For the first time in his career Alex Garland takes center stage, promoting himself from novelist and scriptwriter to director, for the stylish, sleek, cerebral science fiction thriller Ex Machina. The film draws from some very old ideas, but Garland breathes fresh new life into this story, giving the classic sci-fi theme of man-plays-god an ingenious and modern spin.
Our protagonist, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), is a geeky coder who works for software giant Bluebook, a search engine that provides for 95% of all online searches worldwide. After winning an in-house competition, he receives a ‘golden ticket’ for a weeks stay with the company’s reclusive CEO in his private Alaskan estate. Intelligent, arrogant and sardonic, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) can be considered as the most modern variation of the Dr. Frankenstein persona, a solitary scientist attempting to manipulate nature. He introduces Caleb to his latest project: a state-of-the-art robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), fixed with a gentle human face that is the perfect depiction of feminine beauty, a frame, human in shape, with enough mechanics exposed to remind us that she is made out of wires and metal. Caleb is invited to participate in the ultimate stage of Ava’s testing, by undergoing ‘the Turing Test’, an experiment that determines whether a machine has the ability to exhibit intelligence comparable to, or indistinguishable from, a human. After slight hesitancy, he accepts.
What follows is a series of ‘sessions’ between the enthusiastic Caleb and the inquisitive cyborg, the first being very much centered on their fascination and curiosity towards each other, all the while being monitored by Nathan in a separate room. After the initial excitement expires, the conversations between the two becomes truly mesmeric, especially when it becomes apparent that Ava is very much conscious of what she is, the magnitude of her mental capacity, and the influence she has over Caleb. As these sessions progress, the challenging sci-fi is slowly traded for horror as the walls of Nathan’s confinement-style home gradually begin to cave in around Caleb. It becomes evident that there is more going on in this solitary facility than meets the eye. From this point onwards we are delivered a smart and sophisticated science fiction thriller, with every conversation and scene laced with tension, constantly building around the power play between the three central characters, stuck together in a claustrophobic environment, not sure whom to trust. All the while the tension and potential for violence is rapidly rising until, of course, it brims at the boil and the film reaches its unpredictable climax, and all truths are revealed.
The film is very dialogue-driven, which puts large responsibility on the performances of its cast, however, I felt as though the cast in question were near perfect, as well as the written characters themselves. Oscar Isaac’s presentation of the bullish, egotistical, tech-mogul was delivered with confidence and expertise, with a lot of the tension rooted early on within the film, spawning from his character. His smile, deliberately duplicitous, and his mind always seemingly conspiratorial, along side his abrasive nature and obvious physicality. His boxing regime, partnered with his constant alcoholism and sharp temper fueled a constant sense of foreboding in every scene he was in. At first glance Gleeson’s Caleb comes across as Nathan’s polar opposite. He is formal, polite and pure, “a good kid with a moral compass.” But its more so once his connection with Ava develops that his character really takes shape, and Gleeson takes the challenge well. He manages to make the transition from Caleb’s early passive and innocuous character, to someone who is demanding, questioning and defiant whilst still maintaining the morality of the character that becomes important within the films final third.
Lastly, Alicia Vikander brings a flawless performance as Ava. The Swedish born actress puts her ballerina training to good use as her every movement, every footstep and facial twitch seems to be delivered with pinpoint precision, not to mention her complete stillness at times. Her discipline within her role is superb and it’s difficult not to follow Caleb and find yourself fascinated by her. Engaging and captivating in her scenes, Vikander brings an element of humanity to her character, making us feel real emotions of sympathy, compassion and infatuation, which our vital to our engagement with the story.
More impressive still is Alex Garland in his directorial debut. The intricacy of the story, and the precision in which it is told makes it feel as though Garland has been honing his craft for years. He is able to deliver a story that raises complicated philosophical questions on nature vs. nurture and the future of humanity, and, as the great Christopher Nolan has done in the past with films such as Interstellar (2014) and Inception (2010), he has managed to make them easily accessible and comprehensible whilst remaining utterly entertaining from the off. He seems to balance the meticulousness of Nolan’s work and the complexity of character and setting that almost feel Kubrickian, with his blend of low key naturalism and hi-tech stylization. Not to mention his ability to put the audience within the suspenseful drivers seat, through his use claustrophobic framing and lighting, as well as progressive soundtracks.
The story continues science fiction cinemas experimentation with the notorious Frankenstein story, however adapting the seasoned tale to one that is sharper, darker, more thought provoking and ultra-contemporary. Despite searching endlessly for flaws I haven’t been able to find any, and am seldom left in complete awe of Garlands work. Ex Machina is a masterful science fiction thriller that draws fantastic performances from its three leads. A must watch.
10 Films I'm Looking Forward To In 2015
Every New Year comes with new hopes and aspirations, resolutions, dreams and big plans… as well as a lengthy list of newly announced movies that are going to be released that year. I remember heading back to University in January 2012 with a long list of films that I needed to make sure I saw. It featured the likes of Django Unchained, Avengers Assemble, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Dark Knight Rises and Silver Linings Playbook. The list was long, and by December that year I had made a brand new one, and did it all over again.
This year promises to be no different, with some exciting things happening within the movie industry. There is a fresh lineup of new material from big directors, continued franchises and under-the-radar independents all set for release. Let me introduce you to some of the big films that should be on your radar for this year...
Dir. Colin Trevorrow. Starring Chris Pratt and Judy Greer.
I remember being introduced to the world of Dinosaurs through watching the first Jurassic Park film on video when I was five, and then again through The Lost World a few years later. I became obsessed with the world that this franchise presented to me, filling my room with posters, toys and books. When Jurassic World was announced, I was skeptical. The third film was enjoyable, but it didn't have the same classic edge of the first two, and I feared this film would be the same, just another money-making addition to the once great franchise. The trailer changed my mind. The trailer takes the magic of the original films and makes it bigger. The tag-line 'The Park Is Now Open' suggests that this is made for lovers of the original films and the down-tempo re-curation of the classic theme tune adds to that, provoking the idea that this film takes quite a sinister twist on the children's classic. Finger's crossed that it does just that. JUN 12.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Starring Channing Tatum and Samuel L. Jackson.
This is a film by Quentin Tarantino. And that is enough reason to be excited by it. The first time I watched a Tarantino movie was when my Dad sat me down to watch Pulp Fiction and it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Although at one point this film was called off due to a leaked script, we've been lucky enough for it to be re-announced. The Western completes the “rewritten history” trilogy and features a plot that weaves racial tensions in post-Civil War Wyoming. So far this trilogy has provided us with Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained, so I'm confident Tarantino won't disappoint with this closing episode. Despite the surprising casting of Channing Tatum... NOV 13.
Dir. Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig and Christoph Waltz.
Casino Royale remains one of my favourite action films to date, re-introducing one of Britain's most popular heroes of the genre. It maintained all of the franchises distinctive allures but modernised them, and Craig impressed with his sharper, rougher, grittier Bond. He worked his British charm once again with the acclaimed release of Skyfall in 2012 and I'm sure, with the talent of Christoph Waltz on board as his supposed adversary, we're onto another winner. Spectre refers to an ominous organisation that have a past with Bond and dark plans to destroy the MI5 for good. NOV 6.
Dir. Rupert Goold. Starring James Franco and Jonah Hill.
Currently premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, True Story looks to be one of those rare indie films that bridges the Hollywood divide. The film stars Jonah Hill as a New York Times writer Michael Finkle, who suddenly comes to the knowledge that a Most Wanted List murderer Christian Longo (Franco) has been living out of the U.S. under his identity. The two develop an odd and disconcerting relationship that is set to spiral out of control as Longo's intentions become apparent. APR 10.
Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
The first thing I saw about this film was a twitter picture a friend of mine uploaded commenting on Leo's scruffy new look. He stars as Hugh Glass, a frontiersmen who enacts revenge on those who left him for dead after a bear mauling. Ah, that must explain the scruffy look. The film, so far, seems like a classic revenge tale, however, with Leo at the helm, alongside Tom Hardy, I'm sure this will be one to watch. TBC.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Dir. Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.
