Magic In The Moonlight (2014)

“It’s science, it’s philosophy, it’s religion.”

Magic in the moonlight is one such movie where the viewers are divided into two sides from the get go. One side pertains to the heart and the other to the head.  One concerns logic and the other mystic. One relates to cynicism and the other of course to optimism.  As is the main theme to many of his movies, Woody strikes yet again with another thought provoking work of genius.

Set in very Gatsby-esque scenes in the South of France, the film surrounds a wealthy family, a world famous magician and a clairvoyant. In the affluent Catledge family we have the widowed mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), romantically naive son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline (Erica Leerhsen). Enjoying a great deal of appreciation for his acts as a world class Chinese conjurer going by the stage name of Wei Ling Soo, not many know that the real Wei Ling Soo is a disguise of Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) an arrogant Englishman with sky high opinions of himself and a natural dislike towards phony spiritualists and optimists. When Stanley is convinced by his friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) a not so well known magician, to unmask the clairvoyant, Stanley immediately agrees to do so. He presents himself as a businessman named Stanley Taplinger in order to debunk the alluring young spirit medium Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is staying there with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden).

Sophie arrived at the Catledge villa at the invitation of Grace, who is convinced that Sophie can help her contact her late husband, and once there, attracted the attention of Brice, who has fallen for her head over heels. What follows are series of magical events that sends the characters and audience whirling. In the climax lies the biggest trick of all. Not even the critics could’ve thought of that.

Stanley (Colin Firth) is a middle aged skeptic, a scientific and a logical man. He does not believe in paranormal activities and is very argumentative on the subjects of magic and spiritual being. Sophie (Emma Stone) on the other hand is a young, cheerful, mystical spirit medium who believes in after life and the goodness in everything. The film revolves around how Stanley tries to debunk Sophie and prove for once and for all that there is not more than meets the eye; that we are born and even after committing no sins are still sentenced to death and that there is no God. But could she be the real deal? Will she be able to spark a change in Stanly with her beautiful gift?

During Séance Session

During Séance Session

Many have argued about the casting choice of the main leads (Firth and Stone) due to the age discrepancies, but I feel that it couldn’t have been better: he must be old enough to develop his pessimistic ways, and she must be young and beautiful enough to defy them at first sight.

There is no denying that there are all kinds of people present in this planet- the mystics, pragmatic, happy, unhappy, believers and non-believers. The point that Woody wants to make is in an interrogative form, which is that: whether the unhappy nonbelievers have really made science and proofs as their defence mechanism to prevent themselves from irrationally falling in love?  The way the movie tries to entangle the web of materialism and mystery, of rationale and irrational is where the beauty of the filmmaker that is Woody Allen, cannot be unseen or critiqued.

Our world has reached a point where it holds Science as the ultimate power. We live in a materialistic world with conservative views- views which believe that modern science has completely eliminated the slightest of possibility of spirit, the hereafter and God Almighty. This is what this movie tries to showcase and also examines to discover the psychological relationship between accepting that world-view, and being pessimistic and unhappy.

Dealing with such heavy subjects like religion, philosophy, love and the universe and then presenting them with such ease that it looks good and enjoyable but still manages to engross the audience with the questions that he himself is searching for through his art; this is what true magic is like on a big screen and Woody is not new to that. Many are not able to see that and I feel sorry for them.

Actors casted for the movie did their job so well that you cannot imagine anyone else doing these roles.  The part of Aunt Vanessa played by the very talented Eileen Atkins is sheer perfection. Movie’s soundtrack is what anyone would expect form an Allen classic. The cinematography, capturing the beautiful landscapes of French Riviera on reel is done splendidly by Darius Khondji who was nominated for Lumiere Awards, France 2015.

The movie scores a decent rating on major reviews but who is to say what’s right, right?

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A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

Movie Poster

“The saddest thing in life is a missed opportunity.”

If dirty is on your mind, then you are far-off the subject than you could be. If funny is on your mind, then you are a little to the left from where you’re ought to be. And so help you God if you think that it has anything to do with Shakespeare. If all this was on your mind after reading the title, then my friend Woody has got you hooked. Like him or not, he sure knows how to demand the attention from his audience and critics like wise.

When the production on Zelig (1983) was stalled, Woody had a chance to pen this confusion down in no less than two weeks. Filming it in as many months. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is one of Allen’s most confusing theme for a movie. It’s got nothing to do with any genre that is typically found out there on any movie database that I could agree with (even though some sites termed it as a romantic comedy). This film is inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night — not the plot per se but the tone. AT least that’s what the media says.

The story is based on three elements- three couples’ romantic complications, mid-summer weekend vacation and supernatural happenings. Couples in the story are: Andrew (Woody Allen), accountant and inventor; his sexually repressed wife Adrian (Mary Steenburgen); Leopold (Jose Ferrer), Adrian’s uncle and University professor; Leopold’s sexually adventuresome fiancé Ariel (Mia Farrow), who Andrew once dated; Maxwell (Tony Roberts), an incessantly horny doctor, who is also Andrew’s best friend; and Dulcy (Julie Hagerty), Maxwell’s nurse and FWB (friend with benefits). But you won’t be made to pay too much attention on the characters. This move is not about the characters but about what and how they survive this vacation.

It possesses a little slapstick funny moments and much more confusion, both within the plot and the characters. Woody himself didn’t crack any jokes. This movie was however significant in one way; it was the first time that Woody shared the screen with Mia Furrow.

The film progresses in a rhythm wherein one is unable to grasp fully what is the message that it is trying to send across. Although on observing again, I figured that this message is discussed in the very first scene of the film. Points like: “Nothing is real but experience- that which can be touched, tasted, felt or, in some scientific fashion, proved.” “We must never substitute qualitative events that are marked by similar properties and recurrences for fixed substances.”  “Metaphysical philosophers are men who are too weak to accept the world as it is.” “Apart from this world there are no realities.” The whole argument in this first scene is how the theme is set for the movie.

The Spirit Ball

The Spirit Ball

The element of supernatural is brought in by Allen’s character Andrew who has invented a “Spirit ball” which can communicate with the spirit world. Andrew believes that there is more to life than what we perceive with our five senses. When Leopold dies (the night before his wedding to Ariel) due to a heart attack caused by having amazing sex with nurse Dulcy (as he discovers through the Spirit Ball that Ariel is cheating on him with Andrew), just then a light emerges from the Spirit Ball and it’s Leopold’s voice that they all hear. He tells them that he is amongst the spirits in the enchanting woods who died at the hight of love making and that Andrew was right about his theory of ‘there is more than meets the eye’. This light then goes out and vanishes in the dark and the rest of the gang just watched it in awe and amazement. The End!

This is not a terrible movie at all. It’s a good one time watch or even two (who’s counting) if that’s how long it takes for you to understand the moral of this story. It taught me that opportunities should be grabbed as it comes. You only live once and you should not live it in fear or disappointment of ‘what if’s’ and ‘could haves’.  We should not take others for granted and that time is of the essence when it comes to love. Others might dis it and regard it as a waste of time but try and see the good in everything and you might learn a thing or two.

Mia Furrow was apparently nominated at the Razzie Award for Worst Actress. That’s the first and the last time that any Woody Allen movie actress got to have such kind of ‘honour’. Woody Allen has said of Mia Farrow’s performance anxieties on this movie: “I calmed her but I was not completely sympathetic, because I didn’t realize the dimensions, the gravity. I knew she’d be wonderful in it. It never occurred to me she’d disappoint me”. Every other character however played their parts to the T and were captivating. Gordon Willis was the cinematographer on this and the movie was filmed almost entirely outdoors. The role of Ariel was initially made for Diane Keaton but she was busy with promotions of her movie Reds and so, Mia took over. This was Woody Allen’s first movie for the fledgling Orion Pictures, whose executives had run United Artists and produced Allen’s movies for that company.

Not a great soundtrack compilation on this one. In fact, there weren’t much to begin with. No typical jazz tracks as is known a staple in Allen’s work. But then again, it didn’t need any major conductors. The film did not win any awards for obvious reasons. Although it scored 6.7 on IMDB and 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. You be the judge. Check it out and send in your reviews in the comments below. Check out the trailer below; hopefully it will get you excited to watch it.

Blue Jasmine

This will make you uneasy

This will make you uneasy

Blue Jasmine

Never have I felt so depressed watching an Allen movie than I did while I watched Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) or Blue Jasmine to be correct; and I mean that as a good thing. Being a tribute to Tennessee William’s famous play,” A streetcar named desire” and brushed off with a real life incident of the Madoff scandal, Blue Jasmine is a tragic movie about a middle-aged New York socialite who is forced to move in with her estranged sister when she finds out that her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was a part of a Ponzi scheme and they are now purely broke.
Being clad in pearls, Channel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton, living in a beautiful Park Avenue home, vacationing at the Hamptons and hosting lavish parties for friends, Janette (or Jasmine), never imagined that she would have to share a mere pea sized apartment in San Fran with her adopted sister who has no class nor taste (in men or otherwise) but has two noisy sons from her boyfriend.
Ginger, (Sally Hawkins) the sister, welcomes her with open arms and makes her feel comfortable but Jasmine has developed a mental and physical condition which makes it hard for her to be at peace. Jasmine needs Xanax to calm her anxiety attacks and drinks very frequently in a day, her eyes are swollen from all the crying and stress that she is under now that she doesn’t know what to do with her life. She is an exhausting character to observe as an audience and even more exhausting to play as an actress.
Jasmine has a tendency to look the other way when she knows that something is not right and needs looking after. Why? Well, because Jasmine says that she is “Very trusting” as a person. Being very well aware of the fact that her perfect world will soon come crashing down if she tries to fix the fallen pieces of her life with her husband’s promiscuous behavior and the financial shams that pays for her lifestyle; she pretends to look the other way, hoping that it will soon be alright. But will it…?
Running back and forth (past and present) as a contradiction of the life then and the life now of Jasmine (formally known as Janette), Woody aims at comparing how life turns for the better, or even for worse. The true depth of the movie is realized at the end when we see Jasmine homeless, friendless and family less, sitting on a street bench talking to her own self and forgetting the lines to the song (Blue Moon) that played when she and her husband met. Jasmine is left stranded and that was the last that we saw of her.
Powerful actor from Down Under, Cate Blanchett proves her mettle with this role and casts an ever so powerful spell on the critics and the audience. Sally Hawkins though in supporting role, is not to be taken for granted. She played her role with much verve than we could have never expected from anyone but her. The male roles were vivid and had immense range and might be interpreted emasculating in the light of star female leads.
Blue Jasmine was honored on many occasions at many auspicious award ceremonies. The movie was nominated for Oscars under Best Original Screenplay category and Cate won the Oscar for Best Leading Actress.
The movie did not scream Woody at all which is why I have my doubts about it. I would probably not have watched it if this wasn’t one of his creations. But the fact of the matter is that Blue Jasmine seems great as a well crafted independent movie, with an Allen stamp on its front, well it has become what it has become.