Uncanny (aka Android) [2015]

Uncanny

I absolutely loved this movie, as I did Ex Machina and, less enthusiastically, The Machine. I think anyone who enjoys films of the AI genre should check out all three of these flicks. While Ex Machina has a much higher budget, Uncanny nonetheless delivers with a subtle charm that is fully backed up by a heady and intellectual script. Unfortunately, for me, the female lead seemed to be a bit plastered in at times. I didn’t care for — or identify with — her character, which may have been partly by design.

I should specify that the genre of these movies is not just “AI,” but also the genre of “theater as film.” Uncanny has a small, four-person cast, so the bulk of its content is in the script and the characters’ relationships, rather than special effects, action, or set design. And the movie made me think! The acting was sharp, focused, appropriately rational, and intellectually robotic. There was a very ominous undercurrent throughout the entire film, hinting at high-level conspiracy and the world-behind-the-world that we are only somewhat aware of in our daily lives. What captivated my attention most was how the film continually went back and forth between concepts of “machine as capable of consciousness” and “designer as illusionist.” It made me question my own neural programming as a human, and then juxtaposed that with the data-programming of a computer.

Some of the epiphanies I had while watching were actually nullified and confused by the end of the movie, which makes me think that I need to go back and watch it again. (I love movies that taunt me into watching them again in order to uncover what was really going on.) The most interesting question I had while watching Uncanny was, “If a computer that learns from humans calculates that a human has made a choice based on passion rather than logic, could that computer then learn programming based on chaos rather than order?” In a sense, computers, like children, learn early on that emotions, moods, and hidden agendas are used to manipulate and react to the environment. That’s my first impression, at least… But I really can’t wait to see this one again!

After watching Uncanny last night, I decided to watch Ex Machina again — and I loved it the second time around as well. I’m truly impressed with the ability of two different directors to take the same basic story and make two completely different, enjoyable presentations that stimulated my intellect in different ways.

Four pot leafs out of five:
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Uncanny (aka Android) [2015]

Southpaw (2015)

southpaw

This film represents everything I love and hate about Hollywood. I’ll give it a fair rating. But let me be clear about one thing: The script is hot, soggy garbage. Calling Southpaw “trite” would be a serious understatement. It was definitely the most cliché, cookie-cutter production that I’ve sat through in a while. (I mean, the name of our protagonist — a light heavyweight boxing champ played by Jake Gyllenhaal — is Hope, for shit’s sake.) And the movie goes through all the typical motions we’ve grown to expect without unveiling a single unique quality.

But now that you know it’s traI did actually enjoy Southpaw. I never once wanted to turn it off. It’s bright and it’s shiny and it’s strangely well-acted (assuming you can overlook 50 Cent’s wooden role). It’s ultimately an uplifting flick — complete with angry/inspirational Eminem soundtrack — but the story puts a hurtin’ on the viewer during the first two acts. Rachel McAdams’ character is a breath of fresh air among the otherwise stereotypical cast, but she’s removed from the equation early on in what must be one of the saddest, most tragic death scenes in any movie. (And by lazily glossing over her murder, Southpaw inadvertently makes a rather searing statement regarding the pervasiveness of handgun violence in America.) Subsequently, Gyllenhaal’s tragic boxer loses custody of his daughter — a truly sympathetic role filled immaculately by young Oona Laurence — and he must do battle with his crippling anger management issues in order to get her back. Over the course of his inevitable redemption, he trains with a drunk, washed-up ex-boxer (Forest Whitaker) and mounts his comeback against the movie’s “villain,” a Columbian boxer played by Danny Henriquez.

For better or worse, this kind of shallow-but-engaging movie is what Antoine Fuqua is good at. The director takes terribly vapid scripts and turns them into halfway decent movies. Sometimes I fall for them (Training Day, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur) and sometimes I don’t (Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer). Southpaw is technically just another turd. But it’s also one of the most well-polished turds to come out all year — and it wrings a surprising amount of emotion out of its viewers. (Spoiler ahead.) It would have gotten an extra pot leaf if Hope had lost the big title fight at the end. I would have welcomed an unexpected sucker punch like that at the end of this ridiculously predictable flick.

Three pot leafs out of five:
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Southpaw (2015)

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

peggy sue got married

Francis Ford Coppola has directed some of my favorite films of all time — The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Dracula, Youth Without Youth — so I decided that, at some point, I should sit down and watch all of his movies. (Call me a Coppola completest if you want.) With 17 under my belt so far, it’s obvious to me that the man is a masterful storyteller. I just don’t always like the stories he chooses to tell.

But that’s not really my problem with Peggy Sue Got Married. Actually, I thought the script was extremely heartfelt; the direction, engaging; and Kathleen Turner, absolutely adorable. It’s just that the production is riddled with so many strange and sporadic weak points that the whole thing comes across flat, overall: The young and recognizable cast relies on rather distracting makeup to appear 25 years older in certain scenes, Nicolas Cage gives birth to one of the most obnoxious characters ever committed to film, and the whole third act of the movie somehow manages to be both bizarre and deflating. The end result is one of my least favorite “time travel” movies to date — and I’m afraid that, in this case, there’s a real need for those quotation marks.

But I won’t trash Peggy Sue Got Married completely. After all, it does achieve a certain degree of charm and mysticism. The women of the cast — Catherine Hicks, Joan Allen, Barbara Harris, Helen Hunt, and a young Sofia Coppola (not to mention Ms. Turner again) — carry the plot a good distance, and it’s quite fun to see a young, scene-stealing Jim Carrey (two years before Earth Girls Are Easy). Plus, Kathleen Turner evokes some really powerful emotions during the scenes in which she finds herself transported back to her childhood home. The sense of nostalgia is almost overwhelming, and I couldn’t help but think of all of the bittersweet journeys I’ve made back to my parents’ house — the place where I weathered such life-molding storms as puberty and high school. There are also a couple of interesting “mirror” shots worth noting, in which Coppola hides the camera by employing two different groups of actors to play the subjects and their reflections. (They’re not always exactly in sync, but it’s a pretty neat trick nonetheless.)

Still… Nicolas Cage’s role in this one is ultimately unforgivable.

Two pot leafs out of five:
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Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)