Monday, 19 September 2016

Sing Street (2016) Reviewed by Darth Vader

My name is Darth Vader and recently I formed a Galactic Empire with my master, Emperor Palpatine. Bringing about such momentous change required me to go through some tough transformations, and now that things are settling down I decided to take a break and watch John Carney's Irish musical comedy-drama Sing Street, which I've heard is a very enjoyable film.

This uplifting coming-of-age story follows a group of schoolboys in Dublin in 1985. They go to a really terrible state-school called Synge Street, which I swear is probably an even worse institution than the Jedi Academy was. I mean, both were really strict and most of the teachers were pretentious assholes, but at least the other padawans at the Jedi Academy were fairly nice. Synge Street in comparison is full of gross bullies who give our protagonist Conor a really hard time for no reason. The worst bully was Barry, who reminded me of that idiot on Tattooine, Sebulba. That takes some good acting—Sebulba was CGI!

In the end Barry was kind of redeemed. I found that nice but fairly unbelievable. I mean, good luck redeeming me!

Anyway, I totally related with this protagonist Conor guy. He reminded me of when I was a kid. He saw this pretty girl who was older than him, Raphina, and he just straight up pursued her. That's like with me and Padmé! Conor formed a band called Sing Street to impress Raphina. I became a Jedi. There were some shaky times in the relationship but eventually, just like Padmé, Raphina admitted her love for Conor. Their kiss was so cute! I miss kissing. Also Padmé.

Sing Street's music was really good. Almost made me want to dance.

The band were also so cool. Like, they were really nice to each other. Particularly Eamon. He never said no to any of Conor's crazy ideas. They always had time for one other. I should show this film to my master.

One of the most heartfelt relationships depicted in this film was between Conor and his maste- I mean older brother Brendan. I found this part quite difficult to watch. Difficult in the sense that when I cry too much I have to have my helmet removed and thoroughly cleaned (a laborious and embarrassing process) to prevent infection.

Brendan teaches Conor lots, but then just like with me and my brother Obi-Wan, Brendan realised his younger brother was better at everything and got jealous. That's why I had to fight Obi-Wan. But through music Brendan and Conor managed to get over their issues and keep loving each other. Doh, I wish Obi-Wan and I had tried music before lightsabers!

There's an epitaph at the end of the film: "For brothers everywhere". Ah, stop it. Stop it. I'm not going to cr- stop it!

Sing Street is a great film. It really lifted my spirits and I can recommend it to anyone who had a troubled childhood and/or likes music. It made me happy and it made me sad, particularly when I realised I have become like the bully Barry. Oh well, it's nice to see myself represented on screen either way.

Oh no, my helmet is filled with tears. I'm going to have to get it cleaned again. 8th time this week! Nooooooooooooooooooo!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Ditching Social Media for Good Ol' Blogs

Don't worry, this isn't a Twitter-hating, "I'm leaving social media forever because I'm more enlightened than you" story. I'm not deleting any accounts or pleading for some kind of social change. I am however, in my own small way, attempting a small step away from the increasingly chaotic social networks of Facebook and Twitter.

There are two primary reasons for this.

1. Algorithms = Mayhem

Social media is becoming increasingly non-linear, and I don't like it. I'm not sure whether I'm in the minority on this. I enjoyed Facebook a lot back when the most recent content was always displayed at the top of the page. It was so easy to comprehend, easy to stay up to date, easy to check if you'd missed anything. Cut to today, and there's no sense of control over one's Facebook timeline. It's a madhouse. Facebook presents content in whichever order its mysterious algorithms believe to be most pleasing to me. Not only does this ruin my pleasurable sense of continuity, but if Facebook one's primary source of information, I see this system as socially damaging. Where is the learning in consuming only content that is pleasing to the reader? If I see only posts I like, by people that I agree with, am I not limiting my capacity for growth?

But hey, maybe it's perfectly logical for Facebook to use these algorithms. It's a website designed primarily for people to interact with their friends, and in that respect it's helpful for the site to understand which friends I genuinely want to see in my timeline and which I don't. Okay. But Twitter—that's a different story. Twitter has always been set apart by its free and simple nature. 140 character tweets, always displaying the most recent at the top, follow whoever you like. It's a design capable for great stories, interactions and discussions. But Twitter hasn't been doing so well financially, and they think they ought to become more like Facebook. So they're throwing away all of their fundamental rules. Soon Twitter will be non-linear and will have a greater focus on graphical content. Just like Facebook.

Also contributing to the chaos is the increasing volume of advertising on both Facebook and Twitter, but that's a whole nother thing. 

The "While you were away..." feature was an early sign of Twitter's non-linear plans.

Here's a patchy analogy for you. These social networks want to be like sitcoms, with long 24 episode seasons and no continuous plot, so you can jump into any episode at any time. That's fair thinking, the sitcom is a very successful genre. But personally I want my social media to be like serious, serialised TV. If I like content I want to see it all, in order, without missing anything. And this is why I'm preferring the blog format to people's Facebook posts which forever pounce around my Facebook feed, impossible to pin-down.

All of this would be perfectly palatable if not for my second grievance.