Okay. Where do we begin with Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first instalment to this much anticipated super-hero team up was pulled off well, with some laugh out loud gags, incredible fight choreographies, and strong action/hero genre spectaculars. There were however, quite a few negatives too. The film was very light-hearted and it felt that the heroes were never really under much serious pressure from their adversary Loki. Through the trailer of Age of Ultron, it seems that problem has been resolved. The introduction of the antagonist, Ultron, was truly sinister and surprisingly chilling, especially alongside the slowed down and eerie rendition of 'I've Got No Strings' from Disney's Pinocchio. The worlds favourite super-hero team seem to have met there match, and with the plotline being kept under wraps, this film has me thirsty to find out more. MAY 1.
THE SEA OF TREES
Dir. Gus Van Sant. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts.
Not too much light has been shed on this film as of yet. The title takes its name from a notorious suicide forest in Japan called Aokigahara. The Sea of Trees tells the story of an American looking to end his life, until he runs into a Japanese man, also in Aokigahara. The two form an unlikely bond and work to find their way out. The plot is intriguing, and with McConaughey's recent stand out performances with the likes of Dallas Buyers Club, Intersteller and True Detective it seems his acting potential is heading in a very good direction. I'm hoping for the film to be an intimate depiction of human vulnerability through a two-man cast with strong performances and a well-written script. TBC.
Dir. Ariel Kleiman. Starring Vincent Kassel and Jeremy Chabriel.
When I first read of this film, I immediately rekindled with my appreciation for both Leon (1994) and Emperor of the Sun (1987). Both films feature young and brilliant characters that are living in very violent worlds, and through Kleinman's story we are re-introduced to that narrative, through Alexander. Playful, curious and naive, just like every other kid. Except he is also a trained assassin. Raised in a hidden paradise, Alexander has grown up seeing the world filtered through his father, Gregori. Vincent Cassell always delivers performances of an epic scale and I have enjoyed his work since first seeing him in the incredible French film La Haine. The film received a lot of positive hype at the recent Sundance Film Festival. JAN 25
Dir. Jeff Nichols. Starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton.
Midnight Special is an upcoming american science fiction film which was written and directed by Jeff Nichols. With Mud, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter under his belt, Nichols is being renowed as one of most promising and exciting new directors in Hollywood. More so though it's the unconventional plot that appealed to me, and the mystery around it. The film seems to follow similar tones of the chase film, which we've seen in No Country For Old Men and Catch Me If You Can, a popular genre of action films. The twist comes with the films sci-fi elements, as the plot is centered around a young boy who finds out his is supernaturally gifted and suddenly, being hunted. Along with the interesting story-line, the film is graced with performances from Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton who in recent years have really impressed. NOV 25.
STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS
Dir. J. J. Abrams. Starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.
As usual, Abrams has kept this film very quiet. Which, as usual, has got the world talking about it. Regardless, this is the seventh instalment to one of the most epic franchises in film history. We don't know much, but what we do know is that the saga's original heroes are back on board, that the film is set 30-or-so years after the Return of the Jedi, and that there is a new line of Sith who are entering the field of play. And they have a cool new lightsaber. Widely considered as the most anticipated film of the year. Stay tuned for updates on this film throughout the year. DEC 18.
EXCLUSIVE TRAILER - GAME OF THRONES SEASON 5
HBO recently unveiled the official trailer for the highly anticipated fifth season of everyone's favourite fantasy series, Game of Thrones. The previous season ended on huge cliffhanger (SPOILER ALERT) with Tyrion finally exacting his revenge on his villainous father and subsequently fleeing the city. With young Brandon Stark finally finishing his journey in search of the three-headed raven. We saw Sansa join arms with Little Finger, with her own hidden agenda clued at. Arya stark was heading to Baros after leaving the hound for dead. Have a peak into the epic trailer for the new season to see whats coming next.
FILM REVIEW - THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Directed by James Mirch. Starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
Imagine being at the peak of your education. Imagine falling head over heels in love. Imagine being on the midst of greatness, endless possibilities ahead of you, then suddenly being told you have but two years left to live.
