The Movie to See This Week: ‘Ex Machina’

This week will see the release of several notable new films, from a highly anticipated sci-fi thriller to a critically acclaimed indie drama. Can’t decide which option to check out first? Here are our staff’s picks for the top three flicks to catch in theaters this weekend.

1. Ex Machina

This week’s top pick is the highly anticipated British sci-fi thriller Ex Machina. Written and directed by 28 Days Later scribe Alex Garland (in his directorial debut), the film chronicles the story of computer coder, Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson), who wins the chance to spend a week at the house in the mountains belonging of his company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). When he arrives, Caleb learns he’s been chosen to serve as a participant in Nathan’s breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence. As part of the experiment, he must interact with a breathtaking female A.I. named Ava (Alicia Vikander), who has a human face, hands and feet, but an otherwise cyborg body. Ava’s emotional abilities soon prove to be both more sophisticated and more deceptive than either Nathan or Caleb could ever have predicted.

The film, which premiered in the U.K. earlier this year, has earned an definitively positive critical reception, with a 89% fresh rating on the aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. “Stylish, elegant, tense, cerebral, satirical and creepy. Garland’s directorial debut is his best work yet, while Vikander’s bold performance will short your circuits,” Empire Magazine wrote of the film. USA Today added, “His sharp, sparse dialogue and meticulous direction are equally compelling, and the trio of lead performances are top-notch.” Time labeled it “the year’s most seductive high-IQ drama.” The movie opens in limited release on April 10.

2. Clouds of Sils Maria

Coming in at our No. 2 choice is last year’s Cannes hit, Clouds of Sils Maria, starring Juliet Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, the movie follows Maria Enders, an actress (Binoche) at the peak of her international career who is asked to perform in a revival of the play that first made her famous two decades earlier. While she takes on the role of the older female Helena, a Hollywood starlet (Chloe Grace Moretz) takes on her former role as the alluring young women Sigrid. When Maria and her assistant (Kristen Stewart) head to rehearsal in Sils Maria, the remote region of the Alps, the actress comes face-to-face with the younger star, who she soon realizes is an uncomfortable reflection of herself.

After premiering at Cannes in 2014, the movie became a festival favorite, also screening at the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. Currently holding a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the drama has also earned high critical praise, with Variety calling it “a multi-layered, femme-driven meta-fiction that pushes all involved — including next-gen starlets Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz — to new heights.” Stewart earned particular attention for her individual performance, which Vanity Fair called “the best role of her life.” Her portrayal also earned her a Best Supporting Actress César Award earlier this year, making Stewart the first American star ever to win the exclusive honor.

3. Danny Collins

This Al Pacino-starring comedy-drama was released in limited theaters in March, but it’s finally getting a nationwide expansion this week. Inspired by the true story of folk singer Steve Tilston, the film marks Crazy, Stupid, Love writer Dan Fogelman’s directorial debut. It stars Pacino as aging 1970s rocker Danny Collins, who cannot give up his hard-living ways. But when his manager (played by Christopher Plummer) discovers a 40-year-old undelivered letter to him from John Lennon, he decides to turn over a new leaf and sets out on a heartfelt journey to reunite with his family, find true love, and start a whole new chapter to his life. Annette Benning, Jennifer Garner, and Bobby Cannavale co-star.

With a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has earned a generally positive response. Though some took issues with the overly familiar late-stage redemption storyline, critics did seem to agree on one thing: the top-notch cast, which earned especially high praise. “A cast of old pros … and a touching final scene elevate the material just enough to redeem it,” Entertainment Weekly wrote, while the New York Daily News said, “This uneven but ultimately sweet comedy-drama takes full advantage of Pacino’s larger-than-life persona.”

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