Overheard at the Movies: Magic in the Moonlight, The Insider, Planes: Fire & Rescue, Mood Indigo

Here are clips from a few intriguing things I’ve overheard at the movies this week, regarding Woody Allen’s new movie; my favorite Michael Mann film; Disney’s latest talking-vehicle adventure; and the latest fantasy from Eternal Sunshine‘s Michel Gondry…

 

1.

Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere on Woody Allen’s upcoming film Magic in the Moonlight:

… the romantic issues are clearly secondary in Magic in the Moonlight. I would even call them incidental in a sense. … In short, Woody is pushing 80 and….well, he’s starting to wonder a bit. He’s not falling for any religious hooey a la Bob Dylan in the ’70s, but Magic is still the first Woody flick that includes a sincerely written and performed scene in which the lead tries to pray, or at least have some sort of open-hearted conversation with an Overseeing Presence who has an interest in the condition of humans on that insignificant speck of terra firma known as Earth. That’s quite startling if you’ve been following Woody since the Ford administration.

Allen’s proximity to…well, not death but a stage of life in which death tends to tap people on the shoulder more often than not has led him to make the first spiritual-quest film of his life. It’s certainly not a typical romantic chess-play movie, I can tell you that.

2.

Scout Tafoya at RogerEbert.com on the 15th anniversary of one of my favorite films — Michael Mann’s The Insider:

Mann’s meticulous directorial style applied to such a carefully constructed screenplay resulted in one of his finest films. “The Insider” may seem like an anomaly in Mann’s filmography, riddled with thieves, gunmen and cops on the brink, but they all share a Hawksian sense of men staring down convention and overwhelming odds.

Planes: Fire and Rescue, reviewed by Susan Wloszczyna at RogerEbert.com:

[S]urprise, surprise. This “Planes” quickly grounds itself with a story that at least offers an emotional hook (if not ladder) that most adults and even kids can appreciate. Namely, the sometimes-fatal risks that firefighters regularly take for the sake of people they don’t even know.

Don’t get me wrong. “Planes: Fire & Rescue” won’t ever be mistaken for a classic, especially not with its happy ending that exists primarily for the benefit of future sequels. But it has to be healthier and more edifying for a child eight and under to watch this rather than a “Transformers” movie. Besides, any film with the insight to hire the married comedy team Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara as an elderly anniversary couple named Harvey and Winnie—yes, they are RVs—at least has some creative juice in its tank.

But Steven Greydanus at The National Catholic Register says:

At the end of the day, despite the animators’ best efforts, the kinship we feel with other living creatures can’t entirely be transferred to anthropomorphic vehicles. We care about the characters we get to know, like Lightning McQueen and Mater, and perhaps even Dusty, partly because the voice actors earn our empathy. Above all, we root for them in races, where they’re most obviously stand-ins for the humans who would be driving them in real life.

But when Planes: Fire & Rescue comes down to evacuating mostly anonymous campers — and by campers, of course, I mean RVs and other vehicles — the dramatic limitations of the world of Cars become all too apparent. At the end of the day, stretch and squash how the animators will, there is only so much you can do with anthropomorphic vehicles. A long line of vehicles slowly evacuating a campground may be many things, but thrilling it isn’t.

Mood Indigo, reviewed by Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com:

The problem here is that the images are yoked to a story that seems to have been meant (at one time, anyway) as cutting satire, as a comment on the disconnect between the upper classes and everybody else. Gondry can’t or won’t reconcile the critical aspects of the story with his desire to delight us. The result is a movie that’s subtly insisting that everything is in fact most definitely not fine, even as the director’s tone assures us that it is.

The movie is adapted and directed by from the 1946 novel “Lecume des Jours” (“The Froth of Days”) by Boris Vian, a source that has been described as a class-consciousness parable about rich people living in a Garden of Eden built from their money and then gradually being forced out of it.

The film’s English-language title comes from a piece by Duke Ellington, who was godfather to Vian’s daughter, Carole. The whole story strives for the light, sweet but ultimately melancholy tone of Ellington’s piece, but that tone at odds with the satire, which is unfocused to start with, and which very quickly gets smothered by the moon-sized marshmallow of Gondry’s Gallic cuteness. The movie wants to tickle your fancy and break your heart, but mostly it just wears you out.

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