Movie Review ~ Now You See Me

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now_you_see_me

The Facts:

Synopsis: An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, Common, Mélanie Laurent, Dave Franco

Director: Louis Leterrier

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Back in November when I reviewed the trailer for Now You See Me, I mentioned how difficult it was for films about magic to really draw movie audiences in because seeing disappear on screen is much less interesting than being dazzled in a live environment.  Well it turns out that drawing the audience in is the least of the troubles the film is saddled with because the movie itself is too lame brained for words.  While not as big of a loser as The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, it’s a bummer of a summer flick that does its best to distract you with smoke and mirrors but ultimately can’t disguise the fact that it’s a second rate act with no impressive finale.

The film has a fairly solid opening as we are introduced to four illusionists that are brought together to form the Four Horsemen.  Though all four seem to know each other, there’s not a lot of back-story offered up so we’re just supposed to accept that everyone is aware that the others are equally smart tricksters.  Soon the Four Horsemen are doing a show at the MGM Grand and in performing one masterful trick that’s tied to a bank heist they catch the attention of the FBI (Mark Ruffalo, Marvel’s The Avengers), Interpol (Mélanie Laurent), and a sly former magician (Morgan Freeman, Oblivion) now more interested in pulling back the curtain on other magic acts.

Like most magic tricks, the film becomes less interesting the more that things are explained.  Aside from the swift opening, much of the film feels deliberately manipulative to continue to support the overblown set-up.  Some of the magic is revealed in ways that are easy to accept but too much of the tricks on display have no basis in reality.  Had the movie employed more of a sci-fi/alternate reality aspect to it like Looper it may have made the more eye-rolling moments easier to digest.

Part of the problem is that there are just too many cooks in the script kitchen.  Boasting a remarkable five (FIVE!) screenwriters, the movie feels like a heavy bowl of stone soup with multiple people contributing to the pot.  I’ve mentioned the curious (but obviously intentional) lack of back-story but also offered up for evidence are large gaps of time and information that simply aren’t accounted for.  The script so clearly wants to keep us in the dark that it becomes frustrating to watch.  The best films with twists and turns handle their misdirection with a proper plan for revealing the man behind the curtain but it’s patently clear that no such pre-planning was done here.

The finale of the film feels like the fourth or fifth one that was shot.  It comes out of nowhere and feels like one screenwriter was mailed the outline of ¾ of a script and told to write the rest without consulting with anyone else.  It also cheats the audience by asking us to accept s certain fact without referring back to what we already know is true.  This is not the way to make a satisfying caper film and audiences that are paying good money to see the film deserve better.

Assembling an interesting array of actors is probably the best trick that the film achieves though not everyone is quite as successful.  I’m officially over Jesse Eisenberg as he turns in his umpteenth version of the same character – a cocky annoyance that fancies himself an elevated David Copperfield.  Also on the low end is Isla Fisher, normally put to good use but who is strangely out of place and out of a consistent American accent.  And why her character wears these tiny motorcycle gloves for the whole film may be the biggest mystery of all…dry skin, maybe?

Harrelson, Caine, and Freeman are their dependable selves but it’s Ruffalo and French star Laurent that are the most interesting people to watch.  I wasn’t too keen on Laurent as the movie opened but Ruffalo is a good cinematic partner that can make his co-stars shine.  Though Ruffalo winds up being shorted as the film progresses, he soldiers forth gamely — though he must have been asking himself, “I went from playing The Incredible Hulk to this?”

Speaking of The Hulk, Now You See Me is directed by Louis Leterrier who was in the director’s seat for the 2008 failed reboot of The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton.  Leterrier brings the same energy he brought to that film and two Transporter films by keeping the camera in constant motion with little reprieve for the audience.  Though the camera work is not hand-held, it’s a whirling dervish of movement that could send weak stomached audience members on a queasy adventure to the lavatory.

Though some of Now You See Me is interesting in passing, it’s not worth your time and money in a busy summer movie season.  Even on Redbox or Netflix the film would only be a middling choice for the savvy movie-goer.  Now You See Me…you shouldn’t.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Joe Versus the Volcano

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a hypochondriac learns that he is dying, he accepts an offer to throw himself in a volcano at a tropical island, and along the way there, learns to truly live.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Ossie Davis, Abe Vigoda

Director: John Patrick Shanley

Rated: PG

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Though Joe Versus the Volcano failed to ignite much spark with the box office or critics when it was initially released in 1990 the film has gained a nice following over the years who can appreciate the film and its oddball charm.  Before Tom Hanks (Splash, Cloud Atlas) and Meg Ryan hit it big with their second and third collaborations (Sleepless in Seattle in 1993 and You’ve Got Mail in 1998) they headlined this quirky comedy that played to both of their strengths.

Set up in the guise of a fairytale, the film opens with average Joe slumping through his dead end (literally) job and keeping to himself as he goes through the paces.  A hypochondriac, Joe’s visit to a doctor (delightfully played by deadpan Robert Stack) and subsequent terminal diagnosis will set him on a life changing mission that will take him into the middle of the ocean to a mysterious island.  Along the way he meets a kooky set of characters that will play a part in Joe learning lessons on living life to the fullest.

Hanks is pretty appealing as a pale sad sack that gradually looses/livens up.  You can see the color returning to his cheeks as he frees himself of his dreaded job, tells off the boss, romances a co-worker, and sets sail for adventure.  Demonstrating the same charm that would prove so valuable in later movies with Ryan, he’s affable and relatable.

An actress also just coming into her own at the time, Ryan deftly handles playing three roles (four, actually, for those eagle eared viewers) of women that Hanks meets on his journey.  The first is his mousy co-worker that loves him but can’t deal with his impending demise, the second is a flighty LA-type that’s not as shallow as she presents herself to be, and finally she’s the fiercely independent woman Joe’s meant to be with…if he didn’t have to jump into a volcano in a few days.

Good support is also to be had in Ossie Davis as a limo driver that shows Joe the finer ways of style as he prepares for his one-way trip, Dan Hedaya as Joe’s comically droll boss, and Lloyd Bridges as the man with the plan that coerces Joe to take a leap of faith.  It’s a well-cast affair and they all make material that could have gone awry work exceedingly well.

First time director John Patrick Shanley already had his Oscar for another modern day fairytale (Moonstruck) and his direction is done with the same light touch that’s applied to his script.  There’s a swell production design from Bo Welch, incorporating familiar points of interest from each stage of Joe’s journey.  The music by Georges Delerue is typically gorgeous…even if it’s essentially the exact same score he produced for Steel Magnolias a year before.

It’s easy to see why audiences and critics in 1990 turned their noses at the film which was probably a little ahead of its time.  It’s absolutely an offbeat romantic adventure that is catered to a specific group of viewers.  Those that are willing to take the journey and can let themselves be taken away by Shanley’s script and two strong lead performances will be rewarded greatly.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gravity

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Synopsis: Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting alone in space.

Release Date:  October 4, 2013

Thoughts: As is proven by my enthusiastic reviews for Prometheus and Oblivion, I love a good space flick so I’ve had Gravity on my radar for some time.  Originally meant to star Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr., director Alfonso Cuarón’s 3D space thriller signed Oscar winners Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and George Clooney (The Descendants) to suit up in their place.  Though this type of film is arguably outside Bullock’s comfort zone, I’m anticipating good things from her when paired with Clooney.  This will be a curious film for most people with only the two leads on screen for the entire film – but this trailer is an impressive whetting of our whistle until we can see the finished product in October.

The Silver Bullet ~ August: Osage County

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Synopsis: A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Midwest house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

Release Date:  November 8, 2013

Thoughts: An all-star cast has been assembled for the big screen version of August: Osage County, based on the searing Pulitzer Prize winning play.  Seeing the play, I was riveted and while I’m not sure a film version can create that same immediacy there’s a wealth of strength in the material from playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts.  Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) is an interesting choice for the boozy matriarch of the troubled Weston family but knowing Streep she’s going to knock this one out of the park and wind up with another Oscar nomination or win for her troubles.  When they announced Julia Roberts (Mirror, Mirror) was to play opposite Streep some turned up their noses but our first look at Roberts in action suggests that the A-List star is readying for a powerhouse performance.  The rest of the cast is top-notch too with some spot-on casting to look forward to.  Unless something goes majorly wrong, this is a film that will factor heavily into the next Academy Awards…I can’t wait to see it.