Tag Archives: shadow dancer

Review – Ex Machina (15) [2015]

Ex Machina - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alex Garland

Writer:

  • Alex Garland – 28 days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Halo

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Geoff Barrow
  • Ben Salisbury

For decades, mankind has had a continuing urge to create and enhance artificial intelligence (AI). This has been reflected and taken to all kinds of extremes and dangers in science fiction films, such as the Terminator franchise, A.I., i,RobotHer and Transcendence. Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, smartly deals with the issue of AI again and the possible consequences of it.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Ex Machina is about a programmer called Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins a competition at work to go to a remote facility to be part of an experiment. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the man behind the experiment, wants Caleb to find out if his human-looking robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander), can pass the Turing Test. But neither the experiment nor Nathan is what they seem.

Ex Machina is an interesting and stylish movie. Alex Garland successfully contrasts the beautiful and open nature of a remote location, with the claustrophobic feel of being based there. This creates a natural tension that never truly leaves viewers. It might be allayed for parts of the film, but at the slightest change in circumstance, this tension (re-)tightens one’s muscles, reminding viewers of how terrifying remote locations can be.

In addition to this natural terror, Garland, who has written a superb script, tackles some thought-provoking (and disquieting) topics concerning AI, to augment one’s terrors. Some of the topics have already been done with varying levels of success in Transcendence and Her which dealt with the (disturbing) issues of consciousness within AI and having a relationship with AI, respectively. But Ex Machina arguably takes these issues to higher (and more alarming) levels by blurring the lines between people and machines; notably, by giving AI robots sexual desires and the capability to act on and enjoy them.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Ostensibly, the issue of sexual desire within an AI robot may seem far-fetched and ludicrous. But watch the documentary series Through The Wormhole, plus appreciate the intelligent ways that modern technology can respond to requests, and it might dawn on audiences that what we see in Ex Machina is not so far-fetched or ridiculous and that the lines between people and machines is genuinely being distorted. Bearing all this in mind, Ex Machina enables audiences to believe in this distortion because of Alicia Vikander’s astonishing performance as the AI robot, Ava. Ava’s (arousing) physique and general movements are robot-like. But her facial features and her observational and intellectual sharpness are so human-like that one almost forgets they’re watching an AI robot.

Yes, it helps that Ava/Vikander is an attractive woman and that the special effects on her are outstanding. Equally, though, it helps that Caleb and Nathan, played well by Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, respectively, buy into Ava’s supposed realness and respond to her (human?) personality in differing but very human ways. Indeed, their responses say something about their personalities. Yet, while audiences learn about Caleb’s background and why he is the way he is, the same cannot be said for Nathan. This is unfortunate as there is undoubtedly more to Nathan than he lets on; his brooding face, alone, tells us that.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

However, the lack of information given about Nathan is not the only element of Ex Machina’s plot that weakens it. The film is slow-paced; so much so, that for much of the movie one may wonder where the film is going. Moreover, the ending leaves itself open to scrutiny, not to mention out of kilter and jarring to the rest of the film. Nevertheless, one should not stress too much on the movie’s faults because so much of it is impressive.

Over-all, Ex Machina is an intriguing, weird, and noteworthy film. The movie is slow and the ending is questionable, but all the same Alex Garland has made a striking piece of work in his directorial debut. He deals perceptively and philosophically with important issues regarding AI. These are extremely pertinent considering mankind’s disconcerting hunger to further enhance AI. For heaven knows that these issues will not be isolated to the realms of science fiction films for much longer as it is likely that the world’s first Ava will be created in the not-too-distant future.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – Shadow Dancer (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • James Marsh – Man on Wire, Project Nim

Cast:

  • Andrea Riseborough – Brighton Rock, W.E.Birdman
  • Clive Owen – Derailed, Inside Man, Blood Ties
  • Gillian Anderson – The X-Files, Johnny English Reborn, Mr Morgan’s Last Love
  • Aiden Gillen – Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises, Calvary
  • David Wilmot – Intermission, The Guard, Calvary
  • Dohmnall Gleeson – Never Let Me Go, Harry Potter VII(i) & VII(ii)Ex Machina
  • Brid Brennan

Last year’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) was a wonderful example of the capabilities of the British Film Institute (BFI). The acting, the dialogue and the settings were noteworthy, plus it gave audiences a true sense of the machinations of the British secret services. Similarly, in Shadow Dancer, the BFI has come up again with another quite impressive film about the murky world of intelligence and underground movements.

