Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review: "Magic in the Moonlight"

If it has not already been established, I have a weakness for Woody Allen. My favourite film of all time is his 1986 masterpiece Hannah and Her Sisters. There are at least ten other films that could compete for spots in my top ten list. Allen's recent trend has been to release one widely-adored film followed by one or two less-than-appreciated duds. Match Point, which revived his career in 2005, was followed by Scoop and Cassandra's Dream. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which won Penélope Cruz an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, was followed by Whatever Works and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen-lite which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, led to To Rome with Love. And now we have Magic in the Moonlight, the successor to Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen films have won Academy Awards in five consecutive decades. I was excited by the pairing of Emma Stone and Colin Firth, but the story feels a bit unfinished despite the beautiful French countryside. Magic in the Moonlight follows in the magical trend of The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), Scoop, and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. All of these films were widely panned by critics. Woody Allen has never shied away from themes of death and spirituality - this is what made Hannah and Her Sisters so successful - but while Magic in the Moonlight is much more successful than his previous three efforts, it still feels unnecessarily reserved.

Stanley (Firth) masquerades as Wei Ling Soo, an illusionist working across Europe in the late 1920s. His colleague, Howard (Simon McBurney), requests his help in disproving the work of a clairvoyant in the French Riviera. This woman, Sophie (Stone), has taken up residence with a rich American family. She and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) have been living off her talents. Stanley wants nothing more than to prove that Sophie is a fraud, but he has a difficult time finding a weakness. It does not help that the wealthy son (Hamish Linklater) has become infatuated with Sophie.

There is something to be said about Woody Allen's ability to write and direct a feature film on a near-yearly basis. At seventy-eight years old he has directed 44 films. He has had many professional and personal ups and downs. In the mid-2000s, it was suspected that Scarlett Johansson had revitalized his career, but she has only appeared in three of his films. I think that it helped attract a higher caliber actor the role he offered. There is no weak link in Magic in the Moonlight amongst his actors. The weakness comes from the screenplay which rushes too much and which should have had and could have had a better ending. The film was released less than a year after Blue Jasmine - a summer release which afforded Cate Blanchett her first Best Actress Academy Award. While shooting one film, it would not be a stretch to believe that Woody Allen is already hard at work writing and financing his next production. Sometimes his ideas are so strong that he can produce a film every year, but sometimes his ideas need more editing before production even begins. Unfortunately, the bare bones plot synopsis for his untitled 2015 film - a murder mystery set on a college campus - does not immediately give me hope for a winner, even with Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone on screen.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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