Ex Machina - Review

R  |   |  Drama, Sci-Fi
Review - Matt Mungle - @themungle

EX MACHINA is a great Sci-Fi film. Keeping in mind that sentence does not work if you take out the words "Sci-Fi". It is not a great film. But for the genre it is a step in the right direction in regards to having a futuristic feel with limited characters and a mind altering soundtrack. It gave me the same feeling as when I watched Logan's Run in the 70's.

The film is simple in its premise. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young computer coder who wins a contest put on by the owner of the high tech company he works for. The owner Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is one of those reclusive bazillionaires who has been creating advanced electronic programs since he was a fetus. Caleb's prize is the opportunity to spend a week at Nathan's lab/mansion in order to evaluate his latest creation; a female A.I.

Ava (Alicia Vikander) is the most advanced artificial intelligence robot ever created. Caleb's job is to study her and determine if she passes the "Turing test" which is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. As the test goes on the questions surface as to what is really going on. Can Caleb trust Nathan? Is Ava's perceived interest in Caleb legitimate or a test of it's own? The film takes some twisty turns on its journey to an explosive final scene.

The graphics in this movie are incredible. The transformation of Vikander into the Ava we see on screen is perfect. You can't tell where machine stops and human starts. Her mannerisms and innocent facial features hook you into believing that she really is AI driven. Isaac gives us a genius CEO that is part Tony Stark and part Hugh Hefner. You can't tell if he is sincere in his appreciation of the naive Caleb or if he is maniacally malevolent. The two sort of do a dance through out the film.

The Sci-Fi junkies will drool over the lab and gadgets that are constant throughout. It is futuristic without being inconceivable. Also there is a very sexy nature to the film that permeates the script with seductive undertones. During the day it is all business as Caleb and Ava converse about life and feelings. But at night Nathan has a tendency to bust out the booze and drink himself into a stupor.

EX MACHINA is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence. This is certainly an adult film. There is quite a bit of female nudity in the film. Granted it is supposed to be a robot draped in skin like covering. But we all know what we are seeing. The dialogue has many sexual references but there is little actual sex in the film. Certainly an 18 and over film. 

I give it 4 out of 5 key cards. It borrows the good stuff from past Sci-Fi films and creates this new, fresh, and stylized futuristic flick. Writer/Director Alex Garland has given us a story and characters that are worth seeing again and again.

Don't Look In The Basement 2 - Dallas International Film Festival

Don't Look In The Basement 2
USA, 2015, 88 min., Color + B/W

The film plays Tonight 4/16 at 10:15pm as part of the Dallas International Film Fest - Texas Competition. Tix and information is available at dallasfilm.org

Matt Mungle - @themungle

Local Texas filmmaker Anthony Brownrigg brings us a fun, throwback, thriller that offers up some chills and scares all blended with that recognizable, tongue in cheek Brownrigg humor.

This follow up to 1973's Don't Look in the Basement (The Forgotten) takes place at Green Park Clinic as Dr. William Matthews (Andrew Sensenig) is getting settled in to his new gig. When an unexpected transfer patient arrives he brings with him an eerie force that begins to take over the other patients and staff. Has the spirit that caused all those grizzly murders years before returned? If we are lucky.

It is only proper that Anthony write and direct this flick considering his dad directed the first one. What a great way to carry on the legacy then with a film that builds upon the original while stamping it with the signature Brownrigg style. It is modern but still feels like the horror (Anthony calls it a thriller but he might be a bit too twisted to judge) films I would rent every weekend on VHS as a kid. There is the stoic doctor and the slightly off based residents. The urban legends about the facility told in hushed tones around a table in dark lit rooms. There is the sense of forboding that oozes from the walls. It is all there in this one.

Plus it is a very special treat for Dallas film lovers as we get to see two of our hometown faves in this one. Frank Mosely and Arianne Margot both play Drs on staff at Green Park. They can sense that something is afoot but may be powerless to keep the evil at bay.

The rest of the cast is perfect and each bring that subtle wink that lets you know they are having a good time freaking us out. Congrats to Megan Emerick (Co-Writer, Asst. Producer, actress) and the rest of the gang for offering up some chill filled goodness at this years fest. And a special thanks to Anthony for finishing what his dad always wanted to but didn't have the chance.What a great gift to be given.


Being Evel - Dallas International Film Festival

Being Evel
USA, 2015, 100 min., Color & B/W

The film plays Tuesday 4/14 at 7:15pm as part of the Dallas International Film Fest - Documentary Showcase. Tix and information is available at dallasfilm.org

Matt Mungle - @themungle

For all of us who ever owned the Evel Knievel wind up stunt cycle and the van this documentary holds a special place. Evel was our superhero in the 70s. He was a rock star and a daredevil. He was doing things no one else was.

This film is a wonderful watch for fans and sports enthusiasts. Not just the jumping and stunts but the way Evel became the superstar. He was a salesman and marketing genius. He created his own popularity and went from a no name Montana kid to a world wide sensation.

Full of commentary by sports casters, entertainers and family members we finally get a look into this crazy motorcycle guy. For those of us who grew up in the 70s it is also a walk down memory lane seeing all the specialty shows and clips of him on Johnny Carson. That was a very special era and makes a fabulous backdrop to the film.

You truly forget what a celebrity phenom Evel was. He was everywhere. Movies, TV, social events. This film is a great reminder of a man who was a reality show before reality shows were the norm.

Jasmine - Dallas International Film Fesitval

USA, 2014, 79 min., Color, English, Cantonese with English subtitles

The film plays Tuesday 4/14 at 9:45pm and Thursday 4/16 at 7:15pm as part of the Dallas International Film Fest - World Cinema. Tix and information is available at dallasfilm.org

Matt Mungle - @themungle

Jasmine is the story of a grief stricken man, Leonard To, struggling to get a handle on his wife's tragic death. He spends a lot of time in group therapy sessions and walking aimlessly around the streets of Hong Kong.  It has been a year and with no leads on the murderer so To begins to take matters into his own hands.

From the very start the film has a dark, film noir, almost Hitchcockian feel about it. To starts suspecting a strange man he sees lurking around his wife's grave. Not a whole lot happens in this film. There is a lot of just To walking and watching from the sidelines. You know he isn't stable and you start to wonder what is real and what is in his head. This keeps you hanging on for the big payoff at the end.

Full of paranoia, intrigue, and angst filled binges it is a decent film for those wanting a little mystery in their festival diet.

NOWITZKI. The Perfect Shot - Dallas International Film Festival

NOWITZKI. The Perfect Shot
Germany, 2014, 106 min., Color, English, German with English subtitles
The film plays Tuesday 4/14 at 7pm and Thursday 4/16 at 4:30pm as part of the Dallas International Film Fest - International Spotlight: Germany. Tix and info at dallasfilm.org

You certainly do not have to be a basketball fan to appreciate this bio-pic about the Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki. It is less about the game and more about the man and his relationship to it. It isn't an American film either so it doesn't have all the pomp that most adrenaline fueled sports films do. Coming from Germany it is more about their favorite son. They love him as their own.

The movie starts at the beginning. Much of the film is about Dirk's coach and mentor, Holger Geschwindner. This is the guy who used physics and mathematics to help create the perfect shot. He is much respected and is referred to fondly as a mad scientist. But the results speak for themselves.

There are plenty of celebrity interviews and familiar faces in here. Old teammates like Finley and Kidd plus of course the Mavericks front office. They all chime in to talk about the work ethic and focus that has made Nowitzki the player he is. Chats with family members give a more personal and intimate detail into the life of the hoopster.

But the theme that keeps coming around is the relationship with Holger and the training that goes into being a champ. Their relationship is special and at times they have their own language and it works.

After watching the film, seeing the man off the court, and hearing from those closest to him there is no doubt he is deserving of such praise and attention.


Some Beasts - Dallas International Film Festival

Some Beasts
USA, 2014, 88 min., Color

The film plays Wednesday 4/15 at 9:15pm as part of the Dallas International Film Fest - Narrative Feature Competition. Tix and info at dallasfilm.org

Writer/Director Cameron Nelson brings the Southwest Virginia farm land to the big screen with Some Beasts. Based on Nelson's own experiences this film offers up stunning visuals and a look into a lifestyle you would have to love in order to live.

Sal Damon (Frank Mosley) is a quiet, introspective man. He tends to the land in what is a communal farming environment. His day is spent mostly alone clearing brush, feeding animals, and maintaining the farms. Though a man of few words his actions and mannerisms say much. He always seems to be lost in deep thought. When he does interact with others there is a calm, easy going nature about him. You know without being told that he cares about people and the land he has been given to steward.

