Tuesday, February 20, 2007

February 20th Log

2006, John Curran, China / United States

1st Viewing, Theater

I really admired John Curran’s previous feature We Don’t Live Here Anymore. His third film The Painted Veil, deals with some similar issues of marital relationships but on a much more ambitious and epic scale. This is a sweeping film and one that sadly seems to have been forgotten through poor distribution and marketing. This is made in an old-fashioned and classic cinematic style of a period epic. Shot entirely in China, The Painted Veil is beautifully composed. The greatest strength lies in the terrific performance by the always reliable Naomi Watts, who is the emotional core the film. Watts is reteaming with Curran (she was one of the four main characters of his previous film) and she is again wonderful as quiet society woman who marries a bacteriologist for reasons besides love. While Watts steals the show, Edward Norton is good enough in the role of her husband, and the film features great supporting performances (especially from Toby Jones as the neighbor). The film effortlessly flows a narrative of romanticism, social class, and politics while remain completely engaging and well paced from beginning to end. I found The Painted Veil to be a wonderful experience. A film that I presume will reveal more emotional depth upon further viewing as the initial experience is left marveling the performances and the atmosphere (heightened by lovely locations, period details, photography, and a glorious musical score from Alexandre Desplat).

2006, Christopher Nolan, United States / United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD

The Prestige sets the tone from the start when a voice asks “Are you watching closely?” as we see an interesting open image of a pile of top hats. Immediately the film tells us to expect the unexpected, and that we are indeed watching a film that is in itself a trick. One can’t help thinking of The Illusionist (another 19th-century magician film) as The Prestige followed its release within weeks. To me, The Prestige is the less effective and absorbing film as a whole yet it remains its own work. Director Christopher Nolan is a crafty filmmaker and The Prestige is certainly well made and beautiful to look at. By the end of it’s 2+ hours running time, the film has a bit too many “surprises” and ”twists” many of which were actually rather predictable. Christian Bale is always an interesting actor and he gives a strong performance here. The cast is loaded with talent (Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson) but none of them standout. Johansson provides a sultry presence as the magician’s assistant, but she is given little character to work with and ultimately is rather dull. The Prestige has some magical moments particularly early on when Bale and Jackman are working together. The film losses some of its steam as they begin to plot double crosses and plots on each other.


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