A mysterious girl is forbidden to leave her house by her father.
Directed by Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky
Starring Lexy Kolker, Emile Hirsch, and Bruce Dern
Review by Jon Kissel
The legend of Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, holds that he consulted the wise algorithm for ideas about what original programming to produce, and he discovered that subscribers loved Kevin Spacey and David Fincher. Voila, House of Cards is born. Seven years later, Spacey has a lesser Q-rating, but the same smell of calculated imitation is all over Freaks. A hearty base of Stranger Things, some Dogtooth for indie cred, a seasoning of contemporary buzzwords for political relevance, and there’s your movie. Directors Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky have enough pull to entice well-known actors, and that seems to be the only reason this was released in theaters instead of buried on the SyFy channel.
As the fourth Star Wars film in four years, the troubled production that was Han Solo’s origin story is the sore thumb of the bunch. While each previous film has its detractors, some louder than others, Solo is the film whose critical dismissal and lackluster commercial haul was striking enough to push the giant ship of Disney away from continued annual returns to George Lucas’ universe. The energy of Solo itself is like a self-fulfilling prophecy, such that the actors and filmmakers may have anticipated how their work was going to be received, put their heads down, and made it to the final frame. From Ron Howard on down, no one seems creatively inspired or happy to be here, resulting in a film that has little impact after the credits roll.
The Iron Giant takes place back when America was great, and all that that implies. Monochromatic coastal hamlets, packed diners, and comfortable blue collar work keep everyone happy and docile, painting a picture of ideal life with no conflict or disagreement. This bubble is in danger of popping from contagions all around. Sputnik beeps across the upper atmosphere. A filthy beatnik is running the scrap yard. Most of all, a sentient robot alien is romping through the forest, chomping on cars and recklessly exploring. Brad Bird’s stellar debut uses these interlopers to tell a big-hearted story of courage and wisdom. He mixes cultural commentary on an insular and paranoid time with the kind of raw emotion and epiphany that works so well on this viewer.
One of the most successful books in recent memory, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One pays homage to all things nerd culture of the 1980’s through the guise of the most important man in its dystopian future setting, James Halliday, and the virtual world he created, The Oasis. As with any book adaptation, there’s always a question on how it will translate to the big screen. This was especially the case here, with wall-to-wall pop culture references and a wide assortment of locales experienced in the book. While Steven Spielberg’s adaptation largely throws many of the book’s events out the window, the movie still retains many of the important touchpoints of the book and while the execution seems a bit forced at times, it’s hard for anyone not to enjoy this movie.
In my reviews for our previous two AI movies, Blade Runner 2049 and Ex Machina, I’ve described both as technically impressive but emotionally cold. I largely fail the altered Turing test in Ex Machina, where Oscar Isaac’s Nathan wants his human test subject to develop strong feelings for an android. I never cared about any of the characters in 2049 even as I was wowed by the imagery and the vision. This is often the case with sci-fi, a genre where writers and directors automatically translate a distance onto human-machine interactions, or settle for the marvel and skimp on the resonance. The best of the genre, of which I would include Her, start with the raw question (Dan Harmon has described sci-fi as simply asking What If), apply it to recognizable human behavior, and follow it to a natural conclusion. Her keeps this formula as simple as it can, asking a minimal amount of buy-in from the viewer, building an unostentatious world, and daring them to fall into the central relationship between a man and his operating system while still doubting the wisdom of doing so. Her does it all and more, as plausible a vision of the future as it is a romance and a treatise on isolation.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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