Tag Archives: God

Now You See Me (2013)

NOTE: Review originally written for and posted at MovieByte.com. To see this post and check out the guys over at MovieByte, click here!

 

NOW YOU SEE ME

Magic is fun. Movies are fun. Combining the two to make a movie about a group of magicians who rob a bank? Even more fun! With a premise like that, Now You See Me, sets itself up from the start to be one heck of a ride – and quite an entertaining one at that!

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco star as four magicians of varying abilities who work alone. As we are introduced to each magician performing his/her solo act, we notice a hooded figure  in attendance at each performer’s show. Soon, the four are brought together, each having received a card from this unknown person telling them to show up at an apartment, where the performers are given blueprints and instructions to a grand master plan that involves bank robbery through the art of deception. They form a group and call themselves the Four Horsemen, and, through the sponsorship of insurance businessman Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), they give a performance a year later in Las Vegas where they seemingly rob a bank in Paris using their talents. The FBI gets involved, with Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) on the case, as well as French Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent). They ask for help from Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an ex-magician who exposes magicians’ secrets for a living, leading to several intriguing explanations behind some of the magic tricks performed.

While all of that is a lot to comprehend on paper, it doesn’t feel convoluted in the context of the film. Each of the lead actors does a fine job, though Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson both seem to be channeling previous roles at times (Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network and Haymitch Abernathy from The Hunger Games, respectively). None of that detracts from the film, however, because, believe it or not, the focus isn’t much on the magicians; the focus is on Rhodes and Vargas, the FBI and Interpol agents who are frantically trying to get ahead of these apparent criminals.

The entire film is a boatload of fun; I’ve had a fascination with magic tricks since a very early age, so I was constantly on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how things were being done. The performance sets were huge, and the constant camera movement (not shaky-cam) helped add to the notion that what you were seeing was an illusion…nothing was held still for very long, so the film had a dynamic feeling of movement throughout that worked quite well, pushing the story forward in a great way. The music, composed by Brian Tyler, was a huge asset to this film, sounding appropriately like a Vegas stage show, background music for an inspirational speaker, and like an action film, all simultaneously, again adding to the notion that everything that the Four Horsemen did, on stage or not, was a performance.

Like all films, though, this one has its problems, with this one being its ending. I won’t reveal the twist to you, but I’ll tell you that someone gets arrested, and it happens in a way that seems entirely illegal. The character who gets arrested is the object of another character’s longtime plan for revenge, and he gets locked away simply out of spite, which is definitely not okay. Had he done something actually illegal, I would have been completely fine with it. Additionally, Michael Caine’s character, Arthur Tressler, disappears for the entire final act of the film with no payoff. Unfortunately, even if his character had come back with a proper payoff, Caine’s performance seemed pretty weak to me, something that I fear can be attributed to his age – at 80 years old, the range of Caine’s acting ability is growing thinner, and I think that this role, however small in the overall context of the film, is outside of that range. I didn’t dislike him, but he certainly could have been better.

Aside from those couple of issues, I really enjoyed this movie. Something that I noticed was what I took to be a hidden commentary on Christianity and belief in God. FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes has a firm disbelief in magic. At one point in the film, a comment is made about believing in something you can’t see to make yourself feel better, and, though I initially thought it was a slam against those who believe in God, I later decided that the film was in support of the idea of having faith in something like magic or God or whatever it may be. I may be completely wrong in that assumption, but it was a bit of commentary that I picked up on and that I really appreciated, being a Christian myself.

Overall, this movie is (mostly) everything I hoped that it would be. A strong central cast takes an intriguing premise and takes us on an exciting journey into the world of magic where its all too easy to get sucked into the fun of the illusions, and, although I was skeptical of the twist ending at first, I’ve come to really appreciate it as I look into how it fits back into the earlier parts of the film. Now You See Me isn’t the kind of film that calls for extra scrutiny or criticism at a superficial level as other films might; just sit back, get your popcorn, and enjoy the ride!

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for language, some action and sexual content

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Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi is one of those movies that caught me off-guard; I had never read the book, and, while I had seen a trailer or two before other films I’ve seen this year, the buzz on it seemed pretty minimal. As a result, when it was released to critical acclaim nearly across the board, it sparked my interest. I debated whether or not I should read the original book by Yann Martel first, but I ended up going to see the film anyway, and…wow.

I absolutely loved the way that the story was told in the context of the film: an author visits the home of an adult Piscine Molitor Patel, Pi for short, who begins to tell him a story from his teenage years, a tale that he claims “will make you believe in God.” The first half of this film is presented as a flashback, with the story returning to the perspective of the older Pi every now and again, but the flashback eventually becomes continuous to the end of the film. To me, it almost felt like someone was reading me a book that I was simultaneously watching unfold in front of me, much like the 1987 film The Princess Bride, which was also based on a book. This method of storytelling was compelling and had me wanting more; I enjoyed both the flashbacks and the present-day scenes, but I was constantly thirsting for more information.

The story itself is a sort of combination between Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, and the Book of Job from the Hebrew Bible. Much like Job, Pi has everything taken away from him as a test of faith, and, like Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away, he is stranded without any human companion and must learn to survive in less-than-ideal conditions. Throughout the film, Pi talks about his faith in God despite all that has happened to him, and he remains thankful no matter what. It is a testament to his faith that Pi doesn’t become atheist due to all of his struggles, and it made me look inward at my own faith in God…would I remain this loyal to Him in that kind of hardship?

Life of Pi, in addition to having strong roots in religion, is also a visual treat. This is the best use of 3D I have seen since James Cameron’s Avatar was released back in 2009; in fact, this is one of the few films that I would actually recommend seeing in the 3D format. This is a rare instance of 3D absorbing the viewer into the world of the film, allowing us to experience what Pi is experiencing, without becoming a gimmick like so many 3D films fall victim to. With a wonderful performance from first-time film actor Suraj Sharma to go along with the fantastic script and beautiful landscapes presented in the film, Life of Pi is another film worth seeing on the big screen.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril