By Robin E. Simmons
Alex Garland writes and directs a visually striking and intellectually stimulating movie about Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a young programmer at the world’s largest internet search giant, who “wins” an in-house competition to spend a week at the extremely remote, private estate of the reclusive CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon arrival, Nathan discovers that he’s been picked to be the human component in a Turing Test – in which he must evaluate the level of consciousness as he interacts with a seductive and beguiling “female” robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), who is the Eve of true artificial intelligence.
Richly visualized, this sci-fi thriller is as much about ideas as special effects – which are creepy and superb. I found it uncommonly engaging and disturbing. The wonderful ambient-like score is hugely effective and subtle. It creates a kind of hypnotic, other-world soundscape. I was hoping for a bit more philosophical and spiritual dialogue between Ava and Caleb. However, the question “What does it means to be human?” is ever-present, the technical conversation unfortunately numbs that line of thinking – it’s a sly warning to engineers everywhere and an affirmation of Stephen hawking’s warning of the dangers of artificial intelligence.
Garland wrote 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE makes his directorial debut with this highly stylized feature. You will be charmed by Ava. And horrified to realize her emotional intelligence is far more sophisticated — and more deceptive — than the two men could ever imagine. I loved this movie. Recommended. Now playing at the River’s Century Theaters in Rancho Mirage.
AND FOR THE HOME THEATER:
THE FORTUNE (LIMITED EDITION)
I featured this rare and sought after title a few weeks ago, but want to remind that this rare, hi-def edition is limited to only 3,000 discs. Copies are still available but when they are gone, the studio says it will never be licensed again. Not sure why. So if you want this, and I recommend it for the home library, you need to act promptly.
Mike Nichols exceedingly silly 1976 manic, slapstick farce was never officially released for U.S. consumption on VHS or DVD. When I reviewed the disc, I got a surprising wave of feedback, including a person who worked on the film as Mike Nichols’ assistant. It’s disappointing that there is no commentary from Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson. In fact, both actors rarely even refer to this movie in interviews. Or at least I could find hardly a mention.
Carol Eastman, the screenwriter of FIVE EASY PIECES, wrote the jazz era farce under the pen name Adrian Joyce. But this dark comedy is a not just an homage to the screwball comedies of the thirties but more like a hybrid Laurel and Hardy riff but steroids.
Nicholson is Oscar Sullivan and Beatty is Nicky Wilson – both inept con men driven by greed. They have an insane plan to relieve madcap flapper sanitary napkin heiress Fredericka Quintessa Bigard – a wonderful Stockard Channing in her first film role – of her fortune.
Naturally, things go horribly awry in their increasingly desperate escapade of deadly errors that involves the Mann Act, love, betrayal, embezzlement and attempted murder. Richard Sylbert created the terrific production design and master cinematographer John Alonzo captured the period images. It’s top-notch in every way and an unexpected, unfiltered delight from Nichols.
It’s strange that this mostly unseen, but maligned film from Nichols is often put in the same category as Nichols comedic partner Elaine May’s equally unseen but wildly funny ISHTAR that got dissed before release based only on articles about it’s massive budget overruns.
THE FORTUNE barely received a theatrical release and director Nichols did not direct another movie for almost a decade. Sometimes, the weird vagaries of the public’s fickle affection cannot be parsed. This crazy, old school comedy deserves to be seen by a new generation before it disappears again. Apparently forever. For a little while longer, you can find this title at shop.TCM.com