Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Steve Carell is one funny guy, but he has had a terrible time finding the right material.  The Incredible Burt Wonderstone comes about as close to fitting the bill as any film Carell has made in the last ten years.  However, I have to say most of the laughs are from the antics of the rest of the cast, but those laughs are enough to make the film worth watching.

Carell plays the title character, a longtime Las Vegas magician who has lost sight of how much performing magic excited him in his younger days.  Part of the problem is the world of professional magicians has passed him by in favor of performers like Steve Gray, played hilariously by Jim Carrey, who have turned magic into a performance art of self-abuse.   In spite of encouragement from his partner Anton and assistant Janue, played by Steve Buscemi and Olivia Wilde, respectively, Wonderstone cannot get it all together until he meets his original inspiration in a nursing home.
 I do not care to spoil much of the story.  Anyone can probably fill in the blanks regardless.  Yes, it is predictable Wonderstone gets his groove back and wins out over the self-torturing for attention magicians and wins the girl.  It is not the story that makes the film worth watching.  It is a half dozen or so gags from the supporting cast.   I would like to single out Carrey.  I am not a huge fan of his, but I can appreciate how he is willing to forego top billing in order to play a character well suited to his talents.  His Steve Gray is a definite highlight right until the end when his act catches up with him.
Wilde is lovely as ever.  Her character is the heart of the film.  Can she carry a movie herself?  I could see her as the leading lady in a romantic comedy.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not a great film.  It is not even a laugh riot.  But the characters, save for Wonderstone, are charming   but it is a big problem when the title character is least interesting.   Watch for Buscemi doing his thing as the put upon Anton.  Watch for Carrey putting his sugar high comedic delivery to good use for once in a blue moon.  Watch for Wilde as a sweetheart who can play a role without showing off skin.  The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not a classic, but it is frivolous entertainment worth seeing at least once.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, June 12, 2014


It has been a long time since I have written any movie reviews.  I never intended for Apocalypse Cinema to die off, but life often gets in the way of such things.  I probably still will not update that regularly, but at least there will be new content added at some interval.  Not that anyone is reading at this point regardless.
It is a real shame I chose Head to kick off the end of the blog hiatus.  It is an even bigger shame I gave into a masochistic whim and watched this acid trip of a film again after twenty years or so.  I was one of those kids who got hooked on the Monkees when MTV aired their television series in a couple of weekend marathons back in the mid-'80's.  I had no idea until much later the Pre-Fab Four hated the goofiness of their show wanted to be more edgy, so they made a movie to show off all the creative talent stymied by television and record producers.  The result is less than stellar.
Six screenwriters are credited.  Such a large number usually means myriad rewrites, but in this case, it means a wild weekend of the Monkees smoking pot with producer Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson--yes, that Jack Nicholson--while banging out a script.  It shows, too.  I suspect one is required to be high in order to appreciate the disjointed narrative--such that it is--and psychodelic imagery.  Maybe if you are one who cranes his neck to look at the aftermath of car wrecks, you can fund some enjoyment in it.
The big question is whether the Monkees succeeded in proving they have something of value to say on their own.    The answer is no.  There is the typical anti-war propaganda typical of hippie rock in the late ‘60’s.  I can even give some credit for likening the American view of war as a sporting event.  But having Peter Tork repeatedly tackled but a football player in a battlefield trench is too much for me.   Ditto for Micky Dolenz using a tank to blast an out of order drink machine in the middle of the desert.  Thankfully, you do not have to dwell on the absurdity of these scenes too long before long sequences of half naked girls gyrating to loud music offer a distraction.
If there is any discernible theme throughout Head, it is the Monkees struggling to assert their identities as free artists against corporate control.  The film is a stream of consciousness bounce between various movie themes--war, western, sports, etc.  During each, the Monkees break out through the fourth wall only to find themselves back in a film under the director’s control.  Peter finally figures out what is going on--breaking out of his television persona as the dumb one--but the others find his assertion that the mind cannot distinguish between reality and a shared fantasy is dismissed as rambling Eastern philosophy.  With no way to free themselves, the Monkees do the only thing they can--commit suicide by jumping off a bridge.  But even this is a trap.  The Monkees land in an aquarium being driven by the director so the band can be storeed for future movies.
Thankfully, that never happened.  The general failure of Head is often attributed to a misleading marketing campaign that did not capitalize on the Monkees’ fame.  But I think fans are grasping at straws with that one.  The fact is the movie is simply not that good.  The Monkees are trying to be edgy rather than actually being edgy.  You cannot fake that sort of thing.  The Monkees are a bubblegum pop band.  They just cannot pull of artsy. 
 I am generally down on the film, but every Monkees fan ought to see it at least once.  If for no other reason, watch it to know why the monkees faded away so fast when they decided they were serious artists who needed to do their own thing.  They may have believed they were constrained by commercialization, but they were actually propped up by it instead.

Rating: ** (out of 5)