You have to wonder how the people behind the movies that got released these last few weeks feel about where their studios decided to slot them. “Here, get slapped around by Furious 7 for a while before Age of Ultron finishes you off.” Sure, there’s such a thing as counter-programming, and the idea that a big blockbuster can actually boost attendance for other films out at the same time, but that sure didn’t seem to be happening to the films that ran into Vin Diesel and company. Furious 7 outgrossed the entire top 10 combined its first weekend in release, damn near did it again its second weekend, and easily held off Mall Cop 2 in its third. There was a rising tide, all right, but it sure didn’t lift all the boats. And there’s a tsunami coming next week, so it might be a good time to just get the hell out of the water. But you’ll never see a weekend with no releases at all, so here goes nothing.
Little Boy is about, well, a little boy who tries to literally will World War II to end so his dad can come home. He’s supposedly getting help from his faith or God or something, but from the trailers, his efforts mostly consist of him doing a Magneto impression while looking constipated. And if I’m reading the reviews that dance around spoilers correctly, the climax comes when he looks west across the Pacific and does his Jedi mind trick right as the Hiroshima bomb — also named “Little Boy” — goes off. That has to be the most hilariously tasteless thing I’ve heard in quite some time: your reward for your faith is atomic death for hundreds of thousands of people so your dad can come home. Because World War II is all about you. And because no little Japanese boys were hoping for their dads to come home. So yeah, let Vin and the Avengers clobber this one.
The weekend of ridiculous premises continues with The Age of Adaline, in which a woman gets in a car accident and stops aging. If I’d known that was all it took, I’d have been running into phone poles every chance I got. Of course, my preferred method of living forever involves sword fights and decapitations; it just seems like a whole lot more fun. Adaline seems like it wants to be this big, lavish epic that teaches us Important Things About Life, but I’m not sure I trust the people behind the camera — a bunch of names I absolutely do not recognize — to pull off something that grand without it seeming silly and contrived. Some would argue a talent like David Fincher didn’t quite manage it with The Strange Case of Benjamin Button, and I’m pretty sure … what’s his name … Lee Toland Krieger isn’t in Fincher’s class. Although he does have a pretty great presidential assassin name, if he ever decides to go that route.
But there is hope for this weekend! And it comes in the form of Ex Machina, which has been in limited release and goes wide today. Alex Garland wrote and directed this, and while it’s his first time in the chair, his writing pedigree is pretty solid: 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go and Dredd, all films I enjoyed to some extent (Dredd in particular) and certainly not cookie cutter efforts. Ex Machina centers on age-old questions of what makes someone — or something — human, and appears to owe a good bit of debt to Kubrick and Spielberg in equal parts, while not looking like an out-and-out A.I. riff. It looks to have an intriguing balance of thought and thrill, and it might be the smartest film we’ll see for a while, what with the muscles set to come rolling in next week.
So I’m going to scrunch up my face and wave my hands and try to make Ex Machina do well by sheer force of will. If it ended World War II, it can certainly boost some box office.