Movie Review: Ex Machina

Meet Ava: a female A.I. robot who is the subject of Ex Machina.
Meet Ava: a female A.I. robot who captures the intrigue of a young computer tech in Ex Machina.

Ex Machina didn’t seem like a movie that would win a lot of people over. However it did capture a lot of people’s intrigue both with the story and its subject.

The movie begins at the office of Bluebook, the world’s most popular search engine. A worker named Caleb has won a prize. He’s excited and everyone’s excited. Later on we learn what his prize was. A trip to his boss Nathan’s laboratory in a remote location up north with no cellphone use available. His boss Nathan is there with Kyoko his maid the only other person. Nathan mentions that he is working on artificial intelligence persona and wants Caleb to assist in the studies. Specifically to focus on if robots can be human and have feelings and a conscious. In a sense, pass the Turing Test where the barrier between humans and computers are broken.  Nathan wants this thing to be a friend-friend atmosphere instead of boss-worker. Caleb nervously agrees.

He is told he would meet with the subject named Ava. Ava is a robot with a female face and voice and Caleb is to first sense if Ava has a conscious. Caleb is introduced to Ava who has muscle-like arms and legs but very human-like skin and a very human-like voice. Caleb and Ava have a conversation. Nathan admits he constructed Ava’s images, behavior and motions from information and photos he hacked from people’ data searches through Bluebook.

Caleb’s study of Ava is not confined to one-on-one meetings in a special room. He can view Ava in her small ‘apartment’ where he notices her sitting and moving around. Caleb also notes of power outages that happen at the place and happen for only a few minutes at most. It’s claimed to be because of Ava charging herself and that Nathan has bad wiring due to the system. The next day Caleb and Ava develop a conversation that’s more personal. Then another blackout occurs where Ava tells Caleb that Nathan is a liar and not to be trusted.

Over time, Ava becomes more like a human and Caleb noticeable develops a bond with her. However he sees Ava’s confinement by Nathan as a form of abuse, especially since Ava talks of how she wants to go out in the work. Nathan adds to the drama by saying Ava will be reprogrammed in the future which will effectively kill her.

Thins become more frustrating for Caleb. He notices how Kyoko goes from being Nathan’s maid to being his party person. It becomes frustrating to the point when Nathan passes out drunk, Caleb steals his card to look up information of any other robots. He learns of other robots Nathan created and eventually did away with. They’re all there in a storage section. All were very human in behavior in their use. During an outage while in conversation with Ava, Caleb mentions his escape plan to her and tells her to be ready by a certain time. Caleb also learns the truth about Kyoko: she’s a robot too. It frustrates Caleb to the point he cuts himself to see if he’s still human.

The plan to escape is foiled. Nathan knew the information of the escape because of videotaping during the blackout. Nathan even tells Caleb that Ava is the user as she wants to use Caleb to escape. Right at the moment of the planned escape, Nathan knocks Caleb out and goes to destroy Ava only to have Kyoko kill him. On the day Caleb is scheduled to leave, another backfiring happens. This time with Ava in an ending nobody expected.

This is another film dealing with A.I. and people interacting with computerized machines. Seeing the movie made me think of the movies this century of people interacting with A.I. personas. There was 2001’s A.I.: Artificial Inteliligence where a woman assumed the role of a mother with a child-like robot programmed with human emotions. There’s 2013’s Her of a man interacting with a ‘virtual girlfriend.’ And now we have Ex Machina. At first, movies of humans interacting with computers or robots didn’t appear to be the material for smart movie making. However it has gotten way better over time. Ex Machina is an example of a thriller that succeeds in getting the audience intrigued over Caleb’s involvement with Ava while leaving us nervous what will happen next at the same time.

SPOILER WARNING IN PARAGRAPH: Human interaction with robots isn’t the only reason why people would be so fascinated by this film. Other elements include how Nathan is like this svengali-like master of the show who eventually becomes a victim to his own game. There’s even the question of who is being the true user to Caleb? Nathan or Ava? Even all the talk between Caleb, Nathan and Ava of various philosophers, scientists and artists would have us interested as it deals with the human mind and how Nathan creates these types. Also as fascinating is how Caleb tells his story to Ava about the girl who wants to escape and does. In the end, it becomes what happens to Ava as she does just that leaving Caleb behind with a dead Nathan and a dead Kyoko.

Alex Garland did an excellent movie that has us both thrilled and nervous, and possibly even thinking about ourselves. Would we be fooled by robot types or feel a human connection to those types in the future? Alex has done an excellent job in his directorial debut. He already has a reputation as a scriptwriter for British movies like 28 Days Later. This film which he directs and writes is an excellent accomplishment as it succeeds in making a smartly-done movie about human-like robots and delivers with unexpected twists and turns. It’s also good to see how other countries are also getting into the sci-fi genre. It’s not just Hollywood anymore. And to think Hollywood could never do human/robot movies this well.

Domhnall Gleeson was very good as Caleb however his performance was overshadowed by the roles of Ava and Nathan. Alicia Vikander did an excellent performance as Ava. She had the challenge to come across appearing as a believable robot at first that becomes more human over time. That was no easy task and she accomplished it. Oscar Isaac was also excellent as Nathan. He does an excellent job of portraying the eccentric genius with a svengali-like persona quite well. His character could remind you of some other eccentric geniuses of the past. Isaac even gets you wondering whether Nathan created all those robots for the sake of a technological breakthrough for the public or simply for sex toys for himself. He adds that intrigue. The visual effects were excellent and fit flawlessly with the film and the music from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow fit with the intensity of the film.

The summer movie season is still young but Ex Machina is already a surprise winner for this year. This is one movie of 2015 that goes beyond what one will first expect.

Movie Review: The Wizard Of Oz (3D IMAX Re-release)

The Wizard Of Oz gets the 3D treatment and the Imax treatment for one week only.
The Wizard Of Oz gets the 3D treatment and the IMAX treatment for one week only.

It’s interesting how many films have been re-released in 3D. However this week marked an opportunity to see a classic movie re-released in 3D for the first time ever, and in IMAX to boot. It seems appropriate that the first classic movie to receive a 3D re-release is The Wizard Of Oz. The big question is does The Wizard Of Oz work in 3D?

Just like my review of the 3D re-release of Titanic, I will focus my review in the 3D aspect of the film as well as other technical aspects. The most I will mention about the film itself is that it still qualifies as a masterpiece. The acting, singing and dancing are top notch and the movie is perfectly edited. The visual effects are very cheap and chintzy by today’s standards but they didn’t have today’s visual effects technologies 75 years ago. Nevertheless the movie continues to entertain families even to this day.  It’s no wonder why it’s stood the test of time. In fact I declare: “If you haven’t seen The Wizard Of Oz, you didn’t have much of a childhood.” The film has received a load of acclaim including a #10 ranking on the AFI’s 2007 list of the Top 100 Films of all time, a #3 ranking on their list of the Best Musicals, a #1 on the Top Fantasy Films and a #43 rank on the Top Thrillers List. Three of its lines made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Quotes with “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” being #4. Three of its songs made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Songs with Over The Rainbow naturally being #1.

Another interesting note to add is that it was directed by Victor Fleming. Fleming also directed another masterpiece released in 1939: Gone With The Wind. Both would become two of the greatest films ever made. 1939 would be considered one of the greatest movie years ever and you could bet it was because of those two movies. No doubt they established Fleming as one of the biggest directors ever.

As for the 3D IMAX re-release, I often questioned in the days before seeing it whether it was a good idea to re-release it in 3D? Technology’s changed a lot in the many decades since. The special effects would be seen as cheap by today’s movie goers. Would the 3D work? Would the IMAX theater format work?

I saw it Saturday night. Hey, this is a one-week only limited time thing. The film started on an impressive note. I noticed the 3D work with the MGM roaring lion and the opening credits with the clouds in the background. As for the story, I didn’t notice how the 3D addition made too much effect on the movie. The debris from the cyclone didn’t really surprise us. The bedroom window images Dorothy was looking at in mid-air was made too obvious this was film-on-film work. The pyrotechnics used didn’t appear 3D. The flying monkeys didn’t appear like they were coming for me as I was hoping they would.

I don’t think the 3D effect really added too much too the movie. Showing it on an IMAX screen did. It wasn’t necessarily the special effects that were enhanced by the IMAX screen but it was the viewing of the whole movie. I’ve seen it on television many times but just to experience it on an IMAX screen was definitely something. I think I would have been impressed even if I saw it on a regular movie screen. Nevertheless it was a delight to see. The movie must have been remastered because the colorful images of Oz were incredible. The ruby slippers shined, the makeup on the tin man looked fresh, the green face of the witch looked scary, Glinda’s gown looked majestic, the yellow brick road looked freshly painted, Emerald City glowed…I think I could go on forever. Even the sound appeared remastered as the movie score and the musical numbers from everyone, especially Judy singing Over The Rainbow, sounded completely fresh.

Funny thing is that it has me wondering if there will be any other classic movies that would receive a 3D re-release. I will admit that The Wizard Of Oz is the one classic movie that most deserves a 3D re-release but will others follow? I’m sure there are some, like say King Kong or Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments. I’m tempted to think some of those sci-fi B-movies from the 50’s would be great to re-release in 3D. So would Star Wars. Actually does Star Wars now qualify as a classic movie?

Oh yeah. For those curious about the box office biz, it made roughly $3.1 million this weekend. Ironically it made $3 million back during its original release in 1939.  Actually $3 million would be lots in 1939. I’m sure if you adjusted 1939’s total with inflation and added in the grosses of the various re-releases, it would be in the hundreds of millions.

I’ll admit that I find 3D releases of movies cash-grabs, including 3D re-releases. The 3D of the 3D IMAX re-release of The Wizard Of Oz didn’t add too much. However the IMAX format and the remastering of both the images and the sound made it an excellent viewing pleasure. Reminds you that it’s so right and proper that it be re-released on the big screen whatever format it’s given.