Sunday, July 26, 2015

Film Fest Day 4

Ugh, this day was exhausting. First I had two films to usher, and then a couple I had to wedge in during the evening because I could not go to their other showings.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
This movie is the intersection where an arthouse film meets a silent horror and a 50s drive-in flick. The plot is pretty simple: A small group of characters (a drug dealer, a prostitute, a gangster, a kid) find their lives seriously affected (or ended) by the mysterious appearance of a vampire. While it won't win any prizes in terms of story, the look, locale and performances make this a rather compelling watch.

It's really the incidental details which provide the real pleasures. The gangster's costume and posturing is an obvious highlight. The film has an offbeat sense of humour and a great soundtrack of Iranian pop songs I've never heard of. This is also the only film to my knowledge which features a skate-boarding vampire, and includes a cat in the role of comic relief. 

While it's not the masterpiece people have been making it out to be, it is a lot of fun.

Jauja
Sigh. I had to hit a pot hole eventually.

This stars Viggo Mortensen as a European mercenary in Central or South America who is hunting for his runaway daughter. That about does it for plot. 

This movie was boring. The aspect ratio was much smaller than the screen -- I'm not sure what the intent here was. The movie makes a series of surrealistic turns which feel inexplicable, but are not compelling enough to make the movie worth watching.

On the plus side, the photography is the strongest aspect here with several beautiful compositions. As an art installation it might pass muster - as a cinematic experience it's a chore. 

The Assassin
The drought continues. 

Like Jauja, this is beautifully photographed, especially the location shots. The action sequences come in short, lyrical bursts. However, the movie is a confusing, over-complicated mess without interesting characters or dramatic tension.  

Ex Machina
I have been looking forward to this for so long. The internet machine said the movie was coming out on March 5. That turned out not to be. Then I heard it was coming out at the film festival, and booked for its first showing last Wednesday. Work intervened so I sacrificed sleep to see a last, late showing.  

This is the best movie I've seen this year. It won't hold the spot for long, but this is a damn good piece of work. Alex Garland has become the master of the small-scale, high concept genre film. This is one of the best films he's been involved with (I still have not seen Sunshine).

I'm sure you are familiar with the premise by now. A young computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest to spend a week with his boss, a reclusive genius (Oscar Isaac) who wants him to perform a modified version of the Turing Test to determine whether Ava, a humanoid machine he has created (Alicia Vikander) has artificial intelligence. And then things get really dark.

This is a smart film that not only has a lot of meaty ideas, but knows how to convey them with economy, imagination and (most importantly) a deliciously dark sense of humour. Beyond the musings on AI, the movie works as a sharply observed satire on the role of public performance in an age where cameras are everywhere -- specifically the performance of gender.

This focus on performing for an audience is highlighted by the main location: Nathan (Issac)'s residence, where the bulk of the film takes place, is a beautifully designed but claustrophobic bunker, a Panopticon-like structure filled with opaque windows and surveillance technology. In this place, everyone is playing for the cameras.

The performances from Isaac and Vikander are superlative (probably the only time I can use that word). Isaac is his usual reliably unpredictable self, while Vikander cements her growing It-Girl status after similarly great performances in A Royal Affair and Testament of Youth. She has about 572 other movies coming out this year, so I'm sure we'll hear about her again come award season. Gleeson is fine as the protagonist, but he comes across as a little vanilla compared to his co-stars' showier roles. That's always one of the pitfalls with a three-hander -- someone has to get the straight man role, and Gleeson falls into it adequately.

I'm going to stop waffling. The movie is not being given a theatrical release outside of the festival, so catch it when it comes out on a streaming platform. Watch it, love it. Good night. 

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