The story allows us to see Sal in many situations. He carries on a long distance relationship with a woman who visits from time to time. They talk of starting a family and building their own place on the farm. You hear the passion in his voice as he talks about the land, his life, and the future. Yet there is something sad and dark always behind his eyes as if he isn't really sure what that future really holds.

This film is beautifully shot and the cinematography plants you firmly in Sal's environment. At times you feel as if you are eavesdropping on his life. Watching him from behind a tree or while hunkered down in the tall grass. Mosley gives an award worthy performance and at times you forget he is acting. The scenes never feel over rehearsed and the movement of the character is so fluid that it seems as if he never knows the camera is rolling.

Nelson's perspective of communal farm life is apparent in the script and directing. He knows what to leave in and more importantly what to leave out. He respects not only the people who farm there but the vocation itself. That respect goes a long way into grounding the actors and the story. His choice to incorporate many of the local inhabitants of the area also give it a realistic vibe.

SOME BEASTS has a spirit and heartbeat that makes it very special.

Concrete Love- The Böhm Family - Dallas International Film Festival

Concrete Love- The Böhm Family
Switzerland, 2014, 87 min., Color, German with English subtitles

The film plays Tuesday 4/14 at 5pm as part of the Dallas International Film Fest - International Spotlight: Germany. Tix and information is available at dallasfilm.org

Matt Mungle - @themungle

Concrete Love- The Böhm Family shines a light on one of Germany's most highly regarded architects, Gottfried Böhm. This documentary gives a very personal and private look at his work, family, and passions. He talks about the history for architecture and we see through his creations an evolution of style. Though in his nineties he is still as sharp and steady handed as ever. It is impressive to watch him work even now in his later years.

His three sons Stephan, Peter and Paul have carried on the family business and the film also shows the struggle they face in this modern world. As the competition gets tougher it becomes harder and harder to win job bids. They all look to their father for guidance and encouragement while also creating a name for themselves.

During the filming of the Documentary Gottfried's beloved wife Elisabeth Böhm passed away. This allows us the viewer the humbling opportunity to hear him talk about what an inspiration she was. Her passion for art and her family made her a positive force in their success. We see how over the years Gottfried's creations all have a bit of her in them.

The film is also visually appealing in the way it offers a glimpse at the buildings the Böhm family have created. The history of what structures survived the wars in Germany and resurfaced afterwards is interesting and beautiful to see. We get this tour all through the lens of the great Gottfried.

At the same time the film is about the sons too. They each speak of the parents in different ways. You see the effects of all this in their work. The Doc is full of rare family photos and home movies. Many rarely seen before. It is truly a wonderful portrait of a man who left his name in the buildings he created.

Stations of the Cross - Dallas International Film Festival

Stations of the Cross
Germany, 2014, 106 min., Color, German, French, Latin with English subtitles

The film plays Sunday 4/19 at 12pm as part of the Dallas International Film Fest - International Spotlight: Germany. Tix and information is available at dallasfilm.org

Matt Mungle - @themungle

In Stations of the Cross we watch Maria (Lea van Acken) deal with the struggles of being a devout teenager. To say her family is ultra-conservative is like saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole. They are not content with obeying traditional Catholic doctrine but take things to the extreme; finding the devil under every rock, and not just music. This causes Maria to chastise herself about everything that most teens would find as normal.

This is a powerful film about the repercussion of not balancing strong faith with available grace. Franziska Weisz plays Maria's mother and delivers a frightening performance. She leads her family with a stern look and a quick chastisement. Of course she thinks what she is doing is beneficial but all those looking from the outside can see the terrible toll it is taking on Maria.

The movie is clever in that it tells Maria's story in collation with Jesus' journey to the cross. As the story unfolds Maria's struggles are depicted with one of those stations; Jesus carries his cross, Jesus falls the first time, etc. Maria is so concerned with living a chaste life that she is willing to sacrifice her own health and well being to please God. But that sacrifice may not be exactly what God prefers.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS is solidly written and it has the ability to deliver such extreme ideas with a way that is not sensationalized but rather saddening. You want to take Maria aside and assure her that Jesus already took that journey and her life here means much more because of it. Expert acting from the entire cast elevate this to a top-notch dramatic offering.