Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Movie Reviews: Avengers II, The Imitation Game, Whiplash, The DUFF, The Little Death

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Marvel be Marvel, eh?

The plot: a big fight of some kind with little explanation results in the retrieval of Loki's staff. Said staff is used by Iron Guy and Bulk to create "the ultimate" shield to protect humanity against future extraterrestrial threats, but they somehow didn't anticipate that the AI would decide that the best way to ensure peace on the planet is to exterminate all humans. Which is odd, because that's the plot of every other movie featuring AI that's been made since ever. Of course, there is no sandbox testing environment, no tests, no kill switch, no safety features, no network isolation, etc, etc, etc, like every other movie that apparently knows nothing about computer security. Some more fights, massive destruction of lots of property in the middle of cities without a single death, and roll credits.

The AI mcguffin is as dumb as it was written, but the idea of humans are hoist on their own petard is a little easier to swallow than the extraterrestrial threats of the last movie. And a big part of the final resolution involves trying to minimize civilian deaths, which is unusual. All of the main characters have screen time, including the "humans" Black Bubble and Mawkish who seem so out of place in the group. Then we get a bunch of new X-Men/d/d/d/d/d I mean avengers; it's the same kind of freak show (with some of the same characters) that made up the X-Men. The two franchises now look pretty similar.

Some more nitpicks: I'm still not sure why a god (Sore) is so un-godlike. The smart alec quips come in the middle of every fight scene, erasing any tension in them. I'm not sure why the best "safe house" is Mawkish's actual unprotected family home - with wife and children. The sudden love pairing between Bulk and Bubble comes from out of the blue, especially since I thought one of them had a girlfriend already. The absence of main characters from the specific movies (no Jane from Sore, no Pepper from Iron Guy) is glaring. And sure, everyone has a different special power, but they all amount to the same thing: blasting or blowing things up, so it all kind of washes together.

But the rest is fairly solid, as goes Marvel: the acting is fine, the directing is fine, the choreography and effects are top notch, and the story is serviceable.

The Imitation Game: Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing .We see him grilled and booked by the police for the 1950s indecent act of being a homosexual, interspersed with scenes of how he created Enigma to break the German codes ... and then played the mathematical game of how to HIDE the fact that he created Engima from the Germans, so as not to alert them that their codes were broken. This feat was a major component in the Allies winning WWII. Yet a decade later, Alan had to struggle with his orientation in a society that didn't accept it. The movie is ok, and educational if you don't know the history of Alan and Engima, but not a must see.

Keira Knightley plays a spunky anachronistic woman who serves no particular benefit to the movie except to be a woman, and to be Alan's most sympathetic friend; she also has to hide who she is, since apparently being a woman who knows math was as freakish to the 1940s as homosexuality.

Whiplash: Hmm. This move has little plot, which is not a bad thing. Instead it concentrates on the emotional dynamic between drumming student Andrew (Miles Teller), who is ready to endure everything to be great, and band leader Fletcher (JK Simmons), who is ready to abuse everyone in order to a) appear great, or b) find someone great. The performances are amazing and the abuse is highly abusive.

The drumming sometimes seemed pretty awesome, but sometimes seemed rather cacaphonic; from what I've read, it's not as perfect as the movie makes it out to be (but we hear that about every movie that depicts the struggle for excellence, so whatever).

I'm bothered by the movie, for a number of reasons. One, is it really entertaining to watch abuse on film for an hour and a half when the abuser doesn't get any comeuppance at the end? It's painful to watch if you've ever suffered abuse. Two, and this is the biggie: the movie seems to side with the abuser. Spoiler alert: In the end, the movie essentially says that the abuser got what he wanted and was right all along. WTF?

Three, the major plot "twist" of the last half of the movie revolves around Fletcher setting up Andrew to publicly fail on stage. But Fletcher sets him up to fail while he, Fletcher, is conducting, and Fletcher's motivation was supposed to be that he doesn't want anyone in his orchestra who would make him look bad. So it doesn't really make sense that he would do that. Four, it doesn't really make sense that Andrew would go along with it; he could have simply not played, rather than play badly. So I wasn't convinced by the final scenes at all.

But anyway: intense. Well acted. Kind of sickening.

The DUFF: A pretty standard teen romcom, with Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, and the usual cliches. Perhaps the only non-cliche elements is that the two BFFs are pretty and have the vocal patterns and style of bitches, but they never actually act bitchy; instead they're nice and supportive. Which is pretty unusual for a teen movie, I suppose. Otherwise it's fairly predictable, but watchable.

The Little Death: This little 95 minute indie movie is drenched in sex talk (which you should know from the title, which is a translation of a French idiom for orgasm) and pathology (but no nudity). It's a Robert Altman-like film with five distinct couples (all white and straight, sorry) who overlap only very, very briefly; so it's really five different short films about sexual dysfunction.

For the first 70 minutes, we see four of the couples. Some parts are funny, some are predictable and dull, and one is offensive: not because of any prudery on my part, but because it involves a woman lying and manipulating her husband by intentionally causing him to feel sad (which turns her on). I guess this type of cruelty is funny to some people, but I nearly turned off the movie about midway; her scenes were grating. There is also a convicted sex offender who goes around giving everyone homemade cookies and telling them that he is required by law to tell them he is a sex offender, and no one seems to care about it; I wasn't sure what to make of his role in the film. He was kind of creepy, which was the point, I suppose.

I'm glad I stayed to finish the movie, because the last 25 minutes are devoted to Monica (Erin James) who works at a telephone service for the deaf - she answers video calls from deaf people, conveying their conversations to the people they want to talk to - and Sam (T.J. Power), a deaf graphic artist with insomnia who wants to call a sex line.

Think about the premise for a moment and you'll realize how funny this can be, and then multiple that by several factors and add real warmth: this was one of the funniest (and cutest) scenes I have ever seen in any movie. Ever. Erin is phenomenal: she's cute, she's prudish but accommodating, she's perky, she's funny. She's every boy's dream of a fun girl to hang out with. T.J. is similar: cute, funny, warm, and winning. The two have amazing chemistry. The sex worker (I don't know who plays her) and some bit extras complete the scene perfectly. You must see the movie if for nothing else than this scene.
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