Ex Machina (2015)

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There’s little I enjoy more than some quality sci-fi. Even though many of the themes have been redone over and over again, it’s the way these themes are presented that separate a good sci-fi from all the rest. If you’ve seen the trailer for Ex Machina, you can probably guess that the film is about a man’s creation of an A.I, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Alex Garland, who penned the scripts for acclaimed movies like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd, makes his directorial film debut here. It’s a beautiful, confident and smart first shot at directing, as well as a completely enjoyable and thought-provoking experience that just might be the best of the year so far.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is an intelligent programmer who works at an internet company named Bluebook. He wins a company lottery for a one week visit to meet the CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his remote home somewhere in the mountains. When he gets there, he learns that Nathan wants him to perform a Turing test on his humanoid A.I. named Ava (Alicia Vikander) to try to distinguish whether or not she is a conscious machine.

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Nathan’s home is beautiful and sleek, but it’s also claustrophobic, empty and uninviting. All doors are sealed off and can only be opened by a special key pass, of which Caleb’s access is limited. Yet somehow, it seems the perfect reclusive dwelling for a genius billionaire.

Nathan, played impressively well by Oscar Isaac, whose career seems to be really taking off ever since Inside Llewyn Davis (and rightfully so), is an unpredictable character. When Caleb first meets him, he is quick to skip the formalities, acting not like the typical genius billionaire you’d expect him to be, but rather like more of a “dude bro.” You’d think this would make him more likable, but on the contrary, it makes him more suspicious. You know right away there’s something off about him, but you don’t know exactly what it is.

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Caleb is exactly what you’d expect him to be. Polite, smart, and excited to take part in an important event of scientific discovery, even if it means he has to sign off his freedom to tell anybody anything that transpires during his visit. His sessions with Ava are meant to be nothing more than a simple conversation between the two of them in a room that is separate by reinforced glass. Ava is a remarkable looking robot, with a human face and a translucent body. Alicia Vikander brings a human elegance to the character, but even when she hides her robotic parts under feminine clothing, you never forget exactly what she is.

Although Ex Machina does feature some impressive special effects and some beautiful cinematography, it thrives on its story and small number of characters. It doesn’t have to resort to inconsequential action scenes to be involving, and that’s what I like about it. It’s slow paced, but that doesn’t mean it comes anywhere close to being boring. It slowly builds up tension as the relationships between all the characters continue to change.

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Ava and Caleb’s sessions together are mildly uncomfortable, since it’s clear there’s some sexual tension building between the two. All the while you have Nathan watching everything that transpires through camera and audio. None of these characters are black and white and the story is mostly unpredictable. I thought I knew exactly what direction it was going in right off the bat, but then it turned. That’s really all I can say without giving the plot away, and I already feel like I’ve said too much. For anyone who hasn’t seen this yet, avoid as many spoilers as you can because you don’t want to deprive yourself of the wonderfully oblivious experience.

It’s not all technical, serious and tense, though. There’s some genuine comedic relief spread purposely throughout, including an unexpected scene with one of the characters that I don’t even want to give away in this review because it’s so random and perfect that I refuse to take the “wtf” factor away from anyone.

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Filmmakers have been interested in the idea of artificial intelligence for years. Everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey, to The Terminator, to this year’s Chappie. Perhaps the most interesting idea about artificial intelligence is that it isn’t completely fictional. The very questions these characters bring up in this film about consciousness, humanity and sexuality are no doubt some of the same questions we’ll be asking ourselves one day in the near future. If a robot can achieve consciousness, then what will continue to separate humans from machine? There’s so much more presented here, though, which I can’t get into due to spoilers, but you can see for yourself if you watch it. It’s a really incredible film.

Ex Machina is a wonderful sci-fi, full of amazing visuals, a great script, and complex characters who are played by some very talented actors. Alex Garland has shown that he can do much more than write the hell out of a script, this is an impressive directorial debut. It’s a smart, tense film that stuck with me and left me thinking after I exited the theater. I know it’s only April, but in my opinion, this is the best theaters have had to offer so far this year. It’s an absolute must-see for 2015.

