Magic in the Moonlight Blu-ray Review
Some people argue filmmaking is, above all else, a visual medium. I consider movies to be first and foremost the storytelling medium of the modern age. As such, one of the most prolific storytellers of the 20th and newly minted 21st century has to be Woody Allen. A former stand-up comedian, Allen emerged with several powerhouse films in the 1960s and 1970s and has continued his prolific writing/directing into 2014 with a nearly annual film release. Now, when someone makes this many movies you know they aren’t all going to be great… but every few years we get lucky with a little gem of a movie.
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT opens with several intriguing visual effects during the opening moments as the audience is introduced to Wei Ling Soo, famed magician, as he runs a show for a group of wealthy patrons. But like most Woody Allen films, MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT’s real star is the dialogue. Allen, as both a writer and a director, has a focus on dialogue that can elevate even a mediocre story into something far more interesting. Thankfully, as the years have progressed, his heroes have needed to sound less and less like him and so much less forced. When it works, Allen’s writing elevates the pacing and dialogue to feel like a real conversation. This can be found in Colin Firth’s performance, which is spectacular; but can cause problems for other actors (see: Emma Stone).
Wei Ling Soo is actually an Englishman named Stanley (Firth), who hides his identity when he performs. Firth, as I said, delivers a masterful performance and carries MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT in creating another incredibly interesting a complex character. Stanley is approached, following the show, by an old friend named Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), a fellow magician, who asks for his aid. Howard is working for a wealthy family to help expose a young woman who has ingratiated herself to the family as a medium/spiritualist. Stanley is a self-confessed realist and atheist who does not believe in these things and has made a career debunking people, so Howard enlists his help.
When Stanley arrives he finds himself disturbed by his inability to debunk Ms. Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who appears to indeed be a medium. But how can he allow himself to believe in something he has worked to decry and discredit and what happens to a man who faces something that flies in the face of everything he believes? These are the bigger questions presented by MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT and they are conveyed beautifully, though primarily thanks to the performance of Firth.
Stone, on the other hand, lacks authenticity and feels forced throughout much of the film. Though she is beautiful and quite enchanting, this is one of the first times I have watched Stone on screen and felt like she was just going through the paces. Her performance feels like someone trying desperately to understand the pace and dialogue written by Allen… but thankfully though her character inhabits a large amount of screen time she is primarily on screen with Firth, who saves her.
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is a sweet little romance, in addition to being a fun period piece. Allen’s dialogue continues to work it’s magic and here he delivers another not-perfect but generally agreeable film. What bothers me most about MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is just how vanilla the story feels. There is rarely anything at stake, at least nothing that seems to matter. While Firth seems to occupy his role, Stone and McBurney are a bit more rigid. The rest of the supporting cast fill out as caricatures rather than fully realized people. This may have been intentional but I believe it was a misstep… thankfully, though, not one that ruins the experience. If you like period pieces, if you like good dialogue, if you like Woody Allen, or even if you only like one of those three, chances are you’ll enjoy MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2.39:1) The video presentation of MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is very pretty and detailed in it’s pseudo-period presentation.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT has a suitable audio track that hits the right notes to convey the dialogue and support the characters.
Behind the Magic (11:21) A great extra feature that I wish had been a little bit longer, the cast and crew discuss MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT, their thoughts about the spiritual/metaphysical theories presented in the film, and their work.
On the Red Carpet: Los Angeles Film Premiere (02:45) This quick extra feature includes interviews with the cast who share a few anecdotes about the film and working with Woody Allen.
The Blu-ray also includes an UltraViolet Digital Copy of MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT and the Theatrical Trailer (02:06).