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FX /BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020) – ONE OF THE BEST TV EXPERIENCES OF 2020!

FX / BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020)

Created, written and directed by Alex Garland

Executive producers: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch

Cast: Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Zach Grenier, Alison Pill, Stephen McKinlay Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Jefferson Hall, Liz Carr, Janet Mock, Aimee Mullins, Linnea Berthelsen etc.

Cinematography: Rob Hardy

Composers: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow, The Insects

Distribution / Screening Platform: FX / Hulu / BBC


*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I read more about science than anything else, and it started with two things. One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. . . One is that it takes away free will, but the other is that if you are at a computer powerful enough, you could use determinism to predict the future and understand the past.” Alex Garland – Creator of Devs


Alex Garland has an impressive literary, cinema and now televisual curriculum vitae. He gained acclaim as the writer of the novel, The Beach, before moving onto screenwriting duties with fine films such as: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).  He made his directorial debut with Ex Machina (2014), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His second film, Annihilation (2018), garnered further acclaim, so much so, FX bypassed a pilot and went straight to series for his latest science fiction narrative, Devs (2020).

While I am a massive fan of Garland’s work, I wasn’t too enamoured of Annihilation (2018). I found it brilliantly made with some fantastic concepts and incredible moments, yet overall it was too slowly paced. With the eight superlative episodes of Devs (2020), Garland has kept the meditative pace of Annihilation (2018), but also delivered a story which really connected with me this time. With Devs (2020) he has successfully merged a compelling technological espionage plot to an intelligent exploration of philosophical thought and behaviour. Moreover, Garland presents a complex group of themes and characters relating to Silicon Valley tech firms and how their work could control individuals, companies, governments, society as a whole, and actual time itself.



Set now in San Francisco, the narrative opens with two employees of the Amaya Corporation, Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei Pavlov (Karl Glusman), attending work. Sergei has a big presentation to pitch to Amaya CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman) and chief designer, Katie (Alison Pill). It goes well and Sergei is invited to work on the mysterious DEVS project. At DEVS he finds wondrous halo-style lighting in the woods and an incredibly expensive set of buildings, capsules, platforms, workstations and screens. Dominating the landscape also is a gigantic model of a young girl (Forest’s daughter, Amaya) who looms over the company and the San Franciscan horizon. These spectacular props, sets and locations are complimented by impressive cinematography from Rob Hardy throughout the eight episodes.

Sergei’s tenure at DEVS does not last long though as he goes missing. Lily, who was in a loving relationship with Sergei, is distraught and, with the help of ex-CIA head of security, Kenton (Zach Grenier), attempts to locate him. When Sergei turns up dead from an apparent suicide, Lily is convinced there is a conspiracy occurring in the Amaya company so begins a dangerous investigation. Even more intriguing, however, is the work that is occurring at DEVS itself. Led by Forest’s desire to “resurrect” his deceased daughter, this complex computer programme can somehow view events from the past, recreated via particle-driven software and projected on huge screens. Using this application the developers and programmers are attempting to determine the future from what has occurred in the past. If they can determine the future they may be able to control it. Mind blown yet? Safe to say, Lily’s investigation into Sergei’s death and the DEVS system become inextricably linked as the drama unfolds. As such, the drama works well as a conspiracy thriller as well as thoughtful sci-fi as Garland punctuates the brooding pace with some crushing stunts and brutal murder set-pieces.

I’ll be honest, the technological side of Devs (2020) was outside my knowledge repertoire as I do not comprehend coding or programming jargon. Nonetheless, I did understand what was occurring in the narrative as it was presented in a clear and digestible fashion. Unlike say the most recent seasons of HBO’s Westworld, which tied itself in knots with looping and over-lapping timelines, Alex Garland’s deft script, excellent direction and fantastic cast make Devs‘ (2020) complex science and tech theories comprehensible throughout. While Garland is dealing with theories relating to free will and deterministic cause and effect, the elegant structure, both linear and with flashbacks, builds a gripping narrative which maintains emotional impact for the characters and the choices they must make. Indeed, Lily Chan is a very empathetic leading protagonist and Sonoya Mizuno gives a compellingly magnetic acting portrayal. It was also fascinating to see Nick Offerman outside of his Parks and Recreation ‘Ron Swanson’ persona playing a highly driven and grieving father. Thus, to conclude, if you enjoy clever, meditative and Kubrickian style television in the science-fiction genre, then you should definitely use your free will and be determined to watch Devs (2020).

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


VICE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW & OSCAR BINGO #3

VICE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Adam McKay

Produced by: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Kevin J. Messick, Will Ferrell, Adam Mckay

Written by: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Jesse Plemons

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

Unlike the previous Oscar Bingo attempts for A Star Is Born (2018) and First Man (2018), this review has full knowledge of the nomonations. So, rather than be guess work this review of Vice (2018) is intended to be based on more constructive critiques of the Oscar nominated films I have seen.

BEST FILM CHANCES – 8/10

For starters, Vice is certainly worthy of its award nominations. I have seen some criticisms that it is cartoonish and simplistic and while I actually agree with this, it is also a brilliant and scabrous work of satire. Yes, it’s preaching to the liberal and left-winged Hollywood choir, but it definitely presents a fascinating snapshot of Dick Cheney’s rise from alcoholic wastrel to powerful political figure.

While I believe Roma (2018) will win the Best Film, I enjoyed Vice more from a stylistic, educational and emotional perspective. I was drawn into the murky world of American politics by McKay and his fantastic ensemble cast, and was compelled by the machinations of Cheney’s manipulative puppet-master to Bush’s marionette President. McKay’s film, while certainly one-tracked, powers along picking apart and satirising one of the most shadowy political figures of recent years.

BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES – 8/10

In terms of tone and narrative, McKay’s The Big Short (2015) was arguably a more cohesive film. Indeed, Vice is presented more as a non-linear monatge and sketch style recreation of key events in Cheney’s life. But I loved the style and McKay should be praised for his editing choices. He throws the veritable formalistic kitchen sink at the film using: direct address, Shakepearean monologue, cross-cutting montage, fake credits, voiceover, freeze frames, fake footage, stock footage, flashbacks, flash forwards, inter-titles, third-party narrator and many more stylised tropes. In my view his directorial bag of tricks are utilised without losing emotional impact too. While Alfonso Cuaron will probably win McKay certainly deserves kudos for enlivening his subject matter with such storytelling choices.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE CHANCES – 10/10

Christian Bale should win. I have not seen Rami Malek, Viggo Mortensen or Willem Dafoe’s acting in their respective roles but Christian Bale is astonishing. Fair enough, he has taken a real person and delivered an emulation performance, but he also brings to Cheney to life with formidable cinematic style. Of course, the physical transformation could take the headlines but in terms of emotion and mentality he really raises the perfomance bar. Cheney may be an enigmatic character but Bale brings quiet menace, whispers and manipulation to the role. There is also a sly humour there too which makes Bale’s Cheney another memorable acting monster he’s created.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE CHANCES – 8/10

Amy Adams is one of my favourite actors. Not quite a Lady Macbeth character, her Lynn Cheney pushes Dick forward mercilessly to make a better man of himself. She is the foundation and rock of their relationship and glues his life together when he faces health issues and political setbacks. Adams nails the role, and while Rachel Weisz will probably win for The Favourite (2018), Adams may finally get the Oscar she deserves.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE CHANCES – 5/10

Sam Rockwell is excellent in emulating George W. Bush but he only has a few scenes. While Rockwell dumbs down with the best of them I would have nominated Steve Carell instead. His Donald Rumsfeld, was a creeping, neurotic and conniving joy and definitely deserved the nomination in this category.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY CHANCES – 7/10

The film benefits from a sparky screenplay which keeps a potentially dull subject spinning along in an entertaining fashion. It takes a complex set of characters and scenarios, and despite simplifying to fit a leftist agenda, still constructs intelligent analyses of Cheney and Washington at large. Ultimately, Cheney is shown to be an opportunist and dangerous person who manipulated information and policy to finagle the USA and allies into a war for profit. Even worse he did so from the position of Vice President – boo Cheney! Boo! While McKay deserves praise for his brave creative choices, I would go for Paul Schrader’s exceptional First Reformed (2018) in the original screenplay category; Schrader deserves it more.

CONCLUSION

I am a big fan of satirical works such as: Private Eye, Yes Minister, Spitting Image, The Thick Of It, Veep and South Park. They seek to undermine and take critical shots at our leaders, illustrating the danger, absurdity and stupidity of those in power. They also, in an entertaining way, carry a message that those serving their country are often serving themselves more. Conversely, a film like Vice, however cartoonish or broad, still has the power to highlight the corruption and horror of a man like Cheney. While the script and direction are tonally scatter-gun, Bale’s incredible rendition, and the marvellous supporting cast, anchor the film and ensure this satirical ship rarely hits the rocks.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11