Now You See Me 2 Review: Limp Trick


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Ed Solomon

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Now You See Me 2 is one of at least 13 unwarranted sequels released in 2016. The 2013 original reached baffling commercial success thanks to…actually, I still have no idea. Now You See Me is a clichéd, preposterous action-heist-thriller with a nonsensical string of third-act twists. Sadly, the sequel is similar in almost every way. The Now You See Me franchise has quickly become more mediocre than almost any other. However, the coupling of an all-star cast and unique premise keeps audiences coming back for more.

The original (spoilers) concluded with a plucky troupe of magicians known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) conquering the entertainment world, Magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) jailed for stealing millionaire banker Arthur Tressler(Michael Caine)’s funds, and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) pulling the strings. The sequel, picking up one year later, sees fan-girl magician Lula (Lizzy Caplan) replacing Fisher’s character and joining returning Horsemen Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Franco) for the return. Rhodes, now watched by fellow FBI Agent Natalie (Sanaa Lathan), oversees the group on behalf of secret magician society The Eye.

In true sequel fashion, Now You See Me 2 delivers another uber-convoluted plot, more characters, and a larger scope. This time, in a shameless attempt to cash in on the rising Chinese audience, the journey leaps hastily from America to Macau. Ed Solomon’s clichéd screenplay sticks by a collection of heist and action clichés. Predictably, the drama all comes down to a macguffin, set up by a snivelling tech magnate (Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe)), needed to clear the protagonists’ names. The movie immediately rushes through its convoluted plot, muddying the waters with endless exposition about its multitude of plot-points and characters. It struggles to catch up with itself, stuffing an assortment of baffling twists and turns into an indulgent 129 minute run-time.

Like the original, Now You See Me 2 blandly combines illusion, performance and fantastical CGI wizardry. The movie’s set-pieces and gorgeous international locations put the budget to good use. In fact, many sequences feature interesting and thought-provoking concepts. However, director Jon M. Chu (G. I. Joe: Retaliation, Step Up 3D) bungles the execution. One action sequence, featuring Rhodes subduing several henchman with slight-of-hand tricks, becomes lost in quick cuts and shaky-cam. However, although ridiculous, the opening and closing set-pieces are blissfully entertaining. The assortment of sexy, young actors and Hollywood’s finest thespians somewhat elevates the material. Jay Chou is suitably charming as a snarky operator of Macau’s oldest magic shop.

Now You See Me 2, by adding more of everything, messily devolves into yet another silly and forgettable tentpole. Like many of this year’s blockbusters (so far), its biggest accomplishment is the ability to disappear without a trace.

Verdict: Yet another unnecessary 2016 sequel.

Cinema Release Round-Up: Spotlight & Room


Director: Tom McCarthy

Writers: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Stars: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber

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Release date: January 28th, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


4½/5

Writer/director/character-actor Tom McCarthy has had a topsy-turvy career chock-a-block with unique choices. From festival hits The Station Agent and The Visitor to Adam Sandler flop The Cobbler, no two projects are the same. His most recent Oscar contender, Spotlight, is the complete opposite of The Revenant, The Big Short, Carol…essentially, everything else up for consideration this season.

Spotlight is a journalism drama/detective-thriller harking back to the old-school style of filmmaking (All the President’s Men, especially). Built from the ground up, the project, thanks to McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer, braves the backlash to discuss one of the past decade’s most arresting true stories. The plot follows The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team – the United States’ oldest operating print investigative-journalism division. The team – comprised of Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James) – drop everything to investigate cases of widespread child sex abuse by Roman Catholic Priests throughout Massachusetts.

Make no mistake; this story needed to be told. The events depicted in Spotlight earned the team the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Yes, this subject matter may deter audiences until its inevitable Netflix release. However, this docudrama deserves the big-screen treatment over January/February schlock. This is the perfect example of a terrific story treated respectfully thanks to talented writers, director, and performers. The team’s movements – watched over by editing staffers Marty Baron (Live Schreiber) and Ben Bradlee, jr. (John Slattery) – look and feel organic. Delving into the pen-and-paper, early 21st Century world of journalism and truth-seeking, each action and reaction is etched carefully into every awe-inspiring frame.

