Film Review: Magic in the Moonlight

Magic in the Moonlight

With Magic in the Moonlight, writer-director Woody Allen delivers yet another satisfying slice of escapism.

Stanley is a magician well-known for unveiling fraudulent mystics. He agrees to travel to the south of France to meet Sophie, a young spiritualist whose hosts are convinced of her supernatural powers. Although Stanley sets out to reveal her deception, he finds her persuasive…

Magic in the Moonlight is a 1920s-set romantic comedy which deals with the concept of spiritualism in an amusing manner. The comedy in the film is light; with laughs being generated at an amble. Nevertheless, Magic in the Moonlight is entertaining enough not to require constant laughs.

Allen’s film is well paced, with the opening sequence giving a great introduction to one of the protagonists. Magic in the Moonlight also gives a decent build up to the other protagonist, Sophie; allowing the audience to form an opinion before she appears on screen. Supporting characters are drawn succinctly enough to make them distinctive without spending time on strands that lead nowhere.

Magic in the Moonlight‘s narrative follows a familiar tread in terms of the way the story unfolds. At one point it seems as if the story will hit its peak prematurely, yet the film still has places to go. Like so many other Woody Allen films, Magic in the Moonlight has something to say amongst the amusement and charm. Allen expounds on the nature of magic in a way not dissimilar to the thematic and overt use of nostalgia in Midnight in Paris.

Colin Firth plays the type of role that he is often identified with. In implicitly referencing one of his best-known characters, it seems likely that Stanley was written with Firth in mind. Emma Stone is as amiable as ever as Sophie, whilst Eileen Aitkins is good as Aunt Vanessa.

Being such a prolific filmmaker, this will not rank in the top tier of Woody Allen films. That is not to say that Magic in the Moonlight is not a good film (for it is most entertaining), but just that Allen’s best films are marvellous.

Stuff To Look At

Plenty of aural-visual delights this week, including The Babadook, Dracula Untold and Serena. And the new trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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Here is the official trailer for the first part of the final instalment of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. The trailer reveals a little more about the plot, and shows Katniss in full-on action mode. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is released in UK cinemas on 20th November 2014.

The Babadook

The Babadook poster

I saw a trailer for The Babadook recently, and thought that it looked pretty terrifying. The quotes on this poster for the film appear to cement this opinion. Horror The Babadook hits the big screen on 24th October 2014.

Dracula Untold

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Here is a clip from the upcoming Dracula Untold. The film is an origins story of the man who became the legenedary vampire. Starring Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper, Dracula Untold hits the big screen on 3rd October 2014.

Serena

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Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence reunite in Susanne Bier’s Serena. Cooper and Lawrence star as a newly wed couple in the 1920s who build a timber empire. Serena is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released in cinemas on 24th October 2014.

Effie Gray

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Here is a trailer for Effie Gray. Starring Dakota Fanning and Emma Thompson. the film tells the story of the marriage between Victorian art critic John Ruskin and his young bride. Effie Gray is out in cinemas on 10th October 2014.

The Judge

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Robert Downey Jr. leads an all-star cast in The Judge. The film is about a city lawyer who returns to his hometown where his father, the town judge, is suspected of murder. The Judge is released in UK cinemas on 17th October 2014.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

TMNT Nicolas Delort

To celebrate the upcoming release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Paramount commissioned artists across the world to make artworks based on the origins of the turtles called ‘The Legend of the Yokai‘. One of my favourites is the the one by Nicolas Delort. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is released in UK cinemas on 17th October 2014.

Lava

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I don’t know exactly what this film is about, where the story will go, or why it has been made, but there is a singing volcano! And that is fine by me. Above is a short clip of Pixar’s Lava, which is scheduled for release in the UK in July 2015.

Draft Day

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Draft Day is set on, as the title suggests, the day of the NFL draft. Starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, the film is about the manager of an American football team and the decisions he makes on that day. But really, the reason to see this film is that Frank Langella (aka Skeletor) is in it. Draft Day is set for release on 3rd October 2014.

Film Review: The Wizard of Oz 3D

The Wizard of Oz

To celebrate its 75th anniversary, The Wizard of Oz gets a cinematic re-release, being screened in 3D for the very first time. Despite its age, the film is as enchanting as ever.

When young Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto are caught up in a tornado, the pair are swept away from Kansas. Dorothy must journey to meet the Wizard of Oz, in the hope that he can return her home…

Three-quarters of a century may have passed since the film was originally released, but The Wizard of Oz still holds up as a wonderful piece of cinema. The film has none of its shine in terms of fantasy, spectacle and entertainment.

Victor Fleming’s film sets up a narrative template which has been emulated by numerous fantasy films since. At the core of The Wizard of Oz is a quest that is undertaken by the protagonist. The film introduces memorable characters throughout the duration. The fact that these are tied into the wider preceding frame of the narrative gives the film a tidy and complete feeling.

The Wizard of Oz mixes fantasy, adventure and music in a most satisfying manner. Songs from the film have become classics, whilst the iconography is some of the strongest in cinematic history. Aimed at a family audience, Fleming injects the right amount of peril, enchantment and humour.

It took 18 months to restore The Wizard of Oz  and convert the film into 3D. The results are pretty impressive, given the age of the picture. The use of 3D is subtle, enhancing the images without being distracting. In some scenes the use of 3D results in the backgrounds looking fuzzy in contrast. This does not hamper overall enjoyment, however.

The re-release of The Wizard of Oz gives a timely opportunity for both newcomers and longtime fans to see the quintessential fantasy film on the big screen.

The Wizard of Oz 3D is being released at IMAX cinemas in the UK from 12th September 2014.

Film Review: A Dangerous Game

A Dangerous Game

Anthony Baxter’s A Dangerous Game is an illuminating documentary on an important subject. A follow-up to You’ve Been Trumped, Baxter shines a light on significant concerns.

Anthony Baxter picks up on the troubles of local residents who opposed the building of Donald Trump’s luxury golf resort on Scottish wilderness area. The film also extends its focus, exploring the issues that arise from the construction of luxury golf resorts in different regions…

You’ve Been Trumped functioned as something of a microcosm, with its concentration on Aberdeenshire. A Dangerous Game looks at issues on a wider scale, looking at different communities in different countries, and different corporates. The film considers the environmental impact of resort building, as well as looking at who benefits from it.

A Dangerous Game can be compelling viewing thanks to this broader view. The film focuses on a handful of regions across the world, looking at later impact on environments not naturally apt for golfing. The financial implications of building such resorts are also discussed.

Anthony Baxter speaks to a variety of individuals during the course of A Dangerous Game, giving the film a more rounded view. Among those interviewed are developers, residents, environmental lawyers and experts, as well as government officials, although only a minority of the latter agreed to talk. Baxter asks some interesting questions with A Dangerous Game, and the silence of those with a governmental role speaks volumes.

The film is edited well, jumping from location to location in a seamless rather than jarring fashion. The opening titles are great. It is clear that A Dangerous Game focuses on a subject dear to the filmmaker. His passion in attempting to find answers and give a voice to those not in positions of power is clear throughout the film. It is this that helps to make A Dangerous Game an engaging documentary.

London Film Festival 2014 – Preview of Coming Attractions

Second Coming

The full programme for the BFI London Film Festival 2014 was announced today, and it is brimming with fascinating artifacts. A total of 245 fiction and documentary features, including 16 World Premieres, are being screening during the twelve day festival, as well as 148 shorts. Opening the London Film Festival 2014 is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. The festival closes with David Ayer’s Fury, starring Brad Pitt and Shia LeBoeuf. The BFI London Film Festival 2014 runs from 8th-19th October. Here are my picks from the programme…

Men, Women & Children

Following the success of Young Adult and Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s latest film is an adaptation Chad Kultgen’s novel. Focusing on emotional isolation in the digital age, Men, Women & Children features an ensemble cast that includes Jennofer Garner, Adam Sandler and Judy Greer. 

Second Coming

Second Coming is Debbie Tucker Green’s directorial debut. The British drama stars Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba as a London-based couple living with their teenage son. Second Coming is one of the film’s shortlisted for the London Film Festival 2014′s First Feature Competition.

Whiplash

Whiplash

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his teacher. Starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, the film won the Grend Jury and Audience awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Dear White People

Writer-director Justin Simien’s Dear White People is a satire which tackles the issue of race in contemporary America. Set at an Ivy League college, the film concerns a sole-black fraternity which is to be diversified.

