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FLIX: 'Magic in the Moonlight' is charming, lighthearted

By BY JOE FRIAR
July 30, 2014 at 2:30 a.m.


MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT

• CAST: Eileen Atkins, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Emma Stone, Jacki Weaver.

• DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

• OPENS: Friday at the River Oaks (Houston), Aug. 8 at the Violet Crown Cinema (Austin) and Aug. 15 at Bijou Cinema Bistro (San Antonio).

Emma Stone and Colin Firth are magical in Woody Allen's 44th film, "Magic in the Moonlight," a lighthearted comedy that manages to contrast his last film, the weighty and brilliant "Blue Jasmine."

Set in the 1920s on the breathtaking French Riviera, Firth plays egotistical Stanley Crawford, an illusionist who uses makeup, wigs and costumes to transform himself into Chinese stage character Wei Ling Soo. When he's not making elephants disappear on the stage, Stanley is out debunking fake spiritualists.

You see, Stanley doesn't believe in ghosts, spirits or the afterlife, and he believes anyone claiming to be clairvoyant can easily be disproved as a charlatan.

When Stanley is approached by his friend Howard (Simon McBurney), a fellow illusionist, he claims that he has encountered the real deal, a young American psychic named Sophie Baker (Stone).

Sophie is living in the south of France, where she is holding seances and consulting for the wealthy widow Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver).

Stanley can't wait to head to the Cote d'Azur and expose her as a sham while also working in a little vacation time to visit his adorable Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins).

Posing as a Brazilian coffee bean exporter, Stanley is at first taken aback by Sophie's beauty, but he quickly comes to his senses and begins to take jabs at her profession. When Sophie discloses information about Stanley that no one could possibly know about, he begins to question his own beliefs and soon finds himself under her spell.

It's enjoyable watching Firth as this overconfident and stern individual become unraveled by the insouciant Stone; they have great chemistry together.

Costume designer Sonia Grande makes Stone look radiant with an assortment of colorful period clothing and hats; she previously worked with Woody Allen on "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," "Midnight in Paris" and "To Rome with Love."

The supporting cast is superb, especially Atkins as the keeping-it-real, straight-talking Aunt Vanessa and Hamish Linklater as Brice Catledge, who is rather enjoyable to watch as he goes around strumming show tunes on a ukulele to win Sophie's heart.

Marcia Gay Harden has a few good scenes as Sophie's overbearing stage mom, and Weaver is endearing as the gullible widow Grace.

As with most of Allen's films, there's a bevy of great musical selections, from Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" and Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" to songs by Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart.

The French Riviera is nicely captured in all its glory as Allen chose to shoot the film in 35 mm instead of digital.

It's hard to follow up a great film like "Blue Jasmine," but it's a good move by Allen to take a couple of steps back and release something lighter and fun. Romance is the driving force of "Magic in the Moonlight," a charming film that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Rating: 31/2

Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Houston Film Critics Society and juror at the Victoria TX Independent Film Festival. He reviews films every Friday on Hit Radio 104.7 KVIC. Contact Joe at jfriar95@gmail.com.

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