The screenplay and direction combine succinctly, creating a restrained and subtle insight into some of the past century’s most harrowing events. McCarthy’s direction makes a point without ever beating you over the head. Each major twist and turn interweaves efficiently, blending together the investigation, significant political events (9/11), and the characters’ backstories. Aided by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, McCarthy’s vision makes for a mise-en-scene/attention to detail lover’s dream. Above all else, its screenplay adds enough humanity and personality to every scene – making the most difficult events seem relatable. Depicting victims, conspirators, and everyone in between, it’s hard to fathom just how accurate and necessary this docudrama is (and will hopefully remain).

The cast adapts to McCarthy’s style, their true-to-life counterparts, and confronting subject matter with aplomb. Keaton, coming off a career-best performance in Birdman, is a charismatic force as a leader stuck between a rock and a hard place. Ruffalo and McAdams deliver lively impressions of their enthusiastic and determined real-life counterparts. Character-actors Schreiber, Slattery, James, and Stanley Tucci commit to consequential roles.

Spotlight will make you angry, highlighting just how evil the Catholic Church became over several decades (without hindrance!). This docudrama is a tight, taut, and detailed insight into journalism, a devastating socio-political issue, and a community in tatters.

Verdict: Necessary and impactful viewing.


Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Writer: Emma Donoghue (screenplay and novel)

Stars : Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy

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Release date: January 28th, 2016

Distributor: A24

Country: Canada, Ireland 

Running time: 117 minutes


4/5

Room, not to be confused with cult-flop The Room, is a masterclass in single-setting, survival-thriller filmmaking. Compared to everything else blockbuster and Oscar related from 2015 (favouring spectacle slightly over substance), it is one of the more down-to-Earth big-screen experiences.

This drama is certainly not for the faint-hearted, dealing with subject matter the greater population chooses to ignore. The plot revolves entirely around Joy (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay)’s relationship. Confined to a single room, the two form a cohesive dynamic over an extended period. Later, as a sinister figure enters the room every night, the film reveals the full extent of their situation.

Room, like the other Oscar contenders this year, chronicles a relatable character trapped in a nightmarish situation. Based on screenwriter Emma Donoghue’s book, the story runs parallel to confronting new stories from the past decade. The titular space only takes up the first half, with Joy and Jack adapting to their predicament. Their behaviour – acknowledging everything within the room, Joy teaching Jack about the world outside, Jack’s development shifting from open-book toddler to hard-to-control child – all adhere to reality. The room becomes a being in itself, with the TV, bathtub, skylight, and kitchen key character traits.

Director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, Frank) has zero intention of making the same movie twice. Room, although more confronting and visceral than you would imagine, takes a sharp turn in the second half. After Joy and Jack’s escape from imprisonment, Abrahamson bravely balances plot and theme with strong emotional heft. As Jack discovers the intricacies of this big, blue marble, Joy suffers severe, disarming cases of PTSD, malnutrition, and depression. As her mum, Nancy (Joan Allen), dad, Robert (William H. Macy), and step-dad, Leo (Tom McCamus) step in, Joy and Jack are torn asunder by shocking spiritual, physical, and psychological hurdles. For they and us, it becomes almost too hard to cope.

Room, unfortunately, has several difficult-to-ignore inconsistencies and false notes. In particular, the score comes in at inopportune moments – drowning out dialogue and trying too hard to tug the right strings. However, Room also delivers the best set piece of 2015 – as Jack, initially shocked by seeing the outside world in person, pretends to be dead, jumps out of a pickup truck, and rushes for help in the space of a few seconds. It’s performances are similarly exhilarating, with Larson a she-in for this year’s Best Actress gong. Tremblay is a treasure, exuding equal amounts of charm and grief in every frame.

Room makes for a confronting experience, hitting close to home whilst finding the light within the darkness. Its tender craftsmanship proves less really is more in Oscar-season entertainment.

Verdict: A heart-breaking ode to the human spirit.

Foxcatcher Review – Tackling the Truth


Director: Bennett Miller

Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave


Release date: November 14th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The impressive performances.

Worst part: The underutilised female characters.

