No matter what you may have read or heard about Melanie Griffith’s childhood, during which she was raised with full grown lions (see: plural) living in her Sherman Oaks home, nothing can really prepare you for a viewing of “Roar,” the passion project of her parents, Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall, which will make you reel in horror of what Melanie Griffith’s adolescence must have really been like. The film’s storied production is one of jaw-dropping terror: An eleven-year ordeal that left Griffith nearly disfigured, her two brothers brutally mauled, Hedren nearly paralyzed, Marshall diagnosed with gangrene, an assistant director with a slashed throat, and director of photography Jan de Bont, almost fatally scalped, a humorless injury that he later quipped as a side effect of, “the only production I almost lost my head over.” Over 70 cast and crew injuries were recorded from the set, in which countless untrained lions, tigers, cheetahs, and elephants were used, and while this stat has solidified the film in a dignified place of Hollywood lore, the reality of the on-set danger – clearly expressed by Hedren’s quote atop this article – comes through on screen in a way that is truly unexpected.
It’s that time of the year again. Almost three years ago, I wrote my first reflection on the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since then we as fans have had four new releases and countless other projects announced until what seems like an eternity. If you would have told me as a freshman back in 2013 that in two years I could say Spider-Man is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Guardians of the Galaxy would be most successful origin film in the MCU on any day other than April 1st I would have looked at you like you had five heads; and yet here we are. Over these years, we’ve seen the universe become more and more expansive and the quality range from great to… well not so great. With the highly anticipated sequel to 2012’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron in theaters this Friday, it only makes sense to look back and rank all the films before:
“The Water Diviner” is not a film of faith, or of love, or of family, or of death, or of anything really. At the conclusion of the film, a message flashes in memory of the thousands of soldiers whose bodies went unclaimed at the end of World War I. It’s a moment that fails to resonate, a sentiment that feels lost amidst the movie’s various moving parts. If Russell Crowe wanted to honor those who lost their lives in the war, he might’ve been better off erecting a monument, something permanent, because I’ve no desire to watch “The Water Diviner” for a second time.
In late 2012, when George Lucas relinquished the reins to his beloved LucasFilm and allowed avid producer Kathleen Kennedy to begin sculpting a new Star Wars trilogy, episodes VII-IX, I was stunned into submission. My emotional response didn’t stem from excitement or giddiness; instead it was rooted in disappointment. More Star Wars movies? Really? It just didn’t seem right; it didn’t seem necessary. Unfortunately for those in my generation, our theatrical Star Wars experiences were limited to the despicable prequels, then exacerbated by the foolish attempt to re-release “The Phantom Menace” into theaters with a 3D add-on that made the 1999 letdown even worse. It just seemed like Star Wars was over; “Revenge of the Sith” kind of made up for the travesties that were “Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” and while it may still have been a very far cry from the Original Trilogy, it at least was the best of what later-career George Lucas could muster up: It brought his saga to a fitting, if not completely celebratory, close. Gearing up for a whole new trilogy, one where the first installment would be hitting screens a decade after “Revenge of the Sith” came out, just seemed desperate. What could Kennedy possibly put together that would make Star Wars feel relevant again?
Apparently she put together something really, really, really fucking exciting, and if the newest trailer is any indication, we could be in for the treat that we all were expecting back when the teaser trailers for “The Phantom Menace” dropped in late 1998.
Perhaps “Clouds of Sils Maria” is a film of altitudes. It is performed at three levels: the foot of the mountain, in the foothills of the mountain, and on top of the mountain. There is no greater significance in this film than ascending and descending, up and down, a passage of time and world. As events transpire, we have little recognition of what day it is, what hour it is, etc. The sun rises and falls on Maria (Juliette Binoche) and Val (Kristen Stewart), on the play they are rehearsing, on Sils Maria, and there’s little significance. Late in the film, Maria turns her attention to the passing of Majora’s Snake, a rare cloud formation signaling an incoming storm. We lose her to the majesty of the anomaly. Because throughout the movie, only one thing has been certain: time passes.
“Unfriended” concerns seven people: a group of six friends, and a dead girl. These are the only characters given lines or importance to the plot, although Facebook comments and friend requests reveal names in the background. The sets are limited to bedrooms and living rooms, staircases and hallways. All of this is experienced over a video chat, with other windows in the background, and notifications popping up in the top right corner. This is the extent of the movie’s technical achievements. It is a film that relies heavily on the chemistry between its actors; their descent into betrayal and hate must feel true.
Of all the pervasive ingenuity that comprises writer Alex Garland’s first credited directorial feature, little of it quite tops the brilliance of the film’s title, “Ex Machina,” which borrows itself directly from the Greek calque, Deus ex Machina, or “God from the machine.” Popularized to mean a plot device whereby a totally exterior or previously undisclosed force appears to solve a seemingly irreparable problem, the Garland “Ex Machina” is the narrative antithesis of that, putting forth weighty thematic propositions, provocative concepts, and organically navigating its way to a couple of twists that serve to enhance the storyline rather than totally dismantling it.
In fewer words: This is very, very good science fiction.