Tag: film

The Curse of the jOBS Film

Monday, 18 May, 2015 0 Comments

It’s been two years since the film Jobs, in which Steve Jobs was portrayed by Ashton Kutcher, hit cinema screens. It was not very well received and the unflattering reviews continue to echo: Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote, “Although I think I could watch a whole movie called Woz and not grow tired, Jobs eventually begins to suffer from an ailment common to many biopics: milestone fatigue.”

But two years is a long time in Hollywood and the deciders there reckon that the world is ready for for another movie based on the life of Apple’s co-founder. This time round, though, there’s more film/tech cred on offer. The screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin, it’s based on the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and the director is Danny Boyle. Should be a winner, right? Actually, the omens are everything but propitious.

Sony acquired the rights to Isaacson’s book in 2011, but according to the e-mails found among the gigabytes of data leaked by the Sony Pictures’ hackers late last year, the road has been rocky for all involved in the adaptation. First, the lead star Christian Bale backed out. Then, Sorkin wanted Tom Cruise to play the part and he protested vehemently that he didn’t even know Michael Fassbender when he was cast as Jobs instead. Original director David Fincher dropped out due to financial and creative disagreements with Sony and the deeply troubled project was sold eventually to Universal. Still, Steve Jobs might have more luck than Jobs did. As the blues singer and amateur astrologist Albert King put it: “Born under a bad sign / I been down since I begin to crawl / If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”


Dei ex machina

Thursday, 14 May, 2015 0 Comments

Speaking at the Zeitgeist 2015 conference in London on Tuesday, the famed physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking had this to say: “Computers will overtake humans with AI at some within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.” In its report, Geek.com illustrated Hawking’s prediction with a terrifying Terminator image. As the world knows, Hawking signed an open letter alongside Elon Musk earlier this year warning that Artificial Intelligence (AI) development should not go on uncontrolled, and guess which image The Independent uses today to highlight a story about Musk and his AI concerns? That’s right, the Terminator.

The cliché rules when it comes to AI it seems. We should be grateful, then, that Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is more imaginative and less lazy about the subject. The
film takes an adult approach to AI (full frontal nudity included) and explores ethics, consciousness, sexuality and search engines in its quest for answers.

In the film, Google becomes Bluebook, a nod to Wittgenstein’s notes on language games. Bluebook was founded by a tech genius called Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who retreats from Silicon Valley to create Ava (Alicia Vikander), a consciously erotic humanoid robot. The fun begins when a young Bluebook programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) arrives after having won a company lottery and it’s his job to subject Ava to the Turing test. Thanks to the hot London visual effects company, Double Negative, Alex Garland’s humanoids are irresistible and it’s only a matter of time before love and hate and murder are in the air. But there’s humour, too. This is one of our favourite scenes.


Waiting for Blade Runner

Monday, 6 April, 2015 0 Comments

First, the bad news: The Blade Runner sequel won’t start filming until summer… that’s next year. Now, the good news: Harrison Ford will be reprising his role as Rick Deckard, and Ridley Scott, who directed the science fiction classic, will return as Executive Producer. Released in 1982, Blade Runner was critically-acclaimed for its cinematography, special effects, scoring and dystopian vision. The dialogue sizzled, too. Here’s Deckard interrogating Rachael, a NEXUS-6 model replicant, played by Sean Young:

Deckard: “You’re reading a magazine. You come across a full-page nude photo of a girl.”
Rachael: “Is this testing whether I’m a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?”
Deckard: “Just answer the questions, please. You show it to your husband. He likes it so much he hangs it on your bedroom wall.”
Rachael: “I wouldn’t let him.”
Deckard: “Why not?”
Rachael: “I should be enough for him.”
Deckard: “One more question. You’re watching a stage play. A banquet is in progress. The guests are enjoying an appetizer of raw oysters. The entree consists of boiled dog.”

While we bide our time until the sequel is released, here’s Blade Runner Reality, an Instagram site crafted by Ryan Allen that’s “Dedicated to finding reality that looks like #BladeRunner.” The images come with appropriate dialogue: “That gibberish he talked was city-speak, guttertalk, a mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you.”

Blade Runner


A most excellent film

Thursday, 26 March, 2015 0 Comments

According to statistics, 1981 was the most dangerous year in the history of New York City. This, then, is the time and the place in which director J.C. Chandor stages A Most Violent Year. Crime is rampant, corruption is rife, danger lurks on the mean streets and the winter cold is pervasive. Despite these obstacles, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is determined to corner a share of the oil heating industry. His wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), comes from Mafia stock and is the power behind the throne, but she has her Mrs Macbeth moments of doubt about her man. He lacks the native killer instinct needed to survive in America’s concrete jungle, she feels. Yes, he’s handsome, clever and ambitious, but he refuses to carry a gun. She is wrong, of course, and one of the great things about this film is that it shows how little we understand each other, no matter the intensity of our relationships.

Abel Morales: “You should know that I have always taken the path that is most right. The result is never in question for me. Just what path do you take to get there? There is always one that is most right. And that is what this is.”


Life as a spectator sport

Thursday, 26 February, 2015 0 Comments

“To concede again in the last seconds was pathetic, stupid, exasperating and so typically Arsenal.” Another cynical comment by some jaded hack watching the Gunners being routed by Monaco last night? Not quite. It’s actually the Arseblogger himself commenting on the 3 – 1 Champions League result. While the ups and downs of the game are a challenge for the fans, they give everyday spectators endless material for expressing dismay/delight about how much players are paid compared to the price of a ticket or a pint. All of this drama is reflected in Spectators, a superb animated short film by the young Scottish director, Ross Hogg.