Every so often, Hollywood creates an effort of unconscionable grace and virtue. These achievements, from well-orchestrated winners to surprise hits, are preserved for present and future generations to admire. More often than not, these admirable efforts are composed of memorable scenes, quotes, and performances. Many classics are defined by people you’d least suspect. Turns like Judi Dench in the Bond saga, Heath Ledger as the Joker, or even Chris Tucker in Silver Linings Playbook can elevate anything.

Steve Carell.

So, how does this apply to 2014 Oscar contender Foxcatcher? Surprisingly, stunt casting solidifies the movie’s flawless execution and award-worthy glow. Suffering from crippling production and distribution issues throughout the past decade, the movie was almost closed off from humanity. Discarded from the public’s view, the movie – despite the stellar cast and intriguing story – struggled to find some attention. However, this year’s film festival circuit delivered a well-deserved boost. It may not appeal to everyone, but this crime-drama is worth the admission cost. A talking point across the world, the story, set in the 1980s, chronicles one of the past century’s most shocking true stories. depicting philanthropist John Eleuthere du Pont’s brutal murder of Olympic wrestling champion David Schultz, the movie depicts the harsh roads taken toward said horrific events. Throughout this docudrama, we follow blue-collar wrestler and lost soul Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Stranded in affectionate older brother David(Mark Ruffalo)’s shadow, he is ignored by his family, the Olympic committee, and the public. One day, after a solid training session with his sibling, he receives a call du Pont’s Foxcatcher estate. The du Pont family, known for a long-standing empire and inherent waspishness, boost Mark’s life. John (Steve Carell) tasks him with forging a top-shelf wrestling program.

Channing Tatum & Mark Ruffalo.

Throughout the 130-minute run-time, Foxcatcher sticks to true events and never shows mercy. In the opening credits sequence, Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) crafts a microscope-level examination of the du Pont family. This sequence, depicting archival footage of the Foxcatcher farm in Pennsylvania, alludes to the dynasty’s desire for ‘Britishness’. Their colossal mansion becomes this drama-thriller’s pristine backdrop. Shown to train horses and raise hounds, this docudrama casts an eerie fog over events. Delivering another unforgettable cinematic thrill-ride, Miller’s style courses through frames like blood cells through Tatum’s muscles. Capote showcases an acclaimed writer’s analysis of a horrific crime, while Moneyball depicts America’s infatuation with one of its most popular sports. Foxcatcher is a visceral and haunting concoction of Miller’s previous features. Fusing said concepts succinctly, it depicts a balletic dance between patriotism, obsession, power, and betrayal. Relating his situation to Mark’s, John yearns for power, victory, and masculinity. Avoiding typical docudrama tropes, Miller establishes himself as a keen-eyed observer – setting up the camera and watching confounding events unfold. The first half, focusing entirely on Mark and John’s eyebrow-raising dynamic, carefully dissects their discomforting mentor/protege relationship. Showcasing wrestling’s role-models and cash-cows, its sport-as-religion agenda hits stupendously hard. Revelling in an unrefined pastime, its wrestling sequences elevate the tension. Throwing themselves – literally and figuratively – across the mat, this resonant sports-drama steadily transitions into a potent psychological-thriller.

“A coach is the father. A coach is a mentor. A coach has great power on athlete’s life.” (John du Pont (Steve Carell), Foxcatcher).

Tatum & Carell.

Evolving beyond the central plot-thread, Foxcatcher transitions into a thought-provoking cautionary tale. Shifting to David and John’s professional relationship, the narrative – similarly to Mark – transforms into a touchy and unpredictable beast. Building to a heartbreaking conclusion, this crime-drama thrusts each expression, outburst, and comedic interlude. Breaking into John’s disturbing worldview, Foxcatcher crafts a fascinating antagonist. In one scene, John, snorting cocaine on his way to a fundraising event, forces Mark to practice his speech. Introducing John to the guests, Mark practices his pronunciation of three valuable words: ornithologist, philatelist, and philanthropist. In these select moments, Miller presents the creepy sports enthusiast as a belligerent child wrapped in blinding arrogance. Alluding to John’s damaged childhood, the movie constructs a meticulous and terrifying puzzle worthy of consideration. Whilst acquainted himself with Mark, John asks him to stop calling him “sir” or “Mr. Du Pont” and instead call him “Eagle”, “Golden Eagle”, or simply “John”. Blinded by an absurd sense of entitlement, John’s grand vision of the future and gaping insecurities led to his immense downfall. Atop a pedestal, John’s jingoism and artificiality depict only small shreds of his psyche. However, the movie presents John’s mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), as the major obstacle John never shrugged off. Despite the invigorating narrative, the female characters obtain little screen-time – relegating David’s wife, Nancy (Sienna Miller), to the background.

More so than touching story-telling and subdued visuals, Miller’s determination enhances this gripping and intelligent docudrama. Like with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote and Jonah Hill in Moneyball, Foxcatcher‘s peculiar casting choices succeed wholeheartedly. Carell, Tatum, and Ruffalo – earning Oscar nominations in well-crafted roles – enhance their comedic chops and charismatic personas. Like our lead characters’ mentor/student conflicts, this experience wrestles with harsh truths and deep-seeded emotions.

Verdict: A magnificent and gruelling Oscar contender.

Begin Again Review – Music & Lyrics


Director: John Carney

Writer: John Carney

Stars: Kiera Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld

Begin-Again


Release date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


3/5

Best part: Knightley and Ruffalo’s chemistry.

Worst part: Levine’s bland performance.

Back in 2006, which now seems like a millennia ago, the world was introduced to a mass distribution of iconic indie-dramas. I know, this seems like a rough estimate of this phase’s beginnings. However, most importantly, the world’s core shook uncontrollably when it first heard the sweet, soothing sounds of Irish romantic-drama Once. To me, this kicked off the transcontinental mix of cinematic touchstones and life-altering tales that would continue to this day.

Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.

Recently adapted into a major theatre production, this Oscar-winning indie darling tells a heartbreaking story about second chances, sticky situations, and songwriting. So, why am I talking about one of the past decade’s most ambitious cinematic experiments? Well, it’s a matter of principle. Here, Once‘s writer/director John Carney has turned his attention to Hollywood’s intricate systems and obvious appeal. His latest effort, Begin Again, certainly has the right amount of guile and charm. In fact, these traits might push this dramedy into many critics’ Top 10 lists. However, for those who have seen Once, the similarities between these movies come off as trite and convenient. For instance, the narrative takes several predictable and contrived turns toward its inevitably cheerful denouement. In the first scene, we are introduced to scornful singer/songwriter Greta (Kiera Knightley). Slouched into the corner of a popular New York nightspot, Greta is forced into the club’s fear-driven spotlight by Steve (James Corden). Despite failing to impress the hipster-centric crowd, one bizarre attendee stands up and cheers audibly for her sultry stylings. This crowd member, despite not looking the part, is a major record producer on the l0ok out for inspirational music. Dan (Mark Ruffalo), having been fired earlier that day by long-term business partner Saul (Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def), is one step away from packing it in.

Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine.

As you can tell, the narrative is a superfluous mix of conventional and ineffectual plot-treads. Pushed away by his estranged music-journalist wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener), and advantageous daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), Dan’s drunken antics eventually hurl him into Greta’s equally-treacherous path. So, with my complaints rising to the surface, why do I like it so much? After leaving the theatre, my enjoyment levels hurriedly elevated like Knightley’s transitions between notes. The narrative, divided into two definitive parts, becomes comfort food for the senses. Greta, having been dumped by deceitful rock-star boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine, delivering a nod to John Mayer), is the movie’s most scintillating ingredient. Pitted against Ruffalo’s husband-and-father storyline, her arc becomes infinitely more watchable. Aiming to distract his audience, Carney’s style comes off like a twee exterior covering up a near-rotten core. the first third, charting Dan and Greta’s meeting point, moves at an unnecessarily sluggish pace. Pinpointing a particular scene, the story follows a Nick Hornby-like structure toward the second-two acts. Carney, following a familiar pattern, sticks too close to his previous effort. With Hollywood success looming over him, his generic follow-up never takes shape. In fact, Begin Again feels like it’s missing a final third/quarter needed to wrap-up certain story-lines and round out certain viewpoints.

