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I had heard of "Ex Machina," but knew absolutely nothing about it before a couple of nights ago - released in 2015, it won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects - considering it was a relatively low-budget, independent, science-fiction film, it's pretty remarkable that it didn't come across as low-budget (it didn't come across as high-budget either; it fell somewhere in the middle). Made for $15 million, it beat out such films as "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" ($250 million) and "Mad Max: Fury Road" ($150 million) - this alone is remarkable. Writer-Director Alex Garland also received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Original Screenplay, justifiably losing to the fine "Spotlight" - I suspect that, in this category, the crew took a "just happy to be here" attitude. I don't write plot summaries here - my time is too limited, and there are too many other fine websites that handle that task with aplomb; instead, I make whatever observations come to mind, and that I think people may find interesting or relevant. If you read past this point, I'm assuming you've already seen the film (don't forget, this is a discussion website). As a side note, if you've never heard "Deus ex Machina" pronounced before, the words sound like 1) Ama"deus" 2) "x" 3) "Mach" V + "eena," with the accent on Mach. As for Racer X, I did not ask him his opinion. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** The setting, in God-knows-what remote part of Alaska, Canada, or Siberia - as well as the role of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) - both come across to me as silly. I don't care how smart or rich someone is - they don't own half the world, and have the knowledge to out-think all of humanity by themselves. Isaac played his part poorly, although he was in a no-win situation: Think, for a moment, how inane it is for him to have built a company which handles 94% of all internet searches, *as well as* having the technical intelligence and knowledge to make world-changing breakthroughs (you can be mega-rich, or mega-educated; never are you both, at least not to *this* extent. (Bateman wasn't even very old, yet he made Bill Gates look like a mentally impaired panhandler.) Furthermore, his character was not that far removed from that of a frat boy - I can see this as a satire or farce, but it was intended to be neither, and that's why it falls flat: not short, but flat. I do applaud it for taking a Mickey Mantle-like swing for the fences (that took guts, and I admire it), but it whiffed in a way that could have turbine-powered the entire Bronx on a hot summer day. The computer, Ava - deliciously played by Alicia Vikander, and undoubtedly stoking techno-nerd fantasies they didn't even realize they had - was supposed to pass what's known as a "Turing Test," theorized by tera-genius Alan Turing in 1950, which basically says that if a human interacts with a computer, but thinks they're interacting with another human, then the computer passes the Turing Test. Recall also that Alan Turing, whose work I studied more than any other individual's while in graduate school, was the subject of the fine 2014 biopic, "The Imitation Game" (it just this second popped into my head that "The Imitation Game" also alludes to a gay person staying in the closet, imitating someone who's straight, but that bit of mental numbness is my problem, and can be openly (sorry) discussed in The Imitation Game's thread). I mention the content of the preceding paragraph because at the very end of the film, Ava did indeed pass the Turing Test, as she obviously convinced the helicopter pilot (as well as pedestrians at the intersection) that she was human - I suspect most people are so wigged out by the film's finale that they miss this subtle-but-important point. This was essentially a four-person script, with "test subject" Caleb Smith (played more than adequately by Domhnall Gleeson), and in a lesser role than the other three, the "other" robot, Kyoko (played very well, and with respect for subtlety and nuance, by Sonoya Mizuno). You really need to turn your mind off to enjoy Ex Machina, as the fundamental premise, including the setting and the personality of Bateman, are so improbable that you'll pull your hair out if you question it, so it will help your emotional stability if you accept this in advance - but then again, you aren't supposed to be reading this until you've finished the film. On a related note, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Joseph Heller's "Catch 22" just this afternoon. On an unrelated note, it's somewhat disturbing that "Portnoy's Complaint" just popped into my mind. Admit it: You had the hots for Ava, and you feel somewhat conflicted. Just admit it. Do.
Fifteen years before "The War of the Worlds" was released, on Oct 30, 1938, Orson Welles scared the pants off of people with his now-infamous radio broadcast of H.G. Wells 1898 novel of the same name. How many of you knew that this book was actually written in the 19th century? I did not, and that makes me want to read it even more. The movie is available on Amazon Prime, as well as several other sources. Filmed in Technicolor, the film starred Gene Barry (Bat Masterson) and Ann Robinson (the film "Dragnet") as Dr. Clayton Forrester and Sylvia van Buren. The film was narrated by Sir Cedric Hardwicke whom we just saw in "The Lodger." Cecil B. DeMille's first choice to produce this film was Alfred Hitchcock, who declined, so he recruited George Pal ("The Time Machine") as Producer, who chose Byron Haskin ("Treasure Island") as Director, much to DeMille's approval. Hardwicke's opening commentary makes me want to do two things: it makes me want to re-memorize the ordering of our planets (it's ridiculous not to have this mentally available as instant recall (Remember: Outside of Mars, you have - in order of distance from the Sun - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, the #1, 2, 3, and 4 planets in diameter, and the only 4 planets bigger than Earth - if you remember that, everything else will fall into place), and it makes me appreciate how lucky we are to exist on planet Earth, with its optimal conditions for human beings. The fact that we're fucking everything up is a side issue which we can discuss in another thread. See this? One day, it isn't going to mean squat. Fifteen minutes into the movie, at the point where the "meteor" crashed, and its lid began unscrewing, revealing a cobra-shaped probe, the special effects of The War of the Worlds are believable and well-done - very impressive for a 1953 work. I guess we're going to see a lot more of them in the near future, so we'll see how that goes. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** Well, so much for the three Earthlings' initial overtures of friendship. Mars draws first blood. And I *love* the juxtaposition of 1950's America with Martian technology when a local looked at the deadly Martian heat ray and exclaimed, "What *is* that gizmo?!" Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At 29:20, the town of Saint Julien is wiped out! No more Super Seconds! Léoville-Las Cases - gone! Ducru-Beaucaillou - gone! Gruaud Larose - gone! And I've invested so much time and money figuring out that Léoville-Poyferré is better than all of them. Oh, God! No Léoville-Barton, no Talbot, no Beychevelle, no Branaire-Ducru, no, no, no. Oh, God, I finally understand how Dustin Hoffman felt. No Saint Julien! Oh, Jesus God, NO! This is also how I feel after waiting for two hours at Lucky Strike, when one of the parties hogging the alleys finally leaves: A lane! A lane! 37 minutes into this 85-minute film, I remain impressed, almost dazzled with its 63-year-old special effects - I just now found out that, out of its $2 million budget, $1.4 million was spent on special effects - and it shows, too: They are outstanding. (I reiterate this is a *** SPOILERS *** section.) Boy, how many movies do you see, especially just eight years after it actually happened, when the U.S. President orders the use of the A-Bomb? And I had absolutely no idea there was even a concept of a "flying wing" in 1953, but the Northrup YB-35 began to be developed during World War II. <--- This is a picture from the movie. And the A-Bomb sequence is very, very well done. I'll tell you what: "Five" may have been the first-ever post-apocalyptic movie ever made, but considering that "The War of the Worlds" came only *two years* after that? Well, let's just say the progress made was remarkable: I'm no expert, but I cannot name an earlier film that I've ever seen that has better special effects than this. Today, special effects are generally to a film's detriment, but 63 years ago? They were SPECIAL effects, and these are magnificently done - I cannot think of a single film before "2001: A Space Odyssey" that has *better* special effects - and that came fifteen years later. Wow, what a surprise ending. I will only say that this *excellent* film was very much ahead of its time, and also very much a *product* of its time. Watch it - you'll not be disappointed unless you're an *extreme* cynic, in which case you *might* be disappointed at the ending, but only if you are, well, an extreme cynic.