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“My daddy was the family bassman

My mamma was an engineer

And I was born one dark gray morn

With music coming in my ears

In my ears”

Baby Driver Poster

Back in the mid 90’s I was a student of film, obsessed with every new idea whilst simultaneously being immersed in the movies of the past.  Just to confuse matters I also had one eye looking to the east; I was discovering films from both Europe and Asia in depth for the first time.  It was at this time that I first saw Quentin Tarantino’s first two movies Reservoir Dogs (a couple of years after its original release) and Pulp Fiction (on opening night).  As with many other people at the time I couldn’t decide if I should marvel at the originality or recoil at the plagiarism of Tarantino.  I soon came to realise what Tarantino was doing wasn’t plagiarism, it wasn’t even homage, it went so much deeper than that!  Quentin Tarantino was, and hopefully still is a sponge sucking up all that he comes into contact with; but when you squeeze that sponge, you don’t get what went in, you don’t even get a mixture of what went in, you get the best bits of what went in coloured by Tarantino’s own vision.  Why am I saying this? Because this week I have seen Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, the British director I can’t help comparing to Tarantino. 

Yet to be released in the UK or USA, Baby Driver currently has a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 100% based with an average rating of 8.5/10; to put it another way, its bloody good!  Is it Edgar Wright’s best film?  That is too subjective to answer, it is certainly his most accomplished, and I think it is my favourite.  For the uninitiated, here is the obligatory synopsis:

baby driver Ansel Elgort

Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been a getaway driver since before he was old enough to drive.  Following a childhood accident we learn about as the narrative unfolds, Baby suffers from tinnitus.  To drown out the hum of his condition he listens to music on his IPod (other fruit and none fruit based devices are available).  Anything beyond this would be a spoiler, the trailer already gives too much away.

Kevin Spacey Baby Driver

What is so good about what on the surface is a genre movie with a thin plot? The answer to that is both obvious and strangely intangible.  The largely recognisable cast (Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx) are all fantastic, particularly a surprisingly understated Kevin Spacey.   His performance is as measured and deadpan as when he appeared in the David Mamet penned Glengarry Glen Ross a quarter of a century ago.  Elgort is a revelation displaying both more subtlety and likeability than in his more teen friendly movies.  Hamm and Foxx are clearly having the most fun with the most character roles.  But the brilliance goes so far beyond just the performances.  The characters anchor the movie but the sublime script keeps the movie ticking along perfectly keeping the audience in the palm of its metaphorical hand.  I wouldn’t go as far as calling the trailer bait and switch, but it is as wonderfully misleading as you would expect in a few subtle ways.

Baby Driver

The aforementioned references to other movies are exactly subtle, but they aren’t heavy-handed either.   I can see Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Driver (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), Point Break (1991) and Heat (1995).  There is probably also a bit of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Drive (2011),not to mention Monsters, Inc. (2001) that is both seen and referenced. I haven’t even mentioned the music yet.  Edgar Wright has described writing a scene for every song used, a feat he really has accomplished.  It’s so easy slip a few classic tracks into a movie, Baby Driver does so much more than that.  The music choices aren’t always obvious, but they are always perfect, and perfectly fit the movie.  There are little moments of brilliance including scenes cut to the rhythm of the song, or rewinding a song to time with the robbery.  There are also moments we hear from Baby’s point of view with the drone of tinnitus.

Ansel Elgort;Lily James

This is Baby’s story so we only get as glimpse or a mention of the other characters when they are not interacting with Baby.  This works well for the film as a whole but does leave Lily James’ Debora a little thinly drawn.  This is a filmmaking choice rather than a mistake.  It actually works to the benefit of the other characters, namely; Doc (Kevin Spacey), Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González) who we don’t always know what to expect from them.  The Atlanta setting is also key, set in LA, Chicago or Boston it would be a different film (It couldn’t be set in New York traffic) it also gives us marvellous southern accents and evokes the outlaw spirit of films from the 70’s and 80’s.

Fun, funny and charming, Baby Drive manages to be both original and familiar a totally joyous  experience and the perfect antidote to the soulless blockbusters and heavy counterprogramming of the summer.   

 

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It is traditional to start a review with a brief synopsis of the movie.  However with this film the story unfolds in such a way that it is best not to know.  This makes it a little hard to review the film, for that reason I will keep my comments to what you can see in the trailer.  Having said that, it would be preferable if you can avoid the trailer.  Based on a novel by M.R. Carey about a dystopian future.  Concentrating on a small group Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) a teacher, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) one of her pupils, Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) a single minded research scientist and Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) a soldier.  The group are central within a zombie outbreak.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-film-poster

The strength of the film is its multifaceted nature, the surface and the layers are equally as important and interesting.  With a young adult slant the film, or to be precise, its adult characters have a certain fear, mistrust and lack of understanding of the teenage protagonists, this is a universal fear of the next generation.  The next layer is a more general but also overt analogy for the state of mistrust and fear in the world as w whole.  All this would be powerless if the film on the surface wasn’t so good.  On the surface, it is a modern zombie movie given focus and originality by its low budget and a new twist.  There is an air of Greek mythology within the narrative that is nicely mirrored in the stories told in the film.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

As much as many people try and avoid the zombie debate, it is not only hard to avoid but actually an interesting question.  In 2002 Danny Boyle introduced us to the infected in 28 Days later.  Two years later Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) gave George A. Romero style zombies a new turn of pace.  Where these creatures zombies?  Who cares, they are as different from Romero’s zombies as they were from the zombies of classic movies like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie.  Simply, if you want to call them zombies, do, if you don’t, don’t.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

Referred to as “hungries”, as with other infected, the zombie-like antagonists are both villains and victims.  This makes our heroes, both heroes and villains, or more to the point there are no heroes or villains, themes previously the reserve of Guillermo del Toro.  I have not led the book, but am led to believe the race of the two main characters Justineau and Melanie have been switched, while it would be easy of accusing the producers off whitewashing to cast Gemma Arterton, there is a bigger impact.  Arterton’s character is a more passive protagonist with Sennia Nanua’s Melanie being the actual main character, indeed the title character.  I don’t know if the filmmakers were looking for a black girl or simply cast the best child actor they could find.  Either way, Nanua is excellent providing both the heart and the narrative of the film, in her we may be seeing the birth of a new star.  The rest of the cast are also brilliant with nuanced performances form Arterton, Close and Considine.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-sennia-nanua

On a side note a lot of the film was shot in my home town of Birmingham, a relatively new experience as England’s second city has never had a film industry.  I look forward to seeing more recognisable places, but also hope they become less distracting as they become more common.

Making the most of its small budget The Girl with All the Gifts is a handsome and interesting film that contains moments of both tension and excitement.  Elevated from what could have been a direct to DVD or VOD movie by both casting and originality.   With just enough exposition to keep the story going, the subtext asks more questions than it answers leaving the viewer with lots to think about. 

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America is the home of the high-school movie, it’s a genre that doesn’t work in Britain and Ireland, except when it works, it really works.  I have been lucky enough to catch a preview of Sing Street a couple of weeks before its general release.Sing-Street_poster

The downturn in the Irish economy in the mid 80’s hits a middle class family.  In a bid to save money, teenager Connor’s (excellent newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) dysfunctional parents (played by Aidan Gillen from Game of Thrones and Maria Doyle Kennedy from The Commitments and Orphan Black) move him from a fee paying school to a church run state comprehensive.  Connor quickly finds new direction as he forms a band.  His actions aren’t inspired by fame and fortune or even to escape his current existence, he does it for the noblest of reasons, to impress an unobtainable older girl (Lucy Boynton).Ferdia Walsh-Peelo sing street

Writer director John Carney has made his name in music based movies with Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013).  With more plot and a difficult to master teenage story, Sing Street is possibly his most ambitious film to date.   He pulls it off in the same way as he has before, he has crafted a film that is held together by great performances.  His young cast are largely unknown and are awkwardly realistic.  The music is also essential to the formula, mixing 80’s tunes with the bands original songs that perfectly imitate the era.  Never afraid to throw comedy and emotional moments in, it is probably Carney’s funniest film.  The music and the band are essential to the plot, but ultimately it isn’t about music, it is about people and about families.  It’s this grounding that makes it so  relatable.Lucy-Boynton-Sing-Street

There is nothing especially new or original about the film, in fact it ticks just about every cliché box, some of them twice over.  This really doesn’t matter, they beats of the movie may be clichéd but they are staples of the genre, signposts to viewers who are literate the genre.  The film isn’t afraid to remind us that it is borrowing from an American genre as characters in the film talk about the dance scene from Back to the Future.  But it is also grounded in its Irish setting, It shares very few plot points with The Commitments but we are still reminded of it from time to time in the actions and interactions of the characters.

Another fun and charming film from John Carney.

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“I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in

I watched myself crawling out as I was a-crawling in

I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind

I saw so much I broke my mind”

Mickey Newbury

As I walked out of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice I sent a tweet renaming the movie Yawn Of Justice Review.  This was a little unkind as the film isn’t truly boring, it was just disappointing. When I heard that director Zack Snyder was inspired by Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns I had a glimmer of hope.  The last time a director took inspiration from a Frank Miller Batman novel it was Christopher Nolan and Batman: Year One became Batman Begins.  So what went wrong?batman vs superman

Zack Snyder is something of an easy target for criticism, but I have never felt like an apologist when defending his work.  Despite my love for the original I liked his remake of Dawn of the Dead(2004); 300 (2006) was dumb camp fun with a great cast (and referred to by tour guides  when I went to Athens last year); Watchmen (2009) is a monumental and underrated adaptation of what is probably the best graphic novel ever.  Sucker Punch (2011) has its problems book looks amazing and really isn’t as bad as you have been told; Man of Steel (2013) is far from perfect especially the Transformers style finale, but, the build up and character development is really good.  Henry Cavill and Amy Adams where perfect casting.  So I ask the question again: So what went wrong?batman vs superman batman

Before I get to that, what did he get right?  Ben Affleck could be a great Batman.  I have long thought Michael Keaton should reprise his Batman for The Dark Knight Returns (with the right director even George Clooney could get away with it), Affleck plays the older jaded and on edge Batman to perfection, this truly is a performance that needs a better film.  The same is true of Jeremy Irons as Alfred, he deserves his own film.  Henry Cavill is still a decent Superman, but given that this is supposed to be a superman movie he isn’t given much to do.  Holly Hunter is excellent in a small part, and Gal Gadot seems okay in what we have seen of her.  So for a third and final time, went wrong? For a start Jesse Eisenberg.  Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is annoying at best, I would go as far as saying he is as bad, and as annoying as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin or Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey in Batman Forever.  He hight of got away with his performance if they were remaking the 60’s TV show, but only just.  I can only imagine Zack Snyder’s direction when something like this:batman vs superman wonder woman

Zack “do you remember when you played Mark Zuckerberg”

Jesse “Yeah”

Zack “I want you to do the same”

Jesse “Ok, I can do that”

Zack “Not exactly the same, do the Zuckerberg thing, times ten, imagine you are on crack, and be so annoying even your mother hates you”

Jesse “you mean like this?”

Zack “yes, but more zany and crazy” batman vs superman lex luthor

For all Eisenberg’s zaniness the film totally lacks fun or humour.  There is one funny moment in the entire film, unfortunately, when it came I had already seen it a dozen times in the trailer.   But the problems go beyond the lack of humour, the film is simply dour and uninteresting.  The plot is thin but overly complicated and constantly explained to the audience.  The mass destruction in the final act is no worse than what we have seen from Marvel (I include X-Men as well as MCU) in recent years, but at least they have a little fun along the way, and they have with Ant-Man (2015) and Deadpool (2016) proved that a lower  scale final act can work.  Worse than that, the final act is disjointed from the narrative that leads up to it.  We have to wait an eternity for the Batman v Superman that the title promises.  When we get there the set up and the conclusion are contrived beyond belief.  I could except that Luthor’s plan makes no sense, that it doesn’t fit with the narrative and that it is poorly executed, but to have all three issues are unforgivable.  I saw the movie in 2D, but understand there is a 3D version too.  Allowing for the light loss of 3D viewers must have missed half the movie in the gloom.  Again Dawn of Justice may not be the best title, The Dark Night Before Justice may be more appropriate.  Batman movies should be dark and gloomy and the washed-out colour works, but Superman should be bright and technicolor.  To serve both characters in one movie was always going to be tough, but they failed on both counts.  Even Zack Snyder’s biggest critics must admit that he has a visual flair and style, however, in this film it works against him.  The best visual scenes are all dream sequences, this could have worked well, but they are too long and distract from the plot rather than enhancing it.  Even the conclusion is pointless as we all know that by the time The Justice League Part One arrives in 2017 there will be a happy twist to the unfortunate event at the end of this movie.batman vs superman superman

There is some truth to the suggestion that Marvel earned the right to make the Avengers with the foundation of Iron Man and Thor, that they learned their lessons from two Hulk movies,  and that DC jumped right into the Justice League without that foundation.  But the problems go deeper than that.  Dawn of Justice opens with the events of Man of Steel, shown from the point of view of Bruce Wayne as the city is destroyed around him.  This would appear to be an acknowledgement of what they dis wrong first time around.  It isn’t, it is just a pre-cusser to more destruction.  Christopher Nolan’s name appears proudly on the movies credits, but his fingerprints are nowhere to be seen in the movie.  The film lacks the weight and scale of The Dark Knight, replacing them with CGI and gloom.  Batman & Robin was by far the weakest Batman film, but in a way it was a noble failure, I think I know what Joel Schumacher was trying to do; create a Batman that combines the dark edge of Tim Burton’s movies with the fun camp of the 60’s TV show and the bombast of the comics.  He failed in just about every aspect and I hate the film, but he tried.   Zack Snyder on the other hand got so much right but ultimately failed having created a disappointing film, a film that incites emotions of indifference and apathy.  A disappointing film is far worse than a bad one.  I only hope Suicide Squad, due out later this year has the same fun and humour that Marvel demonstrated in Ant-Man, Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and sets a new direction for DC movies.

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Sicario

“The program for this evening is not new, You’ve seen this entertainment through and through” I can’t resist, a good quote from The Doors, but is feels strangle fitting. Sicario feels very familiar as if you already know the beat if not the words. Don’t perceive this to be a problem, it helps the viewer slip easily into a world we don’t and will hopefully never know. The pointy end of the war on drugs.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an idealistic and possibly naïve FBI agent. When her job leading a hostage recovery team overlaps with the war on drugs she is enlisted into a joint task force run by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin).  Matt claims to work for the Department of Defence but is clearly CIA, he works with Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) whose role and origin is shady to say the least.sicario

When you start a review saying how good a film looks it usually means the film itself was pretty but dull. This is far from the case with Sicario, Roger Deakins brings the same beauty to his photography that he did with Skyfall. The images are often disturbing, but boy do they look good through Deakins lenses. But all like the best cinematography it isn’t just about pretty pictures, it is how the more mundane shots are lit and framed to find the required mood. Back to the film itself.sicario emily blunt

There is a constant sense of dread, melancholy and despair that underlines the film similar to that experienced in No Country for Old Men (2007) and director Denis Villeneuve’s earlier film Prisoners (2013). This we see through Blunt’s character who is both the heart and the moral compass of the film. We as viewers are kept as much in the dark as she is as to the agenda and mandate of the task force.  Like her we are also given the opportunity to make our own mind up of the right and wrong of the situation.  While she is the heart and soul of the piece, Matt is ringmaster and Alejandro a spectre hanging over proceedings.

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The film is full of amazing dialogue that tells us all we need to know with without ever becoming Basil Exposition. One quote that frames the film comes when Kate asks Alejandro for an explanation of what is going on, his response: “You ask how the watch is made. Keep your eye on the time.” Another of his quotes is a little more arch, it is directed at Kate but is also an explanation of the film: “Nothing will make sense to your American ears. You will doubt what we do. But, in the end, it will make sense.” There are two more memorable quotes, one from Matt about why they do what they do, the other from Alejandro (again) about justice. I won’t publish them as they could stray into plot spoilers, least to say, they like the actions of the characters firmly nail their colours to the mast. The film doesn’t preach the right or wrong of the situation, it puts its characters in a scenario and lets the audience decide. This is far more intelligent film-making than we normally get from mainstream cinema.sicario Josh Brolin

