Friday, December 26, 2014
Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Woody Allen
Written By: Woody Allen
Main Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins
Click here to view the trailer
Notes: Quite a few little tidbits before I begin, if you don't mind...
1) Don't expect many more updates to the 1001 Albums page of the blog, as I kind of got sick of doing it and have taken to reading during my free periods at work. I used to exclusively listen to the albums during the morning when I'm waiting to punch in (I arrive at work anywhere from one hour to ninety minutes early, as I ride in with my wife who works at a nearby nursing home and it's just easier that way) and during my lunch hour. About a month ago, I decided that I wasn't up for music and instead opened my phone to my Kindle app and began reading Stephen King's Firestarter. I've always wanted to make more time for reading and now I've found a way to make that happen and I must say I'm really enjoying it. The page will remain intact, if nothing else but to document the little progress I did make and also because you never know when the mood to restart may strike me.
2) Tonight my wife and I began the task of reorganizing our DVD collection into DVD albums. It's something I really didn't want to do, but it's going to be an incredible space saver and allow us to eliminate an entire DVD shelf from the room where I watch most of my movies (what I usually refer to as my "little TV watching room"). It's just so cluttered in there now that something had to be done to free up some space and along with taking some non-essential items to a local thrift store and just plain doing some organizing of the stuff we're keeping, putting the discs into albums is going to help immensely. It's just so hard to take, say the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection, which came packaged in a beautiful velvet padded box, remove the discs and pack the luxurious casing away in a closet somewhere. We're certainly not getting rid of the DVD cases, but still, it's a lot less elegant than having them displayed on a shelf. On the bright side, the album will make it easier for browsing, I think.
3) To anyone who celebrates, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas yesterday and if you don't celebrate, here's hoping you had a super Thursday the 25th! I for one had a marvelous time between Christmas Eve playing round after round of Catchphrase with the family to Christmas Day, waking up early on Christmas morning (something we haven't done in several years) to open presents with my wife and parents. Certainly a good time had by all and a memorable Christmas for the record books. I don't want to go into the details of what I received, because I hate rubbing that sort of stuff in and don't want to risk coming off as a braggart or anything, but lets just say my wife nailed it this year and made me a very happy camper.
4) You may be wondering what the hell is going on and why am I reviewing a movie that isn't in THE BOOK and isn't labeled as a SIN OF OMISSION. Let me explain. For a while now, I've been wanting to slowly start plowing through the mass filmography that is Woody Allen's, doing formal reviews for all forty plus of his movies. I felt that if I wished to call myself a Woody Allen fanatic, I should at least be able to say I've watched and pondered all of his films, as well as have ratings handy for all of them, not to mention perhaps a ranked list, best to worst. So this will be the beginning of a long process of my reviewing all of Woody Allen's films that I haven't tackled already. Since my wife had Woody's newest offering, Magic in the Moonlight, waiting under the Christmas tree for me yesterday, I figured that was as good a place as any to begin. After this I'll be returning to THE BOOK, to finish off the current season of movies (eighteen to go now) and then probably taking a month off to focus on this little Woody Allen project. I don't plan to finish the Allen project in that month, but rather just put a dent in it. So...enough dilly dallying, lets get to it...
THE WOODY ALLEN FILES
Hopefully I didn't lose you back there in the midst of all my gabbing, but I just felt the need to share a speck of my personal life with the blog. If you skipped it all and scrolled straight to the review, I can't say I blame you much, as I'd have probably done something similar. Anyway, each year, like clockwork, Woody Allen produces a new movie and each year I'm forced to wait approximately six months before I go out and purchase it on DVD, so that I can watch it. I don't even go to the theater that often, but even if I did decide to just go and see the latest Allen offering, his films are usually only released on a limited number of screens and that's usually not around here. I've been trekking out to buy the latest Woody Allen offering on DVD since Vicky Cristina Barcelona and bringing it home and sticking it in my DVD player is always one of the highlights of my cinematic year. I'm almost never disappointed, but this year I didn't really know what to expect as I hadn't heard much of anything about Woody's 2014 film, Magin in the Moonlight, which starred Colin Firth and Emma Stone, both making their Woody Allen debut.
Firth plays Stanley Crawford a.k.a. Wei Ling Soo, a famous magician who is world renowned for his illusions. During his performances, Stanley dresses up in full Chinese garb and pretends to be from the Orient, adding a bit of mystique to his shows. In reality, Stanley is quite the cynic, believing in nothing but pure science and writing things like magic, the existence of God and, in the case of Sophie Baker (Stone), psychics off as nothing more than hokum. When his old magician pal Howard Burkan pays him a visit after a show in Berlin, Stanley is, at first, delighted to see him. When the two begin to talk, Howard informs Stanley that a clairvoyant has taken over the home of a wealthy American family, living in the French Riviera, convincing them all that she's the real deal. In fact, Howard even admits that she's got him convinced, a man once as skeptical as Stanley when it came to such mystical things. Howard asks Stanley if he'll travel with him back to the home of the American family, the Catledges and help him debunk Sophie Baker, who has the son of the family, Brice (Linlater), so convinced that he intends to marry her and spends his days serenading her with his ukulele. Stanley accepts the challenge, considering the debunking of mystics to be a hobby of his. He puts he and his fiance's vacation on hold and travels with Howard to the French Riviera, where he meets the Catledges and Sophie. Once there, Sophie immediately begins to get visions about Stanley, going into fugue like states and revealing personal details that she couldn't possibly know unless she was legit. Soon Stanley begins to fall under Sophie Baker's spell and realizes that she must be the real deal, admitting that he's been wrong all these years and that now anything is possible, even the existence of God. However, there's more to Sophie than meets the eye...
