Zoe

RATING [C|👎]

Zoe was essentially the complete reverse of Her with just a touch of Bicentennial Man to keep the moralistic aspects relatively grounded. Actually, saying it was “essentially” a complete reversal would be putting it lightly. Zoe explores the pathos argument surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) in a similar manner that one would expect a Freudian psychotherapist to badger their patients about how a particular event “made them feel.” The film teetered a little too close to being pretentiously “art-house,” all the while keeping the attention of the audience . . . even with the constant shaky cam.

Zoe (Léa Seydoux) works for a matchmaking firm that helps couples identify the chances of their relationship being successful, and helps its single clients find close to perfect matches. As Zoe guides clients through the survey that feeds Cole’s (Ewan McGregor) algorithm, she begins to long for the type of companionship she sees everyday. While this synopsis doesn’t seem all that intriguing, adding a couple of AI characters actually makes the story down-right appealing. In fact, Theo James makes another showing as a character that gains your respect and admiration through the duration of the film.

The acting from all three of the aforementioned talents does an admirable job of portraying the confusion of love, and the script does a wonderful job of drawing a line between the “finding the one” trope and the more realistic “for better or for worse” mentality that would help healthy relationships endure. Both of these factors kept my attention throughout the film, which is not an easy thing for the great majority of romantic dramas.

While the actors did an astonishing job at portraying their respective internal conflicts, the camera work gives the audience a sense of being a sort of voyeur rather than mere spectators. If the shaky camera is meant to make a scene (or in this case, film) feel tense or more personal, then Drake Doremus’ directing leads the audience to feel uncomfortable in their involvement with the budding romances on-screen. From stumbling through a first date, to struggling with one’s own emotions about the future of a relationship, every shot implies that most of what is seen is far too personal for the audience to be a part of. It’s one thing to give a personal aire, but it’s wholly different to bring outsiders in to what is presented as being private.

As far as romance stories go, this was actually an enjoyable and slightly uplifting example. The biggest detractor was the awkward and uncomfortable camera work. The soundtrack blended in almost too well, as it served only as ambiance to fill a scene to keep absolute silence away. Zoe is enjoyable as a film, but it doesn’t really approach any new facets of relationships or what it means to be “conscious.” For those reasons, the film is respectably average.

RATING: C

Upgrade

RATING: [F|👎]

Ever see a film that continually treats the audience like children that have to be led by the hand through basic addition? That’s the case with Upgrade. The short and simple version of this review is this: saturating a screen with the trappings of a transhumanist, cyberpunk plot does not give the script the right to explain away massive plot holes while claiming “deus ex machina”.

Spoilers follow, but I’m honestly writing them for your own benefit. If some young, techie, multi-billionaire starts describing their new widget as having the potential to “make humanity better” (or some other flowery, utopian, nonsense), understand that this is likely lazy foreshadowing that the new tech will attempt to usurp its’ creator. Furthermore, what good is it to present a character as a senior Detective if they can’t even put together that someone proven to be in the area of a murder (multiple murders, in this case) is clearly hiding something? No matter how unlikely that suspect might be, it’s not too far of a reach to think that they would be involved in some way at that point.

Much of the plot reminded me of early childhood programming where the enthusiastic host would stand listlessly in the frame whilst one-sidedly pleading with the non-responsive audience to identify the “elephant in the room”. Except in this case, the enthusiastic host is the deadpan AI that only the paraplegic man with the “miracle implant” can hear, and the proverbial “elephant in the room” is the thinly veiled plot to make the user dependent on said AI to give it complete control.

There was a time not too long ago when I got excited to see Blumhouse release a new thriller. With rare exceptions, that nostalgia has faded to a realization of either my growing (if not pickier) tastes, or Blumhouse’s more laissez-faire vetting. Add this pulpy excuse for a “psychological thriller” to the slush pile.

RATING: F