Monday, August 4, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

Fans or at least followers of Woody Allen films will find in Magic in the Moonlight [2014] (written and directed by Allen) a typically well-crafted, well-acted film, musing about and perhaps cumulatively building upon typical concerns of his -- Is there a God?  Is there a Here-After?  And how to make-do in life if one finds oneself having great difficulty in believing in them.  A believer could choose to be OFFENDED (How dare W.A. and his moneyed/richer than God, swinging from the chandeliers, hedonistic Hollywood backers ask these questions?), DISMISSIVE (most of us know more about W.A.'s personal baggage than that of our friends and neighbors' ...) or perhaps INDULGE HIM, perhaps sigh/roll one's eyes, but let him tell his story and perhaps honestly take some notes, because we _all_ have amiable friends and relatives with similar problems / concerns when it comes to faith.

So W.A. begins his tale set in the 1920s Europe with Stanley (played by Colin Firth) a very British "The Sun Never Sets on Our Empire" magician (illusionist) who prefers to perform his "good fun" performances in "Asian face" (painted slanty eyes, pig-tail, pasted Confucius style goatee beard...) as "Wei Ling Soo" Why?  Perhaps in his very certain mind, no self-respecting post-Enlightenment Britisher would indulge in such things except, of course, "in jest"... (Honestly, Colin Firth plays Stanley, this film's Woody Allen-stand-in, to a magnificently pompous extreme .. I'd like to imagine Stanley as having a portrait of Bertrand Russell hanging over his bed ;-) 

But even all-knowing / utterly-ever-certain Stanley appears to understand the sad awfulness of his situation: Having eliminated the possibility of any truth (let alone God or a Here-After) existing outside of the bounds of a (his...) strictly rationalist system, he's consigned himself to a prison of meaninglessness and a rather fleeting one at that. (A GREAT visual reflection on the central Buddhist concept of "impermanence" of all things is the recent film Samsara [2012])

But no matter, at least one's smarter (while one's faculties hold-up) than others ... So as a "side interest" though indulged by him in his true, very "English face" and in his true name, STANLEY (one really can't get much more "British Colonial" than embracing the moniker of (Lord) Stanley...), he devotes his life to "debunking frauds" in his own words "from the Vatican to spiritualists." ;-)

Enter then an old friend, fellow Enlightened/sporting/bored illusionist Howard Burkan (played by Simon McBurney) who comes to Stanley with a problem/challenge: There appeared to be a young Kalamazoo, Michigan ("nowhere's-ville") born spiritualist named "Sophie" (played  with wide-eyed, small town huckster magnificence by Emma Stone) who's been making the rounds among moneyed English Expats summering on the French Riviera and though "she had to be a fraud," good ole Howard found himself "stumped."  So good ole Howard arrived at Stanley's London brownstone doorstep with the request to go down to Southern France with him to debunk her once and for all.

So Stanley does ... go down to Southern France to do just that, and ... it all "gets complicated" ;-).  And it's not necessarily that Stanley comes to a conclusion that he could be wrong about his very rationalist conception of the world / reality.  It just becomes patently obvious, even to him, that there's a cruelness to insisting on being Right all the time.  Stanley's Aunt Vanessa (played by Eileen Atkins) who knew Stanley in his childhood BEFORE he became "such a tired bore..," helps him out in this regard.

IMHO this is a very fun, well-filmed period piece.  The cars, the houses, the clothes, and the views of the sea (the French don't call the Riviera the Côte d'Azur - "the Coast of Blue" for nothing ;-) are all very beautiful.  And the film does have a very nice point: There is a deflating and dehumanizing cost to killing the Life / Hope of others and insisting on being Right all the time (indeed, insisting on being "one's own God").

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