DVD Patrol: Our favorite "magical" movies

Coming up with a Halloween teamup has never been easy because you can only do so many scary movies. The Toddster got to thinking ... What is one of the most important things when it comes to Halloween? I thought “How about magic?” Magic is one of the best elements that can make a good story and the scary time of the year the best. I challenged my team to come up with a movie where magic played a big part to make the story really something. Here’s what they (and yours truly) had to offer.


“Bedknobs and Broomsticks”

As the senior member of the group (maybe the Toddster is older than me, it’s hard to tell these days), I thought I’d kick things off old, old school with the 1971 Disney classic “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” Often compared in scope and theme to the more well-known “Mary Poppins,” “Bedknobs” stars the inimitable Angela Lansbury as Eglantine Price, a reluctant governess to three World War II-era British moppets who also just happens to be an apprentice witch. Miss Price is aspiring to be a good witch, however, and quickly earns the love of her young charges, particularly when she gifts them with an enchanted bedknob that allows the kiddies to travel on a flying bed to anywhere they like. That comes in handy when the correspondence school through which Miss Price was earning her “degree” suddenly closes, forcing her to seek out the remaining spells necessary to complete her mission to help the Allies. Of course, along the way Miss Price and the Rawlins children meet a colorful cast of characters – literally, as “Bedknobs” combines live-action characters with animated, employed similarly in “Mary Poppins.”

While I wasn’t quite old enough to see it in its theatrical release, I became enchanted (get it?) with “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” during a Saturday matinee in the Oxford Middle School auditorium. The junior student council (proud to represent Miss Vigus’ 4th grade class, I was) sponsored and ran the showings for the kids, way, way before VCRs were in every home in Oxford. Long story short, I was mesmerized by Miss Lansbury and the raucous musical numbers in “Bedknobs,” and still consider it far superior (and more magical) than “Mary Poppins” to this day. Check it out!


“The Prestige”

“The Prestige,” written, directed and co-produced by Christopher Nolan, featuring Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier, Christian Bale as Alfred Borden, is one of my favorite movies of all time. A masterfully crafted suspense thriller that catchs even the most jaded of audience members off guard at every turn, the 2006 movie was a success both at the box office and at the Academy Awards, receiving nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Set during the twilight years of the 19th century, the plot is both complicated and compelling. The story follows the downward spiral of two performing magicians locked in a cataclysmic struggle that cleaves a path of misery and death through all the lives it touches.

The movie begins with the sentencing of Borden for the murder of Angier and proceeds forward as a flash back, explaining the events leading up to the sentencing. The flashback begins with both Borden and Angier as assistants to another magician. A ferocious rivalry is sparked when Angier holds Borden accountable for the death of his wife after she drowns during a magic act in which Borden tied the knot that bound her wrists. The mutual animosity continues throughout the rest of the movie, blossoming into a bastion for enmity as the two men each take turns escalating the situation, claiming the lives of many along the way, including Borden’s own wife. In the end, both Angier and Borden are consumed by the ruinous feud to different degrees.


“Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom”

Even if magic isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when making mention the iconic action hero Indiana Jones, there’s certainly no shortage of black magic seen in the second film of the epic “Indiana Jones” franchise, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

The 1984 film, shot as a prequel to the successful “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” finds Indiana Jones, his 11-year-old sidekick Short Round, and nightclub singer Willie Scott (because an Indiana Jones epic wouldn’t be complete without a damsel in distress) in an Indian village, where villagers believe that evil spirits are taking away their children after a sacred stone was stolen from them. In search of the stone, the trio is pitted against a Kali worshiping cult steeped in black magic and rituals of human sacrifice when the search leads them to the Temple of Doom.

Now that I’m writing about it, the plot of the movie doesn’t do any justice for the boyhood fantasy invoked in the 80’s. In fact, the movie sounds kind of cornballish. Nevertheless, anyone who’s watched the film has the scene of a man’s heart being ripped from his chest forever indented in their memory (Kali Ma!).

I admit, the Indiana Jones franchise has taken quite a punch to the gut over the years, particularly with the release of the newest film to carry the Indiana Jones name, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Still, “The Temple of Doom” stands out as one of my all time favorites because of its originality. I might even consider sporting a hat and a whip as part of my Halloween costume, and going a day as one of my favorite cinematic heroes... or a lion tamer, which unfortunately, I think I resemble more closely.


“Big Trouble in Little China”

Challenged with finding my favorite Halloween-esque motion picture – more importantly one based on magic, voodoo, spirits or spells – I immediately looked to one of my all-time favorite Hollywood directors, John Carpenter, for inspiration. And it wasn’t long (probably three to five seconds) before I’d made my decision ... the 1986 cult classic that is “Big Trouble in Little China,” starring none other than Carpenter’s go-to man Kurt Russell.

“Big Trouble” tells the tale of truck driver and reluctant protagonist Jack Burton (Russel doing his best John Wayne impersonation), who joins old friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) as the pair attempt to rescue Chi’s fiancee, whose been kidnapped by Chinese street gang, the Lords of Death. It’s an action-packed, effects-rich (for 1986) ride, to say the least, from an inflatable (and exploding) wizard to a humorous and brilliant performance by the legendary Victor Wong as the magician Egg Shen.

Carpenter has gone on record that he’d always wanted to film a martial arts flick and this – his first (and only, I believe) foray into the genre – has all the trimmings that make for a good Carpenter film; the dialogue and character acting in particular. Russell, as always, is on top of his game, here, easily channeling his inner John Wayne to great effect.

This isn’t the first time Russell and Carpenter have hooked up, of course, and I’d recommend any and all of their collaborations, particularly 1982’s “The Thing,” 1981’s “Escape From New York” and 1996’s “Escape From L.A.” All three are – like “Big Trouble” – now considered cult classics and are not to be missed.


“The Illusionist”

I was really challenged on this one because there are really two favorites for me – “The Prestige” (Kevin beat me to it) and this other classic (in my opinion, anyway). We all need the tools to be able to get the things we want. Why can’t magic be used for it? The man who would become Eisenheim (Edward Norton) loved his childhood friend Sophie (Jessica Biel) since he was a kid. Sophie’s parents don’t want Sophie associating with him because he just doesn’t fit into their world. At the time, Eisenheim couldn’t do anything about it.

Years go by and Eisenheim goes on to become one of the best magicians that Europe has ever seen. His job might be a hard one when he returns to his childhood home to find out that Sophie is engaged to marry Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Seawell). Leopold is known to have a not so great reputation and Sophie may be in for a hard road if she gets married. He performs for the Prince and Sophie. His illusions impress and Sophie knows something about the showman is very familiar. She takes a chance and realizes that Eisenheim is really her friend from her childhood and they still have the connection they once shared.

The Prince is not someone who takes having things stolen from him lightly. He puts Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) on his trail to expose Eisenheim as a fraud.

Eisenheim comes up with an idea to get Sophie away from the Prince and the inspector off his trail. Will Eisenheim be able to live with his lady love and live happily ever after? Norton has always been a great actor and anything he does is good. This movie also showed Jessica Biel building her resume with another great performance. She has come a long way since “7th Heaven.” A great suspense movie and ride to keep you mesmerized. When I wrote this, I was watching it. Revisiting movies you’ve seen is always fun.

Check out the picks we have for this week and all are available on DVD now. Before we go, two quick points of interest. The past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the new CW network show “Arrow” and it has just been announced that it has been picked up for a full season (YES!). Our next teamup will concern a certain secret agent and that will be around in November. Back to new DVDs next time. The Toddster shall return.

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