White God

A film about a dog. When young Lili goes to stay with her dad, he is not interested in looking after her pet dog Hagen. Deciding to leave the dog at the side of the road, this sets off a eye-opening series of events in director Kornél Mundruczó’s White Dog.

Tickets for the BFI London Film Festival 2014 go on sale to the public on Thursday 18th September 2014. For the full schedule, and details of events, see here.

Film Review: Sex Tape

SEX TAPE

Jake Kasdan’s Sex Tape has the promise of a raucous comedy. Unfortunately it does not quite deliver in the humour stakes.

Having been married for several years and with two children, Annie and Jay have little time for intimacy. The couple decide to make a sex tape, only to discover the video isn’t as private as they thought…

It is clear what the filmmakers are trying to do with Sex Tape. Rather than an out-and-out raunchy comedy, writers Kate Angelo, Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel try to inject more feeling into the narrative, with the central theme of the trials of marriage apparent from the very beginning of the movie.

However, Sex Tape fails simply for its lack of genuine laughs. Without these, the film flails as a romance; not quite edgy enough to compensate for the overt sentiment. The script lunges between crudeness and this rather twee sentiment. The balance would have been more successful had there been belly laughs.

Director Jake Kasdan reunites with Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz after the success of Bad Teacher. A similar style of humour tries to be replicated in Sex Tape, but it is not as effective this time round. The funniest sequence raises a few laughs, but this comes at a mid point in the film. Elsewhere, the movie feels padded out with additional strands to compensate for a flimsy central plot.

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel have good chemistry in Sex Tape. Segel is looking gaunt, which can be distracting at first. It is Rob Lowe who is responsible for the film’s most memorable part. The actor is becoming something of a scene-stealer in his recent film roles.

Sex Tape is in the unusual position of being not funny enough for a rambunctious comedy, and being too lewd for a romance. Although the film is rarely dull, it is not memorable either.

Film Review: The Guest

The Guest

Adam Wingard’s The Guest is part 1980s nostalgia fest, part thriller, and part knowingly outlnadish. These elements combine for an entertaining watch.

The Peterson family are still mourning the death of their eldest son, who was killed in action, when a soldier turns up at their house claiming to be a former comrade of his. As David quickly endears himself to the family, his presence brings about some disturbing activity…

The Guest is, above all, an entertaining film. The film takes the mysterious stranger trope and plays it for both tension and laughs. Director Adam Wingard imbues his film with a wink of self-awareness to the audience. It is clear that The Guest does not take itself too seriously, allowing the audience to laugh at the more absurd moments.

The film reveals details about its protagonist little by little. It is clear from the beginning that there is more than meets the eye with David, but there is a sense of unpredictability which keeps viewers engaged. The ending of The Guest is a little silly, however with the tangent that the film takes, this is not entirely surprising.

The Guest has an unmistakably 1980s feel to it. There is something very retro to many elements of the film. There are shades of 80s slasher movies, particularly in the film’s climax. The soundtrack retains this theme, with the synth-heavy electro songs provided a fitting accompaniment to the visuals.

Dan Stevens takes a stark departure from the role he is known for with The Guest. This is a wise move, as Stevens shows his versatility as David. Maika Monroe is decent as Anna.

The Guest is an unusual mix of thriller and comedy, served with a large slice of 1980s nostalgia. The narrative does descend into absurdity, but this is part of what makes the film enjoyable.

Film Review: If I Stay

If I Stay

If I Stay is schmaltz aimed squarely at an adolescent audience. Needless  to say, fans of the novel the film is based on will eat up this offering.

Life changes in an instant for talented young musician Mia. When an accident puts her in a coma, Mia must decide whether to wake up, knowing her world has changed forever…

Based on Gayle Forman’s novel, If I Stay is a sentimental drama aimed at a female teenage audience. The film’s premise is fairly decent. There are shades of Sliding Doors, and other ‘what if’-based movies, to be found in the film’s plot.

If I Stay is sentimental teenage drama writ large. The question at the centre of the film is no doubt a formidable one. Screenwriter Shauna Cross and director R.J. Cutler ring out Mia’s decision as much as possible. If I Stay is certainly a tearjerker, with the filmmakers squeezing every drop of sentiment. The various interactions Mia has will doubtlessly set certain viewers off, depending on how much they identify with the particular relationship.

