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

The Avengers

  • Title:  The Avengers
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Paramount, Marvel Studios
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, SF
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisoff, Clark Gregg
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“The cube is a doorway to the other end of space, right?  Doors open from both sides.” — Clint Barton
 
“I’d like to know why S.H.I.E.L.D. is using the Tesseract to build weapons of mass destruction.”  — Dr. Bruce Banner
 
“Is this the first time you lost a soldier?”  — Capt. Steve Rogers
“We are not soldiers!” — Tony Stark
The Avengers takes several heroes from previous Marvel films and brings them together into a team-up movie, as a new super-hero group, The Avengers, is assembled to combat Loki’s challenge, find the mysterious Tesseract cube Loki has stolen,  and ultimately to fight an army of creatures from another galaxy.
The film opens with an attack by Loki on a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility.  He uses his staff to take control of Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye) and succeeds in taking the Tesseract cube.  In the chaos, the facility is destroyed.  Recognising that the special circumstances call for a special team and a special response, Nick Fury calls for Agent Phil Coulson to assemble a team who will become The Avengers.  The beginning of the film introduces and assembles this team, all of whom are in the midst of their own problems, but they put their own problems aside to combat Loki’s threat.  The team is:  Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) an assassin, Dr. Bruce Banner (the Hulk), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Capt. Steve Rogers (Captain America), Thor, and S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
Once the team is assembled, they begin to look for Loki and the Tesseract.  They easily find Loki in Stuttgart, Germany.  Captain America and Ironman fight and capture Loki, with some help from Black Widow, a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter, and Thor.  However, once they take Loki to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s heli-carrier (remember the Valiant from the Doctor Who episodes:  “The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky”? – it looks like that.) it seems that Loki wanted to be taken.  He plays the team, attempting to get Dr. Bruce Banner so angry that he turns into the Hulk and smashes the carrier in flight.  Despite the Avengers figuring out this plan, it works. Hawkeye, still under Loki’s control, also attacks the carrier.  Stark and Rogers have to work together to prevent the entire carrier from crashing.  Agent Phil Coulson is killed by Loki.  Both Thor and Hulk fall out of the heli-carrier, but are un-hurt when they land.  Prior to his turning into the Hulk, Banner and Stark both got along very well.  Stark treated Banner well, complimented his scientific work and papers, and even inviting Banner to Stark Tower to work in R&D.  The same cannot be said of Stark and Rogers – who strongly dislike each other at first.  Loki successfully escapes, though Stark and Rogers are able to prevent the carrier from crashing.
Recovering from their losses, and the death of  Agent Coulson, the Avengers plan their next move.  After a discussion with Rogers, Tony realises that Loki will use the new Arc Reactor self-perpetuating green power source at Stark Tower to accomplish his plans.
The film moves to New York, where Loki has already opened a portal to another galaxy.  Alien creatures go through the portal and start causing chaos – attacking everything, destroying buildings, and killing people.  Tony first challenges Loki, then co-ordinates the counter-attack. Eventually all the Avengers join the fight. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s shadowy cabinet decides to cut their losses and target a nuclear missile on the city.  Fury is, well, furious, at the very idea and refuses to comply with the order.  The cabinet sends out a fighter jet to send in the nuke anyway.  Fury informs Ironman, who informs the other Avengers.  Tony then takes the missile and carries it into the portal.  He sees it blow-up, cutting off  the alien’s power, then falls to earth.  Stark barely makes it through the portal before Natasha closes it with Loki’s staff.  Hulk catches the powerless, falling Stark.
Tony and Pepper are adorable and cute together at the beginning of the film, when Coulson comes to bring Ironman into the mission.  When he’s heading for the portal and thinking he will probably die, Tony agrees, at Jarvis’s suggestion, to call Pepper.  She, however, misses his call.
News clips round-up the story, with man-on-the-street type interviews with those saved by the Avengers, as well as political pundits who criticize the destruction of the city.  Thor takes Loki and the Tesseract; Tony and Banner ride off together, Steve leaves on his own motorcycle, and later Tony and Pepper are in his lab re-designing Stark Tower.  The Avengers have split apart but they will draw together again when needed.
The film is a great ensemble piece, with crackling, snappy dialogue.  I enjoyed it very much.  I really liked the “science bromance” of  Tony Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner.  Stark is a genuine admirer of  the other man, and is not in fear of  the green “rage monster” as he calls it.  He’s shocked when Banner admits he had once attempted to shoot himself, only to have “the other guy” spit out the bullet. Natasha and Clint also seemed to have a history, though Hawkeye spends most of the film in Loki’s thrall, she is, eventually able to break that and he joins the Avengers for the final battle.  Overall, this was a great summer “popcorn” movie.  It’s fun, the actors all did a great job, and the characters were very cool.  When I saw it last year, the only other Marvel films I’d seen were some of the X-men movies and the (Tobey McGuire) Spiderman films (which aren’t connected at all), and Thor (which was).  This film got me to see the Ironman films, largely due to Robert Downey Jr.’s excellent performance, which I enjoyed (see reviews on this blog).  The Avengers shows that an ensemble piece with several characters with elaborate backstorys can still work as a film.  Warner Brothers are you listening?  Make Justice League!  Anyway, it’s recommended.
Recommendation:  Go see it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man

