Posts Tagged ‘Woody Allen’

Magic in the Moonlight: Reality During the Day—Movie

July 27, 2014

There is most definitely a bit of “Magic in the Moonlight” because in the moonlight Colin Firth doesn’t quite look old enough to be Emma Stone’s father. Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Magic in the Moonlight” won’t rank as one of Allen’s top ten movies, but that said, it is still wittily clever, well-acted, magnificently shot, beautifully costumed and has a wonderful 1920s score to boot.

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“Magic in the Moonlight opens in 1928 Berlin with a Chinese-style magic show. When the performance ends and as the magician caustically calls out his crew and begins to take off his makeup, we realize that the magician is none other than very British Colin Firth, identified as Stanley. Backstage he’s greeted by fellow magician and long-time friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), who has a request of Stanley. He has wealthy American friends who live on the French Riviera and whom he believes have fallen under the spell of an American psychic. He thinks she’s a fraud, but can’t prove it and is afraid this family will be swindled by her. He knows that Stanley has a passion for ferreting out and exposing charlatans and asks for Stanley’s assistance in protecting his friends. Forgoing a trip with his fiancée, Olivia (Catherine McCormack), Stanley agrees and the two are off to the Riviera where Stanley will live with his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) during his stay. Her home is near the estate of the American family of Grace (Jacki Weaver) and her two sons, George (Jeremy Shamos) and Brice (Hamish Linklater). It’s at their home that Stanley meets the psychic, Sophie (Emma Stone), and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Stanley is quite open in his contempt for what Sophie does and his comments, while boorish, are still extremely funny. Try as he might, though, he is hard pressed to discover how Sophie is cheating, although he is certain that she is. In spite of his feelings, however, Stanley does enjoy Sophie’s company. One evening as they are out for a drive in his convertible there’s a sudden downpour. Unable to get the convertible top down, the two seek shelter in a nearby observatory where Stanley used to go as a boy. He shows Sophie how to make the ceiling open to the sky. Shortly after that ride life takes a strange turn for Stanley and the movie itself. Confused by it all, Stanley confides in his Aunt.

This is to take nothing away from Woody Allen, but as Stanley talks about Sophie’s virtues and how she has changed his life, I almost expected him to shout, “Marry Freddy??” and then burst into song with “My Fair Lady’s,” I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face…which got me thinking. Wouldn’t Firth be the perfect Henry Higgins should they ever do a revival (perhaps I should pitch my idea to NBC for another live telecast of a Broadway musical).

But back to “Magic in the Moonlight.” Woody Allen has assembled an amazing international cast. Jacki Weaver is positively luminescent when talking about her late husband. Eileen Atkins is also very good as the sympathetic Aunt. Hamish Linklater, as the lovelorn Brice, has some very amusing scenes and adds additional humor to the film. Unfortunately Marcia Gay Harden isn’t given much to do as Sophie’s mother. Emma Stone is terrific as the psychic under suspicion. But despite her talent, sometimes it’s hard to get past the age difference between her and Colin Firth and that might account for the slightly less than sizzling chemistry between the two. In all truth, however, “Magic in the Moonlight” is Firth’s film and he’s fantastic. Condescending, charming, confused and love-struck…he does it all to perfection. He handles Allen’s snappy dialogue masterfully. One can only hope Firth teams up with Allen again…but perhaps next time his co-star will be slightly closer to his age and moonlight or magic won’t be necessary.

2 ¾ nuggets out of 4

 

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Fading Gigolo: Bright Gem—Movie

May 14, 2014

At first glance, one might mistake John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” for a Woody Allen movie. But once you settle in and watch, you realize that Turturro has his own voice…a kinder, gentler voice that serves him and the movie well. Written and directed by Turturro, “Fading Gigolo” is the story of two NYC friends— Fioravante (Turturro), a florist, and former bookstore owner, Murray (Woody Allen). An off the cuff question by Allen’s dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), wondering if he knows anyone who would be interested in a ménage à trois…and she’s will to pay…with her and a friend, sets the wheels in motion for the rest of the film.Fading Gigolo

Murray runs the question by Fioravante to see if he might be interested and offers his encouragement for his participation. Murray would take a cut of the fee and both men can use the money, especially Fioravante. He initially has some doubts about pursuing this, most especially when it comes to his looks, telling Murray, “I’m not a beautiful man.” Murray reassures him with the hysterical comeback, “Some guys look better when they’re naked. I figured you’re one.” Deciding to use the name Virgil Howard on this new career path, Fioravante finally agrees. But before the threesome can happen, Dr. Parker decides on a trial run first. Turns out that Fioravante is more than good at his new “job.” The other member of the future ménage, the hilarious sex-bomb, Selima (Sofía Vergara), also requests a sneak preview and she is more than happy with this non-beautiful man.

New career aside, Fioravante’s life is fairly solitary while Murray lives in a boisterous home with Othella (Tonya Pinkins), helping to raise her young sons. When one of them gets lice, Murray takes the children to a woman he knows who handles this kind of problem—a young Jewish widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), whose husband was a rabbi in the Hasidic community in which she lives. She’s been a widow for two years and has been guarded from afar by the love-struck neighborhood watchman, Dovi (Liev Schreiber). Murray turns out to be pretty good at his new job, too. He quickly sizes up Avigal’s loneliness as well as her tenseness and mentions that he knows someone who can be of help. Watching Avigal leave the confines of her constrictive neighborhood and Dovi’s reaction to it is one of the film’s small pleasures. When Avigal meets Fioravante, he immediately puts her at ease and you can sense a change taking place within her.

Turturro beautifully captures the NYC ambiance…not the big city with its skyscrapers…but the NYC of its small, bustling communities that exist within it…the vitality which makes the city such an inviting place to live. We are introduced to folk who come it its delis, bookstores and coffee shops. And to say he gets the most from his actors is putting it mildly. Woody Allen rarely acts in anyone elses movies but his own, and truth be told, as an actor, he hasn’t been this likeable in years. He is absolutely terrific as the “helpful” friend. Vanessa Paradis simply glows as Avigal. She’s unconventionally beautiful and the way in which she blossoms from the dowdy, shy woman to someone with a voice is amazing. Sharon Stone is also very good and sympathetic as a woman trying to put some spice in her life. Vergara and Schreiber add zest, fun and depth to the film. Finally there is Turturro himself. He is utterly fabulous. He might not be a “beautiful man,” but over the course of the movie he becomes one.

“Fading Gigolo” is a small movie with a large heart and awesome performances. It’s NYC and entertainment at its best.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Le Week-End: You’ll Want to Extend Your Stay—Movie

March 10, 2014

Sometimes love means never having to say you’re sorry…BUT… sometimes it does. As Roger Michell’s new movie, “Le Week-End” charmingly illustrates, sometimes it’s important for your significant other to know how you feel, even after 30 years of marriage. Perhaps even more important then.

Written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Michell, “Le Week-End” is the love story of Meg and Nick Burrows (Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent), English 60-something couple, celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary with a week-end in Paris, the site of their honeymoon. Will this be the week-end from hell or something else? Only time will tell.hr_Le_Week-End_6

We first meet the couple on the train to Paris. They seem to have settled comfortably into old, familiar, hurtful habits, each jabbing sarcastically at the other for the duration of the trip. But there is something in Meg’s eyes that says she is tiring of this kind of relationship.

The week-end gets off to a rough start when the former little honeymoon hotel that Nick has booked is not what Meg remembers. She  reacts violently to the “the beige, coffin-like room.” Running out, with Nick chasing after her, she hails a cab to look for grander hotels, and they end up at one of the best Parisian hotels in a suite with an unbelievable view of the Eiffel Tower—to hell with the cost. Isn’t that what credit cards are for?

Eating and drinking at the cafes, there are times that the romance seems to have come back into their marriage. It’s obvious that they once loved one another deeply…but time, disappointments, lapses in judgment and even children…all have definitely taken their toll, especially in the intimate part of their relationship. It’s during one especially carefree evening that they run into a former colleague of Nick’s, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), who’s now living in Paris. That chance meeting proves to have a have major impact on their future.

“Le Week-End’s” two leads are absolutely phenomenal. Is Jim Broadbent ever bad? He should be declared an English national treasure. He is so wonderful in this movie…funny, sheepish, sad…there is just no emotion he can’t portray. Lindsay Duncan is equally terrific in a less charitable role. But somehow she manages to convey that there is a loving person beneath her shrewish exterior.  Also quite good in small, but important roles are Goldblum and Olly Alexander as his son, Michael.

Is “Le Week-End” that different from other movies about couples trying to reconnect? Not really. What makes the movie unique is the tone…the joie de vivre with which Michell infuses the film. From the opening scene’s delightful score, “Le Week-End” has the feel of a genial Woody Allen movie. Michell captures the Paris that most of us dream about and despite the ups and downs of Meg’s and Nick’s relationship, gives us a twosome with whom we enjoy spending time and want to succeed.

A cautionary note, Michell’s Paris is so inviting, you’ll want to book your flight as soon as you leave the theatre.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Blue Jasmine: A Beautiful Flower in a Summer Full of Weeds—Movie

August 2, 2013

“Have you ever gotten high on nitrous oxide?”That may be one of the worse pickup lines in the history of pickup lines, but it’s just one of the gems from Woody Allen’s latest, “Blue Jasmine.”

I don’t know how it’s possible, but Woody Allen just gets better with age. “Blue Jasmine” is unlike anything he’s done before and it’s just plain wonderful. The film is like watching a master-class in acting, writing and directing—all in one sitting. Even the selection of the music is spot-on.bluejasmine-poster

“Blue Jasmine” is the bittersweet story of upscale, sophisticated Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who moves from New York City to San Francisco to live with her lower middle-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and her two young sons.

Allen tells Jasmine’s back-story in bits and pieces. We learn that she was happily married…or so she thought…to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), living the good life of dinner parties, high society and excess. When that world crashes down around her, she has a nervous breakdown. Upon recovery, she makes her way to San Francisco to reinvent herself.

While Jasmine’s head is up in the clouds, Ginger is more practical. Jasmine is not content with who or what she is. Ginger, on the other hand, comes to realize that “good enough” can actually be great.

Allen has given actresses some of their most memorable roles, and with Jasmine he has done so again. Cate Blanchett delivers an absolutely mesmerizing performance. Her Jasmine is at times so delicate, that you really worry for her survival. Her character has a number of facets—self-confidence, eccentricity, fragility, creativity and even mental toughness. Blanchett plays them all to perfection.

Sally Hawkins, not as well-known to American audiences as Blanchett, matches her step for step in a less showy role. She’s completely believable as the hard-luck sister, looking for her prince. Her scenes with Andrew Dice Clay (Augie), Bobby Cannavale (Chili) and Louis C.K (Al)…husband, fiancé and suitor respectively…are brilliant. Each relationship is slightly different and extremely genuine. The actors are also very good, particularly Cannavale. His role is not especially likable, but his fine acting wins you over in the end.

Peter Sarsgaard (Dwight) has a small, but important part as Jasmine’s new-found love interest. We’re not sure if he’s too good to be true, and in a weird way, his relationship with Jasmine ends up mirroring that of Ginger and Al.

Alec Baldwin is impeccably cast as Jasmine’s husband, Hal. It would have been easy to make his character just one color, but Allen and Baldwin give him layers. We find out about his true nature early on in the film, but surprises are still in store.

The film’s conclusion is a bit jarring, but like everything else about “Blue Jasmine,” is utterly perfect. To be true to the character and the film, it couldn’t end any other way.

Woody Allen will always be identified with New York, but his most recent films have been done overseas and in this case, California. This shift seems to have given him a new lease on life and movies. It seemed that “Vicky Cristina Barcelona“and “Midnight in Paris” would be hard to beat, but with “Blue Jasmine” Allen has done something completely different and topped them both.

4 nuggets out of 4


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