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 Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight   Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:29 pm

Woody Allen has directed 46 films since 1966, that's if you're counting What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) and his segment Oedipus Wrecks for New York Stories (1989). Most directors wind down when they hit 60 and think about retiring. Not Woody Allen, this is a man who has given us slapstick comedies like Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975), romantic comedies like Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), sobering dramas like Interiors (1978), Another Woman (1988) and Blue Jasmine (2013), black comedies like Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Deconstructing Harry (1997) and comical compendiums like Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* *But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) and To Rome With Love (2012). He's even experimented with a thriller like Match Point (2005), a mock documentary with Zelig (1983) and a full on musical with Everyone Says I Love You (1996). But, if there's one theme that Woody Allen has revisited time and again with his films it's that of magic, and that there's forces out there that humans cannot comprehend. He's touched upon the power of magic, the supernatural and the inexplicable in A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Alice (1990), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), Scoop (2006) and Midnight in Paris (2011). His latest film, Magic in the Moonlight (2014), is a playful fantasy which has deep and thoughtful musings on magic and the supernatural. It's a fun bit of fluff, but that's it.

It begins in 1928, English magician Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) performs under the guise of Oriental illusionist Wei Ling Soo. His shows captivate audiences, and after a show in Berlin. He's met backstage by his old friend and fellow magician Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), who asks Stanley if he would come to Côte d'Azur in the South of France. Burkan is friends with a wealthy American family called the Catledges, who seem to have been taken in by a young clairvoyant called Sophie (Emma Stone). Stanley has debunked alleged psychics and he's determined to prove that Sophie is a fraud. He goes to the Catledge house, where he's greeted by mother Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver), her sons Brice (Hamish Linklater), who is smittened by Sophie's powers, and he wants to start a trust to educate people on her powers. While Sophie does seem to know a lot about Stanley on their first meeting, he's not buying it. He thinks it's all a coincidence, and that she's been forced into this by her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) as a way to make money. During a seance, a candle floats, but Stanley still isn't convinced. However, when Sophie meets Stanley's Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), who lives nearby. She reveals secrets about her past she couldn't have possibly known about. Stanley is gobsmacked, and soon starts to believe that magic is real and not an illusion and he falls for Sophie, as she's gave him a new outlook on the world.

This is Woody Allen in a playful yet thoughtful mood. After the force of emotional nature that was Blue Jasmine, he's calmed down, and now he's having a bit of fun. This is the thing with Woody Allen, you can never predict what kind of film he'll do next. Comedy or drama, or indeed, since Match Point, where it'll be set. When writing this one, Woody tried to do it in the present day, but couldn't make it work, so he set it in 20's France, which was a masterstroke. The setting and look give the film a quality, a sort of old fashioned, classically sunny quality. It's beautifully shot by Darius Khondji, who has worked with Woody a few times before really gives the film a classy look. While the plot may seem like the sort of thing you'd watch on BBC1 on a Sunday Evening, it has a truly cinematic quality, and this is the sort of story that Woody does best. You might poke holes in it, claiming it looks rushed, but that's how Woody works these days. While most directors spend ages setting up shots and doing take after take. Woody is quick, he wants performances to look fresh and unrehearsed, While this might have varying effect in his films, it works here and Woody litters the script with old fashioned words and phrases that have fallen out of our lexicon, and it fits the period well and he captures the period brilliant well.

You can always rely on Woody to put a brilliant cast together, and this is no exception. He scored a real coup getting Colin Firth to play Stanley, a curmudgeon who has a very bleak outlook on the world, until his eyes are opened for a moment. Firth relishes the part, he's played snobbish people before, but this is one filtered through Woody's imagined, with him bemoaning that there's no magic in the world and he even gets to say the sort of depreciating put-downs you'd expect Woody to say in another film. But, Emma Stone is a revelation in the role of Sophie. While Stone might be best known for Easy A (2010) and for playing Gwen Stacy in the recent Spider-Man films, Woody saw something in her, and she has an innocence as Sophie, even as Firth has a go at her supposed psychic abilities, she pays no attention to him, even later as he falls for her. She's impressive in the part, and Woody's even cast her in his next film, so she did something right. Eileen Atkins is a wonderful addition as Aunt Vanessa, who is scornful of Firth's negative view on the world, while Jacki Weaver, fresh from the success of Animal Kingdom (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012), is a friendly addition as the Catledge matriach Grace, who is taken in by Sophie's powers, plus Simon McBurney is a good choice as Firth's old friend who has always been in the shadow of Firth and his success, while Hamish Linklater steals a scene or two by proclaiming his love for Sophie on the ukelele.



While this might not be up there with Woody Allen's classics, Woody not working at full speed ahead and just having a bit of fun in a sunny location is a lot better than most directors working at 100%. It's just a harmless, bubbly piece of fluff, with nothing particularly dark about it, but if you need cheering up and wanting to be taken on a ride, spellbound by an old-fashioned but nontheless always entrancing box of tricks, look no further. It doesn't rely on expensive special effects. But it's a postcard film, sort of like To Rome With Love was, this is a brilliant travelogue of the Côte d'Azur. It's set in the same time period as parts of Midnight in Paris was, and you could read this as a good companion piece of that film, while that showed 20's Paris at it's most vivid and fantastical, this shows the bohemian and sun-snogged villas and shindigs of the French south coast. It captures the period well, and it has Woody's fingerprints all over it, from the use of jaunty and cheerful old jazz favourites making up the film's score to his colourful characters inhabiting this film. While Woody doesn't believe in God, he's always interested in something being out there controlling the universe, and this is one of those films where he asks those big questions again, although he asks the questions playfully, while being taken in by the beautiful locale.

#IBelieveWoodyAllen
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