Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colmam, Nicholas Hoult, James Smith, Mark Gatiss, Joe Alwyn
While far from a household name, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is somewhat of a critical darling, thanks to wildly original, confrontingly absurdist visions like Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Dear. The Favourite, a crackling, dark comedy which challenges our expectations of the costume drama, is Lanthimos’ third English language film and is his most accessible and straight up entertaining film thus far, marking his opportunity to cross over into more mainstream recognition.
Having been lost by her father, along with their estate and, therefore, her title, in a game of cards, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the palace of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) to ask her cousin Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough, for employment as a servant. The Queen, petulant, infantile and seemingly more interested in her seventeen pet rabbits than in affairs of state, seems hopelessly unfit to rule, so as her closest friend and valued advisor Sarah effectively runs the kingdom. Continue reading
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, J.K. Simmons
The classic movie musical, the kind the big studios churned out in the 1940s and 1950s, is largely a thing of the past. These days movie musicals tend to be layered in irony, knowingly winking at the audience in order to acknowledge the inherent silliness of the form. Movie musicals, like everything else, have become postmodern. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, however, harks back to that bygone era. It is striking in how traditional it is, and in how earnestly it embraces its romantic, nostalgic tone.
Like so many great musicals, at the heart of La La Land is a simple story of boy meets girl. The boy is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a talented jazz pianist who makes a living playing Christmas carols and harmless ditties in restaurants while lamenting the disappearance of the great American art form and dreaming of the day when he can open his own jazz club. The girl is Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring young actress who has moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of her dreams and now works in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot. Continue reading
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
As someone who watches a lot of films, there is nothing quite so exciting as when you see something you have never seen before, an entirely original cinematic vision. There is simply no other way to describe Birdman – full title Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – the new black comedy from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (the director of Babel, 21 Grams and Amores Perros who has here rebadged himself Alejandro G. Iñárritu).
Birdman centres on Riggan Thomson, a middle aged movie star who is living in the shadow of the superhero character he played in three blockbusters in the early 1990s. Birdman has become Riggan’s tormentor. As he slowly but surely breaks down, it is Birdman’s voice he hears personifying all of his insecurity and self-doubt. In an effort to regain his significance and artistic integrity, Riggan has gone all in, writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Days before opening night, an accident serendipitously befalls Riggan’s weak co-star and the opportunity arises to introduce Broadway superstar Mike Shiner into the cast. 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: Mark Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
2012 has given us a number of high profile blockbusters which have just made you ask “why?” Most recently there was the simply awful remake of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990)starring Colin Farrell. Prior to that you had Jeremy Renner starring in the very disappointing sequel (do you call it a sequel when the events are happening concurrently?) to the Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum. And the film which started it all off was The Amazing Spider-Man.
The Amazing Spider-Man raised eyebrows when the project was first announced. When it became apparent that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire were not interested in making a fourth Spider-Man movie, Columbia and Marvel decided that rather than looking for someone to take over and continue the franchise, they would go back and start again. So what we ended up with was a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise hitting cinemas only five years after the final film Raimi’s trilogy, Spider-Man 3 (2007), and even more amazingly, only ten years after the first film in Raimi’s trilogy, Spider-Man (2002).
For a number of people, myself included, it instantly brought to mind comparisons with the two Hulk films released only five years apart, The Hulk (2003) and The Incredible Hulk (2008)… that is, beyond just the same approach of taking the old title and adding an adjective. However, there was a reason for the reboot here. Firstly, Ang Lee’s films, starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, had been a major disappointment both critically and commercially. More importantly, The Incredible Hulk was made as part of laying the foundations for this year’s superhero super-movie The Avengers (2012). So while The Incredible Hulk told a variation on the same origin story that The Hulk had, it was tying Bruce Banner’s story into that Avengers world.
But the same issues weren’t there with Spider-Man. While Spider-Man 3 had been a bit of a disappointment critically, Raimi’s films were still one of the most commercially successful trilogies in Hollywood history. Rather, the announcement of The Amazing Spider-Man appeared to be evidence of a condensing of time frames or a lack of patience in current day Hollywood. It makes you wonder how long it will be before the announcement of a Batman reboot. So that was a convoluted way of saying, I was intrigued to see what The Amazing Spider-Man had to offer. What would it be like? How would it be different?
This time round, they skew younger. Not yet a photographer at the Daily Bugle, Peter Parker is a seventeen year-old high schooler (slight suspension of disbelief required to accept the 28 year old Garfield as a teenager). Despite having appeared three times as the web slinging hero, Toby Maguire never really made the role his own. It was never impossible to think of anyone else as Spider-Man they way it is with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. So it is interesting to see Andrew Garfield bring a slightly different interpretation to the character. A teenage Peter Parker complete with parent issues opens up the role for a much more teen-angsty portrayal.
Webb employs a solid supporting cast. Since bursting onto the scene a couple of years ago Emma Stone has shown herself to be an incredibly versatile actress and she is doing something different again here, and does it impressively as always. Martin Sheen is one of those guys who just automatically makes a film better, and his role as Uncle Ben is no exception, with he and Sally Field adding a bit of gravitas to the roles of Peter Parker’s legal guardians.
Other than that, a lot is the same. Raimi’s films brought us “With great power comes great responsibility” and while that quote is never referenced in Webb’s film, the theme of responsibility is still there. Parker feels responsible for his uncle’s death. Parker feels responsible for the creation of his nemesis. It is a sense of responsibility, of duty, that compels him to do the things he does, and this juxtaposes quite nicely in this film with his teenage brashness when gifted with great power.
Coming out in the same year as The Dark Knight Rises (2012)and The Avengers, it was always going to take something very special for The Amazing Spider-Man to be doing anything more than fighting it out for the title of third-best comic book movie of the year, and ultimately there is nothing very special about it. It is an ok movie, which has its moments of being quite good. However, the fact that it is a reboot means that it is faced with a series of other questions. Is it better than the other Spider-Man movies? Possibly, though if it is – and a strong argument could be made for Spider-Man 2 (2004)– it isn’t better by much, probably not really enough to justify the reboot. That being said, the $262 million it made at the US box office is probably justification enough for some.
Rating – ★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean