Magic in The Moonlight

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DIR/WRI: Woody Allen • PRO: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Alisa Lepselter  • DES: Anne Seibel  • CAST:  Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden

Woody Allen continues a routine which he’s more or less kept up for over 40 years, which is to write and direct a movie every year. This amazingly prolific output comes with some downsides however, mainly that the movies can be hit and miss. Last year’s Blue Jasmine was certainly a hit, owing a lot to Cate Blanchett’s Oscar winning performance. Unfortunately, this year’s effort Magic in The Moonlight must go down as a miss.

The storyline of the film, set in 1928, revolves around an American family who summer in the south of France, and who have become extremely taken with a young spirit guide named Sophie, who claims to be able to read peoples futures and contact the dead. Some close relatives of the family are convinced the girl is a con artist, and hire a well-known magician to catch her out. Unable to do so, the astounded magician recruits his world famous colleague Stanley Crawford, to find her out. Crawford, as well as being a world class magician is also a debunker of mystics. He is an extremely cranky and pessimistic man, but warms to Sophie despite himself, and starts to realise that maybe  there is more to life than meets the eye.

Colin Firth is the latest delivery system for Woody’s pessimistic worldview, playing the lead role of Stanley Crawford who refuses to indulge in anything only the cruel harsh realities of life. It seems like a role that Allen would have played himself if he were younger, but Firth does his best with the material. Emma Stone is perfectly likeable and cute opposite Firth, although due to an uncharacteristically poor script, neither of the characters are drawn out well enough for us to care about them, or to believe in their romance.

Allen has made many soirees into Europe in the last 15 years, with some noticeable successes, including Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Match Point. This film will not join the ranks of the aforementioned films, but remains a watchable, and mildly amusing film, and will tick a lot of boxes for fans of Allen’s neurotic brand of romantic comedy. It just feels to me like something we’ve seen many times before.

Michael Rice

PG (See IFCO for details)

97 minutes

Magic in The Moonlight is released 19th September 2014

Magic in The Moonlight – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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DIR: Marc Webb  • WRI: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci , Jeff Pinkner  PRO: Avi Arad, Matthew Tolmach • DOP: Daniel Mindel • ED: Pietro Scalia • MUS: Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer • DES: Mark Friedberg • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx

Comic-book movies invite a deal more cynicism than most others, plainly because, on a certain level, they are blatantly cynical themselves. At their worst they are arduous cash-ins on materials with a guaranteed enough fan-base that massive grosses are imminent, whereas at their finest they can be faithful additions to an already adored canon. Marc Webb’s rebooted Spiderman franchise, which kicked off with 2012’s relatively safe The Amazing Spiderman, has the potential for an even thicker dollop of scepticism to be dealt its way, from fans and cinema-going-public alike, due mostly to the fact that it appeared in multiplexes a mere four years after Sam Raimi’s much derided but gargantuan grossing (800 million) Spiderman 3 left our screens for a lucrative retirement on DVD. The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue was simple enough “Do we really need this?”

The popularity of Spiderman is an easy one to fathom. Much like that of The X-Men, his is an underdog’s story that invites one to cheer on his behalf as though he’s an FAI club playing Champions League. His strife as a teenage outcast and struggle as a low-level press photographer invite our empathies to the point that we can taste his triumph if the balance is right between his societal grounding in our world and the heightened reality that held back any means to adapt the stories until almost a decade after Pixar pixelated life into a cowboy ragdoll.  Sam Raimi’s films never quite hit the mark, lending themselves too much to cartoon sensibilities to be taken seriously with the suit off and Marc Webb’s first film played it far too safe for two acts only to spend too much money at ILM for the third act to facilitate a slightly bonkers plot featuring a lizard scientist (aptly titled “The Lizard” in Stan Lee’s original books) who wished for everyone else to be lizards with him. Truth be told, no cinematic outing has come as close to nailing the required balance as the mid-90’s cartoon by Fox’s Cartoon Network. That is, until now.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 picks up very closely after its 2012 predecessor. The villains: Jamie Foxx’s Electro; Dan DeHaan’s Green Goblin; Paul Giametti’s The Rhino. The everyday struggles: life after high-school; what happened to my parents; do I keep my girlfriend? Suffice to say, if one is familiar with superhero narratives not a great deal occurs in the film’s set-up to surprise one bar the fact that it is still necessary to include a montage of cops stating they feel Spiderman is “a menace” and that he should “leave cops to do their jobs”. Viewing these elements unassembled it wouldn’t be unfair to expect a business-as-usual affair harkening back to the Raimi films but having seen them arranged and garnished it is now no mystery why Marc Webb, whose only experience previous to Spidey 2012 was the dazzlingly original rom-com 500 Days of Summer, was assigned the task of making Spidey stand out. As he breathed refreshing individuality into 500 Days here too he uses all the tricks in his director’s book to make a potentially dull affair shine, thrill, and move and even after these facts it is often laugh-out-loud funny.

