Annie

Annie-2014-still-

DIR: Will Gluck • WRI: Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna • PRO: Jay Brown, Will Gluck, James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Tyran Smith, Will Smith, Jay Z • DOP: Michael Grady • ED: Tia Nolan • DES: Marcia Hinds • MUS: Greg Kurstin • CAST: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne

Remakes and sequels everywhere…and yet another nostalgic part of childhood has been revived and revised with the musical delights of ‘little orphan Annie’. Having grown up with the 1982 film version, where Daddy Warbucks’ heart was melted by the cheeky redhead he found on the streets, it seemed unnecessary to rehash a classic. However, though the modernisation of Annie is an unlooked-for present, it turns out to be a whimsical gift to a new generation of children.

The story has remained basically the same, save for the modern updates – particularly musical ones. Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a foster child living in a cramped apartment with her fellow foster children, under the less-than-watchful eye of their carer, Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). A chance encounter with aspiring-mayor and successful businessman Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) and his assistant Grace (Rose Byrne) leads to a relationship of convenience: Will needs Annie to make him look good to voters, and Annie gets to enjoy the richer side of life. But, of course, there are others who wish to profit from both Annie’s innocence and Stacks’ money. Based on the 1977 Broadway musical of the same name, (which took inspiration from the 1924 comic strip, in turn based on the 1885 poem!), and taking the mantel from the beloved 1982 film, this incarnation of ‘little orphan Annie’ brings the story to the modern streets of New York City.

Wallis is the perfect choice for playing Annie – being, as she is, a young child thrust into the spotlight at an early age. In 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild her Oscar-nominated performance astounded audiences, and she brings that very serious acting skill to Annie, along with a natural cheekiness that comes across in every scene. Foxx actually works very well as the stuffy businessman who eventually succumbs to Annie’s charms, and his surprisingly liquid singing voice fits the funky new sounds of the soundtrack. Diaz’s Hannigan is as hilariously perfect as a modern alcoholic foster-carer can be, and her singing and dancing is spot-on. Rose Byrne’s voice is by times lacklustre, but the combination of everyone wholeheartedly throwing themselves into each musical number is refreshingly fun.

Yes, there is the question of why we need remakes when the 1982 version is so beloved, and there is sometimes an ‘empty-vessel’ feeling to the film where it doesn’t quite connect with the emotions of the original, but this is a pleasurable update that children (especially younger ones) will enjoy. Certainly those around me were glued to every second of the story – literally sitting on the edge of their seats for the final scenes. Thanks, in part, to producers Jay-Z and Will Smith, the songs have been modernised and funkified, and the all-singing and all-dancing cast members look so gleefully involved in every moment that it’s nearly impossible not to get swept up with it!

 

Sarah Griffin

PG (See IFCO for details)
118 minutes.
Annie
is released 19th December.

Annie – 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: White House Down

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DIR: Roland Emmerich WRI: James Vanderbilt PRO: Roland Emmerich, Brad Fischer, Larry J. Franco, Laeta Kalogridis, Harald Kloser, James Vanderbilt. DOP: Anna Foerster ED: Adam Wolfe DES: Kirk M. Petruccelli CAST: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke

It is one of the terrible beauties of Hollywood genre filmmaking that it remains committed to the cause of ideological equivocation, even while seeming to attempt to confront the Realities of Globalization, Extremism, and Socio-Political Anxiety in the Post-9/11 World: it is consistency amidst chaos, perpetuating chaos.

White House Down, the latest from disaster film director par excellence Roland Emmerich, performs such a dance of prevarication with all the outwardly liberal leanings of the 18-34 millennial demographic. The baddies (and this could not possibly spoil anything) are inside-job conservatives in the pocket of military armament providers; the president (Jamie Foxx) is Backbone Obama with a penchant for Air Jordans and a natural affinity for the rocket launcher; the hero (Channing Tatum) is tough on terrorists and gentle on squirrels.

…He is, of course, also white because of course he is. Tatum, who has been lauded for the past year and a bit as Hollywood’s next superstar leading man (always the “next”, never the “now”) takes top billing despite Foxx’s having won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and despite the film’s multiple protagonist scope that could just as easily have seen President Sawyer’s role listed first on cast and credits. It’s not Channing Tatum’s fault he’s white, male, and conventionally attractive; it is Hollywood’s fault that so is every other marketable male action star today (with the recent, ageing exception of Will Smith).

That said, Tatum is just Sylvester Stallone-vapid enough to function as the all-American hero who just wants to impress his daughter by landing a job with the Secret Service and gets caught up instead in a terrorist attack at the White House. Handy that he learned to fight and defend – for politically sanctioned reasons – while serving in Afghanistan. And handy that as a foil for the ex-servicemen-gone-rogue responsible for blowing up Capitol Hill, he offsets anxieties about the essential moral corruptibility of the individual soldier trained to kill for money. The noble one – in Emmerich, in Hollywood – excuses (or eliminates where he cannot redeem) the several corrupt. That’s how capitalism saves the day every evening from the problems it posed in the morning.

Ideological dissonances notwithstanding, Channing Tatum’s Bankability Down boasts an excellently devised car chase across the White House lawn and the requisite number of explosions. Its narrative economy is remarkable – Die Hard-esque even – despite running over two hours long: there is nothing superfluous, nothing wanting in its plot. And yet, as the film’s recent tanking at the American box office would suggest, there is something fundamentally lacking in its design.

Perhaps it’s because Antoine Fuqua already made the same movie earlier in the year with Olympus Has Fallen. Perhaps it’s because Roland Emmerich actually blew up the White House way back in 1996, when the scariest enemies were from outer space, and techie nerds like Jeff Goldblum were more sexy-exotic, less Julian Assange-anarchist. Maybe the myth of the Hollywood disaster-action flick has been exploded one too many times in real life on tv, YouTube and the video phone to function as cathartic of our repressed fears and internalized anxieties. Whatever the case may be, what worked twenty years ago doesn’t work today, even with massively improved CGI and cynically-politically correct casting.

Ciara Máirín Barrett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

131 mins

White House Down is released on 13th September 2013

White House Down  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Django Unchained

 

DIR/WRI: Quentin Tarantino • PRO: Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone, Stacey Sher • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Fred Raskin • DES: J. Michael Riva • CAST: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington
 

The last few years have seen Tarantino’s star wane – his name, once a byword for a kind of hyperactive cinema offering snappy dialogue and copious un-PC violence had curdled audience enthusiasm to boredom as he seemed incapable of evolution.  While his naughties’ output occasionally hinted at an old genius, most particularly with Inglourious Basterds, it has taken a film like Django Unchained to collate his messy strands of filmmaking back into an entertaining movie.  Think Blazing Saddles meets Mickey and Mallory!

Django Unchained hits all the right notes for a Tarantino fan – from the soundtrack and dialogue to the schlock violence and derision, he conjures a reimagining of history so brutal and entertaining that the long running time practically flies by.  There are faults, to be sure – indeed, even fans of Tarantino will sigh as his megalomania takes over from time to time, shoe-horning his ego, and himself, into unrelated scenes.  And these faults do trip up an otherwise seamless flow, leaving plenty of room for after-film arguments across pints or coffee…which is exactly what a non-film-schooled director would want from his audience.  Of course, then there is the racism – Tarantino has been building towards a film like this his entire cinematic career, from using Samuel L. Jackson as a sort of muse to his own embarrassing efforts at ‘gangsta’ talk.  You can’t help but feel that he’s getting extreme pleasure from the artistic licence afforded him by setting his movie pre-Civil War, and making his hero a freed slave.  As a revisionist Western it has holes on a par with Wild Wild West (please – no more cowboy ray-bans!), but fans of Tarantino will know that his coolness permeates even to the past.  And copious use of the ‘n’ word aside, this reimagining of racial warfare in the Deep South manages what Basterds did not in creating a wholly blasphemous take on history that actually rings (somewhat) true.  More than that, since we now have Christoph Waltz on our side, we can finally cheer the good guys with undivided gusto.

The casting is, of course, the real revelation.  Waltz takes Tarantino’s sometimes mangled use of language and ups the ante on its coolness – nobody else could deliver his words with such panache and class.  His interpretation of a bounty hunter caught between common humanity and simple moneymaking is by turns hilarious and excessive, but always mesmerising.  The usually unlikeable Jamie Foxx takes the melodramatic title role of Django, and succeeds in giving life to Tarantino’s immense creation.  Foxx excels by not taking himself too seriously, and the ridiculous scenarios and fantastical lines flow much more smoothly for having no thespian illusions blocking their way.  Along with Waltz, the big talking point has been Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of plantation owner and all-round bastard, Calvin J. Candie – and oh does he fill that role with relish!  His over-the-top accent and ridiculous cruelty anchor the movie in its time – pre-Civil War Southern USA, where white men ruled with an iron fist.  Ably helped by his ruthless slave confidant Stephen (Jackson), their interplay is so powerfully malicious and hyperbolic that only Django’s dramatic drive for both his freedom and his wife can balance their scene-stealing machinations.

The running time does hint at Tarantino’s inability to find fault with any of his creations – he can rarely bear to leave anything on the cutting room floor, and there are certainly scenes that could have benefited from the chop.  Despite its flaws, though, Django has so many parts that offer pure entertainment that – as long as you don’t take it too seriously – it’s nearly impossible not to be invested in some way.  The bottom line is that while it is politically-incorrect, facetious, ridiculous and crazy, it is also Tarantino at his best – kinetic, irreverent and downright entertaining!

Sarah Griffin

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)

165 mins

Django Unchained is released on 17th January 2013

Django Unchained – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-4r_B8hY_I

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