Sunday, 15 April 2018

Review: Wanted

Wanted is a hyperkinetic comic book fusion of the Terminator, Matrix and Fight Club.  So much so that some sequences feel like a direct lift from those films.   The story follows the Campbell monomyth template: a young hero is living an ordinary life until he is called to reluctant greatness via a series of training vignettes.

The generally well staged action scenes and sober fake ending make up for a series of fairly obvious twists and limited exposition.  Given its age, it's a remarkably grainy film on blu-ray.

Verdict: Cast are clearly having a ball with this amusing comic book movie.

Review: Do You Trust This Computer?

Do You Trust This Computer is a competent whiz through the current status of artificial intelligence. Inevitably, there's some groan-worthy imagery (eg globes with sun bursts, networks spidering across the Earth, people running towards beaches etc) and it leans towards sound bites than detailed examination. But it is bang up-to-date - even down to covering some of Cambridge Analytica's methods and would serve as a good introduction.

Where I think they did go wrong was hinting the leap from narrow AI (which is what we have now) to generalised AI to be a relatively small one - and focussing on the relatively sexy existential threats from superintelligence.
"Machines are natural pyschopaths"
Jerry Kaplan

Messagewise, I guess it would serve as a good antidote if you feel you've been drinking the AI kool aid too much recently.  Personally, I was a little disappointed considering the maker's previous pedigree - "Who Killed The Electric Car?" which was a genuinely interesting exploration of a little known area at the time.

Lastly, nearly all of the talking heads are men which isn't really representative of the field.

Verdict: A call to arms rather than a nuanced exploration. 

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Review: Unforgiven

It's been a lot time since I revisited Eastwood's much lauded Western - but I find my opinions haven't changed much. In short, I still can't see what the fuss is about.

It's a competent and involving example of the genre and I love Hackman's amusingly psychopathic lawman/incompetent house builder in this. His insistence on referring to Harris' character as "The Duck of Death" while providing a rather different interpretation of his past exploits never fails to raise a laugh as much as his explosions of sudden violence are shocking.

Eastwood is an older and even craggier version of the western hardman he's played forever. It's more controlled and oblique than in High Plains Drifter though.

But it's the framing device for the whole movie I struggle with. I simply don't buy it.  Freeman too seems a bit wasted and stereotyped.

Verdict: It's good, not great.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Review: Stake Land

I'll admit I don't really watch a lot of horror nowadays, but I was suckered (!) in by the cover of this vampiric road movie and it's huge number of four/five star reviews.

Does Stakeland live up to its reviews? I think it does - if you set your expectations accordingly. This is a low budget tour of a post-vampire apocalyptic America which is grounded in fine performances all round, some wilderness photography near worthy of the Deer Hunter and touches of intriguing exposition which really go to work on your imagination.

There are some gruesome moments as the vampires are closer to 30 days of night than Twilight in their realisation - but thankfully it never became unbearably tense.

I'm glad we watched it in daylight though.

Verdict:  Far right Christian cults enabling monsters make this a vampire movie for our times.

Review: Delicacy

On the face of it, Delicacy is a bit of French oddity as essentially it's a story about grief, recovery and even harassment - but still manages to be a comedy romance.  As a result, while this film manages to step around the issues with great subtlety and French sophistication - it's hard to imagine a Hollywood remake anytime soon. Bollywood on the other hand...

I'll just come out and say it, the lovely Tautou is superb in this and Damiens also a lot of fun as the initially bemused, but very eager, romantic interest. I loved the way the romance was developed and the reactions of those surrounding them - from incredulousness from her jealous boss to immediate acceptance by her grandmother.

The ending is a bit abrupt - but after thinking about it, it was completely perfect.  He's hoping for a place in her future memories.

Verdict: Grief, comedy and romance are three things I never thought I'd write in the same sentence.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Review: Downsizing

This Damon vehicle takes an intriguing science fiction concept with lots of comedic potential and takes in wholly unexpected directions.

But what initially started off as a Truman show or Edward Scissorhands like satire ended up feeling more like a European drama. That makes it a difficult movie to pigeon hole - but also a tonally variable one.

Also strangely, one area not fully explored is the impact of the real sized world on the small sized one. After about the first hour or so, you could easily forget that there was a difference.  The sense I got was they were no longer interested in exploring that difference (or perhaps the budget had simply run out).

Verdict: The great escape.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Review: The School of Life

I was completely drawn into this quietly engaging French drama set between the world wars.  Sure, there's nothing spectacularly original here plot wise - but the quality acting, rich script and beautiful countryside pulled me in.

I don't know quite why the French are so good at this kind of thing (see also BBC for costume dramas), but I'm glad they are.

Verdict: Gentle slice of life drama.