Sunday, August 17, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Magic in the Moonlight

The iconic Woody Allen gives a one-handed playful doodle on film. The self- consciously titled "Magic in the Moonlight" drips upon the eyes smoothly enough with some charm, but has little lasting comic effect.

The beloved actor Colin Firth plays Stanley, an effete magician and pessimist in the 1920s who charades as the persona Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese master.

After a self-critical performance, Stanley is summoned by his bookish friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to investigate a young psychic Sophie (Emma Stone). The stentorian and snide Stanley can't wait to shred the idealistic and bright girl who has delighted the showy and squarish Brice (Hamish Linklater).

Stanley, a dramatic fizz of a character composed of Noel Coward and Cary Grant, starts in with clipped and cutting mockeries. Sophie withers at first, but soon becomes entranced by the cynical conjurer who is innerly vexed by his lackluster life. With each rolling insult and back-handed compliment, Sophie delivers the correct clairvoyant information, and the acidic but watery-eyed Stanley grows fascinated.

A verbal sparring match ensues with lots of drawing room dialogue and chirping. Sophie gets increasingly wide eyed and less reserved, and Stanley creates ruses to meet Sophie in secret, in a nod to Owen Wilson's behavior in Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

Director Allen is more conceptual here, intending to re-create some of the William Powell / Carole Lombard comedies of the 30s, with an obvious Cary Grant-ish dapper sophistication. One does however, want for a little more meat; the vignettes feel too glossy and rushed over with a mere pinkie finger of character development.

The repartee is airy, accompanied with a striped and silky color, along with few notable lines. Some of the situations have a processed feel as if taken from other Allen films from "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" (given the quirky sneaks) to "Play It Again, Sam" and "Annie Hall" (with the character's hapless second guessing, his hold on fixed ideals and the lust for a vivacious innocent).

Colin Firth retains some congenial verve and likability as does Emma Stone.

There is one nice scene, when after praying, Stanley regains his scientific resolve in saying to Sophie that "only God can forgive her."

"I thought you said that there is no God."

"And that is my point," replies Stanley.

For the most part though, the leers, lopes, wrinkles and worries in the hither and thither run a little uniform.

This is an easy romantic race of push-me pull-you along the now familiar Allen path.

Once again, the beautiful cinematography by Darius Khondji is worth seeing showing the South of France in its creamy and salty sparkle.

The acting of Firth holds all of "Magic in the Moonlight".

The easy exchanges whiz by as sweet as Chick O Sticks on an Alfa Romeo holiday and the all too pat ending plays for some titters that everyone can see ahead, miles away.

Such slight spirit has not been Allen's haunt for some time. While this makes for easy play, it is done with such an obvious laze that it seems like automatic filming for a masterful director.

"Magic in the Moonlight" hangs about somewhat indifferently in a passing Mediterranean breeze. Dependably bubbling in a happy froth it is, yet one craves for a more corporeal body to be found within this wispy and almost whispering script.

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