The Mist

Interesting fact: “Mist” in German, means “crap.” Luckily, unlike many a Stephen King adaptation, this one is anything but.

The Mist is a loving tribute to the 60s creature feature, with Frank Darabount (who directed the King-lyThe Green Mile/The Shawshank Redemption) helming a character-driven insider-outsider dynamic set in Maine (of course) against the backdrop of a grocery store, of all places.

Clean up in aisle 3!

While the tentacles in the promotional collateral betray a more nautical feel, it’s actually Lovecraftian pterodactyl thing-ies that scare the bejeezus out of the townsfolk (some of them, that is. There’s a fire and brimstone preacher lady, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who won’t be swayed and is determined to usher in Armageddon).

The plot is full-on 60s sci fi: not only are there weird and wonderful creatures, there is a strange and secret military experiment being conducted. Camo trucks are driving through town by the dozens. What in god’s name is going on? This is compounded by a strange and bizarre, not to mention scary, weather system, enough to make Al Roker crap his pants (Google that and “White House” if you want some unpleasant reading).

The system is hiding the aforementioned creatures, and dueling groups of townsfolk hunker down in the store, using their wits to do battle with one another, and the creatures, who reproduce themselves by bursting forth smaller creatures from human cocoon cavities, a la Alien. Grossly good stuff.

Toby Jones is once again excellent as the grocery manager, and unlikely hero, along with the more stoic doting dad Thomas Jane. Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is well-cast in the thankless role of resident skeptic/creature luncheon meat.

Stephen King’s vision is both cynical and revelatory, taking potshots at pomo and religious thinking alike.

The Mist, however, has an ending that is seriously downbeat, and would be even by the very dour 70s. Some viewers take umbrage with what they see as a narrative cop out, but it actually adds to the gritty nihilism not too dissimilar from Night of the Living Dead.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast of The Mist]

Ex Machina

A weird, extended cyber version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Ex Machina features a “romance” between a sentient and a non-sentient that’s more compelling than 1,000 rom-coms.

In this, the vision of Alex Garland, writer of the exemplary neo-zombie effort, 28 Days Later, programmer Caleb — a kind of James Damore type — also toils away for a global search engine juggernaut. (And speaking of Damore, the #GoogleMemo author recently Tweeted, “Just as foods are labelled “non-GMO”, I wonder if future products will be labelled “non-AI”?)

Caleb wins a one-week stint at the home of his boss, tech jag-off, Nathan, in a secluded modernist Xanadu that’s more of a Xana-don’t when it comes to poking around its various rooms.

It’s there Caleb learns of his assignment: he has to put a pretty robot (Ava) to the Turing Test to see if her thinking behaviour can be differentiated from that of a human. She’s confined to one room of the sprawling home, let out periodically from her confines.

The duo exchange stilted banter at first, the stuff of any real world first date. Soon, sparks fly, metaphorically speaking (they would’ve literally too, if Ava’s engineering wasn’t so darn advanced). Soon, Caleb and Ava are having tête-à-têtes away from Nathan’s prying eyes and Panopticon surveillance.

Are they star-crossed lovers, bridging the human / cyborg divide? Who’s the real automaton?

That’s when the fireworks really begin, as Ex Machina leaps between love story and a cat and mouse between hard-drinking big boss and subservient employee, the latter as riveting as the surreal back and forth between the autocratic director and The Stuntman in that dynamite Peter O’Toole/Steve Railsback-starrer.

Alicia Vikander as Ava is dazzling in the lead, the one time a performance can be described as mechanical and that be a good thing. Her cast-mates more than equal her.

Ex Machina dangles the odd telegraphs here and there, then pulls the rug right out from under the viewer. Stark, unrelenting, thought-provoking, this is top-notch stuff.

****1/2 (out of 5)