Now You See Me 2


The rain falls on the just, the unjust and Jesse Eisenberg.

The rain falls on the just, the unjust and Jesse Eisenberg.

(2016) Action (Summit) Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, David Warshofsky, Tsai Chin, William Henderson, Richard Laing, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Brick Patrick, Zach Gregory, Ben Lamb, Fenfen Huang, Aaron Ly, James Richard Marshall, Alexa Brown. Directed by Jon M. Chu

 

We are fascinated by the concept of magic, of someone performing unexplainable feats of prestidigitation. Magicians are almost like real-life superheroes. All they lack is the spandex and the inclination to fight crime.

At the end of Now You See Me the Four Horsemen – the Vegas magic act that was a kind of Robin Hood, taking money from a rich insurance company and giving it back to the thousands of people it defrauded – are on the lam. J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), the arrogant onstage leader of the Horsemen, is busy trying to investigate The Eye, the mysterious organization that controls them. Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) is trying to stay under the radar, Henley Reeves has left the group and Jack Wilder (Franco) has the world convinced that he’s dead. Their nemesis Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) rots in jail and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is trying to steer his boss Natalie Austin (Lathan) away from the Horsemen since he is their behind-the-scenes handler. Dylan also has his late father Lionel Shrike (Laing) very much on his mind, particularly the stunt that killed him.

The Horsemen need a fourth and into the group comes Lula (Caplan), a street magician like Henley Reeves was although Lula is much more into the Grand Guignol than her predecessor. They’re going to need the whole lot of them because they are up against Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), a tech billionaire whom the world also thinks is dead (the world has a terrible track record when it comes to dead guys) who wants them to steal a super secret microchip that will give him access to every computer on the planet.

The chip is held in a super-safe location in Shanghai, so it’s off to China for the Horsemen, but Mabry has a couple of tricks of his own; for one, Merritt’s identical twin brother is helping him stay one step ahead of the horsemen and Mabry is the bastard son of none other than