Wednesday 24 March 2021

Rob's Movie Night Roundup - E (Empire of the Sun, Ex Machina)

At the beginning of the year, my wife and I decided that we'd like to watch more movies. There are 52 weeks in a year, 2 of us, and 26 letters in the alphabet. What better way to choose some movies than to go alphabetically? The only rule: Where possible, it should be a movie that one or more of us had never seen before. Oh, and ideally it should be part of one of the copious online streaming services we're already subscribed to, because why bother paying for a rental when we're not short of options?

Incidentally, if anyone from the big online streaming service providers is reading this (your Notfluxes or your Prims, for example), please make it easier to search for/sort movies alphabetically. Thanks.

Also, fair warning: There may well be movies that appear on this list that you'll find hard to believe I haven't seen before. It happens.

Previous letters are here: A B C D


Empire Of The Sun
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson

Synopsis via IMDB: A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation of China during World War II.

This is one of those films I'd heard the name of a lot, but weirdly had never experienced a bit of it. I'd never seen a trailer, never seen a clip, didn't know how much legendary acting talent resided in its cast. I guess, in hindsight, this can be attributed to the fact that I was 3 years old when the film was released. Also, beyond things like E.T and Jurassic Park I had never really interacted much with the works of Steven Spielberg. I didn't see Jaws for a fair few years, I forget when I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and the more I think about it, the less convinced I am that I've even watched Gremlins. Maybe one for G if neither of us have seen it.

But I digress.

I bloody loved Hook. Ok, now I'm done.

I was staggered by the quality of cast on show here. Miranda Richardson, John Malkovich, a young Christian Bale and even a young Ben Stiller! Stupendous stuff. It's no surprise, then, that the performances are great throughout the movie. Christian Bale nails an annoying but affable Jim to the degree that you want him to be safe but you don't want it to be too easy (at least, that's what I took away from it).

In terms of the film, on paper the runtime of 2 hours and 33 minutes was a little off-putting to me. Don't get me wrong, I know Spielberg is a tremendously talented director and so I was sure that no minute would be wasted, but nevertheless I was a little daunted. Strange to think that nowadays, we don't even blink at the notion of consuming hours upon hours of the same content via a TV series binge or whatever, whereas back then the idea of a 2 hour 30 minute movie was a more significant endeavour. Still, I was pleased that the movie, despite being a period of history that I'm not particularly familiar with or indeed that well read in, held my attention and captured my interest throughout.

One thing that I usually like to comment on is the music, but if I'm honest I don't remember much about it. It's pretty crazy considering that the music is John Williams, and he's a legend, but in a way I suppose the music just does a good job of fitting against the wider movie.

All in all, I thought it was a really well-made movie. Visually it does a great job, particularly in terms of communicating the devastation and chaos that would've been prevalent at the time. Framing it around a kid is particularly effective on that front (though maybe that's a kudos for the author and not the film). Really enjoyed it. Would I watch it again? Possibly not, but it was a well-executed piece of cinema.

Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac

Synopsis via IMDB: A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I.

I've been told for some time that this movie would be right up my street, and in many ways this has given me some apprehension. In the past when I've been recommended a movie incessantly it's led to some...whelming. Not underwhelming, but just whelming. However, on paper this one is a belter. Dealing with robots (which are awesome), artificial intelligence (which is exciting) and starring Poe Dameron, General Hux *and* Lara Croft?! A movie directed and written by one of the creative minds behind the movies Dredd and Annihilation and the video games DMC and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, just to name a few things?! Man, what a treat!

The performances by the three leads are top-notch. Isaac is fantastic as a reclusive tech CEO who comes off just the right amount of unsettling that you know fairly swiftly that something Gleeson works nicely with this as the starstruck competition winner turned experiment participant, and does a wonderful job playing off Vikander as the humanoid A.I. Everyone in this film does a good job in their respective role, but the main three are understandably the standout performers, not least of all because they're about half the cast. This is not a heavily-staffed film where actors are concerned, but in a way that actually serves the story well.

The film put me very much in mind of another Garland film (mentioned above), Annihilation, which I personally thought was bloody marvellous. There's a certain sense of isolation that accompanies the subject matter in both movies that Garland does well to leverage as a means of making the audience feel that disconnection that separates the main characters from the wider world. In Ex Machina, you find out early on that Gleeson's character (whose name escapes me now, otherwise I'd just use that and save myself some time) is going to be part of the experiment for a fixed period of time so as the tension mounts you know he's not in a position to escape any bad times that might occur as a result of the situation.

Moreover, this film dials up the creepiness factor to an exceptional level, and you feel uncomfortable at times during some of the dialogue (or at least I did). It's really, *really* well done in that respect. Overall a cracker. Maybe not on the same level as Annihilation for me, but nevertheless very pleased I've given it a go now.

E was a really good letter for me. It exposed me to a film I wouldn't have otherwise given a go (Empire of the Sun) and ticked off a long-standing to-do from my movie backlog (Ex Machina). In both cases, I enjoyed myself immensely. I will have to take a stab at some point at an approximate ranking of the letters, if not the movies themselves. Perhaps a retrospective written post is in order. A thought for another day perhaps.

Did you enjoy the roundup? Let me know! If you have thoughts on the movies chosen and their respective writeups above, you know where to find me. Maybe you don't, but there are buttons everywhere to make that happen. Comments, Twitter, you name it. Moreover, if you want to make use of this movie night format, bearing in mind you're a few weeks in and might have to double up to get up to speed, feel free to do the same - I'd love to know what you chose too!

Rob Wade

Rob Wade blogs about stuff he likes. Whether it's video games or geek media for Emotionally14 or writing about speculative theories for future films on Talk Star Wars, the focus has always been on the stuff that brings the most pleasure to his life within media.

Rob is the editor of Emotionally14, and showrunner of the E14 podcasts "The Crazy Train", "The E14 Gamecast" and "Talk Star Wars", as well as the host and guest of a number of pieces on E14's Youtube channel over the years.

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