One of these days, I'll watch the director's cut of "Blade Runner," because I slept through the general release, and I couldn't answer the easiest trivia question about the book. (I think Philip K. Dick is best in small doses.)
I didn't like "Her" at all, partly because I don't like Joaquin Phoenix in general, while "Her" was dumb and predictable throughout. "Ex Machina", on the other hand, is an edge-of-your-seat psychothriller that should make you think and keep you guessing well after you've exited the theater. (Lbh'yy arire guvax bs Snprobbx gur fnzr jnl, hayrff lbh'ir nyernql pbagrzcyngrq gur Snprobbx shgher gung svtherf vagb "Rk Znpuvan", vg pbhyq puvyy lbh.)
A young programmer wins a lottery at work which sends him to his megarich CEO's secret lair where the boss wants him to Turing test an android. For reasons so logical that they had to be spelled out in the script, Caleb and Ava develop a very fast fondness for each other.
Reviewers have been reluctant to say more than that about "Ex Machina", because to talk about anything that happens in this movie is a spoiler risk. Trust the 90% critics rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and especially trust that the critics liked it more than the general audience (take "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2", which earned 6% from critics and 45% from the morons for whom it was made.
I loved it. Domnhall Gleeson evokes his father Brendan with a face that says everything (which the AI notes). Alicia Vikander is alluring and mysterious, like the best blind date. This is the second time I've seen Oscar Isaac as the boss who's hiding something — he was excellent as a troubled industrialist in "A Most Violent Year", and again in "Ex Machina", where he's Mark Zuckerberg if Zuckerberg were smarter, richer, and less of a schmuck. An important aspect of "Ex Machina" is the characters' voices. Like "Her", in which we can only hear Scarlett Johansson's hottest asset, Vikander's voice — direct yet innocent — has to beguile. Isaac sounds just like a programmer. Imagine a Californian accent with no trace of dumb beach dweller, that's the voice of Silicon Valley. I spent two hours thinking "Who does this guy sound like?", and not putting a finger on it, because he sounds like many, many people with whom I've worked.
I'm going to spoil one bit. I nailed it, and you'd've expected that. Had you been sitting beside me in the theater, you would've known I saw this coming. During the men's first conversation about differentiating human interaction from interaction with an AI, I thought: "First thing I'd do would be to teach the android to play chess." BAM, the next words out of Caleb's mouth are about how chess-playing computers have been a most successful test of artificial intelligence.
Grandmaster Joel Benjamin was a chess consultant for the Deep Blue team while it prepared Blue for the Kasparov rematch. They knew they were on the right track when Benjamin said: "Sometimes Deep Blue just plays chess," as if Blue were "alive", or better yet, "thinking". During the second Kasparov match, the world gasped at Blue's move with a real human characteristic: It was one of those moves that a human master couldn't calculate entirely, but "it felt right".
Which is the thing that makes "Ex Machina" the best movie of the year (granted, 2015 is just emerging from the weakest quarter for movies): For Caleb and Ava, "it felt right".