Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Wishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth
Emily Blunt has spent the last few years of her career continually challenging audience perceptions of her as an actress, impressing in thrillers (Sicario), action films (Edge of Tomorrow), musicals (Into the Woods) and horror movies (A Quiet Place) on the way to becoming one of the most versatile actors going around. Arguably her greatest challenge yet, Mary Poppins Returns sees her step into one of the most iconic roles in the history of cinema, a role indelibly linked in the mind of audiences with its original star. But in doing so with great distinction, Blunt demonstrates that she might just be practically perfect in every way. Continue reading
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver
After being the most New York-centric of filmmakers for the first few decades of his career, Woody Allen continues his recent fascination with Europe by taking us to the French Riviera for Magic in the Moonlight.
Stanley Crawford is Europe’s most celebrated stage magician. As the Chinese mystic Wei Ling Soo he wows audiences all over the continent. But Stanley’s real passion is using his knowledge of the tricks of the trade to debunk phoney mediums and spiritualists. So when old friend and fellow magician Howard asks for his help exposing a young medium that has enchanted a wealthy widower and her son, he is only too happy to get involved. But in spending time with the lovely young Sophie, who catches Stanley’s eye as much as she confounds his intellect, this strict rationalist and vehement sceptic finds his worldview rocked by the notion that perhaps there is more to the world than meets the eye.
Like the incredibly successful Midnight in Paris, this light-hearted romantic comedy takes us back to the 1920s, a favourite era of Allen’s. But rather than just showing us a past world, the film actually feels like a movie from the 1920s. Magic in the Moonlight plays like an old screwball comedy; the kind made by Preston Sturges or Ernst Lubitsch. The characters are larger than life. Their emotional changes are sudden and drastic. Their banter is sharp and witty. The situations are wonderfully silly.
While the storyline is not overly taxing or complex – I successfully picked the ending quite early on – it does allow for some surprisingly heartfelt thematic explorations. The possibility that Sophie might be the real deal opens up the possibility that there is more to this life than meets the eye. The film explores the important role that faith plays as a source of comfort and in helping people get by. While Allen is himself openly agnostic, he seems to encourage us to pity Stanley for his closed view of the world which cannot accept the presence of anything unknowable or unexplainable.
Colin Firth and Emma Stone are not an obvious romantic pairing, and theirs is not a natural chemistry (perhaps because we imagine Sophie’s mother to be a more age appropriate partner for Stanley), but it does seem to work. The butting of heads between this mismatched pair is fun to watch. Firth is full of arrogant bluster and pomposity as a protagonist who is, for once, not an obvious Allen-surrogate, but much more indebted to Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. Stone is as enchanting and likeable as ever, and while she may not get the lines and zingers that Firth does, her comedic talents are still very much on display.
Woody Allen’s films tend to be broken down into either major- or minor-Allen – there are 44 of them after all – and there is no doubting that Magic in the Moonlight definitely falls in the minor-Allen category. It is never going to be part of a discussion of his most significant films. That said, it is none the less well performed, beautiful to look at and a nice piece of whimsical fun.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Magic in the Moonlight? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, James Hamrick, Rex Lin, Seth Meriwether, Kristopher Higgins, Kevin Durand, Dane DeHaan
In 1993, the town of West Memphis, Arkansas was rocked by the brutal murder of three young boys. After a short investigation, three teenage boys, who would come to be known as the West Memphis Three, were arrested for the crimes. Despite stunning investigative blunders, a complete lack of physical evidence linking them to the murders and a confession filled with errors, they were found guilty of the murders. On 19th August 2011, after the presentation of new evidence, the West Memphis Three were released from prison having served 18 years. Devil’s Knot, based on investigative journalist Mara Leveritt’s bestselling book, explores the farcical events which saw the three teens convicted.
The film has two main protagonists. Pam Hobbs is the mother of one of the murdered children. Ron Lax is a private investigator. Between them we are given two perspectives on the events. Pam gives us the view of the shaken townspeople, Ron a seemingly more impartial view of the facts. Rather than seeking to answer the question of who actually committed the crimes, Devil’s Knot is more interested in examining how a community deals with fear. We watch as a town gripped with hysteria turns on those who are different. The three teenagers are vilified for their black clothes, heavy metal music and interest in the occult, none of which is acceptable behaviour in this conservative Bible-belt town. We see how an investigation literally became a witch hunt, and the legal systems of the town were deployed to simulate retribution. We watch people whose desire for answers and to apportion blame trumps their sense of logic and reason.
The case of the West Memphis Three has already been the subject of numerous books and documentaries, some of them quite good. Where Devil’s Knot struggles to add to this pool of material is that it does not have a clear purpose. Pre-production on the film started before the release of the trio. As such, its initial purpose was to expose the trial for the farce that it was and to campaign for the release of the three no-longer-young men. However, when the state of Arkansas released the West Memphis Three, the project’s original purpose was no longer required. While the case is still interesting, and the film presents it methodically, it simply fails to grip you.
A devil’s knot is a knot which theoretically cannot be opened. It is a puzzle without a solution, and that is exactly what we are given with this film. We leave the film with an incomplete picture. Devil’s Knot answers the question of who did it only by concluding that the trio in question did not. The film hopes to trouble us with its lack of resolution, but with this material having been explored before, albeit not in a feature film, its lack of new insight and unwillingness to speculate only serves to frustrate and underwhelm.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Devil’s Knot? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.