Ex Machina: a Review

Greetings, fellow movie lovers. Today I’ve chosen yet another “old” movie to review (circa 2015), however I find its message to be just as topical as it was five years ago. One thing that impressed me about the film was its ability to carry my attention despite its economy of characters and settings. The movie is centered around only three characters, set in only two locations and takes place over the course of one week.

I find it to be a pleasing characteristic of art if it is made free of fluff–i.e. in movies no wasted scenes that may be entertaining, but fail to move the plot or significantly develop a character. Ex Machina only cost $15 million to make which is a fraction of the cost of most Hollywood feature films. The movie focuses on three characters, two of them human and one an artificial-intelligence driven android.

The movie is about an AI android created in secret by the founder of a company which may as well be called “Shmoogle,” the world’s most popular search engine. After secretly, (probably illegally) and definitely unethically capturing data from people’s smartphone microphones and cameras worldwide, Nathan, the founder of that company, creates a number of AI androids, some of which appear exactly like humans and others which are not designed to hide the mechanics of the android.

Via winning a workplace lottery-style contest, Caleb Smith is chosen by Nathan to be the “proctor” of the Turing Test for Ava, the AI android Nathan has developed. Of course the real question is, “Who really is being tested and will they pass?”

The obvious point of binary opposition to compare in the movie is human intelligence vs artificial intelligence. This binary opposition is neatly resolved by the end of the movie. I don’t want to ruin how, as it should be clear to any viewer. I happen to agree with this unspoken thesis of the movie. My criticism stems from the laziness of some of the writing and the pedestrian use of certain thriller and mystery tropes. I like what the film had to say, but it could have said so in a more sophisticated and nuanced manner.

The final prominent binary in the movie is sentience vs simulated intelligence. Artificial Intelligence may be defined as “any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals.” However this definition may include a Roomba vacuum, which I doubt anyone considers to be intelligent in any sense of the word. Other definitions involve a machine’s capacity to learn and problem solve. I’ll leave the analysis of Ava’s capabilities to the viewer. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy it if you watch it!

I’ve decided to go with a 3-star rating system: one star means “Don’t bother,” two means “There’s something interesting about it and it’s worth watching,” and three stars means “How haven’t’ you seen it? Go watch it now!”

Ex Machina (2015)

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Silence of the Lambs Movie Review: Dr. Lecter vs Buffalo Bill

The Silence of the Lambs is a thrilling ride despite it being yet another law enforcer vs criminal story that we have seen so much of lately particularly on the small screen. This is another film with very adult subject matter and visuals. It achieves its intrigue via the interactions between Agent Starling and Dr. Lecter as she tries to access his insight in order to catch the at-large serial killer Buffalo Bill before he kills again. Dr. Lecter is more interested in probing Starling’s psyche than helping her find Buffalo Bill who is a former patient of his, but he realizes he has to help her at least a little bit or she won’t seek him out anymore.

Starling is ambitious, clever, brave, and grew up with a chip on her shoulder. She worked her way into the FBI academy and is constantly reminded that she is in the minority as a woman. She faces repeated romantic advances from other professionals throughout the film as well as a couple of situations in which she is treated differently than her male counterparts by her boss.

The major theme of the movie is “it takes one to know one,” illustrated by the fact that the FBI seeks out the aide of a psychopathic murderer in order to catch a murderer. Of course Starling, in a sort of happy accident, discovers that Lecter is Bill’s former psychiatrist or psychologist and because of this, Lecter knows Bill well.

Buffalo Bill however, seems more fragile than Dr. Lecter. While Dr. Lecter has a deep understanding of the way others think and feel, he does not appear to experience feelings himself. Whereas Buffalo Bill is concerned, not only with his image, but also with the well-being of his dog and his Asian moths. He is a serial killer with a nurturing side when it comes to animals and insects, though he did give his victims some food as evidenced during Catherine’s captivity and entrapment of Bill’s dog.

Another theme of the movie is that violence and abuse begets more violence and abuse. Yet, although Lecter and Buffalo Bill himself allude to his past abuse, the movie focuses on the violence that Buffalo Bill perpetrates. It is Starling’s past trauma that is explained in the movie and is the namesake of the film, not Bill’s. Although Starling describes Bill as having self-control and being careful, Bill seems to be less in control of his behavior than Lecter (though Lecter finds amusement in toying with people at times). Lecter always finds a way to take control and recognizes as soon as Starling first appears to question him that he is holding all the cards. Lecter’s escape is not only simply setting up the sequel, but is a fascinating scene of the movie as we see Lecter’s cunning turned to cold, calculative killing. I won’t ruin how he escapes, but let’s just say it is both horrific thinking and very smart. Both Lecter and Bill seem to be obsessed with sex in their own ways. Lecter is interested in Starling’s love life and Bill desires to be desired sexually. Bill kills his victims for their bodies and is uninterested in their minds whereas Lecter seems to kill for revenge for slights against him, and also of course to facilitate his escape.

What struck you about this film? It is more sophisticated and nuanced than some, so I am curious to read what others think about the three main characters (Starling, Bill and Lecter). Thanks for reading.

What Makes a Psycho American?

This a movie review containing spoilers. American Psycho is a disturbing film that leaves the viewer with a head full of questions at its resolution. DO NOT LET CHILDREN WATCH IT. It’s full of gore, sex, drugs and literal women in refrigerators. To answer my title, I believe that the character’s obsession with status and hierarchy and his extreme vanity make this psycho American. He is vain to the point that he only looks at his own muscular frame in the mirror while he has sex.

The depiction of the psychopathic violent behavior of Bateman is grotesque, therefore, having skimmed the Wikipedia page, I was surprised to see that it was considered to be darkly comedic when it came out in Y2K. I didn’t so much as snicker throughout the whole film.

The movie is set in the late ’80s in NYC a few years before the novel that the movie was based on was written. I find it strange that the movie rights were sat on for nearly a decade before it was created. However, even today, the caricatures of Wall Street employees seem valid. The movie is mostly unremarkable in its cinematography, use of music, and voice-over characterization of Bateman. Christian Bale’s performance of the Patrick Bateman character is the dramatic core of the movie, as it delves into the mind of a madman.

From the opening credits, the movie plays with ambiguity. Is that blood dripping from the knife onto the plain white screen? No, it’s raspberry sauce being drizzled onto a dessert plate. Here the movie declares a subtle warning about its conclusion–not everything is what it seems.

The film explores the binary relationships between form versus function, inside versus outside, compassion versus apathy, and appearance versus reality. So who does Bateman appear to be? A Wall Street player who cavorts with his colleagues. These men act like fraternity jerks with money and anti-Semitic and misogynist views. These men are terribly superficial and competitive, always trying to outclass one another down to the smallest thing such as having a nicer business card. This is a prime example of the psyche of Patrick Bateman. Each business card provides the same function–the same information. However they are crafted slightly differently–with different fonts, textures, and hues. Patrick fixates on these cards to the point of murderous rage at men who carry fancier cards than he does. See, to Bateman, form is everything because form can be used to hide function in American society. That’s what Patrick wants to do, hide in plain sight. However, the question arises, “If one spends much of their time doing something or crafting a persona–even if it is only an act intended to fool others–does this “actor” really not become this character they portray to others to some degree?” To state it more simply, at what point does one become what they pretend to be?

As Bateman and his fiancee Evelyn are riding in a limousine talking, she questions why he will not take time off of work for their wedding. She is just a part of his front and he has no feelings for her. So long as they are engaged, he has his fake fiancee. Because of this, he replies to her, “I want to fit in!” He, like the rest of us, wants to fit in. Most people want to “fit in in order to be a part of a community and feel the security that accompanies being part of one. Bateman and other psychopaths want to fit in like a wolf in sheep’s clothing (never really thought about this idiom, sounds very strange to say that sheep wear clothing).

Aside from the killings, just about everything Bateman does is to maintain his image as a fit and well-to-do Wall Street executive. He exercises, uses tanning beds, and applies numerous skin products to create his ideal physical appearance. Early in the film, and probably the most visually moving shot, (despite the amount of gore in the movie), is a close-up of Bateman as he peels a transparent layer of skin product off to reveal his bare face. This visual metaphor for revealing one’s true self by their actions is compelling.

Bateman also uses false compassion to gain the trust of others as he did with the homeless man, Al, who Bateman stabs to death after pretending to offer him help. Also, at a dinner with his colleagues he decries the evils of the world and says that world peace, world hunger and even women’s rights should be addressed. It’s clear he doesn’t mean any of this. Perhaps saying that he believes women deserve equality with men is the only line of the movie that could draw laughter due to its blatant dishonesty.

Towards the conclusion of the movie, things spiral out of control as Bateman kills every witness and police officer chasing him. Things become more and more incredible, for example the prostitute runs screaming down the hall in the middle of the night in Bateman’s apartment building and no one wakes up as he gives chase revving the motor of a gas powered chainsaw. Later, he shoots at police cars and they explode almost instantly.

By the end of the movie, it appears that Bateman may have imagined most or all of the events of the movie up until the end where he is faced with realities that contradict the murders. However, in maybe the only scene of the movie which excludes our main character, his secretary Jean finds a notebook in his desk drawer full of sketches of murders and dismemberment of the people that the viewer watched Bateman kill earlier. If our narrator as it were is not to be trusted, maybe this scene is the only one that happened as the audience saw it.

If one concludes that the murders did not take place, then the question remains, is Bateman dangerous? Fantasizing about something may be a necessary step for some people to take certain actions, but other times fantasies are just that and not premeditations of heinous actions. Bateman spent all that time pretending he was killing people in his mind. He sketched one of the murders on the tablecloth at a restaurant when he broke up with Evelyn. Maybe his delusion is not that he wouldn’t kill someone but that he’d get away with it if he did. One problem with this viewing of or perspective on the movie is that of the private investigator who questions him multiple times about the disappearance of one of Bateman’s presumed victims, Paul Allen. First, if Bateman really is a psychopath, why would his delusions contain a sort of conscience figure? Is it just to serve as a tool to help him cover his tracks?

Bateman says that he only feels two emotions: greed and disgust, but the movie proves he feels envy, rage, pride, and anxiety as well. The movie’s conclusion shows the viewer that he ultimately lost the conflict of man versus his own mind or man versus insanity. While the movie attempts to end on a note as ambiguous as it began on, I believe it fails to hit that note. Bateman’s descent into madness, paralleled by his literal descent in the city from tall buildings to the ground is confusing because it happens in the course of a few seconds while he is withdrawing cash from an ATM. One could view this as a metaphor that “money makes Americans (or people) crazy,” but that’s just a humorous coincidence. The ATM’s absurd command, FEED ME A STRAY CAT, sets off Bateman’s most insane delusions.

For me, Bateman’s delusions, being that he thinks he killed all of those people when he didn’t, is oddly disappointing. Now I know that sounds terrible, but without the murders actually occurring, why does Bateman behave as he does in terms of trying to hide in plain sight in the social construct of Wall Street? That’s one question I didn’t want to ask myself at the end of the film. How boring.

Under the Bridge

lick the octopuss

if you dare

Watergate is small-time

Virusgate swallows all–

–o vera crazy shit

house arrested on the street named after a dead president

mouse-infested too high heated blamed actor’s head hustle bitch

overnights for $13/hr–fuck off. But I may have to.

Git in the dirt and sweat and flirt until the last two

minutes of the game, put the best to shame in another time frame

rotting ice cream refrozen cookies and cream it’s unseem-ly

I run the race at my pace and finish my dreamin team’s fee

wash off the dirt after the affair

replace the sweat with hot suds, wash your hair

jump down turn around pick a bale of cotton

hump brown burn the ground trick the mailman to Batman’s Robin

and smile too, buddy, God is watching

and lawd it’s rockin’

 

 

 

 

Rawhide tastes

In August of 1847, the Sioux Indians, formerly of the Dakotas, were starving. They had recently been forcefully relocated and hadn’t had a chance to take any crops or seed any in their new territory. One could easily count the ribs on their neighbor and spent a lot of time searching for and eating the ends of pine needles and other tiny morsels. In short, there was only one way to survive. That was by raiding the Fort-Shaw-supplied settlers. They only took what they needed, and never harmed anyone, as they were skilled enough thieves that they could make just about anything disappear over night. The Whites however, were not completely oblivious, and once word got to the ambitious authority of the fort, Col. Richard Wagner, the Sioux found themselves the target of his boundless aggression.

Sulak raised his bronze fist as he stood in the center of the circle at the meeting. The other Sioux looked upon him with a mix of pride and terror as they knew battling the Whites outright was a suicide mission. There was a commotion of side-talk before it was interrupted by a sharp whistle. By this small effort, Mother Anne had summoned the attention of the entire camp. She sat, dignified in her bright-colored garb, surrounded by younger women who cared after her every whim. Smoke escaped from her nostrils as she puffed the pipe and spoke in terse lines. “War is not the way. The white plague continues to haunt us as it yet sustains us. We cannot bite the hand that has fed–”

Sulak interrupted. “–the hand that so unwillingly fed…no let’s be honest, we survived on the scraps of what we could take from the ill-supplied settlers. My father told me when I was young about the fields of buffalo that use to roam. These whites mean the ends of days for our kind. We may as well fight to preserve our way as long as we can!”

This interruption was unspeakably improper and flagrant. For a moment or two, everyone’s eyes locked onto Mother Anne for a response and probably a rebuke, but she merely sat puffing on the pipe and clicking her tongue. “I am not the leader of this community…” she finally began, “but I do hope that any wisdom I can share…is heeded and given its due gravity. I have seen our peoples be decimated over my lifetime and have seen that it isn’t worth it to kick at the hornets’ nest, but rather it is best to try to avoid being stung. But I do not know all. Perhaps all of the history that I have seen is…no indication of what may come to be from present actions…” Suddenly she looked lost and afraid herself, though she insisted nothing was wrong and withdrew to her tipi. Then lavender clouds overtook the skies above the community and all sheltered inside with small fires burning and facilitating the rumination of thought.

Blind Pig

the war of 1984 was over before it began,

won by AI facial recognition ivory tower golden showers

Trump’s White House with a swamp moat around it

the orange one surrounded by tall pale men who stand astounded

lost the way but over the hill I found it

 

I rip shit like slit wrists I spill by the hour

in control like a pitcher on the mound it’s

unconscious flow like blood out the nose or down the

throat in cold lumps

I throw bows I lays low

the CGI dragon I slay slow

like WOW

 

I drop bombs like fat man, no Tehran

shots slide off me like a pan with Teflon

2 3/4 shells I sell em by the sea shore

the crackheads need weed to snore

 

Think you a double “O” agent

til I hit you with buckshot in ya face kid

cock it again and lit it blow the top off your knot

somethin’ was on your mind , now you done forgot

 

I flow like Niagra but more precise

Bitch I’m floating like when you soak the rice

I’m the fire when it’s cold

I’m the virus in the mold

 

so keep your distance

peep the difference

between isolation and reefer with incense

 

Passing the time as best you can

rationalizing the crime as best and flying off like a tucan

trying Zoloft and going to trebuchet myself outta bed in the mornin’

brush my teeth and making coffee still yawnin’

 

let the brass tumble because your ass mumbled

I scream I let loose I drink drank til I’m humble…

 

aqua regia

I envy her pride

How I’d like to be a sloth after we work out our lust in bed

I’m a glutton for knowledge about her life and her dreams and her idiosyncracies

My wallet is greedy to spend money on her–its velcro aches

but wrath has no place here

only more tender emotions and actions–

a kiss here, a rub there, a look right through to the soul

how does she know?

I won’t hurt her.

How do I know?

She woke up on the other side of the planet

I greeted her with apologies for any inconvenience but might I just…

share life with you for a while?

Might be nice. I’ll cook too. And do the driving. This right side of the road stuff–I mean.

Like aqua regia, I hope she’ll bring out the best in me.

Too early for all this but I’m always a step ahead of myself

and just like that I melt away in her arms

I transcend the rigamarole and feel…

okay 😉