Protagonist Mia is a likeable character. There is something ordinary about her, despite her talent, that Cutler has succeeded in capturing. Mia is not so out of touch that the films target demographic will not be able to identify with her. Chloë Grace Moretz delivers a good performance as Mia. She is believable as a young girl in love, yet determined in her musical talent. Jamie Blackley is well cast as the young rock star, although he falters in some of the film’s more dramatic moments. Mireille Enos is decent as Mia’s mother.

The main issue with If I Stay is that the script is so cloying, more cynical viewers will be hard pressed not to guffaw at certain moments. Every other utterance appears to be oozing with sentiment or heartfelt advice. The film would be more palatable to a wider audience if the dialogue was more genuine. Nevertheless, for those looking for a tearjerker, If I Stay is just the ticket.

Film Review: The Keeper of Lost Causes

The Keeper of Lost Causes

Based on the novel, The Keeper of Lost Causes is an engaging detective drama with Scandinavian noir and classic Hollywood overtones.

Following a traumatic incident on the job, Detective Carl Mørck is given   a new assignment when he returns to work. Having to sift through cold cases, his interest in matters perks up when one case catches his eye…

The Keeper of Lost Causes is based on the first book of author Jussi Alder-Olsen’s series of Department Q detective novels. As such, it introduces both the protagonist and his budding relationship with his assistant, as well as focusing on a case with enough meat to hold the audience’s attention.

That The Keeper of Lost Causes borrows from classic mysteries and detective stories is not a bad thing. The set up of the film is reminiscent of Vertigo, with the use of the wounded cop motif. Elsewhere, the film utilises the style of not only other recent Scandinavian crime thrillers, but Hollywood noir. This is present in aesthetic elements, the unfolding of the narrative, and archetype characters.

Protagonist Carl is drawn as the hard-boiled detective, very much in the same mould as what has come before in crime and noir films. The sidekick relationship with Assad unfolds superficially, although the ending does point to further development. The officers are portrayed a little like chalk and cheese, but this is not dwelled on excessively. The climax of the film is a bit overblown; it would have been more effective to tone this down.

The Keeper of Lost Causes offers flashbacks and glimpses to reel viewers into the mystery. These help to make the victim flesh, and heighten interest in the events leading up to the crime. Sound design in the film is good. It helps to create a sense of claustrophobia that situates viewers with the victim. The art direction offers the clinical yet grimy look of recent Scandinavian thrillers.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is successful thanks to a decent mystery at its heart. Although clues are dropped along the way, the skilful crafting of the narrative makes the film an entertaining watch.

Film Review: Lucy

Lucy

Luc Besson’s Lucy is an enjoyable sci-fi thriller which certainly offers something different.

When a young woman is forced to deliver a package to a wealthy businessman, it is only the beginning of her ordeal. When an incident causes fundamental changes in Lucy’s body, she uses these to her advantage…

Luc Besson’s Lucy is ultimately a playful film that will keep audiences entertained. Viewers may not be quite expecting what the the film turns into, particularly with the impression given by the film’s trailers. Nonetheless, this is not a bad thing; the unpredictability of the tone retains the attention throughout.

The film is certainly offbeat. Lucy is thoroughly entertaining in its absurdity. The film relies heavily on a combination of scientific theory and fantasy conjecture. This permeates the film’s themes and narrative. The ideas that Lucy tackles are big. Besson focuses these through the protagonist like a microcosmic funnel. Some viewers may find the outcome of the film a little outlandish, but it is fitting in terms of the ideas that the film works with from the very beginning. Lucy explores some philosophical ideas whilst retaining its sense of humour. The film does not take itself too seriously, which is a definite plus point.

Like some of his previous work, Besson places a strong female protagonist at the heart of the film. This is particularly important, given just how male-dominated the rest of the cast is. Scarlett Johansson is decent as Lucy, playing the title role with a necessary and bold confidence. Morgan Freeman is cast in a familiarly omnipotent role, whilst Min-sik Choi is delightfully wicked as the cartoonish villain. Special effects in Lucy are great. The film is well paced, and the action sequences are effectively executed.

Lucy will not satisfy all audiences, but it is fun viewing, as well as being refreshing in its sense of the unorthodox.