Ex Machina, an analysis.

I’ve always had an innate love for good writing. I also have an admiration for psychological manipulation. And additionally, I have deep respect for writers who can catch me off guard. This film fulfills all the above criteria, and how. Allow me to elaborate.

Ex Machina is, of course, the story of an AI, a concept that predates computing. I believe human beings have been obsessed with intelligence of any kind ever since we recognized our own. A philosopher may attribute this to a God complex of some sort but I’m no philosopher. Frankenstein fear is the normal route for AI’s in films, something recently explored in Age of Ultron (I’ll go there in a second). However, there have been those few films and books where the presence of an AI doesn’t go directly to the Frankenstein complex and Ex Machina thankfully is one of those. Here’s a film that isn’t outwardly afraid of the AI and that’s a really refreshing change of pace.

2015 saw a bigger and badder AI than Ava (the AI of Ex Machina) – Ultron. Full disclosure, I’m a MCU-ite, any and all forms of it. Ultron is also my favourite baddie in the comic book universe. How good was James Spader as Ultron though? I knew he would do a good job since they announced it, of course. There really was, as Joss Whedon puts it, no one else who could do justice to that role. But I’m getting side tracked. The point of this essay/blogpost is to act as a comparison between the two films that are obviously poles apart but do have one thing in common – philosophical questions about the AI. The difference however lies in the fact that while Ex Machina is almost like a tribute to the philosophy of the AI, the AI is almost secondary to Age of Ultron, a means to an end. Ultron is fan-boy-wet-dream-Whedon’s interpretation of the NSA spying that came as a direct result of the 9/11 interpretation that was the Chitauri invasion of New York (even the same city). The film therefore is largely allegorical and the existence of the AI is merely incidental.

Ex Machina on the other hand is all about that AI. Ava is the star. She is being put to the infamous Turing test, to see if she is really thinking or acting like she is thinking. Sound complex? Well it’s a complex film. Many films deliver a surprise twist. Generally the twist is a physical one, Ex Machina’s big twist is quite emotional. It plays with your head, makes you believe you are seeing something when in reality something else is going on. It’s really a fantastic film that I hope at least gets a nod for Best Original Screenplay next year.

Ex Machina is very much an essay to the AI concept and it is for those who like a film that respects their intelligence and emotional capabilities. Watch it, now.

Rosewater

Comedic genius. Satirical god. These are just some of the phrases anyone would happily attach to Jon Stewart. Journalist, however, is the one I would associate him with most. Jon has shaped the comedic voice of Television satire, reinvigorating it and provided it with a purpose. Jon is also the embodiment of why Freedom of Speech is the most important aspect of a free and democratic society.

Rosewater has its flaws. There were moments where, millennial that I am, I paused and checked my Twitter feed. However it does deliver its message fantastically, as Jon has become synonymous with doing. It reminds us of that freedom that we take for granted every day, that proper journalists strive and take great risks to practice. Jon, as anyone who watches the Daily Show regularly will tell you, is an admirer of journalism. Just watch his berating of Judith Miller from a couple of weeks ago, it will tell you how much it pains him when the profession is taken advantage of. His staunch respect for the field is well reflected in Rosewater. He shows a deep understanding of the journalistic mind, something that is arguably obligatory for a satirist. He tells us, in the classic Jon way of acting merely as an observer, of the plight of a man wrongly imprisoned for doing his job.

In retrospect what was brilliant was his delivery of the message that oppressors are really the ones tortured even when they commit torture. Kim Bodnia is my favourite actor from Scandinavia, someone I’ve admired ever since Bron/Broen. His performance as the eponymous Rosewater stands out as the means of this message’s delivery. The number of layers he is able to portray, that Jon is able to make him portray, in the film is astounding. While the acting on the whole in the film is good, Kim Bodnia especially does a memorable job.

The film serves as a reminder to us all to not take the freedoms afforded to us by our governments for granted. Use it, and use it wisely. Do not use it to propagate a message that you do not believe in, or one that is borne out of greed. Use it to propagate love, peace and most importantly the truth.

Nightcrawler – a film review

It’s been a long week of catching up. I’ve watched most of the films that were nominated (or deserved to be nominated) for Best Picture at the hugely politicized but utterly unmissable Academy Awards. Nightcrawler was my last one and the only one where I thought I could add anything new to the critique that it has generated.

On the face of it Nightcrawler is unoriginal in its concept, that of taking a profession that isn’t heavily sought after and isn’t entirely moral in every connotation of the word and then putting it on display. What makes it original though is that Nightcrawler isn’t a study on morality. Nightcrawler is a film that is completely unbiased and though there are characters that question the ethical consequences of actions principal characters in this film take, it isn’t fairly important. The characters are thoroughly devoid of morality in some cases, especially Jake Gyllenhaal’s, and you would expect that from the career path they’ve taken.

Structurally this is a film that’s well written and well executed and most of all thoroughly well acted. Was Jake better than Micheal Keaton in Birdman? Questionable. What Nightcraweler is though, is as career defining as Birdman for Keaton. This maybe the performance we will judge him against from now on. No pressure.

4 stars.

Poverty – an angle I hadn’t yet considered

For me films have always held a high value. They’ve helped me get through hard times, they’ve been my gateway to the world and they’ve helped me understand life. I’ve never been a big fan of documentaries. Sure, Micheal Moore is fantastic and there are some great ones out there but not until watching Poverty, Inc at the Leeds International Film Festival did I really think there was something to this genre.

Poverty, Inc is an eye-opening documentary. It redefines the whole notion of aid given to the so called ‘poorer’ countries. It shows us how by giving support to those countries, of which my home India is one of, they are being robbed of an opportunity to stand on their own two feet.

Documentaries are great, I guess. What I dislike though is how many of them present the problem and don’t give us any solutions. What Poverty, Inc does is it shows us how to address the problem, not just diagnose it. It shows us live examples of how people have solved the problem adopting their methods.

Poverty, Inc is a well made film and I urge you all to watch it if it comes around to a festival near you.

Haider – a film review

Haider was the first proper movie I watched in Leeds. I say proper because I’ve watched three others as part of my membership of the Leeds university Film Society (newspeak – FilmSoc) which screens its films in a big in house theatre complete with a state of the art sound system. Yeah, I love my uni. But I digress.

Haider is not the easiest of movies to watch. It’s long, quite boring in bits for a person who doesn’t enjoy cinema in its full splendour. It’s an adaption of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which by characterization makes it difficult to watch. Power your way through though because what lies ahead is probably one of Vishal Bharadwaj’s finest.

Kashmir is a tricky topic to handle. To make the argument from what seemed to be the militant side is an even trickier topic. To say he did justice to Kashmir (the cinematography was breathtaking, even in the most gruesome scenes; I would go as far as saying it was quite close to Roja in terms of camera work) and to the original play would be an understatement. Bharadwaj has always had an ear for music that goes with his films and this was no different in that aspect. Dark and twisted at times, he uses the film to explore a lot of psychological feelings that we have buried deep inside.

Shahid Kapoor was one of my disappointments of the first half of the film but he kind of redeems himself in the final third. In what little of a role she had, Shraddha Kapoor did a fine job too. The standout performance is however quite predictably delivered from Tabu. Kay Kay Menon I thought did justice to his role too, though he could’ve done a little better perhaps.

I have to give a special mention to the writing of the film which I thought was beyond creditworthy. There moments in the movie where I would just reflexively go ‘waah’. To get that beauty in bleak surroundings has to be some special kind of talent.

Haider is an emotional whirlwind that takes you for quite a ride and then leaves you stranded in a land where you can’t help but feel overwhelmed with what just happened.

4.5 stars out of 5.

The Double – A film review

I’m really sorry I’ve been away for so long. I was on vacation. Now that I’m back I’m rearing to get going once again. I’m definitely going to try and become much more regular.

TheDouble2013Poster

I’ve always been a sucker for Festival films. Though I personally haven’t been to any festivals, mostly due to the lack of a good one around, I hope to change that in the near future. The latest Festival film I watched, as the title will probably give away, was Richard Ayoade’s ‘The Double’. The Double is a fantastic example of the Avant Garde film genre that is I think slowly making a comeback.

The Double is a film about an entirely unimportant clerk whose life is turned upside by the arrival of his doppelganger. The doppelganger quickly befriends him and then slowly starts taking over his life. It’s the life of a nobody stolen from a sea of nobodies around. It stars Jesse Eisenberg as the clerk and his doppelganger and Mia Wasikowska as his love interest.

The first thing I noticed about the movie was the lack of ties in the office. Now the senior executives in Eisenberg’s office do wear ties and spiffy suits and they seam bent on making everyone wear the exact same thing. The clerks are not allowed to wear ties, maybe to make them feel inferior in the hierarchy. I believe the director, who is also the writer, is allegorically pointing out how senior execs would rather we all be robots who work without asking any questions. This is really highlighted when the head of his organization, The Colonel ( I think a reference to how the man of today has become slaves to his eating habits), calling every human being unspecial.

Eisenberg’s coworkers are all old; the ones that do similar work to him are, anyway. Is this, coupled with the constant transitioning into Japanese music, calling out to the unusual methods in Japan’s ageing workforce? I’m just spitballing here.

Another thing I noticed immediately was the lighting. Eisenberg’s character is always shown with a darker shade of light, or an almost lack of it to mirror his life. When he feels different emotions, a different colour floods the space he is in. The colour is also playing with our emotions a bit as it tries to hypnotize us into empathizing with Simon James(Eisenberg).

On a last note I have to say that the film reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange with its subject and constant use of classical music. It came as no surprise to me that this film was adapted from a Dostoevsky novella of the same name. It has a lot of the self-loathing, self-criticizing nature that is signatory of the Russian master.

It’s experimental, bleak and quite beautifully dark while not losing its prize asset – Jesse Eisenberg. It’s also not for everyone and requires immense patience to watch. The film also leaves the ending open for interpretation, much like our lives to us.

4/5 stars.

Chef: A Review

If I was asked to describe this delightful film in one word, it would be delicious. Nothing else can come close. Okay, maybe scrumptious too.

Chef is acclaimed director Jon Favreau’s tribute to amazing food. The viewer can clearly see, by the way the movie was shot (and by his waistline, something he isn’t afraid of making fun at repeatedly) that he is a genuine lover of food. I’ve always been a great lover of food myself, and I truly think that this is a film for food lovers to rejoice over. I can dare each and every one of you to watch this film and not come out with saliva filling your mouths, at the food or the gorgeous Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson.

Story wise it does well to down play on the fact that it is in its essence a narration of how a father finally takes out time for his son. It also gives us a look at how we can effectively use social media to boost virtually any business, something I found interesting being a Marketing student. As a friend of mine rightly pointed out, what the film does best is that it does not force any emotions on to you. You are left free to feel what you want to feel and that kind of independence is a little unexpected from Favreau.

It’s well acted, well scripted and deliciously directed. Special props to Favreau for really mastering chef moves, if he hasn’t had prior training.Oh and before I forget, the film is damn funny too.

Four stars!