Movie review: ‘Morgan’ goes from great to grisly in second half
By Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service (TNS)
It wouldn’t be fair to compare father and son, but Ridley Scott’s progeny, Luke Scott, takes on some similar themes to his father’s work in his feature directorial debut, “Morgan.” In a story that contemplates the emotional boundaries and consequences of artificial intelligence, Seth W. Owen’s script landed on the 2014 Black List of Best Unproduced Screenplays, and in Scott, “Morgan” finds an appropriate marriage between material, filmmaker, and yes, family legacy.
While Deckard was compelled by the state to hunt for replicants in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” in “Morgan,” artificial intelligence is a privatized affair. Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a corporate fixer/troubleshooter, is dispatched to a remote wooded lab facility to check on the status of one of her company’s assets — a young girl known as Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) to her ad-hoc family of scientist caretakers.
In this iteration of experimental artificial intelligence, the focus is on developing emotion, and in this summer camp-like bubble, the scientists have bonded with the young girl of tremendous, nearly psychic ability, who is nearly fully grown at age 5. Nature walks and birthday parties are part of the routine — until Morgan loses her temper with Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and gouges her eye out. Lee’s job is to assess “it,” and decide on a course of action.
Her task is complicated by the close relationships between Morgan and the scientists — team leader Dr. Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), free-spirited behaviorist Amy (Rose Leslie), an idealistic geneticist (Toby Jones), their fastidious coordinator Ted (Michael Yare), and a couple of loving doctors, Darren (Chris Sullivan) and Brenda (Vinette Robinson). Some are unwilling to terminate her, despite the increasing levels of violence when provoked. With dissent among the ranks, and murderous chaos breaking out, only Lee can take control of the situation. “This is what I do,” she tells nutritionist Skip (Boyd Holbrook), shouldering a shotgun and taking off after a Morgan gone rogue.
“Morgan” takes its place in the canon of awesome female-driven sci-fi such as “Alien” or “T2.” Neither Lee not Morgan are clearly heroine or villain — Lee’s only attempting to do her job and preserve the asset, while Morgan, with a clearly developed sense of selfhood, is also attempting to preserve the asset, herself. The two tangle with a thudding, efficient violence, landing blows and drawing blood with nary a flinch. It’s a rather fascinating take on the possibilities and limits of artificial intelligence and artificial emotion, and brings up questions about the rights and autonomy of these creatures similar to the ones explored recently in “Ex Machina.”
The failure of “Morgan” is in its lack of restraint. The first half of the film is as tightly controlled as the lab facility, with small moments of foreshadowing planted expertly, if obviously. The second half descends into a violent bloodbath, and the twists in the story that lie just below the surface waiting to be discovered are spoken aloud, taken from theory to fact. But it’s far more fun when just a theory. Over-explanation takes a film from an eerie think piece to a banal sci-fi thriller; it robs you of the chance to trade post-film hypotheses. That kind of ambiguity makes “Blade Runner” a classic; the lack of ambiguity means “Morgan” strays into a run-of-the-mill genre territory, despite its deeper ideas.
3 out of 4 stars
Cast: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook
Review: 'Kubo and the Two Strings' strums stop-motion wonder
By JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer
Early in "Kubo and the Two Strings," our hero meekly strides into an ancient Japanese village marketplace the way Toshiro Mifune might have entered a Kurosawa film, but with greater bustle.
Kubo, a young boy with bangs draped over his patched eye, is no traditional warrior. He sits down, pulls out his shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese lute) and soon his strumming sends the paper sitting in front of him spinning through the air and folding itself into fantastical origami forms. A yellow chicken, flapping its wings; Kubo's samurai father, in red, slashing his little sword.
"If you must blink, do it now," Kubo announces before commencing with his story, one acted out by the dazzling, folded figures to a crowd of rapt onlookers.
The scene typifies the wonder of "Kubo and the Two Strings," the latest from the Oregon animation house Laika, whose president and chief executive, Travis Knight makes his directorial debut with the stop-motion animated film. Propelled by imagination rather than might, "Kubo" is a quest of family and folktale through dazzling animated landscapes,
Kubo is a kind of an animator, himself, finding his way through a tale he's trying to sketch as he goes like an origami "Harold and the Magic Crayon." It's the most ambitious and bright of the dependably lively, often dark and sometimes quite gorgeous string of curiosities from Laika, whose gothic and offbeat creations ("Coraline," ''ParaNorman," ''The Boxtrolls") tug at strangeness and mystery the way other, less mature animations grasp at more comforting feelings.
The film's dramatic first scenes show a baby Kubo and his mother washing up on shore. The journey leaves Kubo's mother feeble; years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson) is largely caring for her. The story he tells at the market, of an evil Moon King, come from his mother's murmurings, yet he understands his past only vaguely.
But, by staying out past dark, Kubo accidentally summons spirits from their past, unleashing his spooky twin aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara) and later the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), himself. Kubo flees his village, but soon is joined by an unusual pair.
Monkey (Charlize Theron) is his solemn guide, a furry sage who materializes overnight from a small wooden monkey charm. The other is Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a part insect, part human warrior who pledges to defend Kubo. As Kubo unfolds both his mysterious past and his destiny, they offer guidance and — especially on Beetle's part — comic relief along the way.
"Kubo and the Two Strings," sometimes straining for quirkiness, isn't without fault. For a film deeply rooted in Japanese folklore, the cast is full of American voices.
And nothing quite ruins a good story like the teller nattering on about the beauty of storytelling. That "Kubo" is about how stories bind people and families together is clear enough from the tale itself. But toward the end of "Kubo," the word "story" runs amok, breaking the movie's spell.
Still, the handcrafted textures and wry self-awareness of "Kubo and the Two Strings" make Knight's film resolutely its own tale, one that folds into its own exotic shape.
"Kubo and the Two Strings," a Focus Features release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for "thematic elements, scary images, action and peril." Running time: 101 minutes. Three stars out of four.
The dreams of an Australian World War I veteran and his wife are answered when an infant girl enters their lives but with unintended consequences. With Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz. Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, based upon the novel by M.L. Stedman. (2:12) PG-13.
Movie review: ‘Don’t Breathe’ is a must-see to be believed
By Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service (TNS)
2016 has been a banner year for excellent horror films, which seems at times appropriate, given the horrors of this calendar year — shootings, war, natural disaster, an unprecedented presidential campaign. When it feels like the world is going to hell in a handbasket, there’s catharsis to be found in a horror film where the final girl fights off the boogey man.
Add Fede Alvarez’s “Don’t Breathe” to the canon of instant-classic horror movies of 2016, joining “Green Room,” “Lights Out” and “The Conjuring 2.” Like “Lights Out,” “Don’t Breathe” revolves around an ingenious concept — a team of teen burglars rob the house of a blind man who isn’t so helpless — and like “Green Room,” it taps into devastatingly contemporary cultural undercurrents. The teen burglars live in the wasteland of a downtrodden Detroit; home invasion burglary seems like the only way out for these lower-middle class white kids.
The trio is driven by their lack of options, and as have-nots, feel somewhat justified in stealing from the haves. But there are larger motivations at stake. Rocky (Jane Levy) is desperate for an escape from her abusive mother’s house for herself and her sister. She’s backed up by her thugged-out wildcard boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and her friend Alex (Dylan Minette), the brains of the operation, who harbors a crush on the unavailable Rocky.
It’s not long before they’re tipped off to a Gulf War vet (Steven Lang), sitting on a large cash settlement from his daughter’s wrongful death, hit by a teen driver. It’s only after they’ve set their sights on him that they discover the man is blind, but still proceed with the burglary. They’ve grossly underestimated their target, both in his physical capabilities and in his desire for retribution.
Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues have devised some incredibly suspenseful set pieces around the man’s blindness, which the teens attempt to exploit in order to escape the house and make off with the dough. But he’s battened down the hatches on his dark, crumbling home, knows every floorboard creak and is unwilling to part with his goods — or let any deed go unpunished. Alvarez masterfully utilizes silence and sound throughout, re-creating the sensory experience of the man.
The audience is privy to all the close brushes in tight hallways and stifled screams as the invaders attempt to hide in plain sight. We see the dilated pupils of our protagonists, bumbling sightless in a pitch black basement, the playing field leveled to their captor. The tension never lets up, and the shocking twists in the story need to be seen to be believed.
There aren’t any “good guys” in “Don’t Breathe,” as victimizers become victims and back again. We align ourselves with Rocky and Alex, fighting for their lives, but there’s some empathy for the blind man, a disabled vet protecting his home and the dark secrets it contains.
While the sight-based conceit offers the opportunity for clever suspense and scares, it’s the starkly realistic setting and all too newsworthy themes underpinning the spooky tale that makes the horror of this film so bone-chilling. “Don’t Breathe” is terrifying because it doesn’t rely on the supernatural or fantasy. These horrors are all too real and all too plausible, stories that we see on the news all too regularly — grown right here in the USA.
3 1/2 out of 4 stars
Cast: Jane Levy, Dylan Minette, Daniel Zovatto, Steven Lang
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes
Rated R for terror, violence, disturbing content, and language including sexual references.
Movie review: Rude, crude ‘Sausage Party’ is unlike any animated film you’ve ever seen
By Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service (TNS)
Leave it to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to take animated films to a realm they’ve never gone before — the hard R-rating. “Sausage Party” is the rude, crude, foul-mouthed “Secret Life of Snacks” that could only have come from the brains of Rogen and Goldberg, who dreamed up the idea 10 years ago. It’s taken that long to get two studios in Annapurna Pictures and Sony Pictures to bring this ballsy notion to fruition, and the result is unlike anything you’ve ever seen — and probably won’t ever be pulled off in the same way again.
“Sausage Party” is written by Rogen, Goldberg, Jonah Hill, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, and directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan (who is known for, get this, “Thomas & Friends”). The main characters are a sausage (really a hot dog) Frank (Rogen) and his girlfriend, a busty bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). They live inside the Shopwell’s supermarket, where they hope to be chosen by the Gods (grocery shoppers) to go to the Great Beyond.
Little do they know what happens outside the supermarket doors, since every morning the food stuffs sing a happy song about how wonderful it is to be chosen. But Frank of little faith has some questions about the myth, and when a returned jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) raves about the apocalyptic murder and destruction of kitchens, Frank sets into motion a plan to save himself and Brenda from this fate. The dog and bun, you see, are really excited to see how their bodies might fit together.
Since we’re starting with a central relationship that is a sex metaphor made literal, the rest of “Sausage Party” can’t hold back. From minute one it’s guns blazing with raunchy sex talk, swearing and every offensive ethnic stereotype in the grocery store — from a tiny sauerkraut Hitler, to a drunken Mexican bottle of tequila. There’s even some geo-political Middle Eastern squabbling between a bagel (Edward Norton — who knew he did such a good Woody Allen impression?) and a lavash wrap (David Krumholtz).
“Sausage Party” gleefully courts topics that are decidedly taboo in a politically correct world, getting away with it because it’s coming out of the mouth of a talking weiner or taco shell or jar of mustard. There are some great dirty food puns, but the jokes stay in one raunchy lane. There’s also a compulsive fixation on female anatomy, from derogatory name-calling to a vodka-swilling, fist-pumping villain that’s literally a douche (Nick Kroll). You’d think there’d be more references to male anatomy what with all the sausages, but they are few and far between.
The flimsy conceptual casing of “Sausage Party” can’t contain all of the film’s rowdy audacity, and it wildly loses control during an action-adventure climax. It’s so outlandish that the only way they can end the movie is in an even more over-the-top scene, a pornographic finish that calls to mind the most memorable moments from “Team America: World Police.”
The meat of “Sausage Party” doesn’t quite stretch over the feature running time — it could or should have been 30 minutes. But this smack in the face of good manners is surprising and strange, often delightfully so.
2.5 out of 4 stars
Cast: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Craig Robinson
Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Rated R for strong crude sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use.
Sequel to the 2011 action thriller finds Bishop tasked with assassinating the most dangerous men in the world. With Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones. Written by Philip Shelby and Tony Mosher, story by Shelby, based on characters created by Lewis John Carlino. Directed by Dennis Gansel. (1:39) R.
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