Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Week 8: Ex Machina

Writer/Director: Alex Garland
Seen: Sunday 22nd February 2015
Venue: IMC Galway
Snacks: Homemade smoothies
Mood: Wondering 

 The science fiction genre is often teeming with concepts and technologies that will most likely never be conceived, like time travel or planet colonisation. However, Ex Machina serves up a concept that is not only conceivable but closer than many of us think. It examines the possibilities of A.I (artificial intelligence) and how close it can get to actual human tendencies.

Caleb played by Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly cast as a coder at Blue Book, the world’s largest search engine, whose life is about to change dramatically due to a very special prize he has won. It is a mysterious trip to the estate of Nathan the CEO of the company he works for, the high tech facility that Nathan lives in is contrasted with the beautiful surrounding forests and waterfalls.   Nathan is played by the versatile Oscar Isaac, who creates a character with an arrogance that only one of the richest men in the world could have and although at first he seems affable and friendly towards Caleb, it soon becomes clear that he has a hidden agenda.

Caleb is there to complete a Turing test on an A.I that Nathan has created which Alicia Vikander superbly plays and for me, it is the stand out performance of the three. The Turing test is to figure out if the A.I or Ava as it’s named, shows the ability to portray consciousness. While the test seems straight forward it is the beginning of few very interesting days for the trio.

This is Alex Garlands first feature as writer/director, although is no stranger to  futuristic themes as he penned 28 Days Later & Sunshine both directed by Danny Boyle. After watching the ascetically pleasing and thought provoking Ex Machina, Garland is certainly a director I will be keeping an eye out for.

While the film examines the possibilities of A.I and how close it can replicate human behaviour, in doing so it also examines human behaviour, our desires, our vulnerabilities. Ex Machina is an attractively shot stylish film that creates a futuristic setting that is very believable and the three main performances are strong.  This is a film we nearly missed in the cinema but I am very glad we didn’t.  

Monday, 16 February 2015

Week 7: Patrick's Day

Writer/Director: Terry McMahon
Seen: Friday 13th February 2015
Venue: IMC Galway
Snacks: Ben & Jerrys Chocolate Browine (an eye scalding €3.80 for a tiny tub)
Mood: WOW
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There are good films, there are bad films and the there are fantastic IRISH films like ‘Patrick’s Day’. I left the cinema having seen this film quite literally blown away. In fact, it rattled around in my brain for several hours the impact is so strong.
Patrick Fitzgerald played by Moe Dunford is a man in his early 20’s suffering with severe mental health issues. He lives in a home and his doting mother Maura (Kerry Fox) takes him to see the annual St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin City every year for his birthday. This particular year he meets Karen (Catherine Walker) and his whole world is turned upside down. Karen has her own demons to deal with and maybe sees an innocence in Patrick that she no longer possesses, but it is this very innocence that Maura is trying to protect.
This is a film about love, the right to intimacy no matter what. Yes, it’s about mental health but also sexuality,control and the stigma attached to mental health issues. As the tagline proclaims ‘Love is madness’.
Maura does what she does for love. Patrick is her whole world and when she sees that world potentially coming apart she makes a choice that makes a devastating affect on her son.
The director Terry McMahon allows us into Patricks world with brilliant use of close ups and out of focus dream like sequences. There is a jaw dropping scene in the middle of the film which is so powerful I could barely watch it.

It is no wonder this film has won so many awards so far, it swept the board at the recent Woodstock Film Festival. Moe Dunford as Patrick is just breathtaking, its not an easy role to play believably but he does so with aplomb, he is an actor to watch for sure.
In a recent interview on the Late Late Show Terry McMahon urged audiences to go and see the film as it is important for the Irish film business and to raise awareness for the subject matter.
The performances are powerful from all, the editing is outstanding and the director brings us crashing into Patrick’s world and we are left reeling.
I urge you to see this film for these reasons and to  PLEASE support Irish Cinema.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Week 6: Inherent Vice

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson 
based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon
Seen: Sunday 8th February 2015
Venue: IMC Galway
Snacks: Terrys Chocolate Orange (again mmmm)
Mood: Trippy 

This is undeniably a unique film. Paul Thomas Anderson is not only a exceptional and distinctive director, but also a very ballsy one who does not compromise his vision. In Inherent Vice he has created a stylish, misty and strange film. As a fan I have watched his complete oeuvre of films, and even though this might not be my favourite, similar to most of the others it firmly left a mark.

PTA is that rare kind of director that has the ability to transport you into a cinematic world, and is also someone who is obviously in control of every aspect of every frame. He is astutely aware that he is making a film that is certainly not for everyone, but if you submit to the ride he constructs in this, his seventh feature, you might not know what the hell just happened but you will know it has been an experience.

Inherent Vice will aggravate some viewers because of its confusing narrative structure, I certainly got lost and would have a considerable amount of difficultly explaining the plot. THIS IS INTENTIONAL SO DON’T WORRY. We are meant to get lost, the characters in the film don’t know what’s going on half the time, so how are we meant to know?

The protagonist is Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) a hippy P.I who loves getting stoned and remains so throughout the film and yes, I felt stoned watching it. Again this is deliberately and indeed brilliantly done. To create a film that gives the viewer a feeling of being high along with the main character, is not an easy feat to achieve, but I am quite sure, and I know some might not agree, PTA wanted to create that. However, I do think he should have put a little less in the joint he was passing out to the audience because if the story was a bit more coherent and I was little more aware of what was going on in the film I would have enjoyed it that bit more.

Nonetheless this a cinematic achievement by someone who is on top of their game. With the films he makes PTA challenges himself, and in doing so the audience. Each film in his back catalogue is different from the last and Inherent Vice is no exception. 

The long tracking shots that are often associated with a PTA film are overtly absent as too the large ensemble scenes, even though there is still, like most PTA films, a fantastic cast. They are replaced by extremely slow zooming shots that are hypnotic to enhance the dream like state the film aims to put you in. Also the majority of scenes are predominantly made up of just two actors carried by some interesting, albeit often confusing dialogue.

Not everyone will enjoy it but I will be pondering this film for a while, and that to me is one of the best things you can get from cinema. In fact as I finish writing this I get a new realisation of how good a film Inherent Vice really is.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Week 5: A Most Violent Year

Writer/Director: J.C. Chandor
Seen: Sunday 1st February 2015
Venue: IMC Galway
Snacks: Dried fruit and nuts (healthy) Terry’s chocolate orange (in honour of the 80’s)
Mood: Ponderous
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I love a good gangster film but A Most Violent Year isn’t your average bad guy mob flick. It is set in New York in 1981 which is widely reported as the year the crime rate went through the roof, with more violent crime, rapes and burglaries reported than ever before. The film has garnered comparisons with one of my favourite gangster films The Godfather (1972) so I skipped along in eager anticipation.
Abel Morales played by Oscar Isaac is our anti gangster (much like Michael Corleone at first) an honourable guy, a fact he reiterates several times in the film. Abel wants good things for his family but he wishes to attain these in an honest way which is not easy when everyone around him has taken the more corrupt route. Abel’s wife, Anna played brilliantly by Jessica Chastain, is without a doubt the true gangster of the film. The daughter of a known crime lord, who we are never introduced to, she holds a mysterious power over Abel and warns if he doesn’t protect his family she will.
You would expect more violence in a film with this title but its more about the struggle to keep on the straight and narrow for Abel. A struggle for survival, will he be able to resist the lure considering how focused he is on success and what if the ‘best route’ for him is not the honourable route?
The lighting and cinematography by Bradford Young really captured the feel of early 80’s New York (or what I had imagined it to be). Isaac and Chastain both give very strong performances. 
I definitely enjoyed the film, I wasn’t blown away, but that might be because the calibre of films this year so far has been extremely high. Its definitely worth a watch.