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Examining Cinematography in Leviathan vs Ex Machina


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Here's Leviathanhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oo7H25kirk - budget at $4 million US dollars

and Here's Ex Machina - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYGzRB4Pnq8 - budget at $15 million US dollars

Both films visually deal with landscapes and nature.

Both films are about exploring human conflict and what is innate in humanity in terms of ego and morality .

And here's visually where Leviathan succeeds - all shots are pertinent and with merit - in Ex Machina - all shots of landscapes feel like b-roll - they do not advance the story.  They are just shots.

The shots of the countryside in Leviathan move the story - start and end it.  In Ex Machina - they just exist.

Camera movement is always pertinent and deliberate in Ex Machina - there is no excess fat - all shots are justified. VIsual FXs are seamless - it all feels organic - and the performances are powerful and deliberate.

In Ex Machina - the look of the film overcompensates the story - the attention to older vintage anamorphic lenses takes one out of the story - one notices it.  

Leviathan was shot on Kodak 35mm film stock but is never visually flashy to draw any attention to this.

Coverage in Leviathan is exactly what the scene needs with long takes played out to tell the power struggles.  Ex Machina is standard over the shoulder coverage, wide, mediums, tights - and performances in Leviathan are much better, more controlled than Ex Machina which feels like a student film.

And going into script for a second and performances - Leviathan has very strong female characters who live and breathe and command the story.  In Ex Machina - they are objectified and finally murderers.  Why do so many male directors place their bizarre worldview into their filmmaking that women are just secondary sexualized characters manipulating men?  Is this really the subtext a male director wants to pursue in a film seen by many?

You can compare apples to oranges.  Both films are "low" budget.  One soars.  The other is a jumbled mess. Visuals matter.  They can make or break your film.  It is a visual medium.  




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had no idea about ExMachina, but Levithan has indeed some of the very best shot landscapes ever, like you said the pictures are not arbitrary but mirroring the plot and the characters.

they make you really feel the story



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Why do so many male directors place their bizarre worldview into their filmmaking that women are just secondary sexualized characters manipulating men?

Western cultural tropes.  It is exaggerated in our culture because of the legacy of, I think weirdly enough, the 19th century Victorian era.  And since the 20th century saw the narrative rise of film, the industry really perpetuated that legacy.  The popularity and industrialization of film kept those old tropes alive and nurtured. 

Actually, I think the 1920's almost broke free of it, (the most creative 20th century decade in the USA, for sure) but when film making became a massive business it needed to pander to the culture:  rural conservative America...film as business vs. film as astute art, we all know which way the scales tip. 

But even more than all of that sort of theory, let's not deny that gender conflict is a part of humanity and does offer a lot of storytelling opportunities.

Still, the prism of our culture will lead less insightful writers/directors down the path of the familiar.  Those tropes CAN be exploited if a creative is savvy enough to manipulate them, but the less nuanced folks do tend to get easily caught up in 'em and when walking down that well worn path, can't see the forest for the trees.. (if I'm allowed to mix metaphors there.) 

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Leviathan was a great film. I wish i hadnt been drinking a bit before I saw it though, i got a little sleepy at times. Completely agree with you about that film. Haven't seen Ex Machina yet except for trailers and clips online. Im not sure I agree that its anamorphic look is too distracting, but if Im able to see it in a theater it may be more obvious. If they used modern anamorphic lenses do you think it would be any less distracting? I personally really like modern sci fi films more if they shoot them on softer anamorphics. The two just seem to go together, though there are certainly some sci fi films that dont necessarily need to have it to be good. Just always reminds me of Blade Runner or Alien (which I think is why they may have chosen those lenses over something sharper) and i find it helps the film if they are using a lot of digital FX. Seeing really crisp CG in a film that is also crisp and digital-ish looking usually takes me out of the film more often. Its all just personal preference though

Im sorry that so many people on this forum hate on you Ed (especially pertaining to your recent emma sulkowicz post) I think you probably post the majority of the well thought out threads on here that provoke more interesting conversation and spread of ideas



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I cant agree with your analysis, Ed.

There weren't many landscape shots in Ex Machina but the ones that were there did advance the story. Usually with the character going to or from places. And usually creating a contrasting edge to the clean, highly technological interiors. 

Ex Machina is about the tipping point between being a robot and human, and how other humans would interact with them. The fact that they are sexualised humanoids works well with the story because we humans are more inclined to build a rapport with attractive members of the opposite sex. The inventor in the movie is also a needlessly buff, handsome guy but I don't see any complaints about that?

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Ex Machina is about the tipping point between being a robot and human, and how other humans would interact with them. The fact that they are sexualised humanoids works well with the story because we humans are more inclined to build a rapport with attractive members of the opposite sex. The inventor in the movie is also a needlessly buff, handsome guy but I don't see any complaints about that?

​While this movie might not be egregious in its gender roles, it is absolutely playing into a long held standard in filmmaking where the men are powerful and the women are exploited. When you take a step back and see how many movies use this structure, you can also see how this movie fits right into that tradition. One could argue that this movie is a criticism of those roles in society, but I don't think I'd buy it. 

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Watch Leviathan and then see how landscape shots tell the story vs in Ex Machina where it just shows off the nature metaphor.  The bones of the whale is a very important biblical metaphor unleashed in the shots that have meaning and the story revolves around that beach property.

Onto male/female critique of Ex Machina.  Every women in the story is seen topless.  There is no male nudity.  I don't really see it as a critque of male/female power structure moreso as maybe a simplified critique as follows that men are stupid enough to follow their sexual desire to let AI kill them - but really - is this anything new?

Wasn't all these issues addressed in Blade Runner - a far superior film?

Where the great payoff is that Deckard discovers he, himself is a robot.

That film got more heavily into the notion of consciousness and an understanding of what it means to be us, to be humans and the struggle of it.

Ex Machina was a cursory look at philosophy with a poorly-written script and pseudo science and even simply - how does his compound continue without the resources it would need to move forward - without any additional crew?

Even Elon Musk has thousands of workers at Space-X.

Watson at IBM has a team of hundreds.

There is no reason to expect an advanced AI that far forward-thinking could have been programmed by one person - no matter how intelligent.

The amount of human hours it takes to just get the coding done of a "simplier" device like Siri - look that up - it's a team of hundreds of engineers.

I mean, Albert Einstein had a large team of physicists behind him.

Was there a reason to have this film only have three people?  To save costs - to make it easier for the robot to kill them?

There have been so many fascinating sci-fi films in the past - again Blade Runner is perhaps the most powerful one I have seen on these issues.  Of course, 2001 Space Odyssey as well.  Just so many.

And to have critics think Ex Machina is a great film? 

Wow have the critics gone soft.

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    And to have critics think Ex Machina is a great film? 

Wow have the critics gone soft.

​You seems to have a similar god complex as the guy in Ex Machina. You don't like it, so every reviewer that did is soft?

As for the exterior shots, I think they have some relevance. It highlights the irony of a creator of a social network cutting himself off from society. I also found the external shots between the two male characters had relevance too, it was a place where manipulation* was taking place away from the AI and, as mentioned above, gave it quite a caveman feel, away from the tech of the lab  (*In my view, the film is more about manipulation than AI or Sci-Fi themes).

Regarding the female subservience. 1) Sex can drive technology.... video codecs, streaming tech etc etc were all sped up by the demand for online porn... 2) It doesn't take much thought to work out that a billionaire probably had all kinds of money digging woman around him, maybe he married one and it ended in tears... So creating someone who is subservient would make sense to him, he doesn't even want to communicate with his chosen woman.

Regarding the "plot holes" of creating the machines themselves... Who says he did? The machines are clearly built from interchangeable parts which could be shipped in from any one of his dozens of sub sections that these huge tech companies have. He could also have many coders at work on the project, under insanely tight NDAs. Also, the fact that the young guy doesn't seem hugely surprised that he has a working AI suggests there were probably rumours flying around, which would point towards various people knowing bits and pieces about what was going on.

I found it an interesting movie about how people (and the AI) manipulate each other for their own means (even one AI seems to manipulate the other). It had a few plot holes, as do most Sci-Fi films... and the cinematography was certainly inspired... But the overall themes are big enough to get past such small points.

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Yes actually believing in ones opinion even though many others may find something different is not having a god complex - it's having conviction and passion - two traits that are important to a) getting a movie done and also helping my friends get something done.

Without conviction, one settles.

Those who have extreme drive and the ability to stand apart from those around them - even at the risk of alienation or ridicule are those who can create things that are different, that will help move things forward, that will help those around them see things differently.

Those who go with the crowd, they don't take risks.

Part of taking risks is being able to be a fool, and that's what I do every day.

My major problem with the film is the acting performances were subpar and so was the dialogue - I wasn't fully convinced I was in the presence of a genius and not convinced that the test subject was also a great coder.

So many cliches - a Jackson Pollock painting showing chaos - the mountain shots - 

the only original thing in the whole film was the final shot which was a reflection of the ground and feet walking past it.

Ripping off molding of skin that easily from a AI bot that was made for sexual activitiy?  A failsafe system a young coder can easily override with a key?

A robot that has the ability to cause power outages that the coder can't figure out?

So many weak moments.

The irony is how much time I spend on here to maybe help someone get an understanding about what we need to make interesting art - and the joy I get in the reddit like feedback from everyone on here.  Oh man, the Internet - such an interesting environment for the great filmmakers of tomorrow.

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For someone who claims to be so damn creative, you really do seem to see only in black and white. (Same with the Bloom diatribes)

Having a different opinion to that masses is not an issue.... Claiming those people to be soft, or following the crowd is an issue.

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btw - you seem to completely miss the point that the guy is a flawed genius with a major drinking problem. His judgement is constantly muddied and his arrogance, coupled with his drinking issues lead to his downfall.

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A failsafe is a failsafe - drinking problem or not - has there ever been in Elon Musk or Larry Page's book or IBM Watson or any of them instances of a complete system failure or security breach where a simple plot point of "hey the genius is a drunk he's flawed" has lead to a major plot point where a young 24-year-old coder can bring down the most advanced robotics center in the world by jumping on his imac and changing a few lines of code?

You don't think the great genious would not have password protected his computer with 2-step authetication - and a facial scan even though he was facial-scanning the coder guest the whole time?

I could have done a quick rewrite on the film so easily.

Basically the plot point could have been that the coder thinks he secures the system if he's so sure of himself which is a trick by the genius who then messes more and more with him, more symbolically and then ties him up and reveals that the coder is just an earlier version of his AI and god knows what else would happen - but the movie could have pushed it a lot further.

I like performances of good actors .  Walter Isaac is a great actor - he was really good in Inside Lwelyn Davis - and I saw a terrible performance.

Judging an actor's performance is subjective - it's in the eyes of the beholder.

But still, seems that we all have standards of good performances vs bad.  This is why there is film criticism even though it's not quantifiable.

And over the course of history, opinions about films change a lot.

It usually takes about 10 years.  

But they are just opinions.

If there is a more critical audience that won't accept poor writing or performances, that's a good thing.

Now am I right in saying that Walter is better in Inside Lwelyn Davis vs Ex Machima - yes.  Just as you are right in saying Ex Machina is as good as 2001: Space Odyssey.

And that's fine because there is no final say.

Just as good taste is a matter of good taste.

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It seems you are aware that everyone's view is different, so probably wise not to make blanket statements like "reviewers have gone soft" and "Those who go with the crowd, they don't take risks".

What about films that YOU like and get good reviews.... Do you then take less risks because you "went with the crowd"? Ludicrous.

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I find Pixar puts out the most films in its heyday that got both good reviews and were popular and I liked.  Up, Wall-E, etc.

I think television shows like Breaking Bad, Veep, Game of Thrones, the Knick, House of Cards, Transparent both get good reviews and high turn out of viewers.

I think this is the golden age of television and documentary and a lull for feature films. I see it as a problem of how they market hollywood films and Soderbergh spoke about this in his speech here - https://vimeo.com/65060864 - that the executive system that greenlights movies is doing it all wrong and that they no longer trust the director.

Do films that get good reviews and get high ratings take risks - of course they do.

Breaking bad was a giant risk - for it to become a huge hit is remarkable - that's the result of people believing in the project.  That's not going with the crowd.

Do you think investors put money into Adaptation were not taking a risk?

I mean that putting money into a film about adapting a book about flower theft is much riskier than investing in Avengers 2. 

And hollywood no longer invests in small auteurs who make beautiful odd films.  The Todd Solenz and Soderberghs of the world and David Lynch don't make films - they make TV or left the business.

You have to take a risk.  If the future of cinema is Superhero sequels and reboots of Jurassic Park, then I'll be sad.  Because this is my generation doing this.  I am one of those who didn't stand out and say something as I watch the feature film business turn to dreck. Where a mediocre film like Ex Machina is given some accolades.  Where Mad Max Fury Road is considered a triumph.  It's all ludicrous.

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Good god, you talk, talk talk and forget to listen.

YOU think ex machina is medicore.... Some think it is downright awful.... Others think it is pretty good.... Others think it is great. None of those things mean that reviewers are now soft or that people who agree with those people are not creative risk takers.

I get the feeling that Andrew Reid created you in his lab to keep the clickbait going in his absence


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