Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

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“Demanding is over-rated” said a wise woman, who I also happen to be married to.

Woody Allen’s latest film Magic in the Moonlight, is a light and fluffy piece of movie confection set on the photogenic Cote d’Azur that delights the eye but hardly taxes the brain.

Set in the 1920’s, Colin Firth plays Charlie Crawford, better known by his stage-name Wei Ling Soo: a magician who staggers his audience nightly by making elephants disappear and by teleporting across the stage.  

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As a quick aside, Firth’s characters is almost certainly based on the American chinese-styled magician Chung Ling Soo who amazed Victorian audiences with his magic and inscrutable attitude but died (messily) on stage at the Wood Green Empire in London when a bullet catching trick went wrong. Whilst never ever speaking English in public to maintain his mystique, his last words (in English) were “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain.”. Strange but true.

But I digress.

Crawford has an ego the size of one of his elephants, with a cynical and wholly scientific approach to life, devoid of passion, romance or any frivolity. Wholly unpleasant to all around him, he revels in the public and publicised debunking of fakery in the form of tricksters and mystics. As such, when his lifelong friend and fellow magician Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney, the archbishop from BBC TV’s “Rev” ) confesses to being completely stumped as to how young and attractive mystic Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) is fooling her rich and gullible marks, Crawford can’t resist the challenge. Leaving his fiancée, ice-queen Olivia (Catherine McCormack – “Braveheart”, “28 Weeks Later”) in London, Crawford travels to the south of France – a man with a mission.

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There he meets up with Sophie, her supportive mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and the rich Catledge family, who have fallen hook line and sinker for the young psychic’s charms. This is particularly true of the younger son, the awful Ukulele-strumming crooner Brice (Hamish Linklater) who is already madly in love with her and intent on marriage. As a fully independent test, Crawford drives Sophie to visit his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) in Provence and cannot believe what he sees and hears, becoming convinced – against all his normal instincts and beliefs – that Sophie is the ‘real thing’.

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Is Sophie actually the genuine article, and if not then how on earth is she tricking not one but two expert magicians?   Can she possibly reject the millionaire Brice and walk off into the sunset with the spiky and unpleasant Crawford? All is revealed over a stress-free and untaxing 97 minutes.

After the joys of last year’s “Blue Jasmine”, Magic in the Moonlight is a much more back-pedalling sort of affair for Woody Allen. It comes across as extremely theatrical in nature, feeling more like it was written for the stage rather than the screen:  you can almost hear the stage hands shifting props between some of the scenes.

I’m a fan of Colin Firth, but I’m afraid he rather over-eggs the acting pudding in this. The particularly obnoxious Charlie of the first half of the film is about 20% over-cooked for me, and a long way from his Oscar-winning performance in “The King’s Speech”, although the performance improves towards the end as his character thaws a bit into more ‘Firth-friendly’ territory.  

Emma Stone is, as always, delightful. A wise woman (the same one in fact) commented that in 20 years Stone will “be the new Meryl Streep”, and I would agree. A quality actress with a wide range that feels like it hasn’t been fully tapped yet.  

But the performance of the film for me was Aileen Atkins as Aunt Vanessa, who is just marvellous in every scene she appears in, particularly the two-hander with Firth in the final reel. An actress with 50 years of hard-won experience in TV acting behind her and every hour of that experience up on the screen.  I doubt she’d get it, but it would be lovely to see a Best Supporting Actress nod for her for this role.

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The scenery is stunningly photographed by Darius Khondji, although one scene really puzzled me: at the first meeting of Charlie and Sophie the shot is almost directly into the sun, with a character’s parasol sometimes (but not always) blocking the sun out and delivering more lens flare, albeit genuine lens flare, than a JJ Abrams movie. I’m not sure why this was done this way, but it just came across as amateurish and irritating.

The soundtrack is taken from jaunty jazz staples of the era, which work well for most of the time but are at times jarring and ill-suited.  

In summary, not a classic Woody Allen but a very pleasant and lightly humerous film that older audiences in particular will enjoy. If you liked “The 100 Foot Journey”, you’ll probably enjoy this too.

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

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