With The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Oz The Great and Powerful out at the same time, movie magicians are having a bit of a moment. Maybe it’s their over-the-top style and impenetrable air of mystery that make them so alluring, or maybe it’s the duplicity of their characters — confident showmen and audacious frauds at once. Whatever it is, if the genre has you under its spell, check out these new and old titles for a touch of the miraculous.
1) Oz The Great and Powerful – This prequel to classic The Wizard of Oz reveals the young Oz (James Franco) as a small-time Kansas magician who finds himself cast away in a land bearing his namesake after a tornado hits. Oz struggles with self-doubt when he realises that the land’s inhabitants believe him to be their prophesied saviour, while he feels like a professional con-artist. But slowly, he learns that with charisma, creative thinking and willpower, he can make people believe that he is a great leader, and if he can make them believe, he can inspire them to victory. It’s a nice backstory for the formidable character of Oz, and contains some great opening scenes of Franco as a traveling magician in the American Wild West.
2) The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – As you can read in our review, we didn’t think this quite lived up to its grand title, relying too heavily on Steve Carell’s overblown, egotistical character of Burt Wonderstone for laughs while neglecting to get the audience on his side. However, it does highlight a comedic tension in modern-day magic between traditional, costumed set-pieces and David Blaine/ Criss Angel style stunts performed by Jim Carrey’s Steve Gray, with that contrast being one of the upsides of the film.
3) Magicians – The 2007 British film stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb as sparring magicians and ex-partners struggling to make it on their own. Fans of Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look will be titillated to see their favorite sketch artists carrying on their contentious friendship in these ridiculous roles. The contemporary comedy also takes aim at ignoble new age magicians when Webb’s character resorts to posing as a medium, infuriating Mitchell’s traditional card-trickster.
4) The Illusionist – The first in a pair of oft-compared magician period dramas to be released in 2006, The Illusionist stars Edward Norton as Eisenheim The Illusionist, a performer whose spectacles so perplex the Viennese at the fin de siècle that he is honoured and feared. Though many regard this as the lesser film compared with The Prestige, it is a triumph of its own, with searing imagery, great performances by Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Rufus Sewell, and a final act that will leave you reeling.
5) The Prestige – Enchanting, tragic, and compelling, The Prestige casts Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London who each vie to be the best act in town. Inserted into the dusty, old-timey environs is Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison’s then cutting-edge science, lending just enough historical accuracy to produce a hint of could-this-really-be excitement. Director Christopher Nolan’s penchant for the dark and dramatic remains intact, and the film remains one of his unsung masterpieces.