4.5/5

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Genre Grandeur – Akira (1988) – Justine’s Movie Blog

My choice this month for Movierob’s Genre Grandeur is Akira, a landmark in Japanese animation and a cool dystopian sci-fi.

As always, thanks Rob for putting these together and for letting me participate!

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For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Dystopian Movies, here’s a review of Akira (1988) by Justine of Justine’s Movie Blog

Thanks again to James of Back to the Viewer for choosing this month’s genre.

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by S.G. Liput of Rhyme and Reason.  We will be reviewing our favorite fantasy/sci-fi animated movies (non-Disney or Pixar) . Please get me your submissions by 25th May by sending them to animated@movierob.net  Try to think out of the box! Great choice S.G.!

Let’s see what Justine thought of this movie:

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akiraposterThe dystopian genre is always an interesting one. There’s so many great movies that have come out of it, Blade Runner being my all time favorite. But since I’ve already gushed about it on my own blog, I’ve decided to focus on a less obvious choice. Akira, aside from being a great dystopian sci-fi…

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Chappie (2015)

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Neill Blomkamp’s latest sci-fi is a bit more intelligent than people are giving it credit for. It’s a flawed film, for sure, but it hits a lot of the right notes. Chappie touches upon the surface of themes like morality, humanity, consciousness and religion, but sometimes fails to really peel back the layers to expose something deeper and more meaningful inside. Where it does really succeed is in humanizing the titular character and allowing us to see him like we would a child, a pure soul that is molded by his environment. Chappie might not present a whole lot of new ideas, but it has a lot of heart, and it isn’t afraid to be silly, and that’s what I liked most about it.

Among one of the many resemblances to District 9, Chappie starts with talking heads giving exposition about what’s going on in the world. Thanks to people like Anderson Cooper, we find out that the police force has been replaced by robots called Scouts, and Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is the creator. Thanks to Deon’s Scouts, crime in Johannesburg has decreased dramatically.

One robot, Scout 22, suffers a big blow in the field, causing his battery to become fused inside him, so he’s due to be crushed. Deon, who has recently figured out a formula to give the robots a mind of their own, steals 22 to test it. Before he can, he is kidnapped by Yolandi and Ninja (of “Die Antwoord” fame), and their partner Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo). They want Deon to turn off the robots so they can carry out a successful heist. When he assures them this isn’t possible, they force him to reprogram 22 so that they can train it to work for them. When he wakes up, Yolandi gives him the name “Chappie” and he eventually becomes a part of their gangster family.

Chappie is essentially a child. When Deon gives him a mind of his own, it’s like a baby being born, not knowing how to speak or being able to recognize the world around him. Deon, as the creator, is a God-like figure if you’re looking at this in terms of religion. Chappie actually learns morality from him. Before Deon leaves him with Yolandi and Ninja, he makes Chappie promise that he won’t hurt other people. It’s like God giving Moses the Commandments, you know…”Thou shalt not kill,” that sort of thing. The funny thing is that it sticks with him. Throughout the film, he remains adamant about not using guns on people, despite Ninja successfully molding him into the gangster lifestyle in other ways.

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Yolandi is the compassionate mother figure who comes to really love and care about Chappie. She teaches him about mortality and “the beyond.” Ninja, aside from being a selfish jerk who tries to manipulate him, is the father who tries to teach Chappie that the world isn’t a nice place, and that he has to be tough if he wants to survive in it.

Chappie’s consciousness is brought into existence by humans and shaped by humans, and so he logically becomes a human in a robot body. He feels fear, sadness, love, and like all humans, becomes fearful of his own mortality. As his irreplaceable battery begins to run out, he questions why a creator would bring him into the world just so that he could die, a question I’m sure plenty of us have asked before: what is the purpose of life if we are only meant to die? Now this is what I mean when I say this film touches upon the surface of interesting themes. Unfortunately, it eventually does get bogged down by action, violence, and a couple insignificant and ridiculous characters.

