MAGICIANS (Cert 15, 86 mins, Universal Pictures, Comedy, also available to buy DVD £17.99)
Starring: David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Darren Boyd, Jessica Stevenson, Steve Edge, Andrea Riseborough, Peter Capaldi, Sarah Hadland.
IN THEIR heyday, Harry Kane (Mitchell) and Karl Allen (Webb) were the darlings of the magic circle, dazzling audiences with their daring illusions, until the fateful night Harry discovered Karl backstage, performing a very special trick with his wife Carol (Hadland).
The bonds of trust were completely severed – along with Carol’s head when a climactic guillotine stunt went tragically awry.
Four years later, Harry tentatively re-establishes contact with Karl, with the intention of reforming for an upcoming International Magic Competition.
The audition descends into bickering and both men decide to enter as solo acts: Karl as his alter-ego Mind Monger, and Harry as a magician with new assistant Linda (Stevenson), who prefers men like her coffee: ‘weak and white’.
The gloves are well and truly off.
Magicians conjures a premise ripe with comic potential but breaks the spell by performing a vanishing act with the laughs. For 86 restless minutes, the talented ensemble cast attempts to magic up a decent chuckle or two, but the valiant efforts largely come to naught.
Mitchell and Webb don’t seem comfortable in their roles, while the supporting cast includes a rogue’s gallery of misfits and bigots, like chauvinist magician Tony (Edge), who asks every girl he meets if she would like to admire his ‘magic wand’.
The running joke about the sexuality of Karl’s manager (Boyd) wheezes well before the end credits roll. A grandstand finale at the magic competition pulls a narrative rabbit out of the hat, but it’s too little, too late.
DVD Extras: Cast and crew commentary, Behind The Tricks – The Making Of Magicians featurette, video diaries (David Mitchell, Robert Webb and Andrew O’Connor), delete scenes.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Das Leben Der Anderen) (Cert 15, 132 mins, Lions Gate Home Entertainment UK, Thriller/Drama, also available to buy DVD £19.99)
Starring: Ulrich Muhe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme, Thomas Arnold, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Ludwig Blochberger.
ACCLAIMED playwright Georg Dreyman (Koch) lives in Berlin during the mid-’80s with his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Gedeck). The faintest whiff of dissent towards the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) is punishable by torture at the hands of the Stasi, so Georg keeps his true feelings hidden.
Suspected of activities contrary to the ways of East German Communism, Georg is placed under covert surveillance, and emotionally detached Stasi officer Captain Gerd Wiesler (Muhe) is entreated to spy on the playwright.
As the days pass, with Gerd sitting alone for hours listening intently though his headphones, the officer begins to sympathise with his subject, even altering transcripts.
When Gerd’s superiors green light a raid, the Stasi officer must decide whether to intervene and destroy evidence, or to reveal the full extent of his deception.
The Lives Of Others operates beautifully as both an edge of seat thriller and a compelling account of a nation in the throes of social and political upheaval.
Muhe’s heart-breaking performance as a loner wrestling with conflicted loyalties, flirting with notions that contradict everything he has grown up believing, contrasts with Koch’s moving turn as the artistic trailblazer, blissfully unaware of his perilous situation.
The lengthy running time passes quickly, with writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnermarck in complete control of the elegantly crafted material.
He cranks up the tension with assurance for the white-knuckle denouement that has us holding our breath, utterly spellbound. A cute coda brings all of the intrigue to a poignant and fitting close.
DVD Extras: Director commentary, The Making Of The Lives Of Others featurette, cast and crew interviews, deleted scenes, extended scenes, original Stasi spying instruments photo gallery.