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Magic In The Moonlight

For his 44th film as director, Woody Allen revisits a pet theme: a man mooning over a woman decades his junior. That man is Stanley Crawford, a London magician who performs in yellowface as ‘Wei Ling-soo’, a purported mystic from the Orient. Well-versed in the art of deception, he’s soon whisked off to the French Riviera on a special mission: to expose a supposed American spiritualist as a charlatan.

But meeting Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), Stanley is instantly enchanted. And given that the milksop (Hamish Linklater) currently courting her leaves the tweedy conjurer looking like prime beefcake, the attraction is duly reciprocated.

True, the ensuing flirtation does go all round the houses. Also, Stanley’s idea of seduction is to conduct himself like a prat. But, despite the age gap, the romance does convince, thanks in no small part to the charming, funny Stone, who also keeps us guessing as to whether she really is clairvoyant or pulling a fast one.

Her physical radiance, meanwhile, is rivalled by Darius Khondji’s glorious cinematography. For all its pleasures, this isn’t A-grade Allen, coming off lightweight next to the recent double whammy of box-office smash Midnight In Paris and Best Actress-winner Blue Jasmine.

Yet it’s certainly a cut above some of the Wood-man’s other dalliances with illusionism like The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion and Scoop. There are scene-stealing turns from Jacki Weaver and Marcia Gay Harden, and if the script gets rickety in places, the clever climax goes some way to paying back our patience.


Grand Piano

Whatever you think of Eugenio Mira’s thriller, it has a pretty solid pitch: Phone Booth, with a piano. Joel Schumacher’s high-concept effort saw Colin Farrell trapped in a public booth, with a sniper torturing him from afar. This time, it’s Elijah Wood in the hot seat as concert pianist Tom Selznick, who returns to the limelight some five years after he cracked on stage whilst trying to play the notoriously difficult piece ‘La Cinquette’.

Playing in Chicago, Tom’s comeback performance is soon looking like it might be his last, when his sheet music is scrawled with the menacing letters: “Play one wrong note and you die.” Somewhere in the theatre is Tom’s tormentor, training his rifle right at the stage. After a swift departure to his dressing room, Tom gets a text, telling him to look in his backpack. Inside is an earpiece, allowing his assailant (voiced by John Cusack) to whisper instructions.

Written by Damien Chazelle (who has since gone on to write/direct Sundance winner Whiplash), Grand Piano gets more ludicrous with every tick of its metronome. Never mind that Tom leaves the stage on numerous occasions. Or that, at one point, he texts on his phone one-handed for helpwhile still tinkling those ivories. Or that Cusack’s killer has spent three years engineering this diabolical scheme in the most ludicrously complicated way possible. Still, all this could be forgiven if it weren’t for the disappointingly mundane reason behind it all.

Really, Grand Piano is a one-act idea stretched, barely, across three. But at least it’s attacked with zest by Spanish director Mira, who serves up some impressive visual flourishes – notably an overhead camera shot near the end. Wood, too, is thoroughly convincing, as he hammers at those keys. Cusack, largely off-screen, is effective, and there’s a welcome appearance by Bill & Ted star Alex Winter as his assistant. A pity they’re all made to hit duff notes.


20,000 Days On Earth

A rock one-off gets suitably singular treatment in Brit artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s rich, wry, sumptuously styled study of Nick Cave. We see Cave recording, in therapy, joshing with bandmate Warren Ellis, giving Kylie Minogue a lift…

Most rock-docs would present this material as “the real Cave”, but Forsyth/Pollard diss genre clichés and adopt a semi-staged ‘day in the life’ pitch to show how Cave truly is larger than life. Cave’s wittily hard-boiled voiceover and on-stage potency complete the picture: a properly artful portrait of an artist in total command of his myth.


Think Like A Man Too

Imagine The Hangover scrubbed clean of any salacious bits. That’s this film. As the ‘Too’ would imply, it’s a sequel to the 2012 hit Think Like A Man, a manic romcom based on a self-help book aimed at women with relationship woes. In this one, the ping-ponging couples from the first film, led by motormouth Kevin Hart, descend on Vegas for the wedding of mama’s boy Michael (Terrence J) and worldly-wise single mum Candace (Regina Hall).

Not surprisingly, gags about gambling and strippers ensue. Also not surprisingly, the lightweight laughs dissolve into eye-rolling melodrama.


Wish I Was Here

Ten years after Garden State, Zach Braff delivers his second film as writer/director/star. He plays Aidan, an aspiring actor sent into a tailspin when his father (Mandy Patinkin) contracts cancer. Lacking – perhaps deliberately – its predecessor’s hipster edge, WIWH functions as a grown-up weepie, following Aidan on a journey of enlightenment.

Penned by Braff and brother Adam, there’s an unevenness to the script – one subplot seems to exist solely to give Kate Hudson (Aidan’s wife) something to do – but there are genuinely touching moments amid the slush.


Night Will Fall

This is a film about a film; one that proved so hot to handle during the Cold War that it was banished to the archives of the Imperial War Museum, where it has lain unfinished for 70 years. The footage – discoveries made by the Allies in the liberated Nazi camps during 1945 – is graphic, terrible, unforgettable.

And though you will have seen some of these images before (the bodies; the ovens; the pits), you will not have seen them to such a degree. This shocking if fascinating documentary (both Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder have parts to play) explores why.


The Riot Club

An education is the last thing on the minds of the entitled toffs in Lone Scherfig’s latest, Oxford students whose membership of the titular fraternity demands they treat “debauchery as an art form”. That’s bad news for the country hostelry that rents them its dining room, though not for fans of dishy Brits in tails (Max Irons, Douglas Booth) and punters keen to have their prejudices about aristos confirmed.

Adapting her own savagely funny play Posh, Laura Wade betters it by adding an additional female presence (Holliday Grainger) who sees these Bullingdon bullies at their worst.