Review: Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight

I’m a bit under the weather this week, with a cold or flu that began Sunday, or Saturday night — I took DayQuil to get through our Sunday adventures in the city, with a walking tour of Nob Hill, drinks at the Top of the Mark, and V Day dinner at North Beach Restaurant. But since then, I’ve been sniffling and coughing and napping, and running behind Fb and blog posts. (I have dozens of links about current events to post.)

However I have managed to drill down my inbox a fair amount today, and just now saw this review, saved in email, of the August 2014 Woody Allen film “Magic in the Moonlight”, which apparently I never posted. (I write lots of drafts of things, reviews and comments, that never get posted.) So here it is:

We went to see the latest Woody Allen film, “Magic in the Moonlight”, despite some rather savage reviews upon its initial release that suggested Allen is coasting, or phoning it in. Really? Really? Yes, every Woody Allen film has certain familiar aspects, beginning superficially with the white on black opening and closing credits, and with any number of minor thematic tropes, and the balance one way or another between drama and comedy, and the mix of famous and near-famous actors who participate because of their desire to work with Woody Allen. And why not? Though individual films are more or less successful (depending on the writing, one would have to say), they are all beautifully directed and photographed, and almost every individual scene is a delight.

In the case of this film, I was drawn by the theme: a stage magician (played by Colin Firth), in the 1920s, is drawn to investigate and debunk a supposed psychic, Sophie (Emma Stone). This plays on reality: actual magicians, including Harry Houdini, have always been critical of ‘psychics’, who always use parlor tricks (like thumps on the bottom of the table and candles raised into the air on wires) to prey on credulous clients who want to think they are connected to their dear departed. In the film, Colin Firth’s character pursues Emma Stone’s character, Sophie, in the lovely south of France, being very critical until, after a point, he becomes convinced his skepticism has been wrong, that Sophie is the real deal, and he has been wrong in his entire life about his non-belief in the afterlife…

As a film viewer, at this point, you wonder, where is this going from here? Movies are much more predictable than literary fiction (including … SF and fantasy); movies generally reinforce audience suppositions rather than challenge them in any way. So, the simple resolution to this plot development, that would appeal to the audience credulity about psychics and the afterlife.

To the film’s credit, it does not take this easy course. On the other hand– here is where some legitimate criticism might come into play — I can’t quite appreciate that Colin Firth’s character is such a boob, sprouting insensitive remarks at every turn, as if someone who is smart must also be emotionally insensitive. And the film’s overall plot arc rather subsumes the implications of its conclusion with a…rather implausible romantic development. Not that it’s the kind of romantic development that hasn’t served many a film over the past 80 years…

Still, bottom line, despite all those critics– this is a well-done film that addresses a substantive topic about what people believe and how they live their lives.

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