Movie Review: Flyboys

>What is it, exactly, that makes a movie into a blockbuster? Is it the name-brand actors that populate the cast, Like Oceans 11 and 12? Is it an engaging story that captivates the audience long before the movie is made, like Titanic? Is it the millions of dollars the studio pours into pre-release marketing in hopes of a record-breaking opening, like Happy Feet? Well, it’s a shame, but for some reason Flyboys seems to have missed most, if not all of these opportunities.

Flyboys is a World War I era film centered around Blaine Rawlings, played by James Franco (Spider-Man, Tristan and Isolde), who looses his ranch in Texas to creditors and is left with nobody and nowhere to go, so he decides to go to France to become a biplane pilot before the United States had officially entered the war.

When Blaine arrives, he quickly bonds with fellow Americans who have joined up with France’s Air Force for various reasons but who all must quickly learn how to trust each other as they learn how to use the new invention called an “airplane” in a wartime setting.

Quite a few things impressed me about this movie, primarily how well it was served by the modern special effects technology of our time. The portrayal of the dogfights conveyed well how naked these pilots were up in the sky with no canopy over their head, nothing much thicker than paper around them, and no parachutes to escape with if they should go down. All of this reinforced to me how dangerous these aerial dogfights actually were.


Another great thing about this movie was how true to the period the relationships seemed. In the last few years, Hollywood has seen fit to take historical events and put fictional characters in them to tell the story, such as Titanic, U-571, and Pearl Harbor. The problem with this is that in the process they usually introduce modern sensibilities into these storylines that don’t always mesh with the historical setting. I was refreshed that the romantic plot in Flyboys was every bit as innocent and noble as I would have expected people to act in 1910.


What made this movie even more meaningful to me was that, at the end, they updated us on what happened to the characters after the story portrayed in the movie was over—even showing a picture of the actual people portrayed! I had no idea that this movie was based on a true story and people and was left scratching my head as to why a bigger deal of that wasn’t made when the movie was promoted.

Ultimately, I’m sorry that Flyboys didn’t do better at the box office, because I think everyone really missed out on, not only a great ride, but a great story about a world that was waking up to a new century with new technologies and ideas. I would definitely recommend this film.

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The Prestige and The Illusionist

>Why can’t Hollywood studios hide the fact that they copy each other a little better? Quite often, it seems that an executive from studio Y gets wind of what studio X is doing and demands that his studio come up with something bigger and better.

There are many examples of movie studios copying each other over the last decade: Armageddon and Deep Impact, Madagascar and The Wild, Mission to Mars and Red Planet, A Bug’s Life and Antz. The list could go on and on. Usually these movies are released within a month or two of each other, making it even harder not to suspect copying, which usually leaves me to try to figure out which of the two concepts came first.

So, what’s bringing on this particular rant? The Prestige and The Illusionist. Both are period movies about magicians, both came out within 2 months of each other, and both have twisting plots told in the forms of flashbacks. I can’t help but compare them.

I saw The Illusionist when it was released in the theater. When the titles first appeared on the screen, I noticed how they looked a little shaky and thought it seemed strange. I quickly realized that it was all part of the overall style of the movie that I soon grew to love. The movie was made to appear like a silent movie, with washed-out, almost sepia toned color and subtle shutter flickers and iris wipes that hearken back to the primitive technology of movie making in the early 20th century silent movie era.

This old-fashioned style was also reflected in the designs of the costumes, sets, hair and make-up. Even the dialogue seemed to be stylized to fit more into the time, but never in an over-the-top, melodramatic way.


The story is essentially a love triangle between Eisenheim the Illusionist, played by Edward Norton (Fight Club), Sophie, Played by Jessica Biel (Stealth), and Crown Prince Leopold, Played by Rufus Sewel (Tristan and Isolde). The flashbacks are framed by the recollection of Inspector Uhl, played by Paul Giamatti (Sideways), who is enlisted to investigate Eisenheim once the Crown Prince develops suspicions of him at a performance.

There are plot twists in this movie that center around one question: does Eisenheim have supernatural powers or not? Once we learn the truth of this, all of the film’s other questions are also answered. So while there are no earth-shattering surprises, it’s still an intriguing mystery that you don’t truly know the answer of until the very end.

I saw the next film, The Prestige, on DVD recently. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins), this movie appears to take place in the same period of time, but unlike The Illusionist, the filmmaking is rather straightforward. It is about two magicians played by Christian Bale (Batman Begins) and Hugh Jackman (X-Men) who at one time were friends, but through an accident have become bitter rivals, each trying to outdo the other.

The Prestige also stars the ubiquitous Scarlet Johansson (The Island, In Good Company, Match Point, The Black Dahlia, Lost in Translation, etc, etc, etc…) in a role that introduces a possible love triangle that turns out to be nothing more than a mildly effective plot device.


Apple iTunesWhile The Prestige was an entertaining movie, I was disappointed that I was able to guess the two big secrets long before they were officially revealed in the movie. In fact, the very last shot of the film was undoubtedly supposed to be a shocking surprise, but it was exactly what I was expecting to see.

Between these two movies, I’d have to say that the best one was The Illusionist. The Prestige really let me down by destroying the illusion of the final trick by introducing technology more akin to Star Trek than performance magic. In watching a movie about magicians, or in watching a real magician like David Copperfield, part of the thrill is seeing something that seems impossible, but knowing it’s ultimately an illusion that leaves you wondering how in the world it was done—which is ultimately what we go see movies for, isn’t it?

Now if the movie studios could only do a better job at creating an illusion that they’re not copying each other, then we might be getting somewhere.

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Music Review: Tim Finn – Imaginary Kingdom


This is not as much of a music review as it is an announcement. Tim Finn’s album
Imaginary Kingdom (links to iTunes)
is available now to purchase in the United States. Since I’ve been a fan of all things Finn (Tim Finn, Neil Finn, Crowded House and Split Enz) for at least 20 years, it’s hard for me to be objective about this latest release in providing a review—all I can say is that I love it.

The opening song, “Couldn’t Be Done” hearkens back to the once-banned song “Six Months in a Leaky Boat (links to iTunes)” by Tim’s original band, Split Enz, which is a nice sound to hear—almost as if it’s a rebirth for him, or a return to his roots.

There is a great variety of sound on this album. It’s easy to hear influences from the different stages of Tim Finn’s music career in the various songs. “Dead Flowers,” for example, could easily feel at home on a Tim Finn era Crowded House Album.

Fans of the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe will no doubt be familiar with the song Tim Finn provided for the soundtrack, “Winter Light” which is also included on this release.

While his younger brother Neil has achieved more commercial success, Tim’s music is in no way inferior and is deserving of much more attention than he usually gets. Do yourself a favor and check it out for yourself!

Tim Finn - Imaginary Kingdom

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