They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

Just Add Deus And Stir...

Middle of the last week of April. This weekend it's May -- and the start of the 2015 Summer Blockbuster season with The Avengers: Age of Ultron kicking things off. But... I had an appointment with my foot surgeon at 2:30 today, so I pointed out to Mrs. Dr. Phil that if she wanted to come with, we could do that, then an early dinner at The Twisted Rooster on East Beltline and then a movie at Celebration North. Surely there was something we needed to catch up on.

There were two movies. The Woman in Gold wasn't until 6pm, but it's been holding around for a few weeks and is likely to show up at Woodland as a second run show. But this other movie snuck up on us, opened in limited release the other week and is now is somewhat wider release. Since few people are talking about it -- and there are few, if any, commercials -- this then was the movie to pick up.

Ex Machina [R]
Celebration North Theatre 9, 5:05pm, 2×$8.50
Deus ex machina -- "god from the machine" -- is both a classical reference and a modern SF term. Often criticized as a trick, to pull the writer out of real trouble, in this case where we are dealing with A.I. and humanoid androids, it has a very literal meaning. And not quite one the humans were anticipating.

Back in April 2014, when I reviewed Transcendence (DW) (LJ), I said that movie wasn't really about A.I. But in a way, this is another movie about a brilliant tech genius who does his whole thing in a secret underground lab far beyond what is state of the art today. Indeed, Nathan is a mixture of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tony Stark. Without any of the checks and balances that those gentlemen had to deal with.

This is a movie about the soul -- freedom, intelligence, mimicry, independence, manipulation, friendships, relationships, sex, ethics, choice. I've mentioned before that even something like Amazon Echo, which is basically a voice activated speaker and information search system, has sufficient personality that we tend to want to tell Alexa, thank you. But to have a conversation with a real and powerful A.I., means you are no longer in control of the conversation, just like when you are talking to anybody.

It is too easy to cast the A.I.s in Ex Machina as soulless or evil or whatever we do to portray HAL as a villain. Suffice to say that the games are being played here on multiple high levels -- and the tables get turned on everybody as we go along. There is little need for the writers to invent implausium or ridiculous looking technology -- while what they have is very different, we know the direction we're going in to produce an A.I. android. The trick is to make the intermediates look believable and they've done that here. Indeed, despite the fact we know things are going to go to hell, this is a thoughtful movie of how science works. If Nathan has a great flaw, it is he has forgotten, like Viktor Frankenstein, that science is a collaborative and open endeavor -- or should be.

The whole cast is very pretty. I was about to say these are people we've never seen before, but that's not true of Oscar Issac as our genius Nathan, who has a number of notable roles out there and more on the way -- he's in the next Star Wars and X-Men movies, for example. Domhnall Gleeson is "our hero" and is a very pleasant nerd du jour. He wins a lottery to spend a week at the isolated retreat of his eccentric and genius employer. To hang, dude! Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno turn out to be dancers, which explains why both of them move so beautifully in this film. This is not a minor point, as both of them portray machines -- Ava and Kyoko respectively -- and how they move is important to the story. This is a British SF production shot in Norway -- I picked a German movie poster above because I liked it better than either the US or UK posters -- and the scenery, both inside and outside, are spectacularly gorgeous. This, too, is not a minor point, because when I first heard a review of this movie, I found the trailer and knew I had to go see this. Those mountains...

We've seen so many movies of A.I.s, computers, aliens, monsters grown in the laboratory, that I could reference any number of them here. But I won't, save one. Basically, this could be thought of as a retelling of the original Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah" -- one of my all-time favorite episodes -- which itself is a retelling of Forbidden Planet, which itself has roots in Shakespeare. Anyway, our hero is brought in to conduct a variation on the Turing Test -- an open box Turing Test as he knows that Ava is an A.I. You might question what good a Turing Test is if you know you're dealing with a machine, but oh there are many, many layers down this rabbit hole. And it makes you question who is real and who is synthetic... In Star Trek, both Rayna Kapec and Data wish desperately to be human. But Rayna dies of a broken heart and Data has access to an emotion chip, but it is flawed. Ava wants to be Ava, but on Ava's terms. I do not use the word alien lightly here.

Visually, Ava is partially transparent. With a face suspended in front, I am reminded of the one clever nanny robot in Spielberg's A.I. who had a face and a pony tail and just scaffolding in between. The point is, Ava looks unique. Our hero couldn't have been brought in to do a blind Turing Test, as in Bladerunner.

For such a quiet movie with such a minimalist cast, I will point out that there are a couple of very uncomfortable moments. There is some nudity and some violence and some blood. What? You thought this would end up well? (serious-grin)

There is a website which describes an alternative ending -- or perhaps a better way to describe it is a peek into Ava's perceptions of our world. Human? Alien? Computer? Ambiguous at best, I'd say.

Ex Machina may well be 2015's Moon, and if you know my tastes, that is high praise indeed.


Trailers: And do we need an ad for Clippish Emoji keyboard for iPhones with MILLIONS and not just 845 emoji? Even for just 99¢ instead of $4.99? No. No we do not. For that matter, we don't need emoji or meep at all. Period. End of story. Also, an ad for a TV series on ABC Family, Stitchers about a lovely blond who gets to be dunked in a tank wearing a skintight bodysuit so she can download the memories of murder victims. Isn't there a detective who briefly brings back the dead so he can interview them? The trailer started off with the actress explaining how tough it was to make the trailer, and I commented I wasn't going to watch it unless it maybe was sci fi. Well, we'll see. Could still be dreadful. Trainwreck looks unwatchable -- psycho pseudo romantic comedy. Seems to be a very poor pairing with a cerebral SF flick. Oh look, they're remaking Poltergeist. Oh, from the producer of The Evil Dead -- well, they would know about remakes, wouldn't they? Existing trailer for Terminator Genesis -- still think it's the best Sarah Connor entrance ever, even if Linda Hamilton isn't in it. Another remake/blast from the past: Mad Max: Fury Road is more Road Warrior than Mad Max, but who cares? We got frightful kitbashed cars, ludicrously plumed crazy bad guys and a crazy good guy. The trailer is all car chase crashes and Mrs. Dr. Phil didn't seem impressed, but I suspect I'll go. Spectre is the next Daniel Craig James Bond .007 movie, as with the last, scheduled for November. Like Doctor Who, Bond draws strong reactions from people as to who is the best. We like Daniel Craig a great deal, but Sean Connery, though nothing like what Ian Flemming penned, is the quintessential Bond, James Bond. And if you have't been keeping score over fifty years, SPECTRE was THE villainous stand in for all sorts of baddies.

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal
Tags: movies, reviews, sf

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