MOCKINGJAY – THE HUNGER GAMES – PART 1 (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

MOCKINGJAY – THE HUNGER GAMES – PART 1 (2014)
FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

Dear Hunger Games Franchisers,

I really liked the first two films for the following reasons:

1)  Jennifer Lawrence – a wonderfully talented actress who proved her natural actoring ability in Winter’s Bone (2010),  was perfectly cast in the lead and has proven star quality.

2) Katniss Everdeen is a formidable character with great physical and emotional power as well as fight and determination. She is brave, loyal and it doesn’t hurt that she resembles a young goddess like Artemis (not the Kebab place on Garratt Lane.)

3) The films adhered to a convincing formula which built believable characters, trained them up and then pit them against each other in gladiatorial combat.

4) Powerful drama as children are exploited for the purposes of political purposes by an dictatorial capitalist machine.

5) Social commentary on the nature of “reality television” or physical sports such as boxing where humanity takes vicarious pleasure in watching individuals destroy themselves

6) The games’ themselves are exciting with theme of individual glory being pitted against the notion of teamwork acting as a microcosm for the District as a whole.

7) Capital City (i.e. Capitalism) being shown to be a nefarious force ruling over and exploiting the working classes for their own ends and thus the communistic ideals proffered appealed to my socialist  leanings.

8) The narcissistic and vain city dwellers shown to be preening peacocks only interested in themselves versus the noble working classes struggling against the richer scum.  The idea of revolution also appealed to my Bolshie side.

So, while Hunger Games – Mockinjay Part 1 is a very well constructed film you’ve ruined the franchise with a piss-taking split-into-two-parts-narrative which has completely lost all momentum to the story.  When you rest your head on your pillows stuffed with cash I hope — Hunger Games Franchisers — you sleep well because I feel like I’ve had to endure TWO HOURS at the cinema of fluffing. Because aside from a bit of action this film was very boring. It was ALL fluff and no money shots!

As your servant brushes your teeth with diamond encrusted toothbrush I note the excellent performances of Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP), Jeffrey Wright and I completely get the political and social satire of using Katniss and Peter (excellent Josh Hutcherson) as propaganda tools BUT you made that point over and over again. There was not enough drama for me. It was all fluff and set-up and I want more for my money.

The film speaks of socialist values and revolution all the while the capitalist machine rakes in the dough. But I felt cheated I tell you – cheated.  The character of Katniss was kept in a hospital bed or underground and generally a bystander in the action. I don’t usually complain that a blockbuster is too cerebral but the first two films were great and set-up certain expectations in my mind; so it’s probably MY fault.  Of course I’m not stupid I realise you’re keeping something back for the finale but it had better be good guys – it better be good!!

 

 

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BOOK OF MORMON – MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

     BOOK OF MORMON – THEATRE REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**YO!  SPOILERS!”

“Hey – Paul!  Do you want to see Book of Mormon? It’s a musical!”

“Oh – I can’t stand musicals! Apart from Grease maybe. Or a Sondheim one I can’t remember the name of.”

“But it’s made by the guys who did South Park!”

“Really? I love South Park. How much are tickets?”

“HOW MUCH?!”

So on a cheaper Wednesday matinee showing myself and a friend ventured to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s wonderfully irreverent and offensive (depending on your point-of-view) musical The Book Of Mormon. And a great time was had by all. It was funny, energetic and warm and of course very rude but strangely uplifting and like all great art (high or low) it got me thinking about my own values and spirituality.

I have never been what you would call a religious person.  I am not a believer or associate myself with a particular faith.  In fact since I was young I always held a staunch antagonism toward doctrines which remove free-thinking in the individual from birth.  Furthermore much of the world’s conflicts over history have been caused in the name of religion; that and greed and money and power.

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Having said that over the years my approach to religion has matured and I have become less didactic in my thoughts. Because you know what: religion or faith can be a positive thing and give people a true set of values with which to live their life. It’s not God’s fault that human beings use his or her name to commit acts of war and spread intolerance.  In fact, in recent times the move toward Atheistic and Scientific Fundamentalism (led by the Grand Wizard Richard Hawkins) itself has also caused intolerance to rear its ugly head too.

I prefer to believe in nothing; not a void as such but no particular deity or belief system. They provide great comfort for many but it’s not something I feel I need.  I believe in freedom of choice and speech and the basic human principle of just be tolerant of, and good to others.  Because as the song says: “Religion don’t kill people – humans do!”    Of course I just made that lyric up for humorous effect and that is precisely what occurs in the wonderful, hilarious and uplifting theatrical musical Book of Mormon.

The backstory tells us of Joseph Smith who “found” the sacred eponymous text on the gold plates of Nephi. After which he gave birth to a new religion in 1830 which went viral, spreading quicker than a dancing cat video on YouTube.   Flash forward loads of years and the Church of Latter Day Saints is one of the World’s largest cults; sorry, organised religions. And this is the starting point for the story.

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Our two main protagonists are Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) — a handsome, young go-getter — and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) who is, of course, his nerdier, less confident and insecure counterpart.  Cunningham is also a compulsive liar which gives the story an essential characteristic and running theme. Together they are sent from the Missionary Training Centre in Utah to of all places, Uganda to spread the word of Mormon. But Uganda is a godless place full of famine, disease and war and hardship so religion is a hard thing to see to those with no hope.

Humour is mined from the clashes between the two wildly different cultures as the songs compare the upbeat door-knocking optimism of the Mormons with the downtrodden, hungry, maggot-balled, AIDS-ridden, clitoris-castrated Africans; who are war-lorded over by hilariously named General Butt-Fucking Naked. As with South Park the writers use all manner of stereotypes with which to cram as many offensive jokes in as possible.

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However, there is heart to the story too as it is revealed that Elder Cunningham has joined the Mormons to try and fit in and find his place in the world and most importantly: friends.  He is particularly taken with the preening narcissistic Elder Price despite the latter’s obvious discouragement and dislike of Cunningham. It’s no surprise then that while Price is clearly the more talented “salesperson” yet it is Cunningham who becomes a hit with the natives.  Having said that he does so having “made-up” loads of stories from the Book of Mormon incorporating tales from Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord Of The Rings.  From his distortions from the text plus bravery in standing up to the General Cunningham becomes a beacon of hope in the village.

Stories and faith are at the core of the satire here as Book of Mormon both lampoons and deep-down admires the Missionaries. While what Elder Cunningham says seems completely stupid and ridiculous it gives the villagers hope and faith for the future. Overall, the word of Joseph Smith is arguably “fictional” yet the message is a positive one with togetherness being the way forward.  The show asks us: if something gives hope in a hopeless world does it matter if it’s real or not?

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I have no frame of reference with regard to musicals. The only one I’ve seen outside the movies was Fame – The Musical starring ‘H’ from Steps.  But this was an absolute joy with an incredible cast and songs to boot.  My personal favourites were: Two By Two, Making Thing’s Up Again and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.   The shifting of sets, movement and pace were fast yet controlled and the show was clearly the result of a culmination of an incredible amount of creativity, rehearsal and hard work.  As a dynamite new season of South Park currently runs on Comedy Central – I can certainly say Matt Stone and Trey Parker have another work of genius to add to their incredibly offensive yet hilarious CV.  Thank God, Allah, Ganesh, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Nephi, Joseph Smith et al  for them I say!

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ROOM WITH A STEW (WORK IN PROGRESS) – COMEDY REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

ROOM WITH A STEW (WORK IN PROGRESS)

LEICESTER SQUARE THEATRE GIG – (11/11/14)

BY PAUL LAIGHT

**VERY FEW SPOILERS**

If someone put a gun to my head and asked me who my favourite living stand-up comedian was I would probably have to say Stewart Lee.   Obviously the likelihood of someone putting a gun to my head asking my favourite comedian is silly. They could point it at my knee and I would tell them. In fact they wouldn’t need a gun. Anyway, through sheer consistency of quality comedy product he’s created over the years, for me, he’s a national, regional and local treasure.

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 A week or so ago on the 11th November 2014 I went to one of his Room With A Stew (work in progress) shows as Lee road-tested material for his BBC TV show – Comedy Vehicle – Season 4. The audience also received — as he mentioned a number of times during the night — a free DVD copy of – Comedy Vehicle – Season 3. 

Having dabbled with stand-up comedy myself to various degrees of failure it was terrific to see a master trying to make material, not far out of the brain and on the page, work.  The first half-an-hour-or-so he delivered a funny routine about Islamaphobia before battling through a more personal piece about Urine.

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New comedy material is a tricky beast. The comedian becomes a kind of  blind tailor measuring and making a new suit not knowing whether the material is going to fit the customer or not. Thus, you trim and adjust and stitch and cut away until you find the bits which work and get rid of those that don’t. Sometimes the seams just split and the suit lies in tatters on the floor. What comedy has to do with clothes I have no idea:  I’m just saying it can be tough is all!

Stewart Lee appeals to my pedantic, grumpy and meta-intellectual side. He challenges me mentally and his thought-provoking material works on many levels. On this night I could sense Stewart Lee at odds ever-so-slightly with the material, the cogs of his mind willing it to work as he listened to the audience for their reaction. His trademark beration of us for not “getting it” was a feature throughout; in fact he used it to re-energise the room on occasion.  Overall, it was a great night and a pleasure to see him at work. Lee’s Comedy Vehicle has been a must-see on BBC2 for the past few years and will continue to do so based on tonight’s work-in-progress show.

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If you’re not a fan of Stewart Lee and you like comedy that’s slightly more thought-provoking than material about the difference between cats and dogs then check out his website which contains information about ALL his full length shows, TV appearances and stuff from his brilliant Comedy Vehicle Television show.

http://www.stewartlee.co.uk/merchandise.php

 

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**IF YOU CAN WORK OUT THE PLOT – THERE ARE SPOILERS**

So, Paul – what’s Interstellar (2014) all about?

Well, the film is a science-fiction epic about the end of the world. Some astronauts are sent on a deadly mission – led by Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Coop’ – farmer – to try and find habitable existences in outer-space.  To do so they must travel into the unknown across the heart of darkness; through worm-holes; through black-holes; crossing temporal and spatial dimensions to find a solution to save the human race.

Meanwhile, the emotional meat of the story is supplied by McConaughey/Cooper’s relationship with his daughter portrayed by Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain.  He had a son as well but apparently he didn’t matter as much and was ultimately used as weak final act plot point.

Sounds complicated?

Yes. It is. And also very very long. So load up on popcorn.

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What did you like?

This is a visually stunning experience with some incredible set-pieces on Earth, in Space and on other planets.  But from a visual and conceptual genius such as Christopher Nolan I expected as much.  The “wave” sequence on ‘Miller’s Planet’ is an oxygen-stealing delight and I was gasping at the awe of it all.

Moreover, space has never looked so beautiful and dangerous and Nolan — clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrik’s  seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — delivered a truly spectacular experience when Cooper’s craft hurtles through the black hole Gargantua at the end of the lengthy middle act.

The film also has some wonderful science-fictional ideas relating to time and space and being a big Doctor Who fan I almost got my head around them; sort of.  Such concepts will of course solidify on further viewings once the blood in my buttocks begins to re-circulate. Did I say it was a very long film?

Yes. Yes you did. So, Paul, what didn’t you like about the film?

Well, I think there is an Alfred Hitchcock quote – which I’m paraphrasing now – where the Master said “if the audience is thinking too much they’re not feeling.” Something like that.

Oh, that’s clever. Using another director’s words to critique another.

Yeah – it is. And my main problem with the film was that I was so busy trying to get my head around the plethora of concepts in the screenplay that I didn’t feel ANYTHING for the characters.  I would have been happy with the film on a visual and poetic level if ALL the dialogue had been removed and emotion allowed to arrive between the spaces. But by over-reaching it dragged the whole film itself into a black hole of incomprehension.

To me the best science fiction marries concept with emotion.  Some of the acting was fantastic notably from McConaughey but – like the superior Inception (2010) – many of the characters are reduced to mere expositional tools – Anne Hathaway’s Brand being an example of this.  Inception worked better because it was grounded in the heist movie genre where Interstellar is all over the shop from: disaster-movie-to-space-opera-to-thriller-to-art-cinema-genres.

There were numerous plot-holes throughout beginning with the awful first act which set up the characters badly and then ran with poor characterisation throughout the film. Many of the cast, notably Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, were given a bit to do but far too late in the narrative.  And the speed with which concepts are thrown at us in the last 40 minutes are just damn confusing.

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What did you think of the film overall?

Watching Christopher Nolan’s over-expensive and humourless folly was like eating your favourite cake for 3 hours on a rollercoaster. I loved it – then I hated it – then I loved it – then I hated it – then I felt horrifically sick and wanted to get off. By the end – like life itself – I wondered whether it was all worth it.

It felt like a big-budget apology to his family for perhaps being an absent father. Perhaps it’s a film to watch with the sound off and classical music on; although I did enjoy Hans Zimmer’s score .  Yet, the over-loaded plot-lines and weak-movie dialogue ruined the stunning visuals and action set-pieces for me.  Indeed, I watched Nightcrawler (2014) on the same night and that took a simple premise with one major character and rinsed that idea for all the suspense and drama it could.

Nolan has made some great films with clever ideas such as:  Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006) and aforementioned Inception (2010) which retain their emotional impact while delivering some mind-bending concepts. Moreover, he breathed life into the Batman franchise with his brilliant take on the Caped Crusader. However, Interstellar is a fail for me. It’s a magnificent looking jigsaw but if the maker doesn’t give you all the pieces, or the bits you do have don’t seem to fit properly; all you’re left doing is banging the table in frustration.

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Who do you think you are slagging off one of the great filmmaker’s of our time?

I am no one. I work in a Scrap Metal Yard. But I paid my £11 entry fee and thus feel like I am entitled to an opinion. My feeling after watching Interstellar – and following his involvement in the dire Man of Steel (2013) – is that Nolan the  director should sack Nolan the screenwriter.  Perhaps he’s spread himself too thin producing and directing several big budget films in a short period of time?  Nonetheless there is no doubt Nolan is a genius filmmaker creating marvellous blockbusters-with-brains. But, as a storyteller he is losing the plots somewhat and in danger of disappearing up his own black hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

***SPOILERS?  HELL YEAH!***

This is a sensational pitch black character piece that allies a powerful script with violent social satire; all glued together by an Oscar-worthy lead performance from the ever-excellent actor Jake Gyllenhaal.

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It’s about monsters.  The monster of ambition. The monster of obsession. The monster of humanity. The monster of the Media. The monster of a bloodthirsty public searching for the next violent clip to trend or share on Twitter or Facebook over their morning coffee. Gyllenthaal plays the main monster: Lou Bloom. He’s an anti-anti-anti-hero of our times. A personification of capitalist evil.

Dan Gilroy’s cutting script makes no attempt to make him likeable or even sympathetic. We first meet him stealing scrap metal and beating the crap out of a Security Guard. He then has the balls to try and get a job at the yard he’s selling stolen goods to.  So why was I immediately enthralled by Lou Bloom?  Well, he has ambition. He has drive. He has linguistic charisma.  He has a thirst for success. A thirst for money. And a thirst for blood.

Lou Bloom is a vampire – a night creature creeping between the shadows and he finds the perfect vehicle for his nefarious wants. He discovers he can make money filming car wrecks and violent crimes on the streets of Los Angeles and sell them to a local News station.  His TV handler Nina (Rene Russo) takes him under her wing but it’s not long before Bloom is taking flight and manipulating her to his own needs.

