Ex Machina: A Review

Reviewed by Vladi

Ladies, gentlemen, and other such creatures, summer is here and with it the promise of decent cinema. In the glorious month of May there are a few exciting releases. It’s easy to get overshadowed by the hype of blockbuster giants such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Mad Max. However, one pretty kick ass movie also came out recently which is well wort our notice.

I’m talking about Ex Machina. The movie is directed by Alex Garland, best known for 28 Days Later, and Dredd. If none of those movies add credibility to his name for you, take away this: the man’s a master of mood and suspense. He orchestrates his films very precisely and knows exactly how he wants you to feel and think through each separate scene. In that sense, his films feel very complete and very unified. Kind of like an album that’s an album and not just a casual selection of songs. In that respect, Ex Machina is no exception.

The plot should be no mystery to most people. It is the not too distant future and we are developing AI. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a search engine mogul invites Calep (Domhnall Gleeson), one of his top employees, over to his house/lab to help him test the most advanced AI made to date, Ava (Alicia Vikander). Unlike simpler AI, she doesn’t have just a narrow question-response programming, but instead she is developed to form a consciousness of her own. So it’s up to Calep to interact with her and to see if she can pass the Touring test, a test developed by Alan Turing to see if an AI can fool a human into thinking that it’s a human. And that’s it. Do robots dream of electric sheep?

I think AI has been addressed a lot of times in cinema, with movies like A.I. (duh), Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, Bladerunner, I Robot, Transcendence, Ghost in The Shell, and more recently, Chappie. And while many of those movies pose good questions about the nature of A.I. and its impact on the human condition, Ex Machina takes it a step further to try and visualize what it would mean to have true A.I. What would it mean to birth a consciousness into our world? What would it mean to give that consciousness access to the internet, the most condensed source of information that we have? And more importantly, what would this A.I. think of us? How would it react towards us. Would it like us or hate us? Would it want to befriend us or destroy us? These are questions that I find can be absolutely chilling if you begin to comprehend just what the answers might be, and this movie does a great job of flirting with some of them.

Am I human? How do I know I’m not a robot?

The pacing is absolutely perfect. No scenes are fillers, none of them drag, and none of them are cheap. The mounting tension is handled very professionally, gradually building without your notice. An effect reinforced by a very solid soundtrack which has a narrative of its own. You could take this movie, play it on mute, and just play the soundtrack with it and it would still make sense. The music fits the story like a glove, and adds goosebumps up and down your spine on more than one occasion.

The cinematography also deserves a nod as the shots are set up beautifully. There’s a strangely calm and quiet grace with which the scenes follow one another. For a movie that’s a thriller, the shots are very calm and composed. Almost meditative. Yet that seems to only draw you into the movie more, making you want to jump in the protagonist’s shoes and make his decisions for him rather than just watch as a spectator.

This movie was a lot of fun. It is beautiful to look at, it will get you thinking, it will explore a very interesting concept, and it will probably disturb you on a few occasions, something that I think is the hallmark of any good sci-fi-the ability to shake your confidence in the world you live in. 4/5, very well made. Go give the theaters your money!

By the end of this movie, this scene should probably haunt you. Despite the movie being a thriller, there’s a lot of moments that just stand out on their own. Just so well constructed that they put you in a temporary state of awe and wonder.

Chappie: A Review

Do androids dream of electric sheep? Do celebrities make bad actors? Does a dog lick its own balls? Yes, and so does Chappie. 

Chappie is a film written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. It stars Sharlto Copley as Chappie, Dev Patel as Deon Wilson, Chappie’s creator, and Hugh Jackman as an angry, steroid ridden, ridiculously terrible antagonist who doesn’t deserve a name. Also, Die Antwoord, but more of that later.

The movie takes place in Johannesburg, where crime has been rampant. With the help of new police Scout Droids, however, the government has been able to establish order again. Deon Wilson, brilliant young programmer is the designer of these scouts. And while happy with his success, he is more interested in creating AI that can feel and think for itself. An AI that can develop its own emotions and own personality. Enter Chappie.

On the other side of town, we have Die Antwoord, a small group of heist criminals. They get in a bit of trouble with the local gangs, and need something short of a miracle to get out of a massive loan that’s hanging over their heads. How can they hope to steal enough money in time to pay their way out of death? Enter Chappie.

For those of you unfamiliar with Die Antwoord, they are a South African hip hop duo known for their explicit lyrics and music videos. They have a pretty crazy sound and image. Apparently the director was a big fan, so he decided they had to be in his movie. But to act a certain role, or to do a small cameo? No. They are more or less the main characters and spotlight of this film when Chappie isn’t yammering away in his awesome South African accent. They don’t even act, they just play themselves. And while they can be highly entertaining at times, there’s no hiding the fact that they are plain ridiculous.  They can’t act, and their personas don’t really have a place in this movie.

To the movie’s credit, it asks a lot of interesting questions about AI. It brings up the notion that personality, human or otherwise, may one day be boiled down to a highly complex mathematical algorithm. It asks some good questions about what makes us truly human, truly ourselves and not someone else. It makes a very good case for sentient machines being more than just that. In that regard, the movie truly does deserve a thumbs up.

Also, I would be doing a great disservice to Sharlto Copley if I didn’t mention how good his performance was in this. Any scene we have Chappie in, it’s hard to imagine that somebody actually acted out his performance. That he wasn’t just merely created like that, the perfect, endearing, little robot. His mannerisms, gestures and voice are absolutely spot on. Any scene he’s in, he absolutely steals the screen for the better. He could actually make me forget about the Die Antwoord parts of the movie and make me feel like I’m watching a good film again. However, inevitably, the Die Antwoord parts kept coming in, louder, and dumber in sequence.

Much like District 9, Blomkamp’s last successful film, you have a very good idea and concept which is executed very poorly. The narrative simply doesn’t carry its own weight. The writing is outright laughable in many parts. Any scene with Hugh Jackman is absolutely cringe worthy. Don’t get me wrong, Hugh Jackman is a GREAT actor. But in this film, everything he has to work with is a train wreck. Even the tone is all over the place. You go from Disney/Spielberg “aww” moments, to slapstick comedy, to people being graphically disembodied, to heart-wrenching drama… It really feels all over the place. The movie’s tone and direction are definitely not unified and defined.

If you got a Friday night to kill and there’s nothing better, this movie might be worth your dollar. It should give you a few good laughs, make you ponder a question or two. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, you might actually enjoy yourself. But don’t look for a proper film here.

Sorry, ol’ Chap.