The best of the rest movies out this week...
Magic in the Moonlight
Another year, another Woody Allen film, and we shouldn't take this annual arrival for granted because one day we'll miss it. While below the high standard of recent efforts such as Blue Jasmine, Magic in the Moonlight is not without a certain retro charm and stars a starchy Colin Firth as a 1920s magician.
When not wowing the Western world with a magic show he performs in the guise of his oriental alter ego, Wei Ling Soo, Stanley Crawford tours Europe exposing psychics and mediums as fakes. He detests all things spiritual, and thinks he's found another con artist to debunk when a friend invites him to the south of France to meet Sophie Baker (Emma Stone).
Sophie's a pretty young American psychic who has a rich and gullible family in her thrall. The swaggering Stanley initially sneers at her séances and mystic insights, but begins to suspect she might be the real thing.
Magic in the Moonlight is whimsical Woody, in the style of Midnight in Paris and earlier films like Alice, but the writing feels rushed and heavy-handed at times, and laden down with clumsy exposition.
There are some delightfully funny moments, though, particularly an excruciating marriage proposal, and Colin Firth is perfectly watchable as the poker-faced conjurer. But it's Emma Stone who steals the show: her delightful comic touch reminds me of a young Diane Keaton, and the good news is she'll also star in Woody's next one.
Wish I Was Here
Wish I Was Here is Zach Braff's second film as director - his first was the modest 2004 indie hit Garden State - and while it overreaches itself at times, it's a warm, engaging and winningly sincere comic drama.
Braff is Aidan Bloom, a 30-something husband and father whose dreams of becoming a famous actor are beginning to fade. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) has supported him by holding down a dull office job, but is now beginning to tire of this arrangement. And when Aidan's sternly traditional Jewish father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) announces that he's dying of lung cancer, this bombshell acts as an agent of catharsis for the entire family.
Some of Mr Braff's flights into visual symbolism are heavy-handed, and his comic writing is not quite in the same league as his hero, Woody Allen's. But Wish I Was Here is genuinely touching and funny at times, and Mandy Patinkin's authoritative portrayal of Gabe Bloom holds the whole thing together, just about.
Equally well-intentioned but not so sweet, Stephen Bradley's Noble is a solid, worthy but possibly hagiographic biopic based on the extraordinary life of Christina Noble. The film focuses on her arrival in Vietnam in the late 1980s, and her growing campaign to help the hungry and abused street children of Ho Chi Minh City. And as she struggles against ignorance and bureaucracy, Bradley's film drifts back to her early years in the slums of Dublin.
Raised in a tenement by a sainted mother and a drunken father, Christina (Gloria Cramer Curtis) is sent to a Connemara orphanage at 10 when her mother dies, and later experiences horrors of all kinds while sleeping rough in a Dublin park.
Her empathy, then, for the orphan strays she encounters in Vietnam runs deep, and the adult Christina (Deirdre O'Kane) moves heaven and earth to help them.
O'Kane is alright in a film that's solid rather than spectacular, but Sarah Greene is quite exceptional as the 20-something Noble, and seems bound for bigger things.
Maps to the Stars (Julianne Moore, John Cusack); The Equalizer (Denzel Washington); Human Capital (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi); What We Did On Our Holiday.
Back in the '90s Liam Neeson was working with Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg and starring in such weighty dramas as Michael Collins and Schindler's List. But surviving as an A-list movie star is hard and, over the last six years or so, Neeson has successfully re-marketed himself as a grizzled action hero.