Magic in the Moonlight – It is Woody Allen


Magic in the Moonlight (US, 2014)

UK Release by Sony Pictures Classics – 19th September 2014

Written and Directed by Woody Allen

Brief Synopsis: A profound romantic comedy about a pessimistic yet largely successful magician sent to unmask a likely fraud in the South of France.

Woody Allen manages to dispel a number of his perilous qualms surrounding mortality and the meaning of life into this loveably quotable and highly imaginative little picture. My favourite line from the film being: “You’re born, you commit on crime, and then you’re sentenced to death.” It is simply a delight for fans. There is ample intelligence to be sourced beneath the dialogue and turn of events in this film; it is a lesson in existentialism and it will open up a wonder of insightful queries for your mind to dwell on (but, don’t dwell for too long!). There are illustrious characters in tasteful dramatic conflict, elegant costumes, classy music, amiable and warm cinematography and just about whatever else you’d expect from Allen. However, if you aren’t a fan of Allen’s work, forget it, you will hate the film!

The plot is straightforward and the twist is undeniable, but this is no reason not to seep with enjoyment. In this case, one can know what to expect from Allen and that be the pure reason for the enjoyment. The charm and wit of his filmmaking is on show and it is an admirable trait, so thoroughly grounded in his vast body of work that we can forgive the odd slip-up and count it for bonus points.

Colin Firth plays the pessimistic magician who acts as we imagine Allen himself would; the character evidently explores Allen’s feelings and beliefs, as every good writer hopes to achieve through their characterisation. Firth is cast well and acts with the clear self-loathing and doubt that is needed for the typically unfriendly hermit. Although, I continue to struggle with his persona, the sly appearance that finds its way into all his films. However, it fits the character here, so the traits merge rather uncannily. Every turning point for Firth is leaps and bounds and one might feel a gurgle of over-acting, yet in the world of this hopeless world, the latter becomes manageable and a flamboyant image of the 20s. At times, I would have found the film more appealing if Allen had taken on the role, no doubt he would have been flapping all over the place, but he might have carried off the part with greater conviction (because he would be playing himself). This reminds me of Kenneth Branagh’s performance of an Allen archetype in Celebrity, which was spot-on; unfortunately, with Firth that isn’t the case so you have to give him an alternate epitome.

Emma Stone, dare I say, is somewhat divine in her portrayal of the young socialite spirit seeker. She is the perfect gauge of timid and alluring. Every subtle gesture can be read a number of ways, and it becomes clear that everyone is falling head over heels for her intriguing ways. There is the comedy that Stone brings to the character that excels; one can imagine a young woman travelling away from America in the 20s to be having just as much fun and commotion. Her obsessive admirer and the rest of his family are catastrophically ludicrous and provide much amusement in the way of tantalising prose and burlesque behaviour. Allen’s characters always sound wildly fictitious, yet they frankly resonate in conveying the truth behind certain ways of human beings and thus implement profound meanings. This makes a film special, and for me it is what makes Allen’s so enthralling.

There is a curious substance in Allen’s films that is hard to expound, it is neatly wrapped up in his pictures; the ingredient might be a direct belief explicated to the audience but without the bite; it is a piece of an artists integrity. Allen’s genius has not wavered despite what many critics say; the Allen that many of us know and love is still there to enjoy and explore further, as every new picture entails. I believe audiences get lazy when an artist grows old; I say stop reminiscing over Annie Hall and view each picture in the light of a fresh or, rather, more refined soul. Magic in the Moonlight explores the meaning of life and its inexplicable possibilities more head on than ever before; one way of looking at it is that the poor man still has no answers to life and its multifarious frustrations!



Pride – Are you proud to be British?


Pride (UK, 2014)

UK Release by Pathé – 12th September 2014

Directed by Matthew Warchus 

Brief Synopsis: It is London in the summer of 1984 and it is time for change. A young group of Gay UK activists develop a group to support the Mineworkers strike happening across the nation, it is a long-shot but they soon find a struggling local community in Wales and raise enough money to support them. There is controversy and plenty of chaos to ensue.  

What a triumph! Not only for the British film industry as an entity, but for everyone involved: a fabulous ensemble cast and spectacular craftsmen. Notably, Anthony Radcliffe’s cinematography boasts great aerial shots of Wales, the M4 and Westminster; they certainly wet our appetites for what Britain has to offer.

The film is not just good looks on all fronts, it has deep meaning and certain truths about the ways of life that are fully enlightened by pitch-perfect and dynamic performances. These performances are complemented by charming set pieces and a fruitful, rich and shipshape storyline. The story crusades through the life of each individual and sheds a bright light on equality and justice, standing up for what you believe in, whether grand and political or simply within the checks of personal life. Of course, the film does have a big political message, and everything stems from the political encounters, yet I would still argue that it is fundamentally a film about friendship; friendship should not be taken for granted and it is one of the most important and valuable possessions we have to live our lives as human beings.

