Sunday, May 13, 2007

Episode 35

The Prestige - In the late 1800's Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) began their careers as magicians working together as part of The Amazing Milton's act. The two of them were similar in that they both had a great respect for and love of magic, but aside from that they couldn't have been more different. During one of Milton's shows, Angier's wife (Piper Perabo), whose hands were tied by Borden as part of the trick, drowns in a large tank of water. After this incident Milton's act breaks up and a rivalry is begun between Angier, who is sure that Borden tied the wrong type of knot around his wife's wrists, and Borden, who claims that he cannot remember which knot he'd tied. Working with Cutter (Michael Cain), he and Borden's old friend and creator of magic tricks, Angier puts together a stage show that draws a fair crowd. However when Borden reappears on the scene after two years with a wife and newborn child, Angier's anger toward Borden grows, seeing his rival enjoying a life that he was robbed of. Over time the two men continue to up the ante, creating and performing better and more amazing feats onstage while plotting against one another outside of the limelight. As their game of cat and mouse becomes more and more dangerous, Angier enlists the aid of scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) in building a machine that he hopes will provide him with actual magic as opposed to merely another illusion. At the same time, Angier has also placed his stage assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson) undercover in Borden's personal and professional life. Tensions rise as the two magicians lose interest in everything except discovering one another's secrets. I saw The Prestige in the theater when it came out in late 2006, however this was before I began reviewing movies on this site. Having just seen the film a second time I feel as though I may have enjoyed it even more than the first. I was originally drawn to The Prestige based on the incredibly mysterious trailers. All that they really revealed was that there was some kind of mystery involving magic and that the film starred Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. This was enough for me. Much like with the trailer for The Village, it immediately peaked my interest. The Prestige is a wonderfully acted movie with a great cast. Michael Cain is more fitting in this role than that of the other Christopher Nolan film that he's in: Batman Begins. He exhibits a great presence onscreen even as a second-tier character. Scarlett Johansson doesn't do much more in The Prestige than stand around looking pretty, which she does a wonderful job of. David Bowie is great as Tesla. I'd never seen him act before and honestly wasn't very familiar with his physical appearance until I'd seen the movie, so the first time I watched it I had no idea who was playing his role. His performance was all the more impressive knowing that I just viewed him as another actor and he didn't feel out of place at all. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are equally outstanding in this film. In the case of Jackman, his role in The Prestige is definitely the strongest I've seen from him. He hits a menagerie of emotions that I was previously unaware that he could pull off, having only really seen him as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise before. I loved him in those films because of the character he was portraying, but after watching The Prestige I truly respect him as an actor. Christian Bale is fast becoming one of my favorite people to see onscreen. After seeing him in American Psycho, The Machinist and more recently Harsh Times, I've become a huge fan of his work. Placing these two men in one film as equally important and polar opposite roles, it's easy to understand why I consider The Prestige one of the best films to be released in 2006 along with Children of Men, Slither, and The Departed. The film begins as a very personal look at the lives of it's two main characters, but as the plot unfolds it becomes a magical (no pun intended) story with so many more angles than those that you'd expected. I personally fell in love with the movie as it neared the climax, taking a sudden and surprising turn into the science fiction genre that will hit you out of left field. Looking back on it though, perhaps the most incredible aspect of the film is the ambiguity of right and wrong. It's like the plot of the movie is a tennis match in which the ball represents "the bad guy", and Bale and Jackman hit it back and forth so that by the end of the game you may be confused about who to root for. I recommend The Prestige to anyone with eyes. If you don't have eyes, get someone who does to watch the movie with you and describe what's onscreen.

Unknown - James Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Joe Pantoliano, Barry Pepper, and Jeremy Sisto wake up one by one in an abandoned warehouse in the middle of the desert. Well, they don't, but their characters in the movie do. When they awake they discover that they've all lost their memories, so none of them can remember their own names. In the credits of the movie their characters are called "Jean Jacket", "Broken Nose", "Bound Man", "Rancher Shirt", and "Handcuffed Man". Anyway, after waking up, James Caviezel hears a phone ringing and answers it to discover, by talking to the voice on the other end, that some of the men in the building are terrorists and some of them are hostages. The only problem is that not a single one of the five men can seem to remember which of them is which. As their trust is tested inside the warehouse from which there is seemingly no escape, in the outside world the police are attempting to diffuse the situation that put the men in the warehouse in the first place. A large amount of money has been stolen from the government and the people who stole it are on their way back to meet up with their buddies at the abandoned warehouse. While the cops try to apprehend the terrorists with the money and recover the hostages, the five men inside the warehouse attempt to decide what to do with themselves until the rest of the terrorists return. They're each afraid that they may be a hostage and could be killed upon their return, but as they could each just as easily be terrorists themselves, none of them want to trust each other. As their time becomes shorter the men inside the warehouse must begin to make potentially devastating decisions. To my knowledge, Unkown wasn't a widely released film. After seeing and being excited by the trailer I awaited news of it's release. After months of waiting I came to discover that it had already been released on DVD. Unfortunately I couldn't locate the DVD in any stores. A friend who was equally interested in the film and I were eventually forced to acquire the movie from Blockbuster Video. In the end I'm not sure that it was worth all the trouble that we went through to see it. Unknown has a great premise. The concept of having a few people trapped in a confined space and dealing with one another reminded me of such great films as Alien and Cube. In fact, after relating Unknown to those films in my mind prior to seeing it, I was disappointed to find that the entirety of the plot doesn't take place inside the confined area of the abandoned warehouse. All of the scenes within it were interesting while all of the events that took place in the outside world felt unnecessary, forced and cheesy as though a studio executive had forced the filmmakers to throw them in during post production. This is not to say that such is the case, because I doubt that it is. This is also not to say that everything within the warehouse is cinematic gold, either. Despite the great acting talent of Caviezel, Kinnear, Pepper, and Pantoliano, much of the dialogue was unrealistic and just plain poorly written. It's as though even the writer, who came up with the concept of the film, wasn't quite sure how to make it work. This is really too bad as I feel that the idea behind Unknown is a great one. Another problem that I had with the movie is that very early on the men inside the warehouse begin to get their memories back. I was really hoping that there would be more mystery to the story, but it's hard to be mysterious when the director plants obvious flashback sequences revealing each character's involvement in the plot so often throughout the film. It's my opinion that these problems with the writing and directing are the reason that so few people have seen, much less heard of, Unknown. With so many high profile actors I can't think of another reason that the movie was shunned by the public. Try as I might, I find it hard to honestly like Unknown, but if you're willing to give it a chance it's fun to imagine what could have been. In the hands of someone like Christopher Nolan (who directed the somewhat similar Memento), this could have been a great film. However as it stands I have a feeling that Unknown is doomed to remain unknown

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan - For anyone who doesn't know (and really, who doesn't by now?), Borat is a fictional news reporter from Kazakhstan created by British actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Along with the clueless wannabe gangster character Ali G and the sexually ambiguous personality of Bruno, Borat is a character whom Cohen created for his former television program Da Ali G Show. The concept of the show is that Cohen, disguised as one of these three characters, would interview real people while making a fool of himself to film their reactions. In this way The Ali G Show was a bit like a hidden camera show that didn't need to hide the cameras because they were part of the charade. After the great success of the show and the moderate success of a standard comedy film by the name of Ali G Indahouse, Sacha Baron Cohen set out to make the film Borat by travelling across the United States creating controversy. But as I remarked earlier, who doesn't know all that by now? After seeing Borat in the theater I proclaimed quite proudly that it was perhaps the funniest movie I'd ever seen. Pound for pound I probably did laugh more while watching Borat than I have while viewing any other film that I've seen. I'll never forget that first viewing of Borat. However, upon a second viewing, I may have jumped the gun a little with the whole "funniest movie ever" comment. I rented the DVD not long after it's release and sat down to watch the film in complete silence. I didn't so much as chuckle a single time during my second viewing of the film. It may have been that the theater packed with other people laughing uproariously brought out my own laughter a bit more than it would normally have shown itself, but I don't think that's the case. I fear that the Borat film may just be funny for that initial viewing. I didn't find the experience at all entertaining the second time through. This doesn't change the fact that I laughed my ass off the first time I saw it, but it's a bit disconcerting watching the film again and just not seeing why the last time was so great. Taking all this into consideration, I would say that everyone should see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan at least once. At this point I'm not sure if I would condone repeat viewings, though.


JesseMunoz said...

The Prestige was great. One of the best fims I've seen. Great in so many ways. Acting Story, directing... etc.
As for Borat. I watched all of the episodes of the Ali G Show and felt like I had already seen Borat. It didn't feel fresh and new and funny. I thought the show was WAY funnier.

Rian said...

I too loved Da Ali G Show and expected to be let down by Borat. That first time I saw it, though, I laughed my ass off. When you get right down to it, if I watched all the episodes of the show again I probably wouldn't find them as funny the second time around as well.