The Great Magician (大魔術師)
There is the top-notch cast, beautiful period sets and costumes and one of Hong Kong’s most experienced and versatile directors in the shape of Derek Yee (爾冬陞, Protege and Shinjuku Incident), and an almost complete lack of cinematic magic. A convoluted plot involving a warlord (Lau Chingwen, 劉青雲), his seventh concubine (Zhou Xun, 周迅), arms deals with the Japanese army, a mystical scroll and a master conjuror (Tony Leung Chiu-wai, 梁朝偉), brims with ideas, but the filmmakers seem unclear whether they want to make a comedy, a drama or a thriller. In the end, the colorful concoction falls apart under the stress of these conflicting demands. There are echoes of the even less coherent Let the Bullets Fly (讓子彈飛) from 2010, and it is a testament to the profound failure of The Great Magician that it doesn’t even deliver the manic jollies of that chaotic film.
Man on a Ledge
Sam Worthington, whose starring roles in Avatar and, more questionably, in Clash of the Titans, have catapulted him into the cinematic A-list, seems keen on showing that he is capable of doing a little more in the acting department. Sadly, Man on a Ledge, with its aspirations of being a cleverly constructed thriller, is not likely to give him much of a credibility boost. Worthington plays Nick Cassidy, an ex-cop imprisoned on trumped-up charges. He spends a fair chunk of the movie standing on the ledge of a Manhattan skyscraper threatening to jump. We don’t really care if he does or not, as it is all a distraction so that his brother (Jamie Bell) can pull off a heist that will prove his innocence. No surprise that Elizabeth Banks, an expert hostage negotiator tasked with talking him down, realizes that he is innocent after all. An absurd plot is not necessarily a deal breaker for a thriller, but almost nothing about Man on a Ledge appears to be real or particularly engaging, and you might well find yourself sharing the sentiment of the crowd watching Cassidy and calling on him to make the jump.
This big, splashy sci-fi action flick is one of the most expensive films to come out of India in recent years, and stars two of its biggest names: Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor. The story of what happens when a shape-shifting superhero jumps out from the video game for which he was created is largely a pretext for Khan to look handsome and heroic and Kapoor to play a maiden in distress. Huge visual effects are calculated to bewitch, and although RA One has a full complement of techno-gadgetry, there is also plenty of room for Bollywood theatrics. If you thought Tron: Legacy would be improved with a bit of belly dancing and a song or two, then you’ll probably love RA One.
This feature debut by director Josh Trank blends a number of genres into a fascinating cocktail that is this week’s low-budget movie of choice. Several friends discover they have acquired superpowers after they stumble onto a mysterious something during a trip in the wilderness; as they learn to use these powers, first through pranks, they feel the appeal of the dark side of their personalities. There are no wise elders to provide life lessons as there was for Peter Parker (aka Spiderman), and the moral choices faced by the characters are much more blurred. Trank’s use of found footage, with all the consequent shaky handheld effects, works remarkably well with the story, and the dark, pessimistic take on the uses of superhuman powers is a nice contrast to the righteous heroes who have populated cinema screens of late.