The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige (2006) Original Theatrical Release: October 20, 2006
Director: Christopher Nolan

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Julia McCullough (Piper Perabo) along with Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are all assistants to a master magician, all trying to learn his secrets. When something goes awry during a performance and Julia dies, Robert blames Alfred for her death and the two become bitter enemies and eventually master magicians themselves. They are in a magical arms-race, where one tries to outdo the other for supremacy on the stage. When Alfred comes up with a trick the likes of which nobody has seen, Robert becomes obsessed with trying to discover his secret – leading him to dark experiments that no man was ever meant to tamper with.

This is one of those films that sort of flew under the radar. Christopher Nolan hit it big with Batman Begins, but not many people even remember this film or talk about it despite its star power and cool premise. It also came out at the same time as another magician-centric movie called The Illusionist, which some folks consider to be the better film between the two magic movies.

David Bowie as Nikola Tesla was a huge bonus in this movie for me, as well as the always-lovely Scarlett Johansson’s role as Olivia Wenscombe (ironically also a secret agent in this movie, just like she was as Black Widow in Iron Man and The Avengers respectively)….but those are just on a personal level. Bale and Jackman are great at going head-to-head with each other and this is one of Jackman’s best serious dramatic roles to date. It has a heavy sci-fi theme that once you get into is actually really great, and it ends up unfolding like a sort of parable.

Go see it for the actors. Go see it for the great direction by Nolan. Go see it for David Bowie and Michael Caine. It’s good stuff. The only downside, for me, was that it was maybe a little too long in letting the story unfold but on the other hand,  it constantly keeps you guessing and keeps you on your toes.

JOE Rating:

Movie Trailer For The Prestige

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Oz The Great And Powerful (2013)

Oz The Great And Powerful (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: March 8, 2013
Director: Sam Raimi

Oz (James Franco), a small-time traveling circus magician, finds himself on the run due to his philandering. He escapes the clutches of a slighted circus strongman with the aid of a hot air balloon and is hit by a tornado which transports him to the land of Oz. With his newfound companions, he must defeat the Wicked Witch and restore Oz to its former glory and also redeem himself.

Before seeing this film, I’d had lots of trepidation about it. We have all (hopefully) seen the original Wizard of Oz and it’s one of those untouchable films that has withstood the test of time, and will seemingly always be a classic in our hearts. So, when I heard that Sam Raimi was doing an Oz prequel with James Franco and Mila Kunis…yikes. I was pretty scared.

However, my fears turned out to be unfounded.

The film starts out true to 1930’s/40’s film fashion and Raimi does a great job with the transition from black and white to full color. You can definitely see his influence in the film with the way some of the scenes are shot and especially with how one of the witches looks. (She looks like a Deadite from his Evil Dead series) This may or may not be a good thing, given the nature of the flavor Oz movies have.

The best part of the film, to me, was Mila Kunis as Theodora. We finally see how she became the evil witch we all love to hate, and despite the crazy makeup she still somehow exudes sexy. There were a couple of weird nods to her hotness, with a butt-shot and a bodice-ripping scene…but it didn’t jar me for too long. She looked amazing as The Wicked Witch.

All of the companions are creepy but somehow entertaining. (Doll with a knife?! Helloooooo?!) There were nods to other characters like the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow that we know we’ll eventually see. The visuals were great and the music was nice by Danny Elfman (despite the random pop song during the credits…WTF?)

All in all, I think it was a fun movie. It had some plot holes and dull moments, so it’s not perfect, but it’s nice to revisit Frank L. Baum’s universe again and see how Oz, The Great and Powerful got his start.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Oz The Great And Powerful

Deathstalker (1983)

Deathstalker (1983)

Original Theatrical Release: February 1984
Director: James Sbardellati (As John Watson)

The warrior known as Deathstalker (Richard Hill) is tasked by an old witch to gather three powerful items; a sword, an amulet and a chalice, before the evil magician Munkar (Bernard Erhard) collects them first and becomes unstoppable. After getting his hands on the sword and angering Munkar, Deathstalker enters The Big Tournament where he hopes to wrestle the kidnapped princess from Munkar’s control, while Munkar has plans of his own to kill Deathstalker.

First off, this movie is from 1983. I was only two years old, then. The special effects are TERRIBLE and are pretty consistent with the visual effects limits of the time, utilizing even puppetry to supplement the fantastical needs of the film. That being said, the puppetry is part of what made this movie so laughably bad.

Bernard Erhard is pretty much the only actor who can actually act in this film, but his performance is so over the top that it’s awkward to watch next to the wooden and stoic Richard Hill and his portrayal of Deathstalker.

As far as Deathstalker movies are concerned, I actually thought Deathstalker II was the best out of the bunch. (Even though Deathstalker II rips a scene right off the reel from this movie and just re-uses it, no questions asked)

Most lovers of fantasy have to give a nod to cheesy, 80’s Fantasy films like this, filled with topless barbarian women, oiled and dumbed-down Conan the Barbarian clones and ridiculous makeup, and this is no exception. It’s worth a watch if you’re in the mood to laugh at a terribad film, or for nostalgic reasons…that’s it.

This is definitely not Lord of the Rings caliber material.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For Deathstalker