Think big, aim small is an interesting motto that I take away from this film. It is depicted in the film via the progress of the highly entrepreneurial and outlandish group LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners). They think big; it is 1984 and so, after all, being homosexual promptly indicates that you are a radical. However, it is only when one of the members of LGSM realises that they must make a small step to begin with (by supporting an individual village suffering from the strike rather than the entire nation of miners) that results happen and the pieces begin to fit together. There are setbacks along the way of course, but the previous small steps taken provide a counter balance. In this sense, the film is a series of events exploring the equilibrium of relationships. A number of sub-plots work themselves tightly into the script, each plot a slightly different approach to the relationship equilibrium; it is wonderful writing. Yet, and this should always be the case, we are interacting with a visual medium so it is the actors who must garner most of this credit. They play their characters with joy, temperament and with the fluidity you’d expect from the theatre to create a respectable portrait of life. It is directing, casting and performance at their most cohesive and talented. I am very excited to see what work the future holds for Matthew Warchus.

Not to be mistaken, Pride is full of laughs and each segment of comedy blends naturally into place without interrupting the flow of drama or force behind these devices. Your emotions will be allowed to take the full circle; they will spark every basic feeling and consequent thoughts of acknowledgement, belief and certainly nostalgia. The film is complete: it has told a factual story with wit, intelligence and all the pleasure you’d expect from an indulgent piece of fiction. It dramatises to logical and even insightful conclusions and it delivers 110% on craft.

A final remark, whilst the film was a tremendously joyous and thoughtful experience, do not make the mistake of believing its surface naivety. Of course, its characters want to believe they can change the world, that is true of them, so expect a bit of farce from the homosexuals. I am largely a pessimist, and even I didn’t become frustrated and managed to overlook the latter; the reality you are searching for lies a fraction behind the curtain. I loved it.


A Most Wanted Man – An important film, not very good though

hoffman-wanted-manA Most Wanted Man (UK, 2014)

UK Release by Momentum Pictures – 12th September 2014

Directed by Anton Corbijn 

Brief Synopsis: A private detective and his team are located in Hamburg and concentrate their efforts on the international war on terror. When a Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, all forces become caught up in a case of vast interest and importance. 

A Most Wanted Man is happy to plod along and cover every little detail resulting in a rather stodgy and belated middle act. Yet, we still wish to anticipate every movement with excitement even if a fulfilling reply isn’t lurking around the corner. I believe a sustainable interest is largely due to the relevance of this films nature; it is a powerful encapsulation of the international war on terror. But, for the rousing territory of film, it is a minor nutshell; it becomes a shallow grave with no soil; there is no shovel for each character; the chemistry vanishes. And, whilst the ending is somewhat refreshing for the big screen, it places them and us exactly where we left off.

I do not doubt Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliance; he is the parcel, the entire package. His character Gunther offers a bundle of subtle feelings if we can be open to their interpretation. The problem is I feel as though Corbijn simply hasn’t given Hoffman enough to play with other than a cigarette that appears in every shot. His character is morose, monotone and clearly reaching the edge of a hopeless spindle. Yet, I could watch Hoffman on screen for hours on end, passion seeps through his performance and allows the character to continue picking away at his work. I would mention life in replace of work, but it appears his life simply is work; although, there is one domestic scene in which Hoffman plays the piano late one night, it is surprisingly powerful and suggests a buried artist underneath the tough, worn skin. Whatever else is buried certainly makes a much-needed appearance in the final scene of the film; no matter how stale parts of the film may be, we will never forgot this (his – Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s) very last scene.

I wish Daniel Bruhl was given more screen-time, he was magnificent in Rush yet here he is a pawn whose character gets to watch the CCTV and mutter a few lines. Rachel McAdams feels miscast as the social lawyer ‘in too deep’; she acts well, but frankly she is too beautiful for such a role, I don’t know, I just didn’t believe her. Willem Dafoe is always worthy, but the rest of the cast feels flat and partially idiotic at times. Lets just say, this team of private detectives would get busted in five seconds. Not to mention, the infuriating accents, it gets worse: in a couple of scenes they switch to German – one or the other please! Preferably, an all-German cast speaking German if the movie is set there and meant to be German civilians. I am reminded of the terrible accents in The Book Thief that could have been great; for me it ruins the authenticity in a picture.

The films pace and overall aesthetic feels uneven and without a clear direction. One shot might be handheld with a fast edit and the next an entirely rigged shot with a long take. This can work of course, but the complexion of this film either made things slower or overtly confusing when they should be simple. In other words, it doesn’t do anything to suggest or further the director’s vision. The narrative waves in and out, it thus keeps us on our toes, but it appears for all the wrong reasons. It is inevitable that watching Hoffman stagger across the screen is enough to fill the holes and happily get the viewer through the picture. It is a haunting feeling that when the credits roll, the realisation is goodbye.. a fine farewell for the man either way. An interesting point for me, the fact that his performance made me believe he was alive (in real life) as I was watching him is somehow a testament to what a great actor he is.