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.
Contraband: a struggling ex-con must secure his family’s safety by doing one final smuggling run. Being a re-make of Rekjavik-Rotterdam, Hollywood does what it does best and strips out a lot of the smaller background stories, characters, undertones, and relationships that thickened up the original plot, and raised the stakes a little more. Wahlberg‘s steady, but disappointingly typecast as the everyman, and costume-wise, could be from any previous film. This is all minor compared to Giovanni Ribisi, what the fuck is he doing!? His lines were delivered in the most ridiculous accent I’ve heard in years. The rest of the supporting cast really do keep the film propped up, although nobody’s particularly stretched. It’s well-directed, with the urgency maximised and lots of nice shots that play with focusing – it feels quite European / independent. There’s a decent gunfight in the middle (audio is immense) and in true modern heist fashion lots of loose ends are tied up in the final 15 mins. Unfortunately, New Orleans felt like an excuse for decent music, and nothing more. As expected, this is pretty much a cut-down, edges-smoothed, version of the original. It’s decent, but I’d suggest seeking out the original instead.
Rekjavik-Rotterdam: a struggling ex-con must secure his family’s safety by doing one final smuggling run. The film plays out like a stripped down heist/crime movie – but keeps its feet firmly on the ground, and whilst none of the story elements are particularly original, the execution is great. Equally impressive are the cream of Iceland‘s current talent – Kormákur creates a believable, desperate man, and everyone down to the stock muscle/thug guys feel like real characters. The story unfolds with excitement, tension, action and some comedy moments, so it’s well-balanced remains very watchable. The final 15 minutes wrap up the film cleverly, and there’s a cheeky passing use of a Jackson Pollock painting. Unsurprisingly, a film this good has already been remade and released in the ‘States as ‘Contraband’, starring Mark Wahlberg (interestingly, directed by the lead actor of this version). Rekjavik Rotterdam is a rock-solid, European thriller/drama that will hopefully open up a wave of new talent and movies from a country that’s relatively unknown for it’s cinema. I think Hollywood will struggle to match the heart and execution this version, but conceal that by turning everything up to eleven – absolutely check this version out.