Saturday, December 02, 2006

Movie Reviews: Deja Vu, Casino Royale, The Prestige

Deja Vu

Denzel Washington plays an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives) agent investigating a New Orleans ferry boat explosion that killed 500+ passengers, including some kids on a field trip and a significant number of naval officers.

A well-written time travel adventure, masterfully edited, this film is a detective caper around the edges and a sci-fi action movie in the middle. A certain glowing review at Ain't It Cool News would have you believe this movie is The Matrix, Memento, Back to the Future, and Die Hard all thrown into a blender. It's good but not quite that good.

The sci-fi aspect of the movie is provided by some time-bending technology that is gimmicky & overly convenient. Even within the bounds of sci-fi, you have to suspend some disbelief in the capability and plausibility of such technology to full enjoy the middle of the movie. On the other hand, the time travel technology used in the movie is pretty cool, useful, semi-original, and explained in a brisk manner.

Paula Patton plays Claire Kuchever, the gorgeous & sympathetic murder victim whose last four days alive are the keys to solving the mystery behind the ferry explosion. Val Kilmer (The Saint, Batman Forever) puts in a few minutes as an FBI agent who brings Denzel's character into the project & Jim Caviezel (Frequency, Passion of the Christ) also stars as the renegade bomber.

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig plays the new British MI6 agent 007 in the 21st [official] installment of the James Bond franchise.

Serving as a re-boot of the series, Royale opens with Bond earning his double-0 status, his licence to kill, by making two kills. With more seriousness & athleticism, but considerably fewer gadgets, Bond uses his many skills -- including no-limit Texas Hold'Em Poker -- to fight an organization funding terrorism.

Daniel Craig carries the movie exceptionally well for his first time playing Bond. He's more serious like Sean Connery's version of Bond, but not nearly as humorless as Timothy Dalton's version. This movie shows Bond being a little less experienced, but not quite as novice as I would have expected considering this is supposed to the beginning of his career as a double-0. A particularly hard to watch torture scene demonstrates Bond's endurance and a very odd sense of humor during a difficult moment that Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan probably could not have pulled off successfully.

At almost 2.5 hours, the movie is a bit too long. The middle feels fine, but the last third of the movie feels oddly structured, and became harder and harder to tell whether the movie was about to end or still had more story to tell. Overall, it doesn't feel exactly like a James Bond movie, but with a new Bond actor, a re-booted continuity, and new kind of villain to fight, I guess we must adapt to a new kind of Bond the way the franchise must adapt to a new kind of world we live in today.

Despite the movie being a re-boot, the perpetually award-nominated Judi Dench returns for her fifth turn as "M". Eva Green plays a British accountant who exposes Bond's softer side. The Aston Martin, a tuxedo, and Bond's vodka martinis all make appearances; but Miss Moneypenny & Major Boothroyd ("Q") do not. According to internet rumor this is not a stand-alone movie but begins a multi-film story arc for Craig's version of Bond. The way this installment ended, having some continuation between movies might be nice.

The Prestige

Christian Bale (Batman Begins) and Hugh Jackman (X-Men) play rival magicians turn-of-the-century London, viciously competing over the perfect magic trick & using drastically different means to achieve it. Christopher Nolan wrote & directed this movie, as well as the equally intelligent Memento and Batman Begins.

This doesn't have quite as many loose ends compared to Memento, but it is just complex enough to see a 2nd time, to connect all the dots once you know what to look for. I did see it a 2nd time, and some points in the story are still a little tricky. Nolan did an excellent job hiding the clues in the story without making the twists so obvious. That's twists, plural. There is not just one but two major twists in the movie. Don't let anyone spoil the ending for you.

The movie includes excellent performances by Bale, Jackman, Michael Caine (Batman Begins, Muppet Christmas Carol) as a magician's engineer, and Scarlett Johansson (In Good Company, Lost in Translation) as a beautiful magician's assistant, along with Andy Serkis (Gollum from Lord of the Rings), Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly, Lost & Delirious), and David Bowie (yeah, seriously, David Bowie) in welcome yet under-used supporting roles.

Bowie plays Nikola Tesla, the electricity-obsessed scientist who has his own dangerous rivalry with the off-screen Thomas Edison. That rivalry serves as a nice parallel to what goes on between Bale and Jackman's two characters.

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