Are You Watching Closely?: ‘The Prestige’

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The Prestige

“The Prestige” Review

Cast

Christian Bale…………….Alfred Borden
Hugh Jackman……………Robert Angier
Michael Caine…………….Cutter

Credits

Director……………………Christopher Nolan
Producers………………….Emma Thomas, Aaron Ryder, Christopher Nolan
Writers…………………….Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Here’s another Christopher Nolan masterclass. Not often do you hear of directors who have never made a bad movie. In fact, you practically never hear of them. And yet, Nolan defies logic. Yes, his career has only just begun, but in the 7 directorial attempts he has made, 7 have been very good movies. In fact, 5 out of his 7 movies appear on IMDb’s Top 250 movies of all-time. Yes, that list is based only on user views rather than on critic opinions, but nevertheless, it is no mean feat. And ‘The Prestige’ is one of Nolan’s better movies.

‘The Prestige’ is set in the late 19th century, in both England and America. It is about two magicians, two friends, who are torn apart after one of them blames the other for his wife’s accidental death during a magic trick. They both become successful rival magicians as time goes by; all the while sabotaging each other’s performance, up until one of them performs the ultimate illusion. The other becomes obsessed with finding out the trick to this illusion, but this produces a series of tragic consequences.

The film starts with Cutter’s voice (played by Michael Caine), speaking about how a magic trick has 3 parts: (1) The Pledge, (2), The Turn, and (3) the hardest and most important part, The Prestige. During this monologue, the film cuts to Robert Angier (Jackman) performing one of his magic tricks, minus the third part, The Prestige. Alfred Borden (Bale) slips under the stage during this trick, and watches Angier fall into a ‘water escape tank’, and watches him drown. We then watch a court scene, in which Cutter tries to prove to the jury that Borden killed Angier.

After this, the movie jumps into ‘non-linear’ mode for pretty much the rest of its 130-minute runtime. Nolan helps us travel back in time and move into the present seamlessly, and it is one element that really makes this movie great. Like in ‘Memento,’ events do not happen in perfect chronological order. Most scenes take place during flashbacks, and occasionally jump to the present. The past includes Angier’s travels to America, as well as his and Borden’s endeavours in England. The scenes that happen in the present are almost completely made up of Borden’s prison scenes.

The way that Nolan makes this non-linear screenplay logical is through the use of diaries. While in prison, Borden receives Angier’s diary, and many of the scenes depicted in the movie are flashbacks from the diary. But this isn’t when the movie gets confusing. Nolan takes it a step further by showing, in the flashbacks, Angier reading Borden’s diary, which, in a way, produces the effect of a flashback inside a flashback. And this is when it becomes a little hard to follow. But the way Nolan has made this film, he makes it acceptable for us to not fully comprehend what has happened at what time, while still understanding the basic gist of the movie.

Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall give us spot-on performances as the two main ladies of the film. David Bowie, who comes in a little later in the film, plays Nikola Tesla with energy and vigour. Bale and Jackman, give us excellent performances as the two magicians. However, the standout performer is Michael Caine, who plays Cutter perfectly, embracing the character flawlessly. From the character development and acting side, this is a pretty good movie, though not deserving of adjectives like ‘great’ or ‘brilliant.’ What makes this film deserve such titles is its art direction and cinematography, both of which it was nominated for at the Oscars. Nolan captures the setting perfectly, as well as the mood and tone of the rivalry of the two magicians. He gives us another trademark film-noir movie, and yet it doesn’t get old.

The way he has created the characters, and in particular the setting and mood, is something extraordinary. He captures the times wholesomely, and shows us what the people of the 19th century really thought of magic and illusions. While the story focuses on the two magicians, there is a parallel story going on between what some would call the ‘modern-day magicians.’ While Borden and Angier are sabotaging and topping each other’s tricks, much the same is happening between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. While the old-style magicians are battling away, the modern-magicians are doing exactly the same thing. The film brings out the old and the new, and clashes them against each other, and Nolan does this with surprising accuracy and dynamism.

While this may be a movie about two magicians, I think it is more about the battle of the new and the old. It shows us both sides of it, with the magicians Borden and Angier representing the old, and Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison representing the new. I believe this film is also about human nature, and what we would do for the ones we love, and the extents that we would go to, to become better than another. Rivalry is in our genes, and Nolan presents it to us vividly and, at the same time, truthfully.

Like the other movies I have reviewed, this is not for those people who want to just enjoy some action. This is for those of you who look for meaning in a movie, and enjoy thinking about the events that transpire rather than just being spoon-fed. No doubt, this movie has its exciting moments, though what it thrives on is its meaning and deepness. That’s why I believe it’s a better watch on the second viewing. Yes, on second viewing that big twist at the end no longer is a surprise, but on second viewing, we can truly understand the events which have happened, and we can look deeper into the film to find it full of meaning. At the end of the first viewing, you will feel more than a little confused, but as you have probably noticed, I like having to think about a movie long after it’s over. And this film will really make you think.

