Five unexpected song and dance moments in film

Now the obvious answer to this is something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Flashdance. But those are lazy choices. And those films were some time ago. So with that in mind, here are my more contemporary offerings.

‘Dancing in the dark’
The Place Beyond the Pines

Here, Ryan Gosling’s tattooed motorcyclist bank robber celebrates his first heist by dancing around in a shack with his mentor, played by the ever shabby Ben Mendelsohn. Memorably, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the dark’ plays as they both jig around with the dog. Weirdly, it’s impossibly cool.


‘Tear up the dance floor’
Ex Machina

Reclusive genius coder Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) ups the weird factor in a scene loaded with creepy intensity. One where he launches into an unannounced dance routine with his assistant, unnerving the already suspicious Caleb (Dohmnall Gleeson).


‘What do tigers dream of?’
The Hangover

You’re hungover with a tiger in your bathroom. You’ve drugged the beast and now you’re killing time till it passes out. So what do you do? Sing a little song, of course. A tune made all the more inspired by the fact actor Ed Helm came up with it inbetween takes, and director Todd Philips liked it so much he stuck it in the movie.


‘TeKillYah’
Baby Driver 

Perhaps an easy one, as Edgar Wright’s – possibly best – film has music baked into its very fabric. From the opening scene to the closing credits, it’s such a well executed treat. As close to a musical as you’ll see in an action film. I couldn’t find the ‘tequila’ track from the film, so have put the trailer up. Just go see it, and you’ll see the scene I mean.


‘Just can’t get enough’
Son of Rambow

Set in the summer of the ’80s, this delightfully cute and quirky film was littered with wonderful moments. One was a little dance routine where the cool French exchange kid starts dancing to electro, and everyone copies him.

Ex Machina: Lessons in playing God

Alex Garland is a mighty fine writer. He’s now a director. His past writing credits include The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Dredd and now Ex Machina.

With the latter he’s stepped up to the director’s chair, and done so without missing a beat. He’s been helped by a great cast of course, in three rising stars: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.

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The story here starts with young coder Caleb (Gleeson) winning a competition to spend a week with reclusive genius Nathan (Isaac), CEO of Bluebook (essentially, Google). He quickly finds out he’s to be the subject of a ‘Turing test’ (to determine artificial intelligence) with beautiful cyborg Ava (Vikander).

Attempting to manipulate – or at least stay on the good side of – an unhinged genius is something Gleeson has done before (in Frank opposite Michael Fassbender), but here he has his work cut out for him with Nathan.

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Right from their first meeting we see Nathan pumping iron outside his beautiful forest/mountain retreat. He’s a beast of a man with a shaved head and bushy, slightly unkempt beard, looking more like South American gangster than the head of one of the world’s most powerful tech companies. But then that’s the point, he’s not what you expect. He confounds expectations.

And with a masterclass in passive-aggressive behaviour, Isaac keeps us guessing. We see him as Gleeson’s Caleb sees him; drinking heavily then attempting to cancel it out by furiously detoxing. He calls Caleb his buddy, sharing a beer with him one moment then the next cutting him off mid-sentence with a psychotic look or antagonistically dismissive comment. In short, he’s used to being in control but has his demons. Lots of them, judging by the film’s first third.

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As most of us have been dimly aware, over the last few years Gleeson’s career has skyrocketed. Other actors often have showier parts, but he tends to provide the anchor to the story and a way in for the audience – if he was a footballer he’d be a defensive midfielder. Often overlooked, but the rest of the team know he makes them look good.

And talking of the rest of the team, when Caleb isn’t having unnerving conversations with Nathan he’s being challenged by Ava in an altogether different manner. Vikander is a revelation as Ava, all sharp, precise movements and piercing looks, she puts Caleb on the back foot from the get-go, challenging why he’s there and what he truly wants and desires, making him question himself as much as the situation.

Alicia Vikander i Ex Machina

All in all, this is a riveting film from start to finish. The three leads excel in equal measure and Garland’s script and direction are strong. It’s tense, dramatic, emotional, and makes you question – in terms of technology and what it means to be human – where we as a race are going. Or where we might be going. It’s timely too, with Stephen Hawking’s recent comments that the existence of AI poses a threat to our very existence.

So, if films cannot tackle big themes and do so in a commanding, compelling and affecting manner, then what good are they? Or, to put it another way, if you care about the future of humanity and thoughtful, challenging filmmaking, go see this film.

Trailer park: Focus, Mad Max, Ex Machina

As 2014 draws to a close I thought a quick look ahead to three rather exciting films out next year wouldn’t be amiss. (Obviously, there’s lots more, but for these little trailer park breakdowns, three is the magic number.)

Focus (In cinemas February 2015)
Will Smith and Margot Robbie (her from The Wolf of Wall Street) star in this rom-com-con, as it’s a film about a con artist who falls for his hot protégé. Based on the trailer, Robbie looks to be giving Amber Heard a run for her money in the old school Hollywood glamour stakes.

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Ex Machina (In cinemas April 2015)
Written and directed by Alex Garland (making his debut as a director) this films tells the story of a computer coder (Domhnall Gleeson) who thinks he’s won a chance to stay at the house of his CEO for a week, but is actually participating in an experiment involving artificial intelligence (namely, Alicia Vikander’s character).

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Mad Max: Fury Road (In cinemas May 2015)
Make no mistake, this film is part of a franchise. And there’s been a gap of 30 years between the last film and this one. Originally starring Mel Gibson, we now have Hollywood’s go-to guy for intensity as the lead, Tom Hardy. Charlize Theron is also thrown in for good measure, as the fantastically named Imperator Furiosa.

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Team Gleeson: It’s a family affair

gleesonWhoosh, a wisp of fire. Fiery red hair to be precise. First came Brendan, entertaining us with many rambunctious performances (I say entertaining like he’s done, he’s going from strength to strength). Then came Domhnall, son of Brendan, himself having enjoyed a rather varied career up till now, spanning comedy, romance, action, quirky indies and more.

Yes, Team Gleeson is a cinematic family affair, one that deserves recognition and perhaps hasn’t sufficiently had it yet. It’s time to celebrate this dream team, time to rejoice and revel in their acting prowess, and indeed single out some of their best performances and look forward to what they’ve got coming up.

TEAM BRENDAN
Brendan came late to the acting game, getting his break aged 34 in The Field. From there he’s continued to grow, particularly as a lead actor in the last five years or so with a string of career-high performances.

  • Braveheart
  • The General
  • Gangs of New York
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • In Bruges
  • Perrier’s Bounty
  • The Guard
  • Calvary


TEAM DOMHNALL

Interestingly, Domhnall has quietly become a potent and chameleonic force in the acting world, never putting in the same sort of performance twice. In the last few years he’s stepped up to lead roles with great success.

  • Never Let Me Go
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • True Grit
  • Black Mirror
  • Frank
  • About Time


What’s next for Team Gleeson?

Well Brendan has Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise out now and Domhnall has not only the intriguing Ex Machina out next year, but has also found himself part of one of the most sought after cast lists in years, Star Wars: Episode VII.

So things are going well for the team. Gleeson senior is maturing like a fine wine and Gleeson junior is set to go supernova in a galaxy far, far away. And the next time you see either of their names on a film poster, be sure to get excited and tell your friends.