Movie review

  • 2007-01-17
The Queen
The Prestige

The Queen
"The Queen" chronicles the events surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the crisis which occurred when the royal family's wish to deal with the tragedy privately clashed with the British public's desire for a public display of grief. Helen Mirren is excellent as Queen Elizabeth II, who weighs the counsel of her new Prime Minister against the advice of her own inner circle in a media-driven world quite different from the one in which she was raised. Bearing the weight of history with a quiet dignity, Mirren's Elizabeth is intelligent and complex. Michael Sheen is very good as Tony Blair, who guides his monarch through uncharted waters while defending her from the anti-monarchists within his own circle. Since I followed neither Diana's life nor death, the film's unraveling of real-life events piqued my interest. But "The Queen" exploits the legend of Diana more than it offers a satisfying portrait of Her Majesty, as Elizabeth competes for screen time with the late Diana. It was this monarch, after all, who presided over the dissolution of much of the British Empire in the last century which, in comparison to all the Diana scandals, was probably no small challenge.
1/2( Sherwin Das )

"The Queen" takes a supremely entertaining look at the extraordinary events surrounding Princess Diana's death and the monarchy's steadfast refusal to publicly react to the news. Helen Mirren is simply flawless as the queen, while Michael Sheen is almost as impressive as a considerably younger and more upbeat Tony Blair. I'm normally extremely wary of biopics but director Stephen Frears pulls this one off with such wit and intelligence that it's impossible not to like. "The Queen" is most remarkable for the way it reveals in epic fashion the symbolic relationship that exists between the media, the public and the institutional authorities. Mirren's queen is magnificently human, bewildered by the total disregard for protocol and the astonishing pace of events taking place beyond the walls of her Balmoral retreat. Blair is sympathetically portrayed as a man with a genuine admiration for the monarch and her outdated values. It remains to be seen just how accurate any of this really is, but Frears manages to create the voyeuristic illusion of being privy to intimate state secrets, much like the masses grieving Diana's death had the illusion of losing a dear friend. Liz couldn't have wished for a better PR coup than this. 
( Tim Ochser )

The Prestige
In "The Prestige" two magicians, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), compete for the attention of their theatre audience in turn-of-the-century London by attempting to outdo each other with breathtaking acts. Their bitter rivalry escalates when Alfred successfully stages an act in which he amazingly transports himself from one spot on the stage to another. Driven mad to replicate the act himself, Robert resorts to treachery and commissions a scientist to create the technology which could enable the feat. In the end, Robert seeks his competitor's utter destruction. Based on a novel, "The Prestige" is a decent film. A unique story with requisite plot twists and fine performances by Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie combine to provide two hours of engaging enough entertainment. Yet the movie fails to convincingly reveal what's behind our heroes' absurd obsessions. And frankly, I just couldn't buy into a film about two mad fools who engage in a deadly game trying to upstage each other. As I watched their bizarre rivalry spiral out of control, I kept wanting to shout at the screen, "It's just a magic trick, guys!"
( Sherwin Das )

After his recent "Bat-man Begins" outing, director Christopher Nolan clearly wanted to get back to the sort of intellectually titillating and structurally challenging stories he excels at. The trouble is that "The Prestige" is a slightly mixed bag of tricks. Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Bordman (Christian Bale) are magicians who become bitter rivals after Bordman leads to the death of Angier's wife during a magic trick. The two men become obsessed with each other as each one tries to outdo the other's act with inevitably disastrous consequences. "The Prestige" is certainly very enjoyable and Nolan uses the Victorian-era setting and extravagant subject matter to wonderful effect. In look and feel the movie is reminiscent of 1930s Hollywood in its gothic heyday. But although the convoluted story is deftly handled, complexity of plot does not quite add up to complexity of idea. It's one thing to perform an amazing conjuring trick with a narrative but it's another thing to make it credible. "The Prestige" might have been a great film but in the end it only manages to pull a damp squib out of the hat. Nevertheless, there are some brilliant moments and it's far better than most mainstream movies.
1/2( Tim Ochser )


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