I haven’t yet mentioned the role Hugh Jackman plays in this, and that’s mainly because I hated his character. No, not because he was evil (yes, he’s evil), but because he was mainly dull and annoying, and I got tired of him really fast with his stupid mullet and cargo shorts. Hating Hugh Jackman? Yeah, that’s a first for me. He plays Vincent, who is a bastard former soldier and an engineer obsessed with wrecking Deon’s robots and promoting his own human-controlled, giant robots who are decked out with all the weapons you’d need for destroying an entire city, let alone fighting urban street crime. For most of the movie, he seemed like nothing more than an insignificant side story, and his character was like an annoying fly buzzing about that you couldn’t swat down. I’d like to just pretend he didn’t exist. Sigourney Weaver can join him in the void of wishful nonexistence because she was equally as stupid and even more insignificant.

Let’s talk about the purpose of having “Die Antwoord” as main characters in this film. I mean, why? I have to assume it’s for the same reason Blomkamp wanted Eminem to play Matt Damon’s role in Elysium. What that reason is, I’m not sure, weird fascination with rappers I guess? I went into this fully expecting to be annoyed by them, but truth be told, the scenes with them teaching Chappie how to live the gangster lifestyle was hilarious and very entertaining. Yes, it’s a little annoying that they wore their own merch and that the soundtrack was basically all Die Antwoord, making this film kind of seem like a 2 hour music video at times, but I still enjoyed most of their scenes, and I thought they had an interesting and dynamic relationship with the main character.

The CGI and mo-cap in this film is excellent. Along with these things, Sharlto Copley, who plays Chappie, does a great job with making him feel human. For example, in scenes like when Chappie was getting abused by thugs I felt like I was watching an innocent child being abused, I was actually upset and disgusted by it. He’s a piece of metal, but you care about him like you would any other human in any other story. It’s the same way I felt watching the aliens being oppressed in District 9. Blomkamp may miss the mark sometimes, but he knows how to present those human elements and make them feel real, and of course, having the right actor to portray them is a plus.

The only other issues I had with this film is the ending. I can’t get into it without giving too much away, but I felt like it was rushed. I wanted the film to spend more time with the idea, and for those who have seen this already, you know what I’m talking about. Instead, what we got was a long scene involving a shoot-out and Ninja making ridiculous facial expressions. I didn’t like how some of the truly interesting sci-fi elements took the backseat to the ultra violent action. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an action fanatic, but I know when it is and isn’t appropriate. Blomkamp does know how to handle action scenes well, I’ll admit, but I just wanted…more, more than just that.

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In the end, I feel like most critics were overly harsh on Chappie. It wasn’t perfect, but I think it’s far from the derivative piece of crap some are making it out to be. Chappie is an extremely likable character who is easy to sympathize with and care about. The film does touch on interesting themes, focusing more on an A.I. discovering consciousness and mortality, as opposed to focusing on clichèd plot devices like the A.I. threatening humanity. Unfortunately, the action does drag the plot down a bit, and there are a couple of characters who I wish were never written into the script, but Blomkamp does a mostly good job presenting plenty of silly and humorous elements to remind you this is a sci-fi film involving a child-like robot being raised by rappers. Let yourself have fun with it, and you may come out with a more positive view.

3/5

Interstellar (2014)

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Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s grand space epic, much like 2001: A Space Odyssey was to Stanley Kubrick. It doesn’t quite match up to the masterpiece that is 2001, however, but you can tell that Nolan took inspiration from it. Interstellar is very grand, indeed, almost too much so for its own good. Whereas the first half of the movie takes us through the main characters’ relationships and then into one of the most interesting and visually stunning explorations of space I’ve ever seen, the second half is dragged down by nonsensical explanations and plot holes and ideas about love somehow transcending space and time or something, and I just really have no idea. However, Interstellar is quite a ride, a long ride, and for me, although it didn’t quite pay off in the end, the journey alone was worth taking.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former-pilot-turned-farmer in a world that is running out of food due to a widespread blight. When peculiar circumstances land Cooper and his daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain), in NASA’s secret underground space station, Cooper is asked by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to pilot a spaceship through a newly discovered wormhole near Saturn and find a planet Earth’s population can inhabit. Cooper agrees and leaves behind his two children, Murph and Tom (Timothèe Chalamat, Casey Affleck), despite his daughter’s pleads to stay. He takes a team consisting of Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), and a robot named TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin). The team travels outside the galaxy towards three potential inhabitable worlds where they must explore, collect data, and decide where humankind can continue to exist.

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It’s not news that Matthew McConaughey, is one flame that is just starting to burn bright despite being in the game for twenty or so years. He is taking smart roles and churning out one great performance after another, and this one is no exception. Nolan clearly tried to string this film together on an emotional level, and McConaughey was really the pillar that allowed him to do that. He plays a guy who loves his kids but has to make the difficult decision of leaving them so that they may actually have a future, and his daughter holds a grudge against him for it for half her life. This is great for McConaughey’s character, because it gives him that emotional angle of desperation to complete the mission and hopefully return to Earth, and also gives him a reason to struggle with the regret of leaving in the first place. Unfortunately, he’s really the only character you come to care about, though.

Jessica Chastain doesn’t benefit much from this relationship, because she serves almost no purpose during most of the film than being an angry woman who really knows how to hold a grudge–until the end, that is. The son is even more of a useless character and makes me wonder why Cooper was even written as having a son. I guess Cooper needed at least one kid who was going to stay in touch and show him how much their lives are passing by, but Casey Affleck is too talented to be so underused. However, other than a couple of circumstances of somewhat wasted talent, the ensemble of cast members was a joy to watch.

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I’m not afraid to admit that often times in movies dealing with space travel and things I clearly have little knowledge of, I feel like a kid sitting in a room with a bunch of NASA scientists who are talking scientific gibberish, and I just have to put my faith in them that they know what they’re doing and will get us from point A to point B. There’s no shortage of that here. There’s a ton of exposition and it’s building this world with a foundation that is laid in scientific theories, but really a lot of it is babble. What’s that about black holes and gravity and…equations…and…fifth dimension…what? Sure, go on. Let’s see where this goes. Not to make myself sound like a complete idiot. I have no problem with movies that make you think, I like the challenge. I understood the general direction where this plot was going and then just like that–I can’t say what specifically without giving spoilers away–something happened that instantly hit a point of no return. It became way too far-reaching, and at the same time tried to push this father-daughter relationship into the forefront, giving it this colossal importance to the future existence of humanity that was just a little bit too out there for me.

To some people, Christopher Nolan can do no wrong. I respect him as a filmmaker and I think he’s vastly ambitious and talented, and I like a lot of his work. However, that’s not enough for me to sit here and say that he can do no wrong and that Interstellar was a masterpiece. It wasn’t. I know it seems like I’ve been doing nothing but picking at the movie’s faults this whole review, so I’ll add that it had a lot of redeeming qualities. I will go as far as to say that I actually did like Interstellar. It was good. I say it’s good because despite some of its downfalls with the plot, the technical aspects of this film, like the cinematography and the effects, are some of the best I’ve seen.

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There aren’t many movies I’ve seen where a space crew travels through a wormhole and it actually looks like how I would imagine it would look if I was to really travel through a wormhole. A lot of the experiences are so engaging (especially in IMAX), the visuals and the sound actually made me grip my seat, because I felt like we were traveling through space. It was exciting, edge of your seat kind of stuff, there are a lot of moments like that in this movie. I was truly blown away by them.

There’s no denying that Nolan is a visionary in his craft. He has grand ideas and he brings them to the screen the best way he knows how. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s hard not to appreciate the effort nonetheless. Interstellar is a great attempt at a meaningful and epic space movie. Unfortunately, it gets bogged down with a lot of dialogue exposition and a far-reaching plot, but the technical aspects are impressive and the journey through space is exciting. It is a bit long, and the payoff might be somewhat disappointing, but I’d still say that it’s worth a watch.

3.5/5

Blade Runner (1982)

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Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a movie whose brilliance and expertise in the sci-fi genre was never fully appreciated until years after its release. There are still plenty of people who find this movie to be greatly overrated, and that’s ok. Even I will admit to the fact that Blade Runner only grew on me after multiple viewings. Now, I consider it to be one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen, with many mesmerizing visuals and philosophical themes embedded in a dark, futuristic world.

Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In 2019 Los Angeles, Replicants who were manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation and were being used for slave labor on off-world colonies are now illegal on Earth following a violent incident. Any Replicant who lands on Earth must be “retired,” a.k.a. killed by “Blade Runners.” Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is one of these Blade Runners who is given the assignment of finding four escaped and dangerous Replicants who are hiding out on Earth. During this mission, he meets a special Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young), who he falls in love with. In the meantime, the group of Replicants, lead by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), are in search of their “maker,” so that they may find a way to overcome the four year lifespan they were given when they were made, and won’t hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way.

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Blade Runner has one of the best opening scenes, and nothing even really happens in it. Yet, the first scene in the movie is so perfect for this type of story, as it immediately sets the tone, as well as foreshadows some of what’s to come. It opens to a dark and fog filled city landscape—a futuristic Los Angeles structured in fire-belching buildings (resembling a fiery Hell). One can only guess how badly Los Angeles is suffering from pollution. It gives way to the idea that the world has become even more industrial throughout the years, and that industry and technology has completely taken over. The vision of flying cars further establishes these obvious technological advancements. No wonder people are moving to off-world colonies.

The Tyrell Corporation is seen in the background as two large, pyramid shaped buildings. It’s fitting that these buildings be so architecturally unique, because this corporation is responsible for creating the Replicants, and the man who runs it is almost a god-like figure—the “maker,” as Roy Batty refers to him at one point. The pyramid, as it is reflected in the close-up of a blue eye, also represents the symbol of the all-seeing eye of God. This further introduces the opposing symbols of Heaven and Hell, a recurring theme throughout the movie. Inside one of these pyramid-shaped buildings is a man in a dark, smoke-filled room, resembling any scene you’d see in any old noir film, giving this movie the ominous, detective-like feel that it’s meant to achieve.

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Often, in that beginning scene (yes, I’m still talking about the first scene), there are quick cuts to extreme close-ups of a blue eye, where the cityscape and fire are reflected. The eye is an important connection to the film’s narrative, acting as a motif popping up throughout. Looking into the eye becomes the only way for people to tell the difference between humans and Replicants, as the eye involuntarily reacts to things that evoke empathy in a person. Eyes are also linked to memories, and when someone dies, those memories are lost, “like tears in rain,” as Roy states in his end monologue. Eyes are also what Ridley Scott refers to as a “two-way mirror.” They perceive a lot and they give away a lot. This is why the Replicants are often shown with glowing retinas in the film.

Both humans and Replicants struggle to delay death. Mortality is something they have in common, the fact that Replicants can perceive mortality in a similar way to how humans do goes to show that although they were artificially made, they were made so innately human, with memories to boot. Even Rachael doesn’t know at first that she is a Replicant. There’s also hints that lead to questioning of whether or not Deckard is even human. Whether he is or he isn’t is not of dire importance, however, but the question of what it means to be human is important. While the characters with authority are telling you that those who lack empathy are not human, it becomes clear that Replicants, even Roy, sometimes show more emotion than the seemingly dull, human Deckard.

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I could honestly go on and on about the themes and symbols in this film–the use of eyes, religion, corporate power, humanity, technology–but then this would end up being a ten page analysis instead of a review. Let’s just say that this film is pretty deep, and the way these themes are laid out before the viewer is brilliant. Although there is action in it, it is not an action-packed film. In my opinion, it’s better off that way. It achieves the depth of a clever sci-fi without being bogged down by inconsequential action scenes.

Despite there being seven or so different cuts of the film, the theatrical cut and the final cut are the two that I’ve seen. The theatrical cut was weighed down by admittedly bad narration from Harrison Ford, as well as a Hollywood “happy” ending. The final cut excludes any narration, has an ambiguous ending, and includes a couple of scenes that are left to the viewer’s interpretation. I find the differences in these cuts to be quite important to the quality of the film as a whole. If I had seen the theatrical cut first, I probably wouldn’t have even liked this movie as much as I do. Of course, there are some people who prefer this version for their own reasons, but I look at it as more of a dumbed down version of the film. I don’t need people to spell out the meanings of things in movies for me, I prefer to come to my own conclusions about what’s going on. It doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, at least I have ideas of my own, and the beauty of films like this is that a lot of it is open to interpretation.

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The visuals are incredible, and the world that Scott has created here is beautiful in its own dark way. Everything is detailed and adds to the bigger picture of a culturally mixed (yet dominantly Asian), polluted and futuristic world. Often times, visual effects and set designs in sci-fi movies from the ’80s and earlier date really fast, but this one still holds up. I still find it to be one of the most visually appealing movies I’ve seen.

Harrison Ford doesn’t give his most energetic performance here, but I like to think that was intentional. It adds to the ambiguity of his character and promotes the question of whether he is actually human or a Replicant. Also, it allows for a more shining presence of the Replicants. Rutger Hauer really steals the show in this one, the scene with him and his maker, as well as the rooftop scene are a couple of my favorites. Sean Young and Daryl Hannah also give equally impressive performances as beautiful and troubled Replicants.

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Blade Runner has become a sci-fi classic despite some polarized views of whether or not it is deserving of its status. It took me a few viewings, but it has become one of my favorite sci-fi movies of all time. Full of some great visuals, meaningful images and quite a few underlying themes, it succeeds as a quality dark and futuristic film, and one of director Ridley Scott’s best.

Lucy (2014)

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Lucy is a visually stunning movie whose biggest problem is not knowing what it actually wants to be. It is too philosophical and deals with themes too big for your generic Luc Besson action movie, and at the same time, despite taking itself way too seriously, it never delves deep enough into those themes to make it a legitimately clever sci-fi epic.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a student in Taiwan whose boyfriend of one week forces her to deliver a suitcase full of drugs to a Korean gangster named Mr. Jang (Choi Mik-sik). She is then knocked out and when she wakes up, she learns that she has been cut open, and a package of a blue powdery drug called CPH4 has been stuffed into her lower abdomen for the purpose of being Mr. Jang’s new drug mule. However, after being kicked in the stomach, the package rips and the drugs leak into her body. These drugs cause a reaction within Lucy which allows her to use more than 10% of her brain’s capacity. This 10% theory is studied and lectured about by Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), and after Lucy reads 6,000-some-odd pages of Norman’s research in under a minute, she contacts him and asks him for his help.

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Although I kind of understand where Besson was trying to go with this story, I didn’t like how he got there. I have no problem ignoring the whole 10% of your brain theory, which I can only assume Besson wanted us to do by presenting it like it’s actually a fact, even though most people know it isn’t. I can pretend anything is true just for the sake of a good story. This story, however, wasn’t all that good. As soon as it starts to show a hint of real intelligence and raise some good questions, it becomes overshadowed with absurdity and mindless action.

I had a big problem with Mr. Jang, as well. I love the very talented Choi Min-sik and think he’s a pleasure to watch. He didn’t serve a real purpose to this movie, though. Mr. Jang might’ve been the reason Lucy ended up this way, but then he and his henchmen only became a side story as the movie went on. As Lucy became more powerful, it was clear he would never be able to hurt her. He became nothing more than a simple annoyance after a while, instead of an actual threat. His presence only worked for one reason, and that’s by acting as an example of man’s primitive nature, by showing violence and people killing people over stupid reasons. That’s the only smart reason I can give for why Besson felt the need to have the same old boring shoot-outs and car chases mixed in with a movie that is trying to be more clever than that. The more likely reason is that Besson, a person who has found his niche in action movies, simply just didn’t want to give up the shoot-outs and car chases.

