Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie 43

Woody Allen's 42nd film that he has written and directed, Blue Jasmine (2013), was my favorite movie of last year. It's some of his best work since Sweet and Lowdown (1999). I regret to say Woody Allen's output for the 21st century is garbage, except for maybe Melinda and Melinda (2004) and Blue Jasmine.

So I knew his 43rd movie would suck. It just had to. There's no way he could follow up on Blue Jasmine.

Magic in the Moonlight (2014, Woody Allen) is a failure, but Emma Stone as SOPHIE, the psychic, gives the film some classic Hollywood glamour with her on-screen presence.

Colin Firth plays STANLEY, a stage performer whose goal throughout the movie is to debunk the medium, Sophie. He's undeniably a Woody Allen creation from his introduction in 1928 Berlin, where he performs magic, disguised as alter ego WEI LING SOO, making elephants disappear and sawing a women in half. His fans adore him.

The opposing natures of Stanley and Sophie do make for a great scene when they meet, but it's like the only decent scene in the movie. She does this business with her hands as she tries to see her "impressions," and it's no wonder this is the image used exclusively on the poster art for Magic in the Moonlight at home and abroad.

Even though cynical Stanley swears he will prove Sophie a charlatan, by the midpoint he's of course hooked. The more he watches her and tries to figure her out, the more he's stumped.

After some negligible plot twists, Sophie decides to choose Stanley as her suitor over his rich, good-looking, young competitor BRYCE.

Approaching the third act, this whole thing falls apart and it's ugly.

I've been a huge Woody Allen fan since I was seventeen and I have indeed seen every movie he's ever directed, so I might have a little more patience sitting through this in a theatre than others, but not by much.

In real life, as many have pointed out, Colin Firth is 53 and Emma Stone is 25. Emma Stone is radiant, sophisticated and beguiling as a waif ingenue, and she does fit Woody Allen's penchant for old style glitz, but I cannot buy her portrayal of a character in love with the one played by Firth--even thought this is more a flaw on the filmmaker's behalf.

Stanley seems to pose a thesis. Woody Allen's been barking up this tree since Manhattan (1979, Allen) where he thinks a perfect depressive artist type with an enormous neurotic personality disorder embodying complete megalomania that happens to be middle-aged, is capable of attracting the faithful devotion and love of a twentysomething charming young lady. Well, I guess Chaplin and Woody Allen knows whats they likes. A variation on Allen's "the heart wants what it wants," quote is appended as a coda in Magic in the Moonlight: "when the heart rules the head disaster follows..."

Because this chemistry repulses me, the bulk of this film remained terminally unsalvageable. And as tempting as it is to consider what it would be like if say someone like myself, who is a perfect depressive, suffering from a giant neurotic personality disorder, that creates art, would attract the interest of a sweet beautiful and charming young woman, it does not serve as an adequate narrative foundation for a movie. That's the difference between art and reality. And personally I look for good movies, not representations of my deepest desires. I seek great storytelling, not solipsistic virtual reality crap.

So while this crap is maybe one of the worst movies I've seen all year, I'm still a Woody Allen fan and believe he remains our most talented, important American writer-director of all time. That's why it's so disappointing for me that there weren't even funny lines in the entire movie. The huge ego jokes structured around the Stanley character get old quick, and Allen milks this right up until the credits roll at the end. This movie could pass as watchable, but why lower my standards that far?

To end with, Woody Allen's films of the 90s hold up better than ever for me: Husbands and Wives (1992), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Celebrity (1998), and Sweet and Lowdown (1999) especially. And while these works are ridden with the weird Woody Allen chemistry: Juliette Lewis falling for Allen in Husbands and Wives, Mira Sorvino (as good as she's ever looked) falling for Allen in Might Aphrodite, or Winona Ryder pursuing Kenneth Branagh's character in Celebrity, the quality of the film overall overshadows and rounds out these blemishes.

And Woody Allen's natural tendency to avoid coverage, shooting in all masters practically (no one else anywhere does this ever), undeniable talent and charming knack for dialogue and neurotic characters, eye for locations, performances and taste in music, will remain his legacy.


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