Tagged: Woody Allen

Review – Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver

Magic in the MoonlightAfter being the most New York-centric of filmmakers for the first few decades of his career, Woody Allen continues his recent fascination with Europe by taking us to the French Riviera for Magic in the Moonlight.

Stanley Crawford is Europe’s most celebrated stage magician. As the Chinese mystic Wei Ling Soo he wows audiences all over the continent. But Stanley’s real passion is using his knowledge of the tricks of the trade to debunk phoney mediums and spiritualists. So when old friend and fellow magician Howard asks for his help exposing a young medium that has enchanted a wealthy widower and her son, he is only too happy to get involved. But in spending time with the lovely young Sophie, who catches Stanley’s eye as much as she confounds his intellect, this strict rationalist and vehement sceptic finds his worldview rocked by the notion that perhaps there is more to the world than meets the eye.

Like the incredibly successful Midnight in Paris, this light-hearted romantic comedy takes us back to the 1920s, a favourite era of Allen’s. But rather than just showing us a past world, the film actually feels like a movie from the 1920s. Magic in the Moonlight plays like an old screwball comedy; the kind made by Preston Sturges or Ernst Lubitsch. The characters are larger than life. Their emotional changes are sudden and drastic. Their banter is sharp and witty. The situations are wonderfully silly.

While the storyline is not overly taxing or complex – I successfully picked the ending quite early on – it does allow for some surprisingly heartfelt thematic explorations. The possibility that Sophie might be the real deal opens up the possibility that there is more to this life than meets the eye. The film explores the important role that faith plays as a source of comfort and in helping people get by. While Allen is himself openly agnostic, he seems to encourage us to pity Stanley for his closed view of the world which cannot accept the presence of anything unknowable or unexplainable.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone are not an obvious romantic pairing, and theirs is not a natural chemistry (perhaps because we imagine Sophie’s mother to be a more age appropriate partner for Stanley), but it does seem to work. The butting of heads between this mismatched pair is fun to watch. Firth is full of arrogant bluster and pomposity as a protagonist who is, for once, not an obvious Allen-surrogate, but much more indebted to Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. Stone is as enchanting and likeable as ever, and while she may not get the lines and zingers that Firth does, her comedic talents are still very much on display.

Woody Allen’s films tend to be broken down into either major- or minor-Allen – there are 44 of them after all – and there is no doubting that Magic in the Moonlight definitely falls in the minor-Allen category. It is never going to be part of a discussion of his most significant films. That said, it is none the less well performed, beautiful to look at and a nice piece of whimsical fun.

Rating: ★★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

Have you seen Magic in the Moonlight? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.

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Review – Blue Jasmine (2013)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Alden Ehrenreich

Blue JasmineThere are two types of Woody Allen films: those which are just for the Woody Allen fans and those which are for everyone. I suppose there is also a third group: those which kind of miss the mark and fail to please anyone, but that is forgivable for a filmmaker who has made at least one movie a year for the last four decades. His latest film, Blue Jasmine, is one for everyone due in no small part to a lead performance from Cate Blanchett that is really something quite special.

In a classic tale of riches to rags, we first encounter Jasmine as she arrives in a San Francisco to move in with her working class sister, Ginger. A former New York socialite, Jasmine lost everything – her home, her money, her lifestyle and her mind – when her investment banker husband was jailed for some Bernie Madoff-style dealings. While Jasmine formulates a plan to get her life back on track –she takes a computer course with the ultimate aim of studying interior design online – she causes considerable chaos in Ginger’s life.

Indebted to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Jasmine, the latest in a long line of brilliant female characters written by Allen, is our Blanche DuBois. She is a delusional woman forced to move into her sister’s working class life, surrounded by brutish men and pining for her lost life of privilege. As with Blanche, we find ourselves simultaneously drawn to and repelled by Jasmine. On one level we sympathise with her. She has had the rug pulled out from underneath her and is clearly damaged. But as much as she is a victim of her husband’s crimes, she is also a victim of her own self-delusions. Whether it is turning a blind eye to her husband’s shonky dealings and infidelities or changing her name from Jeanette to Jasmine and devising a colourful story about how her mother gave it to her, Jasmine seems content both to be deceived and to deceive herself, and as such has no problem with being false in her engagement with other people.

While the supporting cast of Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay is quite excellent, really, this film is all about Cate Blanchett. She is already an Oscar winner and considered among the finest actresses of her generation, but Blue Jasmine may just represent her best work to date. Blanchett’s performance is layered and multifaceted. Jasmine is at once fragile, vulnerable, arrogant and cruel. The film’s narrative structure jumps back and forward in time between Jasmine’s current situation in San Francisco, and her old life in New York, which means that rather than watching the progressive deterioration of a character, we are jumping back and forth to different points in that deterioration. We see in New York Jasmine evidence of the same insecurity and fragility which will overwhelms and then defines her in San Francisco.

Blue Jasmine doesn’t feel like a normal Woody Allen film. The working class setting doesn’t allow for the rapid, pseudo-intellectualism one usually associates with his dialogue, and while there are moments of humour, this is a serious story. But while it isn’t typical, it is none the less Allen – and Blanchett – in top form.

Rating – ★★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

Review – To Rome with Love (2012)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Paige

To Rome with LoveThe most New York-centric of filmmakers for the first forty years of his career, in the last decade Woody Allen has discovered the rest of the world. At least, he’s discovered Europe. In recent years he has made films set in London (Match Point), Barcelona (Vicky Christina Barcelona) and Paris (Midnight in Paris). And now, with To Rome with Love, we get Woody Allen’s ode to the Eternal City.

Midnight in Paris was a great success, it was far and away Allen’s biggest box office earner, it earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and it introduced a whole new audience to Woody Allen’s filmmaking. It also put a great deal of expectation on his next film, which at a glance looked like it followed the same formula. As it turns out, To Rome with Love is a much more typical Woody Allen film, and unfortunately it fails to reach the heights of his previous effort.

The film consists of four separate but interwoven storylines, with varying degrees of absurdity. There is the record producer who discovers an amazing opera singer who can only sing in the shower; the ordinary man who, for no apparent reason, becomes incredibly famous overnight; the man who is forced to spend the day pretending that the prostitute who came into his hotel room by accident is actually his wife; and the young man who is falling for his girlfriend’s best friend while his spirit guide, an older version of himself that he meets in the street, tries to convince him it is a bad idea. This format of separate story threads is reasonably common now, but in the better executions of it we expect the threads to connect somehow, either through their narratives becoming intertwined or through some thematic consistency. But that doesn’t happen here. The only connection is that they are all taking place in Rome.

All four storylines are based on funny little ideas, but none of them really has the substance to become a full story in its own right, though some do better than others. Because Allen doesn’t seem to know where to take them, the movie really loses its way and fizzles out towards the end. A filmmaker who makes as many films as Woody Allen does – roughly one a year for almost fifty years – is going to be a bit hit and miss, and this is one of the misses.

But despite all that, what really carries this film is the city of Rome itself. Allen has a tourist’s eye for the city and as such it never becomes just another city, just another location. It is always Rome, the Eternal City. So when storylines start to wear thin, or when jokes fall a bit flat (as happens more than a couple of times), Rome, in all its beauty, is still engrossing.

Rating – ★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean