Going in Style

Release: Friday, April 7, 2017 

[Theater]

Written by: Theodore Melfi

Directed by: Zach Braff

Geriatric crime comedy starring three Academy Award winners and directed by former Scrubs star Zach Braff is a bit of an underachiever. Even that might be giving this, a remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 caper of the same name, too much credit because I’m unconvinced this movie achieves anything other than wasting a ton of potential.

The 2017 film updates the plot for a post-Great Recession America, using the unlikely robbery at the heart of the story as a commentary on the outrage felt by the majority of middle-class Americans burned by the 2008/’09 economic crisis. The likes of Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman replace Art Carney, George Burns and Lee Strasberg as Al, Joe and Willie respectively — lifelong coworkers and friends who decide to rob a bank after learning that, on top of losing their jobs, their retirement funds have been repurposed by their former employer to settle its own substantial debts.

They say that one of the first rules of bank robbery is to never rob your own bank. Well, Joe ain’t having any of that shit. Not when his own bank is complicit. Not when, after having witnessed a heist first-hand, he realizes that it isn’t rocket science; that a trio of 70-something-year-olds could pull it off. Plus, he reasons, it’s not like what they’re planning to do is inherently wrong. This is a righteous act of reclamation, a Robin Hood-esque performance in which they’ll steal from the corrupt and give back to . . . uh, themselves.

Going in Style is, to put it nicely, not very good. It goes, but it doesn’t have any style. It’s hard to believe this is a movie written by the guy who directed Hidden Figures, though to be fair, while powerfully moving, that film, which was nominated for three Oscars this year, wasn’t without its cliches and awkward moments. But Theodore Melfi’s script here smacks of laziness and conventionality. Great actors can overcome a lousy script but there are of course limits. Not even Christopher Lloyd in an over-the-top supporting part comes out unscathed. You believe them as lifelong friends but as robbers, eh. This appears to be one of those movies where you have to kind of accept the people on screen are having more fun than you. If it weren’t for these names, I’m sure I’d be more upset.

Recommendation: Uninspired comedy fails to capitalize on its star power and takes viewers on a predictable and not-as-fun-as-it-could-have-been ride through Clichetown. Going in Style comes very unenthusiastically recommended by me if you just HAVE to see everything that any of these actors have been in. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 96 mins.

Quoted: “These banks practically destroyed this country. They crushed a lot of people’s dreams, and nothing ever happened to them. We three old guys, we hit a bank. We get away with it, we retire in dignity. Worst comes to the worst, we get caught, we get a bed, three meals a day, and better health care than we got now.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Now You See Me 2

'Now You See Me 2' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 10, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Ed Solomon; Pete Chiarelli

Directed by: Jon M. Chu

The implausible Now You See Me sequel — yes, this is a thing — is a magic trick you can see right through from the very beginning. For all the entertainment it seeks to provide, the film delivers an equal dose of numbing visual effects that do nothing but obscure any theoretical cinematic magic wand-shaking under the blinding lights of confused, contrived, utterly lazy storytelling.

Three of the Four Horsemen are back. And no, not from vacation. Well, it was kind of like a vacation. Since the events of the first, the pompous pranksters — J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) — have gone into hiding after exposing the unethical business practices of one Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and fleecing him out of millions of his own easy-earned cash. (Much like director Jon M. Chu has done to us, minus the whole money coming easy part). Isla Fisher’s Henley Reeves, seemingly jaded by the realities of becoming part of the global underground society of illusionists called The Eye, is nowhere to be found. She’s better off.

Uninspired tale finds the group once more answering the call of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who, now firmly in control of his puppets (remember that twist?), has this big spectacle planned out during which they’ll expose a tech wizard’s . . . unethical tech-ing practices, some bloke named Owen Case (Ben Lamb), who in no short order becomes nothing more than target practice when it’s learned that the film’s actual villain is Daniel Radcliffe’s even bigger tech geek Walter Mabry.

What does Mabry have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked, because it gives me the opportunity to rave over the next rabbit Now You See Me 2 tries to pull out of its hat. Turns out, Merritt has an evil twin named Chase who works for Mabry, and in one of many underwhelming action sequences he manages to capture the Horsemen and take them to Mabry’s lair (muahaha!), where they’re informed of a high-risk but high-reward job, likely the trickiest task they will have ever pulled off. Do they have a choice? In an exchange that confesses the depths of this film’s Oscar-baiting screenplay, the Horsemen are told they either “do this or die.” Well, I don’t know about you but I’m inspired.

In the meantime, Mabry’s been busy trying to bring about the downfall of the Horsemen from afar, hijacking the aforementioned show by letting the public know that, hey, yeah, remember how Jack Wilder died? Well, he didn’t really. Also, Rhodes is a two-faced cop and is working with the Horsemen. Be outraged, people. Be very outraged. As a result, Agent Rhodes suddenly becomes Agent Rogues when he and the rest of the magicians find themselves scrapping to clear their name all while trying to eliminate the threat of Mabry.

It’s not exactly the most original conceit, but this new globetrotting adventure could have spawned a genuinely exciting mystery thriller if put in the right hands. Co-writers Ed Solomon and Pete Chiarelli were not those hands. Their story, one that at least adheres to the spirit of reckless abandon established in the original, leans entirely on the magic of post-production tinkering, and with Chu’s terribly flat direction further promoting contrivance and convenience, Now You See Me 2 quickly wears out its welcome.

Not helping matters is a runtime that eclipses two hours and a couple of surprisingly annoying performances from Lizzy Caplan, who plays Fisher’s “replacement” Lulu May — because there has to be a Horsewoman, obviously — and one half of Harrelson’s performance as the evil twin Chase. ‘Harrelson’ and ‘annoying’ don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence but then again the guy is a consummate actor. He really can do and be anything. As to Caplan, someone should have taken away the fourteenth Red Bull she was guzzling before stepping on set. This is way too much team spirit for a movie not named Bring It On.

More irksome than Harrelson’s sinister side and Caplan’s insufferably peppy presence is the film’s knack for reducing living legends like Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman to cardboard cutouts. Neither Caine convinces he’s this bad of a dude nor Freeman of his ever-complicated backstory. You could defend this as an exercise in allowing actors to have some genuine fun while collecting another paycheck. There’s no shame in putting together a supergroup of talent like this for a bit of escapist entertainment but Caine and Freeman couldn’t look more bored.

Now You See Me 2 pulls gimmicks and cheap tricks left and right in its quest to prove editing can on its own sustain a story. The approach suggests the filmmakers think audiences won’t know the difference between ‘real’ magic and clever camerawork. It’s actually pretty insulting.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 6.48.20 PM

Recommendation: Eyeballs, get ready to roll. Now You See Me 2 takes the worst tendencies of its predecessor and magnifies them. I can handle cheesy films, and NYSM2 is certainly cheesy but it’s more problematic in terms of convincing us that what’s happening in front of us is real. The irony of that is pretty hard to reconcile. This is the epitome of surface gloss hiding no real depth. With that in mind I can’t recommend watching this one to anyone who felt the first one was kind of silly. What follows is much sillier. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “Hell will look like a day at the spa once I’m through with the Four Horseman.” / “You had me at ‘Hell.'”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Interstellar

interstellar_ver8_xlg

Release: Friday, November 7, 2014

[RPX Theater]

Written by: Jonathan Nolan; Christopher Nolan 

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Interstellar is a fascinating adventure, even if its credibility is trumped by spectacle.

And somewhere throughout this epic excursion to the far reaches of our universe I half expected Matthew McConaughey to make the pithy observation that Dorothy is not in Kansas anymore. Alas, that moment never came.

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

teeny-tiny

There has been a healthy dose of speculation about the latest Christopher Nolan spectacular, on both ends of the spectrum — hype surrounding the fact that Nolan’s grandiose vision would now sync up with quite literally the most grandiose thing ever, space exploration, and caution against the inevitable: against getting hopes up too high (you know, in case Mr. Nolan isn’t actually infallible), and that the science needed to truly pull a feat like this off would likely not gel with the blockbuster formula. At least, not without alienating the majority of theater attendees.

Turns out, and in the wake of the dizzying height of such hype this last week, the cautioners were more accurate than they were naysaying; the positivity has been running a little unchecked. Try as I might to remain level-headed, I got swept up in it too. I for several months felt like a child after chugging an entire box of Pixy Stix. There was no way Christopher Nolan was going to disappoint. Not with this material, not with this cast, and particularly, not when he’s this experienced.

To that end, Interstellar is poised to represent a new standard to which audiences are going to forever hold Nolan accountable. In the build-up to the release, it was all we had to just assume the best of an intergalactic voyage through a never-ending web of stardust and dark matter. I’ve always thought it’s easier (and less scary) to imagine the size of the universe rather than to sit there and calculate its dimensions. Similarly, being ignorant to what the movie actually presents seems to provide a sense of innocence. It’s only in this moment the conditions might seem perfect, that we might have a truly comprehensive look at our place in the universe.

Interstellar is a movie that works best when not questioning, at least too deeply, the very heady developments taking place in the clutches of deep space. Contrary to Nolan’s ambitious hiring of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne as the film’s chief scientific consultant and executive producer, there isn’t a significant moment in the extraterrestrial portion of the narrative that passes without some level of suspension of disbelief. In fact, this happens more frequently than Thorne and any physicist are going to admit.

I don’t want to damn the science part of the fiction. I’d rather grin and go along with the logical gaps, because this film is a lot of fun for being about a very real end of a very real world. This is the most confidently something as technical as physics has been handled in a major motion picture event in some time. Possibly ever. The theory of relativity exists as a recurring theme and quantum physics crops up on more than a couple of occasions. Although reading textbooks isn’t required before sitting down to watch this, some scenes are sure to throw viewers for some exciting but head-scratching loops. Credit most assuredly needs to be given to Nolan for reaching out to field experts like Thorne who could give his film an immediate legitimacy a single filmmaker otherwise could not.

OLD AGE SHOULD BURN AND RAVE AT CLOSE OF DAY

INTERSTELLAR

Nolan once again reaches out to his brother Jonathan for the tall task of penning the script. This was a smart move. Good thing in an industry like entertainment nepotism doesn’t really count for much. He isn’t playing favorites, he just knows what he likes and knows how to get it.

It’s been proven on multiple occasions that the dramatic overtones of Christopher’s directing fall into a blissful matrimony with Jonathan’s perception of human nature. His script suggests a viable endpoint for a species that has for far too long remained ignorant to their impacts on their global environment. Culturally, we no longer exist. We are just a physical collection of individuals still surviving on the surface of this tired planet. In whatever year this is we aren’t exactly in denial but we also have not changed a great deal between present-day (in reality) and the present-day in the film, some near-future where the only food source we have left is corn. Jonathan can see how much trouble we are in today and extrapolates that, say, fifty years into the future with Nostradamian confidence.

The space epic is seated deeply in reality, which is what is most remarkable about a film that also features black holes (a relatively recent scientific discovery), rips in the space-time continuum, and a grab-bag of other assorted mind-bending phenomena. So easily the intellectual reach of Nolan’s direction could tip the proceedings into the realm of the ridiculous — and once or twice it does — but the performances he extracts from the likes of McConaughey, Jessica Chastain (who plays a fully-grown version of Murph, the daughter McConaughey’s Cooper leaves behind on Earth), and Mackenzie Foy (the younger Murph) ensure that we are distracted enough from some of the more obvious offenses.

Getting away from some of the more practical considerations, the production on a creative level is a thing of beauty. I’ll touch back on the practical for just a second: once we get into space the first thing that should be taken notice of, just like in Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant Gravity of last year, is the deafening silence outside the space vessel. In a second we realize we are in a place we don’t naturally find ourselves. Unlike Gravity, the curvature of the Earth outside the Endurance’s windows is as close to familiar ground as we will be for the remainder of the film.

Hans Zimmer once again reminds the world of why he has a job scoring films. His work here is mesmeric, haunting, truly the stuff of science fiction and space exploration. Melancholic vibes are quickly supplanted by a racing pulse of optimism, determination. Where concerns grow about the convenience of certain plot developments, Zimmer steps in and whisks us to a galaxy far, far away. The musical composition of Interstellar is fantastical as much as it is fantastic.

I suppose in some ways Nolan’s latest was going to be a predictable affair. There was almost no way this concept could work perfectly. After all, what he is attempting is something no other filmmaker has really sought out, save for perhaps Stanley Kubrick. In Nolan’s vision we are shrunken to the size of worker ants. We have an enormous task ahead of us and it’s more weight upon our backs than we ought to be carrying, but we have no choice. A lot of things happen within this nearly three-hour runtime. But to credit the film editors, the running time almost seems insufficient. Arguably this is Christopher Nolan reaching for the stars while only managing to strike a new crater on the moon.

But even if it isn’t top-shelf Christopher Nolan, it still sits up higher than most films of its ilk in the last 30 years. Interstellar is a trip worth taking for the views and some reminders of how far scientific discovery actually has come if nothing else.

interstellar-3

4-0Recommendation: If it were any more serious, this film could be considered the most bombastic thing Nolan has ever undertaken. Fortunately he sprinkles in some much-needed humor to provide levity to this desperate search for another Earth-like planet. I highly doubt I need to recommend this film, but in case you are having any questions regarding the hype and whether it’s too much, it is a little overblown but certainly not enough to warrant skipping it at the theaters. This is a film, much like Cuarón’s Oscar-sweeper of yesteryear, that demands the big-screen treatment. It will lose so much if you wait for a rental. I also have to recommend seeing this on the largest screen possible, though you might save a few extra bucks by not going for the 3D. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 169 mins.

Quoted: “We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Now You See Me

101047_gal

Release: Friday, May 31, 2013

[Theater]

I’m sorry, but director Louis Leterrier simply shot himself in the foot when he didn’t have to here. He’s crafted a thoroughly entertaining film that is in equal doses gleefully deceptive and smartly funny. The main cast truly has the time of their lives playing four wunderkind illusionists: J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are given terrific parts and are without a doubt collectively a good enough reason to give Now You See Me a try. However, M. Night Shyamalan may as well have been directing this with the unconscionable twist that occurs in the final act.

Consider that more of a caution flag than a spoiler, though. While some films are best enjoyed when you go in without any substantial knowledge about what’s going to be happening, here’s a case where the potential for enjoyment could be maximized if you are at least warned beforehand. Now You See Me is a film that likes to take the scenic route to the conclusion — whether or not you are satisfied with the ending is beside the point at this juncture. The point is, however, that you should try to enjoy the ride while you can.

The build-up of anticipation and drama, (most of) the dialogue and the kinetic spirit amongst the characters is absolutely fantastic. The film in a very general sense is a whole mess of fun, and it’s nice to see Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman back in a movie where they are playing opposite one another, and in slightly less favorable roles.

Now You See Me begins with, yes, a magic trick. Eisenberg’s overly confident Daniel Atlas is showing off some sleight of hand card tricks for his vastly female audience, and you guessed it — this works like a charm on a few. Meanwhile, Isla Fisher is the alluring stage presence otherwise known as Henley and she’s really good at getting out of ‘fishy’ situations. . .(when you see this film you’ll realize how corny that line is). Then the camera swings around again to introduce us to two more brilliant performers. Woody Harrelson is what is known as a mentalist, and is perhaps the funniest of them all. Franco rounds out the ‘Four Horsemen’ as Jack, who seems to be more of a professional pick-pocketer and con artist than a magician. Alas, we have four very different acts who are one day randomly brought together when they each receive a calling card of some kind, with the same address printed on the back of all four cards. They unite in front of an apartment door, and, following some bickering thanks to their overblown egos, discover the apartment to be more or less abandoned.

From here on out they’ll be known as this Four Horsemen act, touring the country and performing to large audiences some of the most inventive and crowd-pleasing tricks ever attempted. They pull off a bank heist in France from the comforts of their Las Vegas stage and shower the audience in millions of stolen bills (I wonder if they would have been pissed knowing all of that was just in Euros?); they successfully strip a high-profile millionaire of most of his riches in front of his own eyes during another gig in New Orleans; and they create quite a commotion in the climactic scenes in New York City.

The long-distance bank robbery attracts the attention of the authorities, of course. Detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is a cranky law enforcer bent on capturing the magicians who have just crossed the line into criminal status. With the (read: unwanted) help of Interpol agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) they must stop the Four Horsemen at all costs, lest they all be made fools of by a group of stage performers.

This game of cat-and-mouse endures for the remainder of the film, and although there’s nothing special about the chase itself, the notion of cops going after these evasive magicians/illusionists/robbers….whatever the hell you want to call them — is very compelling and somewhat original. (There are more than a few comparisons one can make to Ocean’s Eleven, or even The Italian Job, but make no mistake, this is far less realistic a caper than either of those were.)

Where the movie simply falls apart is in the reveal of one particular character. I am not going to be as nasty as some have been and dismiss the movie any earlier, but the film quite literally collapses in one five or ten-second shot. It’s not only disappointing, but perversely cliched.

And damn it if I haven’t gone completely cynical by now and hold little to no hope for the type of film Now You See Me is modeled after: the mystery that likes to unravel until the very last second, where it becomes more and more obvious that even the characters involved don’t seem to know how they are going to wrap things up effectively. You can’t call this movie a cash-grab, but it’s closer to being one thanks to how quickly the third act turns to old, familiar territory. To be very cheesy yet again, the final magic act feels like a cop-out. Whoops. Whoa, that play on words is actually a little more revealing than I meant for it to be. (If you don’t see this movie, maybe that reference also will remain more vague…)

nysm-1

3-0Recommendation: I feel as though I may have covered this part sufficiently in the above review. But, in case it’s not clear already ….. this film is worth checking out, but beware of the twist. (Again, it’s remarkable how Shyamalan-y it feels to have this element in here.) The acting is great, the characters all likable (for the most part) and there’s plenty of action and brain involvement to ensure you don’t nod off in one of the magic acts. That said, I could totally see a release of this movie on DVD coming with an alternative ending featurette or something. . . .

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com