“Musicians, for the most part, are monosyllabic teenagers who really don’t have a whole lot to say.” (Dan (Mark Ruffalo), Begin Again).

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RnB icon CeeLo Green.

Despite the false notes, the movie’s endless magnetic streak, gleeful optimism, and array of Voice judges eclipse the aforementioned quibbles. Carney’s direction, pulling Once above the pack, dives head-long into the limbo-like area between realism and pure-and-unadulterated fantasy. Here, with style and substance performing a profound duet throughout the taut 104-minute run-time, Carney’s bigger-is-better shades come out swinging. With A-listers, a much more alluring city, and vastly different genres to play with, the story’s blissful pace and consistent tone create heart-wrenching moments to bounce off of. Creating an outdoor album with the tools at their disposal, Dan, Greta, Steve and co. take to Manhattan’s wondrous streets to escape their humdrum personal lives. These sequences, in which Greta’s songs covet the screen for elongated takes, display Carney’s knack for fusion and visual flourishes. His camerawork refuses to stay still for extended periods. Racing through even the most tedious of moments, there’s always something to pick out of Carney’s highly-stylised compositions. In addition, much more so than anything else, our attractive performers add ever-lasting gravitas to this otherwise harmless affair. Breaking out of her period-piece stigma, Knightley shines in this strong-willed role. Charting their swift rise-and-fall stories, Knightley and Ruffalo’s chemistry bolsters several corny and heavy-handed sequences. Sadly, Levine’s first acting gig yields transparent results.

Sitting comfortably between Inside Llewyn Davis and Jersey Boys, Begin Again delivers enough laughs and smile-worthy twists to skate by with minimal effort. Ruffalo, Knightley, and Steinfeld – leading this cute-and-kind-hearted cast – bolster this mostly repetitive and needless venture. With similar story and character beats to Once, Carney’s latest strums to an all-too-familiar tune. If anything, this will become a musical whose soundtrack eclipses everything around it.

Verdict: A soulful and eclectic dramedy. 

Now You See Me Review – A Botched Illusion


Director: Louis Leterrier

Writer: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman


Release date: May 31st, 2013

Distributors: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate

Countries: USA, France

Running time: 115 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The A-list cast.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Magic is a lost and polarising art form. Culturally preconceived as a hobby taken up by lonely, nerdy individuals, magic, like all other art forms, can be lauded when done perfectly and with panache. Las Vegas is known to be a hotspot for talented tricksters and cunning performers. It’s a form of entertainment that was bound to be brought to the big screen sooner or later. Now You See Me may attract youngsters to magic, but adults will, most likely, see through the illusion and debunk its many zany and bafflingly stupid tricks. Despite the starry cast and slick visuals, this is one magic trick that is all set-up and no payoff.

Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco.

It’s a silly, monotonous, and imbalanced action flick that doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise. Unfortunately, the cynical aura the trailers gave off is ever present throughout the movie. This type of Hollywood spectacle is reserved for families and friends who don’t want to think too hard about what they’re watching. Thankfully, the movie starts out simply and effectively. We are introduced to four talented yet snarky illusionists striving to become strong parts of the magician community. The magicians – J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – are mysteriously summoned to an abandoned apartment by an anonymous benefactor. One year later, the four of them hit the Las Vegas casino strip and form a wondrous magic show. Labelling their act ‘The Four Horsemen’, their continuously sold out shows involve the plucky magicians robbing millions of dollars from banks and distributing the money into the crowd. After a French bank is robbed during a frenzying performance, The FBI, primarily represented by agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and Interpol, represented by agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), are quick to jump on the case. However, the FBI will also have to deal with professional magic trick debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).

Mark Ruffalo.

Now You See Me is The Usual Suspects without the ambition, a compelling story, and believable characters. This disappointing movie proves just how strange 2013’s Hollywood blockbuster season has been. This year, in particular, has showcased many risky projects handled by extraordinarily talented people. The world of magic and Hollywood entertainment, if you go by this movie’s entertaining premise, are entirely similar. However, Now You See Me is as cliched, lifeless, and forgettable as the good ol’ ‘Hat-Trick’ (you know, the rabbit one). After being introduced to the four magician characters in a breezy first few minutes, the movie starts to slowly but assuredly unravel. From the eerie meeting scene onward, the movie is bogged-down by exposition, annoyingly cheesy anecdotes, characters used as plot devices, and bumbling comic reliefs. Make no mistake; this is certainly a ‘studio’ movie. It contains a plot that can’t decide what it wants to do or where it wants to go. Many scenes treat us to useless, corny dialogue that serves only to forcefully move the convoluted and exhaustive narrative along. However, the first third is intriguing and punchy. Combining some imaginative scenes (including a surprisingly entertaining hologram-based induction for the four magicians) with the hilarious comedic moments, this movie had the potential to be something magical (zing!). Unfortunately, the movie skids off the rails when the FBI and Interpol are brought in, and then spectacularly crashes in the final third.

Morgan Freeman.

Despite containing a few hysterical moments, including a pulsating and kooky interrogation scene in which the four magicians toy with agent Rhodes (“The first rule of magic: Always be the smartest guy in the room” is a cracking line), the movie’s cat-and-mouse chase story becomes exasperating and inconsistent. The focus inexplicably switches from the four exciting magicians to Rhodes, Dray, and Bradley. Thanks to this sudden shift, the pace and tone are distorted. The movie works well when it’s at its absolute quirkiest. The enjoyable back-and-forth dialogue, shared between the likeable Robin Hood-esque characters, establishes the light-heartedness this hyper-kinetic movie needed throughout. The movie is also sorely affected by the flashy direction. Unlike Christopher Nolan’s masterful direction in The Prestige, Director Louis Leterrier (The Tansporter 2The Incredible Hulk) tries to liven up each scene with his overbearingly obvious flair and sleight of hand tricks. With quick cuts and swishing camera movements, Leterrier makes it difficult to comprehend the crime-caper story, entertaining magic tricks, and inventive action set-pieces. Leterrier’s style wavers between insistent and bland – unable to capture the vibe of stimulating crime-capers like Ocean’s 11 and The Sting. It doesn’t help that Now You See Me‘s CGI overload removes awe and tension from the intriguing narrative. However, the fist-fights and car chases are masterfully handled. In one enlightening scene, Wilder uses magician’s props to stop agent Rhodes in his tracks – making for a well-choreographed and zippy set-piece.

“First rule of magic: always be the smartest guy in the room.” (J. Daniel Atlas (Mark Ruffalo), Now You See Me).

Melanie Laurent.

Like a magician’s prop, character motivations and plausible decisions immediately disappear before your eyes. We are uninformed of the Four Horseman’s ambitions, Rhodes’ wavering motivations or why Dray is interested in this case at all. Also, the bumbling FBI squad makes more stupid decisions and unintentionally laughable blunders than Wile E. Coyote. However, the A-list international cast saves this movie from becoming a completely forgettable and mindless mess. The array of likeable and talented stars brings life and zippiness to the strange and two dimensional characters. In the first third, Eisenberg and Harrelson bring back the snappy rapport they developed in Zombieland. The immaculate chemistry between the Four Horsemen may help you to overlook the sheer implausibility of their expansive on-stage magic tricks and elaborate Italian Job-esque heist. Eisenberg, Harrelson, Fisher, and Franco, despite their ubiquity, are forever enjoyable screen presences. Harrelson and Fisher’s comedic notes hit and stick when needed. Ruffalo is a charismatic force as the bumbling FBI agent. Despite having to carry an underdeveloped sub-plot, he brings levity to his generic role. Freeman and Caine, despite their electrifying chemistry and effortless charm, seem to be phoning it in, whilst Laurent seems weirdly out of place compared to the wacky characters on display.

Despite the zany comedic moments and enthralling cast, Now You See Me becomes a tangled mess due to its convoluted plot, preposterous plot twists, and baffling characters. Unable to decide whether it wants to be quirky or earnest, the movie lumbers toward its inexcusable conclusion. It may lead you up one path whilst distracting you from another, but the journey is still tedious and inconsistent.

Verdict: A slick, preposterous, and clinical action-caper.

The Avengers Review – Superhero Smorgasboard


Director: Joss Whedon

Writer: Joss Whedon

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo


Release date: May 4th, 2012 

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 142 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: The pithy comedic moments.

Worst part: The MacGuffin.

Marvel’s cinematic universe for the past four years has been building up to the superhero flick to end them all. With many characters getting their own blockbusters such as Iron man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, their interweaving story-lines have finally woven into the ultimate team on a mission film. The Avengers defies extreme expectations and concerns to become one hell of an intense roller coaster ride.

Avengers assemble!

Avengers assemble!

As we saw in 2011’s superhero flick Thor, Loki(Tom Hiddleston)’s deceptive and disastrous ways have only just begun. With Earth the setting for his assault, the fabled Tesseract device is all that’s needed. His violent theft of the device has forced scarred SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to bring together an elite and superhuman group to stop Loki’s wrath upon mankind. Tempers flair, reputations are preceded and alliances are engineered from scratch as this team of vastly different superheroes must protect the Earth from anyone threatening its destruction.

Tom Hiddleston.

Tom Hiddleston.

Luckily for the average film-goer, the Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America films don’t need to be seen to enjoy this high octane sensual experience. Writer/director Joss Whedon has created a hilarious, action packed and emotionally gripping superhero adventure fitting for a climax to this series. His penchant for strong character development, clashing egos, arse kicking women and witty dialogue are all on show in The Avengers, not very surprising coming from the creator of mega-hit genre TV shows such as Buffy and Firefly. Much like his underrated sci-fi actioner Serenity, the characters come first as he gleefully toys with the concept at hand. Focusing for the first half on bringing these wildly differing and engaging characters together is The Avengers’s strongest power as every POW! and BAM! is met with a satirical one liner and unexpectedly hilarious  moment of physical comedy. These characters serve as the building blocks for something extraordinary in the first half as fighting each other must be put aside to fight the forces of evil. The chemistry developed slowly and uneasily between this cast of famed superheroes from varying ages and galaxies creates a fascinating origin story of arguably the greatest team in superhero lore. Every character pulls their weight, and no one steals the show, as we see every character earning the right to be accepted into the Avengers Initiative.

“The Avengers. That’s what we call ourselves; we’re sort of like a team. “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” type thing.” (Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), The Avengers).

Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans & Robert Downey, Jr.

Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans & Robert Downey, Jr.

The witty Whedon-esque dialogue is of course met with brilliant performances from this A- list cast and the creation of burdened yet likeable characters. Powerfully making his presence known in both Iron Man films, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is a delight. His quick delivery of comedic lines and upbeat presence on screen lets everyone know why Iron Man is a fan favourite. While Captain America (Chris Evans) makes his presence known; placing his differing views, emotional torment, and leadership anxieties in full view. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye don’t disappoint when called upon to anchor the film’s emotional core. While credit goes to Mark Ruffalo as the big, green, mean machine turned pleasant scientist Bruce Banner. Given the unfortunate task of replacing Edward Norton from the previous film, Ruffalo delivers an enjoyable yet intensifying interpretation of Banner, constantly toying with the monster inside him. When these superheroes aren’t using their unique abilities and witty personalities on each other in several of the film’s most intense moments, they’re destroying New York while tussling with Loki and his army of alien minions. Despite several inventive and beautiful action set pieces throughout, including Captain America and Iron Man working together to save the Helicarrier, the final third kicks into overdrive. It’s here when we see this team working side by side in the line of duty. Its hilarious, stylish and breathtaking all at the same time as we see the powers of our favourite heroes in full effect. Whedon creates an immersive representation of the forces of good. Single shot set pieces zooming around the city depict each member of the team risking everything to come to the aid of one another, while impressively destroying hordes of evil doers.

One things for sure, this cracking foray into the origins of the ultimate crime fighting unit is a paradise for comic book aficionados, action fans and everyone in between. Whedon, the impeccable cast of comic book favourites and consistent level of laughs come together to create one of the best superhero films ever assembled.

Verdict: An enlightening and powerful superhero flick.