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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.

 

 

 

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GONE GIRL (2014) FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

GONE GIRL (2014) FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**BEWARE – SOME SUGGESTIVE SPOILERS**

Gillian Flynn, David Fincher, the cast and production team have carved out a superlative, rug-pulling, amoral, misanthropic and bloody suspense thriller which ghosts between several genres from romance to police procedural to thriller to Grand Guignol splatter film. Given the nature of the well-orchestrated and devious plot I will not be giving anything away other than it is essentially about a marriage in crisis and then some.

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We begin in North Carthage, a picturesque town in Missouri as our anti-heroes Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) are established. Flashbacks reveal a lustful romance but as money troubles affect them they are forced to leave New York and move back to Nick’s hometown. The story kicks off with a weary Nick bemoaning his lot to his supportive sister (excellent Caroline Coon) before he finds out Amy has gone missing. Then the fun really starts.

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As the plot unfolds we are led a merry dance as to where sympathies lie as the story twists and turns allegiances from Nick to Amy and back again. Having lived through a couple of acrimonious relationship breakdowns myself I felt the pain of the characters trapped in a marriage where the spark has been dampened by familiarity, financial worries and narcissistic deficiencies. Although, given the size of the house they live in I didn’t feel too bad for these over-privileged sociopaths.

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Ben Affleck is very effective as the trouble-plagued yet spoilt WASP, however, Rosamund Pike steals the acting honours with a sparkling star-turn. Throughout she demonstrates the many facets of an emotionally complex, intelligent and physically adept human. I sensed this was writer Gillian Flynn’s fantasy; acting out her devilish desires on page through this beautiful yet dangerous character. Pike’s Amy took me back to the age of fantastic ’40s femme fatales played with aplomb by: Barbara Stanwyk, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner et al.

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David Fincher, with his wonderful pallet and great eye for a script, is carving himself out a terrific raft of movies which look into the dark recesses of the American dream. He dissects and delivers a scathing commentary on the flaws and weaknesses of the middle, upper and wealthy classes. He not only incorporates obsessive characters but also muddies waters between good and evil and hero and heroines as witnessed most recently in The Social Network (2010), Zodiac (2007) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012).  While Gone Girl could have been shaved of 10 minutes to make it punchier, for me, Fincher is a post-modern Hitchcock; making fine films about damned unlikeable characters but somehow pulling us into their tawdry lives.

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There’s a fantastic episode of South Park from season 17 called ‘Informative Murder Porn’ which satirises the rise of scurrilous, scandal-mongering TV shows which “celebrate” salacious murders, crumbling marriages and missing people. Gone Girl is essentially a high-end version of such shows; the likes of which feature cleverly within the film’s plot. Indeed, the film also condemns the poisonous nature of such programmes which take joy in other’s misery.

 

Overall, Gone Girl is a masterful B-movie which is very gruelling to watch from an emotional perspective. Aside from the cops investigating (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) Amy’s disappearance and Nick’s sister the majority of the characters are borderline sociopaths. Indeed, when one of the more likeable characters is the media-hungry-lawyer-snake-oil-salesmen-come-showman (Tyler Perry) then you know you’re dealing with an extremely opaque vision of humanity.

 

NON-STOP – Film Review by Paul Laight

NON-STOP - Film Review by Paul Laight

NON-STOP – Film Review by Paul Laight

**CONTAINS CLIPS & SPOILERS**

Having recently been intellectually challenged by heavyweight cinematic offerings such as 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Lego Movie (2014) I decided to go see Liam Neeson’s latest actioner for a change of pace and mood.  Indeed, Non-Stop (2014) wears its’ B-movie credentials proudly and passes as very serviceable entertainment if you don’t want to have to think too hard for 106 minutes.

The story is an intriguing one.  Bill Marks (Neeson) – identikit tragi-alcoholic-cop with bereaved past – is a US Air Marshal responsible for flight security.  However, this journey is going to be a very bumpy ride as one mysterious passenger has it in for Bill.  The baddie is going to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes if their demands aren’t met.  This plays out with a great deal of suspense and Neeson fighting against the clock to save lives as death comes-a-knocking.  The claustrophobic nature of the setting really cranks up the tension and there’s a neat little twist as Marks’ himself becomes the main suspect.

The film opens slowly establishing all the players and as it progresses it reminded me of an Agatha Christie mystery with Neeson playing rugged, brutish and ever-more frantic detective.  It’s great fun as the criminal gives Marks the runaround as they kill off passengers in some imaginative ways. Everyone becomes a suspect and the plot deftly keep you guessing with misdirection as your suspicions move from one character to another. It reminded me of another decent B-movie I saw last year Red Riding Hood (2011).    In all honesty the film falls apart slightly at the end with a mildly ridiculous reveal that’s masked during the rip-roaring final set-piece. But overall I enjoyed this unpretentious movie helmed by the very competent genre director Jaume Collet-Serra.

The main asset of Non-Stop is an excellent cast notably one of my favourite actresses – the stunning Julianne Moore.   Moore, Corey Stoll, Linus Roache, Scoot McNairy add some quality in support to the main man: Liam Neeson.   The tough Irishman rises above some  silly dialogue and clichéd characters as he once again proves himself an excellent action hero. Who would have thought the star of historical epics such as Michael Collins (1996), Schindler’s List (1993) would’ve carved out a latter-day career as an ass-kicking tough guy.  But he’s always mixed it up throughout his career appearing in big budget blockbusters and lower budget movies.

Interestingly, Neeson is reportedly have turned down the role of James Bond in the 1990s. Which is a shame because as he demonstrated in massive sleeper hit Taken (2008), really good Euro-thriller Unknown (2011) and Non-Stop (2013) he is a magnetic presence on screen, someone who you root for and also very decent in a punch-up.  While socio-politicists may argue Taken was xenophobic and tapped into a subconscious fear of foreigners – who really cares!  Sometimes you just want to watch a film where a bloke built like a brick shithouse beats the crap out of a load of bad guys! And Neeson does this with aplomb in Non-Stop, but this time it’s wrapped in a murder mystery whodunnit set in the mile-high club.

AFRAID OF THE LIGHT (2008) – A SHORT FILM THRILLER

AFRAID OF THE LIGHT – written by Paul Laight and directed by Jonathan Wolff.

Paul’s ‘lost’ film AFRAID OF THE LIGHT (2008) is now available to view online. It is a brilliant little crime thriller beautifully shot on 16mm film in black and white.

He wasn’t involved in the production or the marketing therefore the film has not been seen by many people unfortunately.

It’s a shame it didn’t get a run at short film festivals as it is very impressive. Check it out here.