Synopsis: Following the disappearance of his wife, a man finds himself on a dark and twisted trail of discovery through the labyrinthine halls of his apartment building.
Release Date: TBD 2014
Thoughts: OK…I’m not entirely sure what to make of this trailer and the little I’ve read about this film makes it sound like a definite chore to sit through; but there’s something that continues to gnaw at me, urging me to keep my eyes open for this one. Though it seems like it will probably wind up being an exercise in the popular genre of arty, naval-gazing European movie-making, I’m seeing more than a hint of Dario Argento’s giallo style in the trippy trailer for French directors Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani mystery…and I’m intrigued.
Review: If Magic in the Moonlight had been made by anyone other than Woody Allen I think I would have scored it lower because ultimately the movie is very simple, inconsequential, light entertainment that once seen quickly evaporates like a summer breeze as you exit the theater. Still, it’s an Allen film through and through so I find myself giving the prolific director a great deal of slack because while it may not be as layered with dramatic nuance as 2013’s Blue Jasmine, it does find the director working comfortably in his element.
The period comedy set in the 20s is as light-hearted as they come, with a plot that feels straight out of a thin paperback novel that itself is part of a larger series of adventures. An English magician (Colin Firth, Devil’s Knot) in Berlin, performing under the un-PC moniker Wei Ling Soo, is tempted to the French Riviera by a colleague (Simon McBurney) to help prove a young psychic (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) is a fake. The psychic has convinced a wealthy woman (Jacki Weaver, Stoker) of her gifts and caught the eye of her ukulele playing love struck son (Hamish Linklater) while staying at their gossamer villa with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and conducting the odd séance in between high tea and scones. Into the mix comes the doubtful magician and before you know it, he too is wrapped up under her spell…but is it all just an elaborate ruse?
Going down like a chilled glass of champagne, Magic in the Moonlight is mostly bubbles, only going flat in the far reaches of its last act when the charm starts to wear off. Explanations always ruin an illusion so the more the characters talk, the less interesting they all become. Still, it takes a while to get to that place so it’s best to put your feet up and let Allen’s comedy wash over you.
As Allen (Radio Days, Fading Gigolo) nears his fiftieth feature film, it’s truly amazing how he’s able to churn out a movie year after year. True, they may not all be winners but he’s moving away from his pattern of having solid gold with every third film. Yes, Magic in the Moonlight lacks the depth of Blue Jasmine but who really cares? The two films couldn’t be more different, just as Blue Jasmine was different from the film that it followed (To Rome With Love). Allen’s filmmaking style is instantly recognizable and goes by the old adage that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it so production design, costumes, and musical cues are all keeping with Allen’s eye for detail.
Already working on her next Allen film set for release in 2015, Stone may be Allen’s new muse (replacing Scarlett Johansson) and her crisp delivery meshes well with Allen’s dialogue. Though her possible romance with Firth seemed a little too May-December for my tastes, the two actors chum it up well in their scenes together, with Firth thankfully unwinding a bit from his more serious roles as of late. As Firth’s aunt, Eileen Atkins (Beautiful Creatures) gets some nice zingers in and seems to be enjoying herself quite a lot.
It’s a bauble of a film that serves as nice counterprogramming for those exhausted from a summer of explosions, aliens, lizards, and transforming robots. Yeah, it’s easily forgotten but it could be just the laid-back kind of entertainment you’re looking for.
Review: As I mentioned in my review of the trailer for Get on Up, my dad was responsible for introducing me to the music of James Brown. I remember he had several cassettes of Brown’s hits in his car and though I liked his early music just fine it was his later smash “Living in America” that I requested most often. May dad passed away in 2009 and watching this long overdue biopic of Brown I couldn’t help but think how much my dad would have grooved with this well made, if overly sanitized, look into the life of the Godfather of Soul.
Being a James Brown fan I was a little leery about how this PG-13 biopic chronicling Brown’s rise to fame would tackle some of the more R-rated aspects of Brown’s life and career. The answer to that is it treats some of Brown’s run-ins with the law, drug use, marital problems, and allegations of domestic abuse as anecdotes to his story rather than events that played a huge role in the path his career and life ultimately took. It’s more reverentially respectful to the man once called Mr. Dynamite than condemning.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. The movie is designed to be an audience pleaser, thundering along with hit after hit…not making you wait for the music like June’s Jersey Boys, which seemed afraid to let their Broadway-trained actors actually sing the songs crowds know by heart. As James Brown, Chadwick Boseman doesn’t do any singing of his own but impressively lyp-synchs to Brown’s vocals. And what vocals! The sound design is appropriately loud and immersive, allowing ticket-buyers the opportunity to hear every horn and funky beat that Brown and company laid down.
Director Tate Taylor wasn’t the obvious choice to helm 2011’s adaptation of The Help and he’s an odd choice for this one too…but he brings a certain flare to the screen that matches well with Brown’s larger than life personality. Working from an oddly structured script by brothers Jez & John-Henry Butterworth (already represented this summer with Edge of Tomorrow), Taylor brings along several of his ladies from The Help for comfort and winds up giving them another chance to shine.
The script has its problems though. The brothers Butterworth opt for a fractured timeline to tell their tale, beginning in the 80s before quickly moving backwards, forwards, sideways, and such to other years in Brown’s life. I get that the standard narrative of biopics is straight-ahead-with-no-stops but what happens here results in confusion of time and place, making it difficult to see how certain events of the past influenced the star in the future. It also conveniently places emotional arcs right where they need to be, peeking with a poignant (though well acted) crescendo shortly before the credits roll. It’s as if the film was put together randomly, rather than from a place with strong narrative intentions.
The randomness of the scenes could have been a death sentence for the film had the performances not been so terrific. Boseman (Draft Day, 42) takes on another real life story and knocks it clean out of the park. The first time we see him as Brown he’s walking down a shadowy hallway before a concert late in life with Brown’s recognizable swagger. Then we see his face and for a moment I wasn’t sure if it was Boseman or stock footage of the real man he’s portraying. Boseman nails Brown’s raspy voice and rapid fire delivery and acquits himself as a dancer quite believably. It’s a fully realized, galvanizing performance that signals Boseman is just getting started in this business.
Maybe even better than Boseman is Nelsan Ellis (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as Brown’s second in command, confidant, and life-long friend. Meeting an imprisoned Brown while performing with his gospel group in a local penitentiary, Byrd takes him under his wing and allows him to fly even after Brown outgrew his old band mates. Ellis too lyp-synchs quite well and goes toe-to-toe with Boseman in several highly charged scenes. It would be great to see Ellis nab an Oscar nom for his valuable supporting contribution to the film.
Rounding out the cast is Viola Davis (Beautiful Creatures) as Brown’s absentee mother, Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) in a marginally realized role as Brown’s aunt running a shanty town brothel, & Dan Aykroyd (This is My Life), contributing less than his fair share as Brown’s agent. All are merely there to bridge gaps between scenes where Boseman and Ellis can do their thing.
Though it misses opportunities to dig into some sensitive territory, Get on Up is nonetheless a pleasing bit of entertainment that accomplishes what it sets out to do: tell the James Brown story through music.