Aloha Review: Barren Paradise


Director: Cameron Crowe

Writer: Cameron Crowe

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray

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Release date: May 29th, 2015

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


 

2/5

Review: Aloha

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Audio Review: Bowing to No One


Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Writers: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo

Stars: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis

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Release date: October 17th, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 119 minutes


 

4½/5

Review:

Magic in the Moonlight Review – A Cruel Trick


Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Stars: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden

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Release date: September 19th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The charming performances.

Worst part: The heavy-handed subtext.

Certainly, veteran actor/writer/director Woody Allen has lived an awe-inspiring, unpredictable, and thought-provoking life. The 78-year-old Tinseltown icon has spent several decades breaking the mould. With game-changing successes in multiple disciplines, his aura, for the better part of a century, has shone brighter than Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square combined. This starry-eyed filmmaker has delivered some of cinema history’s greatest moments. In front of and behind the camera, the tick-laden auteur has given industry hopefuls and impressionists plenty to smile about.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone's peculiar coupling.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone’s peculiar coupling.

Allen, despite being cinema’s most prolific hit-and-miss filmmaker, shouldn’t be insulted for his work. However, despite his merits, his latest effort, Magic in the Moonlight, won’t convert any average film-goers into raging fans. This jaunty romantic comedy, if anything, proves that Allen should take more vacations. Possibly, he should go to some of the many picturesque locations he’s captured over his illustrious career. For now, he’s stuck making witless and confused rom-coms. In typical Allen fashion, the allure of classier times fuels the otherwise bland and uninspired narrative. The story, inexplicably wafer-thin, relies on several key players to push it into overdrive. We start off in 1920s Berlin, with a world-famous illusionist performing his signature act for a packed house. Wei Ling Soo, playing to wealthy audiences, earns his fortune by making elephants disappear from boxes and slicing gorgeous stage hands in half. However, the real illusion is revealed once Soo is back-stage. Revealed to be a snide British man, Stanley (Colin Firth), Soo regularly berates production crew members, journalists, and fans. Debunking fraudulent magicians and mediums in his spare time, Stanley’s narrow-minded worldview attracts business but deters everything else. Given a new assignment by long-time friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley heads to the Cote d’Azur  to mingle with the ultra-wealthy Catledge family  – Grace (Jacki Weaver), Brice (Hamish Linklater), Caroline (Erica Leershen), and her husband George (Jeremy Shamos) – and uncover houseguest/clairvoyant Sophie(Emma Stone) and her mother(Marcia Gey Harden)’s misgivings.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

Crafting a star-studded feature every one-or-two years, Allen’s work-horse routine is now cracking under pressure. Sporting a career marred by controversy, the notorious filmmaker should be trying harder to win us over. Sadly, this lifeless and misguided rom-com is a significant step backwards. Sitting well-below recent efforts including Blue Jasmine and Match Point, Magic in the Moonlight calls Allen’s attentiveness, relevance, and tolerance levels into question. Unlike previous efforts, this movie lacks anything resembling subtlety, gravitas, originality, or charm. His signature storytelling tropes, bolstered by real-life events, overcook the movie’s tiresome screenplay. Throughout its brief run-time, as Stanley becomes bewitched by Sophie’s charms, the cliche-meter ticks over. Crafting a whimsical mystery/love story, this nostalgic rom-com shifts awkwardly between each conversation, montage, and revelation. Pulling Stanley and Sophie together with witless conversations and wide-eyed stares, Allen’s latest delivers several discomforting and interminable scenarios. In addition, the narrative makes the unwarranted leap from meet-cute-driven comedy to sweeping romance. One scene, in which Stanley and Sophie’s car breaks down in front of an observatory, almost sinks this light-hearted romp. Throwing in plot-threads, characters, and twists sporadically, Allen’s 96-minute magic trick lands with a whimper instead of a bang.

“When the heart rules the head, disaster follows.” (Stanley (Colin Firth), Magic in the Moonlight).

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen's collective.

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen’s collective.

Obsessed with slight-of-hand story-telling ticks, Allen’s hubris hurriedly takes over here. Sugar-coating each plot-strand and character arc, Magic in the Moonlight discards intriguing concepts in favour of stylistic flourishes and heavy-handed dialogue. Beyond the inflated narrative, the movie never says anything relevant or thought-provoking. Pitting Stanley’s nihilism against Sophie’s air-tight optimism, the movie continually dives into a suffocating science vs. religion debate. Relying on mismatched leads and one-note support, the characters exists simply to echo Allen’s viewpoints. Meddling with infidelity and age differences in relationships yet again, Allen’s personal touch amp-ups the creep factor. However, known to show off the world’s most picturesque locations, Allen’s direction bolsters this archaic and forgettable effort. Aided by Darius Khondji’s pristine cinematography, the movie’s infatuation with France is almost worth the admission cost. Drowning us in his high-society existence, his version of the Mediterranean sports the world’s most appealing vineyards, Great Gatsby-style parties, mansions, and scenic vistas. Allen should also be credited for pulling this remarkable cast together. Bolstering his exhaustive dialogue, certain scenes bow down to these immaculate thespians. Firth, despite his irritating character, admirably sells each line. Thanks to his pithy delivery and effortless charisma, the British icon elevates several sequences. Stone, however, is the movie’s best asset. Her show-stopping looks and raw energy make for an invigorating love interest. Eileen Atkins almost steals the show as Stanley’s wise and advantageous aunt, Vanessa.

Whenever Allen invites a journalist into his home, he always shows off the most important part of the property. He opens a drawer, then pulls out a stack of screenplay ideas from which his features originate. This method, despite the infatuation with cinema, now seems like an act of desperation. Surely, Magic in the Moonlight won’t age well. Thanks to a ridiculous screenplay, wafer-thin characters, and overbearing subtext, this fluffy rom-com highlights the veteran filmmaker’s flaws. Wearing his style thin, the movie makes for a significant misstep within a momentous career.

Verdict: The master filmmaker’s latest fumble.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro Review – All Tangled Up


Director: Marc Webb

Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan

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Release Date: April 17th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time:  142 minutes


 

 

2½/5

Best part: Garfield and Stone’s chemistry.

Worst part: The hokey villains. 

At one point in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, pithy geek turned super-powered saviour Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), after fighting off the Sandman, empties sand out of his shoe and says to himself: “Where to these guys come from?”. Ideally, this question can be applied to every comic-book/superhero franchise. It’s a good call – pinpointing the absurdity of having super-powered ne’er-do-wells attack these superheroes one after another. Spider-Man’s latest offering, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, attempts to answer Peter’s question. Sadly, the final product is significantly less than amazing.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Obviously, the conflict between the original Spider-Man trilogy and Sony’s new Spider-Man saga is a major talking point here. With the 2012 reboot released five years after the much-maligned Spider-Man 3, this franchise contains a strong “too soon” vibe. However, for commercial success’ sake, the relevant studios have ignored pop-culture’s critical backlash. Unfortunately, these studio-fuelled quarrels hit The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro like one of Spider-Man’s wily punches. The plot, to put it simply, tangles itself into a convoluted and incessant creation. Here, much like 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is struggling to balance his personal and professional lives. Should he protect New York’s citizens as the wall-crawling arachnid or look after long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Aunt May (Sally Field)? Breaking his promise to Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), to stay away from her, Peter is torn between his life’s most important strands. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your relationship with Spidey’s comic-book saga, the narrative delivers several sub-plots and cartoonish characters. Some of these include Aunt May heading back to nursing school and Gwen being accepted into Oxford University. Believe it or not, eclipsing these already unnecessary subplots, the narrative throws even more strands into its already bloated and top-heavy structure.

Spider-Man vs. Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino.

Obviously, there’s way too much going on in Spidey’s latest cinematic endeavour. Notorious blockbuster screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek) spray their frustrating screenwriting ticks all over this sequel’s intriguing premise. Backed up by fellow screenwriter Jeff Pinkner, their needlessly convoluted and sketchy screenplay forms an inconsistent and cheesy web of plot-lines, character arcs, tragic moments, and predictable revelations. Sadly, it’s as if this particular universe means nothing to these infamous screenwriters (other than a hefty paycheque). This instalment, striving to overlook the now two-year-old reboot, is treated like yet another mindless and glossy jumpstart. Overtly, the narrative and Marc Webb((500) Days of Summer)’s direction are strongly influenced by preceding superhero/action-dramas. For the first third, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro strives to string Raimi’s trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe into its dense, labyrinthine structure. Despite containing several of the original’s foibles, I will give credit where it’s due. Unlike the original, this instalment doesn’t blatantly copy one of Raimi’s efforts. However, temped to make more web puns, I’m still perplexed by this movie’s flaws. With a $200 million+ budget anchoring this sequel, the movie’s tonal and pacing issues are more obvious than Spidey’s web-based “I Love You” signals.

Jamie Foxx.

Aiming to be bigger, broader, and ballsier than previous flicks, this instalment’s reach drastically exceeds its grasp. After mistreated dweeb turned freakish monster Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) and long-time confidant turned slimy adversary Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) are introduced, the story suddenly decides to crawl toward its explosive and miscalculated final third. Setting up conflicts for future instalments, the second half’s dour side clashes with its more over-the-top moments. Seeking a Tim Burton/Batman vibe, the kooky villains’ motivations, heart-wrenching twists, and bizarre alliances overthrow the first half’s light-hearted and comedically savvy tone. The movie, advertising itself as “the untold story”, almost immediately forgets about Peter’s missing parents. The movie’s emotional stakes rest on Garfield and Stone’s shoulders. Fortunately, their sweet-natured performances lend a romantic-comedy tinge to this laboured superhero-action flick. Despite their nonsensical roles, Foxx and DeHaan deliver fun performances as Spidey’s snivelling adversaries. Unfortunately, Paul Giamatti, Martin Csokas, Chris Cooper, B.J Novak, Colm Feore, and Felicity Jones suffer through thankless roles. Sadly, the characters, though likeable and occasionally sympathetic, are as inhuman and ridiculous as their superpowers. Peter and Stacy’s relationship flip-flops between cheerful exchanges and soppy admittances. Worse, however, is Osborn and Electro’s involvement in Oscorp’s shady wheelings and dealings.

“You know what it is I love about being Spider-Man? Everything!” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro).

Spidey vs. Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin.

Ultimately, apart from telegraphing certain events, these interactions stall an already disjointed and vacuous tale. Fortunately, Webb injects his signature style into several sequences here. In fact, some scenes, when judged on their own, come off like acclaim-worthy highlights lifted from this shoddy misfire. With this instalment being a compilation of disparate concepts and set pieces, Webb’s style heightens its interest factor above tedium. Certain sequences, charting Peter’s descent from misguided simpleton to mischievous and miserable vigilante, add class and charm to this overcrowded extravaganza. Several montages, depicting changing seasons and super-heroic acts, track Peter’s bizarre life story. In addition, saving certain sections from becoming laughably earnest, Webb’s action-direction vastly exceeds his previous efforts. With Spidey flying through the sky, his web-swings deliver gloriously thrilling adrenaline rushes. Overcoming the under-utilised villains, the stakes are raised with each sprawling action sequence. Spidey’s first action sequence pits Peter against a car chase and his graduation ceremony. This conundrum, complete with Spidey’s sarcastic wit, commendably kick-starts this instalment. Meanwhile, Spidey and Electro’s showdown in Times Square almost rectifies this antagonist’s inclusion. However, nowadays, this whiz-bang stuff is expected of every big-budget tent-pole. Despite the movie’s glossy sheen and thrilling moments, its major issues intrinsically poison an otherwise enjoyable blockbuster.

Today, we expect our blockbusters to entertain us and re-shape the Hollywood system. Fresh ideas and brilliant minds keep audiences coming back to these exhaustive and over-long adaptations (thank you, Joss Whedon). Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro is a case of too many cooks, and crooks, spoiling the broth. With plot-threads, character arcs, and Easter eggs clashing with tonal shifts and tiresome pacing issues, this sequel, fittingly, gets stuck in its own gargantuan web (last one, I swear).

Verdict: An underwhelming and confusing sequel.

The Amazing Spider-Man Review – Rollicking Reboot


Director: Marc Webb

Writers: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen


Release date: July 3rd, 2012

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment 

Country: USA

Running time: 136 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The kinetic action sequences.

Worst part: The repetitive story.

Reboot or remake? Many will be asking this question when watching the latest Spider-man film. This beloved comic book character has now been rebooted after three commercially successful adaptations. The Amazing Spider-man may be similar to what we have already witnessed, but it matches the first two Spider-man films in quality through likeability and thrills.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Despite the origin story of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-man being a commonly referenced part of popular culture (see Kick-Ass for a detailed example), this interpretation is a darker look at these important events. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an intelligent but quiet teenager living the typical high school lifestyle. His curiosity for science leads him to search for the answers to his father’s research and parent’s disappearance. The signs point to renowned Oscorp. scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). His research, and alluring protégé and classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), draw Parker into a potentially dangerous web. From then on it’s the well-known elements of Spidey’s origin – bit by a genetically modified spider, uncle Ben(Martin Sheen)’s death, and the evolution of this nerdy nobody into the masked superhero known as Spider-man. Apart from spinning webs anytime and catching thieves just like flies, Spider-man must also stop Connor’s radical genetic change into a reptilian beast from threatening the safety of New York City.

Rhys Ifans.

Rhys Ifans.

If there’s one broken strand in this well-developed web, it’s that The Amazing Spider-Man feels essentially like a remake of the revered 2002 Sam Raimi directed original. Despite its darker tone and unique nuances, the film’s story and characters hit the same notes as the original, without enough to clearly differentiate between the two. The one definitive difference however is the search for Parker’s parents. Despite their mysterious disappearance an intriguing aim for his search for answers, the film forgets about his parent’s involvement within the first act. The Amazing Spider-Man instead focuses on elements we are accustomed to such as the love story and hero/villain conflict. Despite being hard not to compare it to the 2002 interpretation of Spider-man’s origin story, the film benefits from its clever direction and witty screenplay. With a fitting last name for this popular series, Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) has successfully transitioned from directing films of largely different genres. Elements of his unique directorial style are comfortably added to this interpretation. After creating a likeable yet realistically flawed screen couple out of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, Webb knows how to create engaging yet awkward angst out of these beloved comic book characters.

Martin Sheen & Sally Field.

Martin Sheen & Sally Field.

Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker communicate alarmingly like teenagers in the halls of any high school, with Webb clearly aware of the relatable and personal problems inflicting that demographic. These beloved characters are aided by the charismatic and likeable cast. Garfield and Stone (currently a real life couple) create powerful chemistry faster than you can say “bugboy”. Brought together through cute interactions, Garfield and Stone create empathetic lead characters and a lovely partnership. Garfield’s performance as the sympathetic Peter Parker is palpable and proves he can lead a superhero franchise after his supporting role in The Social Network. With the determination of Aaron Johnson’s character in Kick-Ass and the agility of Sebastian Foulcan in Casino Royale, Parker is a witty and effective presence here. Ifans, known primarily for playing the hilarious roommate in Notting Hill, is engaging as the focused yet morally driven antagonist as his sympathetic side is brought to the surface. The Lizard is easily the best cinematic Spider-man villain since Doc Ock. The intricate and disgusting creature design of the Lizard creates a menacing presence for Spider-man to face. Also providing fun performances are comedian Dennis Leary as Gwen’s father Captain George Stacy and Sheen as Uncle Ben.

“You should see the other guy! The other guy, in this instance, being a giant mutant lizard.” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), The Amazing Spider-Man).

Garfield's Spider-Man.

Garfield’s Spider-Man.

Webb’s visual style is also a breathtaking insight into the origins of a superhero. With the current popularity of superhero cinema and with similar themes explored in the recent surprise hit Chronicle, Webb still manages to create a noticeable visual flair for every action scene and montage throughout. The cinematography is gorgeous; capturing every frame of Spider-man’s super strength and agility. The camera loops and whirls through every wall and crevasse in New York City as spider-man’s parkour and acrobatic wall crawling and web swinging skills are documented with the vertigo inducing thrills needed in a special effect-driven Spider-man flick. Webb’s editing style, synonymous with the non- linear story telling of his previous film, succeeds in creating an energetic rush within each action set piece. Moments of genetic change in Peter Parker edited together with stylish choreography illustrate an adventurous superhero figure. His subconscious is even brought into light; changing to adapt to spider genetics when placed in a bad situation such as the subway fight sequence.

The Amazing Spider-Man, for all intents and purposes, is a message to other Marvel superhero properties. Despite the derivative narrative, Sony has taken this mega-successful property and run with it! Well, wall-crawling works better in this case.

Verdict: Spider-man swings back into action in this charming and visceral thrill-ride.