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Does Bobo_Vision Want To Escape From DEATH-DEFYING ACTS?!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. It’s sort of amazing to me that there’s still no great definitive film about Harry Houdini. He’s been that great white whale to a lot of directing Ahabs over the years as they’ve developed script after script after script, trying to figure out just how to crack the life story of one of the great American celebrities. Personally, I wish Zemeckis had figured it out. I know it’s something he wanted to do for many years. I’m curious about DEATH-DEFYING ACTS, although it sounds to me like it’s a story about a single piece of Houdini’s life. Our frequent contributor Bobo_Vision got a chance to see an early screening of the film, and here’s his take on how it turned out:

Hey Harry, Bobo_Vision here. I managed to squeeze in one more preview before I start travelling for the summer. "Death Defying-Acts" is the story of Harry Houdini in his final days, played by Guy Pearce, with a love interest played by Catherine Zeta Jones. There have been a rash of magician movies lately, most notably the two big ones from last year, "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist", both of which I liked, and I particularly loved "The Prestige" and rank it as one of my favourites of 2006. So when I heard about this movie about the greatest magician of all time, Houdini, played by Guy Pearce, I was excited. After Houdini's mother passed away he became preoccupied with debunking mystics, psychics and spiritualists. In the movie, he offers $10,000 to anyone psychic who can communicate with the dead and tell Houdini what were the final words she uttered to him before she died. Zeta-Jones and her daughter are a couple of grifters who have a psychic act and decide to take Houdini for his 10 grand. They break into his lodgings to look for clues, but the daughter is caught. However, after meeting Zeta-Jones, Houdini decides to play along and seems to believe in them despite their obvious attempt to con him. It then becomes unclear who is conning who (whom?). I debated about whether or not to make this review spoiler heavy or spoiler-free, and since I didn't particularly like the film, I was planning on revealing all. Then I sat through a focus group at the behest of my cohorts, and about half the people in the group liked the movie, so I figure I won't spoil it for that half of you readers. So I'll say this... the romance doesn't come off as real. Houdini suddenly becomes infatuated with Zeta-Jones despite the fact that he's married, yet we never see his wife, and Houdini never talks about her. Only his manager mentions her in passing. Also, the center of the movie seems to be focused on Zeta-Jones and her daughter, and its Houdini who comes into their life, rather than vice-versa. So the tone of the movie is low-key with a slow pace, yet there are hints of tension and suspense. It seems to be building up to something, only to find out... it builds to absolutely nothing. There have been numerous movies where there are seemingly multiple endings, where just when you think its ended, something else happens, and then repeat. Well, this movie is the exact opposite. It ends abruptly, and you're left thinking, 'Thats it?' There was so much to explore given the character of Harry Houdini so it feels like an enormous missed opportunity to create a hammy romance story in the framework of an historical drama. And when you learn the real reason why Houdini is infatuated with Jones, its just kinda odd, rather than answering questions. That being said, there are good points which should be mentioned. Guy Pearce does a great job as Houdini. He's interesting, charismatic, and delivers some great dialogue. The atmosphere, settings, and cinematography are pretty good, and the movie has plenty of symbolism. As for Zeta-Jones, I feel like she's played the cold-hearted golddigger so many times that its likely just a case of type-casting. The daugther is pretty good in her role, but its revealed towards the end that she carries some great significance, but thats not explained either. Its all just left undone, without tying it all together. If they had focused more on Houdini, and made him the center of a bio-pic, this movie could have worked because after reading a little about his final days it seems that truth is stranger (and more interesting) than fiction, but instead, Houdini is just a character in a period piece romance movie. Bobo_Vision
Readers Talkback
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  • June 30, 2007, 4:55 p.m. CST

    Sounds Shitty!

    by PotSmokinAlien

    but i'd like to see zemeckis take a crack at an actual good script. could be cool.

  • June 30, 2007, 5:01 p.m. CST

    check out the bobos on superfreak

    by cammywobs

    that is all

  • June 30, 2007, 5:04 p.m. CST


    by Turd Furgeson

    meh..... Let the Order Of The Phoenix reviews commence.

  • June 30, 2007, 5:11 p.m. CST

    Hmmmm. Interesting but hmmmmm.

    by Bungion Boy

    This sounds like great subject matter presented in a film that doesn't totally work. Somehow I don't think I was even aware of this. I really like Guy and sometimes really like Catherine. I'd like to see this, but maybe not pay for it. Nice review Bobo. Wish I heard more about some of these smaller screenings in New York. I'm tired of not being able to walk down the street without being offered passes for "Hot Rod" while I know there are better films screening out there.

  • June 30, 2007, 6:17 p.m. CST

    i know it's not about Houdini but....

    by waggy

    i think The Prestige is the closest we're going to get to a great Houdini film for the forseeable future. though i didn't care for the "real magic" stuff.

  • June 30, 2007, 6:21 p.m. CST

    Great subject matter...ok maybe?

    by PotSmokinAlien

    in terms of Houdini's life you are correct.. but you gotta be in the hands of a scorsese to take a tiny slice of an american icon's life and make a fucking good movie that also illuminates the rest of dude's life, as well as dude's place in history at large. (if you even consider AVIATOR to be a success, which i happened to, but enough people don't that i will concede it is no small task.) otherwise you are left scratching your head, "why the fuck did i just sit through a historical romance/drama that happened to feature harry houdini as one of the players?" as bobovision seemed to be.

  • June 30, 2007, 6:24 p.m. CST

    The Prestige

    by PotSmokinAlien

    dude what are you on? houdini was a real man who did feats of physical endurance. THE PRESTIGE is a phenomenal movie about magicians and science and if you're looking for it, wayyyy more deep shit about identity and art than i care to go into here. <p> what i want out of a great Houdini film is what i want out of any great film about an american icon-- what i said above, good movie that makes a case for dude being a representational aspect of american society in some way.

  • June 30, 2007, 7:06 p.m. CST

    Was hoping for a better review

    by movienutbag69

    I like Guy Pearce, I hope I like this movie more than bobo, but I don't think I will.

  • June 30, 2007, 7:06 p.m. CST


    by classyfredblassy

    If I had to, I'd sleep with her. And I bet she'd like it too.

  • June 30, 2007, 8:09 p.m. CST

    Why is that classyfredblassy.

    by mrfan

    Do you have old balls and penis like Michael Douglas? :)

  • June 30, 2007, 10:43 p.m. CST

    Worst. Title. Ever.

    by lost.rules

    No $$$ for this flick....

  • July 1, 2007, 1:51 a.m. CST

    The Tony Curtis Houdini flick ain't half bad...

    by wash

    ...although it's not very accurate. Someone like Fincher or del Toro would do a bang up job on a new Houdini bio.

  • July 1, 2007, 3:35 a.m. CST

    Keira Knightley

    by darrenspool

    I'm really very very curious to find out: a) Which movies she's been naked in; b) Which movies have her having sex; c) Which movies she is at least orgasisming in; d) Her hottest appearance? Please post links to pics or mpeg-4s. Thanx. P.S I'm not a perv.

  • July 1, 2007, 7:49 a.m. CST

    I'd rather

    by HessenRoots

    watch something factual about Houdini then a Hollywood dramatization of one event in his life...if this even actually happened. A decent documentary or biopic perhaps.<br><br> Pearce is great, hands down, though I don't care for Zeta. I will defend Chicago though. I was reallllly hesitant on seeing it when it came out as musicals tend to annoy me but I gave it a shot and ended up loving it. Ranma627 is right, Zeta did a helluva job along with the rest of the cast. It's worth a rental or slot in your NetFlix queue if nothing else.

  • July 1, 2007, 8:33 a.m. CST


    by PotSmokinAlien

    i love dude as much as everyone else but i get the feeling that hollywood has him pegged as the poor man's christian bale lately...