Archives for posts with tag: domhnall gleeson

In our continuing obsession with robots and how they’ll probably take over the world and murder us comes the entry Ex Machina. I seem to recall a lot of hype about how ground-breaking and intelligent it was. I disagree on at least one of those points.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a tech billionaire who is developing humanoid AIs in his remote mansion, because obviously he is. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a peon in his company who wins a contest to go meet the AI. Ava (Alicia Vikander) is the AI. Amid very stylish surroundings, Nathan is a giant creep, Caleb is creeped out, Ava is a really convincing robot.

MV5BMTUxNzc0OTIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDI3NzU2NDE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgTo its credit, this movie addresses a few issues that often come up in this scenario, like “why does the AI have to be a sexy lady?” The answer to that is that Nathan is a creepy weirdo, which is at least stereotypically probable. “Why does Oscar Isaac have that terrible beard?” goes unanswered. “How did we get to the point where AIs are really plausible sexy ladies without a lot of hiccups?” is, however, terrifyingly answered by a gallery of uncanny valley failed AIs. “Can robots dance?” is a glorious yes.

This movie did, at least, kind of consider how robots might think and how this may or may not make them want to kill us all.

On the other hand, I don’t know about you, but I watched Battlestar Galactica, so….

Director: Alex Garland
Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes
Score: 4/5

About Time is not Richard Curtis’s best. Now, that’s not a huge insult; among Richard Curtis’s writing and producing credits we count Four Weddings and a Funeral and all four Black Adder series, plus the shorts. And of course he directed Love Actually, which joined the Christmas viewing canon immediately upon release–no small feat. (But I hated Notting Hill, because it is garbage.)

A lot of the things about About Time are classic Richard Curtis: a young man, pleasingly awkward with girls, has moderate adventures, a quirky family and friend group, and an inexplicably posh background of which he seems unaware. But it lacks the magic of previous installments, perhaps because he’s not trying very hard any more, and peripheral characters are drawn with a crayon in the fist, not his trademark deft pencil. The voiceover is such a crutch, as well. Cute and reasonable in Bridget Jones’s Diary, perhaps necessary in Love Actually, totally played out and irritating here. Just write a film that shows us all we need to know.

Also this installment has actual magic. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), our bumbling Curtis hero, can travel backwards in time. All the men in his family can, as his father (Bill Nighy) tells him on his twenty-first birthday. Naturally, Tim uses this talent to date ladies. This is how he bags Mary (Rachel McAdams). In fairness, he met her and hit it off in totally kosher manner the first time, and only lost her number through a rewriting of time in a generous impulse on behalf of his flatmate, the hilariously angry playwright Harry (Tom Hollander). Most of the time, his time-traveling and its concomitant superior knowledge manage not to be creepy. At its creepiest it allows him to zip back and unhook a bra without fumbling, and perhaps we can all be charitable there. Generally, however, he is trying to erase the embarrassment of others, which is laudable if unlikely.

Tim and Mary get together rather quickly and are adorable, to the extent that I thought she was headed for a rapid death when I checked how much time was left in the film. But the movie doesn’t go quite that cheap, though we do get to see Tim learn that his time-traveling eventually will require difficult, painful choices–if he prevents his sister’s car accident, his child might be a different child. The causality isn’t actually that carefully done, but since it doesn’t insist on that many rules, you can mostly let it go.

It’s not bad. Tim and Mary are more or less plausibly charming. Tim’s dad is regular Bill Nighy, which you probably enjoy. Tim’s mum, played by Lindsay Duncan, is just like all the characters Lindsay Duncan plays now: taciturn, rich but unpretentious, sometimes a bit sweary. Tim’s Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery) is the best part, perhaps because we’ve not seen him before, and “dim but well-meaning” is so nice sometimes. The film goes badly wrong with Tim’s sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), though, because she is a total disaster and no one notices for about a decade and a half, even though they are a relentlessly lovey-dovey family. They just think she’s adorable because she doesn’t wear shoes and can’t keep a job. So there’s that. Women can be self-destructive and still able to dress themselves, you know, or even read.

Director: Richard Curtis
Rating: R
Length: 123 minutes
Score: 3/5

I guess it speaks to my astounding unawareness of other people’s opinions about films that I went to Brooklyn last night and was confused by how many people were there. I haven’t watched an awards show since Titanic cleaned up at the Oscars, for reference.

Anyhow, Brooklyn. Immigrant tales used to come in two kinds, the kind where home changes and the kind where home doesn’t. Vis-à-vis the United States, the former used to have a charming romance between two different types of people, melting pot blah blah, America rah rah. That’s gone out of fashion, to be replaced by the type of story exemplified by Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, where everything is complicated and maybe home is nowhere.

Things are complicated in Brooklyn, too, but less aporetic. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) has two lives, one in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, and the other in Brooklyn, New York. These come with the usual trappings: Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) and Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), respectively, as well as the conflicting pulls of family, job, interfering busy-bodies, and so forth. Both worlds (as well as the ships that cross the Atlantic) are beautifully drawn, from costumes to local dances to employers to beaches… It’s lovely, and Ms. Ronan looks varyingly lovely in it–her hair and costume people are tremendous, as her growing confidence, knowhow, and maturity are borne out in her fashion choices and ability to do her hair properly. There’s no makeover moment, and the progression is not linear, but her understated, splendid acting comes through perfectly. She is equally at home in times of crisis (deaths, catastrophic homesickness) and in small moments (talking too much on a date, and, my favorite moment, sitting next to a boy on the trolley and smiling while avoiding eye contact).

Aside from the obvious complicated gentlemen and a priest here and there, most of the characters in Eilis’s life are women, from her mother and sister to the owner of the boarding house in Brooklyn, a Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters, who is great as always), and the other boarders there. They are excellently drawn; none is a caricature, and they all have reasonable, clear motivations. This movie is actually interested in how its characters think, women and men, and benefits from the attention.

My one quibble is that it’s a little predictable, and, in the end, a little pat. And I know there’s nothing new under the sun, but it started out so ambitiously I was a little surprised.

Stray observations:

  • Shoes in the 50s were awful, apparently, and this film is unflinching about it.
  • If you don’t want someone to propose to you, for whatever reason, and that person is averagely percipient and non-awful, it’s not that hard to keep him from doing so.
  • Domhnall Gleeson is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, because he is extremely versatile–aside from the shock of ginger hair, he is nearly unrecognizable from here to Star Wars.

Directors: John Crowley
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes
Score: 4/5

Spoilers below, sort of.

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