Magic in the Moonlight


Emma Stone is shocked to discover she's co-starring with an Oscar winner.

Emma Stone is shocked to discover she’s co-starring with an Oscar winner.

(2014) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Hamish Linklater, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, George Shamos, Erica Leerhsen, Catherine McCormack, Ute Lemper, Didier Muller, Peter Wollasch, Antonia Clarke, Natasha Andrews, Valerie Beaulieu, Lionel Abelanski. Directed by Woody Allen

The world is fairly evenly divided between the romantic and the pragmatic. Pragmatists believe that everything is explainable and that there is little to no mystery left in the world. Romantics believe that there is much more to life than what the senses perceive and that there are things in the world that can only be described as magic.

Stanley (Firth) certainly counts himself among the pragmatic although, perhaps oddly, he makes his living as a magician, masquerading as a Chinese illusionist named Wei Ling Soo. While he would say that he does so to maintain his privacy as well as the illusion of mystery, it seems somewhat hypocritical at the very least and cynical for certain. In 1928, however, this isn’t really an issue.

Stanley is the sort that can alienate the nicest of people in a matter of seconds. Pompous, arrogant and smug, he is completely certain that he is right in all things and the smartest person in the room. The trouble is, he usually is. He is engaged to Olivia (McCormack), a fellow intellectual pragmatic and a fine looking woman as well. They are very well-matched on the surface and Stanley feels a good deal of affection towards his bride-to-be. At the end of his world tour, he intends to vacation in the Galapagos with her.

 

However at the close of his Berlin show he is met by his old friend and fellow illusionist Howard Burkan (McBurney) who comes to him with a challenge. A woman by the name of Sophie Baker (Stone) purporting to be a psychic has attached herself to the Catledge family of Pittsburgh who happen to be friends of his. Their callow son Brice (Linklater) has become smitten with the girl, having already proposed marriage. Mother Grace (Weaver) is obsessed with making contact with her lately departed industrialist husband.

Stanley, a notable debunker of charlatans, leaps at the chance. Burkan drives him to their home in the South of France with a brief stop to lunch with Stanley’s dear Aunt Vanessa (Atkins) who practically raised him and instilled in him the practicality that makes up his personality, although she despairs at his prickliness that makes him something of a social hand grenade.

Nobody knows who Stanley is once they arrive at the Catledge villa; he introduces himself as an importer of Brazilian coffee beans. He meets Sophie and her suspicious mother (Harden) and proceeds to let slip his disbelief in the occult. However at a séance, he is unable to detect how she makes a candle levitate nor does she seem to be the source of the rapping noises that are overheard. The great debunker has to admit he’s perplexed.

 

He grows further so when she seems to know things she couldn’t possibly know – even Aunt Vanessa is taken with the charming young lass. The more he begins to doubt his own convictions, the more alive Stanley feels – and the more he begins to fall for the beautiful young girl. However, he can’t keep that nagging feeling out of his head that there is no such thing as magic. It’s a war in his soul for which it seems there can be no compromise.

Allen has been in a bit of a career renaissance in his 70s with nine films released including two of his most acclaimed and commercially successful – Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris. I will admit that I had fallen out of love with Allen not long after Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo – it seemed to me that most of his movies between then and now were passionless and seemed to be the work of someone who was working to stay busy. However Midnight in Paris did change my mind and I have again begun to look forward to his new movies – not that all of them have been great. Still I had high hopes for this one.

It is charming to be sure, a throwback to an early era – not just the era of the flapper when this is set, but also to the comedies of the ’70s which this is more akin to which were in turn inspired by comedies of the 30s and 40s. Call this a throwback of a throwback if you will.

 

Firth proves himself a phenomenal performer, once again showing that he may be the best male actor of this decade. His Stanley takes the guise of an inscrutable Oriental because Stanley himself is inscrutable; for all his bluster and bravado he is unable to express his emotions any better than those he despises can express their intellect. Stanley is clearly not a likable fellow yet Firth makes us like him in spite of his faults and by the time the movie ends, Stanley has made an organic and believable change. It’s not just good writing that accomplishes this – Firth makes it real.

Most of the rest of the cast does the kind of solid work you’d expect from a cast with this kind of pedigree – not to mention from a Woody Allen movie. Allen has always been able to get good performances from his actors.

I’ll have to admit that the second act seems a bit rushed and that the movie ends up a little bit more neatly tied up in a bow than I might have expected. I supposed when you’re 79 years old and you’re still churning out a movie every year (and sometimes more) without fail, you can be forgiven for taking a few short cuts.

 

Nonetheless this is solidly entertaining and charming. I have to admit that I do love movies set in this era and I love those kind of 70s-era all-star events that made the Agatha Christie movies so entertaining. While not a murder mystery per se, it has some elements you’d find in a movie by the mistress of the murder mystery. If Allen continues to make movies of this quality, I for one won’t be disappointed.

REASONS TO GO: Colin Firth is really, really good. Overall charming and recalls not only the Roaring ’20s but also the ’70s as well.

REASONS TO STAY: Ending is rushed a little bit. A few shortcuts are taken.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some innuendo and period smoking (which is apparently a big no-no for the MPAA these days).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the ninth movie made while Woody Allen was in his 70s. Should he release a movie next year, it will be his tenth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/27/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Great Gatsby

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Giver

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New Releases for the Week of August 8, 2014


Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesTEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

(Paramount) Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Shalhoub, Jeremy Howard, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

New York City is in trouble – but then again, when is it not? In this instance, the dreaded Foot Clan, led by the insidious Shredder, has complete control – an iron grip on the cops, crooked politicians and crime. The city needs heroes and it’s about to get them. Rising from the sewers, four brothers – superbly trained and honorable, trained by their sensei Splinter will fight for justice and peace aided by an intrepid reporter. These are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michael Bay-style.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette, a promo and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Family Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)

About Alex

(Screen Media) Aubrey Plaza, Jason Ritter, Max Minghella, Maggie Grace. When a member of a circle of 20-something friends suffers an emotional breakdown, his concerned buddies decide to reunite for a weekend in a bucolic lakeside cabin. Despite their efforts to keep things light, years of unrequited passion, petty jealousies and widening political differences brings an already volatile cauldron to a boil.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and drug use)

Deepsea Challenge 3D

(National Geographic) James Cameron, Frank Lotito, Lachlan Woods, Paul Henri. The famous film director and noted marine biology junkie decides to dive to the deepest place on Earth using an experimental submersible. The dive is extremely dangerous and if Avatar fans knew he was making these dives before he’d finished writing the sequels they would have been raising a stink.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: PG (for language and brief disaster images)

The Hundred-Foot Journey

(DreamWorks) Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon. When an Indian restaurateur settles in an idyllic French village, it sparks open warfare with the patrician owner of a Michelin star-rated bistro across the road. However, the extremely talented young son of the flamboyant Indian finds that good food can bridge any cultural gap. This is the latest film from acclaimed director Lasse Halstrom.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and premiere footage here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality)

I Origins

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Steven Yeun, Astrid Berges-Frisbey. The eye is like a fingerprint – no two humans have the same one. However, a molecular biologist makes a startling discovery that turns all our thoughts about the subject on its ear and in the process challenges long-held spiritual beliefs as well as scientific theory.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity and language

Into the Storm

(New Line) Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep. A small town is hit by a storm of epic proportions, one in which tornadoes self-regenerate and the worst is yet to come. Think of this as a political test – Climate Change deniers will undoubtedly shriek that this is propaganda while ecology freaks will call this prescient.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Disaster Movie

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references)

Magic in the Moonlight

(Sony Classics) Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden. The latest from Woody Allen is set on the Cote D’Azur in the 1920s and is concerned about an English sleuth brought in to unmask a possible swindle. Sort of Woody Allen does Agatha Christie.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for a brief suggestive comment and smoking throughout)

Four-Warned: July 2014


LucyEvery month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. LUCY (1.2)
2. DELIVER US FROM EVIL (1.5)
3. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1.6)
4. THE PURGE: ANARCHY (1.8)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. LIFE ITSELF (1.0)
2. ALIVE INSIDE (1.2)
3. A LONG WAY DOWN (1.3)
4. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (1.5)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JULY 2, 2014

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (Screen Gems) Genre: Horror. Teaming up with a renegade Catholic priest, a down-to-earth Bronx police detective bears witness to supernatural evil. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Eric Bana is a favorite and the trailer looks pretty damn spooky.
EARTH TO ECHO (Relativity) Genre: Family. A group of kids who are about to lose their homes to a highway project must find a way to rescue an extraterrestrial and help him find his way home. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 The similarities to E.T. are too much to ignore.
PREMATURE (IFC Midnight) Genre: Sex Comedy. In what seems to be a common theme lately, a high school senior relives the same day over and over again. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Describes itself as American Pie meets Groundhog Day; now why doesn’t that sound appealing at all?
SCHOOL DANCE (Lionsgate) Genre: Comedy. To win the heart of his high school crush, a young man must make the school’s hottest dance crew, survive her gangsta brother and his own holy terror of a mom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 A spoof of a genre that I can’t stand anyway figures to be an utter waste of my time.
TAMMY (New Line) Genre: Comedy. In the grip of a very bad day, Tammy decides to go on a road trip but the only way she can afford to do it is to take her feisty grandmother along. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Thelma and Louise done for laughs – and with Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon aboard, I’m betting this will be worth the trip.

JULY 3, 2014

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN (Drafthouse) Genre: Horror. Based on actual events, a Swedish Christian punk street kid in a foster home finds himself increasingly at odds with the dysfunctional family he lives with as the cruel and vicious father tests his faith and capacity to love in ways that will drive him to his limit – and beyond. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Was an official entry at Cannes and has won numerous awards on the horror festival circuit.

JULY 4, 2014

BEYOND THE EDGE (IFC) Genre: Crime Comedy. When two rival gangs try to rob the same bank at the same time, a teller and a customer try to save the day without getting caught in the crossfire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 A very interesting trailer and a very attractive cast.
BOBBY JASOOS (Reliance) Genre: Bollywood. Perhaps the impossible dream is to become the best detective in Hyderabad; perhaps not. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Like most Bollywood films looks cheesy but fun; I do wish they’d provide an English translation on the trailers though.
GABRIELLE (DreamWorks) Genre: Horror. A high school senior suspects his new neighbor is a vampire. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.0 Was a remake of this ‘80s horror comedy really needed? And does the new version add anything?
HEATSTROKE (Phase 4) Genre: Action. On a family trip to the African desert, a research scientist accidentally runs afoul of murderous arms dealers and must evade the killers and protect his daughter and girlfriend from them as well as from the dangerous African environment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Stephen Dorff is becoming a very capable action hero.
LIFE ITSELF (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. Roger Ebert wasn’t only the greatest film critic who ever lived; his compassion and social awareness inspired many through his long and decorated career. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 Ebert was a personal hero of mine and a continuing inspiration; I’ll see this one even if I have to drive 500 miles to do it.

JULY 9, 2014

CLOSED CURTAIN (Reliance) Genre: Drama. An Iranian author, hiding inside his house with his dog, sees his life changed by the arrival of a woman fleeing for her life. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 I like the concept but the trailer doesn’t really reveal very much.

JULY 11, 2014

A LONG WAY DOWN (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. Four strangers who decide to kill each on the same night meet and mutually decide to wait six weeks, becoming media sensations as an unintended consequence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Looks really, really, REALLY good.
AFFLUENZA (FilmBuff) Genre: Drama. Escaping a middle class existence for a life of privilege and wealth, a would-be photographer watched his rich cousin’s life come crashing down around her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Interesting trailer but can’t help thinking that it has a bit of the “poor little rich girl” element to it.
BOYHOOD (IFC) Genre: Drama. Twelve years in the life of a young boy and his family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Director Richard Linklater filmed this over the course of 12 years with the same cast as the young actors literally grow up before our eyes.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox) Genre: Science Fiction. Ten years after a devastating virus has wiped out most of the human race, the genetically evolved apes led by Caesar and the remaining humans will fight it out for the role of dominant species on this planet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 I think we can guess who wins the war.
LAND HO! (Sony Classics) Genre: Comedy. A pair of aging men, once related by marriage, try to reconnect during a trip to Iceland. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.7 I’m all for movies that celebrate the joy of life.
MADE IN AMERICA (Phase 4) Genre: Musical Documentary. At a music festival created by Jay Z to celebrate how music unites us and engages us to pursue our dreams, director Ron Howard creates a documentary designed to immerse us in that vibe. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 The next best thing to being there I suppose.
RAGE (RLJ/Image) Genre: Thriller. When his daughter is kidnapped, a businessman with a dark past must revisit his violent years to get her back by any means necessary. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 I guess Nicolas Cage still has some of these awaiting release.
ROAD TO PALOMA (Anchor Bay) Genre: Thriller. A Native American on the run after avenging his mother’s murder discovers that justice has a cost. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Jason Momoa stars and directs; looks pretty gritty from where I sit.
UNDERWATER DREAMS (AMC) Genre: Documentary. Four teenage boys from an impoverished school enter an underwater robot competition against MIT and won with a robot built with parts from Home Depot. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The ultimate underdog story.

JULY 18, 2014

ALIVE INSIDE (BOND/360) Genre: Documentary. Dan Cohen founds a nonprofit organization called Music & Memory which uses music to help reawaken memories in people the healthcare system has given up on. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 A celebration of life and humanity; if the trailer doesn’t move you, nothing in life will.
AMONG RAVENS (Gravitas) Genre: Drama. During a 4th of July gathering, the secrets of a family begin to emerge and have a severe effect on their 10-year-old daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Tries to filter a serious subject through the eyes of a 10-year-old; the trailer doesn’t work for me.
AND SO IT GOES (Clarius) Genre: Romance. A curmudgeonly realtor just wants to sell one last home and retire but when his son drops off a precocious 9-year-old granddaughter he never knew he had, his outlook changes.. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 With Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in front of the camera and Rob Reiner behind it, this is bound to be worth a look.
I ORIGINS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Science Fiction. During his research on the human eye, a molecular biologist makes a discovery that will have implications on our spiritual and basic scientific beliefs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 An interesting take on science vs. spirituality.
MOOD INDIGO (Drafthouse) Genre: Fantasy. In order to save his love from the effects of a flower growing in her lungs, a wealthy bachelor must keep her surrounded by flowers while he develops a cure. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 The latest from French visionary Michel Gondry is bound to be visually inventive.
PERSECUTED (One Media) Genre: Thriller. Framed for murder, an evangelist goes underground to prove his innocence and stop the coming wave of persecution against American Christians. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 This is the Tea Party’s wet dream.
PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. Dusty Crophopper, facing retirement from racing due to a damaged engine, decides that he’d like to devote his life to fighting brush fires as an aerial firefighter. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.2 The first film was better than I thought it would be; it won’t take much for the second to make the same achievement.
THE PURGE: ANARCHY (Universal) Genre: Horror. The new Founding Fathers of America invite you to purge your sociopathic tendencies as innocents get caught in the crossfire. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Last year’s surprise hit gets a sequel with new cast and bigger budget; could be worth a look.
SEX TAPE (Columbia) Genre: Sex Comedy. In the aftermath of making a sex tape to spice up their love lives, a couple frantically must hunt down all the tablets they gave away as gifts when the tape is accidentally uploaded to the cloud that each tablet is preloaded with. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 From director Jake Kasdan who has proven adept at comedy.
VIDEO GAMES: THE MOVIE (Variance) Genre: Documentary. The epic rise of video games from niche business to multi-billion dollar industry. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 My son is absolutely going to go bananas for this one, produced as it is by his hero Zach Braff.
WISH I WAS HERE (Focus) Genre: Dramedy. A man at the crossroads of his life decides to redefine his performance as a son, a husband, a brother and a father. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expanding July 25 and August 1). RATING: 1.9 Zach Braff continues on the road to redefining his career.

JULY 23, 2014

THE MASTER BUILDER (Abramorama) Genre: Drama. In the twilight of his life, an architect who has bullied his family, friends, mistresses and employees seeks to make peace with himself. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 Starring Wallace Shawn and based on an Ibsen play, this could be a film buff’s wet dream.

JULY 25, 2014

A MOST WANTED MAN (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Thriller. When a half-Chechen, half-Russian man who has been tortured nearly to death arrives in the Islamic community of a Russian city, his arrival brings chaos into the lives of a banker, a lawyer and a master spy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A John Le Carre spy story that has one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performances – that has must-see written all over it.
BENEATH (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. Supernatural forces are unleashed during the collapse of a coal mine, leaving the trapped miners and a female environmentalist trapped with them to battle for their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Claustrophobic horror with a tinge of creature feature.
THE FLUFFY MOVIE (Open Road) Genre: Stand-Up Concert Film. Excerpts from Gabriel Iglesias’ “Unity Through Laughter” tour. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Iglesias emerged after a tough break eliminated him from Last Comic Standing to become one of the most popular stand-up comedians today.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS (Magnolia) Genre: Dramedy. Moving in with her novelist friend, her film director husband and their two-year-old after a break-up, a hard-partying 20-something starts to turn their lives upside down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 The latest from prolific director Joe Swanberg.
HERCULES (Paramount/MGM) Genre: Swords and Sandals. A legendary warrior tries to escape his own legend. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.9 Based on a graphic novel with a revisionist non-supernatural take on the myth.
IRONCLAD: BATTLE FOR BLOOD (XLRator) Genre: Action. One of the few survivors of the Siege of Rochester Castle returns home to defend his family against brutal Celtic raiders. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Medieval histrionics that would have been a B movie 50 years ago and still is today.
LUCY (Universal) Genre: Science Fiction. An unwilling drug mules finds the side effects of the drug that leaks into her system to be limitless. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.2 Looks like one of Luc Besson’s best and with Scarlett Johansson in the title role? Ooh La LA!
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (Focus) Genre: Romance. In the South of France during the Jazz Age, an English detective is brought in to unmask a swindler. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Woody Allen does Agatha Christie.
MY MAN IS A LOSER (Lionsgate) Genre: Comedy. After a ladies man’s advice to his buddies to reconnect with their wives backfires horribly, a straight shooting friend proves that the Lothario has a lot to learn when it comes to the fairer sex. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 John Stamos as a modern single ladies man…talk about dated.
VERY GOOD GIRLS (Tribeca/Well Go USA) Genre: Sex Comedy. Two young women who make a pact to lose their virginity during the summer before they head to college fall for the same guy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Anyone remember Little Foxes?

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Deliver Us From Evil, Earth to Echo, Tammy, Life Itself, Boyhood, And So It Goes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Fluffy Movie, Planes: Fire and Rescue, The Purge: Anarchy, Sex Tape, Wish I Was Here, Hercules, Lucy