Professor Stephen Hawking is one of the most famous and remarkable scientists of our time, and his tale is a miraculous one, full of hardship, love, perseverance and hope. James Marsh’s biopic about the Cambridge cosmologists tells the story in fine fashion, honouring the achievements of this great scientist, professional and personal. The film stars Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables, My Week With Marilyn) as our renowned lead, and Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) as Jane Hawking.
It is through Jane that we are given this charming version of Hawking’s trials and accomplishments, as the script by Anthony McCarten is adapted from her own memoir, Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen. The candid account she delivers us is what provides the film with so much heart and relatability, and is also why love is such a prominent theme throughout.
We are presented Hawking in his early twenties, as an awkward, jaunty doctoral student in 1963 Cambridge. In the opening scene of the film, he apprehensively introduces himself to a young Jane Wilde, a friendly soul preparing for a PhD in medieval poetry. They bond over their shared intellectual curiosity, and flirt about matters of religion and science, and as the night begins to die, a romance blossoms. Before long she has met his family, and accepted his invitation to the May ball, where the unlikely pair share their first kiss under the stars. Alas, as young Hawking’s life takes shape, being the top of his class and on the verge of scientific greatness, not to mention falling in love, the world around him suddenly comes crashing down as he plummets, crumpled and prone, onto Trinity Hall’s flagstones.
His formidable sickness strikes hard. The diagnosis: motor neurone disease, meaning his muscles will progressively waste and he most likely has only a couple of years to live. When Hawking asks whether his brain will still function, in a desperate plea for something positive, the doctor replies – oh yes, except no one will know what you’re thinking. Although Hawking seemingly gives up on himself, Jane battles his stubbornness fiercely, instilling a sense of hope, which in turn, sparks the determination and perseverance that Hawking is now renowned for. Accordingly, we are able to marvel at his personal and professional successes, which run in parallel to his physical decline.
This is where the films greatest strengths become most apparent, as Redmayne’s character takes on his fierce physical regression that demands great dedication from the young actor. However, this is certainly a triumph for Redmayne, who is completely convincing in his physicality, and credible in his pain and struggle. But most of all, what I found most compelling about his performance, is how the actor expresses Stephen’s infectious personality (his jocularity, his aloofness, his stubbornness) so effectively, regardless of the physical state of the character. This is reflected through his tears when he and Jane silently recognize that their half a lifetime of love has come to an end, and as they mourn it, the scene hits home.
Beside him is Jones, who depicts a woman who dedicates so much to helping Hawking battle his disease, whilst raising three children and still trying to live her own life. The role demands tremendous emotion and grace, which Jones delivers naturally, especially in her personal battle of love vs. responsibility that comes near the end of her relationship with Hawking, through her growing feelings towards kind choirmaster, Jonathan.
Addtionally, Benoît Delhomme’s cinematography is an imaginative and visually glorious feat, giving us the ultraviolet glow of a Cambridge May ball, the cosmic swirl of cream in a coffee cup. Not to mention the first-person perspective of the radiant fireplace through a hole in Hawking’s knitwear, that inspired one of his greatest breakthroughs. In partnership with Marsh, Delhomme captures a certain sequence in the style of old-fashioned home recordings, while others are given a more traditional and polished cinematic look that impress without distracting from the story.
Despite these admirations, it seems as though the film detracts away from Hawking’s point of view once the film begins to focus closely on Jane’s personal battles and inner heartaches. The film presents a close and rather sincere insight into the relationship between Hawking and his wife, yet at times it feels sanitized, and somewhat undramatic, given the circumstances. Did they never fight? Or disagree? Most of their dissimilarities are expressed in a polite spirit of wholly academic debate, or through silence. Furthermore, the film concentrates closely on its themes of love and romance, which at times draws away from Hawking’s personal trials, leaving some questions unanswered. Was he ever completely lost? Did he ever lose hope? How did he feel when Jane was slipping away from him?
Overall, the film delivers masterful performances that pull hard on the heartstrings of the viewer. Marsh provides us with a story thatworks best as a study of human vulnerability and love's way with us all, and as such, a handsomely mounted, slightly hollow picture by the end becomes a very affecting one. The Theory of Everything is inspiring, honest and moving. Brilliantly worded by The Guardians Catherine Shaord, it is ‘a universal story, extracted from a unique one.’