Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Film Review

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The_Amazing_Spider-Man_2_(film)_bannerInitial heckles raised against another string of Spider-Man films so soon after the Sam Raimi series were quickly silenced when Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man hit the screens last year and showed that old arachnids can be taught new tricks. The reboot brought us the familiar origins story – focusing on the orphaned Peter Parker in his teenage years, but developed the mythos by bringing in his pre-Mary Jane love interest, Gwen (Emma Stone) and spinning a little mystery around Mr. and Mrs. Parkers demise.

The sequel follows on the loose threads, and sees a far more confident Peter Parker who has fully embraced his alter-ego. Andrew Garfield proves more than capable for the job as a Spidey with swagger, with all the former creases of hesitance ironed flat. With the soul-searching set aside, we have an edgy, energetic, and upbeat Spider-Man who whistles his own theme tune as he elegantly disarms crooks and isn’t averse to stopping for a selfie with fans afterwards. The action is brash, CGI heavy, and not afraid to appear cartoonish. While there are inevitably darker undertones in this rebooted franchise, it is refreshing to see that Webb has kept a sense of playful lightness, even if that same lightness causes friction when more sombre elements of the story are introduced.

This outing sees Spider-Man contend with two sprouting super-villains, while trying to untangle his relationship with Gwen, who is ditching Manhattan to study at Oxford. Emma Stone is on form again, often acting as the audiences’ main point of reference when Spider-Man is too chirpily impenetrable. Jamie Foxx enters as the mild-mannered Max, an obsessive Spider-Fan and bullied worker at Oscorp. A freak accident has him evolve into Electro – a super-charged villain who alternates between vulnerability and megalomania. Foxx’s exaggerated performance pre-transformation taps into his comedy roots, smoothly complementing Webb’s cartoonish vision. And at the same time Dane DeHaan steps into the story as Peter Parker’s friend from the other side of the tracks, Harry Osborn. Here we are back to a familiar story that was covered in the earlier films – though DeHaan brings along a sickly, desperate intensity that manages to be the real dark spot of the film. The tightrope act of presenting and progressing multiple villains simultaneously is skilfully handled by Webb, who ensures that the story unfolds – for the most part – as smooth as silk.

Spider-Man’s villains may be monsters, but they are also remarkably human – they never resort to being evil for evil’s sake. Moral ambiguity reigns, rather than the black and white days of yore. And it is these shades of grey that can clash awkwardly with the colourful, light-hearted tone of the film. Webb can crank the action and intensity up, just to have it dissipate it in the next scene. This is most evident at the films finale, which feels like it should have ended five minutes sooner. The story of Spider-Man and is a difficult one to weave, and it seems that Peter Parker may not be the only one struggling with balancing two identities. Nonetheless, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a strong, entertaining film that compounds the validity of the rebooted franchise and of sets things up for an interesting third instalment.

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Pompeii Film Review

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Swords, sandals, and sizzling seismic activity are the order of the day in Pompeii, as Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson takes us back in time in more ways than one. Starring Game of Throne’s Kit Harrington, the film tells the story of Milo, a horse-whispering gladiator in the ill-fated Roman resort city in the days before the grumbling Vesuvius smothered it.

Pompeii’s mash-up of natural disaster action and camp costume drama plays out as a nostalgia-laced tribute to the simpler days of cinema. The plot is achingly simple; Harrington plays Milo, a mysterious gladiator known as ‘The Celt’ who possesses almost superhuman strength and speed. After decimating his competition in the arenas of Brittania, Milo is shipped off to Pompeii where he shares a meet-cute moment over a dying horse with Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of the Pompeii big-wigs. Also in Pompeii, being wined and dined by Cassia’s parents, is Senator Corvus (a wonderfully hammy Kiefer Sutherland) who Milo recognises as the man who killed his family years ago. It’s formulaic – the class-divided love interest, the revenge angle, the impending disaster – but it’s enough to set the stage for the action to unfold.

And action is Anderson’s forte, there are some great moments here, both before and after the volcano. Pre-eruption is focused on combat amongst the gladiators, as Milo fights through the ranks to eventually buddy-up with champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). The violence is kept relatively clean in order to maintain the 12A rating; and the exceptionally dire dialogue throughout ensures that eyes will roll far more often than heads. Post-eruption the film takes on a different tempo, we are into Dante’s Peak territory, with Milo and Atticus attempting to find love and right wrongs while the world crumbles. The endless torrents of lava, subsumed buildings, and exploding fireballs are a delight to watch in 3D. But while the action is enjoyable, it is never enough to keep the film afloat. A whole layer of story from Titanic is lifted and re-enacted, but with less likable characters. Milo has a modus operandi that consists of saying little and doing good, and Cassia never graduates from being the damsel in distress. Meanwhile Sutherland’s Corvus is the kind of no-good-whatsoever-villain that you only get in pantomimes. The only depth to the characters in Pompeii is the fact that they are shot in 3D.

When the dust settles, there is something endearing about Pompeii, despite a multitude of failures. There are films that can show you something you’ve never imagined, leave you with a character that will accompany you for the rest of your days, or make you think about life differently. And then there are films that just distract you, they throw enough pyrotechnics and flimsy costumes your way to pass some time. Pompeii definitely belongs in the latter category – it is your garden variety action film – but what makes it endearing is that it never feels like it is trying to be anything more than that. More of a fizzle than a full-scale eruption, it’s a flawed, but still entertaining film.

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Run and Jump Film Review

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Set amid the undulating hills of Kerry, Run and Jump is a colourful, fresh piece of drama that offers more than it seems to at first glance. Vanetia (Maxine Peake) is a dynamic but overburdened young mother who is forced to maintain stability for her family after a stroke leaves Conor (Edward MacLiam) unable to fulfil his roles as a father and husband. While we can only catch glimpses of how the family functioned in the past, the ‘new’ Conor is confused, unpredictable, and aggressive. The polar opposite to the reclusive Ted (Will Forte) an American academic who stays with the family to monitor and document Conor’s recovery. Vanetia is a proactive whirlwind, so caught up in fulfilling the needs of others that she neglects her own, and as the ditch widens between her and Conor she inevitably begins to develop a deeper relationship with Ted.

Written by Kerry native Ailbhe Keogan, and developed with director Steph Green, the film has a refreshingly unique and authentic voice. Ted, as the outsider American upended into Irish culture, functions as a way to serve up some of the more expected comic elements through interactions with the gossiping neighbours and quirky kids; but this is never what drives the story, it is a film focused on relationships rather than location. Keogan’s characters are fully realised, and it is their idiosyncrasies intersecting that provides the momentum, while Green is confident and deft-handed enough to allow things to stew away and develop slowly.

For a film that wears much of its plot line on its sleeve, Run and Jump still manages to be surprising. While Vanetia is the overt focus of the piece, a lot of space is given to the men around her and exploring the concept of masculinity remains a constant undercurrent. Conor, once competent in his role as father and husband is now displaced through brain injury – unwilling to spend time in the house, he sits in the workshop, carving functionless wooden spheres. Conor’s father is the old-school patriarch, unable to understand Conor’s inability to ‘be the man of the house’ while struggling himself to function in a world with a rapidly changing value system. Conor’s son, Lenny (Brendan Morris), is coming of age in a space where his father is practically absent; and Ted is taking steps away from the steely defence of academia to a place where he is forced to be more emotionally vulnerable. It’s a credit to the film that so many interesting storylines are given the space to intertwine.

Through clever and competent writing, Run and Jump is a film that crams a lot into its running time. And towards the end it does feel as if it has taken on board too much, as if there are too many ‘big issues’ and too little space to explore them. But thankfully this doesn’t mar the experience. The soft hills of Kerry provide fertile ground for exploring the natural ups and downs of life, and Run and Jump is a confident, competent, and exciting film that expertly captures them.

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Divergent Film Review

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divergent-tris-posterBased on the best-selling series of novels by Veronica Roth, Divergent is poised to take on the mantle of dystopian-teen franchise of the year from The Hunger Games – and it looks like it has all the necessary credentials to do so. While the young female lead against the odds in a not-too-distant alternate future is familiar territory, Divergent establishes its style early. Opening shots of the crumbling masonry of a post-apocalyptic Chicago slowly being reclaimed by nature set a scene that is closer to 2007’s I Am Legend than anything more recent.

As set up for a coming of age story go, this one is almost perfect. In the wake of a war that that happened some time before the lifetimes of most of the lead characters, society splits into a faction-based system. (Sociologically not exactly a load-bearing idea, but the factions work wonders in metaphorically labelling groups of people, so it is probably for the best that the precise details of the societal shift remain conveniently secure in the realms of tight-lipped historical mystery). Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is our hero – born into Abnegation – the mirror-shunning faction that focuses on simplicity, and dedicates itself to working with the poor and destitute in society. Imagine the Amish, but a little less colourful and without the hedonistic joys of Rumspringa and you’ll soon be empathically stropping against the dreary, grey future that Beatrice’s parents dream for her.

Thankfully things don’t go as planned. Part of every teenager’s initiation into adulthood involves consciously choosing one of the five factions in a public ritual. Alongside Abnegation, the options include Amity, who focus on friendship and peaceful harmony; Erudite, who devote themselves to learning; Candor who aspire towards honesty and fairness; and Dauntless, who embody courage and fearlessness. It’s hardly a tough call for the rebellious Beatrice – who watches the factions shuffle civilly into their seats at the ceremony, while Dauntless arrive like a hyperactive martial arts circus, back-flipping down buildings and diving head-first from moving trains. Choosing to join with Dauntless means cutting contact with her Abnegation parents, and sets the newly christened ‘Tris’ on a quest to discover her true calling.

While the story is slick and compelling, the transition to screen is not as smooth. Shailene Woodley, familiar from 2011’s The Descendents manages to carry the film but at 139 minutes, it is overdrawn, allowing the momentum falter at times. Tris’s training with the Dauntless – and the quest to be top of the trainee leader board – hogs an inordinate amount of screen time, overshadowing the more interesting, conspiratorial elements that begin to emerge. By the time the story develops you’ll be so jaded by the repeated sparring scenes, inconsequential trials, and epic music that you’ll need the focus of an Erudite to stay engaged. Undoubtedly the film will be massively appealing to a young adult audience, who themselves are going through the struggle of adapting to a new society, whether through work, college, or otherwise. For all its flaws as a film, Divergent can be applauded as an exploration of change, and the transition from childhood to adulthood. We can only hope the inevitable sequel learns some lessons from it earlier mistakes.


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Network Magazine: April – May – June edition

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The latest edition of Network Magazine is released across Ireland and Northern Ireland. Pieces include:

  • exclusive interview with Prof. Ivor Browne on psychotherapy in Ireland
  • interview with Dr. Paramabandhu Groves and Dr. Valerie Mason-John on mindfulness and addiction
  • interview with Frances Black from the RISE Foundation on addiction support for families
  • exploring the Jungian concept of the Shadow with Jungian psychotherapist Jasbinder Garnermann
  • St. Brigid’s pilgrimage walk with Dolores Whelan
  • Jungian Psychological Astrology with Margaret Gray
  • Perinatal Psychology with Jungian psychotherapist Benig Mauger
  • Mindfulness and Children by teacher of mindfulness Lorraine Murray
  • The psychological benefits of exercise with psychotherapist Sinead Lynch