Ex Machina: a young programmer wins a contest to spend a week with his boss to complete every nerds fantasy; participating in the ultimate Turing Test with a sexy humanoid robo-babe!! There’s no doubting that it’s an ambitious movie; it’s not particularly dumbed down, leaning on some quite technical programming / A.I. terminology and dialogue – there’s no explosions or robots hitting robots in here, and the focus isn’t solely on the droid-meets-boy angle. It’s a fun film to watch because the script and acting are continually misleading and distracting you – hinting that a person or story may go down one path, which isn’t always the case. The direction’s solid, especially for a first-timer – there’s a sustained creepy and unsettling tone, especially once the plot gets rolling, which is aided by an ominous electronic score, crafting a slowly unraveling spiral that even dabbles with horror and body horror elements towards the end. The coldness of the house/facility, and TrollHunter-esque organic, wild and remote scenery also play a large part. My only real issue with this is that the last 5 minutes include some seriously lingering shots of nudity, which felt unnecessary – especially given that the characters are covered for most of the duration. The slickness and simplicity of Ex Machina is like a shiny facade, behind it are dozens of bigger questions about humans, creations, robots, A.I., ethics, religion… although it’s hard to tell if this is all deliberate, as it’s somewhere between Blade Runner / A.I. lite and a slicker, stripped back Frankenstein – with a hardware and firmware updates, of course.
Dogtooth (Kynodontas): three teenagers are completely isolated from the outside world by their overprotective parents; but they’re starting to become curious. This manages to successfully juggle various usually-avoided elements: it’s all very strange, quite full-on, and doesn’t really go anywhere; it’s completely awkward and deadpan – yet despite all of this, it manages to draw you in, entertain, and make you laugh. A lot of the funnies come from simple things like the misuse words; they call a salt shaker a telephone, a large lamp a cunt, flowers are zombies, and in one of the best – and weirdest – scenes the father intentionally mistranslates “Fly Me To The Moon”. The house is an unsettling location, almost like a laboratory: total white-out where everything is crisp, clean, clinical. There’s some full-on sex, full-frontal nudity, and a lesbian sub-plot – but these are also completely cold and sterile. Cast-wise, the three children are fantastic, and the main reason this film works: their naivety and childlike awe of external interference is completely believable and great to watch. It’s also masterfully directed, and effectively shot & framed – the most important part of scene is usually off-center, or sometimes completely out of shot. In a word Dogtooth is bizarre – on the cinematic map it’s in relatively uncharted territory between the severity of Haneke and the dark humour of Solondz – and as the runtime progresses it just keeps getting weirder and funnier. Dark and original, Dogtooth is a treat for those that want to try something completely different.
Hell Comes to Frogtown: in the aftermath of a nuclear war that ravaged the planet and left most of the population infertile Sam Hell (WWF star “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) must save a group of fertile ladies from frog-based sex slavery. Yup. That really is the plot. Everything about this film is lightyears away from the realms of possibility, logic, science, facts etc. It’s 100% bad acting, bad sets, bad props, bad writing, bad lines – yet it has a bizarre “can’t get any worse” / car-crash quality that keeps you watching til the shoddy showdown in the desert. There’s boobs, there’s weirdness and there’s some green-gore & action set pieces – so it ticks all of the B-movie boxes. If you love your films cheaper than cheap and as silly Troma releases this will be up your street. Otherwise, just another one for the B-movie completists and raslin fanboys.
The Artist: follows a silent film star struggling to cope with the advent – and subsequent dominance – of sound in Hollywoodland after 1927. It’s black and white, there’s almost no digetic sound, the picture is box ratio… yet it’s in crystal clear HD! Definitely missed a trick with ‘worn footage’ or ’genuine reel’ look, feel and sound that would have polished off the aesthetics perfectly. Despite this, the film looks sublime, is beautifully shot and full of bold, striking, iconography and period detail – all packed in to the stunning mise en scéne. The charisma of both leads leaps off the screen – genuine eye candy – particularly Dujardin who without saying a word effortlessly entertains for the duration, while guiding you through his highs and lows better than most ‘talkie’ actors can. The story is simple, and drawn out in parts, most noticeable in the mid-section (Valentin’s struggle), giving the film quite a large, over-emphasised, centre-sag. The original score feels authentic, old-timey, and carries the movie during the slower parts. Above all else, The Artist is an adorable love-letter to ‘classic’ cinema in both its style and content; the opening theatre-in-theatre is silver-screen gold. However, because of this – and in the same vein as films like Cinema Paradiso – it feels like most critics, reviewers and cinema enthusiasts have been hypnotized by the cinematic history/nostalgia (combined with the non-standard formatting) and are clambering over each other to gush the highest praise imaginable. It’s a cute period piece, no doubt, but ‘Film of the Year’ is a big stretch for me. Equally good and novel (if you never watch B/W/Silent films), The Artist is enjoyable, entertaining and undeniably unique sitting in modern cinema listings; but the more steps back you take towards objectivity, the lighter, fluffier and style-dependent it begins to look.