FINAL SCORE:

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Everything Fades: ‘Memento’

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Memento

“Memento” Review

Cast

Guy Pearce………………….Leonard
Joe Pantoliano……………..Teddy
Carrie-Anne Moss…………Natalie

Credits

Director………………………Christopher Nolan
Producers……………………Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd
Writers……………………….Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan

What Nolan has created here is something phenomenal. “Memento” is unlike any other movie you will have seen. Sure, certain elements of it may seem like they’re taken from elsewhere, but the way these elements are combined and put together, it’s something novel.

The movie begins with a man getting shot. We don’t know where we are, who the characters are, or what’s happening. Just, BAM! We can vaguely make out the face of the man who’s about to close his eyes for the last time, but we don’t really know who this man is until the next scene. Wait, next scene? I thought he was dead.

That’s true. And also not true. That is what makes Nolan’s ‘Memento’ such a breathtaking movie. It is told backwards. After that opening scene, in the next scene, we see the lead-up to the murder. And in the scene after that, we see the lead-up to the lead-up to the murder, and so on. Sounds confusing? It’s meant to be, considering the story and our protagonist.

The story. Yes. In short, it is about a man, suffering from short-term memory loss, who is out to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. But, with short-term memory loss, wouldn’t it be hard to find a murdered? That’s why our ‘memory man’ (which he is often referred to as in the film) uses notes and tattoos to help him stay focused. We see these tattoos in the second or third scene, and we notice the biggest one plastered across his chest: “John G. raped and murdered my wife.” Nice thing to see every time you go to brush your teeth isn’t it?

Memory man, whose name is actually Leonard (played by Guy Pearce), uses a Polaroid camera to take pictures of all the important pictures in his life: people, places, objects, anything that is worth remembering. Wait, let’s back it up a bit. A while ago, Leonard was married, and had a wife, and a nice house. One fine night, while his wife was in the bathroom, two junkies (probably too high to tell a whistle from an airplane) entered Leonard’s house, and raped his wife. When Leonard heard this, he rushed to the bathroom, with a gun in hand, and shot one of the two. The other one crept up on Leonard from behind and smashed his head on to the bathroom mirror. Leonard fell to the ground, bleeding, lying next to his dead wife. And after that, he doesn’t remember a thing.

Now, his memory resets periodically (every 15 minutes or so), and everything is new to him again. He has retained all of his memory up until the ‘incident,’ and after that, remembers nothing besides what has happened in the last 10 minutes. He remembers that his wife was raped and killed, and sets off on a journey to find the man who killed his wife, constantly tattooing important facts to his body, or taking pictures of significant things, and writing down what they are. It is the only way he remembers. Even the people he has met, he can only remember for about 15 minutes, and after that, they’re gone. Everything fades.

And while the regular story is told to us (backwards), there is a side-plot going on, which talks of one of Leonard’s old cases as an insurance investigator. The case concerned a man named Sammy, who had short-term memory loss, so it relates to Leonard’s predicament indirectly.

Because Leonard can only remember events which transpired over the last quarter-hour, Nolan has introduced this method of storytelling in ‘Memento.’ He wants the audience to feel what Leonard feels, to be just as confused as Leonard is, and that’s why he tells it backwards. By no means is Leonard living life backwards, Nolan is simply using this device of reverse-chronology to make us feel in tune with the protagonist, and his triumphs and defeats. But it’s not just the chronology of events that make this movie so great. The way Nolan tells this story, each and every facet of it, he makes us feel completely engrossed. We are not simply watching Leonard as he tries to remember things and attempts to find his wife’s killer; we are Leonard. We are trying to find the killer; not him, but us.

During his journey, Leonard meets a few people, like Teddy (Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss). Both Pantoliano and Moss – who worked together in ‘The Matrix’ – give us picture-perfect performances. Or at least, as close to perfect as possible. As for Leonard, Guy Pearce dishes out a strangely moving performance, despite his character’s lack of emotion. Pearce makes us sympathize with Leonard, and Nolan mirrors this notion throughout the film.

This movie, overall, is an absorbing experience. It has everything, a great director, brilliant performances, several layers, and a mood and tone that can only be described as being similar to film-noir, one of Nolan’s trademarks. It even has a backwards story to boot. This film shows us the preciousness of memory, and what could happen if that precious thing is taken away from a man. In some cases, like Leonard, they will have an objective in life which is the only real purpose they have left, whereas in other cases, like Sammy’s, they will have nothing to live for. It can destroy a man to not know what he did yesterday, or the people he met last week, or what he ate for breakfast. This story is of a man who overcomes everything for one reason: Love. He lives to avenge his wife, and for nothing else.

