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Muppets Most Wanted Film Review

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MUPPETS MOST WANTED

The latest offering in Disney’s lucratively rebooted musical franchise; Muppets Most Wanted literally builds on the success of its predecessor, with an opening shot featuring the Muppets in Hollywood on the set of 2011’s film wondering what to do next. The answer lies in their catchy first number, ‘We’re doing a sequel’ written by Flight of the Concord’s Bret McKenzie, but the self-referential lyrics “We’re doing a sequel / that’s what we do in Hollywood / but everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good” may contain a little too much truth.

With the Muppet Theatre happily secure, the gang are persuaded to take their show on road by hotshot PR guru Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Kermit’s (voiced by Steve Whitmire) initial protestations and sneaking suspicions of the tour are drowned out by the rest of the Muppets’ celebrations. Badguy (“it’s French, pronounced Bad-JEE” he explains) knows how to manipulate the group and swiftly nudges the mild-mannered Kermit out leadership. A more nefarious purpose to the world tour emerges when Constantine (voiced by Matt Vogel) “the world’s most dangerous frog” – who happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to Kermit – escapes from a soviet Gulag. Aquick identity swap later and Constantine is happily ensconced within the Muppets while Kermit islanguishing in the Gulag under the obsessive watch of Nadya (Tina Fey) with no way to let the rest of the Muppets know the danger they are in. Throw in Lady Gaga, some art gallery heists, and a marriage to Ms. Piggy and it looks to be the guts of an entertaining trip.

But while the film is heavy with star cameo performances – too many to name here, and some are so fleeting that you’ll probably miss them – it is noticeably light in human leads. Constantine’s ropy Slavic impersonation of Kermit is over-relied upon as a means to carry much of the story and humour. While falling back on classic body-swap scenarios remains funny for the most part, these scenes lack the human-Muppet chemistry found in the earlier film. Ricky Gervais’ interactions with the Muppets feel more like Comic Relief sketches, and Tina Fey’s one-dimensional character leads to her scenes with Kermit in the Gulag feeling somewhat repetitive and flat. The closest the film comes to filling the Jason Segel shaped hole is in the scenes with Jean Pierre Napolean (Ty Burrell) and Sam the Eagle (voiced by Eric Jacobson) as French and American detectives forced to work together on the case of Constantine.

The human connection is missing in more than one sense. Muppets Most Wanted seems lacking not only in comparison to its predecessor, but in comparison to most other recent films aimed at children due to its noticeably muted emotional undertones. The Muppets may gain a new appreciation of Kermit, but there’s no grander message on display. Muppets Most Wanted is a straightforward romp, a colourful comedy that is content to pluck on the musical strings but not tug on the heart strings. The result is enough to keep you just about entertained, but never really inspired.

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Inside Llewyn Davis Film Review

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The Coen brothers are famous for writing and directing darkly humorous films that skirt the edge of traditional film narrative. Their latest creation, Inside Llewyn Davis, continues the trend and with the titular character we’re presented with their bleakest antihero yet. Following Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), a struggling folk singer in the early 60s Greenwich Village scene, is hard work. Cold, penniless, and with a rapidly dwindling supply of couches to sleep on, we witness Llewyn’s artistic idealism clash with a harsher reality. At the same time our expectations as an audience are challenged by the reality of the Coen brothers’ vision. At first glance Llewyn appears to be the archetypal charismatic underdog, but it quickly becomes apparent that most of his suffering is self-inflicted and there seems to be little chance of redemption. We have a character that is as cold and uninviting as the snow lined streets he haunts and like Llewyn, we are left seeking a sense of comfort only to encounter doors being slammed shut.

As a character, Llewyn may be difficult to warm to, but he is incessantly thought-provoking. Oscar Isaac excels in the role, oozing a despondent yet defiant air that colours the whole film. Isaac’s musical performances in the film are incredible, and act as a kind of counterweight to his character’s more exacting aspects. The film follows a week of Llewyn’s life, and again the conventions are bucked – the days consists of repeating the same unfulfilling gigs in Greenwich Village, and repeating the same disappointing conversations with his agent. Trapped in a rut, when opportunities arise they inevitably lead back to the same place. Llewyn’s journey is a bizarre one that can easily arouse a feeling of frustration, as we see the landscape change, but never the character.

The Coen’s trademark black humour is here, but in a diluted form. The louder, more cartoonish characters that accentuate many of their films are noticeably absent and instead we’re faced with a muted and grim world complete with desaturated colours and shadows that almost threaten to swallow up scenes. The supporting cast serves to add both comic relief and to propel the narrative, with Carey Mulligan and John Goodman bringing good performances to quite limited roles, and Justin Timberlake proving that his voice can work outside pop music. But ultimately this is Llewyn Davis’ show, a fact that is simultaneously a blessing and a curse for the viewer. For all his potential, Llewyn seems destined to remain in the shadows – perhaps happy in his own way to occupy that space, or perhaps a necessary and tragic by-product in the evolution of a burgeoning genre.

The unconventionality of both the protagonist and the story do not stop Inside Llewyn Davis being a solid film, but it does make it a rather more difficult one to watch. By bucking expectations and confronting us with sobering visions of a reality that we often shy away from, the film forces us to question our sense of heroic destiny, both on screen and off screen. The real gem at the heart of the story is that it allows itself to remain open to interpretation and in the end we are left with a flawed but wonderfully crafted monument to the darker side of human experience. Like a good folk song, the film is bound to evoke feelings of dissatisfaction, melancholy, and woe – but maybe that’s just what it is like inside Llewyn Davis.

llewyn davisPublished in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 30th Jan 2014.

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Getaway Film Review

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Getaway, starring Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez, has to be the most surprising cinema release of 2013 – not because it defies any film conventions, but rather because it repeats them to the point of complete absurdity.

The story is quickly established, it is Christmas time and Brent Magna (Hawke), a gruff ex-racing car driver who is down on his luck returns home to find his house ransacked and his wife missing. A mysterious caller (Jon Voight, credited as ‘The Voice’) commands him to steal a Mustang car, and then tells him to follow all instructions, failure to do so means Mrs. Magna will die. Selena Gomez (credited as ‘The Kid’), a petulant rich girl who owns the Mustang tries to steal it back from Magna and ends up being dragged along as an unwilling passenger for the film, which for the most part, is composed of connected car chases.

The Voice remains a mystery to both the on-screen characters and the viewer. We are only treated to close shots of his lips curling into a cruel smile, greedily gulping some slick cocktail, or mercilessly devouring olives as he torments Magna in a vaguely germanic drawl, no doubt calling from the untraceable number in the VIP section of one of those high-class and decadent clubs that villains frequent .

Magna has absolutely no character development, he remains trapped in a state of perpetual anxiety and each reckless request that The Voice makes is met with the briefest of resistance before he proceeds to careen the car down steps, through train stations, and across ice rinks in an attempt to keep his wife alive. The Kid eventually uses some of her computer knowledge to try to figure out what the master plan is. Cue some more filler chase scenes, a turning point scene where they briefly step out of the car before getting back in it, and a climactic chase scene. So much focus is given to metal on metal crashing that the only empathy a cinema audience could have with the characters on screen stems from the shared experience of being trapped in a seat while forced to endure something terrible.

There seems to be little CGI used, which is noteworthy, but the elements of the chases that are impressive are drowned out by the sheer inanity of watching so much action that, more often than not, is very clunky. The webcams mounted inside the car by The Voice are spliced into the movie as in-car shots, which is a novel editing approach that completely fails. Hawke and Gomez seem powerless to do anything with the script. Undoubtedly there’s an audience for every film, but this one will struggle in the cinema – even if you’re hungry for a mindless, fun action movie, there’s so many that already do the job better that I’m not sure the traditional ‘leave your brain at the door’ approach would have any beneficial effect. Getaway is one step beyond that, the title needs to be read as a warning.

getaway

 

Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 12th Dec 2013.

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Saving Mr. Banks Film Review

