Tag Archives: haymitch

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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The Hunger Games (2012)

I read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy a month or so before the release of the first film, and I was immediately addicted. The dystopian world that Collins has created is engrossing and a bit potent…while we aren’t there just yet, it seems like we could be living in a world like that not too far from now. I attended the midnight screening of The Hunger Games and was impressed with how well Gary Ross as director and the rest of the cast and crew captured the essence of Collins’ original novel.

The minimalist approach that the filmmakers took is part of what makes it so good. Everything – from the cinematography to the acting to the score – is done in a way that is entirely non-excessive. I wouldn’t say that everything was held back, but it was all just right, entirely representative of the novel. Though the handheld camera was occasionally irritating, it certainly added a bit more realism. The settings were well done, especially in District 12 where we really get the sense of the control the Capitol has over the people and the desperation of the citizens.

Jennifer Lawrence excels as Katniss Everdeen, a girl fighting for her life. She knows the meaning of sacrifice and the value of life, and she is determined to do what she can to protect the people she love. These are all traits that Lawrence captures perfectly, and she does it all without overacting or trying too hard. Josh Henderson as Peeta, while not being exactly what I expected, does a fine job as well, and Woody Harrelson captures the wit and sort of drunken brazenness of Haymitch. Donald Sutherland gets a little extra screen time as President Snow than the character does in the first book; a couple of brief scenes are added that really delve into the character of President Snow and what his intentions are.

Movie adaptations of books are difficult to pull off well; they either entirely leave the source material behind, or they follow the book too closely and get lost in themselves. The Hunger Games does neither and manages to be one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen. The acting is superb, especially from Ms. Lawrence, and everything from the script to the cinematography is fantastic as well. I can’t wait to see what the next film in the series brings!

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by James Newton Howard, here!