Domhnall Gleeson (time travel kid in About Time) is invited to social-media mogul Llewyn Davis’s mountain tech-mansion to evaluate android Ava (Alicia Vikander of The Danish Girl and Testament of Youth). But who is evaluating whom? Who’s really calling the shots here? And who… ah nevermind, after much slow-paced intrigue, she kills Llewyn, locks Domhnall in the house and escapes.

I had such hope from the opening scene, most efficient setup/backstory ever, then pacing goes to hell in the saggy middle, consisting mostly of halting, whispered conversations in unadorned rooms. Nice throwaway bit on global surveillance, as Llewyn casually spies on the entire human race to get data for his AI. Suffers in comparison to Her, but Vikander and her Ava-body effects make the movie worth watching.

Also when Llewyn dances with his robo-assistant:


[Gleeson] makes a perfect fit for what seems to be Garland’s favorite role: the Nice Guy whose self-effacing charisma hides a deeply selfish, narcissistic core. But [Llewyn] is Ex Machina’s most important player, tasked with most reliably drawing and repelling Caleb and the audience, and giving the story its spine. He’s the one responsible for selling the film’s queasiest undercurrent: a feeling that if this is what humanity looks like, we’re definitely better off with artificial, alien, inhuman intelligences in charge.

Much more interesting visually than it looked from trailers and posters, which were all Joaquin looking into the distance while talking to Siri, sometimes smiling. More interesting emotionally too. Phoenix’s beloved operating system grows and learns at an accelerated rate, like if Short Circuit’s Johnny Five had internet access, finally admits to having simultaneous romantic relationships with hundreds of humans, and soon afterward leaves all the lonely humans alone with each other to further explore her own consciousness. It’s kinda beautiful and terrifying in a Terminator Skynet sense.

The somewhat-happy ending leaves Phoenix with Amy Adams, a longtime friend who bonded with her own OS while divorcing her husband. Also featured: Rooney Mara (Zuckerberg’s ex in Social Network) as the wife divorcing Phoenix, Olivia Wilde as a blind date whom Phoenix is too damaged to pursue, Portia Doubleday as a Siri sex surrogate, Chris Pratt as a coworker, and the very human voice of Scarlett Johansson. Won a million awards, including a screenplay oscar.

The Trap and The Power of Nightmares felt like they presented central points (clearly expressed in the open of each episode), then assembled evidence in an orderly fashion, supporting their points in a complex, sometimes roundabout way. This one presents a number of points with related themes. Each episode opens with different titles and explores different events which don’t directly relate back to each other. During episode 2 I was wondering when the Ayn Rand story would come back, but during #3 I realized it had been there all along, that this time Curtis is drawing the connections without explicitly calling back to previous subjects all the time. The movies are starting to link together in interesting ways. At this point, you could fill an “art and world politics” course just by running all his movies and assigning his blog as the textbook.

Episode 1 “begins with a strange woman in the 1950’s in New York,” connects Ayn Rand with Alan Greenspan and Silicon Valley, tracing the failures of her personal life and lack of acceptance in her philosphies, comparing to their massive influence decades later among people in power over the global economy. Rand rejected altruism and supported rational egoism, so surprisingly there’s no relation to the RAND Corporation discussed in The Trap, which worked on game theory, positing human behavior as perfectly selfish.

Part 2 is about natural ecosystems, and the myth that they remain perfectly in balance – Curtis says more recent, complex models show them to be in constant flux. Loved the ecology discussions, the scientific project that attempted to precisely measure every detail of a particular field. This is shown alongside early communes (humans trying to live in perfect balance without power structures) and recent national revolts (glorious-looking uprisings by “the people” against authoritarian power, only to see it replaced by new authoritarian power a year later).

Part 3 discusses the social tendency to view people as individually unimportant parts of a large, self-balancing system. We get stories of a game-theory biologist and his colleagues who theorised that all behavior of living creatures is a result of the needs of their genes – more depowering thoughts. We close in Africa where another animal behaviorist, Dian Fossey, was working, showing how false theories on human behavior and evolution combined with the desires of technology companies led to disaster for the people of Congo/Zaire and Rwanda.

So the movie’s often-mentioned “rise of the machines” isn’t literal so much as a social-control concept, caused by simplifying models of natural behavior. It seems perfect that I finished watching this the day before seeing The World’s End, which is about the rise of actual machines that aim to simplify human behavior.

I also read a bunch of articles from Adam Curtis’s amazing blog – sadly without the video segments since I was sitting at the airport sans wifi. Essay called “You think you are a consumer but maybe you have been consumed” about Texas oilman HL Hunt, caricatured in Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain. “The roots of so much of the distrust of the media today lie back with him and his ideas.” One called “Paradiabolical” on Somalia and Algeria, one on England’s history of bumbling spies, and one on animal shows before the rise of David Attenberg Attenborough.

IMDB: “What do an elderly topiary gardener, a retired lion tamer, a man fascinated by mole rats, and a cutting-edge robotics designer have in common?” That’s what I set to find out while watching this very fun, good-looking and well-edited movie. Katy got tired an hour in, liked it for the most part but didn’t enjoy my connection-drawing game.

Dave was a lion trainer who traveled with the circus. He seems ambivalent about his career, not talking it up as a great time with his beloved lions or an exhilarating and rewarding experience, mostly going over the reasons for first wanting to be involved (he idolized and eventually worked with Clyde Beatty, animal trainer and entertainer who once co-starred with Mickey Spillane in a weird-sounding mystery called Ring of Fear) and the procedures and dangers involved.

George is an elderly gardener who creates, trims and maintains the topiary sculptures in one estate garden. You get the feeling there used to be one old woman who oversaw the garden, and now there’s nobody, that he’s gardening for himself on someone else’s land. Unlike Dave, who is helping train newcomers, George has nobody following in his footsteps, and dislikes other gardeners’ methods (using electric hedge trimmers, for example).

Raymond studies and “wrangles” insects, and has become a specialist in the naked mole-rat, a mammal that exhibits insect-like behavior. He sets up a museum installation to put their society on display, and talks about their activity and relationships.

Rodney is a robot scientist trying to innovate robotic movement and behavior by putting together bunches of small robots or processes which try to solve common tasks, instead of attempting to control them with one larger intelligent system.

There are plenty of ways to link these four guys and their jobs/interests, not a large hidden theme which is the One True Key to unlocking the film. They all work with non-human life forms, trying to study and control behavior. Some offer insights into human behavior through the lens of their subjects. All but Dave work with arrays of smaller beings (robots/leaves/rats) which work together towards large tasks (or forms). I had more but I’ve forgotten half of them… IMDB commenters mention themes of growth and development, consciousness and death, or the guys as representative of different concepts of god’s existence.

I loved the editing, the music (by Caleb Sampson, who killed himself the following year), the use of stock footage (such as old Clyde Beatty films) instead of the Mr. Death re-enactments, the pacing. The movie’s got heart… these guys are really involved in what they’re doing, care about it, and each is able to express himself and his subject in an engaging, philosophic way. It’s not the connections and differences between these guys which are interesting in themselves, it’s the way Morris encourages the viewer to discover them. Wonderful.

Just spectacular… I loved every moment of it. The politics/message are a little heavy, but it was nervy to put such anti-consumerist, green, call-to-action messages into a non-talking robot-love movie in the first place (and to declare in interviews, as Stanton has, there there are no political messages in the film!), so I’m going to forgive. Twenty years ago, Pixar would’ve been shot down as commies for making this movie (and Mike Judge would’ve been quietly executed for Idiocracy). Hopefully I’m going to see this again soon, so no need to go into plot summary.

I caught the bunch of 2001: A Space Odyssey references (evil autopilot is very HAL, some of the same music is used) but I also found myself thinking of Children of Men. Future Earth is void of new life, new life is then discovered in the belly of a female-ish character, everyone freaks out and gets excited but a bunch of sinister characters want to manipulate the situation. It all checks out. Movie is also getting compared to Alien (sigourney weaver’s voice is the “mother” ship) and Silent Running (another post-earth outer-space plant-tending movie), but not Sunshine.

Peter Gabriel, who has a history of song contributions to films about sentient critters (Gremlins, Babe 2) scores the closing credits with an obvious-sounding number about being down in the ground.

Fred “Wha’happen” Willard plays a president stand-in, the CEO of Buy ‘n’ Large. He’s not even animated – just videos of Fred Willard. If he’s the first live actor in a Pixar animation, they picked the right actor.

The opening short was Presto by first-time writer/director but long-time Pixar animator/artist Doug Sweetland. Very good, funny, fast-paced comic short about a magician and his magic hats and rebellious hungry rabbit. More of that Looney Tunes gag-based anything-goes character humor than the usual style of Pixar short (think Geri’s Game, Boundin’).