Collette (Andrea Riseborough) waiting somewhat apprehensively to speak with Kevin Mulville, one of the most senior activists in the IRA’s ‘military wing.’

Shadow Dancer is based in Belfast between 1993-94, at the time of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and revolves round Collette (Andrea Riseborough). She is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) activist, who gets arrested for attempting to blow up Mile End underground station in London.

Her interrogator from MI5, Mac (Clive Owen), gives her a stark choice: either face prison and the loss of her son, or become an informant. Mac believes she is a useful person since she has close ties to the most important people in the IRA’s ‘military wing,’ in particular with its leader, Gerry Adams (Aiden Gillen), and his henchman, Kevin Mulville (David Wilmot). Reluctantly, Collette agrees.

Shadow Dancer is a slow-moving, tense thriller. In the same vein as TTSS and Harry Brown, the settings are gritty, non-theatrical and reflective of the era which help to set the tone of the film; in this case, some late-eighties hair-styles and the cream-coloured, box-like computers. Yet, unlike the two aforementioned films, Shadow Dancer runs out of steam, turning to an eclectic mix of predictability and vagueness that undermines much of what is good about the movie.

Collette meeting with her MI5 boss, called Mac (Clive Owen), to discuss the IRA’s latest plans.

Aided by a well-written, realistic script and solid acting, Shadow Dancer illustrates the tough life of a militant activist and the dangers of being a double-timer for a movement like the IRA. This is all exemplified astoundingly by Andrea Riseborough as the vulnerable Collette. Without doubt, Riseborough is the star of the film and enhances her growing reputation, after emerging as the only actor to come out unscathed from W.E., the atrocity directed by Madonna. Riseborough makes us empathise with Collette’s difficult and mentally-strenuous situation without appearing weak or cowardly. And her Northern Irish accent is flawless. All of this is no small achievement.

Furthermore, Collette’s position in the IRA enables viewers to see the men and women of the IRA’s ‘military wing’ for what they are. While it shows instances of their malevolence, it also has the effect of humanising them, especially Gerry Adams. (Aiden Gillen, with no less distinction, playing a quieter and much less charming role than as Lord ‘Littlefinger’ Petyr Baelish, the king’s slimy and untrustworthy advisor, in Game of Thrones.)

Moreover, Collette’s situation allows audiences to gain an understanding of the IRA’s internal disagreements over the treaty, between the ‘military wing and the ‘political wing,’ the latter headed by Ian Gilmour (Stuart Graham).

Collette looking on sadly at a funeral, standing alongside with Gerry Adams (Aiden Gillen), her brother Connor (Dohmnall Gleeson), and her mother (played by Brid Brennan). The red haired man in the background.

Yet, surprisingly, Shadow Dancer does not do the same for the inner workings of the British secret services, vis-à-vis the IRA. Whereas TTSS was layered with intrigue, Shadow Dancer falls into a (depressing) cliché wherein Mac plays the ‘good operative,’ since he backs the main character, in contrast to Kate (played by a steely Gillian Anderson), his main (villain-like) adversary, who has an ulterior motive and isn’t given the time to justify herself.

All-in-all, Shadow Dancer is another worthwhile movie made by the BFI. Like TTSS and Harry Brown, it has a grounded and harsh feel that is only lightened by the remarkable performance of Andrea Riseborough. It is just a pity for Riseborough that Shadow Dancer’s storyline lacks the complexity and plausibility that is so striking about her display.

PG’s Tips