WRITERS CHOICE: This months theme is ‘Magic’

‘Writers Choice’ is a monthly segment. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This months theme is ‘Magic’.


Kiki’s Delivery Service is a heart-warming gem from the magical mind of Hayao Miyazaki. It is one of my absolute favorites from childhood. Kiki is a young witch, who on her 13th birthday has to move away from home to discover her “skill”. Some witches, like her mother, do potions and some are fortune tellers. And of course the iconic flying on a broomstick is another magic skill for all witches. Kiki arrives in a quaint little town by the sea and is taken in by a kind baker couple. She pairs with their business to make flying deliveries. Kiki makes some friends along the way, but struggles with self-doubt and feels like an outsider. Hayao Miyazaki has noted that the Japanese magical girl trope is usually “a means to fulfill the dreams of young girls. They have always become idols with no difficulties.” Miyazaki does not use Kiki’s powers as wish fulfillment, but instead ties her magic with her self-confidence and inner struggles. When Kiki loses her ability to fly she says, “If lose my magic, that means I’ve lost absolutely everything.” Kiki feels that what makes her and her life special is just her powers, but Kiki discovers she is about so much more than that. What I enjoy about Kiki is how it also ties magic with inspiration and creativity, for Kiki’s artist friend likens it to a creative block. As if the art we make is also some kind of magic in our real world. Hayao Miyazaki does something completely different with a magical girl character in this sweet and simple coming-of-age tale. –Caroline Madden

4MAGIC MIKE (2012)

A strange cinematic category has developed and solidified over the years: a category I like to refer to as “Guys in Glitter” category (although I’m sure there is a better term for it).

These are movies about masculine—sometimes hyper masculine—men participating in things deemed effeminate by American society. Those things include dressing in drag, participating in homosexual behavior, having jobs typically done by women,…you get it.  Often, society tries to minimize the impact of these movies. You’ve heard enough jokes about Brokeback Mountain to know what I mean. People—sometimes even their promoters—try to foxhole these films, and make them little more than a punchline.

In 2012, another film joined the sparkled ranks. Magic Mike, starring Channing Tatum, has all appearances to be a straightforward movie about male strippers shaking and jiving all night long. Many people who have not seen this movie would only see the shimmering costumes and the glistening bodies from the trailers or the advertisements and think “Oh, I know exactly what this kind of movie is.”

Yet, like its dancers, there is a far deeper and twisted journey to Magic Mike. This is a story about growing up, addiction, pain and loss. There is as much heartbreak and betrayal as there is baby oil on Matthew McConaghy’s abs.

This film, like many others in its category, deserves recognition beyond the glitter. Magic Mike is flashy, but also emotionally captivating. It brings the audience backstage to the life of a male stripper, and shows the sweat, blood, and bones of what it means to entertain at your most vulnerable and exposed state.

Additionally, these men really do know how to boogey down. The dancing is as fun and sensual as advertised, making this movie as magic as it is meaningful. –Genevieve Hoeler

3NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)

Four magicians leading four separate careers – as an illusionist, a hypnotist; an escapist and an impressionist, are suddenly united when they receive four different Major Arcana Tarot cards: The Lovers; The Hermit, High Priestess and Death respectively. They cards lead them to a dusty yet mystical apartment in New York City and somehow, just a year later, they are The Four Hoursemen, stood before a stadium of cheering fans with a more accomplished and professional aesthetic – performing a finale they describe as “setting a few things right”.

Which is done by robbing Crédit Republicain de Paris, a French bank.

The rest of the movie greatly surrounds how and why they do (and keep doing) this, with a French Interpol agent; an FBI and an ex-magician all teaming up to prove what is hypothetically impossible.

What’s great about this film is it lacks the heavy CGI; emphasis on costume slash makeup and book of incantations most magic films do. It’s depicted realistically, in equal parts a thriller as a film about the supernatural, and pulls it off by blurring the lines between what the audience – both in the film and in the cinema seats, interprets as right, wrong; counterfeit or simply just real, unadulterated magic. With numerous names such as Isla Fisher; Morgan Freeman and Dave Franco are starring in it, you’re bound to be hypnotised. –Sharon Igbokwe


I’ve never been able to fully get behind the magic genre because I’m lazy and unimaginative. But for whatever reason, The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants has a magical quality that even I can believe in. It’s about four best friends with different backgrounds and butt sizes that all mysteriously fit into the same pair of thrift store jeans. Like any smart, savvy teens they decide to share them over the summer and see what other surprises the pants have in store (spoiler alert: sex). It all seems just plausible enough.

