My betrothed and I caught the penultimate performance of Newsies: The Musical in Chicago on Saturday night. We’d been watching prices on StubHub for a while and finally jumped on them Saturday morning for the 8 PM showing. So glad it worked out because I’ve been excited to see it since its announcement years ago.
I went with “Breaking Newsies” because of the pun, obviously, but also because to make this show they had to break the original Newsies movie and rebuild it into something way better. I’m not exactly sure why I so love the original movie, which is—let’s be honest—a mediocre camp-fest meant primarily for kids, a la High School Musical (which is fitting given the two movies share a director.) But I watched it in high school with some friends who were strangely enthusiastic about it and found myself enjoying the music, which isn’t surprising given that it was wrought by Disney musical maven Alan Menken. “Seize the Day” is my go-to pump-up song, and what I listen to on repeat when I’m having a good day and want to keep it good.
Christian Bale famously disdains the 1992 movie he helmed, which makes no sense. If you turn off your left brain and remember its audience, the movie is quite fun, though about halfway through it dips considerably in quality. Once the strike is on and the “Seize the Day” a cappella chorale passes, it loses charm for the sake of plot and message—and who wants that in a silly musical made for kids?
This was what I worried most about in the musical. How would they fix the movie’s terrible excuse for a love story, honor the politics, and raise the stakes for everyone? No spoilers here, but I thought the adjustments they made to characters and motivations were savvy and ameliorative. The new songs, too, were welcome additions to the Newsies cult canon. They ditched weak songs (peace out “High Times, Hard Times”) and moved some existing songs around, but in a way that tightened the story and made it more cohesive.
What else should I have expected from a Tony Award-winning Broadway show based on a Disney property? The dancing was top-notch and remains my favorite element of stage shows in general. I’m always impressed by what these performers can do so well and so seemingly easily. We saw the penultimate performance in the Chicago run and yet the energy level seemed just as high as an opening night. I greatly admire what these professionals can do. I only wish from our nosebleed seats we could have seen the performances up closer.
The Prestige is a film about magicians and their illusions, but it is also an illusion itself.
In the film and in magic, we are first shown the Pledge; a seemingly ordinary scenario that we will assume is probably not so ordinary. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) two rival magicians who see their friendship turn into a rivalry after an ill-fated illusion involving Angier’s wife. Each becomes obsessed with discovering the other’s secrets and becoming the greater magician. Next comes the Turn; the magician takes the ordinary thing and turns it into something you would never expect. Alfred performs “the Transported Man” trick and sends Rupert on a desperate quest to uncover the illusion and starts a deadly game of cat-and-mouse which soon involve the double-crossing assistant Olive (Scarlett Johansson) and Rupert’s manager Cutter (Michael Caine). The final part of the illusion, the Prestige, sends the audience’s minds into a flurry with twists and turns you never expected. I try hard not to concentrate too much on twists in a movie so I can more fully enjoy the experience, but I found myself burning for answers throughout, getting a few along the way then asking some more.
Like a good magician, director Christopher Nolan lures us in with intrigue and presentation, shows us something we didn’t expect, and then throws us into a spin. There are echoes of his previous works in The Prestige that are evident throughout the film, like Memento‘s non-linear storytelling and ambiguity, and the darkness of Batman Begins. Aside from being simply an enjoyable film to be completely immersed in, The Prestige is great to look at with its breathtaking scenery and costumes. The thing that stands out the most to me is the acting. Without Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in their top form, this film would have fallen short of its potential; something that happens all too often in movies. Michael Caine is always a delight to watch, while Scarlett Johansson’s performance seemed uninspired and unoriginal, leading me to think that she seems to be a little overrated and overexposed.
Above all, The Prestige is definitely one of the best films of the year. It could require multiple viewings in order to answer all your questions, but the beauty of the magic trick is not the illusion itself but the fact that we will never really know how the magician did it. You think you know what’s going on, but in the end you will find that you never really knew. Rarely do good acting, beautiful photography, and intelligent writing come together to form a film worth watching.