Monday, July 4, 2016

Bad Relationships

The Odd Couple (1968): adapted by Neil Simon from his own play; directed by Gene Saks; starring Jack Lemmon (Felix Unger), Walter Matthau (Oscar Madison), Monica Evans (Cecily Pigeon), and Carole Shelley (Gwendolyn Pigeon): Neil Simon's funniest play still holds up remarkably well in its initial film version. The direction is straightforward without seeming unduly stagey. 

It's Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau who elevate this farce to the level of comedy classic. Lemmon is twitchy and OCD as the fastidious Felix Unger, prototype of the new sensitive man who was just coming down the pike in 1968. Matthau's character, uber-slob Oscar Madison, is a nuanced slob, regretting his divorce. The supporting cast all do fine work while actually looking like real people. The Pigeon Sisters are a special hoot. 

The apartment Felix and Oscar share is like the prototype of every improbable Manhattan apartment to come in sitcoms and movies. It seems to have the square footage of a mansion. There's a refreshing darkness to the film that didn't necessarily translate to later TV incarnations -- it opens with Felix bungling his attempt to commit suicide, after all. Highly recommended.


Rachel Getting Married (2008): written by Jenny Lumet; directed by Jonathan Demme; starring Anne Hathaway (Kym), Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel), Bill Irwin (Paul), Anna Deavere Smith (Carol), and Debra Winger (Abby): Searing family drama nabbed Anne Hathaway her first Best Acting Oscar nomination. She does fine work, as do the rest of the cast. We're in the upper-upper Middle Class here as Hathaway's Kym gets out of court-mandated rehab for a weekend to attend her sister's wedding. 

Things don't go well, especially at first. Sydney Lumet's daughter Jenny delivered a fine and nuanced script that sometimes plays like a J.D. Salinger short story as rewritten by a perceptive woman. Jonathan Demme's direction makes the hand-held cameras work throughout. Alternately funny and horrifying, there isn't a false note here. Highly recommended.


Ex Machina (2015): written and directed by Alex Garland; starring Domhnall Gleason (Caleb), Oscar Isaac (Nathan), Alicia Vikander (Ava), and Sonoya Mizuno (Kyoko): Critically acclaimed science-fiction film written and directed by the screenwriter of the underappreciated Dredd and the much-appreciated 28 Days Later. This is a nuanced, often creepy walk through Frankenstein territory, with a few nods to The Island of Dr. Moreau. But we're in the present day, in a world where building an Artificial Intelligence involves educating it with social media. Is it any wonder things could go wrong? Or perhaps 'worng'? 

The three principals are all very good. Domhnall Gleason is the young programmer brought to his tech mega-billionaire boss' gigantic Northern estate to help test whether or not the machine-intelligence Ava is truly self-aware. Oscar Isaac is the charismatic, mercurial, manipulative tech giant; Alicia Vikander is the the charming, inquisitive, and seemingly innocent robotic Ava. Weird things start to happen, all of them playing out in counter-pointed sterile interiors and Sublime exteriors filmed in Norway in glacier country. Hey, Garland actually seems to know the connection between Frankenstein and the Sublime! Ex Machina is very good science fiction and leaves one wanting more of its middle sections, in which ideas are debated and sometimes yelled about. Highly recommended.

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