The Morning After: Jul. 9, 2018

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Ex Machina

Alex Garland’s exploration of artificial intelligence is a fascinating film that recalls Duncan Jones’ sci-fi debut Moon. Both films delve into the genre with creativity and flare and both feature terrific performances at their core.

When a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest to visit the company CEO’s (Oscar Isaac) isolated compound, he finds himself a chess piece in a game to determine whether A.I. Ava (Alicia Vikander) would pass the Turing test, the gold standard by which all artificial intelligence programs must adhere in order to be declared truly intelligent.

The film is at home equally both when it’s furthering its plot as it is when discussing philosophical concepts crucial to an examination of the computer age. Isaac, Gleeson, and Vikander are equally terrific in a film that seems like it’s pushing towards one conclusion, but diverts towards another more fitting one. It’s a film of twists and turns that feel as if they were drawn out of a film co-directed by Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

There was a wholesome fun to the first Ant-Man film starring Paul Rudd as an ex-con who steals a prototype suit that allows him to shrink to the size of an ant, as well as communicate with and command them.

Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang has been under house arrest for two years, explaining his absence from the most recent Avengers adventure. While regularly visited by former cellmate and now business partner Luis (Michael Pena), and his adorable daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), her mother (Judy Greer), and her step-father (Bobby Cannavale), his life is full, but restricted. Just days away from the end of his incarceration, he becomes witness to a vision that piques the curiosity of his betrayed former associates Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who believe it’s a contact from their lost wife/mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).

As they attempt to reconstruct the quantum bridge that got them this clue, they run afoul of three different entities each interested in some aspect of their discovery. Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) is after the technology, Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen) is after the source of the anomaly, and the FBI are out to catch Hank and Hope who are on the lam and Scott for being in violation of his house arrest.

All of these stories are surprisingly well threaded together, creating an epic heist film where the goods are at various moments in different hands. This zany, madcap caper is everything the Marvel Universe has been lacking in recent years and which films like Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Panther, and Thor: Ragnorok seem to be breathing new life into. In addition to the solid and humorous screenplay, the visual effects are terrific, including the super de-aging of Douglas, Pfeiffer, and a former colleague of Pym’s played by Laurence Fishburne.

Night of the Living Dead

Before Night of the Living Dead released 50 years ago, zombies were the realm of Haitian folklore. George Romero’s film redefined the term and built the modern concept of zombies into what it is.

As a brother and sister visit their father’s grave, a strange shambling man attacks the pair, forcing the sister to flee after her brother’s death. As she seeks refuge in an old house, she is aided by a calm and collected motorist who helps her hide out and barricade the house. Others have locked themselves in the basement where they feel they will be protected. As the wave of flesh-eating ghouls attack them at every opportunity, they discover that a global invasion has begun of the recently, unburied deceased have come back to life and seek to eat the living.

Romero’s film, made on a shoe-string budget, established almost every single trope of the genre from the slow-apocalyptical deaths of the cast to the various methods of death and carnage, including twists and turns that you will immediately recognize from countless other films when you watch this one for the first time. There’s even a political statement at the end of the film, which I won’t ruin for you if you haven’t seen it yet.

Five Fingers

In the late 1990s, Ryan Philippe was a major cinema heartthrob, starring in prominent features like Crimson Tide, White Squall, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and his most famous role in Cruel Intentions. Yet among these early works, there were signs of a young actor desperately trying to carve out a niche as a major lead player. Yet, he never quite managed it. While he appeared in a number of prominent films, they were never successes because of his talent or popularity.

It comes as no surprise then that films like 54 and the all-but-forgotten Five Fingers established that he didn’t have what it took to carry a film. Five Fingers is one of those films that shows up years later in my queue with my reasons for putting it there long forgotten. The story surrounds a Dutch national taking $1 million to start a food program in Africa. As he’s abducted on the bus out of Morocco where his girlfriend (Touriya Haoud) lives, he and his associate (Colm Meaney) are abducted by a band of Muslims lead by Laurence Fishburne. As Fishburne and company attempt to extra vital information from the young man, the narrative flips and we discover there’s far more darkness in this seemingly light-hearted jazz pianist than meets the eye.

Without revealing the twists, the film is surprising adept at setting them up. While you can pick out the finale somewhere around the fourth finger, each of the fingers on his right hand are being systematically removed during each chapter of the story, the journey is surprisingly engaging. The performances aren’t great and the production design is atrocious, not to mention the grainy and cheap looking photography, but the film is modestly fun if you can stomach the graphic nature of the baseline plot, even if it’s not graphic in and of itself.

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