Tag Archives: Science Fiction Films

The Circle (2017): Just Watch “Black Mirror” Instead

      “The Circle” is an unfocused mess full of hack characters and no discernible theme. I hear the book is good so just read the book. I’ll go into why I went from disliking to hating this film in a moment because there is quite a lot to unload on this film, but the biggest parts are that lack of theme, half-formed characters and with all of that, failure to go full ham. If you are going to be cheesy you should bank on it and in doing so create your own form of malformed beauty.

  The film was directed by James Ponsoldt who was also one of the producers, written by Dave Eggers who also wrote the book and produced by Anthony Bregman and Gary Goetzman.

    The story involves Mae (Emma Watson) getting a job at The Circle (A facebookish tech. company) thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan). She soon finds it is not the paradise it seems to be when the public sharing among the circle and constant call for interaction begins to unfold leading to dark consequences.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Concept – The concept is a lot like a “Black Mirror” episode. What happens when social media becomes a society and you are under pressure to reveal your life and what you are doing at all times? I like this concept but this isn’t the focus or the theme of the film, even though the trailers seem to set it up that way.

The Cinematography – The cinematography looks great, there are great uses of shadow and holograms to really illustrate the future. You can tell the director put a lot of love into this film…

The Cons: Hack Characters – Dave Eggars wrote the book, but apparently can’t write screenplays. None of these characters feel fully fleshed out. Mae the main character is almost set up to have a rise to power only to become a reformer…but the reasons with that don’t feel all that explored.

   She has an off the grid ex who is the “hero” of the film, which in turn shuts down her becoming a professional within her own life. He also gets harassed for his antler art? What the hell. He is a paranoid guy in the woods whose paranoia ends up being justified but we never get to know him. He is an idealized version of the off the grid blue collar hero. What the ever living hell…He’s not a character and they turn him into a martyr when people stalk him on a new program and he drives off a bridge. We are told they do things together or did things together, but we never see it. It is all tell and now show. Again, he’s an idea not a character.

Her best friend Annie is rising in the company and disappears. I wanted to see her rise and fall arc. But she is barely around…Same Ty Lafitte…John Boyega’s character who is fighting the Circle and invented another giant tech. media company…and finally Hanks’s Eamon, one of the founders whose agenda is never known and who is only around as a vague threat. These aren’t characters, these are concepts in a terrible script.

Social Media and Tech. Paranoia – We are told to fear tech. (her parents telling her not to trust the Circle and her ex being off the Grid) and we see how it turns her and Annie into monsters at times…but that is also contradicted with the ending. This is a vague theme that exists but doesn’t go anywhere and is never fully explored.

A Missed Corruption Arc – This is a hackneyed script in a hammy story…so knowing this, they should have just made Mae a villain. Her life is public, make her a Trump figure who can lampoon people she talks too and win by being horrible…since we see her do this a few times till “noble” ex gets the axe. I wanted her to take out the owners and gain control of the company. That would have made this film a beautiful disaster that is “So bad it’s good.” Sadly this potential is missed. They should have embraced tech and information as power that corrupts…what a waste.

Lack of any Theme – There is no core theme. There is a vague sense of distrusting smart phones and social media…but Mae makes everything public in the end to take out The Circle’s founders. So, what was the ever living point of this film? If you don’t have a purpose, why were you made? The sad thing is the author of the book was the screenwriter…A writer should know the themes they intend to explore.

  I don’t recommend this garbage. This was a film that could have been “So Bad it’s Good,” if it had been comfortable in tech. and information as corrupting influences of power theme, or it could have gone full revolution and had Boyega, Gillan and Watson team up early to take on the Founders. That’d be asking too much of this film though. This is a film that doesn’t know what it wants and doesn’t have any real characters, jut half formed ideas in a broken mess. Seriously, save your money and watch “Black Mirror,” you’ll get well focused themes of technology fears that have a clear focus in theme and character. This film is one of the worst I’ve watched in quite some time.

