Saturday, August 30, 2014


Oh Woody Allen what has happened to your work? The most recent films have become so light-weight that they float lazily into oblivion. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT  turns the spotlight on an abrasive, egocentric magician outfitted in “exotic” Chinese garb performing stereotypical tricks to great acclaim by appreciative audiences in 1928 - a time  between the two World Wars - a period of wild release and emancipation. Though this epoch is not integral to the story, it gives Woody Allen an opportunity to clothe the actors in roaring twenties attire, showcasing upper class elegance in the milieu of the wealthy - their grand homes, furnishings, decor and cars. The best part of the movie is the use of a soundtrack with some wonderful Bix Beiderbecker, Cole Porter, Beethoven, etc. scores. Colin Firth - who literally appears anguished at having been cast in the role  of Wei Ling Soo aka Stanley Crawford - a British “rationalist” snob, who is an unlikeable bore, both whiny and pretentious, ironically disdainful of the “sucker” patrons who applaud his “genius” at deception and chimera.

The gist of this tale is the attempt by Stanley Crawford - our “brilliant” illusionist who literally knows all the tricks in the book - to debunk a young beautiful “spiritualist”, Sophie Baker (a vapid performance by Emma Stone,) who is creating a sensation in the Cote d’Azur for her clairvoyant skills. He is called to this task by a fellow magician and childhood friend, Howard (Simon McBurney - a Roman Polanski look alike) to expose Sophie as a fraud, having seduced a wealthy family and particularly the shallow, banjo crooning scion into her world of seances, contacting the spectral inhabitants of the invisible “world beyond.”

Romance blooms - Pygmalion style - as love is the ultimate head-spinning aphrodisiac. The power of attraction transforms the world  from the mundane to the exciting  - this is where true alchemy resides. Since this is a Woody Allen movie, we  have come to anticipate his fascination with the mysteries of amore, his fixation on chemistry and  magnetism; MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT continues that predilection with enchantment. 

Allen is also attempting to deal with the consequences of surrendering oneself to a belief in magical thinking, and the lengths to which faith can be a necessary corollary to existence in a world fraught with uncertainty and eventual death, dealing with the big existential questions - tossing in heavy-duty names such as Nietzsche and Hobbes. Lots of potential here but alas  MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is neither a side-splitting parody nor a serious exploration of the mysteries of existence. Instead it relies on a veneer of “style”, jaunty music, quick cuts, and predictable blathering in an endeavor to captivate and beguile audiences, who will not be fooled by the film’s superficial chicanery.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

BOYHOOD 8/3/14

Richard Linklater’s masterful new movie BOYHOOD chronicles one family’s journey through time - focusing primarily on Mason, a 6 year-old boy who we first see engulfed by the green of a meadow, gazing up at the clouds in a clear blue sky - dreamy and contemplative - peering at a “hole” in the firmament - indicative of a spirited intelligence and a demanding curiosity which becomes more apparent as we accompany him through the seasons of his life till he becomes 18 years old. What makes this movie so rare and  acutely natural, is the director’s use of identical actors -  Linklater reunited the same cast a few days annually -  over the span of 12 years to film a narrative based on fiction, though (according to interviews I read with the director) some parts are semi- autobiographical. We the audience are privy to the ease of the character’s interactions, the resilience of relationships, the corporeal transformations, the disappointments, struggles, and joys as we pass through the unknown that is the span of their lives, echoing the stories of our own odysseys. 

Ellar Coltrane as Mason gives a performance that is not a performance but a revelation - an uncovering of a presence — the son of a divorced woman (a luminous Patricia Arquette) who is responsible for the care of her two children; a carefree, unaccountable, but loving father (Ethan Hawke in another terrific role) and the ever-present sibling (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter, a  feisty budding actor playing the sister) who is three years older and both annoyed and annoying to her little brother. The tribulations on the path from childhood, when we do not have much control over one’s life to adulthood, when you do have the ability and capacity to make choices for yourself  - are documented with an honesty which pays attention to details that are both intricate and commonplace.

There is a lot of familial affection in BOYHOOD as each individual in the movie reconciles, adapts or rebels at changes in his/her situation.  Adults make mistakes - the ever-watchful mother is equally observed by her vigilant son who is sensitive to nuances in the glances and expressions that pass between grownups, which only a child can sense intuitively, without fully  grasping their intent and personal significance. Mason is a rangy, affable young man - good-natured, perceptive, and literally probing -  investigating the world around him, be it by asking THE existential questions such as - how do we find and express that kernel of ourselves distinct from others - or in his teens examining the poetry of  phenomena and wonder with a camera. 

BOYHOOD could have been titled FAMILY-HOOD; the dynamics of the nuclear family are played out from the drama of routine financial burdens to the thrilling awakenings and complexity of sexual attraction, love, friendship and loss. The continuous unfolding of the passage to maturity is breathtaking in its subtlety.  Before our eyes we witness the entry to confidence and self-awareness using a cinematic technique that is unique; one scene smoothly flowing into the next communicating that time moves on relentlessly - and we are all caught up in the undulations of the tides. 

Link to Interview with director Richard Linklater: