Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Sometimes I really miss out on what's on in the theatres. Other times, I just never get around to renting those older films that used to yellow on the VHS rental racks at neighbourhood video stores.
In the case of The Prestige, I was a little reluctant to see either of the two magician films that were released within months of each other in late 2006. All I remember at the time was that one (The Illusionist) had Paul Giamatti and the other (The Prestige) had Hugh Jackman. Now I'm also recalling that one had Jessica Biel and the other had Scarlett Johansson, and both of them slept with Justin Timberlake, which reminds me of two things: 1) Entertainment Weekly's website has become far too Perez Hiltony for my tastes, and 2) The Lake is also starring in this year's second rom/com about friends with benefits... I think the movie might actually be called Friends with Benefits. Oh, well...
Point is, when Hollywood does that double movie thing (1997's Dante's Peak and Volcano, 1998's Deep Impact and Armageddon), I usually end-up staying away from both as some sort of protest.
I don't know if I'll bother with The Illusionist, but I just got around to seeing Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, and I'm happy to report that I was hooked from the get-go. To me, this film was a real piece of work. Ebert complained that it went way off the rails in the end, and I completely see his point, but I was up for making the leap with the movie and mixing the metaphor here. There was one twist that was pretty hard to miss on some levels from early on, but the story, to me, was pretty damn satisfying at the end. This was a lovely precursor to Inception and just a very cool story about old magic, with a bit of fantasy magic and legendary real-world science thrown-in. Mom and dad, I highly recommend this one to you both. Mom - you'll love the puzzle of it.
As I was dropping The Prestige off at the video shop near my apartment, I spotted Michael Cimino's 1978 Vietnam War Drama, The Deer Hunter on a back shelf gathering dust. This is early De Niro, Christopher Walken, and (surprise to me) Meryl Streep! How had I not gotten around to seeing this?
I watched this one on my own over three nights, which is pretty much right as it is divided into three "acts" over three hours.
Wow. Not everything worked for me over such a span, but what needed to was a knockout. The much talked-about Russian roulette scenes (most notably the first one) is just brilliant screen-writing. The situational horror and rolling of the dice in order to create one's only chance of escape was just overwhelming. Descents into madness which somehow seemed even more immediate to me than Apocalypse Now. As for pure tension written for the screen, the closest thing I can compare it to would be the petri dish sequence in John Carpenter's awesome 1982 remake of The Thing.
More importantly than all that though is that De Niro and Walken centre the film with such incredible volatility. The two worlds that the film inhabits are both far-removed from my experience, but it was refreshing to have a movie take its time and just settle into letting its characters reveal themselves, and letting its story unfold.
Powerful film-making, of course - I'm just late to the party, or funeral as it were.