Tag Archives: Woody Allen

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

magic in the moonlight

Say what you want about the man’s morally questionable private life, but when it comes to movies, Woody Allen only has good ones and disappointing ones, because even at their worst his films are still pretty watchable.

Sadly, I place Magic in the Moonlight in the disappointing category — though only relative to my high expectations. With a charming cast headed by Colin Firth and Emma Stone and an intriguing premise about magicians and psychics, I had been hoping for a magical experience (no pun intended) in the vein of Midnight in Paris, one of my faves from 2011. Woody was coming off the awesome Blue Jasmine in 2013, so I thought the momentum could carry over.

Alas, the romantic comedy never quite got there for me. It’s a sweet flick good enough to deliver a few laughs and enchanting moments, though it is also so slight and forgettable that it’s hard to place the movie anywhere but in the middle of the road in Woody Allen’s formidable filmography.

The film did hook me in straight away. Set in the late 1920s, the story is focused on a paranormal debunker named Stanley (Colin Firth), who earns his money in disguise as Wei Ling Soo, a world famous illusionist from the Orient. Stanley’s world is turned upside down when he meets a young clairvoyant and mystic named Sophie (Emma Stone), who begins to confound him with what appear to be genuine abilities.

Despite the age gap (what else did you expect from Woody?), the chemistry between Firth and Stone is fantastic, even though the latter doesn’t totally convince as someone from that era. I enjoyed watching the two grow close through an assortment of witty banter and neurosis typically found in Woody Allen movies. The humour is light but effective, but what kept my interest more than anything was the mystery of Sophie’s abilities and the impact it had on a hardcore sceptic convinced of the randomness and meaninglessness of the universe.

The supporting characters are also funny albeit being more like caricatures. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Hamish Linklater as Brice, a well-meaning and very wealthy young man pining after Sophie, Marcia Gay Harden as Sophie’s protective mother, and Aussie legend Jackie Weaver as Grace, a grieving widow perfect for Sophie to exhibit her powers.

I agree Magic in the Moonlight is an interesting and pleasant film to watch — it’s just not the kind of film that will wow you or raise your pulse or even generate any kind of noticeable emotional response. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just would have preferred more energy and a greater sense of wonder to make me care more about the story and the characters.

Perhaps “disappointing” is being harsh, since I enjoyed Magic in the Moonlight for what it was — a bit of lighthearted fun you’ll probably never think of again once the end credits roll. I wanted a little more from Woody than just that, though it’s still not a bad film to check out when you feel like simply sitting back and relaxing on a boring afternoon.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Blue Jasmine (2013)

bluejasmine-firstposter-full

I don’t think much of Woody Allen as a husband or father, but I still get excited whenever I hear that he has a new film out. Despite a mixed bag in recent years, I loved Match Point and thought Midnight in Paris was one of the best movies of 2011. His latest, Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett in possibly a career-defining performance, is definitely right up there as one of his better projects over the past decade.

In tradition with Allen’s unique style, Blue Jasmine is a small, chatty, neurotic character movie, this time about a woman who had everything coping (or not coping) with losing everything. Blanchett plays the titular Jasmine, a New York socialite who once had wealthy husband (Alec Baldwin) and all the branded handbags and shoes a woman could want, but begins the film travelling to live with her not-so-well-off sister and her two sons in San Francisco. There are reasons for her downfall and breakdown, and we find this out gradually, piece by piece, through a series of well-designed exposition and flashbacks.

It’s clear from the very first scene, a one-sided conversation aboard her flight, that Jasmine is not a likable protagonist, someone who cannot let go of her elitist attitude and high and mighty behaviour despite no longer having the status or bank balance to back it up. Much of the fun is watching this very self-centered, pompous and cluelessly tactless woman trying to “put up” with people she thinks are inferior to her, though at the same time there is a certain poignancy to Jasmine’s ordeal because she is fighting so hard to not crumble under her depression. Despite all the obnoxious and insufferable things she says and does, it’s no easy hating Jasmine because she’s so laughably pitiful.

