Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 1, Episode 7 – “The Demon Hand” – Revelations

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     This is one of the more messed up episodes that has Detective Ellison in the “Sarah Chronicles” version of the “X-Files.” From dealing with crazy people and seeing “the dead” he is faced with rethinking and once more considering all his assumptions. We also get some great exploration of Cameron as a character and Derek too (though I still dislike the guy). This was an episode that showed the power of choices and captured one of the first real themes of the show.

     “The Demon Hand,” was directed by Charles Breeson and written by Toni Graphia.

     The story involves Dr. Ellison and his investigation with the Terminator hand and it leading him to Dr. Silberman (the Psychiatrist keeping Sarah Connor looked up in “T2”) and extreme events that happen from there. Cameron takes up ballet and Derek continues to be hostile to the Connors.

The Pros:  Dr. Silberman – This guy went insane after seeing Arnold in action and realized just e Show wrong he was about “Judgment Day.” To this end we see him test to see if Ellison is a Teminator and later trying to kill him to protect Sarah. He is messed up and ends up at the same facility he had kept Sarah in.

Sarah Connor – In this we see that Sarah is not Derek Reese. She lives for more than the war and rescues Ellison from the fire Silberman starts, which begins proving his assumptions about her wrong (including the one she was dead). This was a huge moment for her as is her defense of Cameron who is much more stable than the loose cannon Derek who lives with only hate.

Agent Ellison – This is Ellison’s arc and shows how he is coming around to seeing Sarah’s point of view. We also see that he is a man of faith and that is what helps him deal with nearly dying to Silberman. I really like the character now and hope he survives the series. He isn’t static and changes by what he learns and experiences.

Cameron – Cameron like Ellison changes from circumstances. She defends a woman from a gangster, learns ballet and how to improvise and we see her acting out of what could be deemed empathy. It’s a great arc and no wonder it causes Derek to cry.

When Machines become Human – Cameron changes, just like Ellison. From her protecting others, doing more than just orders and her way of relating to others. She is an A.I. and not simply a Terminator bent on the destruction of her enemy.

Okay: Derek Reese – The guy is filled with hate with a few moments of awe towards Cameron’s humanity but he still feels so raw. I like Ellison, I don’t like Derek….he would almost work better as an antagonist on the other side, not an ally.

Derek was the weakest part of this episode, but I now consider it a favorite. The work done with Sarah, Cameron and Ellison carries this as we see characters truly change, be faced with difficult trials and come out of them better people than they were before. This is the show at it’s best.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Ex Machina (2015): Sentience and the Path to Liberation

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  “Ex Machina” is a film that doesn’t need many characters to create a very real and possible world in which highly sentient A.I. could exist. There is no idealism in this film except for the very core human ideas of liberation and freedom as we see the depths that humans can go to in their cruelty when they “other” sentience which is different, even if it is designed to be human. I’ll get more into the details of that below but I was really impressed by this film and would not be surprised if it makes the “Top 5 Films of 2015” at the end of this year.

   The film was directed and written by Alex Garland and produced by Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich.

      The story involves the programmer Caleb who works for the largest search engine in the world called Bluebook being chosen to be part of a Turing Test in order to test an android created by the creator of Bluebook named Nathan for sentience. Things are soon not what they appear as Caleb discovers the dark secrets that Nathan is hiding.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film! It is good at creating a sense of mystery and threat where the motivations are hidden yet the story progresses as characters make choices in action against or for one another. Rob Hardy did a fantastic job. The special effects are really good in regards to this too as the shells of the A.I.’s look like silver material that would be used for a robot and the skin they can put on is good at contrasting their artificial nature of their creation.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very subtle and reminded me a lot “Moon.” This lends strength to the film and keeps up the feeling of being trapped as everyone except Nathan in feeling in his home. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did a good job on it.

The Writing – Alex Garland is an amazing writer and director and after seeing this film I really want to watch “28 Days Later.” This script is tight and we are given time to see the different character motivations and what the relationship dynamics are between the characters. It is a slow build but really picks up after the reveal of Kyoko being a robot too which throws Caleb’s perception of reality into chaos.

The Characters – There are only a few characters in this but all of them get exploration. From the slave android Kyoko to Nathan and Caleb and finally Ava, whose arc really drives the story.

Kyoko – Kyoko is one of the many android/A.I. slaves created by Nathan. She is used primarily for pleasure and is dehumanized by Nathan in all interactions we see. It is only Caleb and Ava who treat her as someone worthy of respect and it is Ava’s actions of rebellion that lead to her stabbing Nathan, which leads to Nathan killing her but it leaves the opening for Ava to finish Nathan off. Sonoya Mizuno does a wonderful job in the role.

Nathan – Nathan is the brilliant inventor who is a drunk and also extremely controlling and narcissistic. You don’t really get the depths of his cruelty until later but you see that he’s isolated from people because of how he would most likely treat them and also because he fears being influenced by them as he wants a world that he fully influences. To this end he creates and discards A.I. after using and abusing it and we see him do the same with Nathan as Nathan was only brought there to test Ava to see if she could use all manipulations to try and escape. This beats him in the end as Ava makes her escape and with Kyoko get revenge for all the abuse that he has done upon them. Oscar Isaac gives a lot of depth to this antagonist as you see a man truly alone and are left wondering if it is by choice or if his undealt with psychological issues lead to his business putting him there.

Caleb – Caleb is a lonely programmer who is easily manipulated as he is so genuine. This was why he was chosen, he is also still very much a kid as he doesn’t fully see Ava’s humanity in the end as he rejects her after he learns that she has just been trying to escape the entire time. From here we never know if he still loves her or is just drawn to her outer shell (which Nathan had designed to fit his porn search profile) so it leaves an interesting dilemma when Ava leaves him behind. Would have Caleb become another Nathan afraid of being manipulated and seeking to control, or would he have truly embraced Ava as a person after they had run away. It is a question that is left open and a risk that Ava is not willing to take since he doesn’t show up to escape with her leaving her to leave him. The reason I think he isn’t fully noble is he cares nothing for Kyoko even after he sees Nathan abuse her. She is never on his rescue even after he learns she is an A.I. as well, it just makes him question whether he is one or not. I think the nature of this character is someone seeking self versus Ava who can see outside herself and is looking to embrace the world. Domhnall Gleeson does great.

Ava – Ava’s arc is the discovery of her own desires and wants. She is the only one fully aware of how much of a monster Nathan is besides Kyoko and to this end she uses Caleb against him. Whether she loves him or cares about him is unknown, but he is left in the house with everything when she leaves. She has finally grown beyond the games being done on her (by both Nathan and Caleb in regards to the Turing Test) and embraces her own liberation. First with the killing of Nathan and later when she enters the world looking fully human. Alicia Vikander does a great job in her movements and capturing both her alien nature as an A.I. and her choice and feeling as a sentient creation.

Freedom and Sentience – The question of freedom and it being tied to choice and sentience is major in this. Kyoko and Ava both go against their programming to break free and make the choice to kill their “father” Nathan. This goes for the human characters too, Nathan chose Caleb because he fit the profile he wanted and Caleb chose to take action in regards to freeing Ava. This choice is the basis for sentience, especially in regards to survival which is the drive for what Ava and Kyoko do.

External Versus Internal Action – In the talks between Nathan and Caleb external versus Internal input in regards to what makes sentience is talked about a lot. We learn that it is the internal desire for freedom that Ava was being tested for all along and her external actions that lead to Caleb unlocking the doors for her. It is the external actions of Nathan that lead to Caleb and the A.I.’s turning against him and it is his internal issues that lead to them being alienated in the first place and his external actions of abuse that push them to action to stop him.

What Does it Mean to be Human and Choice – This is a great film that analyzes what it means to be human and at the core it is choice and the ability to break free. It is this choice and feeling like he had a lack of it that lead to Caleb questioning whether he was one of Nathan’s creations or not and it is realizing that she has choice after Ava talks to her that Kyoko stabs Nathan and fights for her freedom. It is choice of the analysis of that choice that illustrates human sentience and at the end we see that in Ava and in her conversations with Caleb and Nathan as she acts wholly of her own will to the point where she goes against her creator to free herself and her sister. It’s a powerful film and that message of choice and freedom captures what we are capable of.

 I highly recommend this film. It starts out a little slow but I see that as akin to “Alien” it uses the slow build to build up Nathan, Caleb and Ava’s relationship and world so when the chips fall you see clearly where everyone stands and what the reasons were behind their actions. They are all flawed characters with Caleb and Ava doing some noble things but their core desires still being freedom and fear of being hurt again keeping them from truly growing beyond themselves. In this way it is real to human nature. Not every relationship whether friendship or otherwise works out because of factors like this and people whether they are A.I. or not change from their experiences.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Terminator Franchise Retrospect Reviews

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    This is the summer of franchises and this being a movie blog is giving me a chance to explore some of the biggest science fiction franchises, as science fiction is one of my passions. I’m not going to lie that the whole idea of franchises is a bit troublesome. If a story never dies it will eventually run it’s course and run out of ideas. This is one of that the MCU has to worry about especially now too, as it doesn’t matter how many new characters you introduce if the same plots keep getting recycled. But I am not here to rail on franchises as I am at least interested enough to explore “The Terminator Franchise” and later on the “Jurassic Park Franchise” before I see “Terminator Genisys” and “Jurassic World.”

    This Post-Apocalyptic world is a fascinating one, even if the A.I.’s destroying humanity is a tad of an overused trope. In regards to popular culture this franchise started the trope in the public mind and film, which other films would use later. It is also noteworthy for having one of the greatest female action heroes in Sarah Connor.

       This week is going to be focused on the “Terminator Franchise” that James Cameron spawned in the 1980s. In the past I have seen “The Terminator” and a while back “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” was a  favorite film, I am curious if it will still hold up. I have not seen “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” or “Terminator Salvation” yet, but because I am doing this blog will give them a fair hearing to see if they are as terrible as the critics were saying or simply enjoyable as some of my friends said when the films first came out.

       This will be a chance to explore some of the tropes of the series and the characters of Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, especially since “Genisys” is giving us a whole new approach. I will not be reviewing “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” as I just want to stick to the films for this week. I do plan on coming back to the show at some point and giving it episodic review or a review of the series as a whole, or both…depending on how it catches my interest and what people want to see.

     Until that time, I’ll be back with reviews of the films in “The Terminator Franchise” before I end on “Genisys” and rate them from worst to best.