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Talking Movies with Spling - Cut Bank, Spy and Blackhat

Spling reviews Cut Bank, Spy and Blackhat as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

Movie Review: Ex Machina

Ex Machina is a sci-fi thriller from Dredd, Sunshine and 28 Days Later... screenwriter Alex Garland, whose directorial debut is eerie, beautiful, sparse and thought-provoking. It's a wonderful piece of science fiction, delving into the arena of artificial intelligence with unsettling, provocative drama and keeping an air of suspense with mysterious motives and a slow-burning fuse.

There's little spoon-feeding in this story about a programmer, who wins the chance to participate in a groundbreaking AI experiment and spend a week with a programming genius and multi-millionaire.

Domhnall Gleeson, best known for About Time and Harry Potter, is quickly becoming a regular in Hollywood with a number of strong performances. While Anton Yelchin may have been a better choice, Gleeson keeps a lid on things with a slightly vacant yet sturdy turn as Caleb.

Oscar Isaac is quite ominous as the dark and stormy Nathan, whose seemingly limitless power and intelligence make him difficult-to-read and threatening. Isaac buttons down the drama and keeps things unpredictable and uneasy, adding to the suspense with a ringmaster role. Alicia Vikander is beautifully controlled and just out-of-reach as Ava, selling her character's CGI, wielding power and remaining elusive like Scarlett Johansson's subdued performance in Under the Skin.

Ex Machina Movie Review

"If these lips could talk... again."

This isn't an effects-driven film. Instead its elegant and feels more in line with the work of Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Winding Refn and Jonathan Glazer. To be more specific, Ex Machina channels aspects from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Winding Refn's Only God Forgives and Glazer's Under the Skin.

The eerie, cold and sparse atmosphere and expansive science lab corridors echo 2001: A Space Odyssey as the characters interact with non-human entities, cocooned, not by space, but an uninhabited island that could have been used for Jurassic World.

While not as sleazy or violent, the sleek cinematography, colour palette and Kyoko character are reminiscent of Only God Forgives. By contrasting natural paradise and cutting edge technology, the visuals are striking and provide the perfect setting for a debate about "what constitutes a self-aware sentient being?" to settle in.

Ex Machina and Under the Skin both fall into the sci-fi genre with one about an AI life form and the other an alien. While they've got different approaches, there are some parallels. Glazer is concerned with mood, concocting the surreal without losing its organic sense of reality. Garland captures a similar feeling with some of his scenes, evoking an alien paradigm.

This is a slow-moving, thinking man's sci-fi thriller. It's sleek, elegant and beautifully filmed with some strong performances from up-and-coming stars. The actors are still establishing themselves as name stars, which probably explains why Ex Machina didn't have a cinema release in South Africa, but the quality of the ingredients go a long way and will certainly be a calling card for everyone that was involved with this curious, entertaining and suspenseful film.

The bottom line: Sleek

Movie Review: Cut Bank

Cut Bank is one of those small town ensemble crime thrillers you'd expect to be set in a snowy North American Winter. Although that would probably make it a bit too similar to films like A Simple Plan, Fargo, The Big White and Thin Ice.

We're introduced to a low key "heist" scenario where Dwayne, a small town dreamer, tries to siphon reward money from the U.S. post office when he inadvertently finds himself in possession of footage relating to a postal worker's murder. It's a curious premise, one that is driven by several characters and their various agendas as a bag of missing mail causes havoc in the town of Cut Bank.

The title may be a bit vague, but you won't have any trouble recognising the name cast with screen veterans like Billy Bob Thorton, John Malkovich, Oliver Platt and Bruce Dern. They portray a wonderful array of characters in this backwater thriller, contributing another layer of class and star quality.

The Hollywood "furniture" is reliable, but mostly there to pad the up-and-coming stars, Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer. Liam Hemsworth, brother to Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame, is yet to prove himself despite being part of some big productions. While he's adequate, you can understand why they felt they needed an insurance policy in the old big hitters.

Cut Bank Movie Review

"...so you mean it literally came out of left field?"

Teresa Palmer is also Australian, which gives the on-screen couple a more comfortable fit. While she's more of a support than a co-lead, she captures the essence of a Miss Cut Bank contender with her own dream playing out with echoes of Donnie Darko.

While there isn't any snow, Cut Bank has a cold and gloomy atmosphere and relies on familiar genre trappings to get going after a slow start. It's mostly interesting thanks to the oddball characters and their offbeat performances as it moves from being a corporate "heist" movie into something more sinister.

Michael Stuhlbarg is the spanner in the works with an understated performance like a blend of No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh and Office Space's Milton Waddams. He's an unassuming and unpredictable psycho with a curious background adding a dangerous and macabre element to Cut Bank.

While his role hijacks an otherwise simple story, it risks derailing the film for some, clocking up the suspense like a virus. This works as a shake up after a slow start, but it doesn't distract us enough from comparisons with the Coen brothers and other superior films in this genre. Cut Bank's stars and oddball characters keep us entertained, but it doesn't really command a space of its own.

The bottom line: Curious

Talking Movies with Spling - Two Days One Night, Salt of the Earth and The Humbling

Spling reviews Two Days One Night, Salt of the Earth and The Humbling as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

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