A Most Violent Year (15)
Set in New York City in the winter of 1981, the film follows the lives of Abel and Anna Morales - it is about how they negotiate their lives and grow their business despite the problems of violence and corruption which threaten to derail their ambitions. Much has already been said that this isn't a Gangster film but more of a thriller, although as the film title suggests, these elements always lurk behind the scenes.
I am intrigued to see this film because director J.C. Candor is a filmmaker who knows about ambition, business and finance as proven through his previous film Margin Call. This isn't a film where Tony Montana is going to come in guns blazing - this is how the leads want to exist. That said both Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain look every bit like the kind of people who can traverse that Mafia or gangland universe. Indeed, this is where much of the film's tension exists.
Ex Machina (15)
With Ex Machina, it is just fantastic to see Alex Garland fulfilling his route from novelist to screenwriter to director with his debut. This smart, intelligent sci-fi and a universe which Garland clearly loves as has already been proven with the much underrated Sunshine.
The story follows Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant who wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain estate of the company's brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a test of Nathan's latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breath-taking robot whose emotional intelligence proves a test much more deceptive and disturbing than anyone thought.
As a sci-fi enthusiast, I am uber keen about this. Critics have raved about this film's intelligence, ambition and sharpness - a film routed as much in character study as in sci-fi, playing on the talents of three impressive young actors.
Gambler, The (15)
This is a remake of the 70s James Caan original, this time starring Mark Wahlberg as Jim Bennett, an English professor and a high-stakes gambler. When Bennett borrows from a gangster and offers his own life as collateral, he becomes involved in a gambling ring, a dysfunctional relationship with his wealthy mother and becomes embroiled in an underground universe.
The jury is clearly out on this remake with a mix of decent to mediocre critical reviews. Whilst praised for being atmospheric, entertaining and well directed, the film suffers from comparisons to the original, and some critics have been critical of an overly wordy script and lacking in bite and not being particularly memorable. Wahlberg is a strong actor though and has been praised, but I'm not sure I can see him as an English professor.
Johnny Depp stars as a debonair art dealer and rogue, Charlie Mortdecai, who races to recover a stolen painting. Meanwhile, he juggles angry Russians, the Mi5, his wife and an international terrorist. This feels like something Peter Sellers might have done in the 1970s and the trailer is hinting that Depp is trying to do a Mike Myers type thing and not in a good way either. There have been few reviews to date from critics which is not often a good sign. Also, why Depp and not a British actor in the lead role?
Amongst the interesting selection at mac over the next week, Julie Bertuccelli’s School of Babel (PG) is a documentary which focusses on a school in France where the teenage children of new immigrants are sent with a year to learn their new language along with the curriculum and the culture of mainstream education. The classroom is an area which French documentaries have focussed on in the recent past with the likes The Class and done so with such effect. This looks like a film joining that list.
Also at the Electric next Thursday, the popular Trash Film Night are presenting Miami Connection (18), a mess of a film about motorcycle ninjas, and according to the blurb on the Electric's website, part of the "holy trinity of bad films" making up the "third point of the triangle alongside The Room and Samurai Cop". Expect much fun to be had at pouring reverential scorn over this disaster.
That's it for this week. As always, any queries, questions or quibbles, I'm available on twitter @timmy666. Have a fantastic week at the cinema and see you next week for more..