Monday, June 1, 2015

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
May 2015

The Age of Adeline

I went to see this movie, warned off by a negative review, yet having a free afternoon, prepared to see a silly movie. To my delight, despite a silly premise, it was entertaining.

A young woman, Adaline Bowman (played by Blake Lively) born at the turn of the 20th century, had a strange accident that somehow left her incapable of ageing beyond her 29 years when it occurred. A scientific voice-over tells us that while driving in Sonoma (on a road familiar to me) a very freak snowstorm occurs, simultaneous with a rare cosmic lineup and an auto accident that plunges her into freezing water, that stops her normal ageing. Well, once we swallow that, the rest of the story makes sense.

As Adeline's little girl grows up and people think she is the young woman's sister, she realizes what has happened and fears the consequences of being a medical freak. She takes off, changing identities every decade, just keeping contact with her daughter until her child now looks like her grandmother (played by Ellen Burstyn).

For any of us, myself included, who thinks it might be lovely to remain young looking, this film can be a wakeup call. It is terrible to be forever frozen in time as everyone one knows-and loves---has a normal life span. It is fascinating to see what happens when Adaline runs into a lover from her past (Harrison Ford)---and falls in love with his son---and does not know what to do.

This charming fantasy was a nice matinee movie to enjoy. Not profound, but quite entertaining.  Embrace your gray hair.  Maybe some day I will embrace my own.

Ex Machina

This clever science fiction movie is about artificial intelligence, but it is also about creation:  about wanting to be god-like and create something or someone that is more than a robot, but is almost human. We certainly do this as human beings when we make babies, but we have little real control over how those babies turn out. That is still in the realm of the mystery of genetics, no matter as yet how we tamper with genes and gender; we are not there yet.

But back to this film. A genius reclusive CEO of an internet-search company, Nathan Bateman (played by Oscar Isaac) brings a 26-year-old very bright programmer, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) to spend a week at his remote home laboratory as the human component in a Turing Test, charging him with evaluating the capabilities of his latest creation, a robotic female that can think and feel.

The setting is not only unbelievably beautiful, but is deliberately in a natural environment (forests, mountains, waterfalls, nothing but wilderness) and the home-laboratory is as lovely as human ingenuity can make it: all wood and glass.  Add to this two human beings, one a genius with arrogance, the other clever and yet innocent, and see what happens.

Bateman is the latest incarnation of Dr. Frankenstein, of course, but he is also Shakespeare's Prospero, a magician of sorts, living on a desert island, isolated from the rest of mankind, and the “father” of this lovely creature, Ava, the thinking, feeling “daughter” who has never seen any other man than him until Caleb arrives.

Her name, of course, Ava, is Eve, the first woman. Ava is played magically by Alicia Vikander, whose beautiful face sits atop a mechanical body until she assumes parts later in the film.

The tests that Bateman sets Caleb to is to determine whether his creation is really capable of true feeling or does she only simulate feeling to get what she wants (is she manipulative).

Ava asks the same questions that humans have always asked of their creators: Is it fair that you have created me and then give me death?

When you get to the end of this film, remember what Ex Machina means. Greek playwrights, when painting themselves into a corner with their plots, used a piece of machinery (often a crane) to haul something (a god) on stage to rescue the story.

Super ending on this one!!!!


How could you go wrong with a Disney movie with George Clooney and Hugh Laurie in it? My goodness, a summer movie that is not a disaster film, how nice. Well, it is not nice. It was absolutely awful. It was impossible to follow, and when one could follow it, it has moments of such creepiness, obviously unintentional, that one could only ask: What were they thinking? This is one not to spend any time or money watching.

Far From the Madding Crowd

If you have an idle afternoon and want to bask in the late Victorian English countryside with green pastures, fat sheep, hearty farmers, and a pretty young woman with more suitors than she knows what to do with, than this one is for you.

This film is based on the one novel by Thomas Hardy that does not end in misery. He is not my usual cup of tea. When I want a romp in the 19th century, I prefer Jane Austen. If I must do Victorian, I prefer Dickens or Thackeray. And if I must do 19th century rural, I prefer France. Their countryside is sunnier and their wine better. But, for an idle afternoon, this film was rather fun.

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a young and very independent land owner, attracts three very different men who propose marriage:  a neighboring sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a wealthy older bachelor William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and a charming military man Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge).

Unlike many 19th century women, Bathsheba does not need a husband. She is in the unusual position of being able to choose, and she ultimately chooses very badly indeed---letting the one instinct with which she has never had experience----her sexuality. Hardy does not punish her too much, nor punish us too long. Enjoy the film.


Yes, summer movies have come, and it is difficult to find one that is not noisy, designed for teen-age boys, and threatening the end of the world. So this one was a pleasant exception. It was a romance, with only a little threat of the end of the world. There was a new villain in town in this case, an independent space contractor---a billionaire probably modeled after someone like Elon Musk.

Charmer Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a defense contractor who got in big trouble in Afghanistan but has been given another chance to redeem himself by independent space magnate Carson Welch (Bill Murray) who is planning a launch a satellite from Hawaii. Cooper is assigned a watchdog public relations officer, an Air Force fighter pilot woman, Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who tells him a number of times that she is one-quarter Hawaiian and (hard to believe) part Chinese and part Swedish. The Swedish is the only believable part.

Gilcrest meets a former flame as he arrives in Hawaii: Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams) whom he came close to marrying 15 years before. She is now a married woman with a 14 year old daughter, 10 year old son, and very big, very handsome, very taciturn husband “Woody” (John Krasinski) who may not know if he is or is not the father of the lovely daughter.

Ah, a romantic triangle or quartet here.

Add to this the impending launch, a deal needed with the native Hawaiians for whom the land is sacred and the sky governed by their gods, Gilcrest who has become very cynical over the years, Rachel confused about her marriage, and Allison Ng an idealist but no fool, and you have an old-fashioned romantic drama.

Will Gilcrest rise to the occasion and find his soul again? Will the Hawaiian sky gods prevail over the wicked space villain? Have a nice afternoon or evening and find out.

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