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The Houdini Biopic DEATH DEFYING ACTS Escapes Early In Australia!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Harry ran an article last week linking to the trailer for this one, and I think he’s fairly excited about it. I like the idea of Guy Pearce as Houdini, and I’m certainly curious. Sounds like it’s already open in Australia, though, and one reader sent in this reaction...

I hate biopics. Simple. All they consist of are events that have happened within some celebrity’s life with a screenwriter’s twist that eventually falls into the same formula that we have seen over again and again, usually with Oscar nominations to show for it. The protagonist lives their life, shit happens, they fall down, get back up and the audience loves them for it. Death Defying Acts is not a biopic. And maybe it would have been better if it had been. For those of you who haven’t heard, Death Defying Acts revolves around the world of Houdini (Guy Pearce), the great escape artist of the early 20th Century. However, the main focus of this movie is upon Mary McGarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Benji McGarvie (Saiorise Ronan), a mother and daughter psychic troupe struggling between acts in Scotland. Who? Exactly. Mary and Benji are con artists, performing a theatrical show much the way of an early day Crossing Over. The characters are instantly likeable, doing what they need to do to survive and get food on the table. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Saiorise Ronan play the parts perfectly and you care about them, despite the fact they are little more than petty thieves. While watching a news reel in a cinema, they see Houdini on screen announcing a ten thousand pound reward for any psychic that can get in contact with his dead mother. Lucky for them Houdini’s next stop is Edinburgh just where they happen to live and so they set out to meet him. Guy Pearce’s Houdini is great, when you first meet him, he’s the showman, handsome, charming and as soon as he leaves the audience he’s an absolute prick, screaming at the bellhop and his manager Sugarman. It’s great, you can’t help but love him. But that side of him disappears after his opening scene, and he becomes the same guy any 99 cent romance novelist would have written him to be. Sugarman, played by the great Timothy Spall is a character that that just so happens to not make any sense at all. His choices throughout the film and his motivation for doing so are confusing and seem to be purely there to create a tension between the characters. Simply put, he’s the writer’s scapegoat for creating a twisting story that would otherwise go nowhere, and is used far too often to continue the plot. I had not heard anything about this movie prior to seeing it in the theatre, besides a small TV spot but being a Guy Pearce fan and being quite fond of Catherine Zeta-Jones I went in rather optimistic, thinking I’d see some death defying acts, as the title suggests. Well either I’m an idiot or that title is misleading. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw in big white print, “funded by NSW film commission”. See in Australia, the film industry is struggling and it’s because the people with the money chose to follow trends three years too late with shitty scripts. I have no doubt in my mind that the bigwigs who funded this watched The Prestige three years ago and said, “Hey we should do that, just dig out the awesomeness and shovel in some boring.” That’s exactly what this movie is. Boring. However I still thought, maybe this could be one of those few films funded by these guys that are good. Then something horrible happened. Ten seconds into the actual movie, there is Guy Pearce standing in front of an awful, awful, blue screen and no shit, in close up, winks at the camera and breaks the forth wall. I had to cover my mouth to prevent a large groan of embarrassment for Gillian Armstrong the director, in thinking that would be a good idea. From that point forward, I tried to look for any redeeming quality, but the cinematography persisted in making it a hard ask. You know how there are people who actually believe that before colour television was invented, everything in the world was black and white? I think the production designer is one of those people, I’m serious. The absent colour psychologically attacks your mind that you yearn to see colour throughout the film. Everything is in mid-tone greys and browns. It was just so dreary. Yes okay, it was during the great depression, but that doesn’t mean colour was void during that era. Of course there is colour in some scenes, Catherine Zeta-Jones wears a red gown at some point late in the film and I could actually feel myself becoming interested once again just because the red stood out so much that finally there was a visual depth on the brown canvas I had being staring at for an hour. The romance between Houdini and Mary takes centre stage in this film, and to start off with is quite believable and Guy Pearce emits a sense of mystery that’s quite appealing to see unfold. Until you find out he’s maybe a bit too obsessed by his mother and how that affects his relation with Mary. When he gets Mary to perform her psychic act in his dead mother’s wedding dress, that just screamed creepy to me, yet was continued on as if completely normal. Death Defying Acts is somewhat a mess. I could see a great film that just wanted to break out but was held back due to poor production and a somewhat shallow plot. Ultimately who cares about a bunch of con-artists trying to get money to buy food when you have Houdini, who did all these great feats standing right next to them? The problem with this film is that if you know about Houdini, you know how they’re going to end it. There are no tricks pulled in this movie. You see how Houdini will end in this movie when you are introduced to him. If you’ve seen any movie before you know that he’s going to die, it’s not a spoiler, he coughs, blood comes out, and he’s as good as dead within the next hour or so of the movie. I read this review, and keep thinking I’m coming off too harsh. But I can’t help but think how they finished off the psychic plot and I go, yes I have to do this. Here’s a big hint to how the psychic plot ends in the movie… WARNING BIG THREE WORD SPOILER… Benji is psychic Great fucking story writing there. Top stuff. They should have made it so her performance was an act as I personally feel it would have added more to all the characters, but no, they go the whole shebang and have light bulbs exploding and then a little speech admitting it as true. I really wanted to love this film, but going paranormal in the final act is just lazy. I even waited two days before I started to type this but I really can’t get the stupidity of the ending out of my head. Be warned. Despite Guy Pearce’s general awesomeness and the great acting of the cast, they don’t change what is simply put, a lazy production.
Readers Talkback
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  • March 27, 2008, 6:23 a.m. CST


    by barrignite

  • March 27, 2008, 6:24 a.m. CST

    Benji and the Intergalactic Prince

    by LordPorkington

    I miss that show.

  • March 27, 2008, 6:25 a.m. CST


    by barrignite

    Why is guy pearce not more respected? Granted, his career started in a day time soap but after LA Confidential and Memento, you would think he would be hot property. No one seemed to give a shit after The Time Machine.

  • March 27, 2008, 6:25 a.m. CST

    Oh wait, it was...

    by LordPorkington

    Benji, Zax & The Alien Prince. I thought that sounded wrong.

  • March 27, 2008, 6:29 a.m. CST

    Pretty late with the review

    by Ladonite

    It's been out here for three weeks already. The release is already starting to die down...<b> So whatever. I meant to go see it a few weeks ago, but I went with Be Kind Rewind.

  • March 27, 2008, 6:51 a.m. CST

    Opening week

    by hallmitchell

    $385,000 Another aussie flop.

  • March 27, 2008, 7:23 a.m. CST

    For The Love of Benji!

    by PaddyIrishman

    Great TV Movie. Also a great phrase when you dont want to blasphem. Or another great phrase "Theres a smell of Benji off ya!"...very bored at the moment. Appologies

  • March 27, 2008, 7:29 a.m. CST


    by greigy just wanted to say

    It was Shatastic.

  • March 27, 2008, 7:29 a.m. CST

    Yep OZ movies in a slump...

    by quantize

    and the production of yank dogshit like Justice League aint helpin neither..

  • March 27, 2008, 7:31 a.m. CST

    Terminator talkback is still alive????

    by random dude

    I left at about 2000th message. It's fucking scary, man!

  • March 27, 2008, 7:35 a.m. CST

    you mean magic ISN'T REAL??

    by Maniaq

    say it ain't so!

  • March 27, 2008, 7:40 a.m. CST

    Please name one good movie with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

    by DerLanghaarige

    I can't remember any.

  • March 27, 2008, 8:42 a.m. CST

    The sad thing is..

    by Redbox

    Houdini did desperately yearn to reach his mother from beyond, and he ruined the reputations of many of the psychics of the day, because he could not be conned and always discovered their methods. His mother had agreed on a codeword, which he never heard again. When he died he also left a codeword with his wife, so she would know if he really was contacting her. She never heard it, although she also consulted many mediums. The story of Houdini is the triumph of mind over reality and the sad truth in the limitations of magic. I have always felt that bringing the idea of "real" magic or E.S.P. or superpowers into a story about real magicians was proof of the intellectual limitations of Hollywood. I guess it's not just Hollywood huh? Houdini deserves his own serious movie, not a "heaven is real" feel good crapfest. Someone said he only deserves a TV movie? You should read up on him. He was practically the most famous man in the world and magic's greatest innovator. Probably one of the most amazing minds ever to waste his time as an entertainer.

  • March 27, 2008, 10:09 a.m. CST

    This movie was laughable

    by Garbageman33

    Starting with the fact that they have a lean Australian playing a stocky Jew from Appleton, Wisconsin. I didn't buy it for a second. Actually, I didn't buy any of it, as often happens when you expect Catherine Zeta Jones to do your heavy lifting. And you can only wring so much emotion out of a guy dying from getting punched in the stomach. In fact, as onscreen deaths go, that might be the funniest one since Brick Tamland killed a guy with a trident.

  • March 27, 2008, 3:14 p.m. CST

    Uhh DerLanghaarige...

    by Master Bruce

    how 'bout her first lead role in a big budget movie & probably her most sincere performance; THE MASK OF ZORRO? It also has a damn near-perfect template for what a "superhero" film should have - drama, humor, & action w/o forgeting it should also be FUN @ the same time! Don't get me wrong, "grim & gritty" when done right like in SIN CITY can be great, but it's rarely ever done that well...imho that is.

  • March 27, 2008, 6:12 p.m. CST

    having it be actually paranormal is extremely disrespectful

    by troutpencil

    To everything that Houdini stood for. Fucking retarded. I wonder if they shot alternate endings.

  • March 27, 2008, 9:33 p.m. CST

    I want a Freddy Mercury BIOPIC & Chris Farley one too!

    by ThePilgrim

    Fuck Biopic haters. Some people want to look in on someone elses life, I hate when they lie a great deal about what happend. Anyways those two guys right there would make for great BIOPIC flicks!