“Music always sort of sharpened me up”

Wednesday, 25 February, 2015 0 Comments

“I refuse no reasonable offer of work,” Anthony Burgess declared in 1978, “and very few unreasonable ones.” During a lifetime that began on this day in 1917, Burgess wrote more than 30 novels, dozens of film and television scripts, several symphonies, hundreds of newspaper articles, studies of language, music, Shakespeare and James Joyce, a pair of plays and books for children, a volume of poetry, a ballet, and a two-volume autobiography. His most famous creation, A Clockwork Orange, is a disturbing exploration of violence and evil. Filled with innovative language, the book questions the role of “culture” in society. Alex, the narrator, is a thug who loves classical music, but rather than temper his cruelty, it actually spurs it:

There was music playing, a very nice malenky string quartet, my brothers, by Claudius Birdman, one that I knew well. I had to have a smeck, though, thinking of what I’d viddied once in one of these like articles on Modern Youth, about how Modern Youth would be better off if A Lively Appreciation Of The Arts could be like encouraged. Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles. Music always sort of sharpened me up, O my brothers, and made me feel like old Bog himself, ready to make with the old donner and blitzen and have vecks and ptitsas creeching away in my ha ha power.


And the Oscar for best foreign-language film…

Sunday, 22 February, 2015 0 Comments

… goes to Leviathan. Well, that’s what we hope. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film exudes contempt for modern Russia. Its story of corruption and cruelty is an indictment of the entire system. A win for Leviathan tonight in Los Angeles will be a black eye for the Putin regime and a victory for creativity. How the characters in the film feel about their country’s perverted history in captured is one of the film’s best scenes: a picnic with some local policemen, lots of bottles of vodka, semi-automatic weapons and an array of Soviet-era portraits — Brezhnev, Lenin, Andropov… the entire gallery of thugs.

Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian Minister of Culture, has called for new guidelines to ban films like Leviathan, which “defile” Russia and her culture.” Leviathan is a glorious defiling; a film that reviles what it loves with grief-stricken rage.


AI: Chappie and Ex Machina

Wednesday, 5 November, 2014 0 Comments

The fate of the gorillas now depends more on humans than on the actions of the gorillas themselves. So says Nick Bostrom. His alarming argument is that a time is coming when the fate of humanity could depend on the super-intelligence of machines. Bostrom lays out his thinking in his latest book, The Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. He worries that when machine brains surpass human brains in intelligence, this new “superintelligence” could become the dominant life-form, and if we want to avoid such a catastrophe, we’d better start planning now. The dangers of artificial intelligence are central to Ex Machina, which is coming to the big screen in spring.

Elon Musk, the business genius and inventor, CEO of Tesla Motors, CTO of SpaceX and chairman of SolarCity was born in South Africa, as was Neill Blomkamp, the director of Chappie, which is also coming to the cinema in spring. Chappie is a robot, but he’s super-intelligent enough to think and feel for himself. Which brings us back to Musk, who tweeted, “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.”

Speaking recently at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium, Musk called AI our biggest existential threat: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.”


The economy: Everyone’s talking about it…

Thursday, 30 October, 2014 0 Comments

… buy who can explain it? Maybe a philanthropist and a filmmaker. Combine the wealth of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, with the creativity of Morgan Spurlock, director of Super Size Me, and you get We The Economy, a series of 20 videos that seeks to explain key economic concepts. Topics covered and questions asked include, “Why is the law of supply and demand so powerful?”, “What causes a recession?”, “Why do we have budget deficits and a national debt?”, “What happens when jobs disappear?” and “Is inequality growing?”

Here’s THE STREET by Joe Berlinger. The clip comes with a range of resources curated to deepen one’s understanding of how the stock market works.


Transcendence fails the Turing Test

Friday, 25 April, 2014 0 Comments

“The world is a smaller place now without the internet,” muses Max Waters, played by Paul Bettany in Transcendence. Because he says this at the start of the film, audience members, who have reluctantly put away their smartphones, are intrigued. But the intriguing opening and the interesting premise about a scientist working to create a sentient machine that combines the entire range of human emotions with the collective intelligence of everything on the planet are unable to support a storyline that seems to be in two minds about itself. Transcendence attempts to be a love story and it wants to be a thriller but it sags under the weight of its self-created AI. It tries to be clever but tires of the effort. The arrival of some Navy SEALs types, complete with Abbottabad gear and attitude, signals that Director Wally Pfister has had enough of the Turing Test.

The cast is stellar: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara and Morgan Freeman. The fault lies elsewhere.


Journalist of the day: Kenneth Williams

Thursday, 10 April, 2014 0 Comments

The English actor and comedian Kenneth Williams was one of the main characters in the popular Carry On films. He lived alone and had few friends apart from his mother, and no significant romantic relationships, but his journals contain references to homosexual liaisons, which he describes as “traditional matters.” His last words in his diary were “Oh, what’s the bloody point?” The cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates.

10 April 1966: “Michael C. [Codron] told me this story about Lady Dorothy Macmillan saying to Mme. de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace. ‘Now that your husband has achieved so much, is there any particular wish, any desire you have for the future?’ and Madame replied, ‘Yes — a penis.’ Whereupon Gen. de Gaulle leaned over and said, ‘No, my dear, in English it is pronounced Happiness.'” Kenneth Williams (1926 — 1988)

Tomorrow, here, we end our week of journal entries with one that documents what happened when Lenin spent a night beside his mother-in-law’s death bed.