No Shoes, No Pants, No Problem

Peter Rabbit

by Christie Robb

Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, some gatecrashing, a tense dude named McGregor, and a pervasive lack of pants. But Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit is a bit of a departure from Beatrix Potter’s twee kids’ books.

And you might think, ugh, not another attempt to lengthen and embellish a piece of classic literature beyond all reason (looking at you, Peter Jackson). But hold on. This (cotton) tale takes place somewhat after the events in Ms. Potter’s books. Both Peter’s (James Corden) parents are dead and there’s a new McGregor in town, Domhnall Gleeson (perhaps most familiarly known now as the strident General Hux from the Star Wars saga).

Gleeson’s McGregor is an acutely type A city slicker who longs to immediately sell his recently inherited country estate in order to reinvest the profits in a business venture back in London. Until he meets the animal lover/bunny portraitist Bea (Rose Byrne) who lives in the Pinterest-worthy cottage next door.

This gets Peter’s invisible knickers in a twist for two reasons: 1) restricted access to the tantalizing McGregor garden, and 2) a rival for the affections of Bea who, in the absence of his own rodent parents, has become personage he invests with a significant amount of maternal affection.

The conflicts escalate in cartoon violence that’s kinda Home Alone by way of the Odd Couple. And, as you might expect, it is an absolute delight to see Gleeson rant in nearly Shakespearean cadences about the antics of an anthropomorphized rabbit.

(To be honest, I’d probably pay the price of a movie ticket to see Gleeson take exception to piece of burnt toast.)

Like Gleeson, the supporting cast is also a delight. Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, and Daisy Ridley stand out as Peter’s siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and the devil-may-care Cotton-tail.

If you want to get all highbrow about it, the entire movie can be read as a metaphor for a kid’s struggle to accept a new romance in the life of a primary caregiver. And if you want to be honest, it bears as much resemblance to its source material as my 4-year-old’s picture of me does to the Mona Lisa.

But there’s enough beautiful animation, fun 90s and early 00s songs, and Easter-egg jokes for parents in case the kids decide they really like this movie and you have to watch it 400 times.

Ms. Roboto

Ex Machina

by George Wolf

What an irresistible treat Ex Machina is – smart, seductive and wickedly funny, boasting glorious visuals, stirring performances and big ideas guaranteed to linger like a dream you just can’t shake.

It is the directorial debut from veteran writer Alex Garland, and instantly marks him as one of the most promising dual threats in film.

Computer whiz Caleb (Domhnall Gleason) gets congrats all around after word gets out that he’s “won” a contest at work. The firm’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), has picked Caleb as the lucky one who will get a look inside the reclusive genius’s world and assist on a top secret project.

The wide-eyed Caleb is still adjusting to the wonders of Nathan’s ultra secure compound when he learns just why he’s there. Nathan has reached a critical point in his quest to create artificial intelligence, and he needs Caleb to decide if the enchanting machine named Ava (Alicia Vikander) can truly pass for a human.

The ever-versatile Isaac is mesmerizing as Nathan, crafting him as a walking, talking, drinking God complex in bare feet. You know from their first meeting that Nathan has more in store for Caleb than he is letting on, but Isaac never lets that knowledge detract from your curiosity about his character. The slow reveal of his tour de force performance dares you to look away.

Gleason gives Caleb a perfect mix of naïveté and good intentions, while Vikander (A Royal Affair) is a true wonder as Ava. Living in the space between woman and machine, Vikander pulls it off with nary a hint of caricature.

Garland, as he did with 28 Days Later and Sunshine, creates an intelligent, thought-provoking science fiction tale, steeped in classic themes but freshly painted from a modern perspective. You’ll be reminded of the classics Frankenstein, Eyes Without a Face and Blade Runner, as well as recent entries such as The Skin I Live In and Under the Skin, while never doubting that Garland’s is an original voice.

In many ways, he’s expanding on his script adaptation for the underrated Never Let Me Go, continuing to explore just what it is that makes us human, but not ignoring the large, complicated part that sexuality plays in that equation.

Sci Fi and horror films have long provided glimpses into a particular generation through the fears and anxieties that manifest on screen. Anchored in science, sex and creation (sound familiar?), Ex Machina is an insightful, deliciously fun time capsule we need to open right now.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 

 

 

More Adorably Smitten Brits

About Time

by Hope Madden

Even if you’re not a romantic comedy fan, it’s hard to dislike Love Actually, right? Sure, pieces of writer/director/Brit Richard Curtis’s film drag. Still, the fact that so many story lines – big and small – fit together so nicely, telling tales of heartache as well as true love, helps to make it an entertaining gem. So, why not give About Time – the latest from its creator – a shot?

Well, actually, it helps if you are not a fan of romantic comedies because, regardless of the marketing campaign, that label fits this film loosely at best.

About Time is perhaps the most understated time travel movie ever. The Lake family has a secret. Their men can travel – briefly and with very mild manners –  through time. One New Year’s Day, this intel is passed from father (Bill Nighy – hooray!) to son (and unrepentant ginger), Tim (Domnhall Gleeson – son of the great character actor Brendan Gleeson, but best known as a Weasley boy from Harry Potter).

Tim mostly uses his power to improve his luck with girls, though he fails as often as succeeds because Richard Curtis loves adorably, politely, pitifully smitten Brits.

Tim’s big success is the love of his life, Mary (Rachel McAdams, aggressively adorable, as always).

The end.

Surprisingly enough, that is not true because bumbling awkwardly but endearingly toward true love is not the film’s real focus.

Rather, Curtis’s interest lies on the fringes of Tim’s life, with everyone and everything he fails to notice because of his dogged attention to his pursuit of true love. And in the end, that’s what Curtis wants of us: to slow down and notice everything. Live life fully and you won’t need time travel to go back and fix things.

If that sounds trite and patronizing, credit Curtis for developing it at a leisurely enough pace and with sound enough acting that it does not feel that way. The life lessons Tim learns are thoughtful, and Gleeson’s performance sells the tenderness and the hard-won wisdom.

What it doesn’t really settle is the almost creepy dishonesty of Tim’s wooing of Mary, and for all of the rest of the film’s Nice Guy Tim-isms, it’s hard to look past the SciFi trickery he utilizes to dupe this woman into loving him.

But I suppose you can look past that, since the romance is hardly the point. Unless you’re a fan of romantic comedies, in which case, may I recommend Love Actually?

Verdict-3-0-Stars