Monday, October 30, 2006

three movie reviews

Most of my week in New York was kind of…worky. Breaks included: 1) getting food poisoning and 2) seeing some good movies. I’ll spare you the details of the former.

The Prestige: Nicole S. (of NYC, not to be confused with Nicole K. of LA—although, interestingly, they both have sisters named Vanessa) and Bram and I went to Nicole’s favorite theater on 33rd St., the one with the good chicken tenders. I was still a little nauseous—and still a vegetarian—so I ordered the so-much-more-stomach-settling nachos, and settled in to see Christian Bale play an obsessive magician competing against his fellow obsessive magician (Hugh Jackman) in turn-of-the-century London.

Given that I love Christian Bale (especially in turn-of-the-century period pieces) and anything that vaguely resembles the gritty, creepy, fun-house glamour of an old-fashioned traveling circus, this movie didn’t have to do much to win me over.

In the nearly perfect opening sequence, we see Hugh Jackman’s character perform his famous “Transported Man” trick, in which he disappears from a stage crackling with lightening only to reappear almost instantly in the theater’s balcony. Except this time, the trick goes awry—the disappeared man drowns in a tank of water beneath the stage, and Christian Bale finds himself on trial for murder. This scene is intercut with shots of Michael Caine—playing an elderly engineer, the guy behind the magic—explaining the components of a good magic trick to a small girl enchanted by his ability to make a canary disappear and reappear. Thus the stage is set with the movie’s themes: doubling, sacrifice and the dark side of trickery.

I say “nearly perfect” because there are parts of the scene that are confusing, and the movie has so many twists and turns that Nicole compared it to Sixth Sense, and I’d go so far as to compare it to the spoofily twisty Wild Things. Usually, I see movies like that and think, Wow. I’m so not a plot person that I can’t even handle watching this much plot. But such thoughts might indicate that the filmmakers can’t handle as much plot as they took on either. The Prestige has a couple of “Now that I have you trapped, I’m going to tell you my evil plan”-type moments, but never at the expense of character development or eerie shots of magical contraptions that look like—and ultimately are—torture devices.

Marie Antoinette: So much of any artistic experience is the life and knowledge you bring with you—Sofia Coppola was counting on people watching Marie Antoinette knowing that sometime after the teen queen’s on-screen frolicking through piles of pastel dresses and sculptural desserts, she’d be dethroned and executed by the angry, impoverished masses.

Tommy’s friend An, who owns a clothing boutique and saw the movie with us, thought the whole thing was incredibly boring, although she conceded, “Sofia Coppola would make a great music video director.” An brought her own aesthetic expertise (she, like so many people I saw in New York, made me feel like I’d accidentally left the house wearing my pajamas), but she didn’t see the point in a two-hour story.

I spent most of the movie trying to decide whether Coppola was indicting Antoinette for her let-them-eat-cake behavior (even if she never actually uttered the words) or not. Coppola makes the wise choice of almost never depicting anything that happens outside the grounds of Versailles, showing how insular Antoinette’s life was. Can you really get mad at someone for saying “Let them eat cake” if that person doesn’t know that anything but cake exists? (I say, bringing with me my current obsession with insular lives thrust upon the global scene.)

But Antoinette isn’t completely off the hook either—the self-centered defiance that gets her through her teen years and ultimately makes her a brave and independent woman in a world where women weren’t encouraged to be either also enables her to continuously not give a shit about France. Her husband Louis XVI, on the other hand, lacks her guts but does his best under the crushing weight of his unwanted crown.

I also brought my love of tabloids to the theater with me, and kept thinking, Paris Hilton, this is you—I hope you’re watching.

The Lake House: I’m more or less working on a novel about a magic mailbox (which relates to the insular lives/global scene thing—really), so I donned my airplane headphones excitedly, hoping the movie would prove the premise to be ripe and viable. Unless the 20 minutes I spent napping were the best 20 minutes of the film, it did not.

The good news is that the magic mailbox genre is still wide open.

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