The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

If you like Steve Carrell, you’ll probably like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. This movie is funny and it is fun. TIBW has several hilarious sight gags to go with a good group of well-cast characters.

Carrell and fellow Steve, Buscemi, play childhood friends who parlay their love of magic into a long running gig together in Vegas as Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton. But the act gets stale, egos inflate and they get sick of each other. When audiences disappear, it’s not an illusion.

Meanwhile, a street magician, played brilliantly by Jim Carrey, is creating huge buzz with his over-the-top stunts. As his star rises, Burt and Anton’s is fading. A desperation stunt by Burt and Anton ends badly and their partnership goes “poof!”

Burt’s redemption comes with help from Alan Arkin, a man who adds a spark to any movie he’s in. Arkin is an aging magician who helps Burt regain a passion for magic. The beautiful Olivia Wilde adds more than just eye candy in her role as a magician’s assistant who helps Burt regain some humility.

James Gandolfini is the oily casino boss who hires and fires Burt and Anton, then gives them a big opportunity for a comeback. And the rarely seen but talented Jay Mohr plays a likeable small-time wannabe Vegas magician.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not what you would call a “laugh riot.” As with Carrell’s performance on The Office, some of the laughs delivered here are chuckles, not guffaws. But there’s plenty of fun in TIBW. If you’re looking for a pleasant amusement, my magic words are “go see it.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful is a stroke of genius. The movie and its entry into the entertainment marketplace are beautifully conceived.

Congrats to director Sam Raimi for assembling a movie that pays respectful homage to the 74-year-old classic The Wizard of Oz, without infringing on its copyright. Oz the Great and Powerful is pure escapism for young and old alike.

Congrats to Disney for producing a film that will generate sequels, theme park rides, video games and much more. Disney stock, trading near all-time highs recently, may soar to greater heights in the wake of Oz’s release.

Wicked has sparked new interest in the Oz saga during its 8 year run on Broadway (and via road companies in the US and abroad). But a Wicked movie won’t come until 2014 at the earliest. So Oz the Great and Powerful gets to reap all the Oz love for now.

From its seemingly low-tech black and white opening credits to its similar color closing credits, Oz the Great and Powerful brings one delightful element after another to the screen. Many scenes, characters and costumes seem fresh and new, filled with color and creativity.

But, on closer inspection, we note the similarities to The Wizard of Oz. The movie begins in black-and-white and transitions to color after a tornado. Characters from the “real life” part of the movie appear in the fantasy part, though in different guises. There are witches (good and bad), munchkins, even flying monkeys. (You’ll love flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff.)

James Franco, it turns out, was a terrific choice to play Oz. The character refuses to take himself too seriously until circumstances demand that he shoulder some responsibility. Franco is obviously having fun with the role.

The witches are portrayed with wholesome sexiness—nothing sleazy, but certainly some eye candy for the guys. Mila Kunis shows up in black leather pants, wearing an outrageous red hat with an enormous brim. Her sister witch is Rachel Weisz whose claw-like black and white manicure gives a clue to her disposition. Michelle Williams looks positively angelic in white.

The film’s climax reprises yet another bit that we’ve enjoyed since 1939 in that other Oz movie. It may seem that I’m regarding OTGAP almost as a remake when I mention that the two main things that are missing from the original The Wizard of Oz are Dorothy and classic songs. (Speaking of derivative, a couple of the witchy catfights may make you think of Harry Potter versus Valdemort faceoffs.)

Despite its just-a-bit-too-long runtime of 2:10, Oz the Great and Powerful maintains a good pace and loses its energy only a time or two. Don’t wait for the DVD or Netflix. This is a film to see in the theater, in 3-D, on the biggest screen you can find. Don’t miss it!

Emperor

Emperor gives Matthew Fox of TV’s Lost fame a lead movie role alongside heavyweight actor Tommy Lee Jones. Happily, Fox is up to the task in a movie that examines Japanese culture and American attitudes toward postwar Japan.

Emperor is a dramatization of real life events following the Japanese surrender. The title character is Hirohito and the story revolves around whether the victorious US should hang him for war crimes.

General Douglas MacArthur (played by Jones) orders General Bonner Fellers (played by Fox) to investigate and determine whether the emperor sanctioned the attack at Pearl Harbor or was not involved in decisions made by the country’s political leaders.

Adding an element of interest to the story is Fellers’ old flame, a Japanese woman named Aya (played by Eriko Hatsune) who was an exchange student as his college. When he was stationed in the Philippines in the months before the war, Fellers visited the woman in Japan and fell more deeply in love with her and the country. She is introduced via flashbacks. Fellers has hopes of finding her alive, despite the devastation brought on by US bombing attacks.

Emperor demonstrates a strong respect for Japanese people and shows the devotion the nation’s citizens had for the emperor in 1945. Some of the Japanese characters also acknowledge that they committed barbaric acts during the war. The film presents occupying American military personnel, led by MacArthur, as people intent on helping Japan climb out of the rubble. But first, there are wrongs to be righted.

Upon setting up in Tokyo, the Americans quickly make simultaneous surprise raids on the homes of 29 suspected war criminals. 26 are detained; the others commit suicide. Then after some intense detective work comes Fellers’ report of Hirohito, which leads to a surprising action by MacArthur.

Director Peter Webber does an efficient job of retelling a little-remembered chapter from 20th century history. The characters and the story are interesting and compelling. Emperor is an entertaining, well-made, occasionally emotional, movie for grownups.