Film Review : Ex Machina (2015)

IMDB Score – 8.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 90%
Metacritic Score – 78/100

Directed By – Alex Garland
Starring – Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno, and Alicia Vikander

A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

Let me start off by saying that I’m extremely happy for Alex Garland. I’ve been a fan of his since 28 Days Later. His stories, while flawed at times, always strike me as interesting and unique. His novels and short stories such as The Coma have inspired some of my short story writing that I do independent of this website. I’m a fan. I was excited to hear he had directed a film and even more excited that his film is doing so well. It only means we’ll be seeing more of his mind on screen soon enough.

That being said, I loved the film.

There’s something about tiny films that appeal to me. Alien is a much better horror film than it’s sequel Aliens to me. Why? There’s less space to move around. It all takes place on the ship and deals with one alien. It’s more personal…intimate. Aliens is a fine film, but it’s more of a Terminator 2 type of film where they took what was great about the first film and then turned it up to eleven. Ex Machina is an intimate film. It takes place mainly in one location, the multi million dollar estate of Nathan, the CEO of Bluebook. Bluebook is basically the combination of Facebook and Google so right off the bat you know how rich and smart the man is. Caleb is a programmer working for Bluebook and wins a contest sending him to his boss’s home. There we find out that Nathan has built an AI and that Caleb was brought there to test it.

The first scene of the film is brilliant. It doesn’t meander around who Caleb is or what exactly this company does. We learn that later as the film progresses. We’re given a 30 second dialogue free set up and away we go into the world of this house and it’s inhabitants. I just love how that was done. Garland and his DP really took their time with the aesthetics of this house. It’s obviously a very modernized home with the latest and sometimes one of a kind technology. Garland makes sure to hold the camera at precise points to vaguely foreshadow certain plot twists later in the film. I love films that I can watch a second time and catch new things. I haven’t seen it a 2nd time yet, but I’m going to. There are so many points in the beginning of the film that can be recalled later in the film as being significant. I think that may be the best highlight of the entire film for me. It’s just so tight and clean, just like every inch of Nathan’s house. The dialogue between all three inhabitants is sharp, often funny, and always engrossing. Once Caleb finds out why he is there, the real show begins.

Alicia Vikander.

Yeah, I wasn’t aware she was a thing either. That’s changed. She was fantastic in this. It should be taken with a grain of salt however because her performance isn’t something flashy or grandiose. This is a small and quite performance. Most of the time we see her as Ava, we see her bare robotic body with just the front half of her face. Vikander was tasked with portraying the emotion and thought processes of a robot using only her facial expressions. This is why I find her performance so good. She was able to draw me in so well and actually believe that she was an AI with her own conscious and intelligence. Her sessions with Gleason were engrossing to watch.

Has Oscar Isaac just become my favorite actor? That’s hard to say, but he’s certainly in the discussion now. I think I can safely say that both he and Michael Fassbender are the future of male actors. They have not been in a bad film, not delivered a bad performance, and have pretty much been getting better with each role. He’s able to portray Nathan as somebody who you seem to like judging by the way he talks to Caleb, but somebody who you just don’t seem to trust. He reminds me of Jack Torrance before he went crazy in The Shining. Even in the beginning of the film you can tell something is off. Something just isn’t right about him. His drunk scenes were the best and may have been in the greatest dance scene I’ve seen in a long time. His co-star Domhnall Gleeson is solid but really takes a back seat to Vikander and Isaac here. I feel her started to skip towards the end of the film. It may have to do with the circumstances his character got into, but I just wasn’t with him towards the end.

That’s the gist of the film. What I haven’t talked about, and will dance lightly around, is the way the story progresses. There are scenes in with I was on the edge of my seat, not from excitement, but from pure envelopment of the story. It lured me in. It had my full focus. I didn’t check my phone to see what time it was. I didn’t wonder what I was going to do after the show. I was just fully enveloped in this tightly written sci-fi. There is a lot to discuss at the end of the film. Who was the villain here? Did so an so deserve what happened to them? I’m still not entirely sure who’s side I’m on. That’s what a great screenplay does for me. Makes me question myself.

It’s my film of the year so far. It provoked a lot of interesting theories as far as creation goes. It made me more afraid of the future than I already am. It provides two incredible performances from Vikander and Isaac and needs to be seen for the dance scene alone. I’m glad it came out when it did because it’s going to be buried by Avengers, but if you’re trying to see a film and want to duck around the Marvel crowds, this is your film. It’s one of the better sci-fi films to come out in some time and is a wonderful sign that Alex Garland will be making thought provoking films for a long time.

4.5/5




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Film Review : Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

IMDB Score – 8.0
Rotten Tomato Score – 93%

Grand Prize Winner at Cannes for Joel and Ethan Coen
Four Golden Globe Nominations including Original Song, Cinematography, Best Actor (Oscar Isaac), and Best Picture

Directed By – Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring – Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garret Hedlund, and Justin Timberlake

A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

I honestly don’t think the Coen brothers can make a bad film. There is not a single film of theirs that I can say I didn’t enjoy in some respect. That statement was made with full awareness that “The Ladykillers” is a film. I actually enjoyed it. Lately, they have been making very subtle and quiet films with heavy undertones of sadness and bleak realism. We saw a completely cold and menacing hitman in “No Country for Old men”, a Jewish man seeming to be under a test from God in “A Serious Man”, and a revolving door of bad decisions in “Burn After Reading”. I don’t think any other filmmakers have such a unique style as the Coens. They have a resume of films spanning all kinds of genres but still seem like they fall in the same universe as each other. I’ll never get tired of seeing them succeed.

Inside Llewyn Davis is probably one of their best films. I absolutely loved it. I’m not going to go so far as call it a masterpiece because it’s going to be something that most people are going to like but certain people are going to fall in love with. People who seem to be set with their lives are going to laugh at the antics of John Goodman and a hilarious supporting cast of characters that fall right into place with all the other great Coen scene stealers. They’re going to appreciate the music and probably be confused with the end and you know what? That’s okay. This movie is really made for people who are having trouble finding where they fit in this world. The story follows Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer without an address who is trying to build a career in his passion of singing songs and playing his guitar. He sleeps on couches. Most people don’t like him. He is the epitome of a lost soul trying to find substance and meaning. I may not be in the same in the same situation as Davis, but I connected with him as somebody who just can’t catch a break in trying to find happiness. It’s a bleak but very real look into a time where so many people were trying to find themselves.

The film is smart and witty. I found myself belly laughing at a lot of scenes which feature the usual Coen sense of humor. John Goodman steals every scene he is in but also plays one of the films more tragic characters. Justin Timberlake and Garret Hedlund don’t have much screen time but each of their characters make an impression one way or another. The always great Carey Mulligan plays a former lover of Davis and a spiteful one at that.

The music in the film is the final character as it’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not even that big a fan of folk music but the songs in here are sung with such emotion and feeling that it was hard not to fall in love with them. I’ll be purchasing the soundtrack. Oscar Isaac, whom I’ve only seen in one other movie (Drive), gives one of the best performances of the year. The dude can also sing. This is obviously to be expected but I was surprised by how good he was. His performance was crushing and while his character definitely came off a bit unlikable, I couldn’t help but sympathize with him. I wanted Llewyn to find happiness in his life just like I want everybody to find happiness, including myself.

The film is fantastic. It’s the perfect film for people trying to leave a footprint on this planet. It’s going to be too depressing for some, boring for the others, and pointless for many, but I found the film to be engrossing and completely endearing to the human need for purpose. It’s a special film with a special performance. I’ll be seeing it again.

5/5