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Magic in the Moonlight: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Magic in the Moonlight (2014) movie poster Magic in the Moonlight

Theatrical Release: July 25, 2014 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Eileen Atkins (Aunt Vanessa), Colin Firth (Stanley Crawford/Taplinger/Wei Ling Soo), Marcia Gay Harden (Mrs. Baker), Hamish Linklater (Brice Catledge), Simon McBurney (Howard Burkan/Burkan the Great), Emma Stone (Sophie Baker), Jacki Weaver (Grace Catledge), Erica Leerhsen (Caroline), Catherine McCormack (Olivia), Jeremy Shamos (George)

Buy Magic in the Moonlight from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Magic in the Moonlight extends Woody Allen's streak of making at least one (and usually, just one) movie annually to a preposterous 33 years.
It also returns the writer-director to Europe, where he has worked more often in recent times than his native New York.

The film opens in 1928 Berlin with a performance by Chinese magician Wei Ling Soo. Soo is actually a character played by Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), a Brit who is as crabby backstage as he is a perfect showman onstage. Like Houdini (a name not mentioned here), Stanley is not just a popular illusionist but a great debunker of fake spiritualists. He is asked by his friend and fellow magician/cynic Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) to expose a remarkably convincing young American "medium" for the fraud she must be. Stanley relishes the opportunity to recognize and reveal the chicanery of Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who along with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) is staying with a wealthy English family in Southern France, conducting sιances to connect a grieving widow (Jacki Weaver) with her husband.

After a storm clears up, still-wet Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) and Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) open an observatory's roof to marvel at the stars.

Keeping his profession secret, Stanley can't help but marvel at Sophie's evidently genuine gift. He can find no rational explanation for her intimate knowledge of his family and himself. The possibility that there is more to this life than meets the eye is a revelation to the misanthropic Nietzsche-quoting atheist. He's the last to believe that he could have his outlook changed by a working class girl from Kalamazoo, Michigan.

This being a Woody Allen film, of course, there is some romance. And, yes, it does involve the cast's biggest and most prominently featured stars, despite an age gap of nearly thirty years. As groan-inducing as that might sound, the movie manages to pull it off by having this romance be just under the surface for most of the runtime. Stanley is engaged and Sophie has the heart of the wealthy family's son Brice (Hamish Linklater), a "dullard" who spoils her with gifts and serenades her with ukulele ditties. Improbably, it is Sophie who first displays romantic interest in Stanley, whom she accompanies to Provence to visit his aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins). The two are caught in a torrential thunderstorm, which they sneak off to an observatory to wait out. Even huddling together to warm one another and then observing the nighttime sky, the notion of love between such distant personalities escapes Stanley until it may be too late.

Like most new Woody Allen films, Magic could never be mistaken as the work of any other filmmaker. Allen remains off-camera as he typically has this century. But his voice is present in the period dialogue and British accent of Firth. Allen and his repeat cinematographer Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love, the director's thus-untitled 2015 release) make the most of their setting. They compose the 2.40:1 widescreen frame most tastefully: with sunny shots of scenic locales, sumptuous costumes, and grand old cars. The soundtrack, of course, consists of old jazz, to which no other music compares for Allen. The screenplay, meanwhile, is sharp and witty, even if it is the product of a man approaching his 80th birthday. Most new movies today opt for either a dark, brooding tone or something sunny, hollow, and artificial. Allen's movies offer a little of both while allowing him to ponder existence through the exchanges and actions of agreeably developed characters.

As "Chinese" magician Wei Ling Soo, Stanley (Colin Firth) sports a Fu Manchu mustache and ridiculous stage makeup. Grace Catledge (two-time Academy Award nominee Jacki Weaver) is comforted to reconnect with her late husband in a Sophie-run sιance.

Magic may not offer the substance and satisfaction of Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, the director's two Oscar-winning commercial successes of the past three years. But it's definitely a step up from the lesser efforts that immediately preceded those films (the forgettable You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and just plain bad To Rome with Love). The cast handles somewhat tricky material, with Firth especially shining as an obnoxious nonbeliever who has his mind opened.
If the actor looked more his age or wasn't able to exude charm through boorish behavior, the film and especially its final act would be a hard sell. But if not quite conjuring its title, Magic largely does succeed, feeling like a 1940s movie that Woody Allen could have written anytime in the past fifty years, but one definitely made now with cast of renown and relevance and color compositions of contemporary sophistication and splendor.

Many argue that critics have no effect on films' box office performance, but the opposite would certainly appear to be true for Allen. His films have long done marginal business, but lately, North American ticket sales have reflected the strength of the reviews. It's tempting to chalk this up to Allen's fans being more literate and discerning than your typical moviegoer. Magic recently finished its domestic run at $10.5 million, which at many points in Allen's career would have been a solid haul for him. Now, in the wake of those two solid highs, this one's take doesn't look so hot. Blame the middling reviews, the corresponding lukewarm public word-of-mouth, and the complete lack of an award season presence (it's on the verge of becoming the rare Allen film to not have anything significant enough to yield an Awards page on IMDb).

Magic in the Moonlight hits DVD and Blu-ray + Digital HD on Tuesday as the sixth consecutive Allen film distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Magic in the Moonlight Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: December 16, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Instant Video


I've extolled Magic in the Moonlight's technical virtues above and Sony's Blu-ray does a fairly good job of presenting them. The picture is very vivid, but perhaps not as sharp as you'd like. The film makes heavy use of selective focus, which makes parts of the frame, sometimes even prominent ones, noticeably out of focus and blurred. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is agreeable. You can tell that Woody Allen will never be a director who really gets into sound design and directional effects. But he definitely doesn't need to, and this one succeeds at simply distributing the elements (from dialogue to audibly aged jazz numbers) crisply and consistently.

Hamish Linklater has terrible things to say about his co-stars in jest in "Behind the Magic." Simon McBurney uses a plain baseball cap to cover up his unusual balding for the red carpet of Magic in the Moonlight's LA premiere.


At Sony, Woody Allen has relaxed from his no extras but the trailer stance. Magic in the Moonlight is joined by three short HD bonus features on Blu-ray.

First, "Behind the Magic" (11:21) crafts a making-of featurette almost entirely out of interviews of Colin Firth, Jacki Weaver, and Hamish Linklater.

The piece also features a single behind-the-scenes photo from production and a number of film clips and stills. The actors talk about the cast's camaraderie, the appeal of shooting in Southern France, and the big ideas the film touches on. Linklater goes heavy on the sarcasm in describing his castmates.

"On the Red Carpet: Los Angeles Film Premiere" (2:45) features remarks from the cast, Leonard Maltin, and filmmaker David Permut mostly about Allen and a bit about Simon McBurney's cooking. Characteristically, Allen himself is a no-show.

Finally, Magic's theatrical trailer (2:06) is kindly preserved, which is one thing Sony Pictures Classics is better about than most studios. Seemingly out of respect or obligation to Allen, no trailers for anything else are included.

The main menu attaches jazz to the static poster art. Sony kindly authors the Blu-ray to support bookmarks and to resume unfinished playback.

Holding an insert that promotes other Sony Woody Allen Blu-rays and provides a Digital HD UltraViolet code alongside the tastefully-labeled disc, the side-snapped keepcase is topped by a glossy slipcover. Am I the only one wondering what Woody Allen thinks about Digital HD UltraViolet and slipcovers?

Stanley (Colin Firth) submits a most ungraceful marriage proposal to Sophie (Emma Stone) in this nicely composed two shot.


By now, you should probably know what to expect from a Woody Allen film. Though it wasn't a big hit with critics and moviegoers, Magic in the Moonlight is one of the good Woody Allen films. This 1920s-set comedy romance has visual and intellectual appeal. It may lack the characterization and whimsy of Allen's two most recent triumphs, but it still compares favorably to much of the director's output and many of its fellow contemporary indies.

Sony's Blu-ray is simple but satisfying and might not make a bad gift for a Woody Allen fan/collector.

Buy Magic in the Moonlight from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Woody Allen:
Blue Jasmine • To Rome with Love • Midnight in Paris • You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger • Whatever Works
Crimes and Misdemeanors • New York Stories • Radio Days • Broadway Danny Rose • Annie Hall

Colin Firth: Gambit • A Single Man • Arthur Newman • The King's Speech
Emma Stone: The Help • Gangster Squad • Crazy, Stupid, Love. • The Amazing Spider-Man • Zombieland
Eileen Atkins: Beautiful Creatures | Jacki Weaver: Silver Linings Playbook • Animal Kingdom
Hamish Linklater: 42 • Battleship • The New Adventures of Old Christine: Season 3
The Great Gatsby • Houdini • Fading Gigolo • The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Reviewed December 14, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Sony Pictures Classics, Gravier Productions, Dippermouth Productions, Perdido Productions, Ske-Dat-De-Dat Productions,
and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.