Saturday, November 21, 2015

Catching up with Bond, Shaun, and Ava

If distributors are going to playing coy all November long with their hottest Oscar prospects, I'm going to play catch-up during the lull.

Back in the Spring, Alex Garland's dulcet sci-fi Ex Machina was making the rounds on the arthouse circuit, earning strong notices for its heady ruminations on consciousness and artificial intelligence, and especially for Alicia Vikander's enigmatic robotic performance.

It's a thoughtful, chilling, lingering chamber piece -- and what perfectly designed, minimalist chambers they are too -- that takes a refreshingly intimate approach to subject matter that would tempt most filmmakers to go big. We already knew Garland had a penchant for subtle speculative fiction based on his adapted screenplay of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go from 2010, and his authorial voice remains intact in this directorial debut.

Many a pundit foresaw 2015 being a breakout year for Swedish ingenue Vinkander, appearing in four domestic releases. She may even land an Oscar nomination for the upcoming awards-courting biopic The Danish Girl, but this effort is what planted her flag as a star-in-the-making with legit talent. Her sentient A.I., Ava as she's called, is a complex, beguiling creation with a lot more going on under her skin than hyrdaulics and circuitry.

I also took an hour and a bit out of my busy schedule to distract myself with Aardman's summer romp Shaun the Sheep. I don't remember half of the visual gags or slapstick guffaws, despite the fact that they did indeed make me "guffaw", but this is very much a hallmark of the beloved British claymation studio.
Shaun the Sheep doesn't nearly approach the heights they've hit with Chicken Run or their Oscar-winning Wallace & Grommit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but it holds itself to the exact same style of clever silliness and a lovingly hand-crafted aesthetic. It's forgettable, innocuous fun. And even if it feels little more than a protracted short film, at least it never overstays its welcome.

Meanwhile, shaking (rather than stirring) up the box office for two straight weeks was our reliable Mr. Bond in Spectre -- reliable both in his covert sleuthing and in his ability to pack movie houses globally. Surely, though, we can attribute some of its bank to piggybacking on the success of Skyfall, to which this new effort doesn't hold a candle.
Sam Mendes' high-gloss aesthetic dresses up -- but ultimately fails to save -- what turns into a long-winded yawn between action set pieces. Those sequences are often eye-catching and exciting, but at two-and-a-half hours it feels like the movie needs more of them. As for the story... well, we're usually pretty forgiving of far-fetchedness in this series, but some of the latter half plot developments are kinda ridiculous even by Bond standards.

MVPs? I'd have to give DoP Hoyte van Hoytema and composer Thomas Newman the hat tips there, for at least making Spectre look and sound like a film that should have a stronger script. LVP? Christoph Waltz. Future generations will look back and wonder how the hell this guy managed to milk a multi-Oscar-winning career out of doing the exact same character in every single movie.


  1. Shaun The Sheep is my favorite animated film of the year, just barely edging out Inside Out for me because I was more impressed with the comedic excellence Aardman got out of such a simple storyline, whereas Pixar could've really done more with their story concept, relative to what Shaun did. Furthermore, Shaun has no distinguishable dialogue (which is an achievement in this day and age) and has a killer theme song in "Feels Like Summer", which I wholeheartedly believe is hands-down the best, most well-used film song of 2015 so far (and probably for good, given how close we are to the year's close). Shaun The Sheep is a modern-day Buster Keaton film and I love Buster Keaton films. (Who wouldn't?)

    Regardless, both films are basically tied and firmly in my top 10 films for 2015. I just one a bit more than the other (and I've seen both films three times, just to be sure with myself).

  2. I thought the same thing about Waltz. Sure the writing wasn't up to stuff, but how is he skating by playing a singular character throughout his career. Sure, he brings depth, but not much range in choice. Also, Naomi Harris deserved better, I'd say the same for Fiennes but he has some good moments.

    1. Depth is the opposite of what he brings, imo. His shtick is unique but superficial affectation.

  3. Also, do you think Ex Machina could be a player for screenplay, or wishful thinking?

    1. What a difference a month makes. Guess it's a legit player for screenplay after all.