chance to travel to the secretive compound of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the enigmatic and deeply eccentric tech billionaire at the top of his company.  It is unclear what will happen there, and why he has been brought.  Nathan  claims Caleb will have the chance to be administer the Turing test and face off with his prized invention, a piece of artificial intelligence called Ava (Alicia Vikander) in a series of sessions.  Indeed he does, but as the days go by the conditions within the house seem to change. It is a type of intelligent prison, Nathan drinks to the point of excess, Caleb's bedroom is too enclosed, and Ava seems to be aware of the ulterior motives the lurk in the hearts of the men. 
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