Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Prestige Review

(4 out of 5 Stars) It’s 1860. 19th century London and the rest of developing societies have convinced themselves that they are at the height of civil progression and have delved into gratifying forms of entertainment. One of the less attractive forms are magic, magicians forming illusions and mind-benders to test the intellect of theater goers. This is the backdrop to Christopher Nolan’s 2006 adaption of Christopher Priest’s celebrated novel. The film revolves around two rival magicians, Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale).  The two once worked together, finding bigger and more elaborate ways to bend the minds of their theater goers. Angier’s wife was their assistant. One performance is the popular "Escaping the locked water chamber"- they start the pocket watch and the woman

is behind the curtain. The minute’s up, they pull the curtain, and the woman is dead. Angier blames Alfred, who later marries and starts a family. He envies his partner’s life. He quickly returns to magic acts, and utilizes a simple transport sequence. Everyone, including Angier’s new assistant, Olivia,(Scarlett Johannsen) and his manager, Cutter (Michael Caine) say it’s an illusion, using a behind the scenes duplicate. But Angier reads between the lines. He knows that Alfred is doing something different—is it true magic? An optical illusion, or the obvious answer, science? Angier spends years searching for the answer, growing corrupt and insane. Alfred isn’t faring well, all the while leading his ex-partner on a false trail and dealing with his wife (Rebecca Hall) who is tired of secrets. Angier seeks science and researches the possibility of cloning, which Alfred only tricked him into doing, but finds out it really is real. He suspects, however, that what Alfred may be performing is the greatest illusion of all time—or perhaps true magic.

It’s made clear from the beginning that this movie isn’t about magic tricks. The screenwriter doesn’t toy with supernatural elements but cleverly invests most of the plot in character development. Director Christopher Nolan helmed this film after Batman Begins but right before The Dark Knight, so he had already set a tone for himself as a film maker by this time. This, to me, feels a lot like a 19th century Inception. What makes this film engaging to watch is seeing the rival magicians trying to outsmart each other. Christopher Nolan brilliantly balances his multiple time periods in this (much like Inception) so that a wary viewer won’t get confused but is still in for a surprise at the end when the final card is laid on the table. He manages to juggle multiple subplots as well as mold the character psychology into the execution of the story, which in another’s hands would be disjointed. The camerawork is purposefully shaky and the cinematography purposefully dark as to illuminate the story’s tone and conflict.

The film is bolstered by powerful performances from its leading cast, who carry a lot of the weight here. It’s Jackman in particular who holds the viewers’ attention, managing to inject just the right amount of borderline psychosis that his character needs. The little exposition that's is in the story is mostly left spent on him, as Bale’s perspective is purposefully kept in the dark due to plot demands. He’s not only easy to watch but riveting in his role as a man driven to madness by obsession, idiosyncratic in his performance and chilling as an afterthought. This is possibly the most psychologically dark performance he’s given, which according to Hollywood is puberty for actors. 

Gripping, disturbing, and with just the right amount of narrative complexity, The Prestige proves to be a thrilling and unique period piece that racks up another cinematic success for Christopher Nolan. 



Rottentomatoes.com rating: 76% 
Commonsensemedia.org: 4 out of 5 Stars 
Metacritic.com: 66 out of 100 
IMDB.com: 8.4 out of 10 
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and 
disturbing Images


Saturday, October 22, 2011

'The Three Musketeers' Review


Rottentomatoes.com: 25%
Metacritic.com: 38 out of 100
Commonsensemedia.org: n/a
IMDB.com: 6.0 out of 10
My Rating 38% (2 Stars)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of
Adventure action and violence

With the rising popularity of books by Scott Westerfeld and Cherie Priest, steampunk (a sci/fi-fantasy that takes place during a historical time period) has become a popular infusion in literature, and now it seems to be edging its way into theaters. Summit Entertainment’s The Three Musketeers is the first major release revisit to the classic Alexander Dumas book since the 1993 remake starring Charlie Sheen. My expectations weren’t very high for this remake, so I wasn’t too disappointed by the end, but it still doesn’t have enough merit to stand on its own.

The story starts off with the arrogant D’Artagnan, fresh off of leaving home for the first time, one day finds himself in a Paris street battle with the Three Musketeers, an elite trio of warriors ready to defend France from its many political and vindictive forces, when he is in fact trying to join them instead. The Three Musketeers until now have done nothing but sit around and drink, but when the rival British king trespasses on the young king of France’s territory, tensions rise and the Musketeers are prepared. Things worse when a plot arises between Milady (Mila Jokovich) and Richeliu (Christopher Waltz) to frame the Queen of France and the King of England for infidelity, causing a war between England and France and putting Rochefort in a position of power. It is up to the Three Musketeers, Athos (Luke Evans), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Matthew McFadyen) to get to England and stop the plot, as well stop the Richeliu, who just might be more dangerous than they think.

Given all of the ways this could have gone, the film deserves credit for its surprisingly fast pace. We don’t spend too much time mulling over one scene, which is the film’s weakness as well as its strength. The film squanders the brilliant source material, choosing the predictable route for modern movie adaptions and transforming a simple tale of friendship with a few sword fights into an action film with giant airships and guns.

The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes the movie bearable. It’s obvious the actors are having fun in their roles, but maybe a bit too much so, as considering the tremendous amount of talent here, it should have been better. Surprisingly, Orlando Bloom gives the best performance overall, using perfect comic timing and looking like a 1700’s playboy. It’s really a shame he doesn’t get more screen time here. Christopher Waltz, who was brilliant in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds is very subdued here, only passable. Of course, it’s always fun watching Mila Jokovich. Her scenes are very much like those in her Underworld movies, except with more lace. Except for one scene, when she has to sneak past the lasers, and of course, she just has to remove most of her clothing so she doesn’t get killed. Just has to. Logan Lerman is given the runt of the litter, so to speak, of the script. He’s the one link to teens who’ll want to view the movie, so of course they stick him in a conversation with a king where they talk about theirfeelings. About girls. About anytime he gets near that one girl who sees past his musketeer exterior, his palms get all sweaty, his heart starts beating through his chest, and he says stupid things. Also, he has long hair in this one- I tell you, there are a lot of women who would pay through the nose for that kind of volume. Mila Jokovich seems to agree with me- her character in the movie says “Don’t kill him. He’s too pretty to die.” And I’m quoting her ad verbatim.

This movie takes the conventional adaptive route, and it’s pretty much executed like Twilight. If there weren’t so many fans of the book, the movie wouldn’t have been nearly as popular or well taken. Most of the original fan base of Musketeers is dead, so they saw no reason to follow closely to the book. The execution for the movie was good, so if they just wouldn’t fill the script with so many clich├ęs and muddle the predictable storyline then it might actually be good.

Fight sequences are elaborately choreographed and admittedly fun to watch, but they carry most of the weight here. The message of “being a musketeer is about being true to yourself” wears thin after a while, and  since there isn’t much else in terms of storytelling, the viewer eventually gets bored.

Overall, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, but it spends too much time trying to modernize itself and in the end, loses its heart and doesn’t properly reinvent the story that an adaption this recent should have.