Sunday, August 17, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movie

“Magic in the Moonlight”
Is Woody Allen’s Latest
Cinematic Sleight of Hand

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Time and again I have read “Inside the Mediums Cabinet.” It is a classic tome in which the famous magician Joseph Dunninger debunks the tricks of spiritualists and seers. He wrote, “…neither science or religion belongs within the medium’s cabinet. Sham is the only dweller behind those tight-closed curtains. It masks as pseudo-science; it voices false religion. The wise are not deceived.”

Harry Houdini did the same thing, unmasking impostors who claimed mystical powers. The pursuit cost him his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a great believer in spiritualism.

And even today, magician James Randi (The Amazing Randi) has a standing offer of $1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate any paranormal or occult powers that he cannot match with trickery.

That’s kind of the plot of Woody Allen’s new movie, “Magic in the Moonlight.” It’s currently doing its sleight-of-hand performance at the Tropic Cinema.

This year has been a particularly tough one for 78-year-old Woody Allen. He faced an ugly controversy, the renewed accusations that he molested his daughter Dylan Farrow when she was a young child. He has denied the charges.

Nonetheless, this public brouhaha did not dissuade him from faithfully releasing his once-a-year film, this one the story of a famous stage magician (portrayed by Colin Firth) who is asked to expose a mystic (Emma Stone) who is preying on a wealthy family.

Wei Ling Soo, as the magician is professionally known, doffs his Oriental disguise and travels to the Côte d'Azur (a scenic location for a movie) to debunk this false prophet.

Normally a skeptic and confirmed curmudgeon, our man Stanley can’t help but fall for the beautiful young clairvoyant as she displays the uncanny ability to read his past. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, he undergoes an epiphany, publicly professing that his lifelong rationalism has been misguided. He is elated to be at looking at the world with new eyes.

But what would he think if he knew Sophie was really a charlatan, just as he’d originally suspected? Ah, that is the pivoting point of this magical rom-com from the Woodman.

“I was an amateur magician as a boy,” Woody Allen tells us. “I loved everything about magic and I did know in the history of magic that Houdini was somebody who would debunk spirit mediums who took advantage of people and took their money and preyed on them. And I thought it would make an interesting story to take a spirit medium and a scientific, more sophisticated magician and have him fall in love with this fraud. And it would lead to a good situation.”

So how did he pull off this cinematic legerdemain? “I hired two very, very good people. Colin Firth, who is brilliant and Emma who is fabulous. I got out of the way and let them do their thing.”

Woody Allen is well known for not over-directing his actors. He says the trick is in choosing his stars well. “I enjoy writing. I enjoy making the films. I enjoy spending the days with people like Emma Stone and Colin Firth, or Scarlett Johansson, or Naomi Watts, or Penelope Cruz. It’s a good way to make a living and I look forward to it so I keep doing it.”

And each year, he pulls another rabbit out of the hat.

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