Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Released: June 10, 2016. Directed by: John M. Chu. Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson. Runtime: 2hr, 9 min.

After a year in hiding from the FBI, the bank-robbing-magical-vigilante Four Horsemen return to the spotlight in Now You See Me 2, to publicly expose a technology company called Octa for unethical operations.

After their enemies are a step ahead of them for once, forcibly whisked away to China to perform another impossible heist for tech genius Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe).

One of the sequel’s ways to freshen its premise is one of its finer magic tricks – turning Isla Fisher’s Henley into Lizzy Caplan’s Lula. Fisher wasn’t able to reprise her role due to her pregnancy.

While likable, Henley was a weaker link among the Horsemen in terms of entertainment. Jesse Eisenberg’s J. Daniel Atlas and Woody Harrelson’s Merritt McKinney got the funnier lines and Henley’s most memorable moment was the escape from the piranha water tank.

Caplan’s Lula doesn’t have a truly memorable moment like the piranha tank, but she’s funny and her excitement to join the group is relatable. She has amusing distractions and tricks and sight gags – but Henley was the way more amazing magician.

Now You See Me 2 (3)

Woody Harrelson as Merrit McKinney in Now You See Me 2. (Source)

Jesse Eisenberg returns as the arrogant Daniel Atlas, still sarcastically witty and amusing but arrogant as ever. At least it helped me forget his performance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice somewhat.

Harrelson is doubly funny as the mentalist McKinney, he’s having a lot of fun and it’s contagious watching because he’s so hilarious. An aspect of his diverse performance is a surprise I don’t want to spoil. Dave Franco returns as Jack Wilder – the trickster whose specialty is playing card tricks and sleight of hand.

In NYSM, audiences were shown too often how the film did its trick by magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). He can’t debunk so much now from a jail cell. In NYSM2, tricks are only explained when it’s detrimental to the story. It’s more mysterious and more like a magic show when we don’t know how they do what seems impossible.

The sequel balances comedy and strong well-edited and well-directed. Jon M. Chu takes the director’s chair from Louis Letterier – maintaining the similar visual style but a stronger focus for the story. They’re still vigilantes in some capacity, but they’re more-so trying to survive against their enemies.

It helps that they’ve gained a new horseman in Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, who recruited the horsemen but was also chasing them in the last film.

Now You See Me 2 (2)

Jesse Eisenberg controls the weather as J. Daniel Atlas in Now You See Me 2. (Source)

Learning more about his backstory is intriguing as I liked learning more about the mystery of Lionel Shrike. I thought it was uninspired when Agent Cowan (David Warshofsky) automatically assumes he’s playing both sides even though there’s not much evidence to support the claim. I mean, he is playing both sides but is it just blind intuition?

The FBI are still after the Horsemen, this time led by Agent Cowan and Deputy Director Natalie Austin (Sanaa Lathan, Alien vs. Predator), who is one-note.

There’s not as many big twists this time, but the writing feels more concise and not as confusing. There’s still a wow factor with many of the tricks and the magic is maintained.

It’s a delight to see Daniel Radcliffe return to the wizarding world, this time in a different dynamic as the villainous Muggle, Walter Mabry. He employs the Horsemen to steal a powerful device from a heavily guarded lab for him. He’s a welcome addition to the ensemble.

The heist scene where the Horsemen attempt to steal it is compelling and well-edited, and one of the film’s coolest sequences. The practical effects are also really great. The heist caper still has enough magic up its sleeve to entertain for this sequel.

Score: 75/100

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The Brothers Grimsby (2016)

The Brothers Grimsby, poster

Released: March 11, 2016. Directed by: Louis Leterrier. Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher. Runtime: 1hr, 23 min.

I’m a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – the titular journalist character is rather brilliant. And his creation of the character Ali G was also quite funny.

His comedic work really makes him a unique figure, but he hasn’t made a great comedic character since Borat – as both the titular character in Brüno and Aladeen in The Dictator were hit-and-miss.

With Nobby Butcher in The Brothers Grimsby, he creates another hit-and-miss character – but at least gives him some stronger development. Nobby is a drunken football hooligan cheating the welfare system, living in the poverty-stricken town of Grimsby, cheering for his main team England.

When he was a kid, he was separated from his younger brother Sebastian through Grimsby’s orphanage system. Sebastian (Mark Strong) is now the top agent of MI6, on assignment to prevent the assassination of philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz), and to uncover a huge terrorism plot by a group called Maelstrom.

When Nobby is able to get tickets to the charity ball and reunite with his brother after 28 years, he hugs him which causes Sebastian to miss his shot on an assassin (Scott Adkins) and hit a spokesperson instead. This mistake causes the other MI6 agents to think he has gone rogue – and Nobby and Sebastian are forced on the run.

The Brothers Grimsby - Hug it out

Grimsby is another addition to the cannon of unlikely people finding themselves in bigger-than-themselves spy missions as a spy, like Johnny English and Spy. While the world created here is a good base for Nobby’s hijinks, he is nowhere near as amusing as Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English or as hilarious as Melissa McCarthy’s Susan Cooper in Spy.

The story is a bit heartwarming with the brother dynamic but the really raunchy and often gross-out humour rarely hits. The action set pieces are pretty good, well-filmed with Louis Leterrier’s style of direction.

The film is at its most effective in terms of comedy when Nobby is making awful decisions – but humour is ineffective when they hide away from government assassins inside of an elephant, and get stuck in there during mating hour. Yuck.

One masterwork of Grimsby is the casting of Mark Strong. It feels like he could be cast as an actual MI6 agent in a spy franchise so that’s what helps create a believable world. He does his job as the straight man for Nobby’s jokes, even though Nobby’s humour never really hit for me.

At least the film doesn’t stick around for very long. The only part worth rooting about is Donald Trump being the butt of a joke. He’s horrendously rendered via CGI, and there’s a really bad stand-in Daniel Radcliffe as well, but those are really the only jokes that hit for me. And the fact that Nobby’s look is based off of Liam Gallagher’s look is amusing.

Score: 40/100

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

harry potter and the deathly hallows part 2Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Release Date: July 15, 2011

Director: David Yates

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: It all ends here

The final Harry Potter film is the best yet, and generally one of the best films of 2011.

The final chapter begins as Harry, Ron, and Hermione continue their quest of finding and destroying the Dark Lord’s three remaining Horcruxes, the magical items responsible for his immortality. But as the mystical Deathly Hallows are uncovered, and Voldemort finds out about their mission, the biggest battle begins and life as they know it will never be the same again.

This is truly a huge battle that will determine the future of the entire wizarding and muggle world. Will it fall into a deeper despair under the rule of Voldermort, or will all be well? It really depends on Harry, Hermione, Ron and all the other good guys to save the world.
If I were to tell you just to watch one of the films of the Harry Potter franchise, it would be this. There’s really a lot of appeal to this. There’s some comedy, mostly in the beginning when they go to Gringotts. There’s tons of action, so action lovers will actually be able to enjoy this thoroughly. Most of all, however and inevitably, this appeals mostly to fantasy lovers and fans of the series itself. This is for them.

This stays faithful to the book, and it’s amazing to see unfold on the screen. This is not only probably the best Potter, but it’s one of the best fantasy/action adventures in years. The action is maximized, the emotions run the highest they ever have, and there are new layers brought to characters, everything ends and gets revealed.
There’s one side brought to Voldermort that we haven’t seen for some time in the series: he’s scared shitless. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still freaking ruthless – he just knows in the back of his mind that Potter or he dies. Of course he’d prefer it’s Potter, but he knows they’re getting close to destroying all of the pieces of soul he has hid in those Horcruxes.

One amazing thing about this is that it really isn’t just Harry’s chance to shine. Neville gets a few spotlights shone on him, as well, after he being the character always to have crappy things happen throughout the entire series. The stakes and emotions haven’t really been this high yet; people will die, and Harry must use self-sacrifice and muster all the bravery and strength he possibly can. We’ve never been this afraid for Harry.

For those who follow the series might just be bawling at some characters’ deaths, because we’ve followed them on this journey all along. This is also the darkest of the series, but the atmosphere is awesome and there’s never a dull moment to be had. Fans may also cry at the fact that over the ten years of the franchise, it’s over. It really is. With that being said, I tip my metaphorical hat at everyone involved in this series over the years.

We’ve seen so many people grow. We’ve seen the stars of Radcliffe, Watson, Grint and everyone else be born into stars. We’ve seen yet another amazing character from Alan Rickman, as the usually despicable Severus Snape. That guy is just a troubled character. We have lost so many characters over the course of this franchise. This is obviously an imagined world, but we fans have gone on this journey all along. We might as well be a background character at Hogwarts. I wonder how many people were really disappointed they didn’t see that letter from Hogwarts on their eleventh birthday. I know I was. I just want to say thanks for this series being made, to all the directors, the amazing J.K. Rowling, the cast. Everyone who made this possible. I’m not thanking the Academy, though. This series mustered a seriously impressive twelve Oscar nominations over its eight-film run, but it didn’t manage to win one fucking award. I’m not holding any grudges, but this was some fantastic visual work. This was one of the greatest fantasy franchises of all time, and both a commercialistic and critical Young Adult adaptation success. Now, Hollywood, it’s time to bring on the inevitable young adult adaptations to make quick bucks.

94/100

 

The Woman in Black (2012)

woman in blackRelease Date: February 3, 2012. Director: James Watkins. Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciarán Hinds. Runtime: 1hr, 35 min. Tagline: Do you believe in ghosts?

A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.

The Woman in Black is a solid horror drama that runs on unanswered questions. It is also an extremely effective and spooky tale that has the potential to chill you to the bone.

The chilling tale may not be for everyone because it is sort-of a period, gothic tale that may not fascinate all. However, those who could be intrigued by this should definitely check it out. A few things that make this stand out are the specific and interesting concepts that add a necessary fuel to the film: finding closure in the afterlife. The ghostly antagonist had someone close to them taken by someone, and that is their fuel to haunt the town folk and take their children.

The atmospheric tale runs on unanswered questions, and not all get answered in the end. This makes the feature thought-provoking, but it also makes it a frustrating experience. The purpose of spending 95 minutes on this film is to have the questions answered in the end, not to be left hanging. This doesn’t make the mysterious film have a good pay-off in the end, but the journey to actually get there is more than fine.

The characterization is pretty good. The main protagonist, Arthur Kipps (portrayed by post-Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe), is established as a widow who would do anything to protect his dearest son. This adds layers to him because he actually has the ability to relate to the ghost, because he understands what one may do to protect a child they have raised. Radcliffe has expressed he has some potential to be a great actor. He captures emotions like fear expertly. You’ll like him in this, too, if you don’t expect him to pull out his wand, and yell ‘Expelliarmus!‘ (or any other incantation) at the big old scary baddie.

In a nutshell: The Woman in Black runs on unanswered questions, and it is a solid experience until the last frustrating twenty minutes. It is mostly a great turn from Daniel Radcliffe, who has left the wand at home and jumped back to the 1860s.

Interesting fact about the feature: Adrian Rawlins –who played Daniel Radcliffe’s father in the Harry Potter series– played the same character in the 1989 version as Radcliffe plays in this film.

Score: 70/100