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Category: Movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

Author Greg Keyes is back again after his smartly written novels War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm with the newly released novelization of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Keyes takes what is a convoluted and overstuffed story on film and fleshes out the details of character motivations and plot points, revealing the film really had enough content to be released over two movies.  Keyes’ novel is based on the screenplay by Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, and a story by those men along with Max Borenstein.  Of course a story credit goes to the many Japanese creators’ works over the past 65 years that the film’s kaiju monsters were mined from.  If you can get past the family of humans that the plot of the latest film revolves around, there is a good story of monsters rising from the ashes that should appeal to any Godzilla fan.

Each chapter begins by pulling the reader into the in-universe historicity of the giant antagonists by quoting myths, historical works, hymns, native poems, and notable stories that make reference to large creatures, ancient gods, and the end of days.  It’s a clever tool, citing works including Yeats’ The Second Coming, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Bacon’s Novum Organum, The Popul Vuh, Tennyson’s The Kraken, Hesiod, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and Job.  It all provides some minimal justification for the constant character references to the monsters as Earth’s ancient gods, as opposed to any attempted sourcing in the scientific record with something like dinosaurs or some kind of Michael Crichton-esque twisted re-creation.

In his novelization Keyes follows the film substantially verbatim, adding some improvements along the way, like specific references to Kong at Skull Island, which merits only an end-credit montage sequence in the film.  This is good preparation for the next film in the series coming next year, Godzilla vs. Kong.  He also provides information that is glossed over in the movie–who are the people affected by the monsters that don’t get the spotlight, those outside Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan?  We learned in the film there were at least seventeen Titans creatures guarded by gated, Monarch outposts, many via names on monitors audiences could blink and miss.

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With the exception of the vast expanded universe of Star Wars and Star Trek, probably no other sci-fi property has branched out in as many exciting ways as the Alien universe.  Every new tie-in novel consistently has been packed with suspense and innovative takes on Weyland-Yutani and its influence years before, during, and after the events of Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie.  Each year fans of Alien celebrate April 26 as Alien Day, reflecting not a specific day inside the Alien universe, but the designation of the moon in the film Aliens: LV426.  There’s even more reason to look back this year, as 20th Century Fox is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of the original Ridley Scott film.  Check out the Fox contest (expires tonight) here.  The recognizable Reebok stomper worn by Ellen Ripley in Aliens is coming back, too–part of the contest, and expected to be for sale soon here.

Next week for the first time U.S. audiences can access a documentary on legendary Alien concept artist and designer H.R. Giger streaming on OVID.tv, and we’ll be reviewing it soon here at borgDark Star: H.R. Giger’s World is a documentary on the artist’s unique vision, available May 3.

An eagerly awaited book for Alien fans is coming.  You’ll want to pre-order the new J.W. Rinzler guide to the 1979 film, The Making of Alien, here (we’ll be reviewing it in July).

No book or film has portrayed the people behind the Weyland-Yutani Corporation as more vile and despicable as author Alex White envisioned them in his novel released for Alien Day 2018, Alien: The Cold Forge, a sequel to the second film in the franchise, James Cameron’s Aliens.  The Company is proceeding to fulfill one of its initial ideas, to weaponize the Xenomorphs for military use.  Alien: The Cold Forge is Aliens as if written by Michael Crichton, a blend of Congo and Jurassic Park with aspects of the modern Planet of the Apes trilogy tie-ins and Project X.

Last year we reviewed Alien Covenant: David’s Drawings by Dane Hallett & Matt Hatton (check out our review here).  This boxed edition contains two books, providing readers an insight into the most intriguing character from the Alien prequels.  The in-universe sketchbook contains more than 200 illustrations from the set and will take you inside the mind of David.  Plus Developing the Art of an Android provides an interview with Hallett and Hatton, the artists behind the sketchwork.

And there’s Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo by Rory Lucey (reviewed here), which reminds us: In space, no one can hear you meow.  Aboard the USCSS Nostromo, Jonesy leads a simple life enjoying The Company cat food and chasing space rodents. Until one day his cryostasis catnap is rudely interrupted.  The humans have a new pet and it’s definitely not house trained.  This full-color illustrated book offers a cat’s eye view of all the action from the movie Alien.

Not enough?  You say you want a full-on fix of Alien today?  Check out any of these Alien tie-ins and films previously reviewed here at borg:

The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, by Owen Williams

Alien Covenant: Origins, by Alan Dean Foster

The Art and Making of Alien Covenant, by Simon Ward

Aliens: Bug Hunt, anthology

Alien: The Coloring Book

Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report, by S.D. Perry

Aliens: The 30th Anniversary Edition

Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, by Roger Christian

Aliens: The Set Photography, by Simon Ward

The borg interview with Alien universe author Tim Lebbon

And yep, there’s more…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The trailers didn’t lie.  With only a month to go, The Meg might be the most fun movie you’ll see this summer.  The Meg has everything: a stellar international cast with plenty of chemistry, big action scenes, great sets, and even some drama.  For Jason Statham fans, look for another must-see Statham movie with his tough-as-nails deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor getting in and out of some big crises.  For fans of underwater adventure movies like The Abyss, Leviathan, and Sphere, a better movie has arrived.  A combined production from China and the U.S., it also pushes past last year’s much bigger budget action film The Great Wall–the combination of the two cultures from these films is setting up the future of action films.  If you liked the Pacific Rim franchise, recent Godzilla movies or Battleship, you’ll probably find The Meg a better all around production.  For an only PG-13 rating, it’s loaded with blood, chum, and other viscera (the newfound terror gobbles up plenty of characters both major and minor), but it balances that out with some good worldbuilding, likeable characters, and plenty of humor along the way.

The trailers also didn’t give anything important away.  Beginning with a John Hammond-esque deep-sea research base, we meet a perfect set-up of international personalities, led by Chinese superstar Bingbing Li (Resident Evil, Transformers series) as a scientist working with her father (1911 and Eat Drink Man Woman’s Winston Chao) on breaking through a new-found barrier to the deep sea.  The movie is really two films–the first a slowly-building drama detailing the background and players in the research facility, and the second a 1980s/1990s Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, or Steven Seagal action-rescue movie (think Cliffhanger, Under Siege, Striking Distance, Executive Decision), sensibly swapping out the much younger Statham (who played Stallone’s #1 guy in The Expendables series), the modern incarnation of this brand of action star.  For the action, we learn Statham’s Taylor quit diving for a rescue operation five years past that didn’t go as planned.  He returns thanks to an old friend working at the facility (played by Fear the Walking Dead’s Cliff Curtis) when Taylor’s ex-wife, played by Australian actor Jessica McNamee, is piloting an exploratory vessel, along with scientists played by Japanese-American actor Masi Oka (Heroes, Hawaii Five-O) and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, BFG), which runs aground with the help of a mysterious creature.  Rounding out the cast is The Office’s Rainn Wilson as the show’s Hammond, an Elon Musk-inspired exec who funded the facility, Rush Hour’s Page Kennedy as another scientist, and the new lead of the CW’s Batwoman, Ruby Rose, whose character designed the facility.  Rose proves in The Meg she’s got the right stuff to dawn that red cape.

Based on Steve Alten’s 1997 science-fiction/horror book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, this fish tale is somewhat Michael Crichton-lite.  It’s surprisingly better than all the Jurassic sequels, as well as Crichton’s lesser action film adaptations like Congo and Sphere.  But the marketing may have set expectations off-kilter in one regard:  The shark–the megalodon–of the title may have you thinking Jaws or Sharknado.  It’s neither.  Think Godzilla and King Kong and you’ll be much closer.  The chemistry among the cast is what makes The Meg really stand out.  Statham and Bingbing Li (only six years apart in real life) make a great pair I’d love to see again.  Statham and Curtis seem like they really have been pals for years.  Young actor Sophia Cai may be the next best child actor, holding her own with both Statham, Li, Kennedy, and the rest of the crew.  The camaraderie of everyone involved and top-level production values (thanks to King Kong and The Lord of the Rings’ Oscar-winning production designer Grant Major) beg for a sequel or series.

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With the exception of the vast expanded universe of Star Wars and Star Trek, probably no other sci-fi property has branched out in as many exciting ways as the Alien universe.  Every new tie-in novel consistently has been packed with suspense and innovative takes on Weyland-Yutani and its influence years before, during, and after the events of Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie.  Each year fans of Alien celebrate April 26 as Alien Day, reflecting not a specific day in the history of the franchise, but the designation of the moon in the film Aliens: LV426.

No book or film has portrayed the people behind the Weyland-Yutani Corporation as more vile and despicable as author Alex White has envisioned them in his new novel released for Alien Day 2018, Alien: The Cold Forge, a sequel to the second film in the franchise, James Cameron’s Aliens.  The Company is proceeding to fulfill one of its initial ideas, to weaponize the Xenomorphs for military use.  Alien: The Cold Forge is Aliens as if written by Michael Crichton, a blend of Congo and Jurassic Park with aspects of the modern Planet of the Apes trilogy tie-ins and Project X.  Never before in the Alien stories will readers want to see a corporate rep get his just desserts as the brutal, psychopathic corporate exec Dorian Sudler, embarking on a resource slashing audit of the experimental science station RB-323.  A dying woman must carry out her own secret gene research project among the layers of secret projects within Weyland-Yutani–if she is to survive.  Exciting?  Yes.  Suspenseful?  Definitely.  Readers will also learn the true name of the Xenomorphs, and encounter an entirely new use of the Weyland-Yutani borgs (like Bishop and David) that we haven’t seen before.  Order your copy of Alien: The Cold Forge now, here at Amazon.

Coming later this year is Alien Covenant: David’s Drawings by Dane Hallett & Matt Hatton.  This boxed edition contains two books, providing readers an insight into the most intriguing character from the Alien prequels.  The in-universe sketchbook contains more than 200 illustrations from the set and will take you inside the mind of David.  Plus Developing the Art of an Android provides an interview with Hallett and Hatton, the artists behind the sketchwork.

In the vein of fun tie-in books like A Die Hard Christmas, get ready for Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo by Rory Lucey.  In space, no one can hear you meow.  Aboard the USCSS Nostromo, Jonesy leads a simple life enjoying The Company cat food and chasing space rodents.  Until one day his cryostasis catnap is rudely interrupted.  The humans have a new pet and it’s definitely not house trained.  This full-color illustrated book offers a cat’s eye view of all the action from the movie Alien.

While you’re at it, check out these Alien tie-ins previously reviewed here at borg.com:

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Our borg.com Best of 2017 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2017 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2017 here, and the Best in Television here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best New Edition of Previous Published WorkThe Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, David Petersen (IDW Publishing).  David Petersen’s artwork was the perfect excuse to get Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful classic The Wind in the Willows into the hands of new readers.  The new edition from IDW Publishing was the perfect storybook, and Petersen, known best for his Mouse Guard series, showed his understanding of these characters and their natural world full of wonder through his fantasy images.

Best Read, Best Retro Read – Forever and a Death, Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).  Not every good idea comes to fruition.  Not every excellent project gets off the ground.  Not every great book gets published.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Books came through again, seizing the opportunity to take a lost, never before published work of Donald E. Westlake--Forever and a Death--and brought it to life.  And what a great adventure!  Originally the story commissioned to be the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the projected was shelved, and only now do we get fantastic characters (like environmental activist and diver Kim Baldur) in a very Bondian situation–destroying Hong Kong as payback for China taking it back from Great Britain.  Honorable mention for Best Retro Read: Turn on the Heat, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Dragon Teeth, Michael Crichton.

Best Sci-Fi Read – Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Bradley W. Schenck (Tor Books).  Imaginative, new, and fun, Schenck took us into a timeless world full of nostalgia and classic science fiction.  Great tech, and a sprawling story.  Interesting characters and great world-building, this novel will be a great surprise for sci-fi readers.  Honorable mention: War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations, Greg Keyes.

Best Fantasy Read – An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, Curtis Craddock (Tor Books).  The plot of this debut novel is labyrinthine and action-packed, full of assassination attempts from all quarters, courtly intrigue galore, grandiose philosophies, and a cast of characters anchored by the strong, smart, resourceful, and eminently likeable heroes.  Supporting everything is Craddock’s strong, confident, often-funny, and sharply observant writing that goes from heart-wrenching to hilarious on a single page without missing a beat.  A dazzling debut.

Best Genre Non-fiction – Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen, Daniel Falconer (Harper Design).  We wish every genre franchise had such a magnificent, thorough, monumental guide.  Falconer’s guide to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is full of interviews at all levels of the creative process, and supported by concept art, photographs, maps, and so much more.  Worthy of the six films it covers, it’s the ultimate fan book and a model for any franchise attempting to put everything fans could want into a single volume.

There’s much more of our selections for 2017’s Best in Print and more, after the jump…

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It was only back in 2015 that the fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, premiered its first trailer, and a rather bad one at that.  Now as 2018 approaches we have a trailer for the fifth film in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  And the latest trailer reveals yet another rehash of the original, brilliant, Steven Spielberg adaptation of Michael Crichton’ fantastic novel.  As with Jurassic World, the effort is not entirely futile, Jurassic World was simple entertainment on a big scale–a feast for the eyes.  But for some of us, for all its incredible special effects and fantastic futuristic technology, Jurassic World proved the maxim George Lucas laid out in reference to the success behind the original Star Wars–“Special effects are a tool, a means of telling a story… A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”  And that summed up Jurassic World–the umpmillionth variation on the Frankenstein how-not-to-build-a-monster story, and the latest twist on Crichton’s original look at a theme park gone haywire in his movie Westworld.

Yet if every other blockbuster that takes the leap into Sequel World is able to continue forward with more and more and more and pulls audiences into theaters, why not Jurassic Park?  For those that want to reclaim even a spark of the original in the theater again, maybe it’s enough.  So what does the trailer tell us that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has going for it?

First off, Chris Pratt is back.  Audiences like Pratt movies in part because they simply like Pratt’s charm.  He has the same brand of star power as John Wayne, who always appeared to be playing John Wayne in all his movies.  Like Schwarzenegger, Willis, Van Damme, etc.  It must be an action star thing.  So if you’ve watched Pratt (like we have) in everything from Everwood to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, we’re wagering you’re going to like Pratt returning as dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady.  Bryce Dallas Howard is an equally good if not better actor, with less of a fan following, and here she and Pratt are back again being snarky with each other (snore) in a Jurassic World preview.  If they didn’t have chemistry in the first film, why would we expect it to surface in a sequel?  Maybe what we need is the return of Jeff Goldblum in his best-loved role as Dr. Ian Malcolm?  His performance in 1993 was so well-received that Crichton, who killed off Malcolm in the original novel, resurrected the character for the sequel.  Did Goldblum’s return help The Lost World: Jurassic Park?  Not really.  But it’s been twenty years since we last saw Dr. Nature… Finds… a Way, so maybe enough time has passed so we can love him all over again.

And there are dinosaurs.  We’ll never get tired of more dinosaurs.  I want to see a triceratops racing a stegosaurus on the big screen.  How about you?

Check out this new trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As much as you may hear general moviegoers asking if we may be near the end of the Alien franchise–and earlier this month Alien director Ridley Scott said as much, that the franchise has basically “run out”–you probably won’t hear that from fans of Alien who keep coming back for more.  But no worry: two future movies are expected from the franchise.  Along the way tie-in authors continue to expand the universe before and after the first film that premiered way back in 1979.  The best of these so far is arguably Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows (reviewed here at borg.com along with an interview with the author here).  In that novel Lebbon cleverly intercut between films a new tale of Ellen Ripley encountering xenomorphs again.  Earlier this year we reviewed an anthology, Alien: Bug Hunt here, and a new interactive in-world book in the Alien universe will be reviewed here soon.  Ridley Scott returned to direct another film in the series this year with Alien: Covenant, and a new tie-in novel bridges the gap between 2012’s Prometheus and Covenant.  Titled Alien: Covenant–Origins, it features the return of one of fandom’s favorite writers, Alan Dean Foster, and readers will find the story completely unexpected.

Since the 1970s Foster has written famous science fiction expansion stories that brought classic films home to audiences before the days of home video, including the novelization of the original Star Wars and the first Star Trek tie-ins.  His success with those would lead him to write the novelizations of the first three Alien films and Alien: Covenant, Terminator: Salvation, The Chronicles of Riddick, the first two Transformers movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness, adding to a catalog of books that include The Thing, The Black Hole, Outland, The Last Starfighter, Starman, and AlienNation.  So Foster knows the Alien world well and with Alien: Covenant–Origins, Foster looks beyond the monstrous xenomorphs of the franchise to the political and corporate machinations behind the first effort to colonize outer space by Earthlings.  Springboarding off what we can imagine to be a Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun-inspired corporate takeover of CEO Peter Weyland’s tech company by competitor Hideo Yutani after the events of Prometheus find Weyland lost in space, we encounter the new Weyland-Yutani Corp. as it prepares to send a ship full of colonists to habitable planet Origae-6.  But on Earth the company first encounters espionage, intrigue, and sabotage, earthbound topics wrestled with similarly in Carl Sagan’s classic novel Contact. 

More action-thriller than sci-fi, Foster plants us into a mad dash to get the Covenant into space, with Yutani’s daughter kidnapped, assassination attempts, and a strange faction bombarding the company at every step to stop all efforts to go into space to avoid what one human is foreseeing as an invasion of horrible alien demons in Earth’s future if Weyland-Yutani proceeds with its flight.  It’s the same warning Sagan and NASA encountered from members of the public when the United States sent two Voyager space probes to the edge of the galaxy and beyond in the 1970s–what if aliens find us and they’re not so friendly?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Twenty years ago this weekend, the sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed back to China by the United Kingdom as the last act of the old British Empire, without incident.

The anniversary of this transfer of power coincides with the release by Hard Case Crime of one of crime fiction readers’ most eagerly awaited events: the final novel of Donald E. Westlake.  The result surpasses all expectations from one of America’s most celebrated authors:  the adventure of Ian Fleming, the complexity of Michael Crichton, the surprises of Stephen King, the thrills of Peter Benchley, the pulse of John Grisham.  A taut thriller, gripping, heart-pounding, and jaw-dropping, Forever and a Death is Donald E. Westlake saving his best for last.  Forever and a Death is his never-before-published new novel–a James Bond story of sorts–with an intriguing backstory.  Tapped to write the second James Bond film to feature Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Westlake created a compelling story of international intrigue revolving around the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997.  Because of the success of GoldenEye, the uncertainty of a smooth transfer of power of Hong Kong, and a distaste by the Chinese market for Bond,  the Broccoli family and the Bond franchise machine amicably parted ways with Westlake.  But he then reworked his story in secret, leaving behind at his death in 2008 a stunning action adventure, only snipping the world famous spy from the story.

The result is one of the most intelligent, loathsome, and shrewd Bond villains you’ll ever meet, Richard Curtis, an enormously wealthy business mogul who has amassed a network of corporations across the globe that will allow him to carry out his every wish.  When he is booted from Hong Kong at the transfer of power, he becomes fixated on a power play to destroy Hong Kong as payback.  As with many wealthy CEOs, Curtis is charismatic and influential.  He has encircled himself with individuals who are beholden to him for their own wealth and they would do anything to maintain his and their own lifestyle.  And that includes murder.  Not as preposterous as many Ian Fleming constructions, the method Westlake creates for Curtis is completely believable: using a series of carefully calculated explosions, a soliton wave will be created that will shake the very foundation of Hong Kong and reduce the entirety of the city–skyscrapers, homes, and millions of lives–to sediment.  Westlake introduces his male protagonist to show us the way, a trusted engineer named George Manville (a partner in action with Bond in the original treatment).  Kept in the dark about the ultimate goal, Manville completes the first test on a small abandoned island near Australia that he believes to be part of a plan to make the island into a lavish resort.  But when an environmental group tries to stimy Curtis’s test, a headstrong activist and diver emerges, a woman named Kim Baldur (who would become, to a small extent, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies) dives into the ocean and swims for shore to stop the operation.  Unfortunately for her, Manville neglected to incorporate a kill switch to the project, and she is swallowed by the wave and what would have been a superb Honey Ryder-esque Bond girl is left for dead.  And this is only the introduction of the novel.

Artist Paul Mann completing the original artwork for the cover of Forever and a Death (from Illustrated 007).

Westlake peppers his story with completely unique characters, and readers will find they empathize with even the most minor of them as they are subjected to Curtis’s gruesome tactics.  You may need to remind yourself to breathe as well-meaning whistleblowers find themselves in Hong Kong’s underbelly just as Curtis begins to carry out a plan to walk away from his destruction with a haul of gold bars that rest in the bank vaults beneath the city.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A diehard science fiction moviegoer will probably find nothing new in last year’s nominee for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Arrival.  Nearly every minute of the film can be seen in countless episodes of science fiction television.  But it is the next drama cloaked in science fiction dress, trying to one-up Interstellar, Gravity, and Contact.  Following the Michael Crichton stylebook, Arrival gives us a problem (terrifying, giant squid-like, alien monsters referred to as heptapods we cannot yet understand) and brings in a team of experts to work to solve that problem.  The experts are linguist Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, and physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner.  And that’s all–no other brilliant scientists play any role.  From a storytelling angle this allows more of a focus on the two characters, primarily Banks, but it also defies belief that one of twelve Earth-visiting space monolith ships is in the U.S. and only a M*A*S*H unit full of people are there to find the solution.  Those that are present are canned, stupid government wonks, including an intermediary military officer played by Forest Whitaker and others who shout a lot and want to bomb the aliens.  It all makes you want to cheer for the aliens.

To its credit Arrival deals head on with what is surprisingly one of the least pursued tropes in science fiction: communication with the aliens.

Every major sci-fi franchise tells us these aliens will be humanoid, but what if they aren’t?  Actually communicating with other beings once we have that first alien encounter has been seen from time to time, the best in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Darmok.  And who can forget those musical notes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  Most of Star Trek, and other sci-fi, circumvents the communication issue with the story device of a universal translator or the equivalent, so the conflict of Arrival is refreshing.  Unfortunately the pursuit of the problem in Arrival could have been more interesting and compelling.  Instead the filmmakers made the choice to break away frequently, delving back and forth into an emotional character study.

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Ex Machina trailer

Jurassic Park was not only Michael Crichton’s most popular novel, it finally allowed him to synthesize all the elements he had worked out over the course of his career into a perfect story.  Crichton could easily have been the writer behind the examination of man vs. machine that is this year’s big screen release Ex Machina, now in Digital HD and Blu-ray.  Writer-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later) could have taken us on another bland adventure about man’s fascination with technology and mortality, but instead he creates a morality play that is eerily simple yet surprisingly profound.  Behind Ex Machina is a modern Victor Frankenstein complete with a reclusive laboratory and spectacular creations.  Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is Nathan, the uber-wealthy CEO inventor atop a Google-inspired enterprise, who secretly is using his company’s collective search data to create artificial intelligence–and more.  Is he the classic mad scientist?

In the spirit of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, Nathan launches a contest for employees with the prize being a weeklong visit to his own Skywalker Ranch.  The winner is the smart and amiable Caleb, played by Domnhall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Star Wars: The Force Awakens).  All is not what it seems.  Someone here is being played and it’s for the audience to figure it all out.  Nathan has really brought Caleb to his lair to test out his new humanoid robot, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son), and give her a battery of ad hoc tests to see if she passes the Turing test–to confirm whether Nathan has really created the ultimate intelligent machine.  Loosely inspired by more than one classic fairy tale, the seemingly simple story and strange circumstances quickly grow dark.  Who is manipulating who?

Isaac and Gleeson

Garland doesn’t need to rely on his fascinating, humanoid, robotic creations–arguably cybernetic or borg, and eminently believable–to carry the picture.  Its backbone is a well-paced story with a satisfying payoff.  Fans of Neill Blomkamp will love Garland’s study of class and society in the post-modern future: relations between employee and boss, scientist and subject, and master and servant.  In a world of secrets and locked doors, who can you trust?

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