Tag Archives: Chi McBride

Magicians (2000, James Merendino)

Supposedly, Magicians came out on DVD (pan and scanned), then disappeared as the releasing company went under. Merendino shot it Panavision, so there was some painful cropping. It’s still possible to see some of what Merendino was doing, but sometimes I just had to imagine how much more effective it would be. Merendino’s a filmmaker who does more with his money than John Carpenter did back in the late 1970s, which is an incredible feat. Merendino knows how to make things work and if I weren’t aware of that ability, I wouldn’t have been looking for the signs and I wouldn’t have found them.

Much of Magicians is an absurd comedy about a great pick-pocket, played by Fabrizio Bentivoglio, and a lousy magician, played by Til Schweiger. They go on the road to Vegas, learning their act on the way, assisted by trainer Alan Arkin and Claire Forlani. Maybe what won me over (not really, it happened to far in) was the scene where all of them are laughing. It’s obvious the actors are laughing, mostly at Arkin, who’s hilarious. Bentivoglio has the leading man role and he does a great job with it. Merendino loves conversation and Bentivoglio has some great scenes because of that emphasis. As for Claire Forlani… her work in Magicians made me reevaluate my opinion of her. I kept stopping myself, realizing it was really Claire Forlani (she has short hair instead of the regular long–and her acting is good). Only Schweiger is bad. He’s funny at the beginning, but he gets old fast. Even though Magicians is absurd, his handle on the character is just too loose. And his uncanny resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio only makes things worse. The character does have a great scene at the beginning–before it’s revealed he’s a bit of a twit, which Schweiger can’t handle–and one towards the end, when he has to stop acting like a twit.

Merendino’s script is deceptively simple. It’s inventive and intelligent, giving perfect little moments to characters–Arkin in particular. When it gets to the end, after some really funny scenes and some great low budget filmmaking, Magicians has developed into a touching story about friendship. Then, for the close–which is great–it finally becomes about magic. And wonderment. It’s a great close. It’s appalling this film doesn’t have an acceptable DVD release.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Merendino; director of photography, Thomas L. Callaway; edited by Esther P. Russell; music by Elmo Weber; produced by Sam Maydew and Peter Ward; released by Pop Art Films.

Starring Til Schweiger (Max), Claire Forlani (Lydia), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Hugo), Alan Arkin (Milo), Chi McBride (Tom) and Christopher McDonald (Jake).


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The Frighteners (1996, Peter Jackson), the director's cut

The Frighteners came right after (well, two years) Heavenly Creatures, so I assume–and sort of remember from 1996–it was supposed to be Jackson’s big break. Instead, it bombed. So, obviously, it’s his best work. The Frighteners is a Universal Pictures Michael J. Fox star vehicle (following Greedy and For Love or Money and The Hard Way) and it’s Fox at his best, when he finally shrugged off the trying-to-hard attitude that ruined his 1980s work. The film plays to Fox’s comedic, self-referencing traits, but without forcing references to earlier work. The scenes where he’s not being funny, fail. It’s not all Fox’s fault, the script fails there too. The Frighteners is best when it’s being silly. (However, as “Boston Legal” further confirms, Fox does well as a romantic leading man).

I wasn’t expecting much from The Frighteners. I haven’t seen it since the late 1990s, probably when the laserdisc came out. I missed the much-eBayed director’s cut laserdisc and waited to watch the film again until it became available in whatever format. I remember Jackson once referred to the version as “The Director’s Fun Cut,” as opposed to anything else, and it is quite a bit of fun. The Frighteners is so well-cast, has so many good jokes and performances (Dee Wallace-Stone is particularly good), it’s rather disappointing when it falls apart. The added footage does the film no harm, it just has a bad third act….

Throughout the entire film, Jeffrey Combs irritates as a wacko FBI agent, but he once disappears only to reappear, it becomes obvious how little he brought to the film. When he returns, the heart sinks and the eyes roll… He’s actually doing a Jim Carrey impression in the role, stealing mannerisms and expressions from Carrey’s early work–most visibly Ace Ventura and Dumb & Dumber. I kept wondering if they’d wanted Carrey (he and Combs share a resemblance), but couldn’t afford him or something. Even the initials are the same. It’s not just Combs who ruins the third act, it’s just heavy-handed and poorly written… but not so much it spoils the film.

Oh, lastly, the awful CG special effects. They don’t really affect the film’s quality, but many of these shots could have been achieved without CG, just with a miniscule amount of imagination and they would have actually looked good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Jackson; written by Fran Walsh and Jackson; directors of photography, Alun Bollinger and John Blick; edited by Jamie Selkirk; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Grant Major; produced by Selkirk and Jackson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Frank Bannister), Trini Alvarado (Lucy Lynskey), Peter Dobson (Ray Lynskey), John Astin (the Judge), Jeffrey Combs (Milton Dammers), Dee Wallace-Stone (Patricia Ann Bradley), Jake Busey (Bartlett), Chi McBride (Cyrus), Jim Fyfe (Stuart), Troy Evans (Sheriff Perry), Julianna McCarthy (Old Lady Bradley) and R. Lee Ermey (Sgt. Hiles).


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