Oscar Isaac

Photo Credit: Courtesy of A24 Films | Daily Texan Staff

“Ex-Machina” is a film that plays with the idea that there is a muddled difference between human and machine. Granted, there have been many films that tackle this subject, but the majority of those movies are more heavily invested in science-fiction.

“Ex-Machina” has sci-fi elements too, but it is much more a psychological thriller that forces three intelligent minds to face off against each other. The film is brilliantly tense, with chilling performances by all the lead characters.

Computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to stay at a secluded facility owned by his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a tech genius who’s determined to be the first to perfect artificial intelligence. Caleb’s job during his week-long excursion is to perform a Turing Test, a examination to help decide whether a machine has developed intelligence that is equal to that of a human, on a female android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Ana is curious about Caleb and expresses a desire to see the outside world, but she warns Caleb that Nathan is not to be trusted. Now, Caleb must decide whether he should side with the beautiful Ana or his mysterious boss.

The suspense in this film is simply chilling, thanks mostly to the setting. Nathan’s facility is a large compound, yet it feels intensely claustrophobic. Following Caleb through its labyrinth-like layout is terrifying. Another component of the thrilling nature of the place is Nathan himself. He seems to lurk around every corner, and he appears to be always observing his guests. With his vast CCTV network, it’s quite likely.

The beautiful visuals help convey the scientific achievements that Nathan has created. Little details, such as the keycard-accessed bedroom doors to the biometric mirrors, invoke a strange world that’s both amazing and unsettling. Ava’s robotic exo-skeleton is brilliantly designed and serves as a contrast to Ava’s human side and a reminder why Caleb cautions himself from growing attached to the cyborg.  

Gleeson is great as the eager, yet curious Caleb. He serves as a great outlet for the audience as they take in the technological wonders of the facility. Vikander is incredibly sympathetic as the wide-eyed Ava. She manages to make the character charming with her sense of wonder, but she also appears creepy becasue of her robotic elements.

The film’s breakthrough performance is Isaac’s fierce portrayal of Nathan. His character is nearly unreadable, so he can go from polite host to mad scientist in a heartbeat. His sense of achievement, playboy attitude and desire for perfection drive the story. He even provides the majority of the comedic relief. A moment when he drunkenly dances with his slave-like assistant is both disturbing and hilarious.

The tension itself cleverly builds throughout  of the film. Director and writer Alex Garland does a good job keeping the audience unsure about who’s the true villain of the film. He also does a great job highlighting a cautionary tale about technological process and how ego can be a dangerous motive for tinkering with nature.

“Ex Machina” conveys a creepy tale of three people (Ava, after all, is person-like) using their wits against one another to achieve both greatness and freedom. Garland’s first foray into directing presents a film that uses elaborate visuals, unstable characters and creative, technological fantasy to place the audience in a world of both wonder and terror.

Director: Alex Garland

Genre: Sci-fi/Thriller

Runtime: 108 minutes

Rating: 9/10 Intoxicated Oscar Isaacs

 

Come for the Coens, stay for the star-making performances.

The Coen brothers’ latest film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is a look at what it means to be an artist when no one else cares. Its title character, played by Oscar Isaac, is a struggling singer in 1960s Greenwich Village, New York City. He drifts between couches and gigs, forging no real connections with anyone and sneaking away once he has gotten what he needed. The only things he possesses are a set of clothes too thin for the New York winter, a guitar and an ever-waning belief in his own talent. 

Isaac does an admirable job with the Coens’ screenplay, spitting out one-liners with the right mix of ornery sulkiness and sarcasm needed to create an artist who is all ego. His character is self-absorbed to the point of delusion. Davis simply doesn’t get why he’s not a hit. 

It is during the film’s performances when Isaac truly shines. He and his co-stars, among them Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, do their own on-camera singing and playing, and they do it well. The musical performances perfectly channel the necessary tone and style of ’60s pre-Dylan folk. T Bone Burnett, who produced the music for four of the Coens’ films including the musical masterpiece “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” arranged the music for “Inside Llewyn Davis” with input from Isaac, and they’ve created musical numbers of intense passion and beauty. His haunting renditions of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” and “Fare Thee Well” fill in the character the audience has met offstage. Davis is a man who, for all his many faults, believes he has something to offer the world with music, and Isaac proves that with his own voice.

As with most Coen films, “Inside Llewyn Davis” has a brilliant and bizarre supporting cast of characters. John Goodman, a longtime mainstay in the directors’ ensemble, shines as a mysterious drifter named Roland Turner, who despises folk music and has many of the films best one-liners. Mulligan is perfectly flinty and foulmouthed as Jean, the wife of one of Davis’ friends who also happens to be his lover. She peels back layer after layer in each successive appearance. Mulligan and Goodman both walk the fine line between matching Isaac and blowing him off screen with finesse equal to their characters’ absurdities. This delicate balance is only possible because of the screenplay. Isaac is always given just the right response to keep his co-stars on their toes, which results in one of the Coens’ most outright funny films since “O Brother, Where Art Thou?.” 

All of the Coens’ previous films have been completely inseparable from their settings, and this one is no different. The film was shot on location in New York City, and the production design is outstanding. Davis drifts through apartments with hallways so small they can barely fit one person, and the ankle-deep snow remains an ever-present reminder of what Davis faces if he continues to fail. Jean’s apartment in particular is a gorgeously rendered microcosm of Greenwich life, filled with muted grays and blues that contrast violently with the brightly lit yellow warmth of the Upper East Side apartment of Davis’ wealthier patrons. 

In “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the Coen brothers have recreated the Greenwich folk scene so flawlessly it’s as if the audience is watching a documentary on Bob Dylan’s unsuccessful neighbor. The movie loses a little steam in the third act, but Isaac’s soul-baring performance grabs you from the opening bars of his first song and never lets go.

Photo Credit: Crystal Marie Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Although it may lack the blow-out party feel of South by Southwest or the genre-focused love of Fantastic Fest, this year’s Austin Film Festival is poised to stand out with a great mix of Oscar hopefuls, indies, shorts and guest speakers. The lineup gives Austin its own miniature version of the Toronto Film Festival, with a number of likely award contenders premiering over the weeklong event. Here is a list of some of The Daily Texan’s most anticipated events. The festival runs until Oct. 31. 

 

“August: Osage County” — Friday, 6 p.m., Galaxy Highland 10 Theatre:

Meryl Streep. What else is there to say? The long-anticipated adaptation of the Tony-award winning play casts Streep as the drug-addicted matriarch of a dysfunctional family brought together by the death of her husband. Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch round out the cast. 

 

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” — Friday, 8:45 p.m., Galaxy Highland
10 Theatre 

Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela in this adaption of the South African President’s autobiography. While it’s hard to imagine anyone attempting a role that Morgan Freeman played in 2009’s “Invictus,” so far there is no role too big for Elba. 

    

“Cavemen” — Saturday, 7 p.m., Paramount Theatre

Director Herschel Faber’s film — starring Skylar Astin, Camilla Belle and Chad Michael Murray — is about a Los Angeles womanizer who realizes he is sick of one-night stands. He wants to find a meaningful relationship. But when he meets his perfect match, he must choose between her and the girl who realizes all of his sexual fantasies. Faber, who also wrote “Cavemen,” was a semi-finalist in Austin Film Festival’s Comedy Script Competition. 

    

“1982” — Sunday, 8 p.m., Paramount Theatre

Tommy Oliver’s “1982,” tells the story of a father’s attempt to protect his daughter from the horrors of drug abuse after her addict mother returns home. The film has a dark premise and promotes a great chemistry between father and daughter. The film stars Hill Harper, Bokeem Woodbine and Quinton Aaron. Oliver will attend the Texas premiere.     

 

Vince Gilligan Presents: “Breaking Bad (The Alpha & The Omega)” — Sunday, 10:30 a.m., Paramount Theatre

If the popularity of public screenings of the final season were any indication, Austin loves “Breaking Bad.” Show-runner Vince Gilligan, who will be honored with the Outstanding Television writing award at this year’s festival, will present the first and last episode of his groundbreaking series. If that isn’t enough Gilligan, the showrunner will also present at a screening of “The French Connection” on Saturday afternoon.


Callie Khourie Presents: “Thelma and Louise” — Sunday, 6:15 p.m., Texas Spirit Theater

Screenwriter Callie Khouri will present her Oscar-winning story “Thelma and Louise.” One of the best movies of the 1990s, “Thelma and Louise” tracks two women on a cross-country flight from the law after murdering a man in self-defense. Susan Sarandon and Greena Davis were both nominated for their lead performances, and the movie also launched the career of a guy named Brad Pitt. 

 

“Inside Llewyn Davis” — Monday, 7:30 p.m., Paramount Theatre

The Coen brothers’ new film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” tells a tale of the 1960s New York City folk scene. The matchup between Justin Timberlake and the writing/directing duo is uncertain, but the pop star has a reportedly small role. Oscar Isaac stars as the titular character struggling to make ends meet as a folk singer in the bleak city winter. 


“12 Years A Slave” — Wednesday, 7 p.m., Galaxy Highland 10 Theatre

For awards junkies, this is a must see. Director Steve McQueen’s brutal portrayal of the true story of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s, premiered at Telluride to rave reviews and is poised to be a frontrunner in most major Academy Award categories. The film is making its Austin premiere at the film festival, so expect it to be one of the most crowded events.