Movie Quote Monday!

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“You never understood why we did this. The audience knows the truth: the world is simple, and miserable. Solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you could make them wonder, and then you… then you got to see something really special. You really don’t know? It was the look on their faces…”

-Robert Angier on performance, The Prestige

My Faves: The Prestige

Most of the time, my M.O. on this blog is to review movies that are new to me. Not necessarily to anyone else, but new to me. Sometimes, though, I feel the need to rave about a movie that I’ve seen many times, or even grown up with, because it’s one of my faves. And since I currently find myself between televisions, and there’s not much playing at the theatres near me, I figure this is the perfect time to start.

Christopher Nolan is my favourite director. I love every movie I’ve seen by him, which is all of them except for Memento and Following. But if I had to pick my favourite Nolan movie of all time, I’d probably have to go with The Prestige.

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For those who haven’t seen it, this is a movie about two magicians in Victorian-era London who start out as friends, but become enemies when one of them sees his wife die and blames the other. They start a rivalry that becomes increasingly deadly as each magician goes to more and more desperate lengths to destroy the other’s career.

There are so many reasons why this movie is amazing. One is the acting. The main characters are played by Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine, and they’re all amazing as usual. Christian Bale, in particular, gives the most impressive performance I’ve ever seen from him. Granted, I haven’t seen all of his more acclaimed performances, but the role he has in this movie is so incredibly challenging, and he pulls it off so well, that it’s hard to imagine anything topping it. Also, this is one of the few movies where you get to hear his real accent, so that’s fun. Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine are also amazing, but then, when are they ever not?

This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to seeing Batman fight Wolverine. I’ll take it.

I really like movies that make me think, which is a big reason why I love Nolan so much. Like many of his other films, this one left me scratching my head, trying to piece together the clues the director left throughout the story, and really wanting to watch it again immediately. But whereas movies like Inception and Interstellar felt like puzzles to be solved, this movie feels more like a mystery. Everything hinges on the characters’ motivations, and how far they’re willing to go to get what they want, and it all builds up to a truly chilling reveal. The movie’s more than 10 years old, but I still won’t spoil it, because if there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t seen the movie, I would hate to be the person who ruined their experience. It’s one of the best-executed twist endings I’ve ever seen.

I think one reason the ending works so well is the same reason the magicians’ tricks work. At the beginning, Michael Caine explains the three parts of a magic trick: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige (terms which I’m pretty sure were made up for this movie, by the way). They correspond perfectly to the three-act structure of the film. We’re shown an “ordinary” situation–two rivals who want revenge–and then the story does something to it, twisting it in an unexpected way. And then at the end, we get the prestige, in which everything is explained and resolved. Throughout the movie, the screenplay and cinematography use sleight of hand and misdirection just like the two magicians do, to make you think you’re seeing one thing when you’re actually seeing something else. And the resolution, just like in every magic trick, is a lot simpler than you might expect.

“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it, because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.”

I tend to judge screenplays by how well I remember them after seeing a movie. And there are so many lines in this movie that stuck with me long after I watched it. It only took one viewing for me to be able to quote Michael Caine’s opening monologue almost verbatim. There are so many other memorable lines, too: “Exact science is not an exact science.” “No one cares about the man in the box.” “Are you watching closely?” Etc., etc. And hidden within that great dialogue is a ton of subtle foreshadowing and symbolism that you don’t always pick up until the third or fourth viewing.

I also like this movie because I’m a big fan of steampunk–the idea of incorporating sci-fi elements into a Victorian setting. There aren’t enough good movies set in a steampunk world, but The Prestige is one of them. While it doesn’t go too crazy with the gears and gyros, it definitely has some strong steampunk elements to it. Because, oh yeah, did I mention Nikola Tesla is in this movie? Played by David Bowie, of all people? Yep. Anytime you see Tesla in a story that is not based on historical fact, you know some weird, brilliant steampunk stuff is coming. If ever there was a mad scientist in real life, it was Tesla. I love that guy.

“Nothing is impossible, Mr. Angier. What you want is simply expensive.”

But anyway, the heart of this movie is not in its magic tricks and decorations. Once you make it through all the various layers of mystery, it becomes a story about some guys who let an obsession get the better of them. There’s the obvious commentary on the dangers of seeking revenge, but personally, I think this is much more than a revenge movie. It really seems more like an exploration of the dark side of art, especially the performing arts–how the desire to make something beautiful can sometimes drive creators to do very ugly things.

This is a dark movie–probably Nolan’s darkest, that I’ve seen, aside from Insomnia. There’s not really a “hero” to root for, since all the main characters do a lot of awful things, and the ending isn’t exactly the “happily ever after” type. But for me at least, it touches emotional chords that very few other movies do. Usually, when you see movies about making art (which is essentially what this movie is), they portray it as this magical, transformative thing that brings all kinds of beauty to the world. Not that many movies have the guts to point out that art (not to mention the artists who make it) has an ugly side. It can be manipulative and deceptive and even deadly. And is it worth it, in the end? Do we love art and entertainment because it makes us better people and shows us more about the world, or do we just “want to be fooled?”

“The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.”

I don’t know, but every time I watch this movie, I find another piece of it to analyse. It’s a multi-layered story in which every layer is packed with great acting, great writing, great cinematography, and Nikola Tesla as portrayed by David Bowie. I can’t stress that last part enough, because honestly, where else are you ever going to see something as crazy awesome as that?

I’m not going to give grades in my Faves reviews, because it should just be assumed that they’re all A+ unless stated otherwise. This one is truly a masterpiece, and it deserves just as much love as any other Nolan movie, if not more so. If you haven’t seen The Prestige, I’d highly recommend doing so. If you have seen it, I’d highly recommend watching it again.

And again, and again, and again, and again…

Logan

Well, this year’s round of superhero movies is off to a fantastic start. First it gave us the first good Batman movie in years, and now it’s given us the first good Wolverine movie…ever.

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Logan takes place in 2029, a time when semi trucks drive themselves and robots have taken over the farming business, but other than that, not much has changed. Except that the X-Men are gone and mutants in general are all but extinct. Wolverine (who prefers to go by his dog tag name now) is eking out a living as a limo driver on the Mexican border, while caring for an increasingly senile Charles. While the former Professor X’s mind is wearing out, so is Logan’s body, thanks to a mysteriously reduced healing factor. Life seems pretty pointless and grim for the former hero, until one day a woman shows up begging for his help to transport a little girl to a place called “Eden” in Canada. He quickly learns that this is no ordinary little girl–she’s a genetically engineered mutant with a posse of evil scientists and cybernetically enhanced soldiers after her…and she’s got a very familiar-looking set of claws. Though reluctant at first, Logan eventually agrees to help Laura (also known as X-23), and so he, Charles, and the girl set off on the bloodiest road trip since Mad Max.

The X-Men movies have always been pretty hit-or-miss. For every X2, there’s been an Origins: Wolverine. For every First Class, we got a Last Stand. One movie would have interesting characters and fun action, and the next would have…none of that. And the franchise hasn’t had a coherent continuity in years. But I think I can say with confidence that Logan is not only the best X-Men movie thus far, but probably the best one we’re ever going to get.

To be fair, I’m sure plenty of real X-Men comic books included dinosaurs.

One slightly odd thing about it is that, not only does it establish that X-Men comics exist in this universe, but one of them is even a major plot point. This gives Logan a chance to say what he thinks about comic books: “Maybe a quarter of it happened, and not like this,” he rants at one point. “In real life, people die.”

Normally that’d sound rich coming from any of the X-Men, especially Wolverine, but in this movie, it feels very appropriate. This movie is all about mortality–and by that, I don’t just mean that lots of people die in it. Although they do. But even when you take away all the gory death, most of the story is just Logan and Charles dealing with how much it sucks to get old. Wolverine, once the most battle-hardened, invincible warrior in his universe, needs reading glasses and ibuprofen. Professor X, who used to be able to see the minds of everyone on the planet at once, barely knows who he is anymore. Their reactions to being brought down by time this way range from comic to tragic, and they’re relatable and honest in a way very few action movies, and certainly no X-Men movies, have ever shown us. After all, in real life, people do die, no matter how strong or smart they were to begin with, and they don’t come back the next time the writers feel like making a few more bucks. So as you get older, how do you respond to that knowledge? How do you go out with style, and how do you leave behind a legacy worth remembering? Those are the questions this movie asks. They’re a heck of a lot better than, “Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning?”

One possible answer to those questions goes as follows: you pass the torch to a younger person. Which brings us to the fantastic ball of awesomeness known as Laura.

Here’s one child you don’t send to her room after a tantrum.

This kid is incredible. She may be 11 years old, but that doesn’t mean she can’t match Wolverine in both fighting skills and pure ferocity. And when the two of them fight side-by-side, it’s something to behold. Movies and TV have brought us a lot of tiny warriors over the years, but Laura still manages to establish herself as something unique. Unlike, say, Eleven from Stranger Things, you never get the sense that she’s vulnerable, even though, just like Eleven, she was raised in a lab as part of a science experiment. She always seems like she can take care of herself, and, if anything, it’s the rest of the world that needs to be protected from her. Like Charles says, she’s “very much like [Wolverine].” And over the course of the movie, the two of them form a sort of dysfunctional father-daughter relationship that eventually blossoms into something more meaningful. Wolverine, once the definition of a savage killing machine himself, now has to teach this girl how to be more human. It’s kind of a touching story, and is portrayed with a lot of subtlety and grace. If anyone’s worthy of taking up the Wolverine mantle after Hugh Jackman gives up the vein-popping business, it’s Laura.

I also have to give credit to Laura’s actor, Dafne Keen, who had never appeared in a theatrical movie before this one. She pulls off such a wide range of emotions, often with no dialogue, that her acting even looks impressive next to Hugh Jackman. Plus, I have a deep respect (and envy) for all people who are bilingual. Curse my stupid American brain!

Yes, Old Man Charles. You are right to judge.

I can’t believe this is still an issue nine years after The Dark Knight came out, but I saw a lot of under-12-year-olds in the theatre where I saw this, so I’ll say it again: just because it’s a superhero movie, that doesn’t mean it’s for kids. Children should be kept as far away from this movie as possible. It’s incredibly gory, laden with swearing, and just all-around dark and gloomy. But as long as people realise who its target audience is (you’d think the rating would be a clue), I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. When Deadpool first became a mega-hit, I was a little worried about the inevitable wave of R-rated superhero movies that would follow it. What if the directors of future Avengers, Superman, or–heaven forbid–Spider-Man movies took Deadpool‘s success as a free pass to fill their stories with gratuitous violence, profanity, and sex? But Wolverine has always felt like an R-rated character stuck in a PG-13 world. He’s supposed to be a half-crazy berserker whose weapon of choice is a set of huge metal claws, and yet in previous X-Men movies, he was always stuck in fights that were barely allowed to show blood. This movie gives him a chance to bloody those claws, and I feel like we’re seeing for the first time what this character was always supposed to be like.

He’s the best at what he does. And what he does isn’t very nice.

Not that some of the R-rated stuff doesn’t feel a little unnecessary. For example, I can understand Wolverine and the bad guys cussing like sailors, but Charles? Really? There’s also a flash of pointless nudity early on that feels like it was thrown in just because the filmmakers knew they could get away with it. On the other hand, this is the first Wolverine-centric movie in a while that hasn’t felt the need to show off Hugh Jackman’s backside, so you have to respect that.

Both Hugh and Sir Patrick Stewart have made it clear this will probably be their last X-Men film, which is sad, but I don’t think they could have ended on a higher note. Aside from the minor issues mentioned above, pretty much everything about this movie works. The acting is top-notch, as one would expect. The story is as subtle and thought-provoking as the action is intense and visceral. The cinematography, the music, the dusty desert landscapes where most of the film was shot…it all works together to create a great backdrop to a truly beautiful, tragic story. And the Johnny Cash song during the credits is just the icing on the cake.

Somehow, I think the Man in Black would approve of how his music is used in this movie.

Despite the film’s “in real life, people die” theme, I think should mention that it doesn’t ever feel like it’s actually dissing comic books. That X-Men comic I mentioned earlier actually becomes something of a symbol of hope by the end of the movie, showing that people–especially children–need happy stories in their lives. But this is the rare comic book movie that shows life more as what it is, than what we’d like it to be. And once in a while, you need that kind of story, too.

Grade: A