OK, I admit I am including The Prestige because any movie with David Bowie playing Nikola Tesla has to be worth viewing. And it's
worth viewing more than once. The first time around, the ending seems to be literally a deus ex machina. But upon the second
show, you can see how it was set up right from the opening. And it is quite clever, I must admit--in one scene, Michael Caine
literally tells us what the "trick" is, but, as with the audiences in the movie, we do not want the truth to spoil the illusion.
Anyway, The Prestige is about the competition between two late Victorian
magicians, played by aristocratic Hugh Jackman and plebian Christian Bale. And how this obsession leads to what could be mutual
self-destruction. It's definitely dark side, but you can see the film's stage shows as metaphors for the illusions under which
people today want to live their lives. Director Christopher Nolan's theme
comes down to people not wanting to know the truth because they'd rather believe that there's magic on the other side of the
lights. Still, there are some real moments, such as the scenes between Bale and his daughter. A man overcomes seeming destruction
by a society rigged against him in order to maintain his family.
As for Jackman's magician, the machine that he commissions
Tesla to invent shows what man can accomplish when he sets his mind to it. The illusion is made real by the application of
superior will and science. Man transcends the limits of the world set against him. There is a moment of triumph when Jackman,
after performing the greatest legerdemain of all, proclaims that "Man's reach exceeds his imagination!"
Let's get back to Bowie as Tesla. Tesla first appears amidst a halo of electric
arcs, and is shown as bringing light unto the world via the electrification of the town surrounding his laboratory aerie.
Prometheus and all that sort of thing. But the thing, of course, is that Tesla was a historical scientist, and his inventions did much to create the modern world. Like alternating current. And those fabulous
Tesla Coils that you can see demonstrated at museums and planetariums. The Prestige
is set at the nexus of the 19th and 20th centuries, when the modern world was being created by men such as Tesla. And it was
men, mostly, who invented this magic turned real, of electricity and airplanes and computers and everything else taken for
granted. Men such as Tesla were and are the true wizards. Something to inspire us as the 21st century marches on...
ME IF YOU CAN
There's a scene in here where Leonard DiCaprio, playing
impersonator and check fraudster Frank Abagnale, jr., is in a hallway of a five star hotel, wearing a Saville Row suit and
watching Miss Teen America approaching him while the 1960s pop classic "The Look of Love" plays on the soundtrack. The scene
is right of Frank's James Bond fantasies which he has been living on other people's money. All the more incredibly, Miss Teen
America propositions him. This is the life, right? But it is only when they are back in his penthouse suite that the truth
comes out: Miss Teen America these days is working as a very high priced escort and is into Frank only for his money.
The encounter shatters Frank's fantasy, but
he turns it around quickly, conning her out of several hundred dollars by a quick ruse. Even so, the scene gives pause
as we consider the facade of modern media society, and how it might be shattered. Behind the media propaganda there's
a lot of mutual self-delusion. And Frank is financing his way through the delusion largely by check fraud which gives the
movie a certain dark aspect. Miss Teen America was, after all, trying to make an honest exchange of sex for money and he defrauds
It isn't so much the money he's into, the
movie seems to be telling us, but rather the prestige of living the life, whether
as a James Bond surrogate, a Pan Am pilot (remember Pan Am? It's back again, at least on cable television), or a country lawyer
engaged to the girl next door.
Catch Me If You Can has some things of interest for MRAs. Frank's relationship
with his father (Christopher Walken) is portrayed positively. Later on, Tom Hanks' FBI agent Carl Hanratty takes over as mentor,
bringing Frank to the good side. And there is an attempt in there to justify the various acts of fraud as a sort of Capra-esque
escapade of the little guy against the big banks. But it does not quite wash. He tried to live other people's dreams, and
it is not until the end that he liberates himself, we are told, as he begins to create his own career as a security consultant.
Compare Catch Me If You Can to Fight Club to see how what American men value
changed over a half century. In Fight Club, men who have the dream reject it and the media which propagates it in
favor of living real lives.
(Oh yeah, the "Look of Love" scene actually
was lifted from the 1967 satiric version of Casino Royale, with Peter Sellers as
one of several Bonds, and Ursula Andress as the object of his desire.)
CASINO ROYALE (1967)
am going to go out on a limb and include the 1967 film version of Casino Royale,
the one with David Niven as James Bond. And Peter Sellers as James Bond. And Woody Allen as James Bond. And...
the history of this Casino Royale is worth studying for movie buffs, and you can
go to the usual online suspects for their take on it. It was meant as a parody way back in the Swingin' 60s, but takes on
a much more deeper dimension in these decadent days half a century later (that long!). I first saw Casino Royale in a cut up version on television (this was back when I had a television). Over the years, I saw
it in several more cuts, each spliced together differently to accommodate the vicissitudes of commercial broadcasting. I finally
saw it complete and on the big screen at the Nuart in Santa Monica,
a revival house of sorts, and well...
opening is lowkey, Peter Sellers meets a police inspector in a Paris
street. It has some cheap laughs, yet for some reason the scene evokes a time when adults were still in control of the situation.
A zen moment of calm in the midst of the coming chaos. In the following sequence, David Niven, playing a retired Sir James
Bond, tells the assembled chiefs of the world's great spy agencies that they have become jokes, their organizations addicted
to gimmickry and their agents addicted to women. As he observes, "it's depressing that the words 'secret agent' have become
synonymous with 'sex maniac'." Sir James is called out of his rural idyll to save spies everywhere who are being knocked
off by some mysterious nemesis using nubile females as bait and assassins. Bond then defeats a castle full of femme fatales,
overcoming the temptations of the flesh and sending their matron into a nunnery. Later, when he takes over MI-5 (or is it
MI-6? the movie confuses the two), Sir James trains his agents to aggressively resist seduction. MGTOW at an early stage,
the movie's evil mastermind, wants to create a world in which all women are beautiful and he is the tallest man. It's the
writ global, only portrayed as something which must be defeated in order to maintain civilization. Not insignificantly, Doctor
Noah succumbs to temptation, falls for "the girl", and goes into a literal self-destruct cycle. Sex is death in Casino Royale (1967). I've commented in my review of Excalibur how
the Grail Knight who overcomes the temptations of the flesh is the true hero. This is a theme Casino Royale pushes,
and at the highpoint of the so-called Sexual Revolution. Maybe we're on to something here, too many men falling for the
promise (largely unfulfilled) of a world full of sexually liberated women in exchange for their own freedom.
Casino Royale is broken up into several chapters, each parodying a
different spy movie genre. In one, Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet) finds herself in a surrealist Cold War Berlin, taking on the bad guys ala film noir. Later, Peter Sellers, in Bond's casino maven
avatar, challenges SMERSH honcho Le Chiffre (Orson Welles, of all people) to a deadly game of baccarat. This sequence is one
of the few elements of the original Ian Fleming novel to make it through intact to the screen and Welles hams it up nicely,
magic tricks and all. The movie ends with an extended battle in the Bad Guy's underground stronghold which spills into the
eponymous casino. The over indulgence actually is an omen, a foretaste of where the mainline Bond series would be going in
years following. In this, Casino Royale (1967) was
ahead of its time, though the explosive ending was perhaps to put an end to all of that!
is one more reason I wanted to include Casino Royale (1967). The movie is a historical
record, a filmed snapshot, showing the world as it once was before everything disintegrated into a frenzy of media-driven
consumerism and feminazi idiocy. 1967 was perhaps the last time when (to sound cliche) men were men and women were women.
Each sex had their strengths, and each had their values. Today? I need not comment on the hash that has been made of everything.
To draw from Austin Powers, it's as if the bad guys from some Bond movie really
did take over the world, only nobody noticed. Casino Royale comes down to men fighting
a war against an unrestrained libido, the eternal feminine, which threatens to undo millennia of civilization.
it's the middle of the night, time to shut this thing down. But before we do, let's consider one exchange from Casino Royale which sums up the current crisis:
The Detainer: You're
crazy. You are absolutely crazy!
Jimmy Bond: People called Einstein crazy.
The Detainer: That's
not true. No one ever called Einstein crazy.
Jimmy Bond: Well, they would
have if he'd carried on like this.
James Caan is a man who has lived life on
his own terms, and he takes pride in his craftsmanship. But as the title of the movie indicates, his craft is stealing other
people's property. This makes the movie morally ambiguous from my POV (that's "point of view" in Hollywood-ese), but as usual,
we have to look at this symbolically. Caan is a safecracker, and he specializes in high stakes diamond heists. One day he
meets a woman (Tuesday Weld) and decides he wants the middle class lifestyle. He makes a deal with a mob boss (Robert Prosky).
Prosky sets up Caan and Weld with a dream house in the suburbs, an adopted son, and what appears to be a guaranteed future
of investments in money laundered shopping malls. But he is also setting up Caan as the deal(naturally) quickly turns sour.
Caan finds out that he is no longer his own man. He's little more than a tool for Prosky, to be disposed of when dead, busted
or burned out. Prosky's friendly demeanor was a facade to sucker in Caan. But Caan is not taking this lying down. He gets
rid of the family, torches his house and used car dealership, and then takes on Prosky in the latter's stronghold.
Thief has a lot more going for it today than when it was
released some three decades ago. At that time, the movie came off as something of a cynical commentary on the American dream.
Of course, back then men could still look forward to a reasonably stable marriage, children, the house in the suburbs, the
upwardly mobile job. Today, MRAs know how much of that world has gone south. Even the movie's cops fit into this dystopia:
they try to shake down Caan to get a piece of his action. He finds that he has to go his own way, and in the final scene,
walks off into the night, alone, minus his worldly goods, but free. You can say it is a Zen sort of thing, abjuring
all the things one desires in order to achieve enlightenment. Or maybe just leave nothing behind for the courts to loot.
I put Thief into the Iffy category since Caan plays his role a little too hardcase. His thief character
is not particularly sympathetic, though maybe that is the point. Another interesting thing: when making his mephistophelean
deal, Caan tells Prosky that he will not do "home invasions". Ironically, the climax of the movie has Caan pulling off precisely
just such an invasion, breaking into Prosky's MacMansion and giving the boss terminal notice. As the anarchist slogan goes,
"Resist and Exist!"
Katie Holmes is Leigh Ann, a high school senior
who will do anything to become class valedictorian, even locking down the one teacher who stands in her way: Mrs. Tingle,
played with sadistic aplomb by Helen Mirren. Actually, Leigh Ann didn't start out to be a criminal, but a chain of circumstances
pushes her and her two chums Jo Lynn (Marissa Coughlin) and Luke (Barry Watson) into tying up Tingle in the bedroom of the
latter's Victorian abode which seems to be one renovation away from manifesting as a haunted house.
I included Teaching
Mrs. Tingle in the reviews because there are some genuinely real scenes in it about the motivation of women in
contemporary America. In one confrontation,
Mrs. Tingle tell Leigh Ann why she wants to make her fail: it all goes back to Tingle's own inability to escape the
small town in which she finds her life trapped. And there's some fascinating psychological interplay, as Tingle manipulates
best friend Jo Lynn via exploiting the feelings of these young women over their common object of affection. (Hint: learn something
here about what motivates females!) And there's the Bad Boy (tm) angle, with the two co-eds competing for class rebel and
incipient cheater Luke. After false imprisonment, reckless endangerment, impersonating a teacher, we can add Chasing Mr. Wrong
to Leigh Ann's descent into the dark side. But then again, what else would we expect?
Just as an improbably improbable chain of
circumstances got Leigh Ann into a week of criminality, another chain gets her out. Fear not, she graduates and makes that
valedictorian speech, but has learned a lot more than she ever would in class. As for the movie, it says a lot about the nature
of female dynamics, popularity, and what makes females tick, making it worthwhile to watch Teaching Mrs. Tingle.
There's a really great scene in Point Break where Patrick Swayze's gang of literally outlaw surfers discuss why they got into a sideline of bank
robbing: it was to give hope to all those people out there trapped in the rat race, yearning for freedom. And there's
some really good stuff in there with FBI veteran Gary Busey mentoring FBI novice agent Keanu Reeves and college football star
(aka Johnny Utah in the movie), showing if nothing else that a middle aged guy can still be cool. And some other good stuff
about how men form quasi-warrior bands, and surfing as a means to enlightenment (Swayze's character's name is Bodhi, for heaven's
sake!), and, well...
Given all this, what is the problem with Point Break? Let's see. A romance that is both obligatory and insipid. Keanu at one
point tells surfer chick Lori Petty that he has never met anyone like her in his life. Uh huh. But she doesn't do anything
in the movie to deserve this adoration other than show him how to use a surfboard and ring up a fast food order. And oh yeah,
she gets captured, and has to be rescued. And then a secondary male character has to get killed as part of the rescue (message
= men are expendable, women are not). And it does not help the suspension of disbelief that Utah, who says that he has never skydived before, performs aerial maneuvers without a 'chute
that a master parachutist would not attempt.
Had they cut out all of the stuff I described
in the second paragraph, and made a movie out of all of the stuff in the first paragraph, Point
Break might have been a Movie for MRAs. As released, about 50% of it is worth watching. The other 50 percent? That's what
the fast-forward button is for. Still, Point Break may inspire something better, somewhere down the line.