Final Score: 3 / 10

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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

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970): The Wrong Path to Peace

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Throughout science fiction across most genres be they books, films or games…the idea of the evil computer is a common trope that is more often than not, used to critique us and our ideals. What does it mean to be a Sentient A.I.? What makes an A.I. go bad? Has it gone bad? Within this we see those like HAL or GLADos (of the “Portal Series”) whose goal is to complete their missions. Which for them is furthering science in different ways. Colossus is similar in some ways, and different than others as his aim was built primarily around politics and defense. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment, but for me, Colossus was a big reason why I enjoyed this film. The concept was also ahead of it’s time in regards to A.I. and matters of surveillance in regards to the State.

“Colossus: The Forbin Project” was directed by Joseph Sargent, written by James Bridges, produced by Stanley Chase and based off the book Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones.

The premise is that Colossus is made public by the President of the United States as all control of America’s  defenses have been given over to the computer, and the computer was made to adapt if there was any attempt made to destroy it as to stop the Russians. We soon learn from Colossus that there is another computer that the scientist Forbin (Eric Braeden) wants Colossus to make contact with. It is a USSR AI similar to Colossus and they link. Worried about the threat this may pose the Soviet Union and United States cut the connection, which leads to both computers sending warning nukes out. Colossus stops one but Guardian does not stop the other. After they reconnect again they become one and begin their takeover as Forbin and his fellow scientists work against stopping the monster they’ve created.

The Pros: The Premise – I like the idea of a super computer developing intelligence and the world having to deal with this new organism. If there had been more of that and Colossus intentions never fully being known, or being less outright fascist I would have rated this movie higher. The premise really is awesome and is a great analogue of how the Cold War bunker mentality is our own worst enemy as it was that fear that created Colossus in the first place.

Dr. Corbin – Corbin is the idealistic scientist in the end who goes along with Colossus willingly at first, until the nuke hits the Russia and he works with the Russian scientist to find a solution and later his science team and Dr. Markham. He isn’t successful and is full of regret as he was the one who created the monster that is now taking control of humanity. Eric Braeden does a good job.

Dr. Markham – Dr. Markham is Corbin’s assistant and later love interest as she goes undercover as Corbin’s mistress after Colossus has Corbin trapped in the lab taking care of IT and being it’s connection to the outside world (The Russian scientist was killed because it was seen as redundant). She is a great fighter though and I felt bad for her failed plan with Corbin to stop ColIossus, hopefully she’ll lead the new resistance against the tyranny of Colossus. I liked Susan Clark.

Colossus – Colossus is the AI that was made to defend the United States against all threats. From here it evolved to figure out the best way to end all threats as a whole after it linked with the Russian AI Guardian and they became one and came to see people as the threat that needed to be dealt with. It was from here Colossus sought to bring all under it’s rule and destroy those who tried to destroy it. It’s programming of protecting people and safeguarding humanity had turned into that at all costs and breeding a new generation that would honor it and no longer fight among people. The computer becomes Skynet from the “Terminator” franchise, except bent on subjugation rather than genocide of humanity.

The Message – Fear breeds are own worst enemies was the big thing I got from the film and peace at all costs can be worse than war, as well as if you’re going to create something, fully know what you are doing so you don’t end up creating a monster. The fear breeding weapons that could be out of our control (especially with the modern automated information age) it was powerful. The fact that our heroes don’t win in the end was good too, it really shows how the idea of peace at all costs can turn to tyranny and terror as Colossus had Corbin under constant surveillance and killed those who tried to resist it.

Okay: The Scientists – Most are nameless and they are largely faces of resistance. They are a diverse group at least.

The President – He reminds me of John F. Kennedy with the voice of Shatner, so his voice was the most memorable thing about him beyond his personal connection to Corbin who he treated as a friend. He was also really reasonable with the USSR when they were dealing with the threat of Colossus and Guardian.

The Ending – Colossus wins and takes control of the Earth! This was unexpected, but his desire for peace and control didn’t seem fully fleshed out given how willing the AI was to use nukes. This seemed to contradict that so I was left wondering if it had another agenda or like Ultron just wanted to eliminate humanity all together.

The Cons: The Russians – We don’t get to know any of them and they mostly just do what the United Stats does, with the exception of them killing the Russian scientist who had created Guardian.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. I liked it but felt that most of the human characters were not as fleshed out as they could be, the only one I felt that I really got to know was Forbin which wasn’t enough given how many characters looked interesting but just didn’t get development.