Ex Machina movie review

Featuring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Movie website: www.exmachinamovie.co.uk/
Australian release date: Thu 7 May, 2015

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Gripping and discussion-provoking sci-fi driven by thought rather than action, and no less entertaining for that.

When whizz computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a prize comprising a week in a remote Alaskan lab assessing the results of his mega-wealthy boss Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) artificial intelligence experiments, he is understandby elated. Turns out Nathan is an enigmatic mix, on one hand an eccentric tech genius, on the other a hard-drinking gym-junkie whose buddy-buddy manner jars with the sense that something dark and vaguely threatening lurks beneath – as evidenced by his callous attitude towards his non-English-speaking Japanese maid cum sex slave. Caleb doesn’t know what to make of him or his hi-tech hideaway, which offers luxurious accommodation and facilities, yet feels increasingly like a prison.

However, he is amazed by his boss’s android creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), whose AI exceeds all expectations. Indeed, she seems human in mind – and in body, were it not for transparent sections through which her internal mechanical workings can be seen. The use of CGI is truly impressive here in that it is limited only to creating a brilliantly believable android, rather than going gratuitously overboard in quest of spectacular special effects, as is far too often the case.

When Ava confides in Caleb during a power outage that Nathan is observing them in their interactions, the narrative dynamic changes in a most fascinating manner, opening the way for an unusual development that begs some ethical and philosophical questions. That is, Caleb begins to see Ava not as an android, but as a human female (a damned hot one!) trapped in a machine. Thus, the human vs machine conflict so common in sci-fi is subverted: this time, human and machine join forces against a common human oppressor. But is Caleb right to turn against his own like this? Should androids have human rights? Can they be exploited, or as creations of humankind are they ours to treat however we wish? And what of the dangers that come with perfected AI? Can a machine with AI be trusted? If AI is truly achieved, does not a drive for self-preservation and the capability of deciding to act for good and evil come with it?

As the narrative progresses ever more intriguingly to an unpredictable conclusion, some of the answers to these questions are alluded to, while others are left enticingly hanging, inviting rumination.

The performances are all solid, and the piece is beautifully shot.

On the down side, there are some gaping plot holes. Most do not significantly detract from the work, but one is a real clanger. The security of the lab complex depends on number-coded keycards. Voice, fingerprint and/or facial recognition would surely be basic security measures in a set-up as technically sophisticated as this. It’s hard to forgive a logic flaw as fundamental as this, because the keycards serve a pivotal function in driving the narrative to its conclusion.

That gripe aside, Ex-Machina is sci-fi driven by thought rather than action, and is no less entertaining for that. It’s gripping and discussion-provoking stuff. Recommended.

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

Clouds of Sils Maria movie review

Featuring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz
Director: Oliver Assayas
Writer: Oliver Assayas
Movie website: www.pinnaclefilms.com.au/Product/Details/82a72c76-eefb-4576-8997-a34800c30281
Australian release date: Thu 7 May, 2015

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Slow-moving, dialogue-driven, intense and sometimes oblique, this accomplished piece of filmmaking offers reward for effort for those prepared to take the film on its own terms.

This new work from French auteur Oliver Assayas focuses on the mercurial relationship between an acclaimed middle-aged actor (Juliette Binoche) and her young live-in publicist (Kristen Stewart). It is slow-moving, dialogue-driven, intense and sometimes oblique – quintessentially Euro ‘arthouse’, in other words. Patience and concentration is required of the viewer, then, but there is reward for effort for those prepared to take the film on its own terms.

The big payoff is the performance of the enigmatic Kristen Stewart, a curious casting choice given her CV, but an inspired one. If she ever had a Twilight albatross around her neck, she’s thrown it off for good here. She outshines lead Juliette Binoche with a stunningly naturalistic performance, radiating an innate and unaffected cool and surely giving notice that she is one of the most intuitively talented and potentially versatile actors of her generation. She is simply fascinating to watch.

There are ironic parallels, probably slyly intended, between Stewart and Binoche in real life and the narrative. At the peak of an acclaimed international acting career, Binoche’s character Maria accepts a role in a theatrical production that confronts her with the prospect of being upstaged by the young lead, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), an edgy and scandal-prone Hollywood big budget fantasy/sci-fi star!

Adding to the piquancy, Maria has played Ellis’s character in her youth, launching her career off her success. But there’s more. The play is about an older woman infatuated with her young female employee. Lots of ‘meta’ hocus pocus going on here…

There is irony, also, in Stewart’s behind-the-scenes role as Maria’s live-in publicist. Her character, Valentine, is removed from the glare of the celeb spotlight. At one point when Maria is tutt-tutting about media coverage of movie star scandals Val exclaims: “It’s celebrity gossip – it’s fun”. No doubt Stewart delighted in that line.

Stewart’s brief, in a sense, is to be herself (albeit before the cameras), and she revels in this awkward freedom. There is no sense at all that she is acting, or “in character.” Indeed, both Stewart and Binoche give the impression that they are extemporising, although the script is too complex and adroitly shaped for that to be the case.

Not much “happens”; the action is in the dialogue, which is unrelenting and often intense. While this is somewhat testing for the viewer, the nature of the publicist/celeb relationship, with its often uneasy blend of the professional and personal, is intriguing. The highlight is a brilliantly written and performed scene in which Val takes Maria through her lines from an art-imitates-life section of the play where it is never quite clear when they are reading as characters or interacting for real. It’s unnervingly tense stuff.

Not for everyone, but this is an accomplished piece of filmmaking, and worth seeing for Stewart’s performance alone.

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

Testament of Youth movie review

Featuring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, Colin Morgan, Joanna Scanlon, Alexandra Roach, Dominic West, Miranda Richardson
Director: James Kent
Writer: Juliette Towhidi (adapted from Vera Brittain’s memoir of the same title)
Movie website: www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/film/testament_of_youth
Australian release date: 23 April, 2015

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Falls short of greatness as a film, but as an anti-war statement is about as emotion-charged and powerful as it gets.

Based on Vera Brittain’s memoir of World War 1, Testament of Youth personalises the brutalising of a generation whose youthful innocence was forfeited to the ravages of a war of unprecedented scale, horror and destruction. Continue reading

The Age of Adaline movie review

Featuring: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Kathy Baker, Ellen Burstyn
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writers: J. Mills Goodloe, Salvador Paskowitz, Allison Burnett
Movie website: www.theageofadalinemovie.com/
Australian release date: !6 April, 2015

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Emotionally under-powered, but romance fans will probably still enjoy this. Not enough is made of the immortality sub-theme to sustain other viewers.

This is yet another movie that launches off the concept of immortality. It doesn’t bring anything to the table that hasn’t already been served up, but it’s a romance with a bit of fantasy worked into the mix, not the converse, so expectations of imaginative and philosophical acrobatics are unrealistic. Indeed, not much is made of the immortality bit, which functions mostly to lend novelty to an otherwise traditionally shaped romance narrative, and support the guiding thesis of the piece – that love gives life meaning and requires commitment, m’kay? Oh, and that quality trumps quantity. Continue reading

Wild Tales movie review

Featuring: Simón Ricardo Darín, Mauricio Oscar Martínez, Diego Iturralde, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Romina Érica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Salgado Darío Grandinetti, Helena María Onetto, Victoria Nancy Dupláa
Writer/ Director: Damián Szifron
Movie website: www.spanishfilmfestival.com/films/wild-tales
Australian release date: Wed, May 6 (closing night of Spanish Film Festival, Cinema Paradiso, Perth)

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Brilliantly executed comedy of catharsis – a wonderfully fresh, hugely enjoyable blast of a cinema experience.

Perthites, take note: the 2015 Spanish Film Festival is on at Cinema Paradiso from 23 April to 6 May. There were some tremendous movies in last year’s program, including Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed – a little gem that I reviewed here. There’s another absolute must-see this year, which I was fortunate to catch at a preview screening.

I refer to the Oscar nominated and Almodovar produced Argentinian black comedy Wild Tales, which has been chosen for this year’s Closing Night premiere screening – talk about finishing with a bang! If this cracker is any indication of the quality of the rest of the Festival offerings, Olé, Olé, Olé! Continue reading