Nicholas Barber

  • EX MACHINA FAILS ITS OWN TEST

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 23rd 2015

    Films about artificial intelligence, from “Blade Runner” to “Her”, tend to pose two key questions: first, how can we prove that a machine has consciousness? And second, would a conscious machine have human rights? But once such films have posed those key questions, they usually move on to the issues they’re really interested in. First, will these machines decide to murder us all and take over the world? And second, will any of them look and sound like beautiful women? What’s disappointing about Alex Garland’s shiny new science-fiction mystery, “Ex Machina”, is that it seems genuinely fascinated by the first two questions, only to discard them in favour of the last two.

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  • SUFFOCATED BY INHERENT VICE

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 14th 2015

    Paul Thomas Anderson is probably the most revered writer-director of his generation. He was already loved for “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”, but when he made “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master”, he came to be regarded as a major American artist whose grand themes and experimental narratives made his contemporaries seem like lightweights. It’s an assessment I would go along with. But when the trailer for his new film promised that it would be a faster, sillier, sex’n’drug-fuelled detective comedy, I couldn’t stifle a sigh of relief. Anderson, it seemed, had got his sense of humour back.

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  • A FILM TO GIVE YOU WHIPLASH

    Short Read: for his pick of the films, Nicholas Barber taps into Damien Chazelle's exhilarating debut

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  • STEVE CARELL, WITH ADDED SCHNOZ

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 7th 2015

    Bennett Miller’s new film, “Foxcatcher”, is bound to catch a few Oscar nominations, and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t bag one for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. A sombre true-crime tragicomedy, “Foxcatcher” features Steve Carell as John du Pont, a delusional Pennsylvania billionaire who uses his Citizen Kane-level wealth to set himself up as an Olympic wrestling coach. But you would be forgiven for not realising that Carell was in the film at all. In an effort to help us forget his lighter comic roles in “Anchorman” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, he has been given a broad, pale, puffy face with an overhanging brow and heavy-lidded eyes. More significantly, he has been given the nose to end all noses. Carell’s own smelling apparatus, sans make-up, isn’t exactly discreet, but in “Foxcatcher” he has a conk like a walrus’s flipper. As more than one critic has noted, the arrow-shaped schnoz his animated character has in “Despicable Me” is only marginally smaller.

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  • A SHERLOCK PANTO A LA MODE

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, December 18th 2014

    A raucous, Sherlock Holmes-themed pantomime called "Mrs Hudson's Christmas Corker" might not sound like the most highbrow play that London has to offer. But if you sample enough of the mulled wine being served in the foyer beforehand, you begin to see it differently. Not just a knockabout collection of puns and pratfalls, the play incorporates so much of what is revered in contemporary theatre that it could be the centrepiece of any prestigious international arts festival. Just look at the checklist. It’s a site-specific, time-specific project, co-created by multi-cultural performers who each flit between multiple roles. It has an onstage band and animated back projections. It has self-reflexive commentary and audience participation. And it has a masculine literary source which is given a gynocentric makeover. Finally, it was developed in a hidden-away urban venue that is being rescued slowly from dilapidation. Beat that, National Theatre.

    The venue is Wilton’s, a mid-19th-century music hall that was derelict for decades before reopening in the late 1990s. On the border between the City and Docklands, it has somehow escaped being demolished by Boris Johnson and replaced by a block of bankers’ flats, and its flaking grandeur is regularly employed in music videos and films, including Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream” and Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”.

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  • JAR JAR STINKS

    Ever watched a film and felt you could have made it shorter, sharper or less irritating? Nicholas Barber on the rise of the fan edit

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  • FAN EDITS IN MINIATURE

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, December 5th 2014

    It’s been an exciting week for devotees of lightsabers, stormtroopers and the Millennium Falcon. Not only is this the first time in nine years that a new “Star Wars” trailer has been released, it’s also the first time that such a release has been followed, within hours, by a host of unofficial parodies and homages.

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  • THE MUHAMMAD ALI OF MOVIE CRITICS

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, November 18th 2014

    If you’re a boxer, a gangster, a soldier or a globetrotting super-spy, you must get used to seeing your own profession portrayed in films. Certain types of journalists—crime reporters, gossip columnists—must be accustomed to it, too. But I had never seen a film devoted to a film critic until I saw “Life Itself”, Steve James’s superb documentary about the late Roger Ebert.

    Admittedly, one reason why the film is so whirlingly entertaining is that Ebert wasn’t just a critic. He reviewed several new releases every week for the Chicago Sun-Times for over 40 years, but he was also a Falstaffian bon viveur who used to prop up the same bar as the author and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel and the rest of Chicago’s newspapermen. He was a motor-mouthed television star, with a long-running, sometimes hilariously fractious onscreen partnership with fellow critic Gene Siskel. He wrote a science-fiction novel, a screenplay for Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”, and a political blog with a fervent following.

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  • DREAMING IN ANATOLIA

    Short Read: for his pick of the films, Nicholas Barber steps into the mysterious world of the Palme d'Or-winning "Winter Sleep"

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  • AN ENIGMA BECOMES A BANALITY

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, November 13th 2014

    Early on in “The Imitation Game”, a new drama about Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park codebreakers, Turing tells his superior officer, Commander Denniston, that he has a plan to outsmart the Germans’ Enigma machine. However, he adds, it’s too technical for a layman to understand. When Denniston (Charles Dance) presses him, Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) explains that a person can’t beat Enigma: it will take a machine to defeat the machine. “That doesn’t sound very technical,” bristles Denniston. And he’s quite right. It doesn’t. Despite being a film about a clever, complicated man doing clever, complicated things, “The Imitation Game” is simplified to the point of banality, as if its producers were terrified of confusing the audience for a single moment.

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