Friday, August 22, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight

*** out of ****

Whether you think you’re getting a Woody Allen film that has a philosophy of hard-bitten realism -or one of magical realism when you see his latest romantic-comedy, Magic in the Moonlight, you can definitely expect plenty of lush rose-tinted bittersweet charm.

The famous auteur has humbly stated before, that he enjoys the grand context, which esteemed actors bring to his work. It must have come with great delight for him that Colin Firth was there to carry this entire film. Firth plays a famous English illusionist, traveling around Europe in the nineteen-twenties, who is lured to the French Riviera by a lifetime friend (Simon McBurney) to debunk a clairvoyant played by Emma Stone.

Stone’s character is there to help an elderly American Aristocrat (Jacki Weaver) contact the spirit of her departed husband while being courted by the family’s shallow son (Hamish Linklater). Firth’s character is a snarky skeptic with absolute contempt for charlatans. He is even more troubled by the young lady’s charming company and his inability to find evidence that she’s a fake. His Aunt (Eileen Atkins) resides in the area of his stay and on visits, he confides in her his interest in the young medium and how she’s awakened a desire to believe that magic may exist.

For Allen fans, what is unique about the film is how it keeps us guessing what direction it will take. We’ve seen magic play a role in some of his stories, like The Purple Rose of Cairo and Midnight in Paris. Most of his films, however, take a cynical viewpoint regarding the fantastic. The growing relationship, between Firth and Stone’s characters, is dependent on this revelation.

Regardless of the outcome, period films tend to be Allen’s favorite method of escapism. The costumes and locations allow him to embrace his nostalgia for Ragtime music, extinct forms of showmanship and the sensibilities of old films. His long takes always manage to capture a kind of acting that has an energy more often found in theater than the movies of today.

I’ve been curious what kind of reception Allen films might receive from now on, given the new serious allegations that have come to light about his personal life. Like Roman Polanski, I still choose to admire the body of work generated by a committed force of creativity. I will admit that my objectivity does feel challenged at times. If the accusations against Allen were to ever gather more concrete evidence, it may be more difficult to support his films.

For now, he remains one of my favorite artists living today for his ability to keep up a forty-eight-year reputation in delivering a new film just about every year. Some are weak, some are terrific, and some, like Magic in the Moonlight, are simply designed for a relaxed pleasant night at the movies.

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