If it wasn’t clear from the patently addictive on-screen chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in Webb’s first Spidey-outing that Webb could direct actors this film leaves no doubt. Not only are villains Foxx and DeHaan believable and often sympathetic but they have depth to the point that each could conceivably form the centre of their own story. Having seen Amazing Spiderman 2, the previously outlandish concept of the stand-alone films each of the Spiderman villains will be getting next year somehow makes sense. Each antagonist forms their own emotional core to compete with Spiderman’s, with the film’s true evil being made up by shady Oscorp suits who in turn make pawns of each of the story’s big bads. Having mentioned acting at all it would be a discredit to the profession to not mention the performance of the always excellent Sally Field, who halfway through brings the film to its (nearly) emotional peek.

The last film’s big let-down was its action sequences, something which Webb tried to enhance with a mixture of 3D and first-person perspective but which fell rather flat. In this outing I bought every one with glee. This is one of the rare occasions on which 3D enhances the experience to the point that it might suffer without it. Not only that, but the use of volume-shooting, (here utilised to convey “Spidey-sense”) which has grated on me ever since Zack Snyder ruined it for everyone in the first 300 film, is graceful to the point of justifying itself to the plot.

So enjoyable is this superhero outing that I find it difficult to pick the holes I’m sent to look for. There is a plane sequence (the second plane sequence) which takes the viewer out of the action in order to punctuate a large-scale fight sequence (à la the two ferries in The Dark Knight) which really doesn’t work and seems to fumble the film’s momentum. There are montages here and there that seem to be merely ticking studio boxes, which unfortunately can’t be helped. Controversially, every character, good or bad, possesses motivation and depth unless they’re both European and bad in which case they’re just out-and-out sadistic, violent assholes. Pah! Minor flaws.

Here, Webb has not only made the franchise his own but made the film world excited for where he’ll turn after Amazing Spiderman 3, for which he is already signed on. He has constructed a major story from minor details where every frame is thought out down to the Dogtown and the Z-Boys that adorns Peter Parker’s bedroom wall or the Daniel Johnston tee-shirt he wears to his graduation. If you read any reviews that suggest this is anything close to the norm of the genre don’t believe them.

Donnchadh Tiernan

12A (See IFCO for details)
142 mins

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is released on 16th April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmaI1nInDOs

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Cinema Review: Gangster Squad

 

DIR: Ruben Fleischer • WRI: Will Beall • PRO: Dan Lin, Kevin McCormick, Michael Tadross• DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Alan Baumgarten, James Herbert • DES: Maher Ahmad • CAST: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi

It’s quite obvious a significant level of effort was put into the production of Gangster Squad. A crack team of award-winning and well-regarded actors were persuaded to take part – whether through artistic or financial motivations we will never know. Considerable energy, both practical and computer generated, has been put into evoking 1949 Los Angeles. After principal photography had wrapped, Warner Bros. made the not insignificant decision to get everyone back together for expensive reshoots when a key ‘cinema shootout’ sequence drew unfortunate parallels with the Aurora massacre. So yes: time and money was undoubtedly spent getting Gangster Squad into theatres. Shame the script didn’t really deserve the effort.

 

The set up, supposedly inspired by true events: determined LAPD sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is ordered by his chief (Nick Nolte) to set up a secret ‘guerrilla’ squad to take down increasingly powerful (and real-life) gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). O’Mara pulls together a team including an old gun (Robert Patrick), the old gun’s young protégée (Michael Pena), a tough but virtuous beat cop (Anthony Mackie) and a tech-head / family man (Giovanni Ribisi). There’s also Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who happens to be having an affair with Cohen’s moll Grace (Emma Stone). Can O’Mara save L.A. from corruption, while fulfilling his promise to his pregnant wife (Mireille Enos) to not get himself killed?

 

Here’s the thing: every time a character is introduced, every time a seemingly throwaway line of dialogue is given that little extra emphasis, every time the classic three-act structure requires a very particular plot development… you know exactly what’s coming next. Gangster Squad is lacking in the element of surprise, and Will Beall’s script is derivative to an absolute fault. There’s nothing you haven’t experienced before, often in vastly superior form. Given the film’s deep debt to countless film noir and gangster films past, some degree of familiarity is to be expected, but this is simply lazy. A surprisingly brutal duo of opening sequences tease that we’re in hard-boiled territory. Alas, everything that follows is soft and runny, right through to an unconvincingly sunny side up ending. The film taunts that it might probe the moral ambiguity of the increasingly unhinged police at the centre of the tale, but they are mere taunts. Those looking for character development, despair: Gangster Squad is not the motion picture you seek (although Enos as O’Mara’s wife is allowed to be a tad more proactive than might be expected from such a potentially thankless role).

 

Pitifully formulaic though it may be, it also passes the time without great offense being caused (ludicrously high ‘generic gangster’ body count aside). The cast have all done better, but no one embarrasses themselves, so hooray there. Director Ruben Fleisher’s direction isn’t anything to write home about, but the film is tightly paced with little waste. The action set pieces, barring some uneven attempts at slo-mo stylisation, are diverting, particularly an amusing prison breakout sequence. And while the film could hardly be accused of being the most intoxicating period drama ever made, mid twentieth century L.A. is evoked well enough through period detail and era-appropriate soundtrack choices.

 

So Gangster Squad is the dictionary definition of ‘alright’ then – passes the time, but near instantly forgettable due to its formulaic writing. Hollywood has produced worse films about Hollywoodland, but its also made much better.

Stephen McNeice

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

112 mins

Gangster Squad is released on 11th January 2013

Gangster SquadOfficial Website

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Cinema Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

man in spandex

DIR:Marc Webb • WRI: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves • PRO: Avi Arad, Matthew Tolmach, Laura Ziskin • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Alan Edward Bell, Michael McCusker, Pietro Scalia • DES: J. Michael Riva • Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

And sure why not do this?! It’s not like a billion dollars worth of people are already well aware of Peter Parker’s humble beginnings!! Despite an armada of promotional material suggesting otherwise, The Amazing Spider-Man remains an origin tale. And one excruciatingly similar to Sam Raimi’s efforts of ten years ago!

That was sarcasm.

A lot of sarcasm.

Yes, some novel angles and fresh slants compliment the wry humour and often joyous special effects. Cast and characters enjoy similar redecoration. Titular web-slinger Andrew Garfield accounts for himself very well indeed, though undisputed Best-of-her-Generation Emma Stone does even better.

Yet the opening hour treads such familiar territory, stumbling over more than a few wider Superhero clichés, you’ll find yourself impatiently wishing him into the impossible-for-any-teenage-boy-to-ever-weave-anything-so-intricate spandex and just bloody well get on with it.

The emotional ‘toil’ of this charming, quick-witted, handsome, athletic, intelligent adolescent wore a bit thin a decade ago. Retracing these steps (at the expense of anything resembling an action sequence) seems a dependable way to piss an audience off.

It’s not until Dr Curt Connors’ (Rhys Ifans) ill-fated bid to restore his right arm with reptilian genes that The Amazing Spider-Man kicks into gear, finally standing apart as its own chronicle rather than a trendy revamp.

But by then the damage is done.

And for every fresh innovation, every frightened boy encouraged to rescue himself from a flaming vehicle, every secret revealed to a wonderfully mature, competent girlfriend there is the obligatory scene of a newly augmented Parker turning the tables on his bullies or New Yorkers aiding their friendly neighbourhood vigilante.

Rather than doing the sensible thing and running for their lives!

And don’t get me started on how often the R word is bandied about.

FYI Sony Pictures – Synonyms for Responsibility: Accountability, duty, obligation…

On its own merits, The Amazing Spider-Man is a heartfelt blockbuster and an impressive accomplishment for director Marc Webb.

It illuminates how comic book films, because of not in spite of their origins, boast nuanced character and emotional turmoil to compliment well crafted gags and spectacular fights involving a high school, a red and blue spandexed acrobat and a nine-foot-lizard-man-dinosaur-thing!

But one cannot entitle a work ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ without inviting certain comparisons.

Chances are, if you are in any way excited for Spidey’s latest outing, you’ve seen at least some of the previous trilogy.

