Tag Archives: Jacki Weaver

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

magic in the moonlight

Say what you want about the man’s morally questionable private life, but when it comes to movies, Woody Allen only has good ones and disappointing ones, because even at their worst his films are still pretty watchable.

Sadly, I place Magic in the Moonlight in the disappointing category — though only relative to my high expectations. With a charming cast headed by Colin Firth and Emma Stone and an intriguing premise about magicians and psychics, I had been hoping for a magical experience (no pun intended) in the vein of Midnight in Paris, one of my faves from 2011. Woody was coming off the awesome Blue Jasmine in 2013, so I thought the momentum could carry over.

Alas, the romantic comedy never quite got there for me. It’s a sweet flick good enough to deliver a few laughs and enchanting moments, though it is also so slight and forgettable that it’s hard to place the movie anywhere but in the middle of the road in Woody Allen’s formidable filmography.

The film did hook me in straight away. Set in the late 1920s, the story is focused on a paranormal debunker named Stanley (Colin Firth), who earns his money in disguise as Wei Ling Soo, a world famous illusionist from the Orient. Stanley’s world is turned upside down when he meets a young clairvoyant and mystic named Sophie (Emma Stone), who begins to confound him with what appear to be genuine abilities.

Despite the age gap (what else did you expect from Woody?), the chemistry between Firth and Stone is fantastic, even though the latter doesn’t totally convince as someone from that era. I enjoyed watching the two grow close through an assortment of witty banter and neurosis typically found in Woody Allen movies. The humour is light but effective, but what kept my interest more than anything was the mystery of Sophie’s abilities and the impact it had on a hardcore sceptic convinced of the randomness and meaninglessness of the universe.

The supporting characters are also funny albeit being more like caricatures. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Hamish Linklater as Brice, a well-meaning and very wealthy young man pining after Sophie, Marcia Gay Harden as Sophie’s protective mother, and Aussie legend Jackie Weaver as Grace, a grieving widow perfect for Sophie to exhibit her powers.

I agree Magic in the Moonlight is an interesting and pleasant film to watch — it’s just not the kind of film that will wow you or raise your pulse or even generate any kind of noticeable emotional response. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just would have preferred more energy and a greater sense of wonder to make me care more about the story and the characters.

Perhaps “disappointing” is being harsh, since I enjoyed Magic in the Moonlight for what it was — a bit of lighthearted fun you’ll probably never think of again once the end credits roll. I wanted a little more from Woody than just that, though it’s still not a bad film to check out when you feel like simply sitting back and relaxing on a boring afternoon.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Animal Kingdom (2010)

Animal Kingdom opens around Australia on 3 June 2010

People like me are what’s wrong with the Australian film industry.  My initial reaction to Aussie films is always one of scepticism and prejudice.  If it’s Australian, then chances are, it’s crap.  I’m sure I am not alone in holding this kind of biased sentiment against locally produced films.  Is it because of the poor track record?  Is it because they try too hard to make something edgy?  Or is it because we’re so used to the big bucks spent on Hollywood movies that we look down upon the locals who make their films on, relatively speaking, shoestring budgets?

I don’t know what it is, but what I do know is that Animal Kingdom, the Australian film written and directed by David Michod, is the real deal.  The film may have won the World Cinema dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, but it wasn’t until I watched it at a screening last week that it stripped away my prejudice against it and most Australian films in general.

Animal Kingdom is an explosive crime drama set in Melbourne suburbia.  The story is told through the eyes of 17-year-old Josh ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville), who is thrust into the world of crime when he is forced to go live with his grandmother ‘Smurf’ (Jacki Weaver) and his three uncles — Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford).  They are a family of relatively small-time armed robbers and drug-traffickers, but their time is coming to an end thanks to a gang of renegade detectives who are taking the law into their own hands.  As J finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into their world, Animal Kingdom becomes a frightening tale of survival, as J is torn between his girlfriend Nicky (Laura Wheelwright), self-preservation and loyalties to his family.

If there is one word I could use to describe Animal Kingdom, it would be “riveting”.  Even though it is classified as a “crime drama”, the majority of the tension (and man, there is edge-of-your-seat tension throughout the entire film) stems from the relationships and power struggles between members of the Cody family.

Debut director Michod has created an incredibly intense world that is terrifying, claustrophobic and deeply personal.  When you are a 17-year-old and this is the only life you’ve ever known, where do you go?  Who do you turn to for help?

Animal Kingdom is a film that twists and turns, and although there is a certain feeling of inevitability, you never quite know exactly what is going to happen next.  What struck me as particularly brilliant was how well each of the characters were drawn out.  With the exception of perhaps Pope’s best friend Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton) and senior cop Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), every key character in this film is multi-dimensional and never turn out to be as they first appear.  They each have such strong personalities and traits that their interactions are always bound to produce fireworks and/or make you feel unsettled.

I used to have this idea that all the ‘good’ Australian actors end up overseas, but the performances in Animal Kingdom blew me away.  First-timer James Frecheville gives a wonderfully controlled performance as the protagonist J — a subdued man-child who prefers to be unseen but is forced to come out of his shell as matters spiral out of control.  While Stapleton and Ford both give solid performances, the standouts have to be Ben Mendelsohn’s Pope and Jacki Weaver’s Smurf, the two menacing and psychotic heads of the family.

Animal Kingdom should not be mistaken for an action-thriller.  I wouldn’t describe the pace as slow, but at 112 minutes it does feel like a long movie, especially towards the end when it took a while to come to the final resolution.

All I can say is go see it, not because we should support the Australian film industry but because it is genuinely a terrific film.  I do hope it does well at the box office, especially amongst locals.  It is by far the best Australian film I’ve seen since the 2001 Lantana.

4.5 stars out of 5!