Ex_Machina: A Review

Do you know what it feels like to be duped?  That feeling you get when you know you’ve been outsmarted.  Its not very nice, is it?  Perhaps you thought you were clever, thriving on it.  Then someone comes along and shows you how foolish you can be.

So I guess my take on this film is this; its smart, very smart.  A thought provoking film that will lead you one way and yet be heading in an entirely different one.  That, my friends, is the hallmark of a great story.

The premise is this, a man wins a competition to spend a week with his boss.  Not just any boss, the boss, the owner of the company he works for.  The winning and the journey are irrelevant except to give a sense of remoteness to where he ends up.

On arrival Caleb, the winner, discovers the ulterior motive.  He is to help perform a Turing Test on an AI the boss has built.  For those who don’t know, a Turing Test is used to see if a candidate can pass as being human.  In this case the AI is a female called Ava.

Throughout the week Caleb and Ava learn about each other.  Not content to leave them to it Nathan (the boss) watches them through a CCTV system.  After all, he needs to observe the test in order to have a point of reference when comparing notes with Caleb.

As new pieces of information come to light, you begin to empathise with the characters.  Trapped in the wilderness they are, in essence, in a cage of their own making.  Who is the caged and who is the keeper?  That is the question.

So it is a given that things start to go wrong.  How and why, I will not reveal but it does add tension to the story.  Over the course of the film they help to reveal loyalties between the parties.  Which all aids to inform their behaviour.

I can’t help but imagine what must have been going through Caleb’s mind over the course of the week.  Who does he trust?  His unsavoury boss or the woman who’s caught his attention?

This film could not have worked without three great actors.  Domnall Gleeson expertly plays a tentative yet thoughtful, Caleb.  Alicia Verkander performs wonderfully as Ava.  Without her wiles working their magic this film would not be as good as it is.  Finally we come to Oscar Issac.  As Nathan, he plays a pretty damn good antagonist to Gleeson’s naive looking protagonist.

As each character is significantly different, they are easy to get into.  But the depth each actor brings to their role makes them feel alive.

Credit must also go to Alex Garland who wrote the story.  I think we forget that if it wasn’t for the story, there would be no film.  If this is what he comes up with, I can’t wait to be outsmarted again.

Yet another new story

Head on over to the Writing section of my website and locate the page ‘The Accident’ for a new story.  Alternatively, you can just click the title, above.

The original idea behind this story was to write a conversation between a person and Death.  While in essence that is what happened, it certainly didn’t turn out quite like I expected!

That’s the beauty of writing though, it will flow down whatever course it wants to flow and you can’t stop it mid stream.  Sure you can alter it later but sometimes it is those first meanderings that give rise to something beautiful.  All you have to do is to make it look a little neat and tidy.  Enjoy!

The Rosie Project: A Book Review

There are some books out there that are pretty pedestrian.  Then there are others who take you gently by the hand and lead you into a world that feels real, complete, wonderful.  Thankfully, this book falls in the latter.  So well entrenched is it that it felt heartrending to tear myself away and return to the real world, even when it had finished.

What is it about?

Professor Don Tillman, working in the Genetics department at the University of Melbourne, wants a wife.  Not everyone’s cup of tea and certainly not mine, normally.  What sets it apart though is the fact that Don has got Asperger’s syndrome, granted it is undiagnosed.  The other intriguing piece of news is that the woman in the title is looking for her father.

For a book that is essentially a romance novel, it doesn’t feel like one.  It helps that we experience life from Don’s point of view.  Some may accuse Don of being cold and heartless but that is not his fault, his brain has been wired differently.  His world consists of logic, systems and efficiency.  If it does not fit into any of these categories it does not feature in his life.  Then Rosie walks into his life.

It makes sense that Rosie is not a perfect life partner for Don.  For one thing it means that Don is not nervous around her  In fact, it helps that Rosie loves his special nature.  Time and again we see Don’s learning ability in action.  Then the newly acquired skill is put to the test.

The best example is the Great Cocktail Night.  Watching him perform his temporary role was fascinating.  Even when presented with a problem he already has a solution in mind.

The more I read The Rosie Project the more I came to see some of Don’s traits in myself.  I say some because, unlike Don, I can feel empathy.  So much so that I found it hard to read when Don didn’t get the girl.  After all they had been through together, why was she refusing him?

A major drawback for her was Don’s incapability for love.  She would not enter a relationship unless she knew she could be loved. Happily, Don doesn’t take no for an answer.

Looking back I can say that I loved reading this book.  If you’ve not read this book before then you’re in for a treat.  Charming, funny, sad, happy this book has all of these and more.  Buy it, read it, love it then do it all over again because its that good.

New material

Hi all,

Just to let you know I’ve posted a new piece.  This one’s called ‘Cupid’s Brother’.  It was for this month’s writers’ group and the theme was Love Struck.  So my inspiration for this was a different take on Cupid.  What would it be like to be someone close to him?

I came up with the idea of using a family member in order so that the two characters could share a common bond.  This meant that the experience of loss was personal to both and not just the narrator.

Originally, I had not intended for there to be a happy ending.  On coming back to the story after a week, I realised what I had written wasn’t working so I tried again.  I am far happier with this second attempt.  Especially as the brother doesn’t twig what is going on until it has already happened!

 

 

Sensationalist Journalism

A few days ago I read an article about a woman who had been raped and left for dead in South Africa.  It was reported by a friend through a series of messages on Twitter.  However, it was a fake.  The woman in question does not seem to exist.

Interestingly though, rather than instigating a backlash against the poster, a debate was raised about the plight of young women in South Africa.  All I can say is, if that was their aim, I commend them wholeheartedly. Stories come in many shapes and sizes, from thousand page novels which can pass for bricks through to nano fiction barely a few words long.

Episodic storytelling is nothing new, after all, that was the original format for Sherlock Holmes, but it does fit Twitter and other short forms perfectly.  In fact, Twitter’s small size demands you chop out the rubbish.  What was also fascinating to see was that the journalists were hoodwinked too.

News such as this cannot be taken at face value, you could end up accusing the wrong person for example, but how often does it happen?  Being a journalist is nothing more than a different form of writing.  You find a story and make it into something people want to read.  Headlines must grab attention, even if they are not strictly true.

Sensationalism is abhorrent to me, but it clearly has a followed.  In this case though, it raised the story to a new level.  It worked not just because it was convincing as a story itself.  It was also convincing because of the real world setting.  South Africa has an issue with rape and social media has brought the topic to the fore.  Used like this to highlight a cause, I applaud sensationalism.

 

Updates

So here we are at the end of the first week of January (look, Sunday is always the end of the week, not Monday.  Don’t get me started, okay) and I have a couple of updates.  First, I have uploaded a new story called ‘A New Look For Clover Street’.

Second, I have finished writing my novel, woohoo!  Now onto the mammoth task of editing this beast until it makes some sense.  At the moment it looks like  a random collection of words that are behaving suspiciously like sheep without a shepherd and dog.

Not only that, they need a damn good clean.  Have you seen how muddy sheep get when they’ve come off the hills?  Maybe, just maybe, they will get a shearing as well, who knows.

 

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Okay let’s get this out of the way right now shall we?  I love Jeremy Brett’s version of the famous detective and have steered clear of Benedict’s rendition for a few reasons which I shall name later.

When I saw the trailer for this one-off special, I was delighted to see it was to be set in the Victorian era (despite the Suffragette movement being founded in 1903), oh joy.

Imagine my surprise therefore when I found it wasn’t.  But was it?  No, it wasn’t.  But maybe…Okay guys, I think you over did the flash-back/mind palace plot device here, I got it quite quickly as I’m sure most of us did.  It’s a shame as I was getting into the story and the idea of linking it with the Suffragettes was an interesting one.  The concept of using Mary to basically drag our intrepid duo onto the right track felt poorly thought out though.

It left me thinking that Sherlock was a blusterer prone to jumping at the wrong conclusion just to show how good he is.  And now I come to the reason why I don’t watch most versions of Sherlock Holmes.  Those who adapt Conan Doyle’s stories centre on Holme’s abruptness.

When you read the stories however, you come to understand that he is a more rounded character than his acidic side seems to suggest.  He is quite capable of compassion, calming overwrought witnesses and winning over people to get the next piece of data.

To me, Holmes is prone to moments of theatre, incredibly vain (which certainly goes against his purely logical, non-emotional brain we are led to believe), sometimes vulnerable, observant like no other man before or since, harsh of himself and others and briefly joyous.

Jeremy Brett’s version shows Holmes’ patient side, his brotherly love with Watson as well as his confidence that goes beyond arrogance.  This is more to do with the writers than the actors.

Getting back to the show, Benedict’s performance is exceedingly good and I can see why people watch him.  He is ably assisted by Martin Freeman but I’m not going to watch a show entirely based on the actor’s performances.  The writing on the other hand, while full of brilliant touches, left me feeling confused.

Overall then, I liked the Victorian setting and the suffragette movement plot twist.  The ‘mind palace’ and the addition of Moriarty were unnecessary.  Looking back at this review, it feels like it is vitriolic in nature.  It’s not like I hated the special, I just think they could have done a better job.

Additional:  Avid followers of the series, please can you answer this question for me; is Holmes solely based on his sharp manner or is there more to him than what appeared last night?

What Have I Been Working On Over Christmas?

Starting with the monthly theme for the writers’ group, ‘Renewal’, I came up with a piece called ‘A New Look For Clover Street’.  First off I’ll let you into a secret, this was not my first attempt.  ‘Driving licence’ was already written pending editing before it got pulled to pieces.

Deciding I could not be bothered to fix the problems, I started afresh.  Within minutes I had a new idea and I was soon writing.  By the end of the day the new piece, provisionally called ‘Clover Street’, was ready for editing.  Having got to that stage, I took the time to reflect and came to the conclusion that I was much happier with the new story.  I left it for a week then edited the piece before submission.

Other than that, I have another story in what appears to be long term editing (in other words, there are issues but I can’t be bothered to sort them out yet!).  Sooner or later I’ll get around to it and release ‘The Pink Salamander’ onto my dear, unsuspecting readership.

Those who have followed my blog for a while will have noticed a significant increase in output over the last week.  A few days before Christmas (which feels such a long time ago now), I set myself the challenge of blogging every day for the Christmas period.  The first day I sat down to blog, I found I had plenty of ideas but nothing to write about.

It sounds odd, I know, but you have to experience it to understand it.  To make a long story short (this from a guy who can never tell short anecdotes!), I decided on a film review.  Like all things, I found it was a matter of discipline and of giving myself the time to do it.

Now that I’m at the end of the week, I can look back and say I’ve really enjoyed it.  So much so that I want to increase my regular output beyond the *ahem* once a week blog I normally do.  We shall see what the future holds.

And Then There Were None, Part 2; The horror continues

It seems to me that this mini series is erring on the side of mental torture and horror (quite the obvious statement if you’ve seen it, I know).  Each character despite their surface appearances (and isn’t this a classic portrayal of the stiff upper lip from that period?) are haunted by their past deeds.  We are treated, if that is the correct word, to the Doctor’s particular horror in the first episode where we see a hospital trolley, a body covered with a sheet & liberally splashed with blood.  Clearly such a scene will haunt even the hardiest of souls.  Which is exactly what we have seen in this episode.

Interestingly, two of the characters have come to accept their fate.  Perhaps they are tired of living out their pasts and want to let it go.  They know that their time is up and will not resist.  For those who are left, fear grips time and again bringing finger pointing to a new level.

A weapon has gone missing and the remaining characters resort to searching all the rooms together.  Trust has been shattered as each person strives for survival.  Only Charles Dance’s character seems unperturbed by what is happening.  Perhaps because he has already lived his life.

Of the remaining cast, three could be classed as respectable members of society; a judge, a doctor and a policeman.  Dare we dismiss them from our list of potential candidates for killer?  I think not.

Who do I think is the killer?  I think I’ll keep my guess close to my chest for now.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned from Agatha Christie, it’s never who you think it is.

And Then There Were None: A Review of the BBC Drama Mini Series

Last night saw the premiere of the first episode of the mini series based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name.  I need to point out right now that I have not read the book so this review will not be a comparison between the two.

The story is this-Ten strangers are invited to an island under false pretenses on the eve of world war two, what for? Nobody knows.  They all have one thing in common, each has a secret that has been discovered by their mysterious host, Ulfric Norman Owen.  Within the space of an evening they find they have a killer in their midst.  They must find the killer before it is too late.

First and foremost I’d like to say this, if the other two episodes are as good as the first, then the BBC is onto a winner.  Last night’s episode wasn’t just engaging, it was absorbing.  While they started from a strong position by picking this story, it could easily have been let down by bad acting.  With the likes of Sam Neill, Charles Dance and Miranda Richardson though, you know you are going to be watching something wonderful.  For me though, it was Anna Maxwell Martin’s performance of Mrs. Rogers that stole every scene she was in.

Her relationship with Mr. Rogers, the butler, had driven her close to edge, even before they arrive on the island.  As such she displayed heartbreaking obsequiousness that was tough to watch.  I didn’t just feel sorry for her, I wanted to remove her from the band of vultures to a place where she could get better.  As for the others, Agatha Christie has imbued almost all of them with such loathsome characteristics, that I for one would feel afraid to be in a room with them.

Only Miss Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard are worthy of anything other than contempt.  For one thing, we focus on Miss Claythorne (ably played by Maeve Dermody) before we get to the island.  Therefore we get to empathise with her.  A scene set on the coast gives us a hint that an incident had occurred, affecting her deeply.  Her interactions with Philip Lombard showed that she could look after herself, however.

By the end of the hour, the guests’ secrets had been revealed and two had been murdered.  All that matters now, is to watch and wait.