"EX MACHINA" - **** (108 minutes)

Thursday May 21, 2015
Finally!  An intelligent sci-fi flick to sink one's teeth and mind into.  British screenwriter Alex Garland (responsible for scripting Danny Boyle's excellent sci-fi films 2003's 28 Days Later and 2007's Sunshine) does double duty for the first time while also directing this indie masterpiece.  
The movie begins with computer programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) starring at an Email informing him that he won an in-house contest run by CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), creator of the world's largest and most successful Google-like company, Blue Book.  The prize:  a week-long stay hanging-out with Bateman at his secluded compound.  Upon his arrival, Smith learns that he was selected to lead a "Turing Test" to determine if Garland's newly created robot exhibits intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human.  As Smith soon finds out, matching wits with the sensual AI leads to a surprising outcome that neither he nor his boss could have ever imagined.
Ava is the animatronic invention under scrutiny, and, as superbly played by Danish actress Alicia Vikander (who was classically trained in ballet), she brings an immense grace and sexuality that equally matches her comprehension. Vikander's portrayal is crucial to the tale and is one of the joys this parable brings forth.  Splendid seamless CGI makes her presence totally believable and utterly logical that she is capable of casting a spell over both her creator and assessor.
The ever competent Oscar Isaac, (The Coen Brothers' 2013 Inside Llewyn Davis), sports a shaved head and full beard and is terrific as he constantly wavers back and forth from benevolent boss to bully in his interactions with his naïve employee. 
Finally, a special mention goes out to the incredible original orchestration composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow which underscores and beautifully compliments the increasingly ominous plot.
Ex Machina (based on the Greek deus ex machina, which means, according to Merriam-Webster, "a character or thing that suddenly enters the story in a novel, play, movie, etc., and solves a problem that had previously seemed impossible to solve") is a thriller that is short on action but huge on intellect and suspense that will likely stay with you long after you leave the theater.  And Garland's stylish and unsettling narrative and direction clearly makes him a major talent to watch in the future.
The film was released nationwide on April 24 but is still playing nearly two months later in the Baltimore-DC area.  So far it is the best film I've screened this year and, if possible, should not be missed on the big screen.

UPCOMING:  Coverage of  the 13th edition of the AFI DOCS documentary film festival held in Silver Spring MD and Washington DC that runs from Wednesday June 17-Sunday June 21
         Nathan Bateman (Oscar Issac)(r), shows Caleb Smith
                     (Domhnall Gleeson) his laboratory

 Eva (Alicia Vikander) happens upon the faces of future robots

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