Unless I'm forgetting something (which with forty plus movies under his belt, I very well may be) Woody Allen has just recently taken a deeper interest in certain things that he didn't used to bat an eye toward. I'm talking about things like clairvoyants, seance's, reincarnation and the existence of an afterlife. Sure, he's always pondered the existence of God, I mean that's one of the things that sets him apart. Just look at Hannah and Her Sisters, where most of Woody Allen's onscreen part is him playing a man who begins questioning his own atheism and trying to discover a new religion, a deeper meaning to life. In Magic in the Moonlight, I saw a (and I could be way off base) a Woody Allen who is seventy-nine years old and starting to do some wishful thinking that maybe there is a God. Okay, maybe it's less wishful thinking and more him say "what if" or "what if I've been wrong this whole time". One thing Woody Allen fans know is that he is a tried and true atheist, but I also think they'll agree that he's always been one that has constantly questioned and never been afraid to make the point that he COULD be wrong, as impossible as that may be. Look at the scene where Firth's Stanley prays to God that his aunt make it out of surgery alive. Stanley quits mid-prayer and when his aunt pulls through he denounces prayer as a factor since he never finished the prayer. However, in the following scene Sophie reminds Stanley that Brice WAS praying for Aunt Vanessa and that maybe it was the prayer that made her pull through. In my view, Stanley represents Woody Allen here and Sophie represents the possibility that there is a God. In the end, Sophie is found to be a fraud, but Firth still flirts with the idea of her, despite knowing that she doesn't exist as a mystic.
One of Firth's final lines in the film (in fact it may be his final line, I can't remember) is him saying "if only she'd given me a sign...just one small sign". As it pertains to the film, it's the character of Stanley wishing that Sophie had given him a sign that she loved him, as he retells his most recent meeting with Sophie, where a plan to propose went awry. The closing moments of the film show Sophie reappearing at Stanley's aunt's place, wrapping on the door once for "yes" and the film ending with the two embracing. Now then, back to that final line: "if only she'd given me a sing...just one small sign" (I'm paraphrasing, but it was similar to that). In my mind, that's Woody saying, "if only God had given me a sign, then maybe, just maybe, I could've believed in him". In my mind, Emma Stone's character doesn't return, but that the closing moments of the film where she does are just a daydream of Colin Firth's character. It's almost as if Woody Allen wishes there was a God, but the cynic in him and the forward thinker just won't allow him to give into that train of thought. Perhaps we're seeing a man nearing the end of his life (it pains me to say that) and hoping, despite all logic that suggests otherwise, that there's something more when he's gone. It also helps that he always seems to paint the non believers in a bad light and the believers in a good light. Just look at the Helena Shepridge character in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the only character who really ends up happy. To me, this is where Woody really started to explore these more existential themes. It was almost as if the Helena Shepridge character and her outcome was Woody Allen's way of stating, "I'm officially okay with people who think like this, but it doesn't mean I have to agree with you" or simply, "I get it, but I don't agree". Why is it that with Woody Allen I can pick his movies apart, paragraph after paragraph, pulling out all sorts of symbolism, but then I watch something like Visconti's The Leopard and I'm left bored and speechless?
As for the final thoughts of this one, I can see why it didn't get praise. As a Woody Allen fan, I enjoyed it as a deeper look into Woody Allen himself, as some of his thoughts and ideas seemed to creep across the celluloid, but for the casual viewer, it isn't going to amount to much more than your average affair. The primary actors did a fine job, as Emma Stone has gotten somewhat back into my good graces (there was a period there where I just really couldn't stand her for some reason), as she turned in a fine performance and seeing as how she's slated for the 2015 Woody Allen project, she may be his newest muse. Allen fans may agree that this has got to be right up there among the prettiest Woody Allen films there are. I usually don't watch his movies for aesthetic purposes, but it seemed here that every other shot was a real eye popper (dig the scenes with Firth and Stone where lightning strikes behind them or they walk through a vine enclosed walkway). Also the scene I talked about where Firth prays is a pretty powerful one and I've always admired actors who could pull of delivering lines to themselves onscreen, that must be awkward, not to mention a challenge. Keep your eyes closed and this will certainly SOUND like a Woody Allen film, as the soundtrack comes equipped with tunes from Cole Porter and Conal Fowkes, two whose voices have appeared in Allen films before.
RATING: 6.5/10 Can't go much higher than that, but I did enjoy it and there's certainly a lot to ponder here, especially for longtime fans of Woody Allen. Certainly not a total loss and a fine outing for the filmmaker genius.
December 26, 2014 11:16pm