I would advise this movie for only the people who want a good brain workout. If you’re looking to watch a movie as a time-pass, and just looking to enjoy a blaze of gunfire or the like, you won’t find it here. There is no doubt that after watching this film, you will leave the room utterly confused, I can assure you. And for that, a second viewing might be necessary, and that is when you will truly comprehend the work that Nolan has created. On the second viewing, it just got better, I was able to figure out what exactly was going on, and yet feel completely immersed in the film, despite having watched it before. It is a truly brilliant movie, and will really make you think, and that’s why I love it.

FINAL SCORE:

DiCaprio-Scorsese: ‘Shutter Island’

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Shutter Island

“Shutter Island” Review

Cast

Leonardo DiCaprio………….Teddy Daniels
Mark Ruffalo………………….Chuck Aule
Ben Kingsley…………………Dr. John Cawley
Max von Sydow………………Dr. Jeremiah Naehring

Credits

Director………………………Martin Scorsese
Producer……………………..Dennis Lehane
Writers………………………..Laeta Kalogridis and Dennis Lehane

What a combination they are. DiCaprio. Scorsese. Gangs Of New York. The Aviator. The Departed. All fantastic movies, especially the last one. And they reunited again in 2010 with the thriller, “Shutter Island”.

‘Shutter Island’ is no ordinary movie. On the surface, it may seem like there is nothing spectacular about it. But, like they say, never judge a book by its cover. Only once you delve into this thrilling movie will you know just how spectacular it is.

This film is set in 1954, and is about two U.S. Marshals, Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), and Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), who come to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a murderer from a hospital for the criminally insane, on the remote Shutter Island. Oh, and she escaped while her cell doors were locked, in a ward that was locked, in a fortress with walls which could withstand cannon fire, on an island several miles away from civilization, with tons of ice-cold water surrounding it. That too, in the middle of a ferocious hurricane. And she left her shoes. Interesting? I believe so.

From the moment the opening sequence rolls, we get a feeling of gloom. The soundtrack accompanies this movie brilliantly, not overshadowing the film itself, but adding to it just perfectly to bring about a sense of forlorn dread and dismay. And from the moment we step on to the island, we can feel that there seems to be something off about it. The correctional officers at every corner, all with loaded guns, the electric fencing, the towering walls, it all adds to the feeling of dread. Even the seemingly cheery deputy warden feels as though he’s holding something back. In other words, it is ‘film noir’ at its height.

To further add to this feeling, we meet the two doctors in charge of the facility: Dr. Cawley (Kingsley) and a little later, Dr. Naehring (von Sydow). In particular, Kingsley’s character is the one who gives us the feeling of insecurity, and uptightness. The latter, Dr. Naehring, is much more straightforward as far as his traits go. His emotionless look gives away the menace inside him, which actually makes his character quietly terrifying. Scorsese does a great job of making all these elements combine to give us the sense that something sinister is happening on this island.

In terms of character development, Scorsese chips away at the protagonist in little bits and pieces; these bits and pieces generally consist of flashbacks into his traumatic work in the army during World War II. He slowly but surely peels layer after layer off of Daniels’ character, and all of it using the simple technique of flashbacks. The more we see these flashbacks, the more we start to get confused, and we will remain this way until the film’s chilling conclusion.

In terms of story, this one is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. Every time we see the protagonist have a personal triumph, the film uncovers something new to oppose the fleeting victory. And this is how Scorsese brings forward the plot. The story throws at us a string of questions? How did the woman escape? Why do the doctors seem like they are concealing something? Why does this facility give Daniels flashbacks? And all of these questions are answered in one fell swoop near the very end of the movie. And if you thought the film was over there, you would be wrong, because Scorsese gives us one final twist at the end of the final scene. And that last line gives us an insight into Daniels’ mind, one final insight before the film closes.

And when the ending credits roll, you will probably find yourself not moving, not getting up, not changing the channel or ejecting the DVD, for at least a few seconds. You will probably ponder what exactly happened in this movie for a few days. At least, that’s what I did. What did the ending mean? The question went through my mind for quite a while.

For some people, this movie might be best on first viewing. In my opinion, the second time I watched this, it became even better. I knew what was going to happen, what the ending was, and the fact that I still went though movie’s 140-minute runtime is a tribute to Scorsese’s class, and the masterpiece he has created. I discovered many nooks and crannies to the story that I otherwise wouldn’t have if I didn’t watch it a second time, and it made the story even better.

Martin Scorsese has created something different, and not something perfect. For sure, this movie isn’t perfect. It lacks certain elements, but that’s what makes it so good. It leaves a lot to the viewer. You can look at it wonder about the ifs and the maybes for a long time, and it makes you think. Scorsese hasn’t tried to close ever story or tie up every loose end, and yet the story seems wholly satisfying, while still leaving room for us to think about some of the things that weren’t shown.

This film is several layers deep, though it won’t feel like it on first viewing. Though it doesn’t require a lot of brain to watch, it does however require a lot of thinking to fully understand the movie. By no means have I understood it completely, and yet I say that this is a great movie. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a movie which isn’t one-dimensional, and I would rate it as one of the better movies I have ever watched.

FINAL SCORE: