Have there been many films where a group of magicians use their skills of misdirection to perform bank heists? I don’t remember too many to be honest, if any at all. There’s probably a few, I don’t doubt it. But certainly none that stick in my recent memory. And certainly not of the huge blockbuster variety.
Now You See Me taps into this rich vein. However, not all magic tricks could be considered useful for robbing a bank. For instance, I’m not sure David Blaine sitting in a transparent box, suspended above London for 44 days, and trying to hold his piss and shit in (whilst unimpressed Londoners shout obscenities and throw eggs, sausages, bacon and beer cans at him), qualifies.
Nope, the magicians in Now You See Me are more your David Copperfield type. There’s four of them. The ginger girl from Home and Away, the barman from Cheers, that guy from the Facebook movie, and James Franco’s less successful brother.
Together, the four of them form the mighty magical team, “The Four Horsemen” (even though one of them is obviously a girl). But there’s also a fifth mysterious horseman, someone working from the shadows, who brings the other four together using four calling cards, some flashy lights, a fog machine, and the plans for some daring magical heists that will leave the world gasping, and the FBI clutching at straws.
It gets off to a bold start. The team’s first live trick involves teleporting someone all the way from Las Vegas to the inside of a bank vault in Paris, in front of a live studio audience. It has the classic “How the hell did they do that?” feel of some of the world’s most audacious tricks. Luckily, it does get explained, but not straight away. The task of puzzling it out falls to FBI agent, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and sexy Interpol agent, Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).
But is everyone as they seem? Who exactly is the fifth horseman? Perhaps to the film’s detriment, the film switches focus away from the four magicians — and onto the FBI team trying to catch them — for a large chunk of the movie. The magicians aren’t explored in any great depth, but I suppose this helps maintain an air of mystery, of the sort that the best real world tricksters strive for. I just feel The Four Horsemen were a bit too enigmatic, only appearing now and again to give the FBI someone to chase.
Admittedly, the chases are pretty exciting. Louis Leterrier directs the action well, keeping it fast, but never confusing. Although, he does have a tendency to get carried away by having someone stand still, with the camera sweeping around them in a full 360, perhaps once too often.
The film falters in the third act, with the final trick not seeming like much of a trick at all: the huge, flashy build up making it feel a bit anti-climatic. By this point though, it’s less about the tricks and more about what the twist is going to be. It’s a big one, that might have you questioning every massive plot hole that opens up because of it. I think though, that the film develops just the right amount of good will before the reveal, that it doesn’t really matter too much.
I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a great way to pass the time. It’s fun, loud, flashy, and dumb, but also a bit forgettable. It doesn’t quite hit the heights that it could have. But it’s still better than watching David Blaine trying not to shit in a box.
Why do film makers make films? It’s an interesting question. And what better way to answer that, than with quotes from some of the world’s best directors.
Notable films: Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull
“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.”
Notable films: Wild at Heart, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet
“I like to make films because I like to go into another world. I like to get lost in another world. And film to me is a magical medium that makes you dream…allows you to dream in the dark. It’s just a fantastic thing, to get lost inside the world of film.”
Notable films: Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List
“I dream for a living. Once a month the sky falls on my head, I come to, and I see another movie I want to make. Sometimes I think I’ve got ball bearings for brains; these ideas are slipping and sliding across each other all the time. My problem is that my imagination won’t turn off. I wake up so excited I can’t eat breakfast. I’ve never run out of energy. It’s not like OPEC oil; I don’t worry about a premium going on my energy. It’s just always been there.”
Notable films: Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers
“As filmmaker, I ask questions but don’t have answers. Moviemaking is a philosophical exploration. I invite the audience to come on the journey and discover what they think and feel. I have aspirations that the movie should trigger off a lot of complex responses.”
Notable films: Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Signs of Life
“It is not only my dreams, my belief is that all these dreams are yours as well. The only distinction between me and you is that I can articulate them. And that is what poetry or painting or literature or film making is all about… it’s as simple as that. I make films because I have not learned anything else and I know I can do it to a certain degree. And it is my duty because this might be the inner chronicle of what we are. We have to articulate ourselves, otherwise we would be cows in the field. Perhaps I seek certain utopian things, space for human honor and respect, landscapes not yet offended, planets that do not exist yet, dreamed landscapes.”
Notable films: Dinocroc, Dinoshark, Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader
“I wanted to do a film where a 50ft nude cheerleader blocks a karate chop with her tits.”
It’s a fact that a zombie movie is in the process of being made every sixty seconds. Actually, it’s not a fact. I made it up. But I’d be surprised if it wasn’t true.
They’ve transformed over the years. From shambling undead — Night of the Living Dead and their ilk — through to 28 Days Later — super fast brain munchers that run like the wind. Director Danny Boyle would disagree that his rage infected victims are zombies, but they are really, whatever he might say.
The fast variety of zombie seems to be the current favourite among film makers, and its slow cousin is becoming a rarity, finding a more comfortable home in TV shows like The Walking Dead. The episodic nature and long story arcs of TV seem like a better fit these days. The zombies aren’t always present. But they can lurk in small groups, pulling the nasty, classic zombie movie trick of lulling the human protagonists into a false sense of security. Humans are faster, but fewer, and one wrong move through over confidence can result in being overwhelmed by larger groups, or being caught off guard by the lone zombie they don’t see walking slowly behind them.
World War Z, the book, written by Max Brooks (son of Mel), focuses on the slow kind. So you’d be forgiven for thinking World War Z, the movie, would do the same. But no, it’s the fast sort. Which I imagine is something of a sore point for fans of the book. I haven’t read it by the way, but I have read its prequel, The Zombie Survival Guide, an excellent book which plays it totally straight. If there was such a thing as zombies, I genuinely think I’d stand a chance against the undead hordes. Sounds daft, but it’s true.
All I know of World War Z, the book, in terms of structure, is that first and foremost, it’s a novel, and consists of different characters of different nationalities and their stories about fighting the zombie menace, with all of it pulled together by a central narrator. Hope I’ve got that right!
With that in mind, you can see why the film makers of World War Z decided to concentrate on the narrator (Brad Pitt) and his globe-trotting adventures, rather than a mix of characters. It might have been too messy and disjointed. Having said that, I found the film to be disjointed anyway, mainly because it doesn’t stay in one place too long.
Overall, it’s a somewhat bland, bloodless exercise in watering down horror to appeal to a wider audience. The version I’m reviewing here is supposedly the “Extended Action Cut” which has a bit more gore thrown into the mix than the cinematic release.
But other than a gruesome amputation to stop the zombie virus taking a fresh victim, it’s honestly not that bloody. Even then, director Marc Foster seems almost reluctant to show the true horror of the amputation in any great detail, the camera twitching nervously, eager to be somewhere else, with dollops of obviously CGI blood spurting from below the screen like they were added as a cynical afterthought to sell more blu-rays to those who were disappointed first time round. The extra blood in the rest of the film has little impact too, the camera never daring to linger for more than a nanosecond. For a horror film, it’s extremely tame.
Of course, you might argue that horror can be just as scary with what it doesn’t show, and you’d be right. But the best examples of the horror genre know how to build mood and tension, the director laying the ground work, with your imagination filling in the rest.
World War Z jettisons all of that, and makes the big mistake of thinking that if you just pile the zombies up, and shake the camera around like a Bourne movie, it’ll be scary. Hordes of zombies swarm across the screen, jumping around with superhuman strength, headbutting cars, jumping off buildings, tumbling over each other in waves, even using their combined might to scale huge walls. They look faintly ridiculous, far too fast, and just improbable in the way they move. As a result, tension and scares drain away with each subsequent attack.
Another problem is that it’s hard to give a shit about the central character, as it’s quite possibly the most boring Brad Pitt has ever been. Admittedly, the broken up narrative doesn’t help him much. It follows a template of new country plus massive zombie attack, over and over until it becomes repetitive, before ending with a whimper in Wales. Yes, Wales! And it’s curious how in their search for a cure, nobody ever stops to think, “Hang on, every time this Brad Pitt guy turns up, the shit suddenly hits the fan, and we get attacked by loads of zombies! Mmmm, I wonder…” He’s basically the Jessica Fletcher of zombie movies.
I think I’ll end it on that note.
The first Captain America is one of my favourite pre–Avengers movies. The WW2 setting made for a nice change, but of course, we all know how that ended. Slap bang in the present day, with a somewhat confused Captain. In The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble as it was terribly named in the UK, in case we got mixed up with a 1960s TV programme of a man wearing a bowler hat (it’s been so long off our screens, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference)), Captain America still seemed a bit befuddled. Alien invasion probably didn’t help.
Now, with a bit more time to adjust, he’s ready to kick some modern-day arse in his second solo movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier!
Let’s have a checklist…
Natasha Romanoff hits on Captain America. He responds with a bittersweet line about how the guys from his barbershop quartet are all dead, so he’ll be spending Saturday night watching reruns of The X Factor. Before killing himself.
Oh no, wait. He’s going to kill himself now. He’s just jumped out of a plane without a parachute.
Robert Redford has appeared. Not sure where he’s been lately. In a boat or something. He looks like he’s been keeping his head in a pickle jar. Anyway, something about tearing down the old world to make a new one etc. but never mind all that, check out Captain America’s new duds! No more red and white. Dark blue, understated, with grey star and stripes tailoring across the chest. No wonder Hulk gets angry all the time, with nothing but a tatty pair of trousers to cover his junk.
It’s all kicking off in the streets. Explosions, guns, people running. Robert Redford again. “Disorder, war!” he chirps. Blimey, I bet he’s a barrel of laughs at parties.
Captain America doesn’t agree with any of it. “This isn’t freedom. It’s fear!” he says. “You need to keep both eyes open!” says Nick Fury. Or one eye, in Nick’s case.
Captain America drops a fart in a crowded lift (elevator, if you’re American), and goes to somewhat extreme lengths to hide his embarrassment.
Winter Soldier has now arrived, and he’s taking out cars using exploding hockey pucks. Exploding cars in movies always do that thing now where the back end flips up and they’re still sort of moving. No exception here.
More things exploding.
Still, at least there’s a refreshing lack of the “BWWWWAAAAMMMMMMM!” sound.
So, here’s part 2 of the films I watched in August. In October. A bit later than I was hoping, as life and GTA V (mostly GTA V if I’m honest) kind of got in the way during the month of September. As a result, I barely watched any films in everyone’s favourite ninth month (or visited as many of my favourite blogs as I would’ve liked), so will probably skip “I Have Been Watching” for September altogether, and move straight onto October. Part 3 of what I watched in August will follow soon.
Every major new horror film has to be from the makers of those other major horror films you watched a while back. Therefore, Sinister is from the makers of Paranormal Activity, and Insidious. I don’t think it matters who’s involved across all the films, as long as there’s a common link somewhere. All these films probably have the same caterers. “From the people who made the sandwiches on Paranormal Activity and Insidious.”
Anyhoo, Ehtan Hawke is a true crime writer who hasn’t had a hit book for years. In desperation, and hoping for inspiration, he moves himself and his wife and two kids into a “murder house” where a family of four were hung by their necks from a tree under mysterious circumstances. There’s some good stuff between him and his wife, anger and resentments bubbling to the surface that feel real, but mostly Sinister drags on for ages whilst Ethan Hawke pisses around watching Super 8 snuff films that magically appear in his attic.
If I learnt one thing from Sinister, it’s that ancient demons love to film themselves doing nasty shit. In the sequel, the lead character will probably find footage in his attic of the ancient demon masturbating in the shower or something.
Director Ben Wheatley continues his streak of dark, off the wall films — Down Terrace, Kill List — with Sightseers. Except this time he’s got Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace alumini, Alice Lowe, on acting and scripting duties. If you’re unfamiliar with Darkplace, Lowe played a psychic nurse in a hospital where the doctors carry guns, humans evolve back into apes, and a giant eyeball impregnates a man. Confused? Seek out the show, and watch it. You’ll still be confused. But probably bust a gut laughing.
As a result of Lowe’s involvement, Sightseers is a more comedic affair than Wheatley’s previous films. But it’s no less dark because of it. Lowe plays a woman still tied to her mother’s apron strings. But she seizes a chance to go on a caravan holiday with her new boyfriend, much to her mum’s disapproval.
The couple develop a twisted relationship, killing their way across the English countryside. They’re not evil in an obvious way. Rather, they are frustrated with the hand life has dealt them. It’s clear they were both heading for a mental breakdown, but meeting each other, and a gruesome accident involving a rude litter lout, is what makes them both snap. The outcome is probably one of the best endings I’ve seen for a while. It’s grim, but very funny.
Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013)
Ah, The Wizard of Oz. The Judy Garland version from 1939 used to be something of a Christmas Day regular in the UK. If you’d ever slung one too many beers down your neck on Christmas Eve, and crawled out of your bed the next morning wondering what day it was, The Wizard of Oz on the telly was a good indicator that Christmas Day had well and truly arrived. These days, it seems Jurassic Park is now the BBC’s go-to film to fill that post turkey dinner slot. I’ve probably seen that dinosaur film about twenty times if you add up all the little bits of it I’ve seen through a martini induced haze, nodding off with mince pie crumbs down my jumper.
The same goes for The Wizard of Oz, except maybe fifty times. Somehow, I don’t think Oz: The Great and Powerful will quite end up in the same category. Rather than a straight remake, it’s a prequel (and probably plunders some characters from the other ten Oz books that L. Frank Baum wrote). It’s the story of how the wizard became the wizard of Oz, and starts in roughly the same way that the original does, with James Franco’s charlatan magician being transported from our world to the world of the film’s title.
The trouble is, Franco is pretty unlikable, and not easy to root for. He tries, but by the time his redemption rolls around comes the finale, I think most of my interest had dried up. I will say this though. One of the characters, a little china doll, should get her own film. She was the best bit of CGI in a film overloaded with computer enhanced bufoonery.
The Reef (2010)
The Reef is a rather effective Open Water style horror, supposedly based on a true story. These types of story usually are. Admittedly, I’ve not seen Open Water, which may account for why I enjoyed The Reef. I suspect it does nothing really new. But rather than two unlucky pieces of shark bait, this time we have four. Straight away, this increases the potential for more gruesome death scenes of sharks munching on their human victims. And considering this is based on a true story, it seems sharks have an inbuilt instinct for devouring the cast in the exact order you would expect. Who knew sharks were a fan of horror films? It’s not a movie that will shake your world, but the characters are likable, and it does a lot with very little, being really quite tense at times.
Spring Breakers (2013)
Is Spring Breakers just a movie where four girls dance around in bikinis at Spring Break for the entire running time? No, but it’s not far off. They do stuff other than dancing. They rob places, drink beer, snort coke, all in their bikinis. They even make a court appearance. In their bikinis.
But is there more to it than that? It can’t all just be girls in bikinis, right? Whilst there’s a feeling that the director, Harmony Korine, probably had one hand down his shorts as he set up the next lingering shot on Selena Gomez’s bottom, he nevertheless concocts a vivid dream-like atmosphere that’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen in recent times. Dialogue repeats, often in different scenes. Time lines get jumbled up, but not at the expense of propelling the movie towards its violent denouement.
Gomez’s character says, “I’m starting to think this is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been.” But it’s all a lie. Some of the girls embrace the lie. Some of them don’t. Meanwhile, James Franco doesn’t give a shit either way. He’s too busy walking away with the movie.