Ex Machina

 

The best film I’ve seen this year is Ex Machina, which ranks near Bladerunner in its story of artificial intelligence creatures and their interactions with humans.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a 26-year-old coder for a large search engine. He wins a company-wide lottery and is chosen to spend a week with the company’s founder, the just slightly older Nathan (Oscar Issac) at Nathan’s remote mountain hideaway.

After a copter ride over miles of wilderness, Caleb makes his way to Nathan’s crib and meets the quirky genius. Nathan tells Caleb about Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot Nathan has created that Caleb will evaluate over the next few days.

Caleb never gets comfortable. His room, and much of the building, has no windows. There are occasional power shutdowns. Nathan counters his drinking binges with extreme workouts. Nathan speaks to his female Japanese housemaid (Sonoya Mizuno) abusively.

Caleb has daily sessions with Ava where they converse but are separated by glass. Following the sessions, Nathan debriefs Caleb.

As the week progresses, Caleb’s curiosity about Ava and her capabilities grows. As with Deckard and Rachael in Bladerunner, Caleb and Ava appear to be developing genuine affection for one another, which helps set up the story’s climax.

Rookie director Alex Garland makes a smashing debut in a film that is understated. This movie depends more on a thoughtful script (Garland wrote it) than on effects and tricks. The focus on conversations makes Ex Machina a film that, with a few accommodations, could be presented as a stage play.

With a small group of actors carrying the film, casting and performances are crucial. Issac and Gleeson, in their portrayals of these brainy nerds, are fun to watch in their interactions. Vikander brings appropriate restraint to her role as the gorgeous robot Ava. Bravo to all three!

One reviewer quoted in the above trailer called Ex Machina “an instant classic.” For any fan of great movies, I recommend it. For any fan of great sci-fi, Ex Machina is a must-see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Llewyn Davis

Is Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) a good guy, a jerk or just a victim of circumstances? He’s a folk singer in NYC’s Greenwich Village in the early 60’s. Life keeps punching him in the face but he keeps getting up and chasing his dream.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie about a particular character in a particular setting. The film’s story is almost superfluous.

Music is the fuel that powers ILD and its characters. Most of the performances are top notch; all are, at the very least, passable. Oscar Issac can sing and he can act.

Llewyn has left the merchant marine to sing. He was part of a duo, now he’s a solo act. He’s good but not great. His world includes club owners, record company execs and fellow musicians. Chums Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) are a couple who occasionally vocalize with Llewyn.

They’re among the many who give Llewyn a place to crash. Jean has also been intimate with Llewyn who, on learning of her pregnancy, arranges a then illegal abortion (which she wants). At one home where he sleeps, the cat follows him out as the door locks and he takes care of the kitty (sort of).

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, share writing and directing on Inside Llewyn Davis. As with many of their lead characters, Llewyn is conflicted. Does he stick with music or go back to the merchant marine? Does he stay in New York or hitch a ride to Chicago to pursue his dream? Can he tolerate his family or is a clean break necessary? Does he want to perform the songs he sang with his former partner or leave them behind?

John Goodman appears in his 6th Coen brothers film as Roland Parker, an obese, sickly, eccentric musician who gives Llewyn a ride to Chicago. The roadtrip provides a change of scenery and provides Llewyn with a frank appraisal of his potential.

I’ve seen the music biz (performance venues and record labels) chew artists up and spit them out. I’ve seen artists who may have found the path to success rocky and gave up too soon. I’ve also seen artists who refuse to give up, despite clear signs that they should move on. Llewyn has the desire and the tenacity. Which may or may not be a good thing.

As referenced above, don’t go to see Inside Lllewyn Davis for its story. Go for the setting—the time, the place, the mood. And go for the characters, especially Llewyn.