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?

Advertisements

Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

Image

 

Love vs. Passion

If you were the greatest guitar player in the 20’s-30’s jazz era, (second only to Django Reinhardt) would you consider giving it all up for love? Is there any contest between love and passion to a true artist? What if it was only when you have found and lost the love of your life that you can bring out the best of you in your performance? Well, I don’t expect anyone to find out the answers to these provocative questions, but it does make you wonder “What If?’’

Sweet and Lowdown is as bitter sweet as the title suggests. It celebrates the kind of classic 1930’s jazz that has been played through the soundtrack of many a previous Allen film, and that finally has the chance to occupy center stage. Like several of Allen’s other films (e.g.Zelig), Sweet and Lowdown is occasionally interrupted by interviews with critics and biographers like Allen, Nat Hentoff, and Douglas McGrath, who comment on the film’s plot as if the characters were real-life people.

A mockumentary about a fictional, 30’s traveling jazz guitarist Emmet Ray (Sean Penn), who embodies the debonair and the spirit of the music that he plays and is yet; for the lack of words, gut-wrenching when off stage. He admires Django and yet calls him “this gypsy in France.” Every time he sees his superior he faints or runs away. Which provides quite a few laughs in the film. Emmet boasts of his skills on guitar, which is indeed magical. He is also a kleptomaniac, a trait which has not been psychoanalyzed in this movie. Emmet’s idea of a great time is shooting rats at the dumpster; here too the audience enjoys a good laugh and tries to figure out, how can a man who creates magic on stage can be so repulsive?

Emmet is a very complex and frustrated individual for whom one develops equal amounts of disgust and pity as an audience. He has an egotistical bravado and is interestingly dysfunctional.  He sees himself as charming and romantic as opposed to sad and lonely which is a fact. What we are told about him is that, what’s making him second best in his field is the fact that his music lacks emotions. He is anything but emotional. He goes from women to women with meaningless liaisons and prefers it this way.

Emmet: ”I’m an artist. I like women but they gotta have their place.” 

All this changes when he meets Hattie (Samantha Morton) a mute laundress. She is drawn to Emmet’s music and enjoys spending time with him. Emmet on the other hand is not very pleased to meet her but gradually starts falling for her, for she never has anything to say which makes her the perfect match for Emmet who loves to chat. They move to Hollywood where Hattie is casted in a movie wherein she has to kiss a handsome lead actor. She takes dozens of retakes while doing so and is said to have gone in a “Small coma after 30 takes.” Now Emmet feels like he has been sidelined (feeling jealous of Hattie’s success) and so decides to move back home. Being the free willed he is, Emmet soon abandons Hattie for Blanche (Uma Thurman) a socialite/ author with a penchant for artistic men.  They both get married. Blanche is fascinated by the worldliness of Emmet and keeps making notes about him in her notepad

Blanche: “Wow, not only are you vain and egotistical, but you have genuine crudeness!”

She digs deep into Emmet’s lack of emotions and confronts him one day to break him the harsh reality.

Blanche: “You keep your feelings all locked up, so you can’t feel anything for anyone else. I’ve never met anybody so afraid to show their feelings.”

Blanche, in next to no time leaves Emmet for a hit-man (to everyone’s amusement) who engulfs her with stories about mob intrigue.  In the end, Emmet realizes what a huge mistake he did on letting Hattie go. He decides to get her back but soon comes to know that Hattie is now happily married and is raising a family.

Emmet finally breaks down in tears and realizes that he “made a mistake” (in leaving Hattie). The narrator then points out to the audience that from that point on Emmet was in every way Django’s equal.

Sweet and lowdown was an emotional comedy. Stars like Sean Penn and Samantha Morton brought Emmet and Hattie to life. With 3 wins and 13 nominations for various prestigious awards, the movie was one of the better celebrated works of Allen.  The film with its approach to seem more real than fiction; tries to integrate both the aspects to the T. Woody sure knows how to mix music and drama on the big screen in which love triumphs all.

Apart from the drama, what stood out more was the beautiful jazz soundtrack. The credit of course goes to Dick Hyman for arranging and conducting the music for the film and to Howard Alden for the guitar solos and coaching Sean Penn on playing those solos for his role in the film.

Sweet and Lowdown was well received by the audience and holds fresh ratings (78%) on Rotten Tomatoes and a 70 on Metacritic, indicating favorable view. It is a charming, light-hearted comedy with quality acting. A must “Must watch.”