Sunday, October 19, 2014


With her cartoonishly large eyes and husky voice, Emma Stone would've been a big star in the 1930s. It's easy to imagine her in screwball comedies, or even a haunted house comedy with Bob Hope. She just has a certain something. Even in Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight, a movie featuring some of the most breathtaking images of the French countryside ever caught by a cinematographer, she manages to stand out. If only she'd been given someone who could match her in terms of charisma and star quality. Instead, she's saddled with drab Colin Firth. She deserves a Cary Grant.

Stone plays an American psychic working in Paris during the late 1920s. Firth is the famous magician hired to debunk her. He's a cynic and realist, but when her paranormal gift seems legitimate, he not only forsakes all of his previous philosophies, he falls in love with her. But since this is a Woody Allen movie, she's also being wooed by a rich dummy with a ukulele (Hamish Linklater). You probably know how it all comes out without even seeing it.

The story is wafer thin, but Magic in the Moonlight may go down as Allen's most visually stunning work. From the opening scene, set on a stage where Firth, dressed as a Chinese illusionist, works with an elephant, we're hit with one glorious image after another. There's the aforementioned French countryside, plus a lot of elegant party scenes, and a stunning scene where Firth's car breaks down on a hill just as a rainstorm begins. In a scene that echoes the rain scene in Manhattan, Firth and Stone run into an observatory where they see the sky above them, the stars like pearls. Cinematographer Darius Khondji deserves an Oscar nomination, as do Anne Seibel for her production design and Jille Azis for set decoration.

Now, if we can just find Emma Stone an appropriate leading man, we'll be onto something. In the meantime, Magic in the Moonlight will serve as a visually sumptuous placeholder until Allen's next great one.

Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden are at it again in The Trip To Italy, a colorful follow-up to their art-house  sleeper hit of a few years ago, The Trip.  Unfortunately, now that we know what to expect, the gag isn't quite as amusing.  Just like the first movie, they bicker, they eat, they travel, they do impressions.  But it's like hearing a joke twice - you just won't laugh as much the second time.

There are a few inspired moments that rival the first film, such as an opening salvo where they riff on Batman, and their impressions of Michael Cain are still remarkably funny.  And to their credit, they try to shake thigns up a bit by appearing to switch roles - this time Brydon is more of a rascal, cheating on his wife and trying to reclaim his sense of fun, while Coogan is more dour this time, dealing with family business and trying to connect with his teenage son.  It's not bad, I guess.  And if there's a third chapter, I'll probably watch it and enjoy it. In The Trip to Italy, Brydon finds himself cast in an American movie, so that leaves a door open for the next one to take place in the USA. Why not?

It's hard to relate to Shep Gordon. He has lived a life  that seems touched by the gods. During the late 1960s he quit a job, moved to LA, and wound up staying at the same hotel as Jimi Hendrix and bunch of other budding rock stars. Hendrix said, "Are you Jewish? You should be a manager." And that was that. As we learn in Mike Myers' Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, he went on to manage Alice Cooper, and dozens of other acts. Of course, Gordon worked hard to get his clients to the top, and the best part of the documentary is watching him guide Cooper, through trial and error, into one the top arena rock acts of the 1970s. 

 I don't doubt Shep Gordon is, as more than one person says here, the nicest guy in the world. But I also wonder if Gordon is somewhat of an empty shell. "I don't know if I have emotions," he says at one point, "But I have resources."

There's an interesting moment from 1975 or so when Gordon asks Alice, John Lennon, Mickey Dolenz, and Harry Nillson to pose for a photo with his new client, Ann Murray. "I'll do anything for ya," Gordon says. They agree, and the photo went on to bring Murray lots of attention. But did those reprobates ever cash in on Gordon's promise? And what, could he have possibly done for those guys? I can only wonder...

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