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.

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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.

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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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Neighbors (2014)

NeighborsReleased: May 4, 2014. Directed by: Nicholas Stoller. Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron. Runtime: 96 min. 

Nicholas Stoller, a graduate of the so-called Apatow school of comedy, directs Neighbors, a film that is uncharacteristically short for Apatow’s brand of filmmaking. In this way, Stoller makes this film his own. The film follows a couple, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), who are severely bored, and are experiencing arrested development because of their extremely amusing new-born baby Stella. Soon enough, some spice in their life moves in next door, but it’s keeping them up at night. It’s a frat house, led by a charismatic Zac Efron. When Mac “violates the circle of trust” (as Dave Franco puts it at an inconsistent Robert De Niro party – which is the joke) by calling the cops to file a noise complaint, the war is on – which consists of the family trying to get the frat to get enough strikes to get them out of the neighborhood, among other things.

The film has a quick pace and the falling-out is mildly realistic. Rogen and Efron bond initially – sharing joints (a Seth Rogen comedy essential), impressions of Batman, and even talk about getting walkie talkies – but Efron’s Teddy doesn’t like it when people break promises. He takes it as a form of extreme disrespect and an act of war. It could be perceived as a bit of a childish reason, but the war of comedy that ensues is insanely entertaining. And not to mention very funny. While some of the humour misses, like the frat repeatedly saying a line of dialogue (“Standing around with our dicks in our hands”) seems a bit nonsensical at the time and not that funny, but the accuracy rate of humour hitting is a good 90 per cent. 

For the comedy genre, that’s great – because there are so many comedies that are just not that funny these days. This is memorable and hilarious, and its raunchiness potent. So avoid seeing this one with your parents, boys and girls. Because, like Apatow, this director doesn’t fear to show the penis. The film’s raunchiness is apparent with a running joke that Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character’s penis is very large. McLovin is surprisingly under-utilized otherwise, and he’s literally just there for that running joke – which does get some big laughs. Though, that joke might come to you as a selling point to get you to see this film, or as an aspect to make you avoid this. A few comments on the visuals: The cinematography looks pure, which is nice for a comedy – and some of the visuals are interesting. The party scenes might be hard on the eyes because of all of the lights, but they’re still very fun. I was a fan of the set design and I was a personal fan of a “Carpe that f**king diem” pillow.

This is a funny movie to watch with a few friends. If you’re Under 25, you’ll really enjoy this – but anyone older, it all depends on your sense of humour. The film is evident that the older crowd still knows how to have fun with the younger crowd, shown through Rogen and Bryne. Rogen didn’t have to prove that with this film though, because we’ve already known it for awhile. Byrne holds her own incredibly well, and even though her character is awkward at times, it’s the point. With this and Get Him to the Greek (and Bridesmaids), she has proved again and again that she could find a lot of success as a comedic actress. She uses improvisation with everyone else well, and so does Zac Efron – whose funny performance is as much of a discovery role as Channing Tatum’s was in 21 Jump Street. Dave Franco is funny in his role. A newcomer named Jerrod Carmichael is funny in his role as Garf, a primary frat member. The only person who feels like a stranger to the chemistry of everyone else is Ike Barinholtz. It’s nice to see the MadTV alum (who does do a fun Mark Wahlberg impression), but it was hard for me to buy into the fact that he’s supposed to be best friends with Rogen’s character. He gets a laugh or two, but his role is only sporadically useful.

Some good characterization is found in the film. Some themes of the fear of the future and trying to make your mark in history is nice. It’s nice to see that this situation is actually mildly beneficial to both parties. When the film threatens to all gooey, it jumps back with raunchiness. It might annoy some, but it helps the film stay true to its conflict-filled plot and raunchy tone. 

Score88/100

Now You See Me (2013)

Now You See MeRelease Date: May 31, 2013

Director: Louis Leterrier

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo

Runtime: 115 min

The summer of 2013 hasn’t been an incredible season for originality thus far. There have been sequels (Fast & Furious 6, Iron Man 3, et cetera), book adaptations (The Great Gatsby), and not-so subtle rip-offs of better movies (Peeples). The time for pure originality has finally come with Now You See Me.

This follows an FBI agent and an Interpol detective who track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

NYSM is unlike anything else you’ve seen this year. You might think of this as Ocean’s Eleven with magic, especially if you watch them back to back. This is still a truly fun movie that feels fresh. There’s concepts of justice that are explored well. This works as a great show of showmanship, and as a great bank heist caper.

Its originality is easily admirable; it really is one of 2013’s most original films. For such a fun movie, it is also thought-provoking. It’s intriguing throughout, and often unpredictable. You’ll love every one of these characters, because they are all charismatic. The team of illusionists, called the Four Horsemen, are true entertainers. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is the classic magician who knows all the best card tricks, and he’s very smooth with his words. Eisenberg’s sarcastic wit and arrogance fits the role. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist, who could read your thoughts. He’s one of the funniest characters. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist, and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a pickpocket. This crew really knows how to sell tickets. If you thought you’d really like to attend a live showing of The Ellen DeGeneres Show because you might receive free electronics; imagine attending one of these and receiving large sums of money. (Count me in!)

The FBI agent hot on their tail is Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who’s also a hot-head and isn’t an expert at maintaining his resolve. That’s an appropriate character for a guy who portrays The Hulk, isn’t it? Morgan Freeman portrays Thaddeus Bradley, a former magician who now makes money by showing audiences how other magicians pull off their illusions. Mélanie Laurent plays the Interpol agent who teams up with Ruffalo. Michael Caine is the big man who gave the Four Horsemen their attraction at his hotel. Common is also there, just because he seems to show up in every movie. As you can see, the cast is one of the year’s finest ensembles.

The story and the cast are the movie’s strongest aspects. It’s endlessly entertaining and admirably unpredictable. The story wants you to believe in magic, and embrace the wonder of watching an illusion on-stage. It’s the mystery of magic; the wonder, that makes it so special. One usually doesn’t know how the trick is done, and that’s a problem for the movie… It shows how some of the tricks are done. Many might not like this aspect because some like to remain in the dark about the illusion; and it just extinguishes some of the magic of it all. The best tricks are the ones we are in the dark about. The movie’s visuals are very cool. The impressive visuals might just leave you with a look of awe, just like you might be attending the Four Horsemen’s show in Vegas. The direction is only decent. Of course the movie is flawed, so don’t look too closely. It’s fun on the surface, and thought-provoking underneath, but it’s shaky because it gives away some of the tricks.

Regarding movies that deal with magic, this is definitely better than The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It’s an entertaining thriller that comes together in the end and answers most of the questions. Some questions go unanswered, but I think that’s just the point – like every good magic trick, we don’t need to know how every little thing is done. It leaves one or two things in the dark; but that’s precisely what helps this movie linger in the mind. This has a great and original premise and it has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. It’s compelling, clever, funny, thrilling, memorable, and most importantly; pretty damn magical.

80/100

Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm BodiesWarm Bodies

Release Date: February 1, 2013

Director: Jonathan Levine

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Cold body. Warm heart.

Finally, this gives both Zombieland and Twilight fans a chance to come together and watch a movie in peace!

Warm Bodies is told from the fresh point of view of a zombie, the highly unusual R (Nicholas Hoult), who goes around an airport, occasionally having almost conversations with his best zombie bud, M (Rob Corddry). Their zombie group runs into a human group ran by Perry (Dave Franco), boyfriend of the main girl, Julie (Teresa Palmer). After Perry gets killed, R is immediately attracted to Julie, and he brings her to his home in an abandoned airplane. They soon form a bond, R wants to become human again, Julie begins to change his heart for the better, and their relationship might just rattle the whole lifeless world as they know it.

One of the only similarities between this and Twilight is they are both Young Adult novels. The girl is also attracted to a supernatural sort-of being, even though zombies are the norm in the post-apocalyptic world they are living in. One thing that is hard to comprehend of this human-supernatural being relationships: Are these girls that desperate that they have to resort to the basically dead? As soon as one guy sparkles in the sunlight or puts on a little make-up, do they seriously immediately develop tendencies of a strange branch of necrophilia?

Anyway, the film is also romantic, and the similarities to Twilight basically stop there. This is a testament of human connection. Julie begins to teach R how to actually live, and because of this, he opens up to her and learns how not to be dead. He learns how to talk, and he learns how to feel and dream, something that is extremely unorthodox for a zombie. One thing that helps him be more human is this: In this specific world, when a zombie eats a victim’s brain (R keeps Perry’s as a snack food), they absorb their feelings and their memories; the little slide show of memories in their head is as close as they get to dreaming.

Speaking of those memory flashbacks, they give a chance to show visuals in the film. They aren’t very good, they come off as hypnotic and fairly headache-inducing. They’re a cool attempt, sure, but they’re hard to admire when one has to squint at the screen. One other thing that is irritating about the feature is that zombies only grunt, and cannot form words… So any huge fan of zombie flicks may be wanting to scream: “OH! THE HORROR! THIS ISN’T RIGHT! THE DEAD DON’T TALK!” The film may be altogether unrealistic, but it doesn’t stop it from being fun.

Other than Twilight, this film has similarities to over zombie flicks, like Zombieland. They are both quite funny, and this could be seen as the next best zombie date movie. One thing that is similar to TV’s The Walking Dead is the hiding the human scent trick, where zombie blood is smeared on humans. Also, this has many similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, something that is evident in the characters’ names themselves. There is a balcony scene that mirrors that of the play, and that is the biggest similarity. The love is forbidden, even when R hopes it to be true. The two things getting in their way: Julie’s father, a military leader of the world named Grigio (John Malkovich); and Boneys, a skeleton being that all zombies eventually become. These are the two main conflicts, and, fortunately enough, they don’t make the film crowded or really distract from the story at hand. The Boneys actually add some real intensity to the feature, and they get one good scare, but they’re so CGI’d to a point of no scary return. If one of these guys came up to me in alley, I’d just look for a computer to unplug.

This isn’t a perfect feature because it doesn’t take full advantage of its fresh premise. It piles on a few predictable moments, but it still does an admirable job. If Jonathan Levine wasn’t behind this with directing and adapting the novel by Isaac Marion, it might not be the surprise hit turns out to be. I cannot compare the book to the film, but the laughs Jonathan Levine manages to generate are great. If you can find humour in R’s unique commentary of gaining human attributes and becoming a real boy, you’ll enjoy this a lot. If this zombie staring awkwardly at others is your type of comedy, you’ll be smiling like crazy. However, while Hoult generates a many yuks, and Palmer proves sexy enough to get this guy’s heart beating again, and Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) generates a few laughs, Corddry gets the biggest laughs with hilarious one-liners.

In a nutshell: Warm Bodies proves to be 2013’s zombie date movie. It gives a fresh spin on the genre with it being narrated by the zombie (who comments things like, “Boy we move slow, this is going to take a while*”).Without a lot of solid competition, it also proves to be the one of the best films of the year. With a fine use of an ultra cool premise, this is a solid flick that could have been a little better. Maybe more Malkovich would make this astounding instead of just really good…

*They run when they attack, so I must ask… Why can’t they just fast-walk everywhere?

80/100