December 8, 2006


Movie Reviews: 'The Prestige' and 'Stranger than Fiction'

Here are a couple movie reviews. I've had some really fulfilling movie-viewing experiences in the last two weeks, the kind that really make you feel happy and appreciative of any moment life has to offer. The kind that make you aware of the transcendent nature of the universe and our role in it, and see clearly that life is a lot more substantial than just the day to day things we needlessly occupy our time with...

The Prestige

Last week I saw the film The Prestige with my friend Mike and I was very impressed. I didn't realize the term “prestige” meant the third part of a magician's act; but according to Wikipedia that's because the term was made up by the author for the book on which the movie is based, which is funny because I would have believed it otherwise. This film is directed by Christopher Nolan, and the screenplay is written by Christoper and his brother Jonathan Nolan. It stars Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlet Johanson, Piper Perabo, and Rebecca Hall. Warning this review does contain some movie spoilers. I figured out the trick ending (well both of them) of the Prestige pretty early on in the film (or at least; I think I had); the clues were there, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film whatsoever, and there are certainly things I didn't pick up on the first time watching it. I could see how the Nolans had planted several hints that if you didn't see the trick ending coming you could appreciate them during a second viewing.

One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is that the roles of protagonist and and antagonist are played by both main characters, each having a surprise ending, and each having emotional depth. As with many films that play with personal ethics and show various points of view for a single character, using non-linear story-telling is crucial. The acting was good by both leading characters, my only disappointment was that the second of the two trick-endings was what I expected. I wanted to be surprised by Hugh Jackman's version of The Transporting Man; but that aside, the movie was very well constructed with it's non-linear story-telling and stellar performances. Scarlett Johanson gets more than my benefit of the doubt ever since I fell in love with her character in Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation. The Prestige was definitely a great movie and lives up to it's name -- 4.5 out of 5.

Stranger than Fiction

Wow! I just saw the movie Stranger than Fiction (2006) and was blown away. Now I should say that while I LOVED it, this movie may not be everyones cup of tea (to use a lousy way over-used cliché). I went into this movie thinking that it was written by Charlie Kaufman (but I got to the movie a little late after getting somewhat lost on some back roads, buy hey Charlotte is a confusing city, and consequently I missed the opening credits) and I was very pleased with the content of the movie and how it well produced it was; so I was surprised that it wasn't written by and has nothing to do with Charlie Kaufman when I saw the closing credits. But I think it's worth noting that if you're a fan of movies written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Human Nature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) I believe you will enjoy this film. It has many of the themes that are common in Kaufman-written movies such as: an absurd story line, and complimentary oddly-disconcerting soundtrack, the characters go threw immense personal struggle that is extraordinary but shows a lot about our own human nature, and it makes you feel a lot of different emotions as you watch it. There must be some conspiracy going on here, because this really seems like it should be a Charlie Kaufman movie.

***spoiler warning***

The plot of the movie is: Will Ferrell's character lives a very simple life as an IRS auditor, then suddenly he begins hearing a voice in his head that narrates pieces of his life. Soon after this begins happening Ferrell's character is assigned auditing a young baker, played by Gylenhaal, who he immediately feels an attraction for; her character is snarky and hilarious and at first despises Ferrell's character by the nature of his job; but soon she sees a humbleness and humility in him that she finds endearing. Meanwhile everything the narrator says happens accurately, which is becoming very disconcerting to Ferrell's character, especially when he hears the narrator say: “little did he know” an action he takes would lead to his eminent death, and so Ferrell's character seeks out the advice of a literary expert, played by Hoffman. I love movies like this, where as a moviegoer you are asked to suspend your disbelieve of certain irrational aspects of the movie (another common thread to Charlie Kaufman movies), because when you think about it: life only makes sense because it does. That is to say: what reason is there really for why there would be so much order to this experience we've been taught to refer to as LIFE? There is of course no observable reason for there to be anything -- therefor not even any reason for us to have the capability to consider why there would be any observable reason for there to be anything, whatsoever.

The portrayal of the characters was fantastic. Dustin Hoffman, who plays a sage-like character, and Emma Thompson, as the writer of Will Ferrell's character's life and fate, were great. Will Ferrell is becoming one of my favorite actors. When Ferrell's character is asked by Hoffman's character: What is his favorite word? ...he responds: “Integer.” How perfect for someone whose career and personal life is obsessed with numbers to the level of OCD. You could really see the squareness and orderly world that Will Ferrell's character lived in threw the cinematography of this film. Which contrasted very poignantly with the total resistance to structure that Maggie Gylenhaal's character strives for. Maggie Gylenhaal is awesome in real life and in this movie! In this role she epitomizes everything that I think is sexy. Thank you Maggie for actualizing my fantasies on the big screen.

**Spoiler Warning**

As I was watching the film I felt conflicted about the impending ending. The whole movie is leading up the end, quite literally for the main character; so you feel conflicted as you watch it, you want everything to work out, but you also can't appreciate a story when the plot wraps up everything nicely which is not realistic. (But then what in this movie is meant to be realistic?) So I think some people may hate the ending because of it's simple and happy ending-style wrap-up of the story, but as I watched it, it occurred to me that the movie was in a way defying expectations, by allowing the main character to survive it also shows a transition of Emma Thompson's character, and doesn't take away from the choice to face his fate knowingly. ***spoilers over***

This movie belongs in my profound life-changing list of greatest movies of all time.