The Prestige (2006)

I wrote this review up a few years back, and the movie still holds up the exact same way for me, so here’s that review with slight edits.

When The Prestige first started playing, I was immediately worried that Christopher Nolan was going back to the Memento well, starting a movie with the ending and so forth. My fears were put to rest soon enough, as I grew familiar with the non-linear story structure and immersed myself into the magical world Nolan crafted for this film. Essentially the movie is all about the obsession two magicians have with besting the other in their chosen field. Former partners Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) head off in different directions after breaking away from magician ringleader Cutter (Michael Caine). Angier is a natural showman and while his tricks aren’t of the cutting edge variety, he’s a far better entertainer than Borden is at first. Borden’s got a few tricks up his sleeve though, one of which completely mystifies Angier to the point of stealing it and adapting it for his own show.

That’s all the backstory you get. The rest is shrouded in mystery for now… unless you’ve seen the movie of course. Let’s get it out of the way now, yes, it’s Batman vs. Wolverine. Christian Bale brings his trademark A game to the part of Borden, giving him a shady feel to the point where you wonder just how far he’ll go to triumph over Angier. It makes you wonder exactly what you were witness to in that first big scene, the real ending or a variation on it. Jackman is fairly decent as the relatively upper crust magician, though at no point in the movie are you sure whom you should be rooting for.

As you may have read elsewhere, the twist is somewhat predictable but in a fairly good way. It’s not a cheat by any means, there were hints dropped throughout the movie and it bears mentioning that this movie demands a second viewing.  There are wonderful performances throughout, the story is fantastic, the supporting cast is excellent and David Bowie is tremendous in his small part. The movie looks gorgeous, capturing the perfect moods for every scene.  The one thing I didn’t like was the constant one-up-manship that reached a ridiculous level late in the movie. Yeah, I get that they’re both smart and cunning, but apparently not smart enough to allow the same trick to be played on each other.

4.5 / 5

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Iron Man 2 (2010)

Alright, so I did a whole nice write-up yesterday for the first Iron Man movie, and well, this one is more of the same.  It’s not The Dark Knight sequel to Batman Begins, it’s more like what Batman Forever was to Batman, if that makes sense.  It probably doesn’t since I just casually omitted Batman Returns, but Forever had sooo much Batcrap shoved into it that the movie actually shat out a sequel.

I just wanna sit back and appreciate that thing that I just wrote.  Man, I hope I didn’t subconsciously steal it from someone, because it is such a perfect description of Batman & Robin.  You can LIKE this review or G+ it or RT it or whatever.  I don’t even want to write anymore.

Alright, fine.  So Iron Man 2 brings back almost the exact same cast and creative team as the original movie, minus the unlikable Terrence Howard (replaced with the awesome Don Cheadle) and bringing in Justin Theroux as the screenplay writer.  At this point The Avengers movie release date was (I think) set in stone and there were preparations and things shoved into the story that seemed to be less about just Iron Man, and more about pumping up the Avengers plotline.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it gives the whole movie more of an episodic feel.  Like, you can’t have “The Body” episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” without “I Was Made to Love You” which I had to research (and I actually dug that episode too) to remember it took place directly before “The Body”.

I feel like I’m getting all Pitchfork-y with this review, making allusions to other things that seem quite brilliant in my head and maybe seems assholeish when someone else reads it.  Anyways, the film also brings in Mickey Rourke as the main villain Whiplash, Sam Rockwell as Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) main business rival, Justin Hammer, and Scarlett Johansson as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent – and future Avenger- Natalya Romanov or y’know, Black Widow.  There’s also a lovely little appearance by John Slattery as Tony’s dad in archival footage, and the whole Stark family thing reminds me so much of “The Venture Bros.”

So there are parts I like about Iron Man 2 because they remind me of other things, and it’s a competently enough made movie, but not nearly as great as the first movie.

3.5 / 5

The Avengers (2012)

I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous.  See, I’m not a Marvel Comics fanboy and the success that their high quality movie versions of their characters are enjoying makes me – a DC Comics fanboy – insanely jealous.  See, I know that if there ever were to be a Justice League movie, well DC Comics would have to have some sort of alternate (read: inferior) version of Batman, because it’s quite clear that the Christopher Nolan Batman isn’t in a world populated with heroes.  And while I enjoyed Green Lantern there are loads of others that didn’t.  Not to mention how every Superman movie that has come out since Superman II has been pretty craptacular.  Marvel went and signed Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers, so there went the best hope for any Wonder Woman movie, and there aren’t even any rumours that I’ve heard about a Flash movie.  So yeah, super jealous because DC can’t get their cinematic shit together.  Moving on.

In the next couple days, my reviews for the rest of the movies that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be posted (except Captain America, as that one was already posted) and what you’ll find is that they’re all pretty damn good movies.  For the most part.  The sum of them all is The Avengers, and honestly, you couldn’t find a better director than Joss Whedon to helm this ship.  Whedon has an affinity for the characters that he’s been reading for decades, and if we’ve learned anything from Whedon’s fanbase, it’s that he can make us feel in a way that most directors/writers take for granted.  When Wash dies in Serenity, he wasn’t the only who felt like they’d been impaled, and that was because of the heart that Whedon instills in his characters.  So the whole time watching Avengers, I was wondering which ancillary character was going to bite the dust so we could truly feel like This Means Something.

Another trademark Whedon-ism is the wry sense of humour that characters have in the face of insurmountable odds, and that humour is very much evident throughout the entire film.  I’m pretty sure every character, from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) hell, everyone of them gets a laugh in the movie.  Of course, front and centre is the most fleshed character out of the Avengers team (so-far), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), but this movie isn’t his.  It’s not Captain America’s (Chris Evans) or Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth).  In fact, I think that the Big Bad of the movie, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), might have had more screen time than anyone else.

The movie doesn’t really have to waste time with showing the origin stories of all these heroes, because they have their own series, just like in the comic book world.  It’s the story of a bunch of combustible elements coming together to form a super power to combat the end of the world.  Honestly, I would have to say that this is the greatest comic book movie of all time, and that’s mostly because I think the Christopher Nolan Batman films can actually hold their own as non-comic book movies.  The Avengers movie and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a lot of fanboy pandering to them, but it’s all great popcorn, summer blockbuster fun.  The Nolan Batman films, well they’re exploring areas outside of the comic books with the implication that they take place in a very realistic world.  Nolan’s Batman would never be in the Justice League.

Anyways, The Avengers is pretty much what any comic book nerd dreams of: the action on the screen taken directly from the pages of their comic books.  The heroes they love, the villains they hate, they’re all expertly interpreted into a new medium and it’s a goddamn great movie.  I don’t even think you’d need to see the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to completely enjoy the movie, but they would certainly add more depth to the experience.  Also, the 3D was much like Toy Story 3, not invasive and all OMG LOOK IT’S 3D so I strongly recommend seeing it in a theatre when you can.

5 / 5

The Black Dahlia (2006)

I’m really beginning to think that Brian De Palma may be one of the most overrated directors of all time.  I’m getting this impression from the films of his that I’ve seen, of course.  Scarface is an overrated average film, The Untouchables doesn’t age well, Blow Out was very good but not timeless, and Carrie was decent, but the man doesn’t deserve as much praise as has been heaped on him for decades.  Also, it has been years since I’ve seen Mission to Mars, Femme Fatale, Snakes Eyes or Mission: Impossible so it would be unfair of me to include them in this discussion.  One last note, the last time I saw Carlito’s Way, I thought it was truly great, so there ya go, I am decently well versed in De Palma’s most recent filmography.

Anyways, long story short, this movie is a meandering and boring beautiful mess.  It features many trademark De Palma camera moves, some of them completely inexplicable.  They literally jar you out of the movie, make you wonder aloud “Why would you do that?”  There are some great actors in this movie, but for the most part they’re just wasted or given complete misdirection.  Mia Kirshner and Rose McGowan might have been the best performances in the movie, and totaled up, they probably don’t amount to 15 minutes of screen time.

De Palma should have gone back and re-watched L.A. Confidential, or maybe even watch it for the first time, because that movie is excellent and would have been the perfect tone for this film.  Not the histrionics of Aaron Eckhart – whom I normally enjoy – or the cardboard cutout of Josh Hartnett, nor the deer in headlights stare of Scarlett Johansson.  Hell, “L.A. Noire” made this case more interesting than this movie.  Now I want to watch Zodiac again to see what David Fincher would have done with The Black Dahlia case.

1 / 5