Magic. Now there’s a subject that, over the years, hasn’t gotten a great deal of cinematic attention. Reason being, one surmises, that magic acts need the immediacy of live (or at least taped live) performance to preserve their thrill… and if we’re being honest here, most of them don’t have that much thrill to preserve in the first place. So wouldn’t you know it, after humming along for so many years all but magic-free, in 2006, Hollywood not only coughs up two magic-themed movies within weeks of each other but two turn-of-the-century Europe magic-themed movies. (Now that’s a Smackdown!) […]
Let’s exit Earth for a while and travel to colorful lands distant from our own. Our contestants in this Smack are a pair of big-budget fantasy epics adapted from popular books. Hailing from storm-wracked Kansas is our challenger, Oz the Great and Powerful, a reimagining of one of the most beloved family films of all time. In this new version, our focus has shifted to the title character, a two-bit carnival magician with a grand stage name. He’s transported to the vibrant land bearing his name and gets thrown into a civil war among several bickering witches.
Flying in from Germany on a giant talking dog is The NeverEnding Story, in which a lonely young boy borrows and reads a book described by its seller as “unsafe.” And we all know what happens when a little boy reads an unsafe book, right? Of course — he gets dragged into the proceedings himself, which in this case means a fight between a fantasy kingdom and a scary black void that threatens to engulf that happy society. […]
One finale to rule them all! Two beloved (not to mention lucrative) film franchises come to an end with these offerings and, more momentously, face each other in a Movie Smackdown of truly epic proportions.
The stakes in the two stories are similarly high, with heroes who’ve had the odds gradually stacked against them to the point of near-impossibility for success. In The Return of the King, the spirit of the evil sorcerer Sauron — in the form of a fiery, all-seeing Eye — lives and schemes for total victory against our vulnerable protagonists. Meanwhile, in Potter-land, Team Harry has to mount a quick and effective defense against Voldemort and his army, who are on the brink of completely taking over the magic world, destroying Hogwarts and killing its good students and faculty.
The sword-wielding, ring-bearing humans, hobbits and elves of Peter Jackson’s ultimate Rings face off against the spells and talismans of Harry and his young wizard pals. Which side will prevail? […]
Featuring precious little Rome and a lot of Antic, “When In Rome” falls back on every exhausted (and exhausting) rom-com convention in the book. In Rome for her sister’s wedding, a career woman cynically steals coins from a fountain and unknowingly makes five strangers fall madly in love with her. Kristen Bell makes for an adorable lead who needs fresher and smarter material to reach her full rom-com heroine potential. Josh Duhamel stands tall as her love object, slightly less generic than the usual rom-com Ken doll. There’s not much standing in their way, no real obstacles, and therein lies the rub. The two meet semi-cute in the first ten minutes, and we know they’ll wind up together; nothing much happens in the middle to call their happy ending into question. There’s much ado about the nothing; pilfered coins, local legend, and enchanted suitors sound like more fun than they are.
Over the hundred-plus years of cinematic history, there has been enough movie magic to create a worldwide love affair with film. Surprisingly, however, since the laterna magica first began projecting moving images, there have been remarkably few movies about magic.
The year 2006 was an exception, with the near-simultaneous release of two excellent films about 19th century professional prestidigitators — The Illusionist and The Prestige. For someone who loves magic and sleight of hand, this was a banner year worth sharing. While The Prestige made more money at the domestic box-office, approximately $53 million vs. $40 million, The Illusionist cost considerably less to make — $16.5 million vs. $39 million. Based on their return on investment, and the fact that The Illusionist was also the first to appear on the nation’s screens in 2006, we’ll give The Illusionist the designation of “Defending Champion,” and The Prestige our “Challenger” position. Now that our rivals are in their respective corners, let’s get out the wands and let the magic begin. […]