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DEATH DEFYING ACTS: DVD

SYNOPSIS:
When superstar escape artist Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) arrives in Edinburgh on his 1926 world tour with his manager, the long suffering Sugarman (Timothy Spall), he offers a $10,000 reward to anyone who can contact his late mother, and repeat what she told him on her deathbed. He is adamant that science, not superstition, should rule the world. The beautiful but deceptive Marie Magarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has a psychic cabaret act with her young sidekick daughter, the worldly wise Benji (Saoirse Ronan), with whom she survives on their combined wits. When Marie decides to take the challenge, she manages to convince Houdini that she is indeed someone special - her likeness to his late mother helps. Houdini, with a wife back home, is taken by her charms, and what begins as a con evolves into a complicated and dangerous affair.

Review by Louise Keller:
Everyone's a fake, says Timothy Spall's cigar smoking, cynical Mr Sugarman, the man who keeps the great Houdini's dark side at bay. Trickery, magic, guilt and love are the themes of Gillian Armstrong's intriguing film about Houdini, and the renowned escape artist's affair with a professional psychic. It is 1926 and not only does Guy Pearce's Harry Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones' Mary McGarvie make their living from show business through the art of illusion, but they are both part of a double act. Mr Sugarman is Houdini's side-kick and astute business partner; Mary's young daughter Benji (Saoirse Ronan) is her partner in crime. Armstrong takes the material and shapes it into a splendid tale, a compelling mix of fact and fiction.

I really like the unexpectedness of this surprisingly dense film and its four stand-out performances from its leads. Thirteen year old Saoirse Ronan must surely be the most promising young talent of the year; she portrays the street savvy but innocent Benji with such grit and truth. She and Zeta-Jones (with a fine Scottish accent) make an endearing pair, both off and on stage. Timothy Spall injects sober reality as the man who looks out for the great Houdini, and it is good to see Guy Pearce in a role that allows him to display all his talents.

Armstrong paints a complex portrait of the times, the celebrity world of Houdini and Mary's struggling existence. I love the scene when Mary takes Houdini to a regular bar and all pretence is discarded as they laughingly make coins disappear all the while smiling knowingly at how the trick is done. Of course, love complicates everything, and the film gracefully shifts and twists until the final resolution which is nicely done. Armstrong pulls yet another trick out of the hat with Cezary Skubiszewski's magical score and Gemma Jackson's production design is a treat.

There's a behind the scenes featurette on the DVD, together with theatrical trailer and cast and crew interviews.

Published September 4, 2008

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

DEATH DEFYING ACTS: DVD (PG)
(Aust/UK, 2007)

CAST: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Saoirse Ronan,

PRODUCER: Chris Curling, Marian McGowan,

DIRECTOR: Gillian Armstrong

SCRIPT: Tony Grisoni, Brian Ward

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Haris Zambarloukos

EDITOR: Nicholas Beauman

MUSIC: Cezary Skubiszewski

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Gemma Jackson

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 13, 2008

PRESENTATION: Widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes featurette, cast and crew interviews, trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific

DVD RELEASE: September 3, 2008







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