STORY WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media
“Beyond the Reach”
Madec (Michael Douglas) is a mega-successful corporate warrior. He is eager to add a bighorn sheep to his trophy collection. He heads to the Reach, an expansive and hostile section of New Mexico’s Mojave Desert.
Once there. Madec hires a local lad, Ben (Jeremy Irvine), to serve as his guide and tracker. Things go tragically awry when Madec fatally shoots a grizzled, old prospector. It may be an accident, but Madec realizes that he will nevertheless be subject to manslaughter charges.
Eager to avoid criminal prosecution, Madec offers Ben a bribe to participate in a cover-up. When Ben steadfastly refuses to collude with Madec, he is dispatched into the desert. Ben supplants bighorn sheep as the target of Madec’s predations.
The film is adapted from “Deathwatch,” a 1972 novel by Robb White. It previously served as the inspiration for an ABC Movie of the Week, titled “Savages.” That antecedent version starred Andy Griffith as the businessman and Sam Bottoms as his beleaguered assistant.
Opens on Friday, April 17 at the PFS Roxy Theater (2043 Samson Street).
R (for some violence) 95 minutes. Roadside Attractions
What distinguishes artificial intelligence from human beings? This question is at the nexus of “Ex Machina.”
26-year old Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, the psychopathic killer in “Calvary”) has a thankless job as a computer coder at the world’s largest internet company. Caleb wins a competition to spend the weekend at the mountain retreat of his boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac from the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”).
It sounds like a great opportunity for Caleb. However, the weekend turns out to be a daunting challenge for the lowly computer geek.
After being dropped off by helicopter, Caleb must hike through a dense forest to reach Nathan’s futuristic, high-tech home. Once there, Caleb realizes that his boss is a psychologically-twisted megalomaniac. What’s worse, it becomes apparent that Caleb will be an unwitting participant in an experiment that Nathan is conducting.
Nathan has designed a fetching cyborg, Ava (Alicia Vikander from “Seventh Son’). Her attractive face and fleshy limbs make her look human. However, from the rest of her body it is evident that she is a gynoid. Caleb will be used as a guinea pig for the weekend. His interactions with Ava will be closely monitored by a ubiquitous surveillance system.
Along the way, Nathan proves to be a cinema savant, who quoutes memorable lines from older films. Witness Nathan refers to having enough cable wire in his home to “lasso the moon.” That’s an evocative line out of Frank Capra’s classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He also asks at one juncture, “Who you gonna call?” That the tagline straight out for “Ghostbusters” and part of the catchy refrain from the titular song, sung by Ray Parker, Jr.
Alex Garland’s résumé includes the screenplays for a pair of Danny Boyle films, “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine.” He not only wrote the screenplay for “Ex Machina,” but makes his directorial debut with it.
Opens wide on Friday, April 24. R (for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence) 104 minutes. A24 Pictures
“The Kindergarten Teacher”
As part of their CineMondays program, the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival will present the Franco-Israeli collaboration, “The Kindergarten Teacher.”
Written and directed by Nadiv Lapid, the film has some well-defined autobiographical elements. As a young boy, Lapid had a short, albeit intensive, career as a poet prodigy.
Here, a preschool teacher named Nira (Sarit Larry) is an aspiring poet. She even takes a class to hone her skills in the genre.
By an odd coincidence, Nira discovers that her five-year old student, Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), intermittently goes into a trancelike state. When Yoav emerges from it, he announces, “I have a poem.” The boy then starts reciting it. The poem contains lofty topics, which would be considered far beyond the experiences of a young child.
Nira is stunned by how precocious her student is. What will she do to cultivate his gifts?
“The Kindergarten Teacher” made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival as part of Critics’ Week. It subsequently garnered the Silver Cathedral Award at the Seville Film Festival in Spain. At the International Film Festival of India in Goa, Lapid won the best director award, while Sarit Larry was cited as the best actress.
Playing on Monday, April 20 at the Ritz East (125 Sansom Street Walkway). No MPAA rating. 119 minutes. Pie Films. (In Hebrew with English subtitles).
“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”
In this action comedy, sequel, Kevin James (from television’s “The King of Queens”) reprises his role as Paul Blart, a lowly security guard at a local mall. For the past six years, he has patrolled the shopping center, armed only with his exaggerated sense of self-importance.
Now, he is going on headed to Las Vegas. Is he lured there by the prospect of gambling at the casinos, seeing popular performers, and ogling the statuesque showgirls? No indeed. Always gung ho about his profession, Paul is planning to attend a Security Guard Expo. Paul is accompanied by his adolescent daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriquez from Disney Channel’s “Austin and Ally”),
By chance, while Paul is in Las Vegas, a gang of criminals takes over a local shopping mall. Will Paul’ sense of duty inspire him to intervene, even though he isn’t an employee? Will the film be a slapstick version of “Die Hard”?
Opens wide on Friday, April 17. PG (for some violence) 94 minutes. Columbia Pictures
The film is inspired by a true life story. Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) had been an ambitious, young freelancer for “The New York Times.” Finkel’s promising career was scuttled when it was discovered that he had engaged in some serious journalistic transgressions. “True Story” revolves around his relationship with Christian Longo (James Franco), a man accused of killing his wife and three children in a particularly chilling manner.
“True Story” is helmed by Rupert Goold. He is a highly-regarded director of vaunted theatrical works by the likes of Shakespeare and Pirandello. His imaginative mounting of “Macbeth” garnered the 2008 Olivier Award for Goold. However, “True Story” marks Goold’s debut as a feature film director.
Opens wide on Friday, April 17. R (for language and some disturbing images) 100 minutes. Fox Searchlight
Nathan Lerner sees more than 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.