Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Sci-fi film explores boundary between humanity and A.I.

Ex Machina is a great Sci-fi film. Keeping in mind that sentence does not work if you take out the words “Sci-fi.” It is not a great film. But for the genre, it is a step in the right direction in regards to having a futuristic feel with limited characters and a mind altering soundtrack. It gave me the same feeling as when I watched Logan’s Run in the 70’s.

The film is simple in its premise. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young computer coder who wins a contest put on by the owner of the high tech company he works for. The owner Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is one of those reclusive bazillionaires who has been creating advanced electronic programs since he was a fetus. Caleb’s prize is the opportunity to spend a week at Nathan’s lab/mansion in order to evaluate his latest creation; a female A.I.
Ava (Alicia Vikander) is the most advanced artificial intelligence robot ever created. Caleb’s job is to study her and determine if she passes the “Turing test,” which is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. As the test goes on the questions surface as to what is really going on. Can Caleb trust Nathan? Is Ava’s perceived interest in Caleb legitimate or a test of its own? The film takes some twisty turns on its journey to an explosive final scene.

The graphics in this movie are incredible. The transformation of Vikander into the Ava we see on screen is perfect. You can’t tell where machine stops and human starts. Her mannerisms and innocent facial features hook you into believing that she really is AI driven. Isaac gives us a genius CEO that is part Tony Stark and part Hugh Hefner. You can’t tell if he is sincere in his appreciation of the naive Caleb or if he is maniacally malevolent. The two sort of do a dance throughout the film.

The Sci-Fi junkies will drool over the lab and gadgets that are constant throughout. It is futuristic without being inconceivable. Also there is a very sexy nature to the film that permeates the script with seductive undertones. During the day it is all business as Caleb and Ava converse about life and feelings. But at night Nathan has a tendency to bust out the booze and drink himself into a stupor.

Ex Machina is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence. This is certainly an adult film. There is quite a bit of female nudity in the film. Granted it is supposed to be a robot draped in skin like covering. But we all know what we are seeing. The dialogue has many sexual references but there is little actual sex in the film. Certainly an 18 and over film.

I give it 4 out of 5 key cards. It borrows the good stuff from past Sci-Fi films and creates this new, fresh, and stylized futuristic flick. Writer/Director Alex Garland has given us a story and characters that are worth seeing again and again.

Irving concert series brings classic hits to Heritage District

The City of Irving’s 2015 Concert Series is bringing the music of popular bands to downtown Irving’s Whistlestop Plaza. Tribute bands representing popular groups from various musical genres will hit the stage and delight audiences by playing well-known songs.

The series runs through June 26 at Whistlestop Plaza, 123 W. Irving Blvd., in the Heritage District. Each show runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The featured acts are:

April 24: ESCAPE: The Dallas Journey Tribute Band

May 8: Neon Circus (a Brooks & Dunn tribune band)

May 22: Buster Brown Band (paying tribute to Motown artists)

June 12: Texas Flood (a Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band)

June 26: Satisfaction: The International Rolling Stones Show

The shows are free and family-friendly. All concerts are held outdoors, so attendees are encouraged to bring blankets and/or lawn chairs for seating. Food vendors will be on site selling concessions. Parking and admission are free. Prepare to sing along with your favorite hits.

SOURCE City of Irving

The “Longest Ride” may be a little too long

It is possible that Nicholas Sparks and Tyler Perry are in a competition to see who can regurgitate the same plot line into box office success most often. Sparks is out of the chute this time with a modern day romance called The Longest Ride. With this one he borrows elements that made The Notebook so endearing and tries to recapture that feeling of a time when life and love seemed a bit more pure and a lot less hurried.

The present day love story revolves around a young bull rider, Luke (Scott Eastwood), trying to rise to the top after a horrible rodeo accident. He strikes up a relationship with Sophia (Britt Robertson), a college student trying to start a career in the art business, and in Sparks’ fashion, they soon fall madly in love. When they come to the aid of an older gentleman named Ira (Alan Alda) Sophia takes an interest in his story of Ruth; the woman Ira forever loved.

Where this movie shines the brightest is in the 1940’s flashbacks that tell the story of the young Ira and Ruth. Like in The Notebook Sparks’ ability to write romance and love during that period is excellent. Yes, the relationship between Luke and Sophia is romantic, and Luke is endearing with his southern boy charm. And even though Eastwood and Robertson have a casual, believable chemistry that is attractive; you will still long for the “remembrance” sequences to visit the young Ira (Jack Huston) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin).

Chaplin is fantastic in her portrayal of Ruth. There is no question why Ira was so endeared with her and audiences soon follow suit. She is quirky, tenacious and out spoken. But she coats it wonderfully in this sweet, soft demeanor that is never abrasive or cold. She has a zeal and love for life that permeates the screen. Their saga is certainly the saving grace of this film. But does it save enough?

Sparks writes better novels than what transfers to the screen. He should take that as a compliment unless his desire is to be a screenwriter. Readers of this book will see a few plot changes and timeline issues but the meat of the story and the overall climax is still the same. That said the dialogue between Luke and Sophia is at times very trite, formulaic and cotton candy predictable. No fault of the actors. They read the lines with gusto and do not allow that to diminish their onscreen presence. Just be ready for some eye rolls.

The Longest Ride is rated PG-13 for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some war and sports action. The content pushes the limit a bit more than normal for Nick’s flicks. There are a few steamy moments that contain nudity, which is seldom a part of Sparks’ normal operations. But these are rare and over fast. Though not Sparks’ best, it is at least better than the last few. The rodeo elements are a nice addition, and Eastwood seems very much at home in those moments. I give it 2.5 out of 5 seconds. If the movie had been entirely about the young Ira and Ruth, it would have scored higher points.

Students shine in one-act play stage

The One-Act Plays from Irving, Singley Academy and MacArthur advanced to the district level, following impressive performances as the UIL Zone A and B contest March 28. Nimitz High School was named an alternate.

In addition, several Irving ISD students earned accolades for their individual performances. Timothy Dukes of Singley Academy was named “Best Actor,” an award given to only two performers out of 16 casts. Irving students snagged seven of the 16 All Star awards, four of the 16 Honorable Mention All Star Cast honors and five Outstanding Technician recognitions as follows:

All Star Cast

Andrew Miller, Irving

Ashley Parent-Brito, Irving

Alejo Ibarra, Singley

Ashley Krock, Singley

MHS – Landry Morrison, MacArthur

Thomas Magee, MacArthur

Jayden Russell, Nimitz


Honorable Mention All Star Cast

Nicholas Wanjohi, Irving

Muhammad Abbadi, Singley

Bianca Umeakuana, MacArthur

Katherine Ludlam, Nimitz


Outstanding Tech

Gisselle De La Torre, Irving

Chelsey Yarofolmeg, Singley

Keyla Ayala, MacArthur

Rebecca Van Pamel, Nimitz


Column Awards shake boring to very foundations

Photo: Big hair, roller skates and Greek gods, the cast of Xanadu leaves the crowd breathless with a taste of their musical, which played last summer at ONSTAGE in Bedford. /Photo by Bryan Chatlain

Texas earthquakes are nothing compared to the 16th annual Column Awards, Forbidden Columns. The musical numbers brought down the house as some of the most talented people working in theater today collaborated to bring the best of the best together for one night.

Casts whose performances were selected from around the Metroplex for competition in the best musical category offered audiences a sample of the excitement of their work during the event at Patty Granville Performing Arts Center in Garland on March 22.

The lavish event honored the best directors, actors/actresses, stage hands, costume designers and others. With everyone attending dressed in ball gowns and three piece suits, the atmosphere was nothing short of stellar. It began with flashing lights, flamboyant pizazz, and a number to “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” Immediately following was Liam Taylor performing the hit song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.

Trich Zaitoon won an award for best play, non-equity, and also presented the award for best actress in a musical equity.

“I was a late bloomer and started performing when I was 40,” Zaitoon said. “But when you are on stage, you can’t explain what it feels like to perform and change lives.”

The Steve Lovett award for outstanding new work went to Annie Benjamin, Katen Cale, Lorena Davey, Terry Ferguson, and Shelby Addison-Hibbs.

Another prestigious award honors the late Rudy Seppy, who was tragically killed while working in the Dupree Theater. His wife, Maria, presented the award to winner Deborah Green.

After another musical number, “Hair,” and a wardrobe change from host John Garcia, the energy and entertainment lingered in the air. The “Legally Blonde” performance had the audience on their feet, as did the very talented cast of “Cabaret.”

The crowd then paid their respects with a moment of silence for the fallen soldiers of the industry.

“What I love most about this event is that you never know who is going to be nominated,” Garcia said. “We strive to stay away from popularity and mainstream. This opens up so many doors for our local theaters and artists. We put so much of our hearts into this, and we also risk our health, our finances, our relationships and our lives because we love it so much.”

Another musical performance of the hit “Xanadu” wowed the crowd followed by “The Musical Parody of the Fellowship of the Ring.” “The mystery of Edward Drood” and “The Little Shop of Horrors” also provided spectacular entertainment with dancing, strong vocals and outstanding wardrobe. This event was intriguing and is certain to be followed by an even more flamboyant and well executed Column Awards show next year.