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But let’s think about the first reason for a second. As the movie goes on, and Lucy achieves a higher percentage of brain capacity, she loses the need for violence. She goes from shooting a cab driver just for not speaking English, to simply incapacitating a mob of Koreans with her mind, when she could’ve just as easily massacred them. She moves further away from her primitive being and her natural animalistic instincts (there are actual clips of animals doing animal things throughout the whole movie) and transcends into a being that uses her mind for much more than just taking lives.

At the same time, as her brain capacity grows, she starts to lose sight of the things that make her human. She no longer feels pain, fear or love. Having access to all of this knowledge has made her the equivalent of a monotone robot, which could explain why Scarlett Johansson has given such a rigid and lifeless performance. But then you have to ask yourself, if being intellectually superior means sacrificing your humanity, is having access to all this knowledge really all that worth it? The movie bases itself on the idea that humans are wasting their potential, and yet it doesn’t present the opposite as being all that appealing. The opening line of the movie is, “Life was given to us a billion years ago, what have we done with it?” Huh? You mean aside from building cities, discovering technology and improving medicine? Sure, I’d love to move stuff with my mind too, but I wouldn’t want to walk around acting like Robocop in the process.

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Lucy had a lot of potential, treading on similar waters of that which movies like Transcendence tried to do as well. It is not easy to tackle big themes like the purpose of life and man’s capacity for living it, while being too distracted by action that serves no real purpose. I’ll give the movie credit for being somewhat entertaining, visually appealing, and for touching on a few clever points. But overall, it seemed like it failed to accomplish what it set out to. Unless, of course, it set out to tell us that the best way to live life to its potential is to become exposed to a large quantity of drugs that will unlock our brains so that we may kick ass, take names and eventually transcend outside of our physical bodies. If that’s the case, then it succeeded, and I apologize for judging it too harshly.

2/5

The Zero Theorem (2014)

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The Zero Theorem explores big themes through Terry Gilliam’s familiar and bizarre imagination. Love, humanity, and faith are questioned as a man struggles to find the meaning of life. As far as Gilliam films go, The Zero Theorem is far from the worst of his eccentric efforts.

The film revolves around Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a computer hacker and a recluse who lives in a large church right next to a sex shop. When he walks outside he is immediately bombarded by colorful advertisements lining the walls of buildings. A financial company advertisement follows him as he walks down the street. Other strange and loud advertisements like that of the church of “Batman the Redeemer,” which calls for people who are “bored of Buddhism and sick of Scientology,” hang above the busy streets where a bunch of tiny, identical cars drive hurriedly along. Qohen works for a company called Mancom, where he crunches “entities” in an office resembling a casino with enough distracting noise and colors to fill the senses. Colorfully dressed employees move about on scooters and roller skates. The crunchers like Qohen sit at computer screens that look like slot machines, while using what resembles a retro console gaming controller to do their work, while they pedal something with their feet. It sort of looks like a hybrid gaming/exercise machine, and the software (I think that’s what it is) is in a vibrantly colored liquid form.

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Qohen’s boss, Joby (David Thewlis), who refers to Qohen as “Quinn” even though he’s been corrected time and time again, invites Qohen to a party, promising that “Management” will be there so Qohen can convince him to let him work from home. Management comes in the form as just one man (Matt Damon), a person who appears and disappears rather sporadically and who likes to wear suits that camouflage him into furniture and curtains. Qohen finds it vital that he be allowed to work from home so that he doesn’t miss a mysterious phone call he’s been waiting for. This phone call, he believes, is going to tell him the meaning of life. Management decides to oblige him, but assigns him the impossible task of solving “The Zero Theorem.” This theorem will ultimately prove that everything adds up to nothing and that life has no special meaning; that the universe will keep expanding until it collapses on itself and ends in a big black hole.

