Westworld

In 2017, artificial intelligence (A.I) is now apart of everyday life, from restaurants, to cars, to phones. Westworld (based on the 1973 film of the same name by Michael Crichton) delves into how A.I can be used to fulfill humans every desire – and the repercussions of that.

Westworld, HBO’s latest blockbuster series is centered on a futuristic amusement park of the same name. It is set in the indeterminate future where Doctor Ford (played by the always excellent Anthony Hopkins) and his team have created an adult playground full of eerily realistic AI robots “hosts.” Who are immersed in numerous faux 1800’s wild west storylines to entertain the parks “Guests”. Wealthy humans who pay up to 40,000 a night to indulge in their every desire with the “hosts” from sex, to murder and for some, love. The series begins with a few interlocking storylines, the employees of the park, the hosts, and guests of the park. The employees, like Bernard and Therese are divided between supporting Doctor Ford and its corporate company of Delos who just wants to use the hosts intellectual property. In the park the story focuses in on hosts Dolores and Maeve who are starting to think beyond their storyline. Park guests include the mysterious and sadistic “Man in Black” and new guests, soft spoken William and his spoiled soon to be brother in law Logan.

The plot is obviously quite complex and it takes a few episodes to start to piece together all the storylines. The plot is a bit slow moving which is countered by the distraction of the top quality production and setting. The A-list roster of actors really help to enhance the series however the cheesy and basic dialogue is a bit disappointing considering the caliber of actors (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton) who could have taken the story and Westworld realm even further. Like Game of Thrones, Westworld also deals with the struggle of having so many storylines that the character development gets delayed or is sped up rapidly to go along with all the other storylines. This creates a bit of confusion for the viewer as well as creates quite a few plot holes.

By the end of the season the foreshadowing (and reddit theories) was enough to clearly see where the second season is going to head (also the fact that it was conceived by the creator of Jurassic Park), which makes me intrigued at the plot but I honestly don’t know if I’m invested enough in the characters and their stories to continue to watch.

Westworld is available to stream on HBOGo and HBONow with subscription

 

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How to be Single

After a stressful few weeks, all I wanted to do was to sit back and relax with a mindless romcom. That need was answered with the film How to be Single.  It’s a little different from the average romcom as the main message is more about finding and loving yourself than a mate. The film stars Dakota Johnson as Alice, a new recently single college grad, her party animal friend Robin (Rebel Wilson) and her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) an Ob-Gyn who tries to avoid relationships and having a baby of her own at all costs. Another storyline is that of Lucy (Alison Brie) a hopeless romantic who’s determined to find the perfect man by putting herself through a series of hapless online dates under the watchful eye of super commitment phobe Tom (Anders Helm) the owner of the bar downstairs from Lucy’s apartment.

Alice delves headfirst into NYC single life, however it becomes a lot harder to manage as she sees her ex-boyfriend Josh quickly couple up, while still is trying to find her independence.  In the end Lucy and Meg end up finding love when they least expected it and Tom learns that sometimes it might be good to give love a chance. Alice also realizes that sometimes, being single is not so bad after a series of short dating mishaps. A lot of the dating dos and don’t of 21st century courtships are highlighted and very relatable to the films’ intended young female audience. The characters online dating and technology issues as well as hookup culture is something that nearly every millennial has experienced.

Dakota Johnson plays her part of the straight (wo)man amongst comedic genius Rebel Wilson, whose best moments of witty and slightly shocking one liners seem appropriately improvised. Leslie Mann and Alison Brie also lend excellent support in this mostly female driven comedy. It is nice to see a romantic comedy where the woman doesn’t need the help and support of a man in the end and can find peace and happiness on her own. The storyline of Lucy and Tom however seems pretty disconnected from the rest of the group and isn’t necessary in Alice’s journey. In the end the film serves its purpose. It is funny, relatable, and a good amount of escapism, as everyone finds their happiness or starts to find their way in the end.

How To Be Single is available to stream on HBOGo with subscription.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I’ve been wanting to check out Me and Earl and the Dying Girl after hearing great festival reviews when it was released early last year. The film focuses on high school senior Greg, who has managed to evade the social hierarchy of high school for the past three years while never really allowing himself to be vulnerable – like never setting foot in the lunch room.

Along with his friend (who he calls his co-worker) Earl, Greg makes pun styled remakes of classic movies to pass the time. Greg believes he can continue to skate by senior year until his mother (played by the always brilliant Connie Britton) forces him to visit Rachel, a family friend who was just diagnosed with leukemia. Greg begrudgingly goes to hang out with Rachel, and soon discovers that he actually likes spending time with her. Soon Greg starts visiting Rachel every day and a friendship develops. Eventually Greg and Earl are commissioned to make a video to raise Rachel’s spirits as she continues to get sicker. In an effort not to make it a cliche get well video, Greg has a writers block. He does this while alienating Earl and many people at school in the process. While I won’t give away Rachel’s fate, she helps Greg to grow up and leave his self-imposed bubble in more ways than one.

The film has a charming “Wes Anderson” like feel to it with the director filming in 2:35 widescreen. The color scheme has a lot of soft pastel colors and light greens throughout the set design. The editing also reflects the theme with steady long shots and weird angles. The setting of Pittsburgh and the houses that were used also captured a perfect snapshot of suburban America and the angst and boredom that is associated with high school.

One of the highlights of the film is the amazing adult supporting cast. Connie Britton and Nick Offerman are excellent as Greg’s quirky but slightly overbearing parents and Molly Shannon is perfect at balancing grief and rage as Rachel’s wine loving mother. The young and relatively unknown teenage cast of Greg (Thomas Mann), Rachel (Olivia Cooke), and Earl (R.J Cuyler) also stand on their own and deliver very touching and nuanced performances about growing up and viewing mortality.

The film is a touching, slightly quirky, and very real take on teenage heartbreak and growing up. With a stellar cast and a fresh plot the film will make you laugh, cry, and reminisce about your teenage angst all in one sitting.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is available to stream on HBO Go with subscription.

 

 

 

Deadpool

This week, I decided to mix it up from my usual viewing choices and watch a superhero movie. However, Deadpool is not your average superhero movie. From the opening credits to the final after credit sneak peak the tongue in cheek dialogue and R rating level violence makes this film stand alone in a sea of superhero movies that have inundated audiences over the last ten years.

The film acts as Deadpool’s origin story, with Ryan Reynolds playing the titular character Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool. The story jumps back and forth in time, going back in time to tell the origin story of Deadpool and his relationship with his love Vanessa to present day dealings with his nemesis Ajax. Throughout the film Reynolds breaks the forth wall to have quips with the viewer and to defy against standard superhero stereotypes. While the film prides itself on its self-awareness it was sometimes too much, as the viewer gets the main idea from the opening sequence.The dialogue varies from downright crude humor to insightful thoughts on sexism in the film industry.

For those who don’t know (spoilers ahead) Wilson is former special forces mercenary who, after falling in love with stripper Vanessa gets diagnosed with incurable cancer. Wilson decides to turn towards a mysterious lab run by mutants like Ajax and Angel Dust who promise to cure his cancer by making him mutant. For his mutant abilities to show Ajax and Angel Dust subject him to inane torture which leaves him permanently disfigured. Eventually Ajax kills him which releases Deadpool’s power of superhuman healing and – the inability to die.

After figuring out his costume and alter ego with the help of his best friend Weasel  (played by the great T.J. Miller) Deadpool goes to exact revenge on Ajax while trying to keep his being alive a secret to Vanessa. Chaos, blood, and action ensues as Deadpool ends up defeating Ajax and Angel Dust, with the help of some other lesser known X-Men.

The film is highlighted with top notch CGI and action scenes that are on par with any of the larger budget action movies. The pacing of the film can be a bit slow at times with the director Tim Miller relying on long drawn out shots, a stark contrast from the rapid fire dialogue. The plot is also open enough where someone who hasn’t has much exposure to the Marvel Universe can understand the world of Wade Wilson and his associated friends and villains.

Deadpool is a rollicking good time (not for the whole family) and a good foray into superhero movies – if you’re not that into superhero movies.

Deadpool is available to stream via HBOgo with subscription

CitizenFour

     Do you ever have the feeling that big brother is watching you? Laura Poitras’ breathtaking 2014 documentary CitizenFour fearlessly delves into how much big brother is watching – and how little it wants the American public to know about it.

The film starts with Poitras being contacted through encrypted email by a mysterious source with compromising information that United States government wants to keep hidden. Poitras –along with Journalist Glenn Greenwald –meet with the source in Hong Kong who later reveals himself to be Edward Snowden. The core of the film subsists of the interviews and actions that follow over the next few days in Snowden’s Hong Kong hotel room while the media around the world reacts the leak of once-confidential information. Poitras positions Snowden to be a brave hero – a David – standing up to the goliath of the United States government. She highlights small moments of Snowden, which to anyone could appear paranoid, thinking that the government could be listening in through the phone. However, when he reveals how in depth the NSA spying has become, it made me rethink how I protect my privacy on the web and in daily life. Greenwald echoes my sentiment but soon realizes the gravity of what Snowden knows and works perfectly as a mirror for the unknowing viewer to grasp the unsettling information that is being revealed.

When Snowden reveals his identity the American news media and government rebrand his whistleblower appearance as that of a terrorist. Throughout the interviews Poitras intersperse interviews and observations from leading privacy experts and whistleblowers commending Snowden and condemning the United States government for their invasive techniques. As Greenwald and Poitras try to continue to push the information to the public. The reach and strength of big government continues to push back on the journalists as pressure becomes so strong that the UK government forces the Guardian to destroy the hard drive given to them under the guise of national security. As well as detaining Greenwald’s partner for no discernible reason other than fear.

This turn of events cause Snowden to plead asylum in Russia. Which is where the film ends with him reuniting with Poitras and Greenwald to discuss another source that has come forward with even more damming information. Though this time Greenwald knows that someone could be watching, writing down information and than ripping it to pieces. Poitras lets the camera linger on this moment to show, not only how much they have been affected by the presence of big brother but what else the government might be doing without the public’s knowledge.

            The film strongly supports Snowden’s point of view and viewpoint and Poitras actively inserts her personal issues with the government into the film. Though without that bias she would never have been able to achieve the access that she gained with Snowden. Which gives the viewer an in-depth view into Snowden and what the NSA has been doing to the American public, in a far more personal way that any other news story on the subject. As it is an election year, I would definitely recommend anyone on both sides of the political spectrum to watch the film and see how you view your privacy.

CitizenFour is available to stream now on HBOgo