Labyrinth

  • Title:  Labyrinth
  • Director:  Jim Henson
  • Date:  1986
  • Studio:  TriStar (Jim Henson Productions, Lucasfilm)
  • Genre: Fantasy, Children’s Film
  • Cast:  David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“It keeps changing, What am I supposed to do?” – Sarah

Sarah is a young teen-aged woman who enjoys Cosplay (she dresses in a watery green gown that she probably made herself, and wears over her jeans, while reciting lines from her favorite story), her books, her stuffed animals, and her other trinkets of childhood. When her parents ask her to babysit her baby brother, she acts very put upon and even bratty. Finally, she wishes her baby brother away. When the Goblin King takes her brother, she immediately regrets her actions and becomes determined to get her brother back.

Sarah must solve the labyrinth, get to the castle beyond it, and rescue her brother. At first, she constantly asks for help from anyone she meets, but over time she gradually begins to trust her own instincts and solves a series of tests, riddles, and puzzles herself. She makes new friends, and works her way to the goblin castle.

Once at the castle, she decides she must confront the Goblin King herself, uttering the magic words, “You have no power over me,” which free her and her baby brother. When she returns home, she begins to pack away her childish things. But her friends from the Labyrinth appear in mirrors to tell her, they’ll be there, “should you ever need us.”

Labyrinth is a story about growing up. Not only must Sarah learn to care for her baby brother without complaining, but she must learn to trust herself, not others, and rely on her own ability to solve problems. Which isn’t to say she must be totally alone – the importance of real friends is another theme of this classic children’s/teen movie.

What makes the film stand out, however, is David Bowie’s performance as the Goblin King. Bowie sings three songs in the film, all of which are just awesome! The song and dance routines are well integrated into the film – and they make the movie.

The Blu-ray looks really good, though I was disappointed that the songs weren’t subtitled. The Firey sequence shows some really bad travelling matte lines and green screen artifacts, though. The rest of the film, which features Jim Henson’s signature muppet creatures, and an actor in a suit (Ludo) looks good. That is to say, it’s not dated looking. The film references (and has a credit for) Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and the paintings/drawings of MC Escher, both of which are acknowledged in the end credits. I especially enjoyed Sarah and the Goblin King’s confrontation in Castrovalva.

I loved this film as a teen – and I might have even owned a copy on VHS at some point. It’s been on my “buy when you see it cheap” list for a long time – and I just bought the Blu-Ray on sale for a very good price last month. The film does stand up, which is always a concern with movies you loved as a child or teenager but haven’t seen since becoming an adult. I did feel, especially early in the film, that Sarah was a bit of a brat. But, I also felt sad to see her boxing up her toys and stuffed animals at the end of the film.

Recommendation:  See it! Especially good for pre-teens and teenagers
Rating:  PG 
Next Film:  To Catch a Thief

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The Prestige

  • Title:  The Prestige
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date 2006
  • Studio:  Touchstone, Warner Brothers
  • Genres:  Drama, SF, Historical
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Mark Ryan, William Morgan Sheppard
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray, R1

“But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough, you have to bring it back.  That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call… The Prestige.” – Mr. Cutter, narrating

“I love you.” – Alfred Borden
“Not today.  Well, some days it’s not true, and today you don’t mean it.  Maybe today you’re more in love with magic than me.  I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something.” – Sarah Borden

“I don’t want to kill doves.” – Robert Angier
“Then stay off stage.  You’re a magician not a wizard.  You gotta’ get your hands dirty if you’re going to achieve the impossible.” – Mr. Cutter

“I can recognize an obsession, no good will come of it.” – Nikola Tesla

“The truly extra-ordinary is not permitted in science and industry.  Perhaps, you’ll find more luck in your field – where people are happy to be mystified.” – Tesla

The Prestige is a film about envy, jealousy, and obsession. But rather than jealousy over someone else’s relationship with a third person; or obsession with a person, The Prestige is about professional jealousy and obsession with an idea. Add to that it’s unusual structure, and it’s a fascinating film, that’s intriguing to watch.

This is the story of two stage magicians in the 1890s. They start off as friends, working with an ingenue (or magic trick designer) and a female magician (Julia, played by Piper Perabo) who is married to one of them (Angiers, played by Hugh Jackman). Bordan (Bale) seems to be jealous of Angiers relationship with his wife, though this is not obviously stated. And when Julia dies performing a water-tank trick, after Bordan tied her hands – Angiers becomes angry and blames Bordan for the accident. However, this definitely doesn’t become your cut-and-dried “you killed my wife – I’m going to get revenge” film. Even by the end of the film, we don’t really know if Bordan deliberately tied the wrong knot or if it really was an accident. However, the death of Julia is the spark that turns a friendship into a rivalry – and then into professional jealousy, and finally into obsession. As the film unfolds Angiers and Bordan both one-up each other, and both simply do horrible things to each other – physically harming each other, undercutting each other’s stage acts, and simply just not letting the rivalry rest but escalating it with each act of the film.

The structure of the film is also different.  It starts with the end, then tells the story through a series of interweaving flashbacks that tell the story in short scenes that not only move forward and back in time, but change point of view as well. The film begins with Angiers dying in a stage magician’s trick and Bordan being arrested and charged with his murder. The flashbacks explain their history, their rivalry, and Angiers growing obsession with Bordan’s trick:  The Transported Man. Angiers follows his obsession to Colorado where he meets Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis), and convinces them to build a special machine for him. Angiers both gets what he wants and gets much more than he bargained for. But, as the story unfolds – and different parts of the story are told first from Angiers point of view and then from Bordan’s, the audience learns more and more about these characters – the doomed characters.

Because the flashbacks are interweaving, as an audience member, not only is one forced to pay very close attention in order to follow the film – but one is also, constantly rearranging the scenes in one’s head. Especially the first time I watched this film, as I watched it, I found myself thinking, “OK, so this goes before that, and this goes before that, etc.”  But unlike other films with a lot of editing and scenes that aren’t presented in chronological order – with The Prestige, that the film’s story is essentially presented in reverse order before returning to the present and then again turning on a dime, everything in the story is crystal clear.  You will not be confused by the story – at all, once you get used to the style and concentrate on the plot.

I’m determined to not spoil this excellent film, but it is also very dark and even somewhat disturbing. To explain just what is going on, and how, would destroy the experience of seeing this film.  It’s excellent, with an excellent cast, incredible direction, and it’s very thought-provoking. However, it is very, very dark.  I mean, I’ve seen film noir before, but the final implications of this film really push the envelope into disturbing territory. Oh, and by disturbing – I do not in any way mean “gross” or bloody, or any of the typical tropes of horror. I wouldn’t even call this a horror film. Do not avoid this film simply because of a prejudice against horror – that is not what it is at all.

Recommendation:   See it
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception