The real Charlie Chaplin (12A) ****
There have been a series of films reflecting our recent experiences in lockdown, but Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Kimi is the first major that is actually good. This shouldn’t be a surprise. It was Soderbergh who anticipated the pandemic with Heartbreaking Contagion in 2011 and, ever formal, he taps into the claustrophobia of our age of self-isolation with a nifty tech thriller on Brian De Palma’s Blow Out and Hitchcock’s Rear Window. .
Zoe Kravitz takes the lead from Angela Childs, an analyst for a tech start-up that’s set to go public with the eponymous Kimi, an AI-powered digital assistant designed to rival Alexa and Siri but differ in that the company uses people rather than algorithms to watch for errors and help it learn.
Angela is one such employee, and she spends her days in her sprawling Seattle loft listening to data streams, fixing miscommunications, and occasionally interacting with co-workers from home on Zoom. But Angela also suffers from trauma-induced agoraphobia, and while Soderbergh’s camera slides and pans through space to give us a sense of the freedom her carefully calibrated life gives her, the harsh angles of her industrial windows are a frequent reminder of itself. – imposed confinement. She really struggles to get out, and every time she tries to leave her apartment, Soderbergh goes for tight close-ups, shrinking her physical space and plunging us into her turbulent mental state. It’s a neat way to set the parameters of Angela’s world, and he uses it to build tension as the plot unfolds.
This happens when Angela hears that a crime is being committed on one of the data feeds. When she tries to report it, her supervisor doesn’t want to know, but as her report rockets up the corporate ladder, a world of trouble inevitably awaits. What follows is a brilliantly slick and effective paranoid conspiracy thriller (the script is by Jurassic Park and Panic Room writer David Koepp and features Checkov’s best use of a nail gun since Lethal Weapon 2). But what kicks the film into high gear is the subtle way it goes after tech companies who use their seemingly benevolent products to mask their ruthless profit above all else.
The film finds clever ways to spill the action onto the streets and Soderbergh (who also shot and edited the film under his usual aliases) revels in the possibilities, at one point devising a chase sequence to collide with a protest rally to show how surveillance culture sometimes falls short of direct action – or, in the era of MeToo, a woman who refuses to be quiet.
There is more technological paranoia in big bug, even if, as Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet imagined, the debilitating effect of artificial intelligence here becomes the basis of a brightly colored French farce. Set at an unspecified date in the future, the film imagines a society where humans have willingly enslaved themselves to AI for an easy life and only find that they have become toys under constant surveillance – the modern equivalent of animals in a zoo.
Rather than offering an expanded view of this brave new world, Jeunet focuses on the dysfunctional home of a book-loving divorcee (Elsa Zylberstein) as she and her guests find themselves under forced lockdown while a new breed of AI launches a coup. state. Not all technology is bad, however, and in the spirit of Jeunet’s 2009 film MicMacs about aliens on a mission, the only hope for this particular group of bickering humans is a group of malfunctioning house robots whose affection for their fellow humans has sparked a series of complicated feelings within them as they confront their own obsolescence in the face of their oppressive new AI superiors.
Once again working in a comedic absurdist register, Jeunet ensures that everything is very over the top and although it can be a little boring, his playful nature is also underlined by laid-back book-burning and hypnotizing scenes that shake a darker message about the dangerous ways technology can fuel authoritarianism.
While it’s hard to avoid all the rags-to-riches and sad clown cliches when assessing Charlie Chaplin’s life (largely because he deftly exploited most of them himself throughout his film career), the new documentary The real Charlie Chaplin deserves credit for not attempting to explain away its myriad contradictions or retrospectively nullify it for all its reprehensible behavior. Instead, he understands that people contain multitudes, which allows the film to analyze and celebrate his artistic genius while giving voice to the hitherto marginalized ex-wives he effectively gaslit in as adolescent ingenues. Chaplin was a complex man who lived a complex life during complex times and directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney do a good job of disentangling him from the character of Tramp who not only helped usher in a new art form but also our modern understanding of fame.
Starring Andrea Riseborough as a bereaved mother who becomes unhealthily obsessed with the little girl who moves in next door, here before I can’t decide if it wants to be an ambiguous heartbreak drama or a rug-pulling horror panic. Unfortunately, trying to be both, Stacey Gregg’s debut fails to satisfy either impulse.
Kimi is streaming on Sky Cinema and NOW and is available for digital download; Bigbug is now on Netflix; The real Charlie Chaplin is in theaters and on digital demand; Here Before is on a selected version and Curzon Home Cinema.
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