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saving mr banks film review
This behind-the-scenes story sees Tom Hanks portray Walt Disney as he desperately tries to secure the rights to produce one of the Disney’s most iconic films, Mary Poppins. The dramatic back and forth between Disney and the author of the series of Poppins books, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) in the early 60s plays out as a consistently funny, and ultimately moving reflection on the relationship between creators and their creations.
Despite the fact that Saving Mr. Banks is made by Disney, and that elements are inevitably toned down for the audience or omitted (Walt’s infamous cigarette habit which led to his death from lung cancer is alluded to with a persistent cough but never a wisp of smoke), the on-screen Walt is surprisingly human – he’s an old-fashioned schmoozer, who is well used to getting people to do what he wants. And with Mary Poppins it’s personal, he not only realises the commercial potential of the project, but making the film would also fulfil a promise he made to his daughter over a decade earlier.
But what he wants is not at all what P.L. Travers wants. After years of pursuit, Disney has finally gotten her to come to Hollywood to meet face to face. It is Thompson’s wonderful portrayal of Travers’ culture shock that provides most of the laughs. Mrs. Travers (never Pamela) is an excessively proper, milk-first type of lady with an acerbic streak that strips the veneers from the legion of incessant smiles she encounters in LA. She’s appalled by the changes that the Disney team suggest, her Mary Poppins is older, not at all coy, and she would never associate with a chimney sweep. Every line of dialogue, costume, set, and prop that Disney suggests is meticulously scrutinized by Travers, and that’s before the songs and animated penguins are even mentioned.
Regular flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in rural Australia reveal some of the rationale behind her possessiveness of the Mary Poppins story. Like Mr. Banks, Travers’ father (Colin Farrell) was a bank manager who struggled for a sense of happiness and meaning in life. Dependent on alcohol, Travers’ father is a mischievous and, in the young girls eyes, an almost magical figure that she is forced to watch degenerate. It becomes clear that the character of Mr. Banks is central to both Travers and Disney – Travers sees him as the father that she could save in a fantastical alternative to her own troubled childhood. Disney sees himself in Mr. Banks, and ultimately hopes that Mr.Bank’s on-screen redemption will fulfil a promise to his daughter and mirror a similar sense of redemption in his own life. For both Travers and Disney the relationship between the author and the character is inextricably linked the relationship between the parent and the child.
Saving Mr. Banks carries the hallmarks of a Disney story, but it does so in a nuanced and self-reflective way thanks to superb writing and acting that carries it through over two hours and will undoubtedly see it receive a lot of Oscar attention.
saving mr banksPublished in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 28th Nov 2013.
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Don Jon Film Review

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes on the topic of sex addiction as writer, director, and lead actor in Don Jon – a film that ekes out a unique space in the pantheon of recent addiction films, settling somewhere between the significantly darker Shame (2011) and the much lighter Thanks for Sharing (2012).

As the eponymous character, Gordon-Levitt plays a hypersexual Jersey Shorian who objectifies women, and earns his nickname by consistently being able to pull whatever woman he wants. Despite this, he can only achieve true satisfaction by watching porn. Which he does incessantly. Jon’s preference of porn over actual sex and his battle to understand and overcome this preference forms the thematic foundation for a film that sets out to explore the clash between expectation and reality.

Don Jon is a film that matures along with its characters on screen and makes a great transition from comedy to drama.It is certainly in drama where Gordon-Levitt shines as a writer, as the more dramatic second half of the film brings a depth of story that is noticeably lacking in the opening. He is also very comfortable and confident in the director’s chair. There are consistent clever plays with the central topic of addiction dotted through the structure of the film, we follow Jon on a well-worn path of locations – from the gym, to the car, to the family table, to the club, to the bedroom, to the computer, to the church – that implicitly portray the habitual patterns the character is locked into.

It’s around the family table that we get a glimpse into the root of Jon’s habits, and further explore the theme of reality and expectation through his father who is more interested in the football game than his family, his mother who is obsessed with Jon meeting ‘the one’, and his sister who spends the majority of the film texting.

While it is slow and somewhat cumbersome to start, the film picks up pace through the introduction of Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who attempts to rein in the libidinous Jon and force him to stop watching porn. And again the story deepens through the introduction of Esther (Julianne Moore), who challenges Jon to confront his behaviour and the philosophy behind it. Both Johansson and Moore are brilliant in their respective roles – they also showcase Gordon-Levitt’s skill at writing conflicted female characters. Their introduction to the story drives Jon’s journey to understand himself and his desires at a deeper level, and Gordon-Levitt’s performance as an actor stays strong throughout, convincingly portraying Jon as a likeable character battling with unlikeable traits. Don Jon certainly won’t appeal to everyone. While it has the trappings of a good comedy-drama, its subject matter is confronted graphically and head on (think 120 Days of Sodom, rather than 500 Days of Summer) and undoubtedly that will be off-putting for some. But for those that persevere, it is a rich film that offers a sometimes clunky and heavy-handed, but ultimately warm-hearted commentary on the false expectations that men can have about women, and likewise, the false expectations that women can have about men.
don jon 21 nov

Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 21st Nov 2013.

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