In a time of year where blockbusters reign supreme, writer/director Alex Garland‘s Ex Machina deserves to be seen and talked about. The British sci-fi film marks the directorial debut for the 28 Days Later scribe; a fact you’d never suspect from watching it. This is a lean, tightly constructed pic that wastes no time thrusting viewers into the plot and has little to no fat along the way. Garland’s script is so airtight and his vision so well presented that even a precarious dance scene around the midpoint of the film feels not only perfectly placed but also like critical character development.
Of the many positives I can list of Ex Machina, the most important to me is how much Garland accomplishes without an ensemble cast, huge set pieces, etc. There are four characters (one of which never speaks), a handful of interior/exterior sets, and minimal action. It’s almost an anti-blockbuster in this way; a refreshing reminder that story, characters, ideas, and situations (some of the pillars of great cinema) can excel regardless of the production budget. Ex Machina is a thrilling, thought-provoking, sometimes funny film that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do in around 108 minutes. There’s no backstory to catch up on prior to watching and there’s no tease for the next installment post-credits. It’s a complete, standalone experience. Even for someone who enjoys comic book movies, it’s nice to have one of those every once in a while.
My ringing endorsement aside, let’s get to this week’s Top 5:
1. First Red-Band Trailer for VACATION Sequel
Warner Bros. dropped the first red-band trailer for Vacation this week and while the cut was a tad more referential to its predecessor than I’d like, I still laughed several times and look forward to seeing the finished product. Ed Helms/Nard Dog has earned my eternal benefit of the doubt and the line “…hope you’re not too old to let your dad give you a good night rimjob” is tough to beat.
2. Editorial: Marvel Needs to Defeat Its Villain Problem
The MCU has done a fantastic job of bringing some of Marvel’s key heroes to life and it’s an absolute blast watching them fight alongside each other. With the exception of Loki, though, its villains leave a lot to be desired. Weak motivations, little to no development, and quickly defeated more or less describes the rest. Matt addressed Marvel’s villain problem in an editorial this past week and it’s most certainly worth a read even if you tend to disagree.
3. Alternate History: George Miller’s JUSTICE LEAGUE
Sometimes it’s fun to play “What If?”. Mark Millar did this to great effect with Superman: Red Son by making Kal-El crash land in the Soviet Union instead of Smallville, Kansas. I do this to far more depressing effect when wondering what life without student debt would be like. In Adam’s new Alternate History feature he’ll attempt to create all of the fun and entertainment of the former minus all the regret of the latter by playing “What If?” with movies. His first subject? What if George Miller’s Justice League wasn’t cancelled?
4. New Trailer for THE LOOK OF SILENCE
Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing is one of the most sobering, surreal, and important films I’ve ever watched. Notice the adjective “comfortable” is absent. That’s not a mistake. Oppenheimer’s companion film, The Look of Silence, will hit theaters this summer and, if this latest trailer is any indication, the filmmaker looks like he could have two of the most powerful docs ever made to his credit.
5. Stanley Film Festival 2015 Coverage
Set against the historic backdrop of Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, the Stanley Film Festival provides a unique showcase for horror cinema. The fest wrapped last Sunday and our own Evan Dickson was kind enough to take one for the team by attending and gracing the site with coverage. You can click here to browse said coverage or check out my personal favorite post, his recap of The Final Girls closing out the fest. I’m looking forward to checking that one out and, after some research, Stanley Hotel just got added to my list of places to visit before I’m too old to visit distant places any longer.