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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Magic on the Silver Screen

Written by Kyle Slagley

I remember watching a TV special with magician David Copperfield when I was a kid. I watched the basic illusions with interest: I watched him make an army tank disappear and I watched him fly through hoops, proving there were no wires. The trick that really got me was the one that involved me. He and James Earl Jones asked people to go up to the TV and then correctly predicted the outcome of this trick.

Of course, I realize now that the trick is just simple math, but for a young kid enthralled by one of the numerous TV specials by the Master of Illusion, it was pretty awesome. Polished theatre magic like that of Copperfield has faded in recent years, replaced instead by people like David Blaine who specialize in endurance feats, or Criss Angel of the rough and gritty street magician variety.

Fortunately, for those who prefer the glitzy, sequined, spray-tanned variety of magic, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opens in theatres this week. Burt Wonderstone (played by Steve Carell) and his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are a fading magician duo in Vegas who must repair their dying act and friendship to keep from being unseated by rising star Steve Gray (Jim Carrey).

Burt Wonderstone joins a line of magician films that dates all the way back to the 1950s. In 1953, Tony Curtis and then-wife Janet Leigh starred as Harry and Bess in the classic biopic Houdini.  The film follows Harry’s career from circus performer all the way to his death of a ruptured appendix in 1926. With an 83% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, this film has aged rather well.

Next up is one of the few films that truly give Hugh Jackman the credit he deserves. Released in 2006, The Prestige chronicles a professional battle between rival magicians Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). The cast also includes Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, and even David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. It’s a love story, a mystery, a war, and scientific discovery all in one. In a word: fantastic.

Also a very well done magician drama, The Illusionist stars Edward Norton as the renowned performer Eisenheim. Eisenheim packs theatres across Vienna with his feats that blur the boundary between the tangible and the supernatural. Eventually Eisenheim’s own skill and love for a highborn woman lead him to undermine the royal house in Vienna.

Although it’s not necessarily a movie about magicians, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus follows the immortal Dr. Parnassus and his traveling show, showing participants an imaginary world controlled by Parnassus’s mind. This film got a lot of attention when it first came out because of Heath Ledger’s accidental death halfway through filming, but the film itself is definitely noteworthy on its own for its captivating visuals and quality acting.

Finally, for those who like their magic quick-witted with a dash of humour: The Great Buck Howard. Buck (John Malkovich) is a famous mentalist who seems to have unknowingly lost his pizzazz. Malkovich’s biting comedy, paired with Emily Blunt’s lovable charm as his publicist, makes this a film you’ll be able to go back to time and time again.

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