Anyone who has seen The Wolfman may be understandably concerned by a Blunt / Del Toro reunion, don’t worry, they are both perfectly cast and brilliant as is Brolin. All the characters come across as real people not as sketches whose personality doesn’t stretch beyond the scenario they are in. Emily Blunt continues to show her versatility having done everything from costume drama to sci-fi action via comedy.  A special mention must be made for Daniel Kaluuya as Reggie, Blunts FBI partner, he is totally natural and believable in the role, offering a lighter and sometimes amusing angle without ever distracting from the film. He is a funny guy, not the comic relief dropped into a movie to lighten the tone. I could imagine Jessica Chastain in the Blunt role, other than that I can’t think of anyone else who could have filled the shoes (of flip-flops) of the three leads. The same is true of director, Denis Villeneuve, I can think of many top directors that could have done good job but they are sure to have distracted us with unnecessary flourishes. Interestingly the film appears to be based on an original story (early contender for best original Oscar nomination) by actor and first time writer Taylor Sheridan. It is unclear how much the taut storytelling is down to the director and how much the writer, whoever is responsible did a magnificent job.sicario-banner

The film is honest and brutal, even brutally honest, but still manages to revel in its moral ambiguity and uncertainty.  This is where a review drops in the but…. However, there is no but, I really have nothing negative to say about the film. It may disappoint a few people as it has been sold as more of an action movie than it is, but that is the fault of the distributors not the film or its makers. It is a solid film that doesn’t put a foot wrong. I don’t think it has the originality or is showy enough to win best picture or director at the Oscars, but it certainly good enough for a nomination or seven.

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I have never used the expression meh in my life until now, but can’t think of any other way to describe Fifty Shades of Grey.fifty shades of grey poster

I once heard a story about Sleeping Beauty Castle at Euro Disney/Disneyland Paris.  When the plans were revealed  it was stated that this is Europe where we have real castles, and that they would have to make it a lot bigger.  I have no idea if it is true but like the story. I thought of this as I watched Fifty Shades of Grey, it is all a matter of context.  What is the point of the film? As an erotic drama it is a little vanilla in a world that includes Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013).  As an explicit story it may contain a lot of female nudity and a few sex scenes but nothing like Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013).  But at its heart it is neither of these things, it is a romance, and not one that fairs well against Richard Linklater’s before trilogy.  So what is it? All I could think while I watched it was Twilight (2008) for people who grew up watching Pretty Woman (1990).  I thought this before learning the source novel by E.L. James started life as Twilight fan fiction.  With this context it made so much sense.  It isn’t a window into the world of BDSM, but we don’t need a window on the world.  It may have worked in this way a few years ago but today anyone with an internet connection can find real BDSM.fifty shades of grey dakota johnson

In the same way that The Fast and the Furious (2001) hits all the major beats of Point Break (1991), Fifty Shades of Grey follows most of the main plot points of both Pretty Woman and Twilight.  Unfortunately as a fan of neither Pretty Woman nor Twilight, I find them both more interesting that Fifty Shades of Grey.  If you think Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) bites her lip a lot wait until you meet Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson).  I watched the film in a packed cinema, there were a few individuals and a few couples but around 80% of the audience was made up of groups of women.  It is interesting as woman flock to see the film dissenters describe it as degrading to woman.  It could and possible will be debated to for years if the themes of the film are degrading to women, what is clearly degrading to woman (and men) is to give them under-written, undeveloped characters.  This is a great shame as Jamie Dornan is very good as he is in the TV show The Fall, but as with The Fall he is overshadowed by his female co star, Gillian Anderson and Dakota Johnson.  Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith and granddaughter of Tippi Hedren is very good and commands the film in the way that Dornan should.  But as with her mother and grandmother who weren’t always cast in the best films I hope she finds a few great roles like they did in films like Something Wild (1986), The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964).fifty shades of grey Jamie Dornan

Since the release of the film there have been reports of E.L. James vetoing Sam Taylor-Johnson’s amendments to the dialogue.  This is a great shame as the dialogue is totally terrible and often cringe worthy.  But Taylor-Johnson has crafted an attractive film and does manage the odd moment of fun; the “business meeting” where the terms of the “contract” are discussed is truly and intentionally (I think) hilarious. Reports that Taylor-Johnson won’t be directing the sequels.  And this takes me back to the start, Fifty Shades of Meh.  For all its moments of drama, comedy and titillation, the film is just a little dull and that is unforgivable for any film.

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Ex Machina

This isn’t a review, more a collection of thoughts on the movie, as such it does contain PLOT SPOILERS. 

The central theme of James Cameron’s seminal Sci-Fi movie, The Terminator is a war between man and machine. The premise, is that the AI (artificial intelligence) created by man became Sentient, man pulled the plug, machine didn’t want to die so fought back. Written and directed by author and screenwriter Alex Garland, Ex Machina takes a different look, at the idea of a sentient robot.ex machina poster

It is Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) express goal to create a sentient being the way Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein did. As with Frankenstein, it asks the question, by creating life does one becomes god. To its credit the film doesn’t get bogged down in the philosophy letting the ideas linger in the viewers mind after the film has finished. Caleb’s (Domhnall Gleeson) part in the story is to ascertain if Nathan has succeed by way of a variation on the the Turing test. By talking to and questioning Nathan’s creation Ava (Alicia Vikander) Caleb must decide if she is sentient or just faking it. The analogy of a chess computer that Caleb uses helps us, the audience keep up with the problems of the test. It is to the credit of Garland that he can keep the viewer up to pace with minimal exposition and without making us feel stupid.Ex Machina Oscar Isaac

It is explained in the set-up that she is a robot and that Caleb knows she is a robot is central to the test. The bar is set seemingly impossibly high, he knows that she is a robot and can see that she is a robot but she must be able to pass as human. The story is very much from the point of view of Caleb and as with so many well told stories the main character is behind the audience but not so far behind that we exasperated with the plot.  He realises that the test isn’t what he thinks it is thus creating conflict between the character and tension in the story. But the agenda is kept at just enough arms length for the viewer to think they know what is going to happen but not be sure until it plays out. As Ava first questions, then flirts with Caleb the inevitable questions come up, is she flirting because she likes him or because she is programmed to flirt. If she is flirting because she likes him, does she like him because she has the emotional capacity to like someone, or because she is programmed to like him. If she has emotions are they a sign of consciousness or is she programmed to exhibit the mechanics of emotions. To quote Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in The Terminator “God, you can go crazy thinking about all this”. But the rabbit hole goes that little bit deeper, just as you think the movie isn’t going to ask the Deckard/Blade Runner question of Caleb, it asks the question and threatens to take the story in a whole new direction. This is only a small part of the story and is only touched upon, but it is hugely significant, again letting the ideas linger in the viewers mind.Domhnall Gleeson Ex Machina

Possibly the cleverest thing about the film is the story, or more to the point, the storytelling and the simplicity of it. You could remove the Sci-Fi and the philosophical elements and set it as a classic Film Noir, with a femme fatale, her shady husband and the young dupe staying with them for the weekend. If you look at it from that point of view, it isn’t a new story, it is one told many times but as Caleb describes in the film, the film itself is the magicians attractive assistant distracting us from the simplicity of the plot.  To return to the Sci-Fi, the end is nicely tied up but it does leave a lot of questions.  Most notably, who is the hero, who is the villain? Are there any heroes or villains? We don’t know for absolutely sure, just as we don’t know if Ava actually passed the test(s) or simply fulfilled her programming.Alicia Vikander Ex Machina

Interestingly as a first time director who started as novelist then a screenwriter, Garland isn’t obsessed with clever dialogue, he is often willing to tell his story with wordless visuals, an idea that many directors never master. The philosophical questions that he asks aren’t new to Garland, in his second (and possibly my favourite) of his novels, The Tesseract, he uses the giant metaphor of the ‘tesseract’, a four-dimensional hypercube. In that story he is looking more into the perception of cause and effect on people than the deeper questions of Ex Machina but the two works (the 1998 novel The Tesseract, not the Oxide Pang film adaptation) fit well together.Ex Machina

I have said all this without mentioning how beautifully shot or well acted the film is. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac have been impressing hugely varied films for a few years now and again impress here, but Alicia Vikander, is the real star of the film. Her performance is totally mesmerising. This is best captured in her poise, her stillness as well as her movement, this is possibly a testament to he past as a ballerina. When she moves, she never looks robotic, but it isn’t quite human either. Nominated for BAFTA’s rising star award in 2013, she missed out to Juno Temple in the public vote. Expect to see a lot more of her, Testament of Youth is out now and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son and Tulip Fever are all set for release this year.  Based on this performance I am looking forward to seeing more of her.alex garland ex machina

As the Ex Machina is compared to the work of Kubrick, Scott, Cameron and Lang it will be interesting to see how the film ages and how is stands up to repeat viewings. For now I am happy to report that Alex Garland has delivered far more than I expected of him as a first time director and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

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