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This week:
The Prestige

Filthy says:
"Abra Cadabra! And presto, it sucks!"

If Christopher Nolan's stuffy new movie The Prestige is trying to capture the sensation of being in a magic shop, he's done a hell of a job. This movie is a hell of a lot like being stuck in a small, cluttered room with smug-yet-insecure freaks. The only things missing are the body odor and the fat, bearded pedophilic-looking dude who owns the joint and eats buttered bread behind the counter, greasily pawing all the playing cards and packets of flash paper he touches.

Magic shops are odd. It's not because of the hocus-pocus shit; it's because of the kind of people who hang out in them. They're self-absorbed social misfits who use magic to compensate for their shortcomings and live in an insulated, little world where they're always at odds with each other and yet only able to acknowledge the world they and their nemeses have created. In that world, magic actually matters.

All I'm saying is these jerks can really hurt your feelings. So, don't go into one if you're the best magician at your local tavern and you can make a whole plate of nachos disappear. Just, here one second and then... gone! Where did it go? I don't know! Don't talk to the magic shop freaks to share your secrets because they think it's beneath them to sit silently while hot cheese drips down the inside of their pants all night for the sake of the art. They're too damn busy trying to find a girl to cut in half.

I'm not bitter, though. Fuck bitterness. I didn't want to be in their little magic club anyway, because I made up my own club called Super Magic Club, and they can't be in it. You know why? Because they don't know how to do Super Magic. All they know how to do is wank each other under the table and make coins come out of infirmed children's ears.

The Prestige at least gets the insularity of the magic shop world correct. That's too bad, though, since it's such a miserable place to be for two-plus hours. Theaudience is stuck with the high-collared turn-of-the-century equivalent of today's wannabe magicians, watching them be assholes and obsess over intricate details that just don't mean much to anyone else. They take more pride in taking pride in their craft than they do in actually being relevant.

The story's magicians are Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, who look nothing like any of the prestidigitators I met, unless they gained 100 pounds each and spent way, way less time in the sun and way more time in whatever was the Victorian-era equivalent of Internet chat rooms. That would be, what, opium dens without opium? Or girls?

Apparently magic tricks have three parts, just like just about every other fucking popular entertainment in the world. The first part is the set-up, or pledge, where the magician vows to do something incredible with an ordinary object. "I'm going to make this plate of nachos disappear!" The second part is the turn, where whatever is pledged is done. "Presto! Where'd the nachos go?" The third is the Prestige, where the magician tops the turn by making the object reappear or have something even more mysterious happen. "Those nachos are now dripping into my sock! Taa daa!" The movie The Prestige is so damn impressed with them that it rarely gives a shit about anything else.

Jackman and Bale are aspiring magicians who start out their careers as friends and apprentices to Ricky Jay. Jackman's wife is Jay's lovely assistant, who Bale accidentally kills during a water-escape stunt. What follows is a single-minded obsession by the two men to destroy each other's career and be declared the best in the world. They shoot each other, catch each other's hands in traps, steal each other's diaries and sabotage each other's magic shows.

That's about it, really. Two self-absorbed magicians trying to one up each other. Somehow, and illogically, the movie takes one of them to meet Nikola Tesla (David Bowie!), father of alternating current electricity. This side-trip, I think, is meant to show a parallel between two magicians' rivalry and that between Tesla and Thomas Edison. Any message between the miracle of science in the golden age and magicians is completely muddled and lost. The other movie role of Bowie's Tesla is to invent a scientific device to do the job of magic. Jackman is obsessed with one of Bale's tricks but can't figure out how it is done. Bale sends him on a wild goose chase to Colorado Springs and Tesla's workshop.

It's a big fucking blunder in The Prestige, probably worse than the Harelip having her sixth kid with that trash man, but not quite as bad as the seventh one she made with the Raelians. The Prestige is a movie about men trying to create the ultimate illusions and pass them off as magic. It goes to great lengths to remind us that magic isn't real by showing us in pornographic detail all of the mechanisms. Then, when it needs a plot device it just says, "Ah, fuck it" and hands the job of impossibility to a scientist.

Bowie's Tesla easily invents a cloning device. Jackman uses it to clone himself for a stage trick (he murders the original in the process so there is still only one of him). This nonsense requires a suspension of disbelief bigger than those Mrs. Filthy generously grants me at three a.m. on a Saturday morning. It also requires the audience to be fucking idiots. "Oh, okay, Telsa invented a cloning device. Sure. And he gave it to a magician. And we're supposed to forget before the movie ends that it's a cloning device so the final twist is a surprise." Maybe some people would if it weren't foreshadowed a dozen times in words and images.

That horseshit isn't what makes The Prestige damn near unwatchable, though. What does is how fucking boring and obsessed Jackman and Bale's characters are. They don't give a fuck about anything but magic and their rivalry. They are never given other depth or personality. Neither is charming or witty. The movie just uses them as pawns in its own increasingly complex parlor tricks. The tricks trump all, and the movie feels like it's another M. Night Shyamalan turd meant to surprise way more than entertain.

Scarlett Johannson is completely underused as a woman who sleeps with both of them. She's a bit slutty; that's an angle I'd like to explore more. Michael Caine is the magic trick creator stuck between Bale and Jackman. He has to do a lot of lifting since he's the only main character with any sort of conscience.

The movie is also a big, fancy, Oscar-looking movie with everyone is period costume, speaking against their accents and looking super-fucking serious. There are jail scenes, court scenes, lots of well-placed dirt and grime. And way too much damn trickiness getting in the way of telling a proper story. It's too long and too stuffy to ever be much fun.

Two Fingers for The Prestige. I know you're thinking it's because I'm bitter I'm not a magician, maybe a street magician like that fucking weirdo David Blaine, world famous for making nachos, tacos, hot dogs and coffee disappear down my pants. I'm not, though. If I were I'd give it one.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Jim Ferguson of ABC

Man of the Year is "Hilarious! A sure winner! Robin Williams gives a brilliant performance!"

Flicka is "The best family film of the year!"

Filthy's Reading
J. D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey

Listening to
The Catheters - Howling... it Grows and Grows


The Desperate Hours