A programmer is summoned by his tech genius boss to test his AI creation.
Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
The title of Alex Garland's sci-fi film is notable for what it leaves out. Ex Machina is missing the Deus that typically leads that phrase, meaning God of the Machine. A Deus Ex Machina is a dramatic device in which a powerful solution is presented to a difficult problem. Ex Machina doesn't resort to this often-cheap device, but by cutting God out of the title, it does invite the question of who in the film might fill that role. Is it the inventor, the vastly-powerful invented, or the mediator between the two that drives the action? As the writer of top-notch sci-fi films like Sunshine, 28 Days Later, and Never Let Me Go, Garland has long interrogated the relationship between creator and created, as well as the distance between cold rationality and empathetic feeling. In his directorial debut, Ex Machina is of a kind with his previous work, as artificial intelligence is subbed in for contagion, cloning, or space travel while the themes remain the same.
Before diving into the review proper, let’s get a couple important questions out of the way…
SHOULD YOU SEE THE ORIGINAL? – Probably, but it isn’t required viewing. A few pieces of the aesthetic might be lost in translation, but you really don’t need much beyond a basic understanding of who Deckard is, who Rachel is, and their relationship. Everything else can be gleaned from context within the movie.
SPOILER-FREE, SHOULD I SEE THIS? – More than likely yes. The pacing is a bit deliberate by today’s standards, but if you like Denis Villeneuve’s previous outings Sicario and especially Arrival, or you’re a fan of the original, you should see this. And try to see it on IMAX or Cinemark xD or something like that, because this is a visual spectacle.
Ok, and with that, onto the show…
A Monster Calls should be commended for taking on a difficult subject with a more whimsical approach than we normally see, but confusing underlying decisions ultimately undermine what could have been one of the great movies of 2016. The story starts with a strong enough foundation. Conor is a young boy with a life no one wants: his mother is sick and presumably dying, he has no other significant support system to look to, and he is constantly bullied by another boy who may or may not actually be in love with him, but I digress. His life is almost comically terrible – why not just give him a physical deformity while we’re at it? Conor finds respite in his drawing, and these fantasies manifest themselves in the form of a tree monster who visits Conor with the promise of telling him three stories, after which Conor will reveal “his truth.” The structure is reminiscent of the 2006 modern classic Pan’s Labyrinth, but the similarities begin and end there.
Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence speech holds a major piece of real estate in Mike Mills' semi-autobiographical film 20th Century Women. Derided at the time but seen as somewhat prescient decades later, Carter diagnosed the country's problems in a perilous economic time and recommended a series of solutions at the macro and micro level. He refused to coddle the country, saying that we all had a part to play in bringing things to their current state but that we also had the power, individually and communally, to improve things. One year later, Carter would be replaced by Ronald Reagan, a man who told the country flattering lies about itself and created a culture that would only exacerbate the problems Carter talked about, pulling the country further into selfishness and consumerism. In 20th Century Women, Reagan's so-called 'Morning in America' has not yet dawned, and the characters are all in various states of malaise. Like Carter, they prefer honesty and hard truths to hand-waving and pleasant lies. 20th Century Women isn't going for the big moment or the grand turning point, but does the hard work of small steps. It prefers low-key tragedies to grand victories, and defines aging as the world getting regretfully smaller but richer and deeper at the same time.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a terrible title. I always hated calling How I Met Your Mother HIMYM but then I typed it two three times so from here on I’ll refer to this movie as IDFAHITWA. Shit, that sucked too - “this movie” - Perfect!
This movie is about Ruth, a nursing assistant played by Melanie Lynskey who embarks on a vigilante mission with neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) to find who broke into her home and stole her computer and grandma’s silverware. Ruth is introduced as a fairly depressing character without much going for her, crappy house, bad neighborhood, lonely, weird neighbors, etc. When she is robbed and police do nothing it is a breaking point for her to seek justice. Ruth describes her brand of justice as not wanting people to be assholes anymore. That’s a big ask but a noble one. Between plaster casting a footprint in the garden and using her find my laptop app she is able to eventually track down the perpetrators with the help of Tony who joined primarily it seemed because he was into the chance to bust out his weaponry towards the aim of moral justice.
I’m not a fan of the review style that breaks down scene by scene and retells the story so I’ll end by summarizing- a string of events featuring multiple laugh worthy gags and a few oh shit moments and one very predictable gun malfunction lead this movie to a satisfying conclusion.
Brilliantly weird, A-.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.