As a preteen, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants made me long for that enviable time when I too would climb up fire escapes into empty yoga studios to make strange candlelit pacts with my girl gang. None of those things actually ended up happening for me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try to emulate the movie at least metaphorically. Now that I’m a hag, it would be worth watching again just to remember what life was like before I realized that being a teen sucked. And if that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is. –Ana Bauer


I found that the film operated only in the gloom, every scene was dark and director Christopher Nolan clearly decided that the sun did not exist. This did help add to the atmosphere of betrayal though, and the lack of lighting gave an extra layer to many of the tricks the characters participate in. At heart, The Prestige is a film about rivalry and obsession, merely using magic and magicians as a backdrop for the plotline.

Christian Bale’s character Borden makes for eerie viewing, he once again triumphs at being quiet spoken yet menacing, a man who is hunted by his former colleague Angier (Hugh Jackman). Jackman’s character was less interesting to me perhaps due to how his story was one that is regularly used in cinema, i.e. character loses loved one – seeks revenge by any means possible. Therefore I would have liked to have seen a different reason as to why he wanted to ruin Borden, to make the plot fresher.

The Prestige has a brilliant twist at the end that really shocked and impressed me greatly – the twist added a wow factor that had been lacking a little throughout and managed to bring the film back to life. Overall if you’re looking for magic, historical settings, doves and Christian Bale looking angry a lot, then The Prestige is for you. –Megan Gibb

the-illusionist-movie-poster-2010-1020548217THE ILLUSIONIST (2010)

The Illusionist directed by Sylvain Chomet (also known for The Triplets of Belleville and Paris, je t’aime) revolves around the life of Tatischeff. Living in Paris as an illusionist proves to be difficult, causing him to move to London. While he’s there, he has trouble fascinating audiences with his talent. He attends as many gigs as he can obtain, when he is finally noticed by a party attendee. Tatischeff is asked to play at a small pub on a Scottish Island, where he manages to catch the attention of a young girl named Alice. At this moment, their friendship is born.

This film came to mind when I thought of the theme “magic” for obvious reasons–the main character performs magic tricks for a living. However, this film goes beyond that. I think the true magic that is portrayed is the friendship between Tatischeff and Alice. Although Tatischeff is able to create a niche audience for his work, it is Alice who believes in him–quite literally. She does not realize that Tatischeff is merely an illusionist, but is actually convinced that he possesses powers. Her naivety is both charming and sad, which somehow also describes my feelings towards the film as a whole.

The beautiful animation and sparse dialogue let’s audiences intently observe the lives of these characters and their surroundings. This style reminds me of Studio Ghibli films, so it’s refreshing to know that other filmmakers are drawn to this medium. Due to the fact that there is so much attention to detail and minimal words spoken, every scene is intentional, and words are not wasted. Even one of the most powerful scenes, the scene where I felt like I got slapped across the face, is so subtle. I was left feeling choked up with tears in my eyes. Animated films that are able to break the mold of “happy endings” and being “just for children” are the ones that resonate with me the most, especially when the art itself is able to communicate the ideas. –Cristina Vazquez de Mercado

untitledPAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)

People who refuse to watch foreign language films upset me, countries outside the US and UK get way more creative with their films and produce way more interesting and in some cases, extreme, content. These people are missing out on the beautiful Spanish works of Guillermo Del Toro (yes, I know he does great English stuff, but here me out, Pan’s Labyrinth is the best).

Set in Spain in 1944, Pan’s Labyrinth is a beautiful and twisted dark adult fantasy. The film centres on the experience of a young girl name Ofelia (totally naming my future child after her), who is moved out to an army base camp when her pregnant mother marries an evil army officer, Vidal, in order to secure a good future for her children. Ofelia takes the move badly and discovers an enchanted labyrinth in which she meets an extraordinary Faun who tells her that she is a princess from the Underworld. Completely enchanted, Ofelia speaks with the Faun and agrees to complete three tasks in order to return to the underworld and reclaim her throne next to her father.

These tasks are no walk in the park, there’s disgusting creatures, blood and gore and lots of sacrifice; just as there is in her real world. With her mother growing increasingly ill and Ofelia fearing for the future of her and her unborn brother she also resists Captain Vidal’s power; a man who has been brutally killing Spanish Guerrillas daily.

The film is incredibly beautiful there is no doubt and contains some of the most detailed and exquisite character/creature design I’ve ever seen but the most important part of the film to me is that the main character is a little girl; a little girl who strong believes in magic and the impossible, a girl who is selfless and imaginative. –Chloe Leeson

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