He is driven to the brink of madness while working on this theorem, which looks like towers of cubes. One wrong cube put in the wrong place causes the towers to collapse. Just watching him do this is headache-inducing. He tries to hold on to a shred of his sanity with the help of a “shrink-rom,” a virtual psychiatrist who is played humorously by Tilda Swinton. His work is constantly interrupted by calls from Management, giving him a new unrealistic deadline for pieces of work that drive him mad. In addition to this, he is visited by a seductive woman he met at Joby’s party named Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), who promises to help him get his “call.” When Qohen loses it and smashes his computer screen, Management sends over his son Bob (Lucas Hedges), a teenage wisecracking genius who tries to help Qohen not only get back on track, but also to stop referring to himself as “we,” as if he were the Queen of England.

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Whereas in Brazil, the story was a criticism of bureaucratic society, The Zero Theorem is more of a criticism of a world where the meaning of life is easily lost in the confusion of ever advancing technology. Qohen is a man who is waiting for some divine voice to call him on the telephone and tell him why he is alive. In the midst of waiting for this phone call and being absorbed in impossible work that is only meant to prove that everything is nothing, he misses out on what is right in front of him. He misses out on human connection, which could be the true answer to filling the void within him. He wastes his life away trying to find the answer to something which has no definitive answer. That void left within him is comparable to the very black hole that Management wants to prove the universe will be reduced to.

Faith is a recurring theme here as well. Religion seems to be treated like a business, as is shown by the advertisement for the Church of Batman the Redeemer. The image of a camera for Christ’s head and the fact that Management uses Qohen’s faith in the “call” to persuade him to continue working on the theorem shows that faith and religion is fading and has become corrupted and distorted into something that is controlled by corporations.

There is no shortage of Gilliam-esque imaginative visuals and storytelling. I especially love the set designs, from the large, dark church which Qohen calls home, to the frantic, colorful streets outside. I love the idea that Qohen and Bainsley can plug themselves in to their computers and end up in a virtual paradise together, it really expands upon the image of a society run by technology. I like how Management placed cameras all over Qohen’s home to watch his every move, including one in place of where Jesus’ head should be on a huge cross, perhaps to symbolize the worshipping of corporations. The fact that Qohen lives in a church, with a camera Jesus head, and is looking for the meaning of life is ironic. I also love that Bob makes a suit for Qohen so he can plug himself in, and somehow find his “soul.” It is a ludicrous idea, but considering the circumstances in the movie, it’s not so crazy that they would believe that’s possible. If you can use a computer to prove the eventual destruction of the universe, why wouldn’t you be able to use it to locate your own soul?

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I’ve loved Christoph Waltz ever since I saw him play a perfect villain in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. His talent has not gone unrecognized thus far, and rightfully so. He proves his worth and versatility as an actor in this movie by playing this tragic character. Another performance that stood out to me is by Lucas Hedges playing a kid who shows his wisdom through his smart ass jokes. He’s an unsuspecting voice of reason. David Thewlis and Tilda Swinton play small, but unforgettable parts that add humor to what would otherwise be a heavy film.

There’s plenty of negative criticism surrounding this film, and the fact is, it won’t appeal to everyone. Like with most of Gilliam’s films–Brazil, 12 Monkeys, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, to name a few–the message is riddled in creative visuals and eccentric characters. The Zero Theorem may not hold the same kind of power as his widely-loved Brazil, but it is far from a failure in my eyes. It still coincides with Gilliam’s theme of dystopian satire. It explores relevant themes of people being virtually connected, yet at the same time, disconnected from reality. It is a sci-fi spectacle that asks big questions, and not all of them are answered. If you can handle that, then I would recommend this, especially if you are a Gilliam fan.

4/5