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Blast from the Past


Blast from the Past


Culture > Film


 

Blast from the Past

June 24, 2016 / by Howard Elias

Growing up in Ireland in the mid-1980s couldn’t have been easy. The country was mired in recession and a steady stream of its youth was heading for the port of Holyhead to catch a one-way ferry ride to England. Whether or not the opportunities were any better in London at the time is debatable, but the common opinion in Dublin was that there was no bright future to be had at home.

Set against this backdrop is Sing Street, the third film about musicians by Irish writer and director John Carney, who previously delighted with Once and Begin Again. It gets its name from Synge Street CBS, the state school in Dublin where Conor Lalor (newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to attend after his parents (Aiden Gillan, Game of Thrones, and Maria Doyle Kennedy, Downton Abbey) do a bit of fiscal belt-tightening due to their worsening economic situation. 

For Conor, the news couldn’t be worse – until he steps onto the school grounds. Synge Street is a rough-and-tumble school where fighting is commonplace, and where the Christian brothers who run the facility strictly enforce the rules – one of them being that all boys must wear black shoes. As Conor’s stylish shoes are brown, he has to go around school only wearing socks until he conforms.

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Conor’s fortunes begin to turn around when he spots a mysterious girl across the road from the school. When Raphina (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter) coolly tells Conor that she plans to go to London to pursue a modelling career, Conor quickly comes up with an idea to cast her in his next music video. The only problem is that Conor doesn’t actually have a band (and he doesn’t sing that well, either). With the help of his new friend, the dorky Darren (newcomer Ben Carolan), they find some other guys at school who can play various instruments and hastily put together a band.

Not knowing what kind of music they want to play, Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor, What Richard Did), comes to their aid. Slacker Brendan serves as a musical Yoda, lending Conor albums by The Cure, Duran Duran, The Jam, Spandau Ballet and other hot bands of the day. Through the music, Conor and his friends create their own New Romantics-inspired tunes and produce homemade videos starring Raphina as their muse.

Sing Street is loosely based on the filmmaker’s own experiences growing up in Dublin during that period. (He’s also a graduate of Synge Street, though he points out that the school today is nothing like how it is depicted in the film.) Carney certainly knows how to make feel-good films – and this one might just be the best of the three he’s done; about an hour in, I realised that I hadn’t stopped smiling. As Conor studies
Brendan’s LPs, the group’s songs – and their fashions – unabashedly mimic each band to humorous effect. Meanwhile, Conor and Raphina grow closer as they learn about themselves and each other.

This is one thoroughly nostalgic film that anyone who listened to that music back in the day – or anyone who learned a musical instrument in order to impress a girl – will simply love. Sing Street is my favourite film so far this year; it’s hard not to adore.

Sing Street is in cinemas now.

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Live and Direct


On the release of The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin, acclaimed French documentarian Eric Ellena discusses his roots, his inspirations and the importance of protecting ecosystems

Live and Direct


On the release of The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin, acclaimed French documentarian Eric Ellena discusses his roots, his inspirations and the importance of protecting ecosystems

Culture > Film


 

Live and Direct

May 27, 2016 / by Jon Braun

How did you get into filmmaking?

I came to filmmaking because I wanted to better understand our world and the parts we can play to make it a better place. I wrote a short film, Drugstore, set in a world where all drugs are sold freely in stores. 

You’re in high demand. When someone pitches an idea for a documentary, how do you decide whether to turn it down or move forward with it?

I choose subjects that fascinate me and that I usually know very little about when I start. A few years ago, I followed top jewellery makers including Bulgari, Buccellati and Damiani for the Masters of Dreams series. The next time around, I was in Bordeaux to cover the rehearsal for a hip-hop dance show, then in Las Vegas shooting an interview with comedian Jerry Lewis, then in the Amazon filming pink dolphins jumping out of the water. Life is never boring.

How did The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin come about?

I produced a three-part series about unusual wildlife called Peru: Extreme Planet. One of the odd animals was the pink dolphin of the Amazon, which piqued the interest of a commissioning editor at France 5, who asked us to research it. We met a lot of scientists and uncovered how the animal transformed from an ancient marine species to the river dolphin of today.

