Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Two Movies"

                                        “Magic In The Moonlight”

It says something about the quality of a Woody Allen movie when it cannot carry an entire blog post by itself.  But with Magic In The Moonlight, I cannot conscientiously fill the space.  And only partly because I fell asleep, like, three times while I was watching it.  (It is hard to count how many times you fall asleep when you are continually falling asleep.)  The part I was awake for, I found to be standard “I-have-to-make-a-movie-every-year-but-I-never-promised-it-would-be-a-good-movie” Woody Allen.

(When it was over, a woman behind me exclaimed, “Typical Woody Allen.”  I could not tell if that was a compliment or a regret.)

A devout and highly publicized Religious Believer presents a movie in which the belief in a Supreme Being goes head-to-head with a belief in no Supreme Being.  The providing auspices kind of gives away the ending, don’t you think?  I mean, which side do you think is going to ultimately win out?

Well, delete “a devout and highly publicized Religious Believer” and insert “a devout and highly publicized atheist” and you have the same situation with Magic In The Moonlight, only backwards. 

In both cases, the conclusion is telegraphed before you begin.

In Magic In The Moonlight, the “stand-in” for “Religious Belief” is a belief in the “occult”, wherein a “Gifted Medium” claims to make contact with the dead.  Colin Firth (channeling Rex Harrison but it came out Kelsey Grammer) arrives to debunk the “Scientifically Unprovable”, ends up momentarily believing – at one point he actually tries praying – and then ultimately, after deconstructing the hoax, stays put on the “Non-Believer” side of the ledger. 

Big surprise.

Although, as a Consolation Prize, while remaining a skeptic of the Supernatural, the protagonist does become a convert to an equally unscientific experience – love. 

Conclusion:   Woody Allen believes in love, but he does not believe in God. 

Though for one brief, wavering moment – the first quasi-religious lapse in any Woody Allen movie I can remember – Woody Allen expresses, through his art, a seeming tantalizing longing, leaving, for me, the unspoken impression that, nudging eighty, Woody Allen would maybe like to believe in God but, despite its approaching death-appropriate attractiveness, he can’t. 

A determination with a substantial price tag, because, as is mentioned in the movie, when he temporarily believed in the “Unprovable”, he was happy.

Ah, well.  No belief system is perfect.  Even the one where you believe in nothing.
                                        “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Steven Spielberg is a really capable director.

He’s been waiting for you to say that.

I believe that if you can’t be the first to say something, you may as well be the last.  The thing is, there are times you can actually be too really capable.

I remember thinking when I saw the original Indiana Jones movie – and I may perhaps be the only one who had this reaction –

“This is good.  But it isn’t cheesy.”

Why did the concept of “cheesiness” come to mind?  Because Indiana Jones was conceived as a tribute to the movie serials of the 1940’s.  And one of the delicious pleasures of that substratum of moviemaking was its unqualified cheesiness. 

Cheesy casting.  Cheesy costumes.  Cheesy props.  Cheesy special effects. 

They couldn’t help it.  They didn’t have any money.   The thing is, however, is that that lack of money infused those serials with their signature quality –

Their exultational cheesiness. 

Somebody’s muscled against the backdrop, and the set noticeably wobbles.  Shrieks of laughter!  Popcorn enjoyment as its best!

Then this talented director who obviously adores those 40’s serials takes the helm and, succumbing to imaginational “What if’s” underwritten by “Big Budget” availabilities, he makes an entertaining, serial-inspired movie…

Excluding the serials’ most identifiable component – its traditional cheesiness.     

That’s spending a fortune on a little kid’s birthday party. 

Fast food hamburgers with gourmet mustard and La Brea Bakery buns.

I do not know how much Guardians of the Galaxy cost to make, but whoever made it, remembered what they loved about the Flash Gordon serials (and the Marvel comic books series) that inspired them, and they injected that identifying tone and texture into every element of the production. 

It may actually be an expensive movie.  But it looks and feels…

Deliriously cheesy.

And when it comes to over-the-top-conquest-of-the-universe space adventures, that’s the way – uh-huh, uh-huh – I like it. 

Unifying Common Denominator of these two movies (for “Extra Credit”):

Magic In The Moonlight, subliminally if not directly, is a story concerned with death, and – should it actually exist – its aftermath.  Barring one wrenching exception – preceding its central narrative – Guardians of the Galaxy handles “death” this way: 

People die, but almost immediately, they come back.  (A partial exception being a co-starring “plant” character, which dies and comes back, but it takes somewhat longer.) 

It’s a transformative distinction.

When people reliably regenerate, there is no need for religion.

Meaning in the future, the only things in jeopardy may be Woody Allen movies about death.

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