Big screen magic needs a rabbit in the hat
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE
Not nearly incredible enough, this stylish but timid film promised a farcical rivalry between bickering and fading Vegas superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) and an edgy upstart street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Of course one automatically thinks of former Vegas kings Siegfried & Roy and the current Criss Angel.
But what held such high promise in the posters and trailers for a crazy, over-the-top illusionist smack-down switches gears before midpoint and becomes a treacley sweet redemption story that tracks Steve Carrell’s Wonderstone through his humiliating fall from favor to the restoration of his cold heart and dead soul. Jim Carrey is the only one who seems to get the proper tone of the film with his insane portrayal of a masochistic trickster whose gimmick is that he has none. He really does burn and cut himself for the sake of the “illusion.” Olivia Wilde is a comely assistant who has little to do and Alan Akin steals the few scenes he’s in as a curmudgeonly TV magician in a retirement home. The outrageous stunt that precedes the final credits is what should have happened at midpoint. Then we’d have something to talk about and a trigger that would escalate the story to a climax deserving of the great premise of crazed, battling Vegas magicians. I was very disappointed at the relatively few “tricks” that were performed. Whether practical or CGI, we want to be dazzled and amazed by cinematic magic when we fork over our hard-earned cold cash to be taken away in a story that promises big laughs and wonderment. This is not a bad movie, it’s just not incredible enough. I did appreciate the quick disappearance of David Copperfield in a cameo, however.
New for home theater:
A ROYAL AFFAIR
This true story is a lavish-looking but modestly budgeted film about a doctor (Mads Mikkelsen) who seduces a queen (Alicia Vikander) and starts a revolution. The drama is built around a love triangle between the insane Danish King Christian VII, the royal physician who is a student of the enlightened age and the young Queen Caroline Mathilda. I was caught up in this sumptuous costume drama of single-minded idealists who risk their lives and their love not merely in the pursuit of happiness for themselves but for the freedom for their people. Nikolaj Arcel co-wrote and directed. Magnolia. Blu-ray
After the gargantuan success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the billion-dollar box office take of only part one of The Hobbit movie, it’s fun to look again at Ron Howard’s hobbit-like adventure from the land of Lucas. When young Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) finds an abandoned baby girl, he learns she is destined to end the reign of the wicked Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). In order to protect the child, Willow must team up with a rogue swordsman (Val Kilmer) and – big surprise — overcome the forces of darkness in an ultimate battle of good and evil. This new transfer, with never-before-seen exclusive bonus material, deserves fresh consideration. Digital effects were in their infancy. Look for a morphing sequence that was, for its time, state of the art. This was the movie where Val Kilmer met his future ex-wife Joanne Whalley. Keep an eye out for ideas from the Bible and fairy tales like Snow White. Producer George Lucas has even added bits of his own Star Wars saga! Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox. Blu-ray.
DAY OF THE FALCON
From Jean-Jacques Annaud, the award-winning director of Seven Years in Tibet and Enemy at the Gates, comes this “soaring epic of honor, greed, betrayal and love” that’s set in the Middle East during the early part of the 20th Century. After years of bloody conflict, the leaders of two rival kingdoms reluctantly agree to end their fighting. But when oil is discovered between their territories, the war is reignited.
Now it is up to their children – young lovers who have married in hopes of bringing their families together – to find a way to end the violence and bring peace to the land. Starring Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong, Freida Pinto and Tahar Rahim. The excellent score is by James Horner. RLJ Entertainment. Blu-ray.