Tag Archives: Sci-fi

Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017

To tie in with our latest podcast where Owen reviews Lionsgate’s new sci-fi adventure film, Origin Wars, we take a look at what else the genre has to throw at us this year.
The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK.
Continue reading Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017

Life

“You’re playing with it like it’s your buddy.”

I almost feel sorry for Life. As I sit down to write this review, I have just perched my arse on the sofa and started my binge on the holiest of space-based horror franchises. I’m sat, feet up, tapping away at this review as the one and only Alien plays out on my television.

And I say “the one and only” on purpose. Because Life, this most derivative of sci-fi scarers, takes so much from Ridley Scott’s seminal movie that its tagline could quite possibly be “In space, everyone can see you steal”.

After retrieving a capsule filled with samples from Mars, a six man team of scientists aboard the International Space Station become the first to prove the existence of life on the Red Planet. Things aren’t as simple as they first seem when, what starts off as a single-cell organism, quickly evolves into a tiny monster intent on not being so tiny anymore.

To succeed in that goal, it’s going to need to eat everyone!

Horror ensues as the jellyfish looking beastie starts to pick off scientists one-by-one, making itself bigger and badder than the people that brought it to life. Now the crew are in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with higher stakes than any of them imagined when they started this trip.

This film is Alien. Ok, it goes to the 1979 Classic by way of a lot of other films. Event Horizon, Pandorum, The Thing, Virus, Species; it even steals more than a little from space-based survival horror game Dead Space. Life is so unapologetically derivative of all of these movies that if it didn’t come to you after months of advertising that plastered Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson all over big screens everywhere, it would have definitely premiered on the SyFy channel, probably after the next Sharknado instalment.

As well as the trio mentioned above, we also have Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada. The five roles are pretty interchangeable; not a single one is fleshed out enough to make you want to care about them. Pilot, doctor, toilet repair astronaut, it matters not; the crew could be any of a million people – one of them just happens to be super-handsome and one was in a Mission: Impossible film. The only exception, in my opinion, is Ariyon Bakare.

As the chief scientist, he has the most interesting of the interactions with the alien – whose name is Calvin, I shit you not – and gets to be the one that shares the scene with it when its true intentions are revealed. This is easily the best and most tense scene in the entire film. Sadly, if you were at a screening of Get Out in the last week or so, you’ve seen that moment in its entirety already, because someone thought it best to have a mini preview instead of a trailer in cinemas this week.

Director Daniel Espinosa (the man behind the fun, silly Safe House and the boring, lacklustre Child 44) has delivered a sci-fi that fulfils none of its promises. It looks like it’s trying (and failing) so very hard to be the new Alien – although hilarious rumours that it’ll be the origin story for Sony’s recently confirmed Venom movie have kept me giggling since I walked out of the screen his afternoon.

I can’t blame Espinosa for trying. That’s his job. But if you’re going to borrow from every sci-fi horror you can name, then the very least you can do is pick one or two and keep your film consistent. As it is, between him and Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (which accounts for Mr Reynolds’ recycling a joke from last year’s masterpiece) they’ve half-inched the blueprints from a dozen movies, ran them all through a shredder and tried desperately to make something worthwhile from the bin bag of rubbish left over.

It’s not all bad though – ok, it is mostly bad – but it does have a redeeming feature or two. Life has some impressive set-pieces to show off and a fair amount of imagination has gone into the monster and how it behaves. Its final form looks a little like a floating, bodiless version of the aliens from Independence Day and behaves like it took acting lessons from The Abyss‘ extra-terrestrials; but Calvin is fun to watch and a delight to look at.

Sadly, these minor flashes of fun don’t distract enough from a film that will forever be overshadowed by the much better genre pieces it is trying to imitate. As I watch the final scenes of Alien on the TV, I can see why someone would want to make this again. Maybe next time they won’t schedule its release a month and a half before an ACTUAL Alien movie is due out where, like this time, your mediocre copycat is eclipsed even by the Covenant trailer that was shown before it.

Ghostbusters

“Welcome to the good old days of New York.”

I’ve just walked out of my local cinema in one piece. I survived the latest trip to my local Cineworld thinking that this might be my final act. For the last few months we’ve been bombarded with basement dwelling imbeciles trying to convince us that the remake/reboot/reimagining of bonafide 80’s classic Ghostbusters was going to ruin our childhoods, destroy the ozone, melt the polar ice caps and bring about the apocalypse with its evil plan to replace all the ghostbusters with ladies. With lady parts. Who have the audacity to have boobs, and lady periods, and god knows what else. Leg wax perhaps?

This isn’t to say I went in hopeful. It is a remake after all, and if there’s something I really crave with my cinema going, it’s something original. But… Well, you gotta try everything haven’t you?

Years after going their own separate ways, paranormal investigators Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) find themselves working together again. Joined by nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), the team soon find themselves digging around haunted houses and God-knows-what as reports of ghost sightings around the city of New York need looking into. When subway worker and local historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) gets the shock of her life coming face to face with a ghost in the tunnels under the city, she quickly joins the girl ghoul hunters and the four become the Ghostbusters.

Wouldn’t you just know it? Turns out that the increased ghost sightings have been done on purpose. Someone is out to release generations of angry, trapped spirits, and with them begin an apocalypse. With the world against them, the team must spring into action and stop the maleficent ghosts and the end of the world.

Let’s get this out of the way early. It’s ok to be a bit hesitant about this film. A 50/50 reboot/remake of Ghostbusters was never going to garner much in the way of good vibes. It’s not ok, however, to act like an entitled, selfish, sexist asshat about it. Watch it, don’t watch it, I don’t care. Just don’t be a dick about it.

Now that’s out of the way, a little positivity.

Ghostbusters is great. It’s more than great, I loved every second spent watching it and I can’t wait to go watch it again. That’s not to say it’s perfect, of course it’s not. But it’s absolutely worth your time, in my humble opinion.

Paul Feig, the guy behind films like The Heat and Bridesmaids has modernised this classic and given new life to it; in turn bringing a few of the best comedic actors – of any gender – into the limelight and letting them have a bit of fun with the characters they are playing.

The originals had a real sense of fun and adventure in them. Their tone was never serious and still gets laughs out of me to this day. This lovely little reimagining of their story keeps all of those feelings there for you. You never feel like you’re not having a ton of fun, and it even manages to whip up a surprise or two along the way; for both us and for the New York natives hunting beasties.

The beauty of this film lies in the chemistry of its stars. In absolutely no time at all, the leading ladies have gelled together not only as a fresh-faced ghostbusting team, but as an awesome little comedy troupe. With a steady stream of one-liners and physical gags that hit the mark almost every time, it’s evident in every scene that our new ghostbusters are having a great time in front of the camera.

Maybe my favourite part though, is how no one thought it necessary to have analogue representations of the previous team. There’s no lady Peter Venkman, there’s no female Egon. All of the previous characters’ traits are represented (more or less) but there’s no one person filling each role; and considering how easy it would have been to have a selection of carbon copies, that’s possibly the bit that impresses me the most.

In fact, Jones’ Patty Tolan is the closest to a direct comparison there is, being the non-scientist of the group and more or less tripping into the job; she’s almost the mirror image of Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zedmore. But even then, as the historian of the group, she definitely shows more purpose than the classic character in it for “the steady paycheck”. Also getting the gender reversal treatment is the Ghostbusters’ receptionist; out is Annie Potts’ feisty Janine and in is the gorgeous but dumbass Kevin Beckman, with Chris Hemsworth having a whale of a time in the role.

And I tell you, considering how much of a fan of her I am, I was surprised to see the awesome Melissa McCarthy upstaged and out-laughed at almost every step by the little known – at least here in the UK – Kate McKinnon. Her Holtzmann is laugh-a-minute brilliance that will get her an army of insta-fans with her role here. Me included.

If we can step away from the controversial stars for a few minutes though, I’d love to chat a bit about the film.

I would comfortably say that Ghostbusters is probably the most well put together and well-paced comedy I’ve seen in quite some time. Feig’s films – as I’ve said plenty of times before – have been pretty hit and miss for me and his pacing is definitely one of his biggest problems. He doesn’t always know what to keep and what to cut; something very obvious with this film. With four Saturday Night Live improvisation specialists in your bill, there’s going to be times when you have to cut something you love to help the pacing.

Luckily, this time around, the comedy hits the right notes so frequently that you don’t feel the film sagging and you can happily enjoy your two hours without so much as a boring scene or a bit of dead air. In a twist from the usual “all the best bits are in the ads”, somehow, we got all the worst bits in the marketing leading up to the film’s release. The flat jokes aren’t any better in the film, the jokes that fall on their face in the trailers still fall on their face in the film, but they’re 90 seconds of gags in a two-hour movie. If ever there was a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a film on its trailers, Ghostbusters is it.

Of course, you can’t have a ghost film without a few ghosts, and here’s where I had a bit of a tough time. The ghosts look great, they really do. They’re beautifully detailed and once you’ve gotten used to them, they’re a great addition to the film. Unfortunately, and I am very aware this is just how I saw it, they reminded me far too much of the awful spooks in the even worse The Haunted Mansion; not a good film to be bringing into the minds of your audience when you’re trying to get them to enjoy your flick!

But, they do fit into the film nicely. Their aesthetic is eventually important to the film and you know what? If I have to reach for the style of ghosts you chose for your film in order to drag out a negative, you ain’t doing that bad a job.

Is Ghostbusters perfect? No, of course it’s not. It’s a sci-fi action comedy about ghost hunting in New York. But it’s a barrel of fun. There’s never a dull moment, even in the early half hour while the film finds its footing and you’re not sure if this is going to work. But with enough cameos to embarrass your average Kevin Smith production and a solid job done by everyone on both sides of the camera, in Ghostbusters we have the year’s first proper summer blockbuster. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Independence Day: Resurgence

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Perhaps there was a modicum of irony in seeing a film titled ‘Independence Day’ on the day when the UK ‘Brexited’ the European Union, but on Friday, with the future of the human race (ok, European politics) in the balance, I went to watch the long awaited sequel to the 1996 blockbuster hit.

Resurgence takes place 20 years after the events of the original in an alternate timeline where the victory over the alien invaders has unified humanity and led to 20 years of peace on Earf, an advancement in technology and improved Earf defence as a return from the bad guys is expected.

Will Smith’s character, Captain Steven Hiller, does not return, killed off in some promo material for the film, but Jeff Goldblum is back as genius science ‘boffin’ David Levinson. He is joined by the returning Bill Pullman as ex-president Whitmore, as well as Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner – and also Vivica Fox, whose character has had one hell of an upwards career trajectory.

Joining the heroes from the war of ’96 are Independence Day: The New Class, with Liam Hemsworth playing rebellious pilot Jake Morrison, Jessie Usher as Dylan ‘son of Smith’ Hiller, Maika Monroe as Whitmore’s daughter, as well as some others that we aren’t given the chance to care about.

And therein lies the biggest problem. The new cast are just so bland and boring. Now, they are not helped by a script that never gives us time to get to know them or know about them and some clunky as hell dialogue.

I suppose Hemsworth ‘the Lesser’ is fine. I think I may prefer him in this to the Hunger Games, but the other two new leads are just terrible. I mean out of this world bad. Usher as Hiller Jr is void of charm of charisma and is just wooden. Will Smith, who played his step-dad 20 years ago, with his personality and the way he can revel in this type of film, would have improved the movie. Instead we are left with someone who is meant to rally the troops and the audience but can barely muster a modicum of excitement.

Monroe as Whitmore’s daughter, the Whitmore who stirred the world with his rousing speech to send the human race to victory and freedom, is just as bad as Usher.

And the forced rapport between characters is terrible. Hemsworth and Monroe’s characters are an item. Before the aliens return, in a brief scene where we are meant to begin caring about these people, they mention buying a house but she shows little interest. Then amidst the destruction, she brings up the houses, for no reason, to which Hemsworth replies ‘if it’s still there’. Just… horrible.

However, this is not the worst line of the film. That goes to the new president who, when aliens find her hidden base/hole in the mountain, she declares, stoically: ‘There will be no peace.’

Which was obvious when the aliens destroyed half of Earf without even a hello.

While the dialogue is poor, perhaps getting the audience on board with the characters could have been improved by getting rid of some of the guff and replacing it with more time with the main cast.

For example, we could cut all the nonsense with Judd Hirsch’s Levinson snr, anything with Vivica Fox would have not taken away anything from the film, and probably even improved it.

It sounds like I hated the film doesn’t it? After all I’ve spent the whole review slagging it off. However, I still had fun.

Goldblum is good as Levinson, just as he was 20 years ago. Pullman was also on form as the troubled ex-president, as was Brent Spiner as the presumed dead Area 51 Scientist. If anything almost saves the film, it is the returning cast.

I also liked and appreciated the world building, and the way in which director Roland Emmerich – a man whose name is synonymous with modern disaster films – has chosen to explain to us what exactly has happened between the events of the first movie and this; such as the fact that there were still some aliens on Earf. It was interesting – and could have done with more of it.

It is not perfect by any means, and in some places is just really stupid. But providing you are not some kind of snob who looks down on this kind of film and can switch your brain off for 120 minutes, you will spend it not being bored (in spite of the films many issues) and at the end of the day, is that not what you want from a sequel 20 years in the making about an alien invasion?

Although, the setup for the threequel is just… mind bogglingly stupid.

10 Cloverfield Lane

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Preamble warning: I’m not going to include any direct spoilers, but this 10 Cloverfield Lane review may give away some minor plot details. Consider yourself warned.

If the 2008 monster movie, Cloverfield, also produced by JJ Abrams, is an allegory for the end of the Bush regime in the US – as Callum Petch eloquently explained on the latest episode of the Failed Critics Podcast – then it stands to reason that this thematic sequel would be a metaphor for Obama’s reign as President of the largest super-power in the world.

Like almost all good creature-features, there is some semblance of truth in that suggestion. Whether we consider Godzilla and the Pacific ocean atom bomb tests, or I Am Legend for communism (well the novel was at least), District 9 for apartheid or even Ed Wood’s notorious b-movie Plan 9 From Outer Space and the nuclear bomb threat; these sci-fi thrillers are very rarely just about giant monsters, vampire-zombie things or alien invaders. Cloverfield was no different – and neither is Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut.

Taken unconscious from the wreckage of a car accident by Howard (John Goodman), Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens to find herself chained to the wall of a concrete room. Howard explains that he has saved her life, as the world outside of his underground survival bunker has been destroyed by an unknown force – possibly not even one of human origin. After meeting another survivor down in Howard’s bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), Michelle becomes even more suspicious of Howard’s apocalyptic claims.

“Where are the creatures?” I don’t hear you cry, but imagine you are thinking to yourself. Well, actually, forget about the fact that I compared this to a bunch of creature-features. It’s still a post-apocalyptic sci-fi of sorts, with three people holed up in one small fallout shelter with what may or may not be the end of the world. One of whom may or may not be slightly unhinged. And with what may or may not be a metaphor for burying your head in the sand, looking out for only yourself and the consequences of ignoring the world around you. Thanks, Obama.

Sure, all of that can be read into 10 Cloverfield Lane if you look for it. Should you find some extra comfort from observing a meta-text within this evenly structured, well paced and incredibly tense psychological thriller, then bully for you.

I don’t intend to sneer at anyone who can’t or didn’t see the parallels with the political state of the world; it’s entirely plausible that I’ve read too much into the plot considering the comments that I read and heard prior to sitting down in my cinema seat on Friday evening.

It’s quite likely that there may be some form of underlying thread running through the plot, and that it is about a transformational President’s attempts to change America, but that I’ve simply misinterpreted what that message is.

Hell, to be quite honest, it doesn’t even matter if there is or isn’t a subtext, or if you’re aware of unaware of it. What is most impressive about this “blood relative” (to quote JJ Abrams) of the original Cloverfield, is that it stands on its own two feet as a solid, atmospheric, borderline-great modern thriller. You don’t even need to have seen the original film to enjoy this. The two films are only as linked with each other as one episode of Black Mirror or the Twilight Zone is linked to another. Take it as a straight-up one-off story about a potential doomsday scenario if you’d prefer, and you will still enjoy it as much as the next guy. It really doesn’t matter.

On the surface, it seems as though the plot has been done a million times before, but I really can’t think of a film that it most closely resembles. Try and imagine Room mixed with that bit in War of the Worlds and melded with the paranoia of The Thing and I suppose you’re halfway there. Yet the beats are often unexpected and startling. John Goodman is fierce and pretty goddamn bonkers, a combination that serves to enhance the unpredictability of the plot. You are never quite convinced of the truth, but are constantly led to believe he’s both a firmly sincere gentleman and a downright liar.

Coupled with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s resourcefulness and A-Team-esque skills, alongside John Gallagher Jr (who does take a little time for you to warm up to), it’s a very strong cast whose individual character traits perfectly compliment one anothers’ excellent performances. The only thing you’re certain of is that they are all trapped in there together, whether intentionally or by circumstance, and it makes for some rather gripping drama.

Cube! It’s also a bit like the fantastic little science fiction b-movie Cube.

Sorry, got slightly sidetracked there.

To sum up, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not an action-packed thriller full of Kurt Russell one-liners, but neither is it a dull, slow burning, contemplative chore. The action sequences, much like the tension, escalate to the point that the finale is as big a showdown (probably bigger) than one might expect from a film set almost entirely within one small bunker. Whilst acknowledging that dropping the found-footage angle does mean that a piece of what gave Cloverfield its distinctive quality is noticeably lacking – it really does feel like it’s all been seen before – nevertheless, it’s still unlike 90% of generic sounding, run of the mill blockbusters that are due out this summer and for that it deserves your attention.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

My love affair with Star Wars began in 1997 when they were re-released in to cinemas for the 20th anniversary of A New Hope hitting the silver screen. I was 10 or 11 and had not seen them on television before – or at least not to my recollection.

Sure, I’d seen other big action films before. I had certainly seen Jaws and Jurassic Park – and I am sure that I had seen Apollo 13 too. All great, but nothing blew me away quite like Star Wars.

When ‘A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’ hit the screen, followed by the fanfare, opening crawl and shots of spaceships in battle, I was overawed and in love straight away.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no geek or nerd, and you won’t find me at Comic-Con or bidding on eBay for the mint condition collectable of ‘second alien from the right in the Mos Eisley Cantina’. But if there are two things I’m obsessed with, then it’s football and Star Wars. That’s in spite of the prequels trying to dampen my love for them.

So, when Disney bought the rights from George Lucas and announced a new trilogy plus spinoffs, bidding to build a Star Wars version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my excitement was tempered by trepidation. Would this be another Gungan filled Phantom Menace, or a return to form?

I’m happy to say it was the latter; a fun film that just felt like Star Wars. There were no trade disputes or convoluted issues in the senate hall. It was fun, it was exciting, it was intriguing, it was emotional, it was laugh out loud funny and it was dark.

Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2D2, C3PO and The Millennium Falcon all return to the franchise along with a number of background and secondary characters, giving call backs to the original trilogy (not much, if anything, from the prequels found its way to this to this corner of the galaxy) making certain that you are in Star Wars territory.

In fact, Han and Chewie are their usual, roguish, all-action selves. You can’t help but love the pair and feel a twinge of joy and nostalgia most of the time that they are on the screen.

However, it’s the new cast members that steal the show. This was John Boyega and Daisy Ridley’s big screen debut – arguably Adam Driver’s as well – and they perform admirably. Certainly adapting to and growing into their roles, as the reluctant heroes Finn and Rey, and the villainous Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren is dark. Really dark. Darker than the darkside dark; conflicted and irrational. You get this real sense of menace from him. Although Snokes (his ‘boss’) lacked that and one of the downsides was his CGI appearance – not to give too much away, as I’m sure there’s more to come.

The Tarkin, to Ren’s Vader, was played by Domhall Gleeson. A small role performed well – again, hopefully there’s more to come in subsequent films.

It was as though Ridley and Boyega had to come out of this on top. One minor gripe from me: Their thick British and American accents respectively did grate a little bit.

Other than that though, they were both excellent. Especially when you consider it was two relative unknowns taking over the reins in cinema’s biggest franchise. I’ve no doubt big things await the pair.

Finally, Oscar Isaac was great in the limited role he was given as an X-Wing pilot and modern-day Han Solo, Poe Dameron. Charming, funny and adventurous; it will be good to see an expanded role for the Resistance’s best pilot in future films.

The action was as you would expect: Fast paced and fun, with jokes aplenty (more than any of the originals). Whereas the comedy in the prequels fell flat, this hit all of the right notes. And, of course, John Williams scores the film perfectly.

JJ Abrams has proven that he was the right choice for director. He rebooted Star Trek well enough for the big screen – although Into Darkness had its problems – and was trusted with this. He put the right team around him and successfully pulled it off.

I’m sure the film has its faults. Maybe once I calm down I’ll notice them? Still, it was a joy to watch and left me with a smile on my face, but still wanting more.

It’s not the best Star Wars film, but it is better than any of the prequels by some way and I think it is as good as Return of the Jedi, if not better.

Victor Frankenstein

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“People only remember the monster. Never the man”

Did you know that Igor isn’t part of Frankenstein’s story? Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t. Introduced back in the ’30s, the Igor we know started life as a character in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. He wasn’t a lab assistant (good old Frank never had an assistant!) he was a semi-crippled blacksmith – I think. It’s been a while – who brought the monster back to life. Bastardised in the annals of Hollywood history, Igor now is as main a character in Frankenstein’s story as his monster and nowhere is that more apparent than in Victor Frankenstein, the latest retelling of this classic story for an ever more dulled down audience.

Told from the point of view of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), and going so far as to give the hunchback a backstory as a circus freak, he is rescued from a life of cruel beatings by a charismatic stranger who sees potential in the young man playing doctor when he’s not taking a whooping. That stranger is none other than Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and boy does he have a job for our young hunchback. Draining out Igor’s hump (an abscess apparently), straps him into a primitive lifting belt to straighten him up and such, a man is born. Now we have the hunchback and the mad scientist, we just need the monster. Here, friends, is where the fun begins.

Good ol’ Vic Frank spends his days toiling away in his basement, sewing together bits of animals together that Igor has, for want of a better word, fixed. Having taken the dead bits from inside and outside a host of different species, Frankenstein sets about creating life from death and proving that it doesn’t take God to create a man. All the while trying to avoid the prying of London’s police force who are on the hunt for the man acquiring body parts by nefarious means. Hiding from a near obsessive Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), Frankenstein’s quest for life turns into a bit of a cat-and-mouse game for his freedom and his experiments.

It took less than ten minutes for Victor Frankenstein to show its influences and aspirations and believe it or not, the damn film is trying exceptionally hard to be Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes. Now, I’m quite a fan of Robert Downey Jr’s detective, but even I know they’re not particularly good films and any film trying to draw inspiration from others should be aiming a damn sight higher than some junk-food-for-the-brain silliness that craps all over its source material. Even the daft, over-stylised fighting has been transplanted into this shoddy mess of a film. To say the writers worked hard would be giving too much credit, but you can tell what they wanted was to mimic the buddy cop style relationship between Holmes and Watson with Igor and Victor but the relationship, not for a lack of trying on the parts of our stars, just falls flat and lifeless.

Direction falls somewhere between the gothic by numbers of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the modern gothic of Underworld. Having almost no imagination, it’s a struggle to find a single original idea and where it references something from its source material, instead of treating it with even a hint of respect, it shits all over it. Vic’s creature was always simply his “monster”, or his “creature” and in the book, it simply doesn’t have a name. So when Dr. Frank names the monster “Prometheus” it doesn’t only crap all over Mary Shelley’s story, but it takes a hot early morning piss all over the actual Prometheus – the Greek god that breathed life into man at the behest of Zeus – while little bits like that won’t bother many, those kind of things really grind on my nerves and it was just another reason for me to never, ever recommend this film to anyone.

A few interesting effects, Victor’s first creation is a particular high point; gross, spectacular and just a little twisted and a couple of sometimes unintentionally funny lines aren’t enough to make this film worth your time. Almost everything about it is bland, and I can’t abide that. The leads are completely wasted in this movie that commits the worst of sins; it’s completely forgettable! I walked out of the screening having huffed an almighty “meh”, and by the time I got home, I was struggling to remember anything about it. I could forgive a film being crap, I can’t forgive a film being so vanilla that I struggle to think of a memorable moment in the whole thing.

Terminator Genisys

Whilst it’s great to see Arnie back in the leather jacket, and although it’s an improvement on the previous two films in the franchise, Terminator Genisys is far from reaching the impossible heights that James Cameron set.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

terminator genisysSet in the year 2028, Joel Kinnaman plays Murphy, a brutally murdered cop who — wait a second. Sorry. I appear to have started this article off by reviewing the 2014 remake of RoboCop. Let me try again. Ahem…

Space. The final frontier. Or rather the first of many frontiers for director JJ Abrams as he and Chris Pine — Oh man! I appear to have done it again. I’ll try once more.

With a surprising and disappointing lack of Colin Farrell getting his ass to Mars, the Total Recall reboot is — Oops!! This is trickier than it looks.

OK. For real this time.

It’s very rare in Hollywood for a much beloved franchise to get a reboot some years later and turn it into a huge success. For every Jurassic World, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there are ten alternatives. After The Halcyon Company fought hard to acquire the rights for the Terminator series, they produced the bore-fest that was 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Alas, it was critically panned and the company folded not long after the film’s release due to various financial difficulties, despite making a profit on McG’s futuristic sci-fi actioner.

Thus with the rights to the series not reverting back to James Cameron until 2018, we now have Terminator Genisys (that’s without the colon in the title, unless you’re from America in which case you do get a colon), the fifth instalment of the franchise that began way back in 1984 with Cameron’s original movie. Although an argument could be made for placing this as the sequel to the original The Terminator, rather than the fifth in a series, and in the process wiping T2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation completely out of cannon. Not to mention the short lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They’re all ultimately pointless as director Alan Taylor (and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier) retcon the entire job lot.

Or… do they?

You see, the plot and the placement of Genisys within the sequence of movies is almost as convoluted as the history of who has owned the franchise itself at various points over the past 30 years. Its opening scenes are almost carbon copies of the original, albeit with less visible buttocks and silhouetted Arnold Schwarzedongs as this is a 12A certificate film, after all. It also cuts out the Kyle Reese narrated opening scene of a Terminator drone flying over a dystopian future wasteland, kicking off instead immediately with a T-800 (played by an Arnie body-double) arriving in 1984 with a flash of light shortly before approaching a group of punks on Washday Eve. Then things get a little less familiar. Waiting for our original Terminator is a visibly older version of the killing machine, dubbed “Pops”, and the two duke it out in a bout of fisticuffs.

As it transpires, this “good” Terminator, Pops, was mysteriously sent back in time even earlier to await the appearance of the 84 Terminator in a plot device that sends ripples through the timeline, distorting all manner of logical and illogical story lines. Jumping from the altered past to the future-future, we’re then treated to a show of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and John Connor (Jason Clarke) taking out Skynet in the final battle. An enactment of an event that the original Kyle Reese (in Cameron’s movie) talked about occurring. Only now, it isn’t the final battle, as Skynet had one last trick up its sleeve. Back to the past, and Reese (now also naked and in need of a hobo’s trousers) is on the run from yet another Terminator in a 1984 that is unlike the one he expected. Waiting for him is a dreaded T-1000, played by the often under-appreciated Lee Byung-hun doing his best Robert Patrick impression. Apparently, the unassuming waitress Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) that Reese went back to save was now never a waitress at all, but is in fact a heavily armed survivor ready to take the impending apocalypse head on. She’s also apparently fully prepared for Kyle’s arrival and his involvement in her future, and invites Reese to come with her if he wants to live. And so begins the unravelling of an entire woolly-jumper-only-wardrobe’s full of threads after one tiny quizzical tug.

I realise that all sounds rather confusing, so to help you understand all this, here’s a quick summary. You ready? Stuff that we don’t really know about yet (wait for the sequel) has now happened in the alternate-past (1973) that has affected the current-past (1984) leading to alterations in the future-future (2029) that have changed Judgement Day in the prior-past (the mid 1990’s) to the new-present (2017). Clear as day, right?

And yet, despite this convoluted soft reboot, struggling to grasp when and what is taking place is not actually that difficult. In fact, whilst you’re watching what is yet another generic blockbuster blueprint executed to the required standard for a generic summer blockbuster box-ticking exercise, having to think about how each set piece fits alongside the other is a welcome relief. If you’re worried about whether you will be able to keep up, then have no fear. Exposition is your friend. “Mr Exposition” to be precise, played by JK Simmons, who helpfully pops up every so often to either personally explain what’s just happened, or to ask the other characters in the film if they wouldn’t mind quickly filling him (i.e. us) in on everything, just in case we missed it. You might mistake that for me complaining about Simmons. I’m not. I only wish he were in it more and had better dialogue to work with. The same could be said for Lee Byung-hun. Both actors were incredibly underused.

My major beef with this fifth instalment isn’t even to do with the acting, which a lot of other reviewers seem to have taken issue with. Jai Courtney – who I’m not ashamed to admit to have defended in public before – he in particular is used as a stick to beat the film with and I’m not entirely sure why. After speaking to Failed Critics writer Nick Lay about it, he told me that people dislike Courtney because “he just seems to be the type of lead that comes off a dull production line”. I get that. When you see him compared to actors like Sam Worthington, Taylor Kitsch etc, I totally see where folks are coming from. He’s good looking, well built, gradually getting bigger and better roles in bigger and better movies (or at least more expensive movies) without the average Joe being able to recognise his name if you sent them a CV with photo and portfolio of work. But still, I like him. He’s perhaps not made the best choice of film yet (let’s not talk about A Good Day To Die Hard or I, Frankenstein ever again), but he’s got charisma and can genuinely act, unlike a lot of his comparators. Like a lot of things about Terminator Genisys, Jai Courtney is fine.

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor is fine. Regardless of the fact she spends more time literally kicking arse than Linda Hamilton in the second Terminator film, she still seems less like an arse-kicking heroine and more like an adequate requirement for the story. But she’s fine. No better or worse than she’s been in Game of Thrones, for example. Jason Clarke (no relation), playing a slightly larger role than was perhaps expected in this time-hopping fiasco, is also fine. No better or worse than he’s been in Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty or last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for example.

I don’t really care what anyone else says about “The Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 Terminator”, “Pops”, “Uncle Bob” or whatever you want to call him, it’s always great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the role. In the atrocious Terminator 3, he remained one of the best things in it, both in terms of his performance and having the best individual lines and scenes. Again here, he’s the outstanding performer. There’s call-backs aplenty to the more humorous wise-cracking T2 interpretation of the character, with the third film’s goofyness toned down considerably. Expanding on the idea that he potentially has the capacity to not just fake human emotions in order to better integrate himself into society and ultimately infiltrate human rebel bases, but actually organically acquire and increase his own emotional depth over time, effecting his decisions, ties quite nicely into the overall arc of the movie reflecting Skynet’s ultimate aim. It might come across as corny, but have you seen Judgement Day recently? Exactly. Original film aside, they’ve all had their fair share of cheese.

Technically speaking, Terminator Genisys hits the majority of the right notes. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s also not boring. It makes you laugh whilst simultaneously turning the action set pieces into progressively bigger and louder (and usually dumber) old fashioned fun. Sure it might sound a bit complex at first glance, but it’s actually a bog standard A-Z time-travel 12A family blockbuster. And that is its biggest problem. There are zero risks taken here. If there’s any part of the plot that veers from the already tried-and-trusted big-budget formula, I must’ve missed it. Having not just one, but a number of high-tech killing machines who stop at nothing until you are dead, it should be far more menacing a movie than it actually is. Instead, any moments of potential darkness are bizarrely steered well clear of, either through deus ex machina or – more often than not – characters just doing the complete opposite of the easiest / simplest solution in order to prolong events.

Need to kill Sarah Connor? Need to save Sarah Connor? Need to have certain events still happen to ensure the future works the way you want? Need to change the past radically to keep things how they are? It’s all a load of complete and utter nonsense that follows neither rhyme nor reason. Complete and utter gibberish with things happening simply for the sake of continuing the story longer than would realistically be necessary. But, I didn’t hate it. It’s dumb, but so are so many other movies of this ilk.

Come five years time, if somebody asks me whether [scene A] happened in Terminator Genisys, Star Trek Into Darkness, Jurassic World or Men In Black III, I won’t have the foggiest. It’s as indistinguishable from the next $155m movie as any other before it. However, if you scratch hard enough, you’ll be able to glimpse the relatively decent concept buried underneath the astonishingly stupid and generic exterior. I can think of worse ways to spend two hours. Hell, I can think of two worse films within the actual franchise that this film belongs to!

S.I.N. Theory

S.I.N. Theory just kinda bored me.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

sin theory 1I feel rather bad not liking S.I.N. Theory.  I really do.  The wonderful thing about the growing accessibility and lowering entry costs of the equipment required to get into filmmaking is that we are getting close to anyone being able to make any movie and put it out there for the world to see.  They might even be lucky enough to get picked up by a real distributor – as is what has happened to Richie Mitchell with S.I.N. Theory.  It was shot on a less-than-shoestring budget, provided by close friends and family, from a script expressly written to taken advantage of that, in about two weeks, without shooting permits for many of their outside locations, with non-professional actors and a script that has apparently taken great care in having the science be as plausible as possible.  It’s toured a few festivals, picked up some plaudits, and is now, three years after it was originally made, getting a UK release thanks to Continuum Motion Pictures.

Which is why I feel rather bad for just not liking this film.  It’s one of those feel-good stories that reminds you of just how democratic and open the medium of filmmaking can be, and here I come to be all sour and miserable over what should be a happy ending by saying that I just didn’t really like it.  And I didn’t really like it for the most general and arguably subjective reason there is – the story just didn’t particularly interest or engage me.

Said story follows mathematics professor Michael (Jeremy Larter), who has been hard at work creating an algorithm that can predict human behaviour and fate to the second.  His theories are met with derision by the faculty, and the methods he needs to complete his work are slightly less than legal.  After receiving the notice that his university will not be bringing him back next semester, Michael finally decides to cross that legal line and put together the finishing touches on his algorithm.  It works, but this puts him in the crosshairs of two shady skulking thugs, and his growing affection for a student of his, Evelyn (Allison Dawn Doiron), leads to him discovering information he really shouldn’t have.

Again, I don’t really have any problems with the look and style of the film.  For the enforced restrictions, the film actually looks half-way professional, mostly thanks to the greyscale (not so much black-and-white) look of the film, combined with the barest bones of its premise and ideas, putting me in mind of a version of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi that was on some semblance of medication.  It’s clearly no-budget, but that sort of works, creating this kind of purposefully cold and distant feel that works for the film’s intellectual kind of sci-fi, the one that’s more interested in the ethics and consequences behind its idea instead of anything flashy.

It’s just a shame that the film doesn’t really explore any of that.  S.I.N. Theory’s problem is that it doesn’t really do anything with its central idea beyond surface-level insights and arguments that even I could convincingly state for you, whilst its scientific accuracy ends up barely factoring into the film.  That can be seen as a positive, in that it doesn’t cause the film to disappear up its own entirely-too-clever-for-its-own-good arse (looking at you, Primer) and it works for the enforced small-scale, but it ends up as a negative because the film doesn’t substitute that surface-level thematic work for strong character work.  Neither Michael nor Evelyn feel like anything deeper than the stock archetypes of “the brilliant yet tortured genius” and “The Girl” for 80% of their runtime, and their respective reveals – cos this film does have a little bit more to it plot-wise than it sounds like it does – are too thuddingly obvious and foreshadowed in his case, and too left-field, clumsily-executed, and strangled by the 70 minute runtime in her case.

So for pretty much every last second of that 70 minute runtime, I was sat watching and just feeling rather bored.  It wasn’t really engaging me on an intellectual level – the film’s extent of philosophical debating can be summed up by one scene in which Michael and a friend discuss whether humanity will try and create a fully sentient AI despite knowing full well that the AI will destroy us all, and the friend goes, “I think there’ll be two sides, one for and one against.  I’m just hoping the smarter side wins.” – and it wasn’t really engaging me on a character level, so I just kinda sat there unengaged.  I did occasionally think, ‘Good for these folks for getting a feature film made and distributed,’ but I was mostly just bored by the film they had made.  I saw glimpses of potential, and a strong enough competency and potential voice that can hopefully be honed into something better over time, but I just wasn’t entertained or engaged enough by S.I.N. Theory to recommend it.

If it’s any consolation, I do feel really bad about that fact.

Callum Petch is a bringer of evil.  Listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio (site link) and follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Weaverfish

Continuing our recent promotion of low-budget indie horrors you might not have heard of before, Owen reviews the latest of these to land on our desk, Harrison Wall’s British horror-sci-fi, Weaverfish.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

weaverfish 1Following the exploits of a group of young adults who throw an impromptu party at the site of a condemned river creek some years after a freak accident, who then end up with a disfiguring virus, you would be forgiven for expecting Weaverfish to play out like a British version of 2002’s Cabin Fever.

Shot in 16 days on a budget 1% of that of Eli Roth’s cult horror, at just £10,000 of self-raised funding, it’s perhaps unfair to draw any comparisons in the production values. Similarly, aside from a shared concept in the premise, they’re also wildly different thematically too. Whilst one is a grotesque body horror-comedy (no prizes for guessing which), the other is more deeply rooted in portraying the trials and tribulations of relationships between a bunch of 20-somethings.

It’s difficult to be too critical of director Harrison Wall and writers Mark Maltby and Thomas Shawcroft’s indie labour of love. Indeed, a quick skim through the trivia page on IMDb reveals that the majority of the cast and crew took two weeks annual leave from their regular full time jobs to shoot Weaverfish. Such is the effort required to produce a film – any film – like that, it’s highly commendable that the final product is not just “available”, but also enjoyable in the main.

However, as laudable as it is to make a film given the obvious economic and logistical restrictions placed on it, projects like this do come with some notable and frequent drawbacks. Most noticeably perhaps is the fact that the picture quality often dips dramatically in the middle of a scene, blurring slightly or losing focus during crucial moments. See also the final 10 minutes where the contrast is rendered far too dark to really make out what is meant to be happening on screen far too often. If I were feeling harsh, I might even suggest that the pacing is a little off too given that it took until nearly half way into the film for me to feel invested in the characters. But these are just minor quibbles that will plague any production of this scale and so doesn’t feel fair for me to bang on about them.

Unusually, I didn’t actually have too many complaints with the script or the way the characters were written and performed. For a film that also places such emphasis on realistic human relationships – be they the strained friendship between nice-guy photographer Reece (Shane O’Meara) and his supposed best friend Matt (Josh Ockenden), or the familial sibling rivalry of Reece and his sister Shannon (Ripeka Templeton), or the fractured boyfriend-girlfriend relationship of Matt and Charlotte (Lucy-Jane Quinlan) – as refreshingly natural as the progression feels between these characters over the course of a film of this stature, it does sometimes become quite convoluted and aimless. For example, Matt’s flirty relationship with Shannon is developed as a plot point to bring Reece and Charlotte closer together whilst simultaneously driving the best friends further apart, but it ultimately fizzles into the background without any real resolution. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the fault of the actors as Quinlan especially does very well to carry large parts of this film. John Doughty as Mike also manages to add some lighter organic humour to much of the dry comedy that occasionally features too. It’s just a shame that many of the side-plots involving these characters often eventually become a meaningless deviation from the more meaty main arc of the story.

Speaking of meaty! Like presumably many others viewing Weaverfish, the least I expect (and indeed the most I want in all honesty) from an indie horror is a few thrills here and there; specifically in the shape of some gruesome horror. If you’re going to threaten having a deadly virus. then there better be some gory repercussions for your characters fiddling about in hazardous waste. Initially disappointing in this regard as it took nearly 50 minutes for any signs of anything even remotely approaching ‘scary’ to occur, there’s one particular moment examining the after effects of the virus that really took me by surprise and made me squirm a little in my seat.

Unfortunately for some, as established earlier, this isn’t a Cronenberg-meets-Craven horror full of sickening torture-porn and uncomfortable amounts of buckets of blood. Effects like the one mentioned above are few and far between. You may also be disappointed if you acquire Weaverfish with the intention of witnessing a carousel of cheap shocks and camera trickery to make you jump out of your seat repeatedly. Unlike so many big studio paint-by-numbers horrors that rely on this technique seem to do these days, Wall appears to want to primarily induce his scares through atmosphere and foreboding, genuinely hoping you’ll care about what might happen to his characters – all before his head-fuck of a final scene!

And that’s really where the strength of this film lies. If it can get you onboard with its characters, are less bothered about gore or jumps than tone and atmosphere, and if you’re willing to overlook some of the fundamental issues with any micro-budget film that this is no exception to, then it really isn’t a half bad amateur effort from a young aspiring director who is currently working as the first assistant editor of Channel 4’s Humans.

You can find details on where to watch Weaverfish and view the trailer on the Continuum Motion Pictures website.

Monsters: Dark Continent

Infuriating and unnecessary sequel with an identity crisis.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

monstersA few years back, next to nobody director Gareth Edwards came out of nowhere and wowed almost everybody with his feature debut, Monsters. A super-low budget monster invasion movie with hardly a monster on screen. Praised for its direction and pretty well received by more-or-less everyone that saw it, it earned Edwards a place at the big boy table and a job resurrecting Godzilla for Warner Brothers last year. I didn’t watch Monsters, as much as it was recommended to me I just skipped past it. In fact, I only watched it a few days ago in preparation for watching its sequel and to be honest, I wasn’t wholly impressed. I thought it was a 90+ minute slog through to the end, with not an awful lot happening to keep me interested. I genuinely struggled to keep my eyes open and prayed for a swift end just so I could get to bed!

Now don’t get me wrong. I an definitely amongst those that praise Edwards’ technical skill. I’ve got some experience with the Autodesk and Adobe software he used to create his effects and I know what he done was no small feat. But all the skill in the world can’t make up for poor acting and generally rubbish story telling. The Cloverfield style of barely showing you anything of the monsters until towards the end is a decent tension builder when it’s done right. Unfortunately in this case, I just don’t think it worked. A symptom that, in my opinion, seems to be following Mr Edwards around seeing as my complaints about Godzilla were almost identical. But, before I go off on a tangent about my worries and what him being handed a Star Wars film could mean for that franchise, I’ll crack on with my thoughts on Monsters: Dark Continent.

Before I start though, a little insight. This is what happened before Dark Continent even hit pre-production (Disclaimer: this may not actually have happened, but without this explanation, there is no valid reason for the existence of this movie). It’s 2013, Iraq war movies are enjoying a massive comeback. Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor etc. all enjoying a butt load of success and even getting Oscar wins. In the scramble to get the next big desert war movie, a couple of hack writers (said with no feeling of irony, whatsoever) let’s call them Tom and Jay, sell a treatment to Vertigo Films about a rag tag collection of Iraq war first-timers going on a mission to rescue a captured team of soldiers behind enemy lines. Now Jay and Tom, they work tirelessly, really working themselves ragged trying desperately to get all their ideas onto paper, never has a pair worked so hard for so long. After spending close to 45 minutes on their masterpiece, the dynamic writing duo head back to the production company, script in hand, proud as punch and ready to start filming. At this point, film company execs all start having heart palpitations. Their guys, their ticket to the Oscar party have spent half an hour writing a script that essentially says “Desert war tropes and nothing else” in crayon and Tom and Jay are over at the window trying to work out which side of the glass tastes the worst.

So at this point, any and all film producers are kicking these writers to the kerb, losing their rag at Tom and Jay and the way they lied about being able to string a sentence together or put thought, character or emotion into anything more interesting than a stale digestive. But not these guys, they’ve got a better idea. “We just made a load of free cash off that Monsters thing. Let’s use this script, add a load of those weird octopus things to it and call it Monsters 2

And so, Monsters: Dark Continent was born.

Essentially, I don’t have to tell you much more than that. Dark Continent is set ten years after the first Monsters film. The alien visitors have spread from their comfortable little quarantine zone on the Mexican border and are now a worldwide issue. But they aren’t the enemy anymore. We have learned to live with them as just a part of out world, as part of our countryside like sheep and cows, humongous ones with tentacles! In this world we now share with the monsters, apparently we are still at war in Afghanistan and the United States military is still full of generic jarhead wannabes and pretty much every war movie stereotype soldier you can think of. There’s the guy that just had a baby before going on tour (although, the directors at least got a real baby so it’s got points over American Sniper) the guys that grew up together that are like brothers, the angry Sargent and the not quite so common angry black sidekick who thinks he’s R. Lee Ermey giving his angry speeches and trying to add some pretty flat and uninspiring comic relief.

After their first mission together is reasonably successful, this group, this band of idiots, are given the task of rescuing a team of soldiers captured behind enemy lines and are almost certainly being tortured by the hostile Afghan force they are still fighting. They must battle the desert, the insurgents and the monsters while they try to complete their task. Not long into their mission, the guys are hit with a roadside IED, disabling their Humvees and forcing them to walk to, well, somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where. You know what? I don’t think it’s important. Twenty minutes after they set off, I’d actually forgotten they were on a mission. They were just a bunch of muppets lost in the desert. Like the SAS searching for Saddam Hussain, not really knowing what direction to stumble towards next.

From a filmmaking perspective, Dark Continent is riddled with issues. It’s not as dull as it’s predecessor but at the same time it’s not got the redeeming features that the original Monsters has. There’s no skill to be shown in its effects work and there’s certainly no skill to be shown in Tom and Jay’s writing or direction. Everything is blatantly stolen from other, much better films. Like Delta Farce. Silly colour tinting, over saturation, slow motion explosions, instead of showing the skill that Edwards showed with his Adobe software, these guys have googled “how to be Zack Snyder with windows movie maker” and rolled with it. The film starts with some terrible, really badly written, tacky narration that is peppered across the whole movie that serves no purpose other than to annoy. Maybe worse than the poor use of narration is the terrible, terrible music direction. Some scenes are forgivably quiet when there should be something in the way of a score, but man. There’s one scene, a night incursion into a suspected insurgent encampment that should be insanely intense (ignoring the black dude from Detroit on over watch that’s rapping about his night vision goggles). We’ve all seen these scenes play out. They’re silent, all you can hear is footsteps and every creak of a door should have you on the edge of your seat. But that just doesn’t happen here. Whoever was in charge of editing the music in decided, against all rhyme or reason, to keep the prelude to the sneak-a-thon nice and quiet, except for the rapping soldier. But once the sneaking starts, all tension is broken by the bizarre addition of a cheap late 90’s hip-hop backing track overlaying the action. I shit you not.

