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ADVANCE: Magic in the Moonlight - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: Magic in the Moonlight
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

One begins to wonder how much longer this late-career Woody Allen renaissance can last. The man is 78 years old, and Magic in the Moonlight is his 39th movie in as many years; his 44th movie in 49 years. Does he ever sleep? Judging by some of his mid-career films, he did a lot of sleeping in the eighties and nineties. But since the great Match Point in 2005, he's had few duds, and this decade-long succession of lovely movies have all been produced in his seventies.

Oh sure, most of even these don't come close to the 1970s peak of Allen's career, but all things considered, the man's work is impressive. (This should not be confused with the man himself, which is far more debatable.) Magic in the Moonlight is no exception, filled with wit and charm. And while it's perhaps technically not better than last year's comparatively dark Blue Jasmine, it certainly is more pleasant.

That's the long and short of it, really: Magic in the Moonlight is just plain fun. Set in the South of France in the late 1920s, famous magician "Wei Ling Soo," otherwise known as Stanley (Colin Firth), is invited by a longtime magician friend (Simon McBurney) to come and observe a so-called "medium" named Sophie (Emma Stone) and expose her as a fraud. Stanley and Sophie eventually develop feelings for each other, but that predictability is beside the point; the delights reside in the charms and humor of the characters.

Much is made of whether or not Sophie's alleged psychic powers could possibly be real. In Stanley, Woody Allen offers a character for the skeptics and atheists in his audience: Stanley's own beloved Aunt Vanessa (a fantastic Eileen Atkins) describes him as "militantly scientific." And when Stanley finds he cannot find any proof of Sophie's fraudulence, he's thrown for a loop.

Magic in the Moonlight plays a little like a hokey mystery play, but that feeds into its charm. Stanley is delightfully egotistical and sarcastic, especially when it comes to matters of science and proof. One may surmise that Woody Allen is offering a covert life lesson in atheism here -- or at least, a distrust of claims to anything otherworldly -- but ultimately his aim is to show that there is some kind of magic in the world if you just know where to look, or how to see it.

It all comes back to love, of course. There are some vague parallels to Pride and Prejudice, not least of which is Colin Firth in the part of the pompous suitor. Firth is eminently entertaining in the part, and Emma Stone is all radiance opposite him. One might be tempted to find these actors' 28-year age difference a little creepy, but for the way it fits right into love forcing people to be irrational. That the characters never even mention their respective ages is perhaps for the best.

Woody Allen has a comparatively recent knack for using idyllic settings tailor made for his characters, more often than not these days in different parts of Europe. Magic in the Moonlight is beautifully shot just by virtue of where they are. And these people, in their wonderful period costumes, are visions of an idealized time that would soon be forever changed by political upheaval -- something these characters are completely unaware of. In this world, a twist in the plot is just something fun, a lark.

And that's what this movie has to offer us -- a thoroughly pleasant diversion in both time and place, crafted with a finesse few filmmakers possess, let alone those entering their golden years.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone cut through the skepticism to find some MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT.

Overall: B+
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