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            "The Prestige" and Other Deceptions 

"The Prestige": "Every magic trick consists of three acts.  The first act is called "The Pledge."  The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course, it probably isn't.   The second act is called "The Turn": the magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary.  If you're looking for the secret, you won't find it;  that's why there's a third act, called "The Prestige."  This is the part with the twists and turns…"  Two turn-of-the-20th century English magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) rival each other not only for the affection of their competing audiences, but also their mutual girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson), with Michael Caine providing the narration and mentoring.  As viewers, we're deceived along with everybody else, but happily and willingly.  All the real passion here is for those special "tricks" that nobody else can figure out.

"Lassie":  The famous collie, now in the 8th and 9th generation, is sold by a poor English family to pay off their debts and summarily shipped to Scotland, but Lassie manages to journey home to the winsome little boy who misses him.  The gentle deception here is that they use more than one collie for filming, and, of course, we're really just watching a sequence of carefully orchestrated pet tricks.  The portraying of violence to animals may severely limit the very audience to which this movie attempts to appeal.

 "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints":  The deception here is that the title has nothing to do with the movie, which is about a teenage boy growing up with his hoodlum friends in a rough neighborhood (Astoria, N.Y.), wanting to escape the deadbeat mentality which smothers them all.  He barely manages to get out before it's too late, but his friends wind up dead, in prison, or like the living dead in a cultural prison.  Pervasive strong language throughout, and some very personal violence, displaying the kind of anger boiling just below the surface that results in a disrespecting of all, including self.  Nobody escapes unscathed.  Powerful performances, high-impact viewing, searing screenplay, but ultimately despairing.  The only redeeming moment is at the end, when you become a real man not by walking out when times are tough, but by hanging in and taking care of the people around you, even when being around them is something less than delightful.

 "Marie Antoinette":  This Sofia Coppola-directed film is lush with all the opulence of the French palace in magisterial Versailles, while somewhere off-screen they're having a Revolution.  Kirsten Dunst plays the Austrian princess-turned French queen with a girlish combination of innocence, naiveté, boredom, self-indulgence, and a gilded-prison kind of obliviousness, with modern rock music in the background, no less.  Jason Schwartzman plays a socially catatonic Louis XVI who's always off hunting somewhere.  Everybody in this lavish tea party is deceived into believing everything is just fine, until the very moment that the mob is storming the Bastille.

 "Catch A Fire":  Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) is a young native South African man during apartheid, working at the "white man's" plant, deceiving himself into thinking that by becoming a foreman, he's going to be able to live a life of self-reliance, self-respect, and quiet dignity.  But then the specter of racism rears its ugly head, and he is transformed:  into a violent militant.  Tim Robbins dares to play the politically incorrect role of the bigoted Boer, a soulless torturer and relentless oppressor.  As in other social revolutions, freedom for many was won by the great sacrifices of a few.

 Questions For Discussion:

1)  Have you ever owned a pet whom you believed to have extraordinary perception, and for whom you developed a lasting affection?

2) What happens when a country's rulers are oblivious to the needs of its people?

3)  Do you believe in magic?