As the film progresses, the titular monsters add almost nothing to the proceedings. Being reserved, more or less, to background scenery and something to shoot at on occasion instead of people. They are seen roaming around the desert and running like cattle together but they could literally be replaced with any other animal. Sheep, bison, kangaroos, whatever, and they would be just as effective a side-story for the soldiers and their travels. More so maybe. You wouldn’t have to spend money on a giant CGI sheep and could maybe throw some at a couple of decent actors or someone to rewrite the screenplay, or teach Jay and Tom how to colour inside the lines. Like I said at the top of this review, I’m no fan of the original Monsters, but to see the animals fall to a fate usually reserved for shit serial killer franchises, being shoe-horned into a movie they have very little business being in must be heart-breaking for its creator.

Like it’s original, Monsters: Dark Continent is dull, poorly paced and lacking in substance. But worse than that, it’s unnecessary, it’s a cheap cash-in and it’s just a sad film to watch. Evidence that the “We can churn out anything and sell it to you” mentality is still rife in Hollywood and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. Take it from me, you’d be better off burning your money than spending it to sit in a dark room and watch nothing happen on that big screen really, really slowly.

Project Almanac

AKA Primer For Dummies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

project almanacProject Almanac is the debut feature of director Dean Israelite, although it’s presumably more well known for having a certain producer attached to it. Regardless of the fact that a producer’s role can be quite vague, particularly ‘executive producers’, whose influence is often disputed by directors and writers alike (here’s looking at you, Raymond Chow). Nevertheless, the name “Michael Bay” being anywhere near the film’s poster will either repel audiences like a fart in a lift, or draw in punters on mass, given how his features are often a license for studios to print money. If only the film’s biggest problem was simply two small words printed on the poster. Alas, it is far more severe than that.

The plot revolves around a group of clever teenagers and school chums: Sam Lerner (Quinn), Allen Evangelista (Adam), Jonny Weston (as David, the closest thing the film has to a lead actor) and Virginia Gardner (David’s sister Christina and frequent camera-person). They all work together to help David get enough money together to afford to get into MIT. Unfortunately, $40,000 isn’t easy to come by unless your widowed mother decides to sell her enormous house and downsize, or apparently if you’re the son of a super-genius and can invent something that will earn you a lot of money.

Whilst rummaging  through his deceased dad’s old junk in the attic, David and Christina discover an old video camera with some footage of David’s seventh birthday party still on it. It’s this point in the film where things promise to get interesting, as the older, current teenage David is seen wandering about in the background of his younger-self’s party. Lo and behold, David’s father was working on a time-travel device before he passed away, which the group discover securely locked in a box in the basement, and begin to use it to start playing around with time.

Whilst the plot is an intriguing mash-up of genre movies like Primer, The Butterfly Effect and Looper, there’s only one way I’d describe Project Almanac and that is as an aggressively found footage time travel movie. It constantly reminds you via various gimmicky methods and invasive camera angles that it is, at all times, unequivocally a Found. Footage. Movie.

I don’t inherently hate that style of film making. To be perfectly honest for a second, I’ve repeatedly and unashamedly admitted to being a fan of the style on numerous occasions. It’s been used fantastically well in slightly bigger budget films such as Cloverfield, Chronicle and End of Watch, as well as smaller budget indie movies like The Sacrament and The Bay, never mind the glut of b-movie horrors like [REC] and Grave Encounters and classics like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. I’m aware just how unusual a thing that is to admit to; for a lot of people, it’s an immediate cinematic turn off. As long as it’s used in an innovative way (or even in an unoriginal way, so long as it’s done well, such as in The Borderlands), then I don’t have a problem with it. As a method of film-making, I firmly believe it has gone beyond simply being a gimmick. It is now a creative choice made by directors who want their story to be told in a particular style, to put you ‘the viewer’ in the shoes of a character (or characters) as opposed to simply being about making it stand out from the crowd and/or more marketable.

So take it from me when I say that Project Almanac is a bad example of a found footage style movie. It may not always be apparent and I’m aware of my tendency to drift off on tangents in reviews, but I usually try to remain impartial and objective as often as I can. I know what I do and don’t like, but try not to let that colour my semi-professional opinion too dramatically. For this movie, I will throw all of my self imposed rules out of the window and drift into areas of outright subjectivity.

I have never, ever felt physically unwell because of a film before. The sound of cracking ankles in Audition came close and Antichrist made me feel uncomfortable in ways I can’t explain, but Project Almanac is a first for making me feel so nauseous that for a moment, I was about 90% certain I was going to throw up. In my haste to take off my jacket, roll up the sleeves of my jumper and unbutton my shirt to try and cool myself down a bit, I kicked some bloke’s foot (accidentally, of course) next to me, causing him and his chums to giggle like a gaggle of idiots. “Hur hur he touched your foot did you see that?” I probably did look like I was dying, which I suppose is quite funny. Right? I don’t know. It’s not kicking some bloke in his elevated foot that I’ve taken exception to.

Instead, it was the bloody intolerable rotating, swaying, spinning and wobbling shaky-cam that was causing my sudden rush of queasy stomach and throbbing temples. Have you ever been on a National Express coach on a warm summers evening that is overcrowded, where all of the windows are dripping with condensation, the stench from the chemical toilet is polluting the carriageway and all of a sudden the bozo next to you decides to eat a tuna sandwich that has been in their bag all day long? Well I have. And it wasn’t pleasant. It was that same feeling that was gripping me again. It got to the point that I (and the chap sitting in the isle over from me doing exactly the same thing) had to cover my eyes with my hand (obviously he covered his eyes with his hand, not my eyes with his … never mind) so I couldn’t see the screen. I just couldn’t stand to look at it any further.

If I wasn’t watching the film so I could talk about it on this week’s Failed Critics podcast, it would’ve been the first film I’d walked out on since abandoning an outdoor screening of The Exorcist in Reading a couple of years ago due to an unusually freezing cold night, a lack of promised barbecue (seriously, that was bang out of order) and faulty headphones picking up interference from a local radio station playing an interview with ZZ Top. But that is what Project Almanac did to me. It made me so unwell that if not for dashing out of the screen to drink some tap water from a squeaky polystyrene cup, I might have just fainted there and then in the cinema. It was like torture.

Well, probably not torture. I’m sure trivialising torture as being like subjecting yourself to a poorly shot film is a bit over the top. But you know what I mean.

The thing is, even with missing about 5 minutes worth of plot at a crucial point in the film as I sorted myself out before returning to finish the rest of the movie, it did not have any effect on my overall impression. Nor did it hinder my understanding of anything that had happened. Such is the nature of Project Almanac that you are never in any doubt whatsoever about what is happening and why at any particular point during proceedings. If you didn’t get it the first time, don’t worry, they’ll be going over it again later.

As for the story itself, the beginning of the film isn’t bad. As paper thin as the characters are, they all have moments that will make you smile, if not laugh. The hijinks they get up to as they work out various means of acquiring some cash and how best to use their new found technology seems true to form for a bunch of carefree young adults. Cheating on the lottery, going to festivals, that sort of thing, although playing the stock market is swiftly dismissed in what is but one of many references to Primer.

No one individual character is especially irritating either, which already makes it one step up from of a few of its contemporaries. You know which role each character is going to fulfil from the moment we meet them and the introduction of Sofia Black-D’Elia as Jessie, David’s crush, is timely and adds a much needed new dynamic to the group. Simply by way of association, Jessie makes David infinitely more interesting than the bore that he had been previously too, which is handy.

As unconvincing as the leaps in logic happen to be that lead to the jump from the group building a remote control drone powered by a mobile phone, to assembling a time machine from bits of old Xbox 360 and crap from the local DIY store – as Steve once said on an old podcast, you have to forgive shit like that in 90 minute time travel movies. There’s always going to be paradoxes, inaccuracies and stupid or unrealistic decisions. It doesn’t completely excuse some of the film’s faults, however, Project Almanac doesn’t purport to be anything more than it is. It clearly isn’t desperately trying to redefine what science fiction movies are. Instead, it feels like an homage to those movies it borrows heavily from. It’s firmly in that teen-to-mid-twenties age bracket demographic and it knows it. You may have seen Primer and found that graphic online that illustrates how faultless the film’s ideas around time travel are, but the audience Project Almanac is going for are those who may not have seen it. If they have, great, they’ll spot a few references, but if not then it doesn’t really matter. And that’s perfectly reasonable. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to understand the science aspect of its fiction, but it’s not exactly Sarah Palin levels of dumbing down either.

Aside from the dizzying shooting process, the shallow (albeit occasionally amusing) characters and jumbled references, the other problem the film has is its pacing. 40 minutes had passed when I checked my watch and barely anything of any note had happened yet aside from about two montages of machine building. Whoop-de-doo. There wasn’t even a Vince DiCola soundtrack! It took a further 10 minutes for any real dilemma or tension to exist at all, which was basically solely related to how the time travel was affecting the relationship between two of the excitable young teens; how it was forcing them to break their own set of rules and the consequences of doing so. But every scene that has something remotely clever in it is milked for all its worth, which also made the whole thing drag.

The crux of it is, if you’re looking for something on TV one night a year or two from now and stumble across Channel 4 at about 11pm, or if you’ve spent half an hour looking around Netflix and nothing stands out, then there are worse films than Project Almanac to waste 90+ minutes of your time on. Particularly if you have a pack of travel-sickness tablets going out of date but aren’t planning on going anywhere soon.

Project Almanac is in cinemas right now and you can pick up motion sickness tablets from most reliable pharmacists (and probably a few unreliable ones too.) Why not listen to Owen talk about the film on our latest podcast with Steve, Matt and Paul on your way there?

 

Jupiter Ascending

Smart about being Stupid.

by Jackson Tyler (@Tylea002)

jupiter ascending 2If you’re anything like me, then you love Speed Racer with all of your heart. Eviscerated upon release, it has come to be seen as the Wachowskis’ true masterpiece by a growing segment of those who are referred to in hushed tones as “film people.” They’ll tell you it’s actually beautiful and earnest, a pure expression of the potential of cinema without a cynical bone in its body. I am one of those film people, and I am here to tell you that it’s happening again.

Jupiter Ascending is not the quite cinematic revelation that Speed Racer was, buts its more conventional aesthetic choices are balanced with its nostalgic commitment to genre and a greater thematic richness. A space opera in the most literal of senses, it is a melodramatic love story, a wondrous tour through decadent costume and set design, and a pointed takedown of the underlying amorality of capitalism.

Summarising Jupiter Ascending is more than a little difficult, the plot initially laying the groundwork for a chosen-one teen drama, before instead shifting into the action-packed proceedings of intergalactic corporate legalese. Warring members of one of the universe’s largest family businesses fight over the deeds to the Earth, and somehow at the heart of all this is Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones, a poor girl still cleaning toilets every day. She is the film’s emotional heart, swept up into the drama through nothing but chance, shepherded from plot point to plot point, a cog in a machine that cares not one iota for her agency or personhood. The convoluted story and Jupiter’s passive nature are reminiscent of recurring complaints levied at your Twilights, your Divergents etc., but here the film elevates them from narrative flaws to integral thematic components. Jupiter Ascending doesn’t inherit the problems of its genre, it confronts them.

All that makes Jupiter Ascending seem like a dry affair, but the reality couldn’t be further than the truth. It’s dripping in camp, from Eddie Redmayne’s villainous drawl to the time it decides to just turn into Brazil for about five minutes. The film’s true strength is the lost art of sincerity, it embraces the inherent stupidity of its space opera universe and still commits to every single beat. Much like Lucy last year, it is smart and stupid in equal measure, celebrating its pulpy nature and never undercutting either it or its thematic ideas in order to bolster the other. I like Guardians of the Galaxy as much as the next guy, but if the only way we’re going to get space bombast in the future is to couch it in a self-effacing layer of snarky detachment, then we’re living in a sad world indeed.

Ultimately, these are not the words I truly want to write about Jupiter Ascending. Those words would be full of spoilers, a parsing of the films specific themes and ambitions, a celebration of every campy line read and overwrought piece of set design. It is a film that demands its audience to meet it half way, and if you do, there is so much worth talking about on the side. For a film that also features Bees genetically engineered to recognise space royalty, I cannot think of a greater compliment.

Be on the right side of history, this time. Go see Jupiter Ascending, then we’ll have the right conversation.

Jupiter Ascending is in cinemas in the UK right now (finally) and you can find Jackson Tyler on the gaming blog and podcast site Abnormal Mapping. If you like the site, why not support them via their Patreon page?

A.I. In Film

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

I’d love to say that’s a quote from a sci-fi action film such as Dredd, or a Japanese anime such as Ghost In The Shell, or any other iconic sci-fi movie dealing with the rise of the machines for that matter. Instead, it’s a direct quote from one of the greatest minds of our time, Professor Stephen Hawking, when speaking to the BBC last year. The crazy nut.

Essentially, it’s a theory that fascinates me, so to tie in with last week’s release of Ex Machina, this week’s release Big Hero 6, the soon to be released Chappie, and the next ‘Artificial Intelligence’ special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, I’ve decided to take a look at the role A.I. has played in a few famous films.

2001_30
Image courtesy of http://blushots.weebly.com/2001-a-space-odyssey.html

Artificial Intelligence is of course something that already exists in some forms in the real world; whether you’re referring to a Tamagotchi toy or even a digital Mario that can learn to beat its own game without assistance.That said, a sentient form of life created from wires and silicon is still something very much reduced to the realms of science fiction. Although the dictionary definition is somewhat oblique, what we generally mean when we refer to A.I. is the full, true, conscious self-awareness of being in an unnatural device manufactured by a person. A type of intelligence that we possess as humans, that we arrogantly claim does not (or cannot) exist in the same way in any other creature or mechanical computer. An automaton that is rather than simply does.

It is of course frequently used as the motivation of a terrifying baddie in a film, such as the killer androids on the loose in Westworld. But that’s not really an artificial intelligence. It’s more like a malfunctioning pre-programmed robot executing a series of commands. You know, if you want to get all nerdy.

Similarly, whilst there are some grey areas, such as in Paul Verhoeven’s sophisticated and ultra-violent film RoboCop, where you’re asked to consider if it’s a man inside a robotic body or robot with a man inside of it, A.I. doesn’t really refer to cyborgs either. They obviously cross-wires, so to speak, but a human brain inside of a tin can is still a biological entity. More than what we might consider A.I., which is a completely manufactured form of intelligence.

Of course, the very notion of a sentient mechanoid is enough to give even the most sensible minded person the heebie-jeebies. With that in mind, allow me to pick out five different – although equally terrifying – uses of artificial intelligence in film (albeit admittedly slightly predictable choices!)


terminator 2Skynet and the Terminators (first appearance: The Terminator, 1984)

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, shall we. If the mere concept of an intelligent military computer causing a nuclear war based on its own logic isn’t something that sends shivers down your spine, then maybe the idea of being chased by an unstoppable shotgun-wielding motorbike-riding nightclub-crashing robot is. No? How about a relentless melty-man who can turn his hands into sword-like objects and stab you through the throat? Yeah, now we’re getting somewhere. There are many incarnations of A.I. throughout the Terminator film series, but perhaps none are as chilling as that initial idea of a single sentient machine deciding to wipe out the human race and cause a full scale world war. The clever twist in the sequel, T2: Judgement Day, is that the A.I. is both the hero and the villain of the story, of course. But the lasting legacy of the series that James Cameron started over 30 years ago now is that spine-tingling chill of the first military owned A.I., Skynet, that will inevitably lead to the destruction and genocide of the entire human race.


HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)

You and your fellow astronaut buddy are on a exploration mission through space, the rest of your colleagues safely frozen in their cryogenic pods. Everything is all hunky dory. Well, right up until the supposedly unerring on-board computer has the awareness to make a decision that you and your crew are expendable. halLogically speaking. That is exactly what the A.I., HAL, does in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 science fiction 2001: A Space Odyssey. It doesn’t necessarily make HAL a villain in the sense that he’s wrong or evil, he’s simply decided of his own accord that ridding himself of the crew will make his mission more efficient and thus heightens the viewers insecurities. Just how necessary are we, really? Maybe that is why HAL is so scary. Not because of his unemotional, sterile voice, as he ruthlessly decides to do away with his crew, but because for the most part he’s an abstract tool; just a solid red light in a metal cube that makes us feel inferior solely by existing in the first place. He’s influenced virtually every version of A.I. in film since, from Ash in Alien to Auto in Wall-E.


TRANSCENDENCEDr Will Caster (Transcendence, 2013)

It’s fair to say that both Callum and I had a difference of opinion over last year’s summer sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence. While the quality of the film overall is not a debate I intend to bring up again any time in the near future, the idea that Johnny Depp’s character, Will Caster, could have his mind transported to that of a quantum computer is an intriguing idea. Is the piece of hardware simply simulating what the mind of its creator would do in a very pre-determined and programmed way; is it actually the mind or soul of a human controlling the machine; or is the computer acting completely of its own volition? Do these even count as artificial intelligence is also a debate I don’t want to get into. What makes it worthy of inclusion on this list is the suggestion that after your physical body dies, you could have your mind imported into a computer. It’s the whole “brain in a jar” scenario that’s been used so many times before, although without a physical biological brain. The film does have an inevitable consequence as it drifts towards being about love rather than anything particularly meaningful, but there’s still a neat little idea tucked away in there somewhere!


Roy Batty (Blade Runner, 1982)

Of course a list of sci-fi films about the use of artificial intelligence wouldn’t be worth its salt without the inclusion of this Ridley Scott classic, adapted from Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’. Whilst theroy batty role of Deckard, the bounty hunter played by Harrison Ford, is probably more synonymous with the movie, it’s the tragic story of the blonde android suffering from an existential crisis played by the charismatic Rutger Hauer that is arguably the most accomplished and well rounded aspect of the story. It begs the question, just because we can create an A.I., should we? Is it fair? It goes right back to science fiction 101 in that man wasn’t meant to play God, dabbling in sciences that we don’t truly understand. Not from a technical point of view; clearly within the context of the film, people understand how to create artificial intelligence, but perhaps not so much the consequences of gifting life and then taking it away. Perhaps the ease at which we’re ready to hit the ‘off’ switch is in turn something we should fear more than pressing the ‘on’ button in the first place.


aiDavid (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001)

All right, I’m aware that perhaps even more obvious than any of the other inclusions, a film literally called Artificial Intelligence worming its way onto my list is not particularly imaginative. Especially when I haven’t even mentioned characters like Robby The Robot, C-3PO, Fassbender in Prometheus or poor ol’ Johnny 5. Nevertheless, I had to include the little boy who will never grow up, abandoned by those who created him to replace their ill son and forced to spend the rest of his time with the creepiest looking sexbot ever and his bizarre teddy bear. It’s quite a sad film, with the whole idea of replacing someone you’ve lost (or are losing) with a Pinocchio-esque robot being a rather moving subject. David narrowly escaping destruction with all the naivety of a real human boy; the apparent genuine feelings of loss and abandonment that David experiences; as well the final 20 minutes of the film, it will make you completely empathetic towards what is essentially nuts and bolts. It’s a marvellous juxtaposition between life and non-existence. The ending to the Christmas special episode of the TV series Black Mirror, called ‘White Christmas‘, drew similar feelings of anxiety about existing forever as an artificial life-form. It’s not a faultless film, of course, but deals with the complexity of A.I. better than most other films ever have.


And that’s it! Look out for the podcast due out this week where I chat to both Steve and special guest Matt Lambourne on the same topic, as well as reviewing Ex Machina in full. Until then, cheerio.

Ex Machina

Never mind what I think of this well plotted, intelligent and entertaining sci-fi drama; how does Ex Machina make you feel?

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

ex machinaDeus ex machina, literally “God from the machine”, is presumably a phrase you’ve come across at some point in your life. I was first made aware of its proper meaning by a friend of mine a long time ago when talking about some comic book or other. He explained it as like when a God steps in at the last minute at the end of a Greek tragedy to save the hero (such as Athena stepping in at the end of the Odyssey). It’s probably why the phrase is sometimes also referred to as “the hand of God”. Traditionally introducing a device – divine or otherwise – when the characters are backed into a corner to produce a happy ending.

Think of those bloody eagles in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. All seems lost, the characters have no tricks left up their sleeve, doom is imminent. Suddenly, *poof*, just like that they’re rescued by some massive birds out of nowhere and all is well again… save for the fact they’re now stranded on the top of a rather tall mountain, but that’s besides the point.

Quite how the film’s title Ex Machina relates to the plot of Alex Garland’s directorial debut is fairly self explanatory. Suffice to say, ‘God from the machine’ is more appropriate than (the erroneous) ‘hand of God’. Garland is already familiar to most cinephiles as a novelist and the screenwriter behind some of Danny Boyle’s best work; including 28 Days Later, Sunshine and the original novel for The Beach. Not only that, he’s recently found more cult success by being the mighty pen behind Judge Dredd and his deadly lawgiver in 2012’s action thriller Dredd. Given that his name is also attached to an upcoming Halo film, you would be forgiven for perhaps expecting this sci-fi about potentially the most advanced form of Artificial Intelligence to also be rather loud, colourful and explosive.

Forgiven, because you would be wrong. Just like the script for the similarly ominously low-key and unsettling sci-fi that Garland also adapted, Never Let Me Go, the role of Ex Machina appears to be less about dazzling you with special effects (as amazingly well realised as they are with the mechanical Ava gliding across the screen, full internal cogs whirring inside of her transparent abdomen) and more about making you think. Or, I suppose, as fitting as it is, making you feel. Putting logic to one-side and using your imagination and full range of emotions to be affected rather than to analyse. To really be a human and not a machine.

Which leads me on nicely to the plot! It revolves around the talented Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson’s character ‘Caleb’, an American programmer working for a company that owns and develops the world’s leading internet search engine. We are first introduced to Caleb as he’s sat at his desk, white headphones protruding from his ears with stilted sound emanating as he checks his email inbox to find he has won a competition. His prize is to spend a week with the company’s CEO, Nathan, at his wilderness retreat. What transpires is that Nathan (played by the often underrated yet exceptionally talented Oscar Isaac), despite being a heavy drinker, believes he has created a genuine Artificial Intelligence called Ava; and Caleb is to be the lucky recipient who gets to perform the Turing test on it to determine if it (or ‘she’) is sentient or not.

Throughout the course of the film, Garland attempts to navigate a few of the more theoretical issues and complexities of AI by having Nathan drag Caleb away from his very analytical approach to the Turing test. He’d rather Caleb simply express how he feels when communicating with Ava, which is a perfectly acceptable way to prevent the film being bogged down in philosophies and jargon. It can be a little grating when films make characters speak out loud their emotions; if an actor and a script is good enough, you shouldn’t have to have someone explicitly state that they feel anything, you should just be able to see it and know. However, such is the type of film Ex Machina is that it really does work to quickly and succinctly help you understand the nature of the relationship developing between its three primary characters.

Speaking of whom, Ava’s plight is wholly sympathetic whilst being shrouded in a menacing aura. Trapped for her entire existence in a small glass room by Nathan, never experiencing the outside world or anything beyond the confines of her cage, she seemingly begins to form a bond with Caleb. Quite possibly due to the way she looks (rather like the stunning actress Alicia Vikander that’s playing her, funnily enough) you immediately empathise with her; you want her to be free. It’s a natural gut instinct to feel that putting someone behind bars who hasn’t done anything wrong is unjustified. In a way, it makes her the good guy. But being behind a window, separated from human contact like that, it does also add an element of danger to Ava. Before Caleb first meets her to commence the experiment, he notices a slight crack in the partition, which suggests either someone was trying to get in, or that something was trying to get out. As Ava declares that Caleb is the first human she has met other than Nathan, it sets the tone for what’s to come very fittingly. Some of the conversations that Ava and Caleb have during their sessions are both fascinating and, like other parts of the film, genuinely amusing. The film is not completely bone dry; as much as every scene gives the impression that it means something, how funny it can be takes you by surprise on occasion.

There’s also quite a few themes that Garland brings up along the relatively tight 108 minute run time. An impending robocalypse being one of them, as you might expect! The thought of the human race being wiped out by a race of super computers is not an entirely new theory, but is always terrifying to think about. Garland also brings the role of sexuality into his film, and how it’s required in a species. That it’s a need to be a sexual entity, rather than completely sexless, in order to force an organism (for want of a better word) to grow and to evolve. If you’re not already wondering why Ava is designed to look female at the point in the movie when Nathan explains his decision, then it’s a good point for the audience to re-evaluate what has been seen so far. Why would Nathan, a man, attempt to create self-aware intelligence and choose to make it look, act and behave like a female? What is his purpose? There’s a lot of questions raised if you look for them beyond basically “why is character [a] doing [this]”.

Another topic that is called into question is that of information gathering. Putting your life into a search engine term that creates something as a whole to define who you really are is quite a scary concept. The idea that Nathan’s company would scan everybody’s phones, their cameras, their profiles and search history (illegally, mind you) in order to make his robot learn to look and act more human is deeply disturbing. You also don’t have to be a genius to work out that it is in no small part a social commentary on what we are already doing in the real world. Or even what certain companies who own internet search engines could well be doing with that information right now. You have no idea – and more worryingly, no control.

It’s also a bizarre coincidence that Domhnall Gleeson was in the Black Mirror episode ‘Be Right Back’ where he played a lifelike synthetic representation of his character after an artificial personality profile was compiled using data from his online presence. Both this episode and Ex Machina attempt to make you aware of the digital footprint you are leaving every single day and how costly that may be.

There’s a quote from Ex Machina which has appeared in the theatrical trailer, where you hear Ava say to Nathan:

Is it strange to have made something that hates you?

There are many ways to interpret this line. At first, you could easily interpret this as Ava, a machine with a true consciousness, simply detesting her manufacturer for locking her away, depriving her of both the world outside and the man she has apparently grown to act like she loves. Of course whether this love is something programmed into her, something she has developed naturally, something unquantifiable, or whether it’s not really love at all, is not really the point being made in this particular line of dialogue.

Another way to look at it is as a genuine question about whether it is normal for a creation to hate its creator? Again, drawing on themes not explicitly discussed such as religion perhaps and even looking at the role of father/daughter relationships. A rebellious teenage girl doing whatever the opposite of her dad wants, or man’s spurning of a God who supposedly loves them, or rather more sinister is the idea that a machine is looking down on an inferior species with a cold and calculating disdain. There are many ways to look at it and the beauty of the film is that it never closes off these avenues for you. It’s open, it’s out there, and it’s for you to decide what you think.

As the plot goes on, things get a bit weirder without ever straying too far from its slightly predictable basis. The manner in which the final act will occur is not completely hidden from the viewer early on – and it does feel slightly rushed to get to the main point. But it is yet another clever example of the difference between man and machine. It’s why success in a species cannot be defined by who will live the longest, or whose population will be densest, or even who is the most intelligent. The smartest man in the room is not always right. However, as a proposal of some interesting ideas, acted out well by its cast with a completely engrossing plot and some sharp writing, it’s an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half watching the birth of an artificial intelligence that does not require your clothes, your boots or your motorcycle.

Ex Machina is in UK cinemas right now and will be the main review on this week’s special ‘Artificial Intelligence’ themed Failed Critics Podcast.