Each Motion State Face Off pits two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.
In hindsight, Michael Crichton’s 1973 film Westworld was an uncomplicated affair. Sure, the premise required a bit of explaining — there’s a Wild West theme park staffed by lifelike robots, offering full immersion for wealthy tourists looking for romance or violence — but the plot was deceptively simple and the characters were drawn without a trace of ambiguity. The humans were the heroes and the malfunctioning robots were the villains. As we’ve detailed in our Writer Series on the works of Crichton, lots of good science fiction operates in exactly this way: classic stories playing out in strange, unfamiliar settings or time periods. No matter how unsettling the concept, how futuristic the design, how far-off the entire experience feels, Westworld is still a movie about a killer robot. And this is hardly groundbreaking, even in 1973, considering that the very first robot in cinema (from Houdini’s 1918 silent serial The Master Mystery) was already wreaking havoc on its human overlords:
In some ways, Killer Robot Cinema (evermore an acceptable genre classification on Motion State) has progressed a great deal since 1918. The murderous machines went from stacked-and-spraypainted cardboard boxes to sleek metal automatons to, finally, looking just like humans, which is presumably the pinnacle of droid design both in fiction and in real life. In some ways, though, killer robot cinema has hardly moved an inch. Humans are still playing God, still inventing advanced A.I. in robot form, and those robots are still turning around and killing them for it.
In the climactic finale of Annihilation, there is a moment in which a shape-shifting alien bioclone with burning arms lovingly embraces a charred corpse in a lighthouse that has been struck by a meteor and overtaken by a mutated blight that threatens all life as we know it. Go ahead and read that sentence again if you have to. I dare you to try to come up with something so outlandish, so unsettling, so straight-up weird, much less deploy it at a crucial moment in a multimillion-dollar motion picture production. We live in a time where pretty much every sci-fi film with a budget this size (about $40 million) ends one way: explosions. The scripts all contain the same line: Big CGI Thing bursts into CGI flame. Heck, explosions probably typify the finale of most Hollywood films, sci-fi or otherwise, and the scripts for their inevitable sequels all contain the same line: Bigger CGI Thing bursts into bigger CGI flame.
But Annihilation goes a long way to assuaging the bitterness now associated with what the Hard Sci-Fi genre has threatened to become, and writer/director Alex Garland might just be the beacon of hope in this regard. It was already clear that Garland’s a formidable painter, but it’s still special to see a wider canvas filled with such vibrant colors. His debut directing gig Ex Machina knocked it out of the park (and is in some senses a superior film), but with Annihilation he gets more characters, more locations, more visual effects and more freedom to tell the story his way.
The Aussies cleaned up at the 88th Academy Awards last night, taking home a grand total of six for Mad Max: Fury Road. The Revenant and Spotlight won the bigger trophies, though, as did Brie Larson for Room and Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies.
Major respect to Alicia Vikander for taking home a well-deserved Supporting Actress Oscar, considering she was pivotal not only in The Danish Girl but also the supremely under-appreciated Ex Machina and the summer’s best popcorn flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E., all of which are from 2015. 2016 better watch out.
We somehow failed to recognize that the great Douglas Slocombe had passed away this year until the In Memoriam section of the Oscars rolled out. Slocombe is the man who lensed the likes of The Lavender Hill Mob and Raiders of the Lost Ark and had immense influence on how major motion pictures look today.
Best quote of the night goes to Oscar winner Charlize Theron, responding on the subject of the best part of the Academy Awards by simply saying “the hamburgers.” Also, Best Human Ever also goes to Charlize.
It’s fairly easy to spot a Guy Ritchie flick, and in his most recent movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. a few of his trademark flourishes find their best use yet. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer fill the suits first worn by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the ’60s television show and globetrot around the Mediterranean attempting to out-spy one another. There are three or four plots going on at once — one’s a crusade to stop a maniacal heiress from obtaining a nuclear weapon, one’s a love story, one’s a hopeful reunification of father and daughter —and so Ritchie’s penchant for hand-holding and retreading ground we’ve already covered is actually quite useful at times.
Mostly, though, the moderately bogged-down plot is just kind of there; the style, the mood, the unending suaveness of the two leads — that’s really what counts in Ritchie’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. There are some slick sequences that don’t make you forget the plot but make you simply not care about it, sequences that lose you, purposefully and gleefully, in the zippy catchiness of it all. There are some slow bits and, again, the retreading of information gets tedious as it does in other habitual instances throughout Ritchie’s filmography. But mostly this movie is all about the flow, and even if the scene-by-scene progression isn’t flawless the pacing within the scenes themselves is fantastic.
The jury at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival (which included the Coen Brothers, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller, Guillermo del Toro, Xavier Dolan and a few more) selected champions yesterday as the festival comes to a close. The Palme d’Or went to Dheepan, the Grand Prize went to the Holocaust drama Son of Saul, acting awards went to Rooney Mara and the fantastic Vincent Lindon, and the best screenplay award went to Michel Franco for Chronic. Whew!
Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander is rumored to be in talks for both Assassin’s Creed and the next installment of the Bourne franchise. If she doesn’t get either role, we’ll be more than content to just watch Ex Machina again.
Empire has released the first pictures from Ridley Scott’s The Martian, starring Matt Damon and everyone else who’s in every movie these days. From the looks of the photo above, The Martian may touch on the theme of man’s singular place in the vast and unknowable universe. Shocking.
There’s this dude Nathan. He’s one of the few dudes onscreen in Ex Machina, the directorial debut of 28 Days Later and Sunshine scribe Alex Garland. Nathan is a walking paradox, even in the most perfunctory surface-level characterization of him as a hard-drinking frat boy who also happens to be a veritable technological genius. Caleb, his temporary intern of sorts, at one point compares him to Mozart — likely the first time a Mozart figure has ever spent so much time on abs and forearms. This straightforward incongruity in Nathan would only work with the right actor in his shoes, and Oscar Isaac is the right actor. A force in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, Isaac is utterly convincing throughout Ex Machina. Nathan drains bottles of beer and vodka, yells at his maid, passes out drunk, wakes up to lift weights and beat his punching bag, and soon starts in on the beer and vodka again — and yet he’s always the smartest guy in the room by a longshot.
That somewhat superficial contradiction (or, for the purposes of a review of a film about artificial intelligence: that skin-deep, cosmetic, inorganic contradiction) is only the beginning of Nathan. Isaac is joined by Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, the timid young coder brought to Nathan’s underground tech lair as ostensible winner of a contest to take part in a secret experiment (Isaac and Gleeson are also both in The Force Awakens later this year, which is doubly exciting after seeing Ex Machina). Together they deliberate Ava, Nathan’s advanced A.I. that not only walks exactly like a human and talks exactly like a human but thinks exactly like a human, too. What that means, exactly, is exactly what Ex Machina probes. Maybe. Spoilers follow.
Plot details for Star Wars: Rogue One reveal that the rumored Death Star connection is in fact at the center of the 2016 spinoff. This means the events will take place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, which is simultaneously exciting and worrying.
Tribeca Film Festival continues this week, closing on April 26th. Western-themed highlights of this year’s festival include William Monahan’s Mojave and the Michael Fassbender frontier flick Slow West.
John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to last year’s excellent Cavalry, a New Mexico-set black comedy called War on Everyone, began filming this week. Check out the first image over at Empire.
Daniel Craig has sustained an injury on the set of the new Bond film Spectre, prompting surgery and much nail-biting over whether the filming schedule will be delayed or compressed. Eon has denied that rumor. And besides, judging by last week’s trailer, we’ve no reason not to trust that Craig and Sam Mendes will deliver.
Tom Hardy has let slip that he’s signed on for three more Mad Max films following Fury Road, which hits theaters next month. Bring on the Tina Turner cameo!
Netflix has renewed House of Cards for a fourth season (surprise!) and their newest series Bloodline for a second season.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 starts filming early next year in…Atlanta. The plot will presumably see Groot and Co. honing their Deep South sensibilities. Karen Gillan’s Nebula is set to return, too, hopefully for a much larger role this time around.