Tag Archives: The Prestige

The Sting (1973)

This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a special screening of The Sting. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.

In many instances a film is like a con: it wants to hook you, it wants to make you personally invested in the outcome, and it wants you to walk away with a smile on your face and slightly less in your wallet. If the endeavor is a success, there will always be enough to suggest that the artist — the film artist or the con artist — knows a truth that you do not. If the endeavor is unsuccessful, the feeling of being cheated will linger and frustrate.

If we apply this analogy to today’s film industry, of course, then the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be considered the most ambitious long con in Hollywood history. But things weren’t as complicated in 1973, and that year produced arguably the least-complicated Best Picture winner ever in George Roy Hill’s The Sting. A complex plot, high stakes for hardnosed characters, themes of friendship and honor amongst thieves — these elements are all there, but they’re intentionally deployed to the background of a filmgoing experience that’s less concerned with a moral message than a good time.

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Blackhat (2015)

Sometimes timing is everything when releasing a major studio film. That’s why we get The Prestige and The Illusionist one after the other, Antz and A Bug’s Life, Dante’s Peak and Volcano, The Truman Show and EdTV, all released within a month or two of a very similar counterpart. Is that good timing or bad timing? If the subject of these films is “in”, then it hardly matters. People suddenly like period magician dramas, so they want both Illusionist and Prestige. They suddenly like animated ants and volcanic destruction and reality TV heroes, so they want multiple movies about them. One can imagine a studio holding a film they find to be strikingly similar to one that just came out, hoping to distance this from that, only to be accused of copying the success of the first.

Whatever the studio machinations, sometimes the relevance of a movie is just plain dumb luck. Hacking and cyberterrorism have been in the news quite a bit lately, what with the November data leak at Sony and subsequent hullabaloo surrounding The Interview only just starting to get pushed to page two. Michael Mann’s globetrotting hacking drama Blackhat addresses that current fear, but unfortunately it doesn’t manage to extract a very good story out of the headlines.

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