x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Hey, presto: magicians in cinema

With The Incredible Burt Wonderstone pulling rabbits out of popcorn boxes this Thursday across UAE screens, we look at other famous cinematic magicians.

Tatischeff in a still from I'illusionniste. Courtesy Pathe
Tatischeff in a still from I'illusionniste. Courtesy Pathe

Tomorrow, Jim Carrey faces Steve Carell in the slapstick magic-man farce of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a toupée-laden take on the Las Vegas cheesesters Siegfried and Roy (pre tiger attack) and the emo street performer Criss Angel. But while they may be among the most ridiculous, these two aren’t the only conjurors who have made it to the big screen.

Eisenheim – The Illusionist

Would you use your magic skills to win over Jessica Biel, even if it meant getting on the wrong side of a somewhat power-hungry and ruthless Austrian crown prince who wouldn’t think twice about finishing you off? If you’re Edward Norton’s cabinet-maker’s-son-turned-master-illusionist in this rather enchanting 2006 romantic drama: yes. From already impressive stage feats such as making a tree sprout from a seed and making a ghost materialise, our conjuror tries his most dangerous escapade to get one over the dastardly royal. If only the director Neil Burger hadn’t ruined all the fun by exposing the film’s tricks by the end.

Alfred Borden and Robert Angier – The Prestige

Basically Batman versus Wolverine, but with fewer utility belts and military-grade claws and more top hats and now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t stage shows. Much like Burt Wonderstone, Christopher Nolan’s drama pits two rivals against each other (thankfully this time with less eyeliner). But when one performs a trick that seems near impossible, this jealously erupts into a bitter rivalry involving devious mind games, double-crossing women and, naturally, a cameo appearance by David Bowie.

The Great Splendini – Scoop

What better role for Woody Allen to get back in front of the camera than as the London conjuror Sid Waterman, otherwise known as “The Great Splendini”. When the slightly dowdy US journalism student Scarlett Johansson is told the “scoop of the decade” by a real-life ghost at Splendini’s stage show, an unlikely partnership is forged between her and the magician to unravel the mystery behind the Tarot Card Killer, a serial murderer who has been eluding the police. While the film might not be regarded as one of Allen’s greats, viewers were no doubt appreciative that he managed to avoid pawing at his younger leading lady throughout. Bravo, Woody. And for my next trick, I will marry my ex-girlfriend’s adopted daughter.

 

Tatischeff – L’illusionniste

He might have slipped under the Hollywood Blockbuster radar, but this weary animated magician is arguably the most heartwarming of the lot. From the same people behind the sumptuous Belleville Rendez-vous in 2003, L’illusionniste saw the ageing stage performer Tatischeff travel to Edinburgh to keep practising his trade (albeit to increasingly smaller audiences), only to be followed by a young girl who is awestruck by his show. It may have been silent (not even a “hey, presto!”), but it was charming, moving and -brilliant.

Gandalf – The Lord of the Rings

Do not take him for some conjuror of cheap tricks, but definitely do invite him to perform at your birthday party. With his cartload of monstrously dangerous (and possibly Chinese-made) fireworks, including one that transforms into a terrorising fiery dragon, Gandalf the grey/white would be the ultimate special guest. He’d also be a pretty nifty bouncer should things gets ugly later on. But if he says he won’t be arriving until dawn on the fifth day, it’s probably worth waiting for him as it’ll no doubt be an impressive entrance.

 

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opens in UAE cinemas tomorrow; check out tomorrow’s edition of Arts&Life for a review of the movie

 

aritman@thenational.ae

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