June 4, 2013

now you see1 Greetings again from the darkness. Come on … who wouldn’t get excited about a movie that mixes magic with the heist genre, and fills the cast with stars old and new? Director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) is clearly engaged with the material, and maybe his vision of “just one more twist” is what keeps it from reaching the next level.

Magic is inherently a very difficult subject for movies. Why? Because with magic, human nature is such that we are always trying to “catch” the sleight of hand. With movies, we have come to accept the fact that any special effect is possible. We rarely ask “how”. That kind of takes away the mystique, eh? Maybe the best magic movie to date is The Prestige, but even that movie was made stronger by the story of its characters … something this latest lacks.

now you see2 Heist movies, on the other hand, have historically produced some of the most fun and thrilling times on screen. Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job are just two examples of clever, almost light-hearted heist films that are also thrillers.  Everyone loves a clever caper … so long as we aren’t on the wrong end. What doesn’t work in either genre, and especially when they are blended, is a story that defies logic. We don’t mind being tricked. In fact, it’s kind of fun getting to the end and realizing you are part of the “gotcha”. What we don’t like is being cheated.

This premise is terrific. An unknown benefactor secretly assembles The Four Horsemen – a hand-picked (by a hoodie dude) group consisting of Jessie Eisenberg, the smug super-illusionist; Woody Harrelson, the wise-cracking mentalist; tart escape artist now you see4(think Houdini with piranha) Isla Fisher; and street-hustler pickpocket (Artful Dodger type) Dave Franco. The group is bank rolled by industrial tycoon Michael Caine, and is soon enough headlining a giant Las Vegas extravaganza. Their first trick is to rob a French bank vault by transporting an audience member, video streaming the job, and showering the audience with the stolen cash. They do this under the watchful eye of magic naysayer Morgan Freeman, a huckster who earns a buck exposing the tricks of magicians.

Soon enough, an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent, so stunning as the theatre owner in Inglourious Basterds) are working together trying to stop the next job, which Morgan Freeman has warned them is really a set-now you see3up for a huge finale. The movie has some really fun moments, but with all of Morgan Freeman’s warnings that we (and Ruffalo) are always a step behind, we can’t help but think ahead … and there is only one super twist that makes all of this click.

In fact, I would argue that there are too many twists here. The basic story was enough and the movie would have benefited from us getting to better know the main characters. Instead, they are merely chess pieces who spout one-liners in order. In particular, the characters of Woody Harrelson and Melanie Laurent could have gone much deeper. But that clashes with what the filmmakers were after … big, fast, wild, glitzy, cute, clever, and twisty. Just don’t be tricked into thinking. Turn off your brain and take in the wild, twisty ride … even if it does defy logic, and remember … “it’s all part of the show”.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can sit back and enjoy a wild cinematic ride without thinking too much OR you’ve always wanted to see Common play air-violin

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy solving the movie mysteries before the solutions are revealed OR in these tough economic times, you are looking for real bank heist tips (sorry to disappoint)

watch the trailer:


April 4, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. I have a weakness for the 1981 version and still get a kick out of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-action art in that film, as well as the “Sinbad” films. One of my favorite trivia questions is “What film starred both Harry Hamlin and Laurence Olivier?”. That cracks me up, and stumps most people … even though most have seen the original.

Director Louis Leterrier provides a remake that is very much a film project of current day despite the mythology involved. Here, Liam Neeson as Zeus and Ralph Finnes as Hades are (not so close) brothers supposedly battling for the same thing – getting those pesky humans back in line. This comes after the army of Argos gets fed up with the whims of the Gods and makes a move toward independence. You either know the story or not, but either way shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the movie.

Sam Worthington, fresh off his Avatar fame makes for a solid Perseus, the half-son of Zeus (thanks to an earlier trick, that most would call rape). However, I never could make sense of his perfectly barbered look of facial and scalp stubble, while those around him all sport the late-60’s Hell’s Angels look. Gemma Atherton (former Bond girl) plays the quasi-God who is to protect Persues, and Mads Mikkelson (former Bond villain) fights alongside him. However, this is not an actor’s film.

The special effects are bountiful. Hades comes and goes as a cloud of thick black smoke and is quite comfortable splitting himself off into a flock of evil-spirited flying dragon things. Pegasus, the flying horse is back, as are the giant scorpions, who are much bigger and badder than before. Still don’t understand how they went from mean to sweet between scenes. Of course, the coolest thing is Medusa and her hairdo of creepy, crawly snakes. That’s one bad chick. The most impressive special effect is the Kraken, Hade’s underworld pet who is “released” to destroy mankind (unless Perseus can stop him).

There is one humorous tip of the cap to the original, but most of the other shots at humor fall extremely flat. This is not a movie to see for the dialogue. The mythology and wonderment of the Gods have a certain appeal, though this one certainly falls short in providing us any real insight into the daily tasks of the lucky few on Olympus. So enjoy this one for what it is … a guilty pleasure.  And stump your friends with that trivia question!