Weekend Roundup: The Machine (2013) Review

Happy Monday everyone! I’m slacking off a bit here, I was hoping to get my Breathe-In review this weekend but just couldn’t find the time to do it. But I was supposed to catch the Brendan Gleeson/Taylor Kitsch comedy The Grand Seduction on Friday but I made a snafu that I didn’t order an extra ticket for my hubby so I have to go to the Sunday night screening instead. So I’ll post my review of Breathe-In together with that one as soon as I get around to it 😀

Well, this weekend I got to see a pretty cool sci-fi indie The Machine: TheMachinePoster

This British dystopian sci-fi has obvious nods to Blade Runner. In fact, it says right on the synopsis and the marketing itself. As a fan of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, I was naturally intrigued. Instead of a story of a cop hunting down replicants aka robots, The Machine‘s protagonists are two artificial intelligence (AI) engineers who are working together in a futuristic era where a world is in an economic crisis and a cold war with China is brewing. Their boss is the Ministry of Defense Thomson (Denis Lawson) who’s hellbent on winning the arms race by creating a robotic soldier. The main scientist, Vincent (Toby Stephens) is morally conflicted about his job, but he does it because it’s the only way he could have technological access to help his ailing daughter.

The meat of the story takes place after Vincent’s new science partner Ava (Caity Lotz) is brutally murdered and he then created a cyborg in her likeness. Soon Thomson’s real motive is quickly revealed and Vincent’s life is endangered as he becomes a potential victim of his own creation.

TheMachine_Toby_Caity

Despite the low-budget production (less than $2 mil), I think writer/director Caradog W. James‘ did a nice job in creating a thought-provoking film that’s also visually arresting. The homage to Blade Runner is evident in his stylish visual style with the bleak futuristic setting and use of neon lights, as well as its use of synthesizer music that evokes Vangelis’ theme. I like sci-fi films that’s more atmospheric and even a little bit moody, instead of an all-action extravaganza like Elysium, and that’s partly why I enjoyed The Machine. There’s a lot of heart in the relationship between Vincent and his daughter, as well as with Ava even in robotic form. The developing relationship between a human being and an AI is nothing groundbreaking and foreseeable, but when done well, it’s still fascinating to watch. The love story is also not overblown which adds to its realism.

Both Stephens and Lotz did a nice job in their respective roles. Stephens’ got that brooding, tortured soul thing down pat which works well for this role, and Lotz whom I’ve never seen before is especially impressive. Her transformation from a curious scientist to an AI with childlike vulnerability but deadly power is quite convincing, and I find her struggle with the loss of her humanity pretty moving. She obviously looks more robotic than any of the replicants in Blade Runner, and Lotz gets the mechanical mannerism perfectly. Action fans would certainly appreciate her dance-like but lethal kickboxing moves. The film is rated R for some brutal and bloody action sequences from start to finish.

TheMachine_stills

The story is not perfect though, it gets predictable as the film progresses and some things are not explained too well. The side effect of the sensor-restoring brain implants on the fatally-wounded war veterans *recycled* for the project is that they render them mute as they become cyborgs. For some reason they can still speak in intelligible robotic voice to each other, though later they regained their speech ability and it’s never fully explained why. Despite that, it’s pretty darn entertaining and I highly recommend it if you’re into this genre. The intimate feel of the story gives a nice lingering effect after I watched it, and the ending is perfectly eerie as we imagine what a plausible future shared with an AI could be. The Machine proofs that you can still make an engaging film even on a shoestring budget, I’m curious to see what James would do with more resources at his disposal.

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Has anyone seen this film? Curious to hear what you think.

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36 thoughts on “Weekend Roundup: The Machine (2013) Review

    1. Hi Natalie! It’s really good, the story is simple but I find it quite emotional but also visually sleek. Amazing that it was shot with such a low budget.

  1. I like the sound of this! Elysium could have been a great film if they developed the characters and backed off the “action”. This one seems to have that. Despite flaws, I bet I would like it. Nice review!

        1. Yes indeed! 😉 I have a bit of a crush on him over the years, he’s also in BBC Robin Hood as Prince John, oh so much fun!! He’s Dame Maggie Smith’s son so naturally he’s very talented.

  2. Hmm, I think I might have to check this one out. Always love a good sci-fi flick, especially when it goes beyond a mindless action fest. Thanks for the review, Ruth!

    1. A good sci-fi is hard to come by. I think this one is pretty darn good and it asks that pertinent question about our humanity. Worth a look for sure!

    1. Hi ya Keith. I think you’d like this one if you’re into sci-fi. It’s not all-action which is what I like about it. Glad to be the first one who introduced it to you, hope you’d like it whenever you get to see it 😀

    1. Yeah I just realized that when I googled her. She’s apparently used to be Lady Gaga’s dancer that explains her killer moves, ahah.

  3. Ted S.

    This sounds interesting, nice review Ruth. I’ll probably give it a rent or watch it on Netflix. As a fan of sci-fiction, I tend to be a bit more hesitant on seeing a movie with big ideas but have zero budget. Which was why Nolan waited for years before making Inception, he wrote a big idea script but knew he couldn’t make it with small budget and waited until he got the money to shoot it.

    1. Hi Ted! I didn’t realize it was made with such a low budget until I finished my review. I think the filmmaker did a nice job w/ the concept despite such restraints. The story is not perfect hence I couldn’t give a high rating but I like the look and feel of the film as well as the performances. The action is pretty cool as well w/ Lotz doing some impressive moves.

  4. Though I’m not the biggest fan of Blade Runner, I’m a fan of the genre so this sounds like something I’d be interested in checking out. Caity Lotz plays one of my favorite characters on TV’s Arrow so it’ll be cool to see her in a different role. Great review!

    1. If you don’t like the moody tone of Blade Runner then I don’t know if you’d like this one as it’s quite similar. That said, I quite like the performances and Lotz is very impressive w/ her dance-like moves. I just realized she was in Arrow after I checked her IMDb profile 🙂

  5. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    The Brits seem to be closest to producing mood and atmosphere and utilizing them better than a lot of directors here in the states. Which saves money and creates time for character and plot development(s). Where “Bang! Bang! Shoot ’em up!” special effects usually detract and distract.

    Sounds like The Machine is a winner!

    1. Hi Kevin! You said it man, a lot of the sci-fis that Hollywood are interested in seem to be the action extravaganza variety and less on the story/character. I hope you give this one a shot, do let me know what you think after you’ve seen it 🙂

  6. This actually looked interesting from what I’ve heard about it. Lotz is certainly not the greatest actress of all time but I still adore her. I do not know if it is because she is adorable or whatnot though instead of her acting ability. She messes up in Arrow sometimes! I forgive her though and I’m likely going to see this at somepoint thanks to your write-up! And because I want to see her kick some ass as a cute robot chick!

    1. I don’t watch Arrow anymore so I had no idea who Lotz was until I saw this. I thought she was good, she nailed the dramatic stuff, tho perhaps not as well as her kick-ass moves. The main draw for me to this movie was the Blade Runner nod which was pretty cool, and I also like Stephens. Definitely worth a look, hope you’ll give it a shot.

  7. Hey, Ruth. I thought this sounded interesting after I read the beginning of your review. Now I think it sounds even more interesting. Good performances? Good atmosphere? Good relationships between characters? And so forth? Sounds very worth checking out. I will give it a rent at some point.

    1. Hey Josh! I was intrigued by the premise too, but glad that it delivered. I was stunned to find out it was made with a shoestring budget! I quite like the relationship between Vincent and Ava, it wasn’t overblown but it was quite emotional. I guess I’ve always been a fan of Toby Stephens’ work as well, so that helps too 🙂 I hope this filmmaker gets to make more films in the future.

    1. Hi Mark! Definitely worth a rent when it’s available in your area. I’d think it’d look good on the big screen too!

      Yeah I might take a few days off this weekend from blogging, it’s been a hectic month!

    1. Yep indeed Josh! This one is definitely on par with D-9 and Another Earth, I’m a big fan of both. I still need to see Moon though.

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