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Fandor acquires ‘Little Cat’ for day-and-date release Allen casts a limp spell in romantic comedy ‘Magic’

Woody Allen’s late period has been defined by a quality you wouldn’t have expected from the man who produced the inspired chaos of “Bananas” or the Fellini-esque carnival of “Stardust Memories”: tidiness.
For years now, Allen’s films have been light farces (“Midnight in Paris,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) or neatly structured parables (“Match Point,” “Blue Jasmine”). They breeze in innocuously in the summer, promising pleasant entertainment and not much more. “Like drinking lemonade” is how Allen has described his escapist aims for his movies. His “Magic in the Moonlight,” a romantic comedy bathed in the sunset glow of the French Riviera and starring two of the more effervescent faces in movies — Colin Firth and Emma Stone — is, no doubt, sweetly sugary — if ultimately flat — stuff.
 
The film begins in 1928 Berlin with the chaotic backstage life of a haughty, grouchy Chinese illusionist, Wei Ling Soo, played by the magician Stanley Crawford (Firth). It’s a promising start: Here is Firth, in regal, oriental garb and long mustache, disparaging autographs as “for mental defectives.” More of this, and “Magic in the Moonlight” could have been a very funny movie. But Wei Ling Soo doesn’t again perform, and instead the rest of the film feels oddly missing the jokes it seems built to convey. Crawford — a self-described “rational man” who believes in his art, not in actual magic — sets off to the South of France to unmask a medium, Sophie Baker (Stone), gaining renown for her prescient “mental impressions.”
 
They meet at the sumptuous Cote d’Azur home of the Catledge family, whose rich bachelor Brice (Hamish Linklater) swoons unapologetically for Sophie. A dance of distrust begins between the cocksure Crawford and the lithe, charming Sophie across a vivid, widescreen backdrop of cars, clothes and coastline. Crawford, whose fiancee hasn’t joined him on the trip, is both supremely confident in his realistic worldview (Nietzsche, he says, resolved “the problem rather convincingly”) and abundantly unhappy. Audiences will surely see where the film is going as it sets up a quite rigidly explored dichotomy between blithe believing and scientific certainty.
 
Illusion
It’s an argument for illusion in our lives, no matter how fraudulent; for love, no matter how illogical. “Magic in the Moonlight” is a disbeliever’s earnest plea to believe. These are, of course, ideas Allen has long explored, and “Magic in the Moonlight” often feels like the kind of tidy New Yorker humor story the filmmaker might pen. Even with bright performances and lively chemistry between Stone and Firth, the movie is stale with the fixed rhythm of the written word, not alive to its images, despite the rich setting. (A quick aside: Is it possible to not have good on-screen chemistry with Stone? From Ryan Gosling to Spider-Man, she bewitches everyone.) Allen is in complete control of the film, both its comic pacing and its philosophical quandary. But perhaps that’s the problem: Like Crawford, “Magic in the Moonlight” needs to be less in control of itself. The film doesn’t believe in magic enough. “Magic in the Moonlight,” a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout.” Running time: 100 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
 
Also:
NEW YORK: Fandor, the online streaming film company run by Ted Hope, has acquired German director Ramon Znrcher’s domestic dramedy “The Strange Little Cat” for a day-and-date release. The movie, which premiered at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival and later played that year at Cannes and Toronto, will get a minimum one week run at Lincoln Center in New York starting on Aug 2, while it will also stream on Fandor. The film explores “deeper meaning of the trivial in this droll narrative centered on a seemingly uneventful day in the life of a Berlin family.” Here’s just how uneventful the day is: “Siblings Karin and Simon return home to visit their parents and younger sister and to help prepare dinner for their extended family. Events unfold leisurely, but with plenty of underlying and unstated tensions inevitable in a flat overstuffed with a mother, father, children, grandmother and cat. The eponymous ginger feline offers consolation and possibly the film’s point of view.” (Agencies)
 
 By Jake Coyle

 


By: Jake Coyle

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