Summer’s here and the time is right for one of my favorite parts of the year: Summer Blockbuster Season. I’ve never understood why we can’t just have blockbusters all year but beggars can’t be choosers.

With that in mind, this month we have two movies that AREN’T summer blockbusters.  Do you really need me to tell you that Mad Max: Fury Road is going to be lots of explosion-filled goodness?  Oh, you do?  Well, don’t worry.  That review is coming next month.  But you may have missed these two movies.  I’m trying to look out for you guys.  We’re pals.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) [R]

Kingsman: The Secret Service posterI do have a soft spot in my heart for spy movies.  Maybe it’s the young cub in me but it’s hard to resist one even when they are bad.  It is perhaps not surprising that I would also be a good audience for what is essentially a spy movie spoof like Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Based on the comic book series The Secret Service, director Matthew Vaughn has created a film that is light-hearted, a little subversive and kind of ridiculous.  But that’s why I think you’ll like it.  Kingsman doesn’t take itself too seriously but it also recognizes that if you push the absurdity too far, the movie becomes pure camp.  Chicago Tribune movie critic Richard Roeper had a fantastic way of describing the movie in his review,

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ plays like an ‘Austin Powers’ movie if it were directed by ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1’-era Quentin Tarantino.

The performances are pretty good with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson who plays the megalomaniacal bad guy with a lisp that gets a little old by the end.  Colin Firth is perfect for the role of Harry Hart, a senior agent and mentor for the young recruit played by Taron Egerton.

I have to say, Kingsman is fairly entertaining.  Is it mindless junk food?  Yes.  But hey, sometimes you are going to eat junk food.  You can’t help it.  And you’ll love every greasy, salty, sweet second of it.  Until it is over and you sort of feel a little sick.  Same with Kingsman.  Which oddly enough, in this case, is a compliment.  It’s junk food but that doesn’t mean it isn’t satisfying.

7 paws out of 10

Ex Machina (2015) [R]

Ex Machina posterEx Machina leaps out of the box quickly.  We are introduced to Caleb Smith, a programmer at Bluebook, a search engine company like Google.  Caleb wins a contest to spend the weekend with the CEO of his company, Nathan Bateman.

When he arrives, Caleb learns he will participate in a Turing test (which tests a machine’s ability to successfully impersonate a human being). The subject of this test is Nathan’s latest creation, Ava.

It really is a simple set up but from there Ex Machina moves into heady and tense territory.  First-time director Alex Garland  breaks things up here and there with wonderful bits of humor and absurdity (there is a dance sequence in the movie that I can only describe as oddly spectacular) but the heaviness of the atmosphere only ratchets up.

A movie this small and intricate hinges on the performances of the actors and actresses.  There are really only four main characters in the film and one doesn’t speak.  Yet they are such well-formed characters and the actors inhabit them so fully that you can’t help but be swept up in the story.  Alicia Vikander in particular is fantastic as Ava in a role where she really only has her face and her voice to get things across.

Ex Machina is science fiction with the emphasis on science.  Not everyone wants to go watch a treatise on what defines “being” in a world where machines are increasingly blurring the lines.   Are there some questionable plot points?  Sure, but it’s also pretty fantastic.  Ex Machina is a stylish, taut sci-fi fantasy that manages to be unsettling, smart and entertaining all at the same time.

8 paws out of 10

As always, if you have a movie you think I should check out or you want to talk further about one of these reviews, drop me a line at collincougar@collin.edu or leave me a message on Facebook.