The Riddle of the Monthly Update for January 2017

How is it February already?!

OK, how about we stave off the inevitable just a little longer and take a look back at January…


#1 Green Room (2015)
#2 Anomalisa (2015)
#3 Ninja Scroll (1993), Jūbē Ninpūchō
#4 Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
#5 Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
#6 Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie (2016)
#7 Into the Wild (2007)
#8 Eye in the Sky (2015)
#9 Charlie Bartlett (2007)
#10 The Conversation (1974)
#11 iBoy (2017)
#12 Under the Shadow (2016)
#13 Sing Street (2016)
#14 London Has Fallen (2016)
#15 Another Earth (2011)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Kubo and the Two Strings

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  • 2017 gets underway with 15 new films. (I’ll talk about my Rewatchathon in a bit.)
  • That’s the 32nd consecutive month with ten or more films.
  • It’s just shy of the 2016 average (16.25), and makes the average for the last 12 months 15.83.
  • It does beat the January average of 11, though. However, it’s the lowest January since 2014; but it’s also the third largest January ever. Swings and roundabouts, eh?
  • This month’s Blindspot viewing: Francis Ford Coppola’s great ’70s paranoid surveillance thriller, The Conversation.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS viewing: getting the film I had least interest in out of the way, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. And I was right, it was a mess.



The 20th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Multiple films snagged full marks this month, and several I’d say are already hot favourites for my best-of-year list in 11 months’ time, which makes this a particularly tricky choice. On balance, however, I’m going to say charming Kiwi comedy is trumped (on this occasion) by the fantastical world conjured through the incredible artistry of Kubo and the Two Strings.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
For all its faults, London Has Fallen was pretty much what I expected it to be. Into the Wild, on the other hand, is misguided and overrated.

Best Original Song of the Month
I’m sure La La Land is great ‘n’ all, but the lack of Oscar recognition for Sing Street’s music is disappointing. My personal pick would be The Riddle of the Model, but there’s a lot to be said for Drive It Like You Stole It too — especially considering…

Best Dance Routine of the Month
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Littlefinger do a steering wheel-inspired dance move to Drive It Like You Stole It.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
As we know, statistics are The Best Thing Ever, which surely explains why my 2016: The Full List post was by far the most-read in January. Lists are almost as good, which surely explains why my Best & Worst of 2016 came second.



My goal to rewatch 52 movies this year got off to a weak start, as you don’t have to scroll very far to see.

#1 Enemy of the State (1998)

Yeah, that’s it. I watched it after The Conversation, because of the theory about Gene Hackman’s characters being the same guy. I can see where the idea came from, but it does not hold up.

Anyway, only rewatching one thing is OK — although my goal of 52 films was inspired by the principle of watching one per week, I never intended to stick to that slavishly; especially as I had Netflix this month, which led me to focus on newer stuff available there while I had it. I’ll make it up later.


It’s about time for an update to my director’s page header image, which features the 20 directors who have the most films covered on this blog. My 100 Favourites series created a bit of a shake-up in this area, with the main beneficiary being Steven Spielberg. I also watched a fair few of his films that I hadn’t got round to in 2016, so all told he was catapulted from six films at the end of 2015, to 17 at the end of 2016. But he’d already made it onto the header last year, so his newfound abundance doesn’t actually affect that.

As for what has changed, then, six directors drop out: Danny Boyle, Marc Forster, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Vincente Minnelli, and George A. Romero. In their place we have (in descending order of number of movies): Peter Jackson, Bryan Singer, John Carpenter, Tony Scott, Robert Zemeckis, and Michael Bay.

Wait… Michael Bay? Yeah, I can’t stand for that. No Bay; Hitchcock stays.


It’s the official 10th birthday of 100 Films at the end of February, for which I’m working on a whole host o’ posts.

Ex Machina (2015)

2016 #26
Alex Garland | 108 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | UK / English | 15 / R

BAFTABritish Academy Film Awards 2016
5 nominations

Nominated: Best British Film; Best Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander); Best Original Screenplay; Best Special Visual Effects; Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.

A British sci-fi movie from a first-time director will tomorrow take a place at the table (well, in the auditorium) alongside 2015’s biggest awards contenders, as it vies for multiple gongs at this year’s BAFTAs — and it stands a very plausible chance of walking away with several of them, too. I hope it does, because, after a year that brought us awards-quality sci-fi bombast (Mad Max, Star Wars), it’s fantastic that a small film about three people sat in rooms talking can stand toe-to-toe with them as one of the year’s best.

The increasingly ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Domhnall Gleeson stars as Caleb, a programmer at search engine giant Google Bluebook who wins a staff lottery to spend a week with the company’s reclusive founder, Nathan, played by the increasingly ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Oscar Isaac. However, on his arrival he learns he’s not just there to hang out: Nathan wants him to perform a Turing test on an AI he’s built. The point of the Turing test (as I’m sure you know) is for a human to interact with an AI but not realise it’s an AI, so Caleb’s surprised when said AI — Ava, played by the increasingly ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Alicia Vikander — comes in the form of a robot that’s obviously a robot. The real test is whether Caleb can know he’s talking to something non-human and still come to be convinced it’s human. As Caleb begins his interviews with Ava, it becomes apparent that there’s something else going on at this remote facility, where regular power cuts mean they’re all locked in…

As is probably clear, Ex Machina is a sci-fi movie of the thoughtful variety. It’s a film that considers ideas of artificial life, how we test it and what it means to create it, and only gradually builds in thriller elements that pay off in its final twenty-or-so minutes. In truth, it’s not the most thorough deconstruction of what it means to be human and whether artificial intelligence can have that right, but it does touch on these issues and, in so doing, leaves them open for the viewer to mull over for themselves, or debate with friends, or however else one likes to consider their movies post-viewing (like, I dunno, writing about them on the internet or something).

There are thematic similarities to Blade Runner, which (in case you’ve not seen it) also deals with the humanity or otherwise of man-made intelligence. Mulling on that comparison, I’m tempted to say Ex Machina is almost the inverse of Blade Runner, in this regard: Ridley Scott’s classic is ostensibly an SF-noir thriller (Harrison Ford is a cop hunting down some rogue robots), but by its end has revealed a considered exploration of what it means to be human, and whether these artificial creatures can lay claim to that. Conversely, Alex Garland’s film seems like it’s sitting us down to consider those same issues, but is actually laying the groundwork for revelations and twists that build to an edge-of-your-seat climax. I’m not saying one’s better than the other in this respect, just that they’re approaching the same topics almost from opposite ends.

Also like Blade Runner, Ex Machina is an exceptionally well made and performed film. Not in the same way as Blade Runner — it’s bright and clean and modern, in a Google-y, Apple-y kind of way — but to a similar level of internal consistency and accomplishment. Gleeson’s Caleb may seem a little plain, a blank page for the other characters to write on, but as his insecurities begin to come to the fore you realise that’s almost the point. Isaac is suitably overbearing as the alcohol-dependent genius behind Bluebook and Ava, an initially affable but quickly disquieting presence — he may be a threat, or may just be a bit odd. And his dance scene is surely one of 2015’s highlights (there’s an extended version hidden on the US Blu-ray, which is a treat). Garnering the most praise (and awards) is Alicia Vikander’s take on an AI. It’s a tricky role to tackle, because she’s not just a robot — that would defeat the point of Nathan’s exercise — but nor is she fully human. It’s a tightrope of a role, a fine line to walk, and Vikander negotiates it with aplomb. To say too much more would be to spoil it.

Aside from the acting, the film’s most striking element is surely the design of Ava. Her face and hands appear to be human, but everything else is robotic, and much of it transparent. This isn’t a case of slipping an actor into a suit painted with circuitboards — you can see the metal limbs and motors in her arms and legs, the metal spine in her back, the various computers or power sources or whatever glowing and spinning inside her. Occasionally she dresses in clothes and her workings are covered, but she spends most of the film with them on display. The CGI is literally flawless, which for a relatively-low-budget little British sci-fi-drama is all the more remarkable. I guess the visual effects awards are going to go to the big films, Star Wars or Mad Max or The Revenant (the bear seems to be very popular), but I do wonder if the work here is more deserving. You know how it must’ve been done — mo-cap suits and CGI — but there’s still a feeling of “how did they do that?”, because it’s so faultless. In fact, you don’t even wonder how they did it, because you just accept it; it’s only if you actively stop to consider it that you realise it’s physically impossible and must be CGI.

Those after a dissertation-like hard-science deconstruction of the meaning and possibilities of AI will likely find Ex Machina slightly lacking, as will anyone after the crash-bang thrills most mainstream sci-fi provides. Viewers prepared for a decently thought-provoking dramatic thriller about near-future tech, however, should be both engrossed, and grateful that movies like this are (for the time being) still getting made.

5 out of 5

The British Academy Film Awards are tomorrow night, televised on BBC One from 9pm.

Ex Machina placed 20th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

An American in Paris (1951)

2009 #93
Vincente Minnelli | 109 mins | DVD | U

An American in ParisIf anyone is interested in An American in Paris and has found this alleged-review in search of something interesting to read, I’m afraid you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Not because I didn’t like the film, but because I’ve not got anything to say about it.

The main reason for such an oversight is that, getting round to this review a month or so since I watched it, I can’t remember enough of it well enough to provide anything close to meaningful criticism. This could sound like a criticism in itself — designating the film unmemorable — but the sad truth is it’s not all that uncommon for me. This is why I usually write notes (like this (just in case you don’t know what notes might look like)), so that when I do get to a review (inevitably late) I can translate said notes into something passably resembling a review. Viewing An American in Paris over the Christmas/New Year period, however, there was no time for note-taking.

But enough on my lackadaisical reviewing habits, what can I say about the film? Well, it’s got a Gershwin score, and I always like that; particularly memorable is I Got Rhythm being performed by Gene Kelly and a group of young kids who can’t speak English. It’s a different take on a familiar number that’s thoroughly entertaining. The dancing is all great, of course, and Leslie Caron — last-minute replacement for a pregnant Cyd Charisse — shines in her debut role. The film ends with a lengthy ballet which, to be frank, isn’t really to my taste; dance fans of a certain type will undoubtedly love it though.

And that’s your lot, I’m afraid. I can only apologise to you, dear reader, and to all involved with this perfectly lovely film for not being able to offer a more appropriate set of thoughts.

4 out of 5