2. A Desire for Effort

This is pretty obvious, but Facebook and Twitter don't demand much from their content-providers/users. At the top of both websites rests a variety of the insatiable question, "What are you thinking?", which implies a valuable property in the answer, whatever it may be. Thus, the user is encouraged to contribute crap. Certainly, it doesn't have to be crap, and there's loads of brilliant content on both social networks, but the very nature of this permanent question, "What are you thinking?", suggests that whatever you've got right now will do. Feed me, it says. Anything. Right now.

And so it is between these heaving masses of thoughtless crap that we wade to find the brilliant content that Facebook and Twitter have to offer. I don't know about you, but years of scrolling through such brain vomit has elicited within my a strong desire for good-old considered publication.

Even a personal blog, as an individually-owned and permanent home of the posts within it, demands far more thought and meditation from its author than anything on the big social networks. is currently one of my current favourite social media networks, and this is partly because it works to foster effort from its users. On Trakt, a thoughtful user review of any length can not only receive likes from peers, but looks really good on the platform. In the chaotic clutter of Facebook and Twitter, people don't care as much about making themselves and their content look smashing. Perhaps these social networks are simply not designed to be fonts of useful content anymore. But many people do use them as precisely that.

All of this may never have been an issue for you, if you've always stayed true to official news media. But for people of my generation, social networks have replaced formal news formats.

I think it's all gonna be okay though, as long as we don't forget about the humble blog. (He said, on his blog.)

My hip new working setup for online information consumption is "the Google Reader method". Google Reader was a big RSS feed catching app back in the day, til Google ended it (RIP). Now there are a bunch of apps populating that void, the most popular being GReader, Inoreader and Feedly. After some research I have decided to use the latter of these.

And so this weekend I've slowly been punching in the RSS feeds of my friends' blogs, favourite news sites, authors I like and hey-why-the-hell-not the BBC. Feedly then produces my new go-to timeline, filled with a variety of thoughtful articles with real sweat and grease behind their creation.

I've always struggled with the concepts of Snapchat more than any other social app, primarily due to the temporary nature of its content. If something's good, and really connects with me, I want to be able to hang on to it. So I like that with Feedly you can easily save and keep your favourite articles or blogposts.

Of course I'll still be using Facebook and Twitter as communication tools and to see what people I know are up to lately, but I'm excited about this new setup. I'll let you know how it's going in a few weeks' time.

I feel like an old man.

Monday, 12 September 2016

A Student Film: Complication

It has now been several weeks since we finished shooting Conductor of Earth. It was a big 6 days made smooth and fun by our lovely cast & crew, who really stepped up to the challenge.

Just a few cast & crew posing in our elevator set

Many people have asked me how the shoot went, and if I'm happy with the footage. I have mostly replied with an empty non-answer ("Yeah, good") because I don't currently feel equipped to judge it. I'm not really going to feel confident in our footage until he have a working edit.

But by the fact that extremely little went awry, the shoot was a good shoot. Only some props were damaged and we mostly didn't go too far overtime and we only had one really tough shoot (finishing around 4am in extreme cold with patchy rain is not fun for anyone).

I felt incredibly lucky to direct such a dedicated and independent crew. As much as it's great when the crew ask me questions about things, the fact that each department was cool and confident enough to make decisions and keep working on their own propelled the whole production forward. The lighting team and production designer were so important and efficient throughout the shoot that I was allowed to consider the action and characters. From the inspiring actors to the diligent script supervisor to the ARRI ALEXA camera, it was a treat to be a part of such a professional film production.

It was certainly surreal to see scenes come alive which I've imagined so much for nearly a year. I'm delighted that so much of it looks just like I imagined it, and some even better.

At this stage I'm pretty excited about having a working edit by the end of the month. Then we can start putting in magical dressings like music. It's usually when I add music that I start to admire my films. I'll write about that in a few weeks.

So Very Much Wonderful Ado About Nothing

Yesterday was the final performance of Third Door Theatre's production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, in which I had the juxtaposed joy of playing the melancholy villain, Don John. It's always strange when a production like this comes to an end; suddenly there's no great practical reason to see all the cast and crew you've spent a huge chunk of your life with for months. This one's a particularly bittersweet goodbye however, because it really was a cluster bomb of awesome.

I've always been a huge fan of Shakespeare, so it's been enormously fulfilling to be a part of this big, thoughtful, fully-fledged and really fun production of one of the bard's best works. And to be the villain was never something I anticipated, as I've certainly leaned towards comedic roles in the past. The role of Don John ended up being a wonderful challenge with intriguing themes. It was often kinda cathartic to delve into that dark melancholy.

And I was surrounded by the most exceptional cast. I've seen a fair few productions of Much Ado in film and theatre, and it's such a joy to be able to honestly say I think the characters were all portrayed better in this show than anywhere else I've seen them. From Benedick and Beatrice to Hero and Claudio to Leonato and Don Pedro to Margaret and Ursula to Dogberry and Verges and the rest - these characters were so funny and real that I feel like they truly existed. After months of rehearsals and ten shows I wasn't tired of watching any of it.

And, hard to believe that it's possible, but these actors were just cool off-stage as on-stage. The overflow of camaraderie can be attributed to director Cale MacLaren, who undertook nurturing this big theatre family with the utmost sincerity and encouragement. Cale's talents as an actor, director, wordsmith and builder of bonds made this production special.

The deliciously sentimental thing about the nature of theatre is that this production is now little more than memories. But these ones are gonna last.