This week - Edward Norton does magic tricks (The Illusionist) and Nicholas Cage sells his soul to the devil and replaces his usual head and motorbike with burning versions (Ghost Rider).
But first, a couple of words about Helen Mirren, someone who, on principled grounds, turned down an CBE in 1996 but then became a Dame (more accurately, Dame Commander of the British Empire... bugger her principles, she wasn't going to be outdone by Dench was she?) and then last week dedicated her oscar to the Queen,
"For 50 years and more, Elizabeth Windsor has maintained her dignity, her sense of duty and her hairstyle ... If it wasn't for her, I most certainly wouldn't be here - ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Queen!"
We're glad Forest Whitaker didn't go for a similar theme,
"If it wasn't for him, I most certainly wouldn't be here - ladies and gentlemen, I give you Idi Amin!"
If we ever win an oscar for Londonist the movie we'll use this handy Academy Awards Acceptance Speech Generator
First up, The Illusionist.
Bradshaw gives it 3/5. Most of the reviews mention that this film seems pretty similar to November's The Prestige. Bradshaw writes,
There's always the chance of some project-duplication in Hollywood. Recently, we had an extreme case: two films about Truman Capote. Now here's a second film about a controversial Victorian/Edwardian stage magician, who winds up playing a great big narrative trick on his tormentors - and on us, the audience.
Making the comparison with The Prestige, he calls the film,
more modest in conception, with more control and more focus; its trick ending is more guessable but more realistic and more satisfying, too.
The leading role is "played with charisma and poise" by Edward Norton but for Anthony Quinn at the Independent the film is, "a deeply silly and spurious intrigue" and he gives it just 2/5, it is,
not especially well-acted, a problem compounded by the stiff, unplaceable accents everyone adopts in presumed imitation of mittel-European propriety.
Bradshaw disagrees about the accents too,
The goateed Edward Norton, like Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell, speaks in the default Brit accent that Hollywood considers appropriate for period-costume work - but lightly flavoured with a mitteleuropäische twang. It sounded plausible to me, and the movie adroitly sketches in the background historical detail, and makes it the setting for an elegant political parable.
Quinn even has a problem with the beards worn by the male characters, calling them "distracting"! It's for the same reason that we can't listen to ZZ Top.
There is also a problem with the concept of magic on film, Bradshaw writes,
Magic is always fascinating, but it is difficult to reproduce its effects in the movies because everything on screen is a kind of magic in the first place. And how do you approach the tricks themselves? Expose the secrets, and there's letdown. Don't expose the secrets, and there's frustration. So it's, well, tricky. Burger gestures at revelation, and makes you believe that, for the purposes of advancing the story, you have been told how a trick works. You have been told nothing of the kind. It's a kind of sleight-of-hand in itself, and it works reasonably well.
Quinn writes that the finale, "which forms the climactic plot twist, isn't down to the skill of an illusionist but a special-effects technician."
James Christopher at the Times gives it 3/5. For him, the "spooky pleasure" of the film is the "supernatural quality of the illusions",
An orange pip grows into a tree under the heat of Eisenheim’s hand. A woman is dramatically beheaded by her own reflection. A shadowy child wanders towards the stage as insubstantial as air. A sword, balancing on its tip, defies the strongest officer in the royal ballroom to pick it up. This is meat and drink for a half-decent cameraman.
However, "the magic fails to stretch to the Mills & Boon script"
Watch the trailer here.
Next up, Ghost Rider.
James Christopher gives it 2/5.
The comic touches are lovely, but the plot is as corny as a country and western song ... Cage’s transformation from bemused middle-aged star with jet-black hairpiece to flaming avenger instigates an orgy of special effects. Johnny’s head turns into a flaming skull. His motorcycle morphs from a customised drop-handle Harley into a liquid metal Alien complete with burning wheels and a leaky petrol tank that leaves a burning strip of molten tarmac all the way to the horizon.
Woah. It sounds so crap.
Anthony Quinn gives it 3/5 and writes one of the greatest opening paragraphs of a film review ever,
The heroes of this week's two big movies both have supernatural powers, and during their many lulls you may care to amuse yourself as to which of their transformative gifts, offered the choice, you'd go for. Edward Norton in The Illusionist can make himself disappear, which is something I'd love to have done several times during the movie. Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider finds his head bursting into a flame-wreathed skull, and his motorcycle flaring like a Roman candle, as he scorches down city thoroughfares: not the most comfortable way to travel. My initial instinct would have been to go with the vanishing act, but then I remembered that Cage's Ghost Rider also gets to punish his foes by replaying to them, all at once and at top volume, the grievous misdeeds of their past life. Imagine the exquisite delight of watching Adam Sandler suffer the aggregate torment of his own movies - take that for Big Daddy, and that for Fifty First Dates, and that for The Waterboy... oh, the fun would never end.
Quinn likes the action sequences, calling them "diverting and occasionally spectacular" and he "enjoyed the sight of Ghost Rider taking his bike on the scenic route along the vertical of a skyscraper". However,
What really distinguishes it from its comic-strip origins is Cage's quite touching performance as Johnny, probably the only stunt rider who listens to The Carpenters on his warm-up tape and eats jellybeans from a Martini glass.
Bradshaw gives it 3/5, calling it an "enjoyable piece of bubblegum, though probably best for DVD" and "ridiculous, likable, with some pleasing reminders of the Blade movies."
Watch the trailer here.
Other films out this week - A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (A writer returns to his childhood home after an absence of 15 years, during which time he has used the raw material of his childhood in his bestselling books.), Freedom Writers (Set in the period right after the Rodney King LA riots, this follows a young white teacher's struggle to earn the respect of her tough, multiracial students.), Material Girls (Two filthy-rich sisters suddenly have to survive in the real world when stripped of their family fortune.), Middletown (A zealous preacher sets out to save the souls of his black sheep brother and sister-in-law.) and Popcorn (A shy young man working at a cinema enlists a projectionist to help him pull the girl of his dreams.)
Trailer of the week this week is the absolutely beautiful looking anime, Paprika. This film looks wonderful despite a very dodgy Eurovision style soundtrack.