29 January 2015

Ex Machina review

The only things I knew about Ex Machina going in to it was that it's a British made science fiction film, written and directed by Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later and Dredd) and that the plot revolved around the idea of an artificial intelligence. I was sold on it instantly.

Ex Machina is the story of Ava, an artificial intelligence created by wealthy business man and technological genius Nathan, told through the eyes of Caleb. Caleb is a computer programmer in Nathan's company who wins a competition to go and visit Nathan in his home/research laboratory for a week, and ends up with the opportunity to perform a variant of the Turing Test on Ava in order to determine if she qualifies as a true artificial intelligence  - that is, if she can be classed as a true consciousness.

22 January 2015

Whiplash review

Based on a short-film of the same name (which in turn was based on the original screenplay for this film), Whiplash follows aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman and his time in the Shaffer Conservatory of Music, a prestigious music school in New York, as he joins the schools jazz band under the supervision of Terence Fletcher, the infamously short tempered and volatile band master.

The relationship between Andrew and Terence is the main focus of Whiplash, and is simply riveting. Terence is emotionally manipulative, abusive and genuinely intimidating, and J.K Simmons plays the role perfectly, never quite allowing his character to become the moustache twirling villain of the story, something that easily could have happened given the events of the film and the way he constantly tortures Andrew. He's a force of nature, a howling wind that through sheer power and persistence will turn Andrews slab of marble into a beautiful statue, or crumble him in the process. It's a fantastic performance, certainly worthy of the Best Supporting Actor nomination that J.K Simmons has earned based on this film.

13 January 2015

Foxcatcher review

Foxcatcher tells the true story of the Olympic gold-medal winning wrestlers Mike and David Schultz. Mike Schultz is a man overshadowed by his older, more recognisable and successful brother, so when the chance comes for him to make something of himself without his brothers help, he jumps at it - in this instance, the chance being the opportunity to work with John du Pont, a wealthy wrestling enthusiast who intends to put together a team to train for the World Championship known as Team Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher is a film entirely occupied with the relationships between it's three main characters, in the best possible way. You could write an entire essay on the interactions between these three, each of them clashing and reacting to one another in ways that are mostly independent of the events of the film, made all the more disturbing (and fascinating) by the fact that these three people really did exist, and this film is based on things that actually happened.

3 January 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) review

Birdman, or to give it it's full title, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), takes place in a Broadway Theatre as washed up actor Riggan Thomson, most well known for his role as the fictional early 90's superhero Birdman, attempts to write, direct and star in an adaptation of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", a short story written by Raymond Carver.

Birdman is by no means a conventional film. Almost the entirety of the film is presented to us a single uninterrupted take, a development of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's trademark long takes, who also worked on Children of Men and Gravity. Although initially distracting, this technique is surprisingly effective, both grounding the film and helping the story to flow while also adding a sense of surreality that Birdman thrives off. The audience is expected to know when time has passed or a scene has changed with little to no indication from the film itself, and although this can seem strange at first it really shouldn't pose much of a problem for anyone paying attention. It's an example of one of the ways that Birdman credits its audience with intelligence, something that's always refreshing to see, and something to is unfortunately quite rare.