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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 Avengers (2012)

When I first learned of this film in the year or two before its release, I kind of ignored it; traditionally, I’m not a huge superhero movie fan, with Batman being an exception. But as time went by and the final Marvel movies leading up to The Avengers were released, I had a revelation: five superheroes from five completely different movies (plus two extra heroes who were mixed in) were going to be on the big screen together in the same film AT THE SAME TIME. I realized how incredible that was and instantly became a time bomb, ticking away the time as the release grew closer and closer. And it didn’t disappoint.

The Avengers succeeds in just about every possible way a film can succeed. The characters were likable and believable despite their unbelievable abilities, the villain was fantastic, and the script was fun and smart. Tony Stark is back as Robert Downey, Jr. – wait…strike that, reverse it – with hilarious one-liners, Chris Hemsworth as Thor is a better character than he was in his own movie, Chris Evans returns as a fantastically conflicted Captain America, and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is ten times the villain he was in Thor.

I’m not going to delve too far into the movie, but there is one thing that I DO have to talk about: The Hulk. After two previous films based around the character that were mediocre at best, The Avengers finally got our big angry green guy right. Joss Whedon was smart enough to make Banner/Hulk not someone who tries to avoid being angry but instead someone who embraces his anger and has fun with it. There are three extremely satisfying moments with the Hulk: when he first transforms in NYC, when he punches Thor, and when he smashes Loki. Mark Ruffalo also might be my favorite Bruce Banner so far, which is an added bonus. The Hulk just might have been the best character in this film.

So, how good is this film? Let me put it this way – I’ve seen it four times, and I have friends who have seen it more times than that. I could ramble on and on about how great this film was, but I’ll let you see it and decide for yourselves. Everything about this movie is great; if you don’t enjoy it at least a little bit, you must not like fun very much. Go check it out!

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference