Talking Movies

December 22, 2019

Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium rounds up so much A-list Jewish talent for a festive kid’s flick that it is the unofficial Hannukah film for 2007. And all the better for it, there is more generosity of spirit on display here than in all this year’s ‘Christmas’ films combined. I mean, Fred Claus? Please… If you want mean-spirited trash check that out, if you want very sweet fun turn to Mr Magorium where Dustin Hoffman adds another loveable eccentric to his recent turns in Meet the Fockers and Stranger than Fiction as Magorium, a toy store owner who gave Thomas Edison the idea for the light-bulb. Natalie Portman’s struggling composer Molly Mahoney has a hit a creative dead end in writing her piano concerto while she works as an assistant, helping the 243 year old Mr Magorium run his magical toy store. Her life is about to be turned upside down along with that of lonely child (and avid hat collector) Eric.

Mr Magorium hires an accountant Henry Weston to sort out the store’s tangled tax status so that he can bequeath it to his protégé Molly. Magorium considers that the word accountant must be a cross between a counter and mutant so amusingly all concerned refer to Henry to his face as ‘Mutant’. Jason Bateman as Henry reacts to this with his trademark comedic dead-pan but without the sharp one-liners of Arrested Development he’s somewhat wasted here.  He does have some wonderful moments though. A scene where Molly tries to convince an uncomprehending Henry that the store is magical while he keeps just missing a wooden dinosaur behind (that is playing with a ball in the most endearingly dopey fashion) is painfully funny.

Quirks abound from Eric’s capital collection of hats to Molly’s habit of always moving one hand about trying to find the right notes to finish her stalled piano concerto which we hear tinkling on the soundtrack as she twiddles her fingers. These all proclaim that this is a film from the off-kilter imagination of Stranger than Fiction writer Zach Helm. As a debutante director he’s drawn good performances from his cast but this film is just a bit too insubstantial to truly satisfy. Natalie Portman as Molly Mahoney exemplifies this odd feeling of unfulfilled promise as she is good but not outstanding. It’s also hard not to feel that Portman should have moved on to the great roles by now, especially when 20 year old Ellen Page is earning rave reviews of the sort that Portman used to get for her turn in Juno, rather than appearing in kid’s films even if it is alongside Dustin Hoffman. Helm wrote one of the best and most startlingly original films of 2006, but this is merely good fun.

3/5

January 8, 2015

She Stoops to Conquer

Oliver Goldsmith’s classic 1773 comedy gets an extremely exuberant production as the Abbey Theatre’s Christmas production directed by Conall Morrison.

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Miss Hardcastle (Caroline Morahan) is threatened with a lover. Her father, the amiable Mr Hardcastle (Jon Kenny), is looking to marry her off to Marlow (Marty Rea); the son of his dear friend Sir Charles (Mark Lambert). She, however, is put off by Marlow’s reputation for extreme diffidence with women. The diffidence, however, only applies to women of his own class; Marlow is a rake with bar-wenches. And when her half-brother Tony Lumpkin (David Pearse) decides to play a trick on the conceited Marlow and his travelling companion Hastings (Rory Nolan) by directing them to chez Hardcastle as the local inn, Miss Hardcastle gets to see both sides of her putative suitor as Marlow and Hastings live it up to the dismay of Mr Hardcastle. Hastings, meanwhile, is wooing Miss Neville (Janet Moran), who is trying to get her inheritance of jewels out of the clutches of Mrs Hardcastle (Marion O’Dwyer) without having to marry her cousin Tony for them.

The play is puzzlingly relocated to Ireland by changing some references, but, unlike Rough Magic’s take on The Critic, this seems a half-abandoned high concept. There’s a sort of dangerous ahistoricity in thinking that the Big House represents the same thing in England and Ireland in 1773. And when Marlow, Hastings, and Miss Hardcastle all speak in RP tones it’s easiest to just deem it an eccentric method of representing the English urban/rural divide. Goldsmith’s comedy is played extremely broadly, with an emphasis on slapstick, and a fourth wall that never stood a chance against direct appeals to the audience by Morahan and Kenny (clearly relishing this D’Unbelievables touch). The double-act of Nolan and Rea that made 2009’s The Rivals such a hoot is firing on all cylinders, with Hastings forcing Marlow to conduct an interview with Miss Hardcastle a joy to behold; ending with a despairing Marlow dispensing with cups to slurp, arms out-stretched, directly from the punch bowl.

Morahan fares well in such an approach, presiding over the terrified servants who Kenny has attempted to instruct in the art of appearing genteel; so that Diggory (Sean Murphy) holds his hands stiff at all times, while Bryan Quinn literally throws himself around the stage in the service of his master. Lisa Fox and Charlotte McCurry also stand out musically and comedically in the ensemble who double as the denizens of Lumpkin’s local The Three Pigeons and the servants of his house. O’Dwyer’s imperious matriarch is as pompously dragonish as her Mrs Malaprop in 2009, with Pearse an effective foil. Liam Doona’s set design deserves a special mention for its ingenious rendering of inn and house as identical save for a sign lowered from the ceiling instead of a chandelier, with glass windows letting us glimpse characters pursue each other behind the set, while that garden comes to vivid life via a trapdoor pond and some trees lowered from above.

The period music by Conor Linehan which culminates in a joyous song and dance finale renders Goldsmith unexpectedly Shakespearean and fitting for the season.

3.5/5

She Stoops to Conquer continues its run at the Abbey until the 31st of January.

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