THE PRESTIGE and MARIE ANTOINETTE double feature
This week was one of those ones that start coming up toward the end of the year where there’s just too many movies you want to see all coming out on the same day. And me being an obsessive motherfucker I try to tackle them all at once. We got three reliable directors all hitting the same day here. #1 priority for me was Clint’s FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, but I already saw that at an early screening. So that left Chris Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE and Sofia Coppola’s MARIE ANTOINETTE. So I watched them both in a row, liked both, also fell asleep during both. (You gotta go to sleep the night before one of these double-headers, it turns out.)
To be honest I wasn’t even gonna review MARIE because, let’s face it, I am not a girl. This is not only a girl movie but a long, arty, low on plot girl movie. I think some of you cinemasters are gonna love the shit out of it but alot of my readers would probaly never be able to sit through it. Still, I’ve read so many reviews that clearly didn’t fucking GET this movie that I decided I had to comment.
Ms. Coppola’s take on Marie Antoinette is not your typical stuffy historical drama costume movie. She tries to emphasize that Marie was a teenager (14) when she became French royalty, so this movie is about giggly teen girls hanging out like they’re having a slumber party or something. If you saw the trailer you know that some (but not all) of the movie is set to ’80s synthesizer pop music that white people used to listen to due to the brain damage caused by the popularity of cocaine at the time. Also, since the movie is in English anyway and nobody’s speaking French, she decided to dump the artificiality of everybody faking French accents, so you got Rip Torn and people in there talking how they normally would. But wearing wigs. Other than that though they’re trying to be fairly accurate to the times and like most of these types of pictures they get some beautiful imagery that seems inspired by old paintings.
Now, I said this was a girl movie, and therefore I’m not gonna relate to it as much as I would, say, a movie starring a WWE wrestler I never heard of. However, I don’t mean that in a bad way and let me just say I don’t go for this horse shit where any movie from a woman’s perspective is written off as a “chick flick.” Just because it rhymes doesn’t mean it’s fair. There just aren’t enough lady directors in business and I for one am glad that Coppola makes feminine movies, instead of just trying to copy what the dudes are doing. She would never have directed POINT BREAK, in my opinion. She clearly has her own voice.
So she has a completely different perspective on this story than anybody else would do. Most people think of Marie Antoinette as that rich bitch who said “let them eat cake” and got her head cut off like she fuckin deserved. Not Sofia. I don’t want to say she shows Marie as a victim, but she definitely shows her as one part of a ridiculous system that she can’t be expected to control. The movie starts with her riding in a carriage with some of her girlfriends and her portable dog prop. You can’t help but think of Paris Hilton. When Marie gets to her destination they explain that she is being given to a dude she’s never met as a symbolic gesture of friendship between Austria and France. She is naive enough that she seems okay with it, admiring a portrait of her future husband saying that he has “kind eyes.” But she seems surprised when they explain that she has to leave behind everything of Austria, including her clothes, her friends, and even her dog. They strip her naked and re-dress her in different, more French clothes.
Now all the sudden she’s married to this dumpy chump (Jason Schwartzman from RUSHMORE, also Coppola’s cousin I think). After the wedding the King (Rip Torn) and various religious leaders and their entourage accompany the barely legal newlyweds to the matrimonial fuck palace to do some kind of ritual and heavily imply that it’s time to get it on and squirt out an heir as soon as possible. But of course, as history tells us, King Louie couldn’t get it up for 7 years. Apparently he didn’t see that part in SPIDER-MAN where her shirt got all wet in the rain. So Marie has to put up with her own mother and various mother figures and gossips openly scorning her talents as an automatic baby manufacturing machine. There are scenes where she walks somewhere in a fancy dress and you hear various women talking shit about her, and sometimes you don’t even see them at all, they are just offscreen voices like the people saying “Holy fuck!” and “Forrest’s here, that fire is as good as out!” in ON DEADLY GROUND.
So there’s all this pressure and humiliation, but on the other hand they’re also pampering her to ridiculous extremes. When she wakes up every morning there’s a whole posse there staring at her, ready to pick her up and ritualistically put her clothes on for her. It doesn’t make it clear but I’m sure they must wipe her ass for her too. Then a candle light vigil marches the wipings ten miles so they can set them adrift at sea in a carved ivory coffin.
The meals she eats every day look like they took a team of designers and sculptors weeks to create. To make her a sympathetic character Sofia has her say “This is ridiculous!” She’s uncomfortable with this stuff but after a while she says fuck it and starts indulging herself. There’s a montage of her and her friends eating fancy desserts and drinking champagne, set to the song “I Want Candy.” This is also the name of the movie’s production company and I think it’s sort of the general idea of the movie.
The genius of the movie is that it focuses on wanting candy and not on the French Revolution. This is also the part that seems to have flown over a few heads. For some reason some of these jokers in the critical establishment have decided that if somebody makes a movie called MARIE ANTOINETTE, even if the logo is pink and designed to look like it was cut out of a magazine and glued onto a notebook, it has to be a serious attempt at an A-Z history Channel retelling of Antoinette’s life and the beginning of the French Revolution from all perspectives. But that’s what libraries and wikipedias are for. If you know the basics of the story (or read it on wikipedia before going to the movie, not to mention any names but some people may have done that) you can see what’s going on. This isn’t an overview of history, it’s from the I Want Candy POV. When Marie hears that there is a bread shortage and the peasants are starving, she doesn’t say “let them eat cake.” She does decide to stop buying diamonds. It’s a pathetic gesture but obviously sincere. But she makes this decision from the grounds of her fancy garden and made-to-order private rich lady village. She never sees a starving peasant, and neither do you. At the end you don’t see the people who storm the castle, you just hear them. Some critics of the movie apparently think Coppola is stupid and did this by accident. They have described the movie as “shallow” as if having a shallow character makes the movie shallow. (By that logic, THE MARINE is muscular.)
I’m sure everybody else has compared Marie of this movie to modern Rich Ho Celebrities like Paris Hilton. Marie is famous here in the states for supposedly thinking peasants without bread can still eat cake, just like Jessica Simpson is famous for thinking Chicken of the Sea is chicken. Our modern pop culture is inundated with these rich daughters who are born into fame and fortune. The dumber, less talented and more fashionable the better. Have you ever seen those shows on MTV about the rich girls having multi-million dollar sweet sixteen parties? Or did you hear that some guy hired 50 Cent to play his daughter’s bat mitzvah? That shit makes me sick because they act like that’s something to aspire to. Even though there is no way to aspire to being born rich. I think there really are teenage girls today who want to live that life. MARIE ANTOINETTE doesn’t argue that anyone should. You know the revolution is coming eventually to piss on the parade. It just doesn’t entirely blame Marie for enjoying the parade while she can. She didn’t start it.
I’m sure fifteen other critics must’ve already pointed out that in today’s world Marie would definitely have a reality show and a sex tape. (In fact, the real life Marie Antoinette was depicted in outrageous sex acts in Tiajuana bible type tracts, so she almost did have a sex tape.) These girls are given this world of luxury that they have done nothing to earn, their agents and entourages convince them that they deserve it, and they indulge it left and right without a clue that other people in the world are suffering. But Ms. Coppola makes us realize that it’s not entirely their fault. If we don’t want our daughters to be stupid then we shouldn’t make them stupid. If you want her to be down to earth don’t sell her off to the royal family when she’s 14 and feed her sugary edible art pieces. Don’t give her her own TV show and album and put her on the cover of magazines and then act like you’re mad when she continues to make an idiot of herself. The whole fuckin system is insane. But then they grab Marie and cut off her head and for hundreds of years people act like all of it was her fault. Don’t worry, we got the bitch who did it.
I wouldn’t want to compare somebody as smart and talented as Sofia Coppola to Paris Hilton, but it’s obvious why she can sympathize with these girls. I mean do the math, her dad directed THE GODFATHER. I’m sure she had her share of candy growing up. And the gossip Marie puts up with in the movie is tame compared to what Sofia still gets when people talk about her performance in GODFATHER III. Like it’s her fault Winona Ryder quit and her dad decided to put her in. I didn’t pick up on this until it was pointed out by somebody else but you also got Dario Argento’s daughter in the movie, John Boorman’s daughter, John Huston’s son, Bill Nighy’s daughter, and Schwartzman is Talia Shire’s son. Marianne Faithfull is in there and apparently she’s the daughter of a baroness. And obviously Kirsten Dunst can relate to this lifestyle a little bit since she’s been a celebrity since she kissed Tom Cruise (or was it Brad Pitt?) in a movie at the age of 12.
I don’t think Coppola’s letting Marie off the hook. She definitely has some of that Condoleeza-shopping-for-shoes-during-Katrina vibe about her. One of the taglines for the movie is “The party that started a revolution.” But Coppola relates to her too, she’s sympathetic, and since when has it been wrong for a director to care about her characters? In real life I’d want to be with those peasants storming the castle, so when Coppola made me feel bad for Marie Antoinette I knew she had made a good movie.
The more masculine movie I saw this weekend was THE PRESTIGE, aka BATMAN VS. WOLVERINE. This one has Christian Bale and Huge Ackman as stubborn, competitive assholes in the world of old timey magicianery. Basically these two fucks hate each other and are always trying to steal each other’s audiences, secrets, women, etc. And they do magic tricks.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because 1) you want to be surprised and 2) I dozed off in the beginning so I would probaly say something wrong and embarrass myself. But it starts out with Ackman on stage doing his magic, and Christian Bale is chosen as a volunteer from the audience. He sneaks backstage only to find Ackman drowning in a container of water. He goes to jail, accused of murdering Ackman by sabotaging his trick. It doesn’t really seem like he did it, but he might have, we don’t know.
Then, like FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, the whole thing gets unnecessarily complicated, skipping around from the beginning to the end to the middle to the mid-middle to the late-beginning to the next-to-last part and then back under to the middle before it twists around to another part in the middle. Unlike FLAGS though the structure works pretty good, you stay involved and the puzzle-pieces kind of set up obviously matches the subject matter. The magicians are trying to figure out how each other’s tricks are done, deciphering each other’s journals, spying on each other, the court is trying to figure out how the trick is done to find out how the murder was done, and the audience is trying to figure out how the story fits together. Then David Bowie shows up as Nikola Tesla and builds some machines. A warning, he does not sing in the movie, it is not a musical. Also no puppets.
The characters in the movie keep talking about the structure of a magic trick. “The Prestige” is apparently magician hipster lingo for “the part at the end where the bird that disappeared reappears.” (I bet Penn Jillette talks about that shit all the time. The prestige this, the prestige that. Shut up dude. We don’t want to hear about the aristocrats ever again, either. Less talk more trick, buddy.) The movie is obviously supposed to be sort of a magic trick too, using the ol’ “slight of hand” or the magic of cinema to trick you and jerk you around and make you accept some completely ludicrous events that happen in the end (but that are strangely similar to other easier to accept tricks earlier in the movie, when you go back and think it over).
I never even saw a trailer for this movie and I have to say, it was nice to see it without really knowing what to expect at all. So I don’t want to really say anything about the plot. But I gotta say one thing. There is all kinds of crazy impossible shit that happens in this movie, but the ONE thing I had a hard time accepting was a little one where they find a double for Huge Ackman to use in his act. There just happens to be a drunk guy they find (played by Huge Ackman) who looks exactly like Huge Ackman. This is based on a book and in a book it might work because you can imagine that there are two guys who look alot alike and they dress them up to look the same. I mean, there is such a thing as stunt doubles after all. And there was that guy Tony Jaa bumped into in THE PROTECTOR that I thought was Jackie Chan but apparently was just a lookalike. So we know this is possible. But when you have Huge Ackman playing a guy who looks like Huge Ackman it becomes a joke, like Eddie Murphy playing a bunch of different fat people in one movie. There are other things that happen in the movie that are MUCH more far-fetched, but in the context of the movie, more believable.
The cast is good of course. Christian Bale has got to be one of the top actors working now. This is no AMERICAN PSYCHO as far as being a great role for him, but it’s a good one. The Alfred to his Batman, Michael Caine (ON DEADLY GROUND) is also in there, though he’s working for Wolverine. Andy Serkis (Gollum, King Kong) is in there as David Bowie’s assistant, slightly overacting but I think it’s just because he’s not weighed down by the motion capture suit he normally wears. He doesn’t know his own strength.
Like I mentioned before I dozed off during this movie, through no fault of the movie. I woke up and all the sudden Scarlett Johansen was in it. I think she might have snuck in from some other movie because once again she’s the hot young mistress who gets betrayed and turns bitchy and yells at the dude. This time with a British accent though. Due to my brief sleep breaks I couldn’t really tell you how Scarlett came into the story. I also missed exactly why Christian and Huge hated each other so much (besides comic book politics) and when somebody explained it to me afterwards I thought shit, that makes a whole lot more sense. But I think the version I saw where this wasn’t explained was a little more challenging, a little less Hollywood, and it still made a good story.
One thing they did not cover is tigers, they do not have tigers like Sigfried and Roy do. But it makes you question, if there is this sort of competition, this violent east coast/west coast magician feud going on, how do we know that tiger that ate Roy wasn’t in on it? Maybe David Blaine paid him off. That is the dirty secret of street magic, that guy comes from the street so even though he can levitate he has a violent background. ‘Cause in the world of street magic you gotta do what you gotta do to survive. And I mean that’s some dirty Godfather, Scarface type shit to send a fucking white tiger after a guy. The day a white tiger eats your throat out is the day you’ve fucked with the wrong guys. Admittedly, Sigfried and Roy probaly have a higher chance of being attacked by tigers than regular citizens due to the circles they run in, but still, what are the chances? It had to be David Blaine. Or what about that Criss Angel Mindfreak dude? I don’t know what the fuck his problem is, I just seen ads for him in magazines. But mindfreak or not I don’t trust any weirdo who names himself “Criss Angel.” At least spell Chris correctly if you don’t want us to suspect you of this shit.
Anyway it’s a pretty good one, I would like to see it again while awake some time to see if it holds up.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.