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Ex Machina: A.I. & Philosophy in Intelligent Sci-Fi Thriller
Elegant, though- provoking and clever, the beautifully envisioned Ex Machina is the latest sci-fi thriller that takes, shapes and sends the already probed concept of artificial intelligence into a realm of its own, resulting in an excellent viewing experience well deserving in its own right.
Brought to life by famed novelist and screenwriter, Alex Garland – see Beach and 28 Days Later – the story is centred on Caleb (Gleeson); a gifted programmer and an employee at Bluebook - one of the world's most popular search engines - who wins an opportunity to spend a week with the company's eccentric CEO, Nathan (Isaac), at his luxurious retreat somewhere high-up in the Alaskan Mountains.
Upon his arrival, however, Caleb learns that his prize is no holiday as he finds out that he has actually been recruited to participate in an experiment – the Turing Test – which is hoping to examine the behavioural limitations of Nathan's latest artificial intelligence creation, Ava (Vikander).
See, Ava is a softly spoken, beautiful and a highly-intelligent humanoid robot that has the ability to talk, think and feel; her brain has been made up of all Bluebook's searches and her body, apart from her expressive and human-like facial features is entirely made of complex and transparent synthetic wiring.
The test, which includes a total of seven supervised 'talking' sessions between Caleb and Ava, is to determine whether Ava's way of thinking and behaviour is in any way different from that of a human; an examination that is soon followed by a dark exploration of human nature.
Alex Garland's feature debut – a notion which in itself is a little hard to swallow given that the film doesn't look anything like the work of a beginner - is sleek, seductive and effortlessly stylish. Chillingly effective, Garland offers his long-list of ideas - one of them exploring the threat of advanced technology upon humanity – and builds his theories through a series of interesting conversations and clever dialogue. Shot with great precision, the one-set location is suitably claustrophobic and the cool-colour palette used throughout plays as a perfect representation of Nathan's reclusive and advanced world of scientific philosophies and its immense possibilities.
Charming and at the same time absolutely petrifying, Isaac – recently seen in Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis – is riveting as a mad scientist type, who spends his completely closed off from the outside world but, well ahead in his very own. Gleeson's physical awkwardness is affable and his vulnerability makes him the perfect candidate for his role ,while Vikander – a trained ballerina – is the movie's heart and soul, however crazy that may sound.
Broodingly slow andintense, Ex Machina is a must-see and no matter how sluggish the movie may seem on the outside, its underlying complexities are endlessly engaging.
Returning to the world of wizards and all things magic, J.K Rowling’s screenwriting debut in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has produced mixed results. Following the massive and the enduring success of the Harry Potter film franchise, the story is both magical and visually arresting. However, although definitely entertaining, the fun factor seems to have been squeezed out of the proceedings.
The plot follows ‘magizoologist’, Newt (Redmayne), who travels the world in search of magical animals in order to learn more about their powers. During his travels to New York City in 1926, Newt ends up losing his magical suitcase – a portable zoo of sorts which accidentally finds itself in the hands of an aspiring baker, Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) – setting off a chain of chaos.
The incident soon attracts the attention of Tina Goldstein (Waterston); a federal agent working for the Magical Congress of the United States of America who, after some persuading, reluctantly joins our hero on his quest along with her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Sudol).
Working from an original screenplay penned by J.K Rowling herself and directed by David Yates – filmmaker who helmed previous Harry Potter films – it would be easy to assume Fantastic Beasts to be nothing more than a blatant cash-grab which hopes to profit from long-time Harry Potter fans. However, although not as developed or as absorbing as one might have hoped, Fantastic Beasts proves to be a worthy addition to the fantasy arena which delivers an enchanting premise of eccentricity and magic.
Set seventy years before a boy named Harry Potter first walked the halls of Hogwarths, the film benefits from a degree of creative freedom to expand on its premise, introducing new stories, characters and an array of magical beasts along the way. However, there seems to be too much going on and the film struggles to keep up with the sheer amount of characters and sub-plots, failing to offer any substantial back stories or weight support them. The performances are relatively likable, with Redmayne embracing Newt’s love for magic with an gawky energy, though the rest of the cast – including Collin Farrell and Jon Voight - fail to make a similar impact.
Fantastic Beasts is an entertaining piece of cinema which will more than likely please die-hard fans that have been waiting to return to the world of wizards and magic. However, it’s not exactly what you might call an exciting movie or even a fully developed one; while it has sown the seeds for the films to come, as a standalone piece, it fails to really wow.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.