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REVIEW & VIDEO | Mindbender: The Uri Geller Story (1996 )

5 Jan 2018

Imagine Tommy Wiseau had The Shining and Andy Warhol made a movie about it. The result is like being telekinetically pinned to the floor of Cerebro while Professor X mind-vomits metaphysical gibberish into your subconscious. Probably.

 

Country: USA/Israel | Runtime: 93m | Director: Ken Russell

Starring: Ishai Golan, Terence Stamp, Idan Alterman, Hetty Baynes, Delphine Forest

 

 

Biopic of the unhinged spoon-bothering fantasist. Upon hearing of male model Uri Geller's (Golan) ability to make broken clocks less broken, American 'scientist' Joe Hartman (Stamp) travels to Tel Aviv to meet him. Hartman believes Geller is the key to proving the existence of various esoteric forces, and invites the young Israeli to his California home. A series of carefully controlled lab experiments establish beyond doubt that Geller has psychic powers. After a TV appearance, the military kidnap Geller in an attempt to harness his abilities, but he escapes. All the paperwork and videotapes that prove his incredible talents mysteriously disappear in a telekinetic whirlwind. Rather than repeat the tests, Hartman goes to Mexico to 'research' magic mushrooms. Geller uses his abilities to prevent a nuclear apocalypse.

 

 

“There are better things in life than being a male model.”

 

How this thing came to exist is more inexplicable than Geller's unlikely powers, although it seems to have been funded by a group of Israeli investors (presumably under the influence of Geller's powers. Or mescaline). It's one of the strangest movies you're ever likely to see: a vainglorious promotional puff piece styled so bizarrely by Ken Russell that it crosses the line into the avant-garde.

 

 

The movie opens with Apollo 14 Lunar Module pilot Edgar Mitchell explaining how walking on the moon was essentially just a prelude to meeting Uri Geller. The cheap digital graphics and hyperbolic voiceover create the impression of a promotional video for a New Age retreat. If a promotional code for a discounted reiki session flashed across the screen it wouldn't be a surprise. After being told we will have an opportunity to 'practice with the real Uri' at the end of the film, we segue into Elton John's ‘Rocket Man’ for the title sequence. The song seems an odd choice as it appears to emphasise the relevance of Mitchell, who we never hear from again, over Geller, who at this point has nothing to do with rockets. Perhaps he was subconsciously drawn to lyrics like 'I'm not the man they think I am' and 'I'm gonna be high as a kite'. But it's more likely the song references a fantastically narcissistic coda in which Geller uses his telekinesis to destroy nuclear missiles fired at the Olympics by an unidentified Asian despot for some reason. I remind you this is meant to be a sincere and factual film.  

 

 

“If I have fixed all watches in Tel-Aviv then there must be some straight spoons I could bend.”

 

The first act then traces an apparently fictitious childhood in which Geller's cold and abusive father (a retired sergeant major, one detail which appears to be true) refuses to accept his son's extraordinary gifts. At one point young Uri is beaten after explaining how he obtained a silver ring by squeezing it from a bullet fired into the family home by unidentified paramilitary forces. This part of the film seems to include surreal dream sequences, but with Russell's depiction of waking life no less hypnagogic, it's hard to identify what's (alleged to be) real and what isn't. We soon move on to a teenage Geller (with a beautiful girlfriend who, according to an unnecessarily harsh bit of voiceover, 'played no part in Uri's life') who works as a male model during the day and appears on stage performing his spoon-bending, watch-mending, eye-narrowing, temple-clutching schtick in the evening. For those of us who missed his name in the opening credits, Terence Stamp's sudden appearance as Joe Hartman then necessitates a brief pause to consider how Zod ended up in a Uri Geller biopic, although it would make some sense if this movie was a product of the Phantom Zone.

 

 

Before long we're off to California, where Hartman and his wife Kitti (Baynes, just barely keeping a straight face) run some sort of research facility. It's unclear how much time passes because Geller continues to be played by Golan (a young-looking 22 at the time) who, even when portraying the 54-year-old Geller in a flash forward, never wears makeup or adjusts his performance. Golan is an odd choice for the role. He looks nothing like Geller, is around a foot shorter and can't act. Most of his scenes are shared with manager and confidante Shipi (Alterman), with both actors maintaining a curiously childlike persona throughout. Their boyish looks and limited stature make Stamp look like the token celebrity thespian in a children's drama. But it's their characterisation that most stands out. To be fair it's perhaps as much a result of the terrible script, but there's no consistency to either performance, no sense they could ever be real people. We never get beneath an unpredictable veneer that renders both characters erratic, shallow and unlikeable.

 

 

For the first hour or so Mindbender is happy for Geller's abilities to remain unquantified and unproven, but as we enter the final act it becomes preoccupied with nailing them down. As an opener we see a pocket watch materialise out of thin air, but the capstone is a climactic escape from a military installation that's so insane it would leave even dedicated Gellerites rolling on the floor. With a ludicrous 'sensory deprivation helmet' (that, for the sake of the plot, allows him to hear and leaves his mouth exposed... making it no more than an elaborate blindfold), stuck on his head, Geller steals an army jeep and flees. Before considering what happens next, I would remind you this is meant to be a sincere and factual film. Although unable to drive and completely blind, the only apparent impediment to Geller's safe return home is not knowing the way. With hindsight the solution is obvious. He creates a telepathic link with Shipi and asks for directions. But with neither of them knowing where Geller started from, it becomes necessary for Hartman to scour a map for landmarks that Shipi, using Geller's eyes, can identify. So begins perhaps the dumbest chase sequence in movie history. Hartman frantically reads from a map, shouting 'right' and 'left' to Shipi, who telepathically passes on the instructions to Geller, while simultaneously warning him of any impending obstacles... obstacles Shipi can see through Geller's eyes (which are blindfolded, remember), but Geller apparently cannot. Except when he can.

 

 

“I want to touch you... feel my power."

 

As much as Geller's relentless positivity and odd mannerisms make him reminiscent of Tommy Wiseau, it's Neil Breen who will inevitably occupy your thoughts after watching Mindbender. Its loose, cheap and ineptly experimental construction make it look like a Breen movie. The metaphysical shenanigans, suspicion of authority and conceited, insincere proclamations about the importance of being nice to each other make it feel like a Breen movie. And the central character's aloof air of otherworldly wisdom makes Geller seem more like Fateful Findings's Dylan than a fully rounded human. The disparity between how Geller thinks he is coming across and how he really comes across perfectly reflects the two personas contained within the Breen myth. Both men appear deluded in precisely the same ways.

 

 

 

CHEESE: 8

ACTING: 8

EXCESS: 7

INEPTITUDE: 7

WHAT?: 10

9/10

 


One last time... this is meant to be sincere and factual.

 

Video: Two Minutes of Mindbender

 

Video: How Uri Geller Escaped from the US Military

 

 

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