Now You See Me (2013)


Who Doesn’t Love a Good Magic Trick?

Now You See Me (2013)As the day of my birth approaches, I decided that I should not be at work as I turned 30.  Well, not at one of my jobs at least.  I would spend my vacation from one job working on the one I actually enjoy: stuff-reviewing.  The first step would be to make my way to the theaters, with my friend Greg in tow.  There were a few movies that I wanted to see in theaters, but Greg had either already seen them or had no desire.  We agreed only on today’s movie.  This movie had piqued my interest when I saw trailers for it, but I had apprehensions about it.  It seemed like an interesting enough premise, but I worried at the movie’s ability to realize that interest.  We find out how well it did as I review Now You See Me, written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt, directed by Louis Leterrier, and starring Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Common, Michael J. Kelly, and Elias Koteas.

A few stray tarot cards bring together four magicians – Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – with a plan to accomplish three amazing feats for a mysterious benefactor.  They become “The Four Horsemen,” sponsored by insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).  For their first trick, they rob a bank in Paris and give all the money to the audience.  This attracts the attention of FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol Agent Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent), who need to figure out how they did it and what they intend on doing next.  For that, they enlist the help of an ex-magician who makes a living debunking other magicians, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman).

I enjoyed this movie.  It was not without its share of problems, but I still found the experience enjoyable.  I found the premise of the movie to be the most compelling part.  The idea of magicians using their abilities for “evil” instead of their usual motivation of “pussy” was very interesting to me, and I thought it was clever how they did it.  I especially liked when Jack Wilder fought the two FBI Agents using magic as a fighting style.  I wasn’t able to figure out their Las Vegas stunt until they revealed it to us.  Their New Orleans stunt was much more predictable and much less mystifying, especially with what they did with the word “Freeze” and how easy it would be to make someone’s money move from one account to another with a simple computer, but there were still some clever ideas in there.  I feel like the problem I had with the movie was that it practically dared the audience to figure it out and to be wary of misdirection, but overall wasn’t clever enough to make it happen.  When one of the characters tells Rhodes that someone might be a spy for the magicians, you can pretty much rest assured that it won’t be either the character that told him that or the character he was talking about.  That would be too easy.  But it doesn’t leave many options, so it wasn’t that hard to figure out.  And though you might not have known how they accomplished something, you can have an idea that something was accomplished, like the part in the story with a car crash.  I didn’t know how it was faked, but it’s a movie about magic.  Of course it was faked.  I would also say that the movie started off by getting me, because I totally picked the card that Jesse Eisenberg put on the side of the building, but there’s also a chance that this could’ve been manufactured with camera tricks.  I also felt like Woody Harrelson’s mentalism stuff was mainly included for exposition, because he delivered most of the character’s backstories using that stuff.

The cast of the movie was great, with no real complaints.  They got great people so I would expect nothing less.  Jesse Eisenberg plays nervous and self-conscious better than he plays a cocky douche, but he did very well.  Isla Fisher is hot, and I heard she almost drowned at one point in this movie, so props for the commitment as well.  Woody Harrelson was pretty entertaining all the way through, and he got to be the funny one in the group most of the time.  I’ve loved me some Mark Ruffalo ever since he was the Hulk, and I found myself worried for the magicians that they might get him too angry.  They might not enjoy that.  I was also very excited to see Mélanie Laurent since I haven’t seen her since I fell in love with her in Inglourious Basterds.  Long distance relationships are always so hard…  I also got to thinking that, with both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in this movie, how could they not have been able to get Christian Bale (and maybe even Hugh Jackman) to come in for a pivotal scene at the end of the movie where they just yell, “THE PRESTIGE!” and dance around in circles?  It would’ve made the movie for me.  But sometimes, I just want to watch the flash paper burn…

I thought the premise of Now You See Me was great, but there just wasn’t enough magic in the storytelling.  Their clever ideas also activated the parts of the brain that cause us to try to figure out how magic is accomplished, but the story wasn’t quite polished enough to hide their secrets from me.  But their ideas were clever enough to keep me interested, and it was presented well enough and included many great performances.  I’d say this movie is definitely worth a watch.  I don’t know that I’d say it was important enough that it need be seen immediately in theaters, but it also wouldn’t hurt.  Renting it would do fine as well.  Now You See Me gets “The more you think you see, the easier it’ll be to fool you” out of “You have what we like to call in the business, ‘nothing up your sleeve.’”

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The Incredible Hulk (2008)


You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m … Hungry

I had almost forgotten that I had promised to review one Avengers movie a month until the Avengers came out, but thankfully I remembered in time to fit this in to December. This month’s Avengers movie is the sequel to a movie I haven’t yet reviewed. I probably should’ve done them in order, but I wanted to watch this one ’cause it’s better. But, since this movie has all different actors in it and pretty much acts like the first movie never happened, it can easily be considered a standalone movie. It doesn’t even have a 2 in the title. And to prove that, I present you with the title of today’s movie, The Incredible Hulk, written by Zak Penn and Edward Harrison, directed by Louis Leterrier, and starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, and Christina Cabot, with cameos by Robert Downey Jr. and Rickson Gracie.

Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is hanging out in Brazil, working in a soda bottling plant while doing experiments with plants, watching Portuguese Sesame Street, and training in heart rate control with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Rickson Gracie. One day, he cuts his finger and the blood falls in one of the sodas. He has them shut it down as he cleans it up (probably telling them he’s got the AIDS), but he misses a drop that gets mixed in to one of the drinks, shipped to the US, and makes Stan Lee sick. General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) finds out about it and assembles a team lead by British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to capture Banner. It doesn’t go well. Something happens and they lose Banner and find a giant green thing that kicks the crap out of them. But (SURPRISE!) Banner IS the giant green thing. Blonsky wants another crack at Banner so General Ross uses some Super Soldier Serum on Blonsky to ready him for their next encounter. Banner wakes up naked and confused in Guatemala. I’m beginning to think I may be the Hulk but, when you wake up naked and confused after becoming the Hulk, does your butt always hurt? Anyways, Banner decides that he needs some data from his ex-girlfriend (and daughter of the General), Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), so he goes back to New York to get it. This gives Blonsky his second chance at Banner, but it ends up with Blonsky getting kicked in the chest and all of his bones pulverized by the Hulk. Now back on the run with Betty, Banner has to meet up with his last chance to get cured, his contact Mr. Blue, Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). But the danger of General Ross and Blonsky is still looming.

After the events of the first Hulk movie, I admit that I was a little bit disappointed. I was nowhere near as disappointed as most people seemed to be about it, but it certainly wasn’t the Hulk movie the world was looking for. It was kind of a slow, artsy, touchy-feely Hulk movie and, if you’re familiar with the Hulk character, you’re probably looking more for a movie with a lot of anger and smashing. That’s where this movie came in, because it WAS the type of Hulk movie we were wanting. A little bit of story is nice, but you really just want to see the Hulk smash some faces, and this movie delivers on that. Unlike the first Hulk move that took 55 minutes to even show us the Hulk (yes, I timed it), this one gets you to it in a clean 20 minutes or so. The Hulk shows up to wreak some havoc TWICE in 50 minutes, and that’s the kind of thing I like out of a movie with the guy’s name as the title. The basic story of the movie was a little simple, but worked for this movie. It was Banner’s usual desire to be free of the Hulk, General Ross’ desire to use the Hulk for military gain, and Blonsky’s jealousy of the Hulk. But all of these story elements mainly served to get us to the next time that the Hulk could smash some things. The main story element of the movie didn’t make sense until a little over halfway into the film. Why would anyone want to be free of the Hulk? Some dudes are picking on you but you’re too wimpy to do anything and then OOPS! You got too angry and they’re being taken away in an ambulance. The army is after you but UH OH! One of the soldiers tackled your girlfriend and now needs to have his car repeatedly smashed into some sculpture thing. But then they showed us why he wanted to be rid of the Hulk: he couldn’t get busy with Liv Tyler because it made his heart race too much. I’m with you now, Banner, let’s go see that weird guy about getting ourselves cured. On a similar note, how many super hot chicks are working in bottling factories down in Brazil? ‘Cause there was at least one in this movie and, if that’s a fact, I think it’s time for a relocation and career change for good ole Robert.

Where the story is perhaps a bit lacking, it’s made up for by exciting, badass action scenes. They really captured the Hulk in this movie. This dude is pissed, but he really just wants to be left alone, and that’s what the Hulk is all about. After he’s punished the people that initially made him get pissed enough to turn into the Hulk, he’s ready to walk away … until someone else shoots at him … then he throws a forklift at them or pummels them with half of a police car on each fist like boxing gloves. I also appreciated that the Hulk remained a creature of few words. He’s not usually articulate or anything, but in the comics he can tend to go on about how “The Hulk is the strongest one there is” and “Hulk hates puny Banner”, but in this movie he maybe spoke twice; once to say “Betty”, and once to give us a well-timed “Hulk smash!” Keeping the words he speaks minimal as they did makes it so much more awesome when he finally says those words, especially since he follows it up by choking out another giant CG creature. I also loved how they initially introduced us to the Hulk in this movie. They didn’t show him outright, only parts of him at a time, hidden in shadows, and some good silhouette work, like when they threw a grenade and it blew up behind him, but you only saw his silhouette in the orange cloud.

I don’t understand how the Hulk movies can’t keep any of their principle actors around. Though I thought Eric Bana did a fine job, I did think it was a nice upgrade to go to Edward Norton, even if the Hulk never told the Abomination to “bite the curb”. I did think that Liv Tyler was a bit of a step down. Liv Tyler is a fine actress, and a very attractive one at that, but I dig on Jennifer Connelly more. William Hurt was an even bigger step down for me, not because Hurt did a bad job, but Sam Elliot is so much more awesome. Sam Elliot trained THE Dalton in how to whoop ass down at the Double Deuce. That guy could’ve told us all kinds of stories about The Dude … who turns green and kicks people in the chest. Tim Roth was really good in this as well. He’s mostly a composed, by the book military guy, but you can tell he’s got that “I’m macho and I don’t like getting beaten” thing going on in the background, leading him to want more and more power and eventually turning him into an/the Abomination. The cameos in this (and most Marvel movies) are pretty sweet. You have the obvious and big one of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark coming in at the end talking about some team he wants to assemble. Lou Ferrigno and Stan Lee show up again, as they did in the first Hulk movie. You’ve got a real life Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert training Banner in Rickson Gracie. Bill Bixby even shows up on a TV at one point. Not quite as awesome and X-Men: First Class’s cameos, but real solid.

No one would consider this movie a perfect movie, and I don’t even think I’d go so far as to say it’s the perfect Hulk movie, but it’s the best we’ve had so far. They don’t waste a lot of time with setup and story because they want to show a different side of the Hulk. This movie isn’t called “Bruce Banner” for a reason: because it’s about the Hulk. That giant, green, smash-machine. So instead of overdoing the story, they just give us lots of good action, and that’s what I wanted. I wish Norton was still the Hulk, and I kind of liked Connelly and Elliot better than Tyler and Hurt, but the performances were all very solid. Of course I own this movie on BluRay. I own Ghost Rider, for crying out loud! But I think you’ll enjoy this Hulk movie. If you didn’t see it because the first one scared you off, don’t worry. They did this one right. The Incredible Hulk gets “Mas stretchy” out of “Ready for round three”.

Hey, peeps. Why not rate and comment on this as a favor to good ole Robert, eh? And tell your friends! Let’s make me famous!