Tuesday, April 10, 2007

DVD Reviews: Rocky Balboa and The Illusionist

I promised mini-reviews of "Rocky Balboa" and "The Illusionist" yesterday so here they are. It's kinda funny, but these movies, though they might not seem like it, are actually a good pair to review together. They are similar in that they are both decent films that are plagued by a sense of imbalance. In one case, it's a bit of style over substance, and in the other it's a bit of substance over style. Both are worth a rental in my estimation, but have some pretty major flaws that prevented me from completely embracing them. Let's start with the magician and then move to the boxer.

The Illusionist
PG-13, 85%

Simplified, this is a movie made great by performances and not necessarily plot or substance. Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti are absolutely astounding. Norton as the titular magician and Giamatti as the inspector that follows him (out of curiosity and necessity). It's unfair that this movie will be always linked and compared to "The Prestige" because of their similar nature and coming out at the same time. (By the way, has anyone figured out why this happens so much, and do we even have a name for this occurrence? Can we call it the Armageddon effect?) It's not fair because it has no chance at being as deep, intricate, or compelling as Nolan's genius film. As wonderful as Ed and Paul are to watch, the truth is that this is a very basic story dressed up by some pretty cool visuals and an attempted twist ending that fell pretty flat for me. I won't give it away, but sufficed to say, when all was said and done it was difficult to buy into any part of the reality of the movie. Even a message about the destructive nature of obsession was tainted by a seemingly contradictory message that obsession could also overcome all things. Overall, still worth checking out, and I'll give it a solid B, but the sleight of hand in this movie is that while we are being distracted by compelling performances the underlying structure is pretty flimsy and basic.

Rocky Balboa
PG, 83%

I'm going to admit something that may get my "guy card" revoked. I've only seen one Rocky movie before this one. Not only that, I'm not even sure what number it is. It's the one with the Russian, the one that made "I. Will. Break. You." a part of my go to vocabulary. Anyhow, it was a lot of fun, and I remember thinking, "Hmm, boxing movies can be fun" (something later confirmed by friends forcing me to watch movies like "Diggstown" and "The Gladiator" (Cuba Gooding not Russell Crowe)). So when Rocky Balboa was announced, I had the same reaction as everyone else; utter disbelief. I mean, seriously, Sly's what now, eleventy seven? (Actual answer, 60, but I needed the LOTR reference for my geek cred.) But a funny thing happened on the way to the theater, Balboa started promoting to churches and the faith audience and now my curiosity was peaked. Could this latest Rocky actually carry a decent message and at the same time deliver one last knockout punch? The answer? Uh... kinda. The truth is for every bit as sweet as the themes and messages are in this movie (great stuff about family, perseverance, and purpose) the plot seems contrived, surface, and completely unrealistic. The movie plays like it's own battle in the ring. It will get off a few good punches with message, heart, and even performance (Sly can still act, by the way) and then get pummelled to the corner by poor direction, bad pacing, and bad acting (Sly can still overact, by the way). The point is that by the end of the movie you feel bloodied and bruised but greater for having taken the punch and still getting up. When the final bell sounds, it's this inconsistency that makes "Rocky Balboa" hard to recommend, but a movie still worth seeing if you can take a punch or two.