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It’s really a remarkable creature – for those who haven’t seen the film yet, perhaps you could share what makes the pink river dolphin so unique.

They’re usually older species who survived extinction because they adapted to freshwater. Their flexible skin is sensitive to abrasions from branches or scratches from friendly fights between adult males. When those wounds heal, the skin becomes pink – and the pinker a male, the more virile he is considered, so he attracts more females.

What can people do to support environmental conservation efforts?

Knowing about environmental threats is the first step. I think twice before buying furniture made with tropical woods, as I know my purchase can contribute to the destruction of vital rainforests. I will never buy ivory, because I know it usually comes from poachers – and there are other ways to show that you’re successful than owning an object made of ivory. I’m also very concerned about the ancient Chinese and Vietnamese beliefs that rhino horn or shark fin have therapeutic value. It’s never been proven scientifically and it’s a tradition that is going to bring these majestic species to extinction if nothing is done to curb these beliefs.

What inspires you?

Many filmmakers and artists inspire me, especially if they became artists against all odds. I like those who are committed to telling important stories or fighting for a cause. It’s great when you can entertain and educate at the same time. I directed actress Olivia de Havilland at a sound studio in Paris when she was recording the narration for the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint; the film advocates the use of art, like drawing or going to museums, for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the contributors was Yasmin Khan, the daughter of Rita Hayworth, who explained how useful painting was for her mother when she was facing the disease. That’s an important film that has helped thousands of people.

Tell us about the first movie you remember seeing.

The very first movie that my parents brought me to was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I remember how thrilled I was about the Wild West. It felt exotic, so magical; I wanted to go there and ride horses in the great outdoors. I wanted to explore the whole world – and I did. Never give up on your childhood dreams. When you want something, find a way to do it.

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More Human than Human: Ex Machina


The Oscar-winning sci-fi tale grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

More Human than Human: Ex Machina


The Oscar-winning sci-fi tale grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

Culture > Film


 

More Human than Human

April 1, 2016 / by Howard Elias

Over the last couple of decades, our world has seen phenomenal advancements in technology. Sci-fi film Ex Machina grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) works as a programmer at Bluebook, a thinly veiled Google-esque company that has a stranglehold on the internet search business. One day, he wins a company competition to spend a week at the secluded Alaskan estate of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who is the company’s eccentric, reclusive founder and CEO. Needless to say, Caleb is more than a bit chuffed, a feeling that’s only surpassed when he’s sitting in the corporate helicopter as it flies him over a spectacular, sprawling landscape – one which he is told belongs entirely to the boss. Once settled in at his temporary digs, he meets Nathan, who first asks him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

Caleb soon learns that he’s not been brought all that way just to enjoy the view. He’s there to work. Nathan, we all discover, has created an android and Caleb’s job during the week is to execute the Turing test on it. (If you missed The Imitation Game last year, the Turing test assesses whether a computer has the ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.) Caleb is up for the
challenge and he’s taken to a room, where he sees his test subject on the other side of a wall of glass. 

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In front of him is Ava (Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl), who is a sight to behold. Her torso and limbs are translucent, revealing all the circuitry inside. Only her face is flesh-like. Over the next seven days, as Caleb and Ava interact with each other, Caleb begins to realise that everything and everyone at Nathan’s remote hideaway are not all they appear to be.

Ex Machina is thought-provoking and intense – a bit of a cross between Frankenstein and Spike Jonze’s Her, with a dash of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As Caleb, Nathan and Ava all try to get into each other’s heads, we’re left guessing everyone’s motivations until everything becomes clear in the film’s closing scenes – or does it?

The film is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who also wrote the screenplay. He’s no stranger to sci-fi – he also wrote the script for the post-apocalyptic thriller 28 Days Later, a film that has been widely credited with reviving the zombie genre. 

All three actors shine here, but none more so than Vikander. Her training as a dancer is plainly evident as Ava walks and turns her body; she’s both robotic and seductive at the same time. At the recent Academy Awards, the film took home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, upsetting heavy favourites The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sure to stick with you for some time, Ex Machina is guaranteed to make you think deeply about recent developments in robotic technology and artificial intelligence – and what it is to be human.
 

Ex Machina is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD.