Woman in Gold

During Hitler’s invasion across Europe, Nazi Soldiers looted the homes of Jewish families, many of whom either escaped their countries or went to the death camps. In some cases, losses included significant works of art. Ownership of these works was often falsified and after the war, they were appropriated as objects of war crimes.

Simon Curtis’s Woman in Gold is such a story about Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who seeks to recover a painting of her Aunt Adele, by the well-known Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Because Altman’s ownership of the work has been erased, the painting finds its way into a national gallery in Vienna, where it becomes favored by Austrians as “their Mona Lisa.”

In 1998, Maria (who has re-established herself in Southern California) hires a young lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to represent her interests. Randol becomes an underdog character against the court system, while Mirren is an individual seeking not only a family treasure, but also the past she lost.

The film is carried by a web of cinematic jumps between the 1940s and 1998. One layer of the narrative is about bureaucracy, the legal system, the loss of identity and possessions that unfolds through courtroom drama. But within another layer is a personal story that unfolds through cycling flashbacks of Pre-Occupation Vienna, where the most gut-wrenching tragedy of the 1940s casts a shadow of irony over the cool-handed legal system Maria and Randol must navigate in the 1990s.

What does not unfold as intricately is the dense bureaucracy of the legal system, which is positioned here as a monolith of cruel nationalism, without its confusing and contradicting maze of loopholes. In this case, how does a painting of such importance migrate from its post-war recovery to the wall of a national gallery without the suggestion of an attempt to contact the rightful owner? Faced with this opposition, Altman and and Schoenberg slug their way through it all as melodramatic heroic characters often do.

If you know much about World War II and the history of the Holocaust, Woman in Gold will be a moving film — well crafted and well-acted, rich with historical detail; but the film is also predictable. It contains many lessons of struggle leading to social justice told in an ordinary way.


Check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404425/

Mad Max: Way Beyond Thunderdome (but in a good way)

Fantasy cars, kick up blazing sand in harsh desert heat to introduce George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. This film is a revival of earlier films: Mad Max (1979), with Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky. Two sequels followed: Mad Max 2, or Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, (1985).

In this dytopian narrative, Austrailan law and order has broken down after a massive energy crisis. Though cities continue to survive, motorcyle gangs become sources of terror; and in this film they are trouble makers on an monumental scale.

In Fury Road, Max (Tom Hardy), a man of few words, defends himself from the menacing Imortan Joe, whose principle female warrior, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, has defected. She is rescuing other women that Joe has enslaved for bearing children. Eventually Furiosa is foregrounded as the leader against the villain, Joe.

In Fury Road,  women become warriors equal to, if not stronger than the male characters. Characters have dimension, but still remain enshrouded in the action on screen.

The set units for the film are actually the road vehicles. What was Max’s first car, the yellow Interceptor from the 1979 production, has evolved into fantasy vehicles that become battleships on wheels.

The special action effects are convincing, because computer generated effects are used only to enhance or alter real car crashes, explosions and other and amazing stunts.

This is not  romantic, comic-relief film, like Marvel productions. Any passion in the film is turned toward survival, as if violence brings redemption in a lawless time. Overall, casting and action they carry the film throughout.

If you are a plot-driven moviegoer looking for subtexts of romance and sacrifice, this film is not for you; but if you are looking for action, effects and battles for survival, then you should see this film.

Ex Machina — a Mind Game

A machine that thinks is a common trope in science fiction of artificial intelligence, but  what about machines that pretend? Alex Garland’s Ex Machina characterizes a robot in a way that avoids terror-ridden stereotypes of Terminators and Trons. He repositions mechanical individuals as driven by artificial Intelligence,  artificial empathy, deception, and even sexual ploys.

A young programmer is selected to visit a remote estate owned by a wealthy scientist to interact with with a form of artificial intelligence. Tension in the film unfolds as we find out what this form is. In a setting of glamorous surroundings the plot is driven by the subtlety of gestures, long camera shots of empty hallways, and more — all in convincing  drama that will leave you motionless.

For a futuristic film that fascinates and keeps you uncertain, you’ll have to go see it.


Check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0470752/

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I got to the theater early to see Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and was immediately caught up in a crowd of enthusiastic fans. The reviews were promising and I was not disappointed.

The film is jammed with many layers of subplots, effects and enough superheroes to populate an athletic team, but they fit tightly into a matrix that holds together in one solid work. There were some nice surprises — moments where I didn’t recall that kind of twist in other films, even in 2D and 3D.

I saw the film in 2D projection on Thursday and then returned on Friday to see it in 3D on another night. Speaking for myself, I noticed a big difference between the two formats. On the 2D screen, all the complex action seemed challenging to keep up with, as though I were watching too many effects and one-liners through a window. The next night, however, the 3D format was easier to read, because it put my eye in the middle of the action. A number of effects make a tremendous difference. – objects hurled past me, superheroes flying around me, moving with the camera within a space.

It seem that the Johansson’s Natasha appeared closer to the foreground in this movie, along with more female characters.  The rivalry between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers still emerges, though it does not drive the plot as directly as in past Marvel films.

If you like the Marvel Comics productions and if you have seen the series of Marvel films that lead up to Age of Ultron, this film will not disappoint. And if Age of Ultron is your first of these films, you will be swept up in the action for a bit until the plot begins to coalesce. Either way, it would be a mistake to miss it.

Check it out: http://www.fandango.com/avengers:ageofultron2015_157897/movieoverview