Wednesday 24 September 2014

Film: 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Anyone who knows my blogs will have long ago picked up how much I generally like Woody Allen films, one of a very few directors for whom I'll go out of my way to see anything new.
If I were to categorise his films into, say, 'Exceptional', 'Good', 'Middling' and 'Disposable' (his previous, 'Blue Jasmine', was right up there in Category I) here's one which struggles to find a place in the lower reaches of 'Middling', a section which is becoming, alas, rather over-populated of late.
The story is light as a bubble, though insufficiently equipped with wit or drive. In fact it gets to be rather tedious.

Set at the end of the 1920s, Colin Firth plays a Chinese illusionist, suitably made-up of course, on the European theatrical circuit. (Remember the name - that's F-I-R-T-H - because, mark my words, you'll be seeing more of him before long, I guarantee it. He ought to go far. Very far.) Incidentally, there's a welcome, brief cameo appearance in this early part, from Ute Lemper - singing in a Berlin night club. (Where else?).
A long-term friend of Firth's character (Simon McBurney) tells him of this amazing young American medium he knows with extraordinary psychic powers and who holds seances. Firth, a great believer in the rational only,  had already made it his mission to debunk such fraudsters, which he claims all such to be, and rises to the challenge of investigating this young woman (Emma Stone). Scene moves to south coast of France where it stays for rest of film, with some ravishing scenery. Convenient because Stone is staying in a place which also has Firth's aunt (the formidable Eileen Atkins) living in the neighbourhood. Stone, already engaged to a ukelele-playing, wealthy young man, is intrigued by Firth and his scepticism. It doesn't take long for unexpected emotions to surface on both sides.

(Spoiler alert!) Long before the end of the film a certain feeling of deja vu came to my mind - and I managed to wheedle out what it was - 'My Fair Lady'! And, wouldn't you know it? The very end of the film is exactly like the close of that piece.

Woody Allen (director and writer) seems not to have his heart in this one. It ought to have been light and fluffy instead of being largely flat. Potentially funny situations were thrown away. There were no laugh-out-loud moments at all, only a couple of weak chuckles-worth.
No real quarrels with the acting from anyone - well, apart from one or two moments of sounding forced.
Another disappointment was that the music seemed to be a roll-call of only the most popular melodies and songs of the period, like ticking them off on a list. I don't think that there was a single number with which I wasn't familiar. I'd have thought that Allen, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of music, jazz above all, could have chosen some lesser-known pieces to make the film more interesting, because that's what was needed.

A disappointment, then. But second-rate, or even third-rate, Woody Allen is not to be dismissed lightly even if, as here, he seemed to be running on auto. I just had to see it anyway. Now that I have I shan't be rushing to give it a second watch. My rating will illustrate the extent to which I'm willing to give Allen the benefit of any doubt. I confess I wouldn't be so accommodating to many other directors ...........................5.5.


  1. Yes, the story is "light as a bubble," but passed the time easily at an afternoon performance. However, I think that it would be more enjoyable watching it at home on DVD along with a nice wine accompanied with some good cheese.

    I must say I was very pleased to see Eileen Atkins and Ute Lemper, whom I haven't seen since her NY Stage debut in "Chicago."

    True that the music was "roll-call" but that era was unique and listening to that familiar music added to the enjoyment.

    I discussed the movie with a friend of mine and he said: "Woody Allen has made a good Woody Allen movie. I totally agree.

    1. That's fair enough, Paul, though I do wish I felt the same way as you and your friend. Whenever it's a Woody Allen film I'm desperately hoping for something that will justify my stratospheric admiration of him, and he certainly can pull it off, but all too rarely in recent years. I felt this one had a subject crying out for 'sparkle' and 'wit' but found their presence lacking. His prolific output makes me always think "maybe next time", though he can't have that much productive time left now. Perhaps my demands of him are too high, but knowing what he's capable of I still live in hope.

  2. im on catch up
    i havent even seen blue jasmine AS YET

    1. 'Jasmine' is an absolute MUST, J.G. Once it starts it'll hold you right through. One of the key films of this century so far, I'd aver.
      As for 'Magic' I'd still recommend anyone to see it - I rarely warn people off from seeing anything I dislike anyway - you may well find that your reaction is similar to Paul's above. I hope it is.

  3. Ray,
    I probably haven't seen as many Woody Allen movies as you but the ones I have seen I liked immensely. "Blue Jasmine" was superb. I'm sorry Woody's latest film didn't live up to his usually excellent filmmaking skills. Thanks for the tip. I'll probably skip this one.

    1. It's only one person's opinion, Ron. Most of the reviews I've seen have been more favourable than mine - but not all. However, as we agree on 'Blue Jasmine' there just may be an agreement of views were you to see this one too, though anything is possible.

  4. hey, just discovered your really cool blog. i like to watch movies big time, but i always wait until something i want to see is available on dvd (i'm sort of a recluse).

    woody allen is awesome, so i can't wait to see this. if it turns out to be inferior to his previous work, i'm okay with that. i only buy a dvd after i've seen it (and there's a library near my home that has an epic selection of free dvds). so no money will be wasted.

    anyway, thanks for the really cool review. now that roger ebert is gone, i've had to flip a coin when it comes to movies and such.

  5. Many thanks, Zach - and welcome!
    My film choices tend towards the eclectic (or 'art-house' if you prefer) but I do try to cover a wide range.
    Glad that you're another one who appreciates Mr Allen - who often evokes strong emotions on either side. But as with you, I'll give up time to see anything at all that he turns out. Some are brilliant, some are dud and some, like this, are neither. This particular one has its fans and I wish I was one of them but got to be honest and it just seems that the potential for being light and witty was just thrown away. (I can even imagine him yawning while calling "Action!").

    Hope my future reviews interest you enough to catch something you might otherwise have not bothered with.
    Best wishes.

  6. I do usually rather enjoy Woody Allen films. Sounds as if this one will be an iPad on an across country flight film.

    1. If one doesn't have too high expectations I don't see any reason why this shouldn't be enjoyed, F.B. Perhaps I was hoping for too much after such brilliance as 'Blue Jasmine'. Watching 'Magic' en route might be the perfect way both to enhance the film itself and to make the time pass quicker and agreeably.