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Ex-Machina

Ex Machina film posterSynopsis

Alex Garland’s the scriptwriter and director.  Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a code worker for a software company called Bluebook.  He wins a prize to spend a weekend with Nathan (Oscar Isaac) in the Norwegian mountains.  Caleb is required to interview an A.I. robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) and check on how artificial she is.  What happens among the three of them?

Review

Since The Beach Garland tries to show how the deadly threat of human corruption in any contrived paradise.  I found Ex-Machina very irritating.  Garland is not a scientist so he had to have scientific advice on this and frankly it looks like any nerd’s wet dream.  More than that, it reminded me of a poor man’s version of Sleuth (Shaffer’s observation of social class between  two sparring characters), except that the sparring doesn’t really get started.  Nathan is god like smug in his multimillionaire’s fortress as he tells Caleb he will design Ava.  It’s main resemblance to Sleuth (lacking that play’s wit), is a rich man toying with his creation and employee.  Of course robot creation goes back to Frankenstein, Pygmalion, I Robot, and Bladerunner and in this latter film there is real fun to be had with the essentially non-question of artificial versus human intelligence.  Isn’t it just one of the big myths of our age?  In this and other similar movies it looks like script material for unoriginal movies.  Asimov wanted to take the debate to some pretty esoteric level, but in Garland’s it looks like a nerd’s obsession, a questionable male fantasy with its apparently compliant female robot.  Instead of dramatic dialogue we get juxtapositions of would-be insightful statements.  The film can mention Wittgenstein’s Blue Books all it likes, but it’s a pointless name drop.  Ava herself looks like a plastic battery in the witch Momby’s gallery, she’s on the look out for a good skin graft.  The other female robot is Japanese with all the animation of a zombie.  This is a fifty year old stereotype, the amoral Oriental killing machine beloved of James Bond movies.  When Nathan and the robots break into po-faced dancing, it just made me laugh.  Was this supposed to be an outbreak of spontaneity?

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Posted by on February 4, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Gravity

Gravity film posterSynopsis

Alfonso Cuarón’s film about missile fragments wrecking a Hubble space shuttle killing one astronaut and spinning Sandra Bullock and George Clooney into a state of marooned drifting.  There is a Russian station nearby and a Chinese one further away.  Can they reach a station and get back to Earth…?

Review

One of the first Son et Lumiere films of 1894 was of a moon shot, so it’s highly appropriate that a film set in outer space should be a landmark in cinema.  Gravity is visually superb, making 2001 and Silent Running look like toy models on black paper.  The rolling three dimensional effect gives you an idea of what it might be like to be in space.  The story itself is an old one in space movies: isolation in which space becomes a pervasive metaphor of the mind itself, which might struggle with the idea of God or loneliness or emotional issues.  Gravity reminds me of that Ray Bradbury story about astronauts adrift in space.  There is a reference to the ill-fated Apollo 13 which starred Ed Harris, and here he is the ground control voice.  Bullock plays a bereaved mother (having a child always confers ultimate human status in American films).  She plays a sort of Robinson Crusoe pioneer dealing with the Russian equipment in a Heath-Robinson way, never too fazed by the peril of her situation.  When she gets emotional her tears float towards us (the film might have been called “Where Tears Don’t Fall”).  She deals with the surrounding isolation and terror by using verbal distractions and noise for her comfort code.  As she clambers out of her space suit she is like Ripley in Alien.  In Gravity no one can hear you scream but there is no alien enemy, just the silence of infinite spaces that terrified Pascal.  She adapts the foetal posture as if awaiting the emotional epiphany that came to Jodie Foster in Contact when she met her ‘Father’.  Critics interested in reviving Freudian tropes might note the birth, womb imagery of the umbilical rope, the foetal appearance of the space suits, and the blazing projectiles from the space shuttle as they re-enter the atmosphere (they look like sperm hurtling towards the Earth egg).  

Spoiler Alert!!! As she ejects from the pod womb she takes staggering baby steps on Earth or maybe she’s Eve returned to paradise.

At times George Clooney is laid back as if he’s still selling coffee but generally the tension is at breaking point. Please watch this excellent film.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Looper

Looper film posterSynopsis

Set in Kansas in 2074, it stars Gordon Levitt as a “looper”, Joe, whose job is to shoot those fallen foul of the mob.  The victims are sent into the future from 2044 and once the deed is done the killer is rewarded with gold or silver ingots strapped to the victims back.  The gang boss is Jeff Bridges.  The fate of all loopers is to be killed 30 years in the future and this closes the loop.  They are shot with a ‘blunderbuss’.  Joe meets his future self, played by Bruce Willis, but he cannot kill him.  Willis pursues a child who will become a real danger “The Rainmaker” (same idea in Terminator).  The child is looked after by Emily Blunt on her farm.  Can Willis do the job?

Criticism

I sometimes attempt to write science stories but I wouldn’t touch time travel with radiation gloves through a screen!  Time travel works as a comedy (Back to the Future) or as comic book fun (Time Machine or Terminator) but not when it takes itself seriously as in this film.  I always find it pretty bankrupt as a plot device and the notion of time travel seems scientifically and philosophically preposterous.  Looper gets perilously close to cod philosophy about time travel.  Looper also relies on the usual dosage of gratuitous violence, which I have mentioned in a few other offending films.  Dr Johnson said that bestial behaviour is an escape from the pain of being human, mainstream American films certainly do a lot of escaping (like Lawless and a lot of other films). Like Dorothy in Oz, Joe hopes to escape from Kansas and learns French so he can live in Paris but Jeff Bridges from the future advises him to learn Mandarin (a pretty safe prediction).  The street scenes are like in Soylent Green, people are victims of casual brutality.

The sequence on Emily Blunt’s Kansas farm is the longest in the film.  Her farm is surrounded by fields of maize and it reminds me of Cary Grant chased by a crop duster in North by Northwest or aliens in Mel Gibson’s Signs or a lot of Stephen King films.  No good can come of being in a maize field and sure enough Joe is in danger here when he tries to save the “Rainmaker” kid from Bruce Willis as his future self.  The  film lingers a lot on this farm where Emily Blunt plays the obligatorily feisty loner.  There is a sort of love story between Blunt and Joe.  Here we are supposed to think of the nature of love and belonging and identity but it all looks like a pilot for a TV supernatural series.  The kid can levitate people and things so it looks like Omen has got tangled up with some would-be arty film about life on a future farm.  As with a lot of sci-fi films deflecting attention from a possibly tight budget, there is a recurrent gimmicky fetish so in this film people can telekinetically manipulate objects and there are Batman type aerocrafts.  Looper has been praised by critics but I found it shallow and derivative.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Total Recall

Total Recall film posterSynopsis

Stars Colin Farrell playing the role that Arnold Schwazenegger plays in the 1990 Total Recall.  Set at the end of the 21st century in a world run by Britain with Australia as a colony (?!?).  Access to these countries is through the Earth’s core.  Farrell plays a techno assembly worker who is married to Kate Beckinsdale and he has a daily routine.  He goes to a mind scan and finds out that he was a rebel leader by the name of Hauser who has been kidnapped into being an agent for the repressive government of Britain.  Beckinsdale is a government agent in on the deception.  Farrell joins the rebels courtesy of Jessica Biel.  Beckinsdale’s government plan an invasion , can Colin save the world?

Criticism

The original film was set on Earth and Mars and at the time its special effects were amazing.  Schwarzenegger acted woodenly but was an effective action man, Colin Farrell is a more sympathetic hero but his pained expression hasn’t changed much from when he was stuck in that telephone booth several years ago.  The original of the Kate Beckinsale character was Sharon Stone and the sight of her and Schwarzenegger fighting was like a superduper cage fight, by contrast Beckinsale and Farrell look like dysfunctional reality TV spoilt brats.  Is Farrell a double agent?  This film imagines London as floating high rise apartments like the rocks in Avatar, and the street scenes are stolen from Blade Runner.  It’s always gloomy and raining and people are walking about under painted parasols.  There are hi-tech advertizings and it looks like a Bombay slum stripped from its moorings.  The action is far too frenetic, masses of aerocars zipping at dizzying speeds like in I Robot or Star Wars. Given that the film has a 20 year advantage over the original, it disappoints as sci-fi.

Issues of personal identity and personal integrity in a hi-tech world are simplified to role reversals in a Dan Dare world of bewildering density.  At any moment you know it’s all fairground mirror tricks, so the film avoids anything worth saying.  It gets into some cod philosophy about the nature of memory, only to dismiss it as a disposable item, so it undermines the need for a serious look at the continuation of personal identity and responsibility.  A missed opportunity.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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