Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Do You Believe in Magic? - 11/25

Thanksgiving has come and gone – hope you and yours had a happy holiday. Satanica and spent the early part of the day with my parents, and the evening with Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny at the behest of Oblisk the Tormentor, the world’s biggest Tenacious D fan. I have not seen any of Jack Black & Kyle Gass’ HBO show, but I did catch them performing a song called “Tribute” on Fox’s late night Mad TV show one year. The movie is an entertaining diversion, much funnier than the last theatrical comedy we shelled out money for (Borat), kind of a blood-brother to Bill & Ted and Beavis & Butthead Do America.

Also this weekend, we headed out to see Darren Arronofsky’s first film since Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, starring Hugh Jackman & Rachel Weisz. Essentially a big budget art film, the movie watches two people in three different time periods, all searching for the Tree of Life/Fountain of Youth as a way to stave off impending death. The film, largely concerned with exploring death and the dying process, is elliptical in its narrative but still an extraordinarily powerful & unique filmic experience.

On Saturday, we invited the gang over for this week’s movie, Magic, from 1978. Magic has been championed for months by both Oblisk and Clark Kent aka Superman, each of which had seen the film initially when they were very young and upon whom it had left significant impressions.

As an unrelated warmup, this week’s short was one of Eli (Hostel) Roth’s Rotten Fruit webisodes, originally created for the website. The episode in question, Battle of the Bands, displays the type of sick humor that had become an Eli Roth staple (brought to fruition in Cabin Fever) as the Rotten Fruit murder their boy-band competition in a host of splatter film-inspired ways.

Magic stars a young Anthony Hopkins as Corky, a failed magician who develops a clever gimmick – using ventriloquism and a wooden dummy named Fats as his sidekick / distraction. Their R-rated ventriloquist’s / magic act eventually attract the attention of entertainment agent Ben Greene (Burgess MeredIth, one year after his Oscar nomination for Rocky). After NBC offers Corky an opportunity to star in his own TV show, Corky, fearing the contractual medical examination, retreats to the country where he seeks refuge at a bed and breakfast run by his old high school crush, Peggy Ann Snow (a luscious Ann-Margaret).

Scenes that place Corky alone with Fats reveal why he may be averse to medical exams as he carries on lengthy conversations with the doll, who often voices his inner desires. As Corky begins a romance with Peggy, Fats becomes jealous, and Corky’s grip on his sanity begins to slip further as the situation becomes complicated by the arrival of Peggy’s husband (Ed Lauter) and a sudden re-appearance by Greene.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Magic a taut psychological thriller that continually turns the screws on it’s Norman Bates-ish anti-hero in a suspenseful, Hitchcockian style. We identify with the villain and empathize with him as he works to keep his criminality undiscovered. That the pic was directed by the sure hand of class-act director Richard Attenborough should come as no surprise, and the screenplay is credited to old pro William Goldman (based on his novel), who knows a few things about both the inside of the entertainment industry and tense psychological thrillers.

Anthony Hopkins throws himself into a complex roll, one that leads one to wonder just how much of his ventriloquist dialogues with Fats were recorded live on set and how many (if any) were dubbed later. Ann-Margaret radiates that ageless sensuality that has served her so well, from Viva Las Vegas to Grumpy Old Men (again w/ Meredith) and beyond (shudder…Santa Clause 3). Burgess Meredith, in his 1000th acting gig, provides that dependable Burgess Meredith magic that sustained him through countless episodes of Batman and The Twilight Zone on his way to Oscar bait.

Goldman’s thriller cred also includes screenwriting Rob Reiner’s tense adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery, as well as the original version of The Stepford Wives (off of Ira Levin’s novel) and Marathon Man (we’ll forget that he also adapted King’s Dreamcatcher). Attenborough is probably most recognizable in front of the camera as an actor in Steven Speilberg’s Jurassic Park, or as Santa in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. He’s directorial credits include Gandhi, Chaplin, A Bridge Too Far, and the Apartheid drama Cry Freedom.


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