Part of that is Allen’s masterful writing, but most of the credit should go to Blanchett’s performance, which has already won her a Golden Globe and makes her a favourite heading into the Oscars. She is simply perfect as Jasmine, exuding an elegance and presence that is tailor made for the role. Everything, from her posture to the way she seems to start every sentence with a heavy sigh, tells you the kind of horrible character she is, and yet you understand why men are drawn to her. And most of all, she is incredibly funny, in an endearing Larry David/George Costanza kind of way.

Backing Blanchett up is a strong cast that includes Sally Hawkins as her “far too nice” sister, Bobby Cannavale as the sister’s middle-class boyfriend, and Peter Sarsgaard as a potential new love interest. Rounding out the effective ensemble are Alec Baldwin as the sleazy husband (another wonderful bit of casting), Louis CK as the sister’s new potential love interest, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a creepy dentist.

Blue Jasmine is an unusual, quietly brilliant movie because it doesn’t follow Hollywood’s typical “character journey” plot. Some of the subplots were a little on the predictable side — you just knew Woddy was setting certain relationships up for a dramatic moment — but by the end I was pleasantly surprised with its unconventional, and probably more realistic, conclusion. The film does lose momentum and become more serious and less funny as it progresses, but with a crafty pace and a compact 98-minute running time, Blue Jasmine is a pure delight that doesn’t come around very often, even for Woody Allen.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Midnight in Paris (2011)

It’s 2012 already but I’m still trying to finish off my 2011 movie reviews so I can do my annual top 10 list.

I still have a quite a few to go, but I’m pretty sure Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is going to be on that list. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates and co, Midnight in Paris is one of those rare, magical delights that I just couldn’t help but fall in love with.

Even though I had seen a couple of trailers, I mistakenly thought Midnight in Paris was one of those lazy, forgettable romantic “dramedies” with a bit of predictable quirkiness and lots of pretty scenes of Paris.  While it is indeed a quasi-love letter to the beautiful city, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything else.  Without giving too much away, I would classify it as a “fantastical” romantic comedy.

It tells the story of Gil (Wilson), an engaged Hollywood scriptwriter working on his first novel, who travels to Paris on a vacation with his fiance Inez (McAdams) and her wealthy parents.  By chance, they bump into Inez’s pompous, insufferable friend Paul (Sheen), who loves to grab the spotlight and take the wind out of Gil’s sails.  Feeling rejected and dejected, Gil decides take a solo stroll through the streets of Paris one evening, thus beginning an unexpected and mystical adventure  involving a whole cast of fascinating characters.  I didn’t know about this aspect of the film so it came to me as a wonderful surprise, and being a writer made it even more glorious.

Despite the scandals in his personal life, it’s hard to not admire Woody Allen as genius filmmaker.  He has made some pretty decent but flawed films in recent years (Whatever Works, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Scoop and Match Point, to name a few), but Midnight in Paris has to be one of his best in quite some time.  The characters are rich and the dialogue is sublime.  The one-liners are hilarious.  And the idea itself is brilliant.  At just 94 minutes, the film is short and sweet, allowing a swift pace.  It might not be a particularly deep film, but the sweet, light-hearted and wondrous vibe that Allen threads throughout the whole film makes it a joy to watch.

The role of Gil was made for Owen Wilson, and he shines here as the affable, slightly dorky Gil.  McAdams is also very good as the spoiled, irritating finance, and Michael Sheen is, as expected, marvellous as the pseudo-intellectual douchebag Paul.  Marion Cotillard is sexy and alluring, but for me, the one who steals the show in a minor role is French actress Lea Seydoux (who was recently an assassin in MI4).  But with the likes of Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and French First Lady Carla Bruni, it’s hard to pick any holes in the cast or performances.

Midnight in Paris is by no means a perfect film, but I connected with it in a way I never thought I would.  As far as short, witty, memorable films are concerned, this one is right up there in my personal pantheon.

5 out of 5 stars!