Should you fall into this category take heed: You’ll be impressed by Garfield, you’ll fall in love with Stone and the Lizard’s wall crunching, truck flipping set pieces (albeit unpardonably brief) entertain on a level paralleling Spiderman 2’s now legendary Doc Ock/Spidey slugfests.

But nonetheless, that spidey sense will tingle.

You may not have seen nor heard ALL of this before. But there’ll be enough unshakable familiarity to mar what should have been a hip, sensitive, spectacular and above all unique Spider-Man film.

But hey! It could be much, MUCH worse.

It could be Spider-Man 3….

Jack McGlynn

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
136m 03s
The Amazing Spider-Man is released on 3rd July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XayxMPrUP4

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Cinema Review: The Help

Help yourself to Oscars

DIR/WRI: Tate Taylor • PRO: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Brunson Green • DOP: Stephen Goldblatt • ED: Hughes Winborne • DES: Mark Ricker • CAST: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard

In 2010, the only movie to retain the top spot of the US Box Office for three consecutive weeks was Inception. So far in 2011, the only movie to do the same is The Help. In a time when new movies are systematically knocking (one week) old movies from the #1 spot on a weekly basis, how is it this explosion-free, period drama managed to stay up there so long? Much like the plot of the movie itself, so much can be achieved with word of mouth.

Set in the ’60s, The Help tells the story of Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone), who returns to Mississippi from her New York college with the hopes of being a writer. Faced with the daily accounts of racism and inbred hatred, Skeeter decides to write a book detailing the African American maid’s point of view on the white families they work for, with the help of Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer), who must do so in secret, or they’ll be promptly fired from their homes and will never be hired as help again.

Against the backdrop of Hurricane Camille, John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, The Help tells a huge story but in a very intimate setting, mostly just a group of ladies talking in a kitchen. The ’60s are perfectly realised, and the constant sense of oppression and revolution can be felt throughout. The tone is kept mostly light, with a lot of comic relief, provided mostly by Minny and her new boss Jolene (Anna Camp), who treats her new employee more like her new best friend, much to Minny’s befuddlement.

But a film about topics such as these will have its darker moments too, and boy howdy, does this movie want to make you cry. Viola Davis’ character’s backstory, coupled with her tear-marked brave face and the cloying, heart-string pulling score will have you welling up, no questions asked. In fact, the movie is perhaps a little too manipulative; from that ever present ‘You Must Be Sad Now’ soundtrack, to Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Hilly, someone so boo-hiss worthy you’d swear that she stepped out from a Harry Potter novel with a snake tattooed on her arm.

But despite all this, and the almost two-and-a-half hour running time (which, honest to God, you won’t notice), this is still definitely a film worth seeing, if only for the Oscar®-worthy performances, and for the big smile it will undoubtedly leave planted on your face. Spread the word.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Help is released on 28th October 2011

The Help – Official Website

 

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Saoirse Ronan in Dirty Dancing?


Paddy Power are currently offering odds of 20/1 on Ms Ronan playing the role of Baby in the upcoming remake of Dirty Dancing. Saoirse would most likely be playing opposite Justin Timberlake, who is the 3/1 favourite to take on the Swayze mantle.

But although we know our Irish acting powerhouse would do us all proud and have the time of her life, we have to admit that an American actress is much more likely to be the wind through Johnny’s tree. Emma Stone, with her perky cuteness, is 5/1 to get the part.

However, Stone’s co-star will have their work cut out for them if the ‘spider monkey’ incident is anything to go by. Whilst filming a Dirty Dancing lift scene in the film Crazy, Stupid, Love, co-star Ryan Gosling got a kick in the neck. The goal was to have Ryan lift Emma above his head, but Emma had a panic attack and couldn’t do it. ‘I ran for him to pick me up, and I don’t know what happened,’ she said. ‘I went spider monkey around his head and kicked him in the throat.’

Ryan has shared his side of the experience: ‘Emma was convinced I was going to drop her. She turned into a bag of rats, going all over the place.’

So here’s to a fantastic blooper-reel in the upcoming remake. We’ll just have to wait, with hungry eyes…

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Easy A

Easy A

DIR: Will Gluck • WRI: Bert V. Royal • PRO: Zann Devine, Will Gluck • ED: Susan Littenberg • DOP: Michael Grady • DES: Marcia Hinds • CAST: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Aly Michalka, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson

Olive is a funky, spunky, teenage girl who is well-liked but not really noticed in the social world of her high school. A bookish, witty and quietly hot young woman with a heart of gold, Olive accidentally lands herself in hot water by telling her overbearing best friend (Michalka) that she has lost her virginity. This tiny lie explodes all over school as the leader of a Christian mob (Bynes) spreads the rumour around like wildfire. As a favour to her gay friend, Olive agrees to pretend they have had sex so he will stop getting bullied. Soon, she is accepting payment for saying she’s had sex with all the geeks and losers in school who hope that it will make them more appealing to girls. However, it isn’t long until the somewhat well-intentioned Olive finds herself in way over her head.

Easy A is a very entertaining film with some colourful supporting characters and a fantastic ensemble cast. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci play Olive’s overly liberal, ex-hippy parents and are adorably quirky, yet extremely warm. Both characters give the film some of the depth that the shallow void of high school social politics takes away. Lisa Kudrow is also impressive as the school guidance counsellor who finds herself in a very tricky predicament. But enough about the grown-ups, this film’s young cast are all fantastic too! Emma Stone is a star on the rise since she appeared in Judd Apatow’s Superbad and easily graduates to leading lady playing the complex heroine of the film. She has a wonderful girl-next-door quality and is a likeable balance of attractive and ordinary-looking. She has great comic timing and ability to evoke warmth and chemistry with everyone she shares screen time with.

A major flaw in the film, despite Emma Stone’s great screen presence, is that the character of Olive is poorly characterised and her change from confident young outcast to attention-seeking vixen is disarming and, unfortunately, takes away from the film’s considerable charm in other departments. Olive is adorable and her change to corset-wearing vamp doesn’t quite gel with the smart, self-assured young women at the start of the film.

There’s something quite old-fashioned about Easy A. It seems to suggest that having teenage sex is shocking. I can’t imagine that there’s a high school in America (or anywhere in the western world) where a girl would become a celebrity because she admits to having lost her virginity. In many ways the film has a lot to say about teenagers and it goes to great pains to steer clear of patronising them, but there is nothing progressive about Olive’s story.

These flaws, though fundamental can’t dampen the high spirits of the film and the charming big heart that it wears on its sleeve. The script is at times eloquent, always hilarious and though it brandishes its John Hughes references a little too heavily at times, it does evoke his intuitive, respectful love of teenagers.

This is an enjoyable teen movie that could have been the next Mean Girls but misses the mark by poor characterisation. It’s still a fun trip to the cinema though!

Charlene Lydon

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Easy A
is released on 22nd October 2010

Easy A Official Website

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Zombieland

Zombieland_

DIR: Ruben Fleischer • WRI: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick • PRO: Gavin Polone • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Michael Bonvillain • DES: Maher Ahmad • CAST: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

Zombieland is a new zombie horror comedy flick. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where zombies have taken the lives of many humans. The opening sequence really sets up the tone of the film; a montage of zombie killings narrated by Columbus, the film’s main protagonist. Columbus explains his rules of survival against zombies. For example rule number 17: don’t be a hero and rule number 31: check the back seat.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a friendly and quirky college student who wants to see his family in Ohio. On The road Columbus meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) Tallahassee is a suave cowboy type with an obsession for firearms and a taste for Twinkies. The two men raid a supermarket and annihilate several zombies. They find two girls; Wichita (Emma Stone), an attractive and mysterious twenty-something and her twelve year old sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who is a step ahead of the game. The two sisters con Columbus and Tallahassee into handing over their weapons and vehicle. The four characters meet again, they stay at a Hollywood mansion, get to know each other and fight together to kill the zombies right to the predictable finale.

Zombieland is a loud and tiring eighty minutes. The first twenty minutes are acceptable on its own level of dumbness with non-stop zombie killings and witless one-liners. It wears out its welcome very fast. Edgar Wright’s Shaun of The Dead (2004) is a good example of the comedy horror genre. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s script had wit, humour and gore. Zombieland just has gore. The final hour of Zombieland falls completely flat; the characters are so dull and uninteresting. The film needs more than just to references other zombie movies and spoofs. It’s a big disappointment. It would have had more potential if it had stirred away from the same sight gag in almost every scene. It is a blood fest bore in very bad taste which tries at some points to bring sentiment to its dull premise. How far down the pile of scripts did Woody Harrelson have to reach for this one?

Peter Larkin
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Zombieland
is released on 9th Oct 2009
Zombieland – Official Website

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