EX MACHINA

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It may be a little mechanical in parts but it’s certainly not one for the scrap heap.

A ha . . . Anyway. Finally a film that didn’t make me question the purpose of my cinema pass.

A brooding, atmospheric and suspenseful thriller that ponders the existence of artificial intelligence and the very essence of life.

So what’s it all about? A young programmer (Domnhall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. (Alicia Vikander)

Brought to you by the guy who penned 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Now to me, I instantly had high hopes. I loved both. To some, there may be doubts.

The premise is hardly original but it’s take is certainly a breath of fresh air.

It does sound a little pretentious. And in parts it can be but it’s all helped by an original script and a small (No seriously. Four actors) but talented up and coming cast.

Domnhall Gleeson has been on the radar for some time featuring in such hits as About Time and Unbroken. He proves once again why he is one to watch. He plays the geeky programmer with aplomb and delivers his lines with an impeccable accent.

What I loved about the opening was how quick cut it was. It didn’t mess around or linger unnecessarily. Just straight to business. It set the tone, the pace and got the story going. Main character. Situation. Bang, bang, bang.

The cinematography by Rob Hardy was outstanding. Especially with the breathtaking panoramic landscape shots as Gleeson’s Caleb descends upon the Jurassic Park-esque compound of the reclusive genius Nathan (Isaac).

Oscar Isaac was brilliant as the eccentric inventor. A scene stealer at every chance. A chameleon with a tough poker face. Isaac is certainly banging on the door with his performances; Inside Llewyn Davis, Two Faces of January and A Most Violent Year.

As soon as “Day One” flashed across the screen, the game begins. A suspenseful, haunting voyeuristic journey into madness.

When Caleb is first introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), it makes for slow burning but engaging viewing. The pair sharing pleasantries and sussing each other out. There is great chemistry between Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.

She will certainly be one whose face you will have to get used to. Appearing in several future releases and one current (Testament of Youth); Seventh Son, Son of a Gun, Man from UNCLE.

However, if her performances are anything like this then I won’t be complaining. And no! That is not because she is a naked Swedish robot who has stolen my heart (What?)

The tension begins to bubble as the days count down. Strange things happen around the enormous techno compound. Unexplained power cuts that automatically lock every room. CCTV footage on every TV channel of Ava.

An air of unease and suspicion shrouds the house (and the film). The paranoia beginning to rear its ugly head.

Loyalties soon divided, perceptions blurred. The eccentric Nathan watching the couple’s conversation under a microscope. Ava desperate to escape. Warning Caleb not to trust Nathan.

This certainly kept my attention for the majority of the film as I tried to suss out what was really going on here.

The debates between Caleb and Ava made interesting points and certainly pondered the question of what is real? Can a robot feel? Judge what is right and wrong. Their chemistry igniting more and more.

The only issue is that with all the conversations, the slow burning pace and the beautiful landscapes, it does go on a little bit.

I could feel myself kind of wanting Day 7 (it occurs over a week) to reach it’s finale a little quicker.

It’s almost Kubrickian. The long sweeping shots, the hallways. God, the endless hallways. No creepy twins in this one. Only a sultry Japanese robot servant named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). Alluring one moment, unsettling the next.

Garland even goes for a bizarre encounter involving a choreographed disco routine that really showed Nathan’s eccentricity (and that Isaac can dance). He also delivered the best retort I’ve heard in some time.

An angry Caleb storms in and asks why Nathan tore up something. His response? “I’m going to tear up the dance floor, dude.” Brilliant.

The finale was a little predictable but how it come about still surprised me and left me nodding my head in approval. That can’t be said for a lot of films these days.

I don’t want to divulge too much as I would like you to give this a gander.

The special effects were very good. The detail on Ava and Kyoto was remarkable. No over-indulgence on the CGI which made them look a lot less cartoony and more realistic.

I mean that could be down to the fact this had a much smaller budget but always a plus in my book in this day and age of relentless, OTT animation.

It’s certainly a dark broody affair. If you’re expecting fast action and bang for your buck with sexy robots, then watch I, Robot or Transformers but if you want a little bit of philosophical sci-fi then give it a go.

It’s not perfect. A little long at the tooth but engaging enough.

A step in the right direction.

3.5 (just)/5

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UNBROKEN REVIEW

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This didn’t break my top movies list BUT there is still an engaging account of one’s man incredible story.

So what’s it all about? After a near-fatal plane crash in WW2, Olympian Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Angelina Jolie takes the directing seat again and delivers a riveting (if overlong) re-telling of fear, hardship and endurance.

O’Connell has certainly cracked the big leagues and with a performance like this, he will continue to do so. It’s great to see the transition he has made since his role as Cook in Skins. His accent seemed a little muddled in the opening sequence but that soon subsided as the film continued.

The main thing I had to get over with was his badly dyed hair.

The opening air battle sequence certainly got things going. It was fast, frantic and . . . really loud. A good action set piece.

In between the air battles, the film flicks back and forth showing Zamperini’s childhood. A little hoodlum that refused to back down but was heading down the wrong path.

That was until his brother drew Louis’ attention to the track team. Their relationship was captured perfectly. Both sets of actors who played young and (older) Louis and Pete were very good.

To be honest, I wanted more of that. It seemed to flash through Zamperini’s childhood and Olympic campaign a little too quickly. I mean arguably it was just right. It wasn’t too corny and certainly didn’t linger too much.

The Olympic race may have been predictable for those who know about Zamperini. Unfortunately I didn’t know a thing. A mistake now amended. BUT you were still rooting for him. A typical underdog story. A promising talent . . . that is until the war.

The flashbacks subside when Zamperini is left stranded on a lifeboat with two of his comrades; Domhnall Green (About Time) and Finn Wittrock (Noah). Green had an impeccable accent and played the role very well. Another up and coming star to keep an eye on.

The ocean raft scenes were tense. The shark fins swarming around their prey. If not the sharks, it was the hunger, the blistering heat or the very fear that the plane you’re trying to flag down is the enemy. The threat of death ever constant.

The trio were fantastic and the first hour or so, I was engrossed in their struggle. Watching them as they tried to hunt and eat whatever they could to survive. There was one moment that rivalled Jaws in the scare factor.

Unexpected for the cinema spectator next to me (Mum) who nearly elbowed me in the face. Certainly got the pulse racing.

I couldn’t imagine being in a situation like that. BUT for 47 days! Unbelievable.

And if that wasn’t enough, the soldiers are then captured by the enemy and sent to a Japanese POW camp under the horrific treatment of Wantanabe or The Bird. The Bird because he sees all.

Takamara Ishihara was outstanding as Wantanabe. A sterling debut performance. I expect to see more from him. Hopefully not typecast as the bad guy but he played the part so well.

Zamperini’s treatment was tough viewing. The only problem is that the second half of this 137 minute length is literally just watching him being beaten endlessly with kendo sticks and by his own comrades.

I say, own comrades. They were all ordered to punch Zamperini in the face or let their injured face more torture. Harrowing stuff.

I hate to say this but once you’ve seen Louis being beaten about for five minutes, you realise there isn’t much else.

There were a couple of actors that popped up. Jai Courtney (Divergent), Luke Treadaway (Clash of the Titans) and Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) did as well as they could but their characters were so far in the background that it was hard to pull them out of it to make more memorable impressions.

The emphasis was always going to be on Zamperini. I understand that this is his experience but the length didn’t justify the means. The punching scene was mental. If it is true and not exaggerated for the film, how did that man survive?

The radio broadcast sequence was interesting as Zamperini is bribed by his captors. Good food and clean living for his denouncement of America and their involvement in the war.

BUT of course, this man will not be broken. There were moments where I was rooting for him, especially in his “crucifixion”. Forced to lift a railway sleeper above his head. If dropped, he would be shot.

However, I felt that it was all a little too similar to The Railway Man that was released last year. It may be unfair to compare (Did that rhyme? Totally rhymed) but Unbroken did fall slightly short.

Jolie wasn’t afraid to show both sides at their worst. As the prisoners are transferred from one camp to another, they are forced to walk through a town that had been destroyed by the American B-bombers.

There were some revelations in the closing minutes. But it would have been nicer to see them in the film than just read about it. The fact we didn’t know what had happened to Zamperini’s comrades after they were sent to different POW camps until the end credits was a little disappointing.

But it was still a fitting and uplifting footnote to a dreadfully visceral and tough journey.

Certainly worth a gander and O’Connell’s performance cannot be broken.

BUT the pace and the story line could have been a little bit more.

3/5