The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – Review

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Steve Buscemi attempts to escape to a better movie.

2Star

by Ken B.

The problem with movies about magicians and magic tricks is that illusions through film or on a screen just aren’t as impressive as they are in real life. I noticed this is in Now You See Me (Leterrier, 2013). Now I’ve seen a movie about magicians of a radically different style. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy, and while I did find several funny moments, there were too many mediocre and stale lines to redeem this into the line of a recommendation.

Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi star as a pair of Las Vegas magicians who perform with the names Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton. They have the showmanship of Liberace and the scope of David Copperfield (Copperfield has a cameo and was a magic advisor on the film). For years, they’ve performed exclusively in the same theater in the same casino/hotel. The owner of the establishment, Doug Munny, (the late JAMES GANDOLFINI) notices that the ticket sales for Burt and Anton’s show are sharply declining, a phenomenon attributed to the rise of street magicians, especially Steve Gray (JIM CARREY), who performs stunts on a TV show entitled Steve Gray: Mind Rapist (the character comes off like a parody of Criss Angel or David Blaine). While Burt brushes off Gray’s act, Anton sees it as a template for re-gaining fame.

Well, their first attempt at Gray-like magic fails catastrophically with Burt causing Anton to become injured. The partnership is over, and possibly their friendship, one maintained since childhood. Burt looks to various new partners, before stumbling across Rance Holloway (ALAN ARKIN), a retired magician in a nursing home, who was Burt’s childhood idol.

It felt like that in most scenes, there was one joke that worked, preceded by five duds. The viewing experience, especially during the film’s dragging second act, proved a tedious event. A mildly intriguing finale couldn’t redeem this. I may have set a personal speed record for removing the disc from my player and sealing the Netflix envelope back up.

The actors are certainly not the problem. From Carell to Gandolfini, everyone tries their best to salvage this frighteningly mediocre script. This movie is probably the best it can be – I don’t want to know what the film would have looked like if obscure performers had been given the roles. Director Don Scardino and cinematographer Matthew Clark do a fairly poor job. The movie probably would have been enhanced with the addition of some flashy camera shots during the Burt and Anton magic shows, but there is nothing of any interest to be seen there.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone could be called, at best, a satisfactory distraction. There’s a reviewer who once referred to how many hit-and-miss comedies can be used as a movie to play in the background of a house party. People wandering by might get a chuckle or two and move on. This is an ideal example of that kind of movie. Not bad enough to use as a coaster, but not good enough to warrant continuous attention for its 100 minute runtime.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

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Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – Review

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As you can see, Meryl Streep’s character likes to eat things that aren’t there. This, I imagine, is what supermodels have done for decades.

3Star

by Ken B.

If this makes sense, it’s worth noting that Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is almost cheerfully gloomy, in the kind of worlds that Roald Dahl would create or a film by Tim Burton. I have not read any of the books of which this film is based on, which apparently are written under the name Lemony Snicket, but I can deduce that this is a good adaptation, as a stranger such as myself had no trouble deciphering anything.

This is the story of the Baudelaire children, Violet (EMILY BROWNING, who, writing this in 2013, I must say bears a startling resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence here), 14, a resourceful inventor-type, Klaus (LIAM AIKEN), a bookish type a couple of years younger, and Sunny (KARA and SHELBY HOFFMAN) a toddler whose main purpose is to provide subtitled babbling wisecracks and to bite things. Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire are presumed dead after a massive fire destroys their house, and following which they are sent to live with eccentric relatives they were previously unfamiliar with, all interspersed with the appearance of a Count Olaf (JIM CARREY). What do I mean? The childrens’ meeting of the reptile loving Uncle Monty (BILLY CONNOLLY) and the hard-to-explain Aunt Josephine (MERYL STREEP) are all interrupted by Count Olaf.

I mean, sure, when you look over the names of the adults, it would appear that this would be compensation for adults attending this film with their children. (Close to the end, there’s a brief appearance from Dustin Hoffman, too). And the next conclusion would be that the actors know that, and perhaps refrain from giving it 100%. No. I am happy to report that the acting is great, all down the board, including the kids (well, I mean the performances of the ones that were old enough to have speaking lines. The baby in this movie didn’t have an awful lot to do). But on the other side of things, I’ve never really been much of a Jim Carrey fan, so it took me a while to become accepting of his naturally over-the-top performance of a character clearly written that away.

The visual style is attractive. Filmed in darker colors with an intentionally ludicrous set design, it’s strangely entrancing at times. Director Brad Siberling uses the talent of the art and visual effects teams to put together a truly amazing looking movie.

But there is not all good here. When this movie is getting started, it begins to over-saturate itself with so much material you feel the thing starting to implode – joke here, visual quirk there, special effect there… really, that kind of oppression never really leaves, it just becomes less noticeable.

However, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is an unquestionably entertaining movie, working with all the staples of an adaptation and also working for those completely unfamiliar with its source material.

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