2015 Rental Roundup 8: Ex Machnia, Ted 2, The Final Girls

It might be surprising to see one of these in 2017, but it’s the final nail in 2015’s cinematic coffin.

I wasn’t kidding when I said I missed a lot of movies I was at least vaguely interested in in 2015. Compare that with 2016, which is getting five at maximum and with 2017, trending toward two. I’d conclude that I’m just getting pickier; you probably won’t see the likes of Dirty Grandpa in the newer roundups.

For this final selection, I present to you one movie that is perhaps over-praised and two that are definitely over-bashed.

Ex Machina

This movie’s job is having probing conversations, feeling creepy and looking amazing.

For many, the conversations will be hit-or-miss. It was accessible enough to me, but I have some experience in the technobabble about AI and the Turing Test. I can’t rightly judge if the movie presents its technical concepts in a way that a less-familiar viewer will follow easily.

Like many psychological thrillers, you could run Ex Machina as a stage play if you wanted. The weighty conversations and mystery would play well, though the cinematography played no small role in establishing the atmosphere.

The Academy made no mistake in awarding Ex Machina Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The makers had an odd combination of using no practical effects but also not using any greenscreens. Despite this apparent handicap, the results are astonishingly seamless.

However, the wonderful visual effects are challenged, if not outright overshadowed, by the enchanting beauty of the location filming and the great set design. Even in a white hallway, your eyes have something to do. Which is important, considering that most of the action in the movie is verbal.

Verdict: Go for it (4/5). Gorgeous visuals and creative ideas are this movie’s bread and butter, but it’s not for you if you don’t like slow and steady pacing.

Ted 2

Ted 2 is an unusual movie. First, it’s a direct sequel, picking up on what appeared to be a throwaway plot thread from the first movie: Ted and Tami-Lynn’s relationship.

Second, it’s an improved sequel. While Ted was trying to downplay how it’s structure was inspired by writer/director/voice actor Seth MacFarlane’s biggest hit, Family Guy, the second movie stops being sheepish about it, which helps the jokes land better.

Sixth and lastly, it manages to deliver on the potential of the premise. While Ted was a hilarious send-up of the idea of the trope of the toy coming to life happening in the “real world” and how such an amazing and unique thing would be relegated to D-list actor status after the world’s interest in the idea had passed, Ted 2 moves on to explore deeper and darker consequences.

I mean, did you really expect the follow up to Ted to be about institutional racism and civil rights? For that matter, did you ever expect that subject to be taken up by a comedy? Somehow, it all works without insulting the integrity of the subject. No small feat, given how easily this could have been a 115-minute-long gaffe.

…though far and away the best joke of the movie has nothing to do with the subject; just keep tabs on Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn’s characters.

Verdict: Go for it (4/5). Ted 2 is not only more successful than the first movie at being a de facto Family Guy flic, it has an unexpectedly deep story wedged in between the references and the trashiness.

The Final Girls

If you applauded Scream for its meta-ness but turned up your nose at this, you might be a pretender.

The Final Girls is about a bunch of modern teenagers getting trapped (for no adequately explained reason) in an 80’s slasher movie. They plan to use their genre-savviness to save both themselves and the cast in the hopes of jumping to the end of the movie and escaping. But it’s still an 80’s horror film, so you can imagine how well that plan goes.

The parody parts of the fim do a solid spoofing job, from some fantastically set-up visual gags to some spot-on period-correct horrible dialog. It’s a good time for any fan of the genre.

What’s nice about The Final Girls is that it manages to have some stakes other than not getting killed. Our main character is the daughter of one of the actresses in the 80’s movie, and the incident occurs a couple years after that actress is unexpectedly killed in a car accident. While there’s some obvious dramatic motivation and exploration to be had from the daughter meeting a younger version of her mother (even though she’s really just the movie character), the plot doesn’t stop there, either. The relationships all of the modern characters have with each other have in some way been caused or altered by that deadly accident, and it all comes to a head during the movie.

What we get is a high-effort spoof that fortunately manages to avoid trying too hard. You don’t get too much goofiness or too much emotionalness.

Still, there are a lot of missed opportunities in this movie. The ending that actually happened was fine, and was probably the way they needed to end it to resolve all the notes. But some of the other directions they could have taken things are distractingly obvious.

Verdict: Go for it (4/5). If it helps you any, know that this is the only movie out of these three that I decided to buy.


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