With the smooth patter and greasy complexion of a snake-oil salesmen Bloom extends his operation by taking on down-on-his-luck Rick (Riz Ahmed) and competes on the dark, mean streets of LA with veteran ‘crawler’ Joe Loder (Bill Paxton).  Bloom will stop at nothing to achieve his expansion goals.  The drama really cranks up as he races to record one gut-churning tragedy after another eventually manufacturing violence to his own gain. These guys are filming and selling death – with echoes of Michael Powell’s classic horror film Peeping Tom (1956) – and WE the voyeuristic public are buying it.

I enjoyed the fact that Bloom was a ghost; a shell of a man with little in the way of backstory and yet through his actions we absorb the horror of his character. I was drawn in so much by Gyllenthaal’s magnetic performance as well as a fine supporting cast. Incredibly this is a DEBUT film from respected Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy. However, he directs with aplomb and the end shoot-out and car-chase was a memorable piece of filmmaking –  full of tension –  with a quite breath-taking pay-off.

I loved this film.  It takes the idea of the News Media as not merely objective representatives of fact but rather sensationalist manipulators where murder has become a natural by-product of their lust for ratings.  Films such as Gone Girl (2014) and Anchorman 2 (2013) have examined darkly and humorously the role of TV News in society recently but the stylish neo-noir Nightcrawler trumps them. Through Bloom the parasitic press and public are shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. WE ARE ALL MONSTERS AT HEART!

 
 

PAUL FOOT’S HOVERCRAFT SYMPHONY IN GAMMON SHARP MINOR – COMEDY REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

PAUL FOOT’S HOVERCRAFT SYMPHONY IN GAMMON SHARP MINOR  (7/11/2014)  REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

“I decided to have a go at stand-up comedy in a little bar. I did not have any jokes.  Amazingly, it went well and I resolved on the spot to become a professional entertainer. 17 years later, I became an overnight success.” *****PAUL FOOT*****

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Friday just gone began a busy time of watching comedy shows for me. It wasn’t planned that way but many of the funny people and shows I wanted to see happened to be on in the same period.  First off was surreal jester Paul Foot, then on Sunday, Tottenham’s abject loss to Stoke in the Premiership provided much mirth.  Not. Tonight, I am going to see the brilliant Stewart Lee; tomorrow, theatrical extravaganza Book of Mormon and finally, on Friday, bitter comic misanthrope Andrew Lawrence.

Paul Foot burst on the comedy scene many moons ago winning one of the BBC New Act Talent Thing Competitions and that.  I recall there being someone called Peter Kay who finished second in the competition but not sure what happened to him? Then when I started doing a bit of stand-up comedy myself I ran my own night at the aptly named Comedy Pub near Leicester Square. It was a very small new materialish night and the wonderful Paul Foot headlined on a couple of occasions. I was a crap promoter really but had some fun nights and always wondered why Paul Foot wasn’t on television more as he genuinely has – what is known in the business –  “funny bones.”

That was in say 2009 I think but more recently though he has appeared on a few panel shows such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Would I Lie To You plus the wonderful Alternative Comedy Experience. Further, his constant gigging and secret shows have allowed him to build up his own audience of fans; or as he calls them “connoisseurs”.  Thus, I was pleased to see his latest show at the Bloomsbury Theatre and experience more of the hilarity I saw at the Comedy Pub but on a much bigger stage. Well, it actually had a stage; unlike the Comedy Pub.

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Paul Foot is a marvellous, clown, eccentric, misfit who plays himself in almost every show he’s in and very funny he is too. From the moment his voice squawked from off-stage I was laughing; opening the show with a poetic chaos that breaks with the conventions of the traditionally slick club comedy night.

Humour comes from all directions:  his surreal flights of fantasy; his low-to-high pitch Home Counties drawl; his silver-shoed, mullet-haired appearance; plus the way he prances around the stage resembles a dressage horse on hot coals or a featherless bird flapping, yet failing, to take off. All told Mr Foot is a verbal and physical joy to behold.

As he gambols around the Bloomsbury stage he surprises the front row with some break-the-ice “mounting” a fan’s chair; before unleashing some brilliantly silly observations, stories and what he calls “disturbances”.  To those unfamiliar with Foot’s work it could seem like the mad ranting’s of a fool and in some ways it is but at its’ heart his comedy is very well designed and structurally sound.

Indeed, within the flights of fancy there are some excellent observations around religious chancers; landlady bed and breakfast etiquette; and the perils of platitudes which may leading to snake invasions.  What I love most about Paul Foot is his absolute conviction and passion to the routines; in his mind these events are real and thus I believe him. Overall, I genuinely nearly pissed myself laughing during this show so do try and catch him if you can in your lifetime.

***(Quote/photos from: http://www.paulfoot.tv/biography/)***

THE PRESTIGE – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

 THE PRESTIGE (2006) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**YOU KNOW THE DRILL – SPOILERS!**

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With Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) orbiting the cinemas this week I thought I’d look back at the film which he made in between breathing life into the Batman franchise.   No doubt Nolan is an important genre filmmaker and as his budgets have got more grandiose then so have his ideas.  I just love that he is interested in attempting to make intelligent blockbusters where ideas, character and theme lead the story rather than rely simply on action, explosions and special effects (no offence Michael Bay.)

Memento (2000) was a stunning and complex low-budget noir which dealt with obsession, murder and memory and Nolan continued these themes in superior cop thriller Insomnia (2002). Having delivered a cracking origins film in Batman Begins (2005) the director followed this up with a story about battling magicians based on Christopher Priest’s novel called The Prestige (2006).  For me it confirmed him as a force-to-be-reckoned with director. Following on the themes and tropes established in his prior films, The Prestige is centred around two obsessives brilliantly portrayed by the always excellent Christian Bale as Alfred Borden and the never-been-better (until Prisoners (2013), Hugh Jackman, playing his bitter rival, Robert Angier. thePrestige1The story starts at the end with Borden facing the hangman for Angier’s murder. After which the narrative flashes back to a time when the pair were freshman trick-smiths learning the ropes from mentor Cutter (always solid Michael Caine). When the cockney and cocky Bordens’ actions accidentally lead to the death of Angiers’ wife (Piper Perabo) – during a particularly complex and dangerous trick – the two go their separate ways. This sets in motion a story full of bitter twists of active and reactive vengeance. Each protagonist becomes so obsessed outdoing the other –  with the ultimate trick – they are prepared to sacrifice the ones they love in doing so.

The film is rich in plot, character and theme and investigates thoroughly the very human aspects of obsession and revenge. The double or doppleganger trope is also integral to the story as the writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls. The gritty, dirty period of Victorian London is wonderfully evoked and the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets is expertly represented. At it’s heart the story begins by showing us the cons of the magicians and the lengths they will go to amaze and astound an audience. By the end though the film becomes something much different with a chilling and fantastic turn which you think you see but ultimately don’t see coming.

Brilliantly directed by Christopher Nolan The Prestige is inventive, intelligent and ingenious. His cast does not let the magical screenplay down with the gorgeous Scarlett Johannson and – albeit briefly – pretty Piper Perabo bringing some glamour to the gritty proceedings. Rebecca Hall is also on commanding form bringing a subtle pain to the role of Borden’s wife.

Overall, it’s a challenging big-budget tale in which you never quite know what is real or what is a con. It keeps you guessing to the end, leaving you with a jaw-dropping final act as the story moves from sleight-of-hand tricks to science fact and finally science fiction. Ultimately, the film successfully combines fantastical, existential, and scientific elements. The film gives us a kind of magic but asks whether it’s worth the damage it causes to lives? THAT, for me, is The Prestige’s greatest trick.