A very interesting week. Finally. Out in cinemas: Clouds of Sils Maria, Ex Machina, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Pitch Perfect 2 and The Re-write.
Clouds of Sils Maria – My #22 film of 2014. Set in the gorgeous Swiss Alps a veteran stage star Maria (Juliette Binoche) and her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) hide out as she prepares for her latest play – the same one that made her famous as a young woman, but the opposing ‘older’ role. Unable to identify with this character, due to her own concerns about aging and being unable to adapt this character into a new context, she turns to Valentine for advice on the actress taking on her old role (Chloe Grace Moretz), challenging her to rehearse the role with her at length. Tension mounts when Maria is disagreeable with what Valentine brings to the role. As the material and their relationship begins to merge, this takes a Persona-esque twist that is quite a hook. This is a very pretty and bonkers look at performance as role, textual interpretation influenced by age (and how measures of age in the business have changed) and 21st Century ‘celebrity’, and the opposition of personal privacy vs. public openness. All three women excel, but Stewart’s performance is her best and one of the best I saw in 2014.
Ex Machina – Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, makes his directorial debut with the stylish and cerebral thriller Ex Machina. Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test – charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breathtaking A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated–and more deceptive–than the two men could have imagined. I really like Alex Garland’s screenplays, and I am completely on board with this fascinating idea. Reviews have been very positive, plus that excellent cast is in fine form.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck – Kurt Cobain, lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter of Nirvana, remains an icon 20 years after his death. Here, we take a journey through Cobain’s life and his career with Nirvana through the lens of his home movies, recordings, artwork, photography, and journals. As a muso and a Nirvana fan I definitely want to see this.
Pitch Perfect 2 – The Barden Bellas enter an international a cappella competition which no American team has ever won. The sequel to the surprise hit, which I rather enjoyed. Elizabeth Banks directs, which is interesting, but I just can’t bring myself to sitting through this one.
The Re-write – Once upon a time, Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) was an Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter, but divorce and a string of unsuccessful films have left him with nothing but bad debts and blank pages. So when his agent arranges a job as guest screenwriting professor at a remote university in upstate New York, a desperate Keith can’t say no. Initially hoping to give minimal effort to actual teaching so he can focus on his next script, Keith unexpectedly finds himself becoming invested in his students lives, including Holly (Marisa Tomei), a single mom looking to start her own new chapter. The Rewrite also stars J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Chris Elliott and Bella Heathcote.
Weekly Recommendation: There’s too much good stuff out this week. I am thinking a weekend of Ex Machina, Montage of Heck and a second look at Clouds of Sils Maria is on the cards.