The Pulp Fiction Curse
I have just recently seen both The Prestige and Hollywoodland. Both had the potential to be great films but blew it because of what I call ‘the Pulp Fiction curse.’ The curse happens when writers or directors believe they can reproduce the brilliance of Quentin Tarantino by using the mobile time line for their movies that his genius engineered with Pulp Fiction. Now please keep in mind I’m not saying that Quentin is a genius by ant stretch, just that some of his tricks are genius moves – the scenes-out-of-order-to-create-better-flow trick being one of his best. This does not for either of these two films though.
The Prestige re-teams Batman Begins playmates Christian Bale and Michael Caine with director Christopher Nolan in this script by he and his brother Jonathan Nolan, and based on the novel by comic book writer Christopher Priest. Much like The Illusionist, which I thought was the best film of this past year, this is the tale of a turn-of-the-century magician, or more specifically magicians. Bale and Hugh Jackson play rivals so competitive and scornful that their relationship turns to murder.
The movie travels far and wide depicting many of the secrets of the magician’s world, much to the dismay of the practitioners of that field I’m sure, and those portions are greatly interesting. We also get a side trip to the real life Nikola Tesla, the mad scientist whose ‘discoveries’ equaled those of Thomas Edison. Tesla is played with great skill by a black-haired David Bowie.
For that matter everyone involved in this production: Andy Serkis, Scarlet Johansson, Piper Perabo, Ricky Jay and Roger Rees – all turn in amazing performances. This should have been a great film. It’s the patchy timelines and misplaced flashbacks that kill it, although the length doesn’t help much either. I think if The Prestige had been told in a linear fashion, with no flashbacks, no tricks – it would have been one of the best of the year.
Hollywoodland also suffers from the same curse. Focusing on the supposed murder or suicide of actor George Reeves, TV’s first Superman, the film can’t decide whether it is about the investigation of the crime or whether it’s a George Reeves biopic. The switches from investigation in the present to flashbacks to Reeves’ life are so jarring it takes away from any enjoyment of the film.
Much is made in the DVD extra material of how much research Ben Affleck did for his role as Reeves, but I really have to say it doesn’t show. Affleck performs well, but he doesn’t seem like Reeves at all, either from the Superman show or any interviews I’ve seen with the man. On the other hand, Adrien Brody gives a near perfect showing.
The flick explores all possibilities of the crime which is a nice change of pace for these types of movies. Usually the writer or director decides for you what the truth is which can be so annoying, especially if you have a grasp of the facts before seeing the work. Hollywoodland is only for folks interested in Reeves’ death and folks who want to see another great Brody performance.