Ironman 2

  • Title:  Ironman 2
  • Director: Jon Favreau
  • Date:  2010
  • Studio:  Paramount, Marvel
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You want my property, you can’t have it.  But I did you a big favor, I’ve successfully privatized world peace.”  — Tony Stark

“You are running out of both time and options.  Unfortunately, the device that’s keeping you alive is also killing you.”  — Jarvis

“You want to do this whole lone gunslinger act, and it’s unnecessary.  You don’t have to do this alone.” — Rhodey
“You know, I wish I could believe that, I really do.  But you gotta trust me.  Contrary to popular belief, I know exactly what I’m doing.”  — Tony

The film does open with a re-cap of the audio from Tony’s press conference at the end of the first Ironman film — played out against a man in Russia assembling his own arc reactor and Ironman-like suit. We will later discover this is Whiplash.

Tony, as Ironman, literally drops in to a rock concert-like opening for Stark Expo, complete with screaming fans and Rocketts.  He’s back to the arrogent, egomaniac — wild, and irresponsible, challenging anyone and everyone who is in his way, including a Senate sub-committee.

Normally, in a sequel to a heroic adventure, I would expect that the hero, having learned his true path in the first film (or book) would spend the second film facing down a bigger, badder, meaner challenge.  It’s nice if there’s more character interaction and development; or if  the world opens up, so to speak, widening the area where the hero plays.  However, in Ironman 2, Tony seems to have slipped backwards — once again becoming the irresponsible playboy, without a thought for how his actions affect others.

It’s soon revealed that Tony is dying.  The Palladium core of the arc reactor in his chest that keeps him alive, is also slowly poisoning him.  Tony begins to give away his things, such as donating his modern art collection to the Boy Scouts of America.  He also makes Pepper the CEO and chairman of his company. Their conversation when he does so, is at breakneck speed and great fun to watch.

Tony then goes to the Grand Prix race in Monaco.  Pepper, Happy, and a new Stark Industries employee named Natalie Rushman (later revealed to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, named Natasha) accompany Tony to Monaco. There he’s challenged by Justin Hammer, CEO of Hammer Industries – a weapons manufacturing company and former business rival of Stark’s.  Hammer wants to build his own Ironman suits as well, to sell to the US Armed Forces.

Tony slips away from the meeting, and tests his blood toxicity (with a device that looks very much like the type of portable blood sugar monitor used by diabetics).  Next you see him, he’s preparing to drive the race car he was only supposed to be sponsoring for the Grand Prix.  Pepper is livid and has Natalie find Happy so they can try to stop Tony from getting himself  killed.   During the race, Whiplash arrives and causes havoc — attacking cars and then deliberately crashing Tony’s race car.  Tony manages to free himself, and with a little intervention from Happy and Pepper is briefly rescued.  Pepper throws him a red suitcase, and Tony steps into the Ironman suit and challenges Whiplash.  He wins and the villian is carted off by the police.

On the flight back to the US, Pepper does ask Tony what he’s not telling her.  He talks about cancelling his birthday party and going with her to Venice.  Again, their dialogue together is cute, but Tony isn’t really telling her what’s going on.

Whiplash escapes prison, and is convinced to work for Justin Hammer.  He, does, however, have his own agenda.

Meanwhile, the night of  his birthday party, Rhodey finds Tony in his workroom, alone, and in bad shape. Tony gives a wild birthday party, and when Pepper tries to stop him — he goes even more wild, destroying things.  Rhodey shows up in one of Tony’s old Ironman suits and the two go at it.  In the end, Rhodey escapes with the suit and takes it to the Air Force.

The next day, Fury, of S.H.I.E.L.D., arrives and gives Tony lithium dioxide to counter the effects of  the Palladium poisoning.  He also introduces a more important part of the plot; that Howard Stark said the arc reactor was only a stepping stone to something greater, and Tony was the key.  Tony’s confused by this, but takes his father’s trunk and returns to the Orphanage (his home) where he discovers Agent Phil Coulson will be his body guard and babysitter.

Going through he father’s things, he discovers an old 16mm film of his father’s speech for the opening of Stark Expo.  At the end of his practicing the speech, Howard Stark addresses Tony directly.

Tony goes to see Pepper at Stark Industries and again is incapable of telling her how he feels (partially because she cuts him off) or that he’s dying.  But when he sees the Stark Expo model leaning against a wall, he realizes there’s more to it than meets the eye.  He brings it back to his workshop, and has Jarvis render it into a 3-D working model.  Working with the model, he realizes it’s an atom for a new element. Tony builds a Large Hadron Collider in his workshop and creates the new element.

As before, Tony is at his best, when he is alone and working on a problem or to build something.  The man is most definitely an engineer.  And I still love Jarvis and the 3-D holographic displays as Tony figures stuff out and manipulates parts of the rendered drawing with his hands.  (I use AutoCAD at work — I wish it was that easy!)  The final shot of Tony surrounded by dots of blue light, representing his new element is absolutely gorgeous!  I loved it!  Tony puts the new element in his arc reactor core which will help his “dying” problem.  In other words, he’s no longer being poisoned slowly.

Justin Hammer turns out to be a bully — taking Whiplash’s pet bird when he isn’t delivering fast enough on making suits that imitate Tony’s Ironman.  Rhodey delivers his suit to the Air Force who deliver it to Hammer.

At Stark Expo, Hammer introduces his battle drones, and his VTRB (Variable Threat Response Battlesuit).  But Wisplash takes control of the suits remotely and chaos reigns.  Even Rhodey in his own VTRB suit can’t control it.  Tony has Jarvis hack into Rhodey’s suit, granting him control at least.  Pepper contacts the police to try to bring some control to the chaos.  Eventually, Tony and Rhodey defeat Whiplash and his drones, but Whiplash has one final act to play — all the drones contain bombs.  Tony rushes off and rescues Pepper.  She quits as  CEO of Stark Industries.

Ironman 2 has some fun moments, and I liked the advancement of  Tony and Pepper’s relationship.  I also found the one step forward two steps back approach to Tony and Pepper’s relationship to be frustrating almost to the point of annoyance.  Tony and Pepper are cute together.  She can improve him, but they also seem to be always moving in opposite directions, unable to stand still long enough to really meet and know what the other is saying.  But I also found it odd that dying was used by Tony as an excuse to go back to his irresponsible playboy ways.  And, in a sense there was too many “big action scenes” and not enough character development (even for the villian — the only place his name was used was the back of the DVD box).  A sequel should further develop the main character’s arc, but in this film it seems to go backwards instead.   However, Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow again knock it out of the park, doing their best with what they are given.  And I like Tony when he’s alone and acting as an engineer.  But overall, a little disappointing.

Recommendation:  See it.  May as well to keep up with the various Marvel movies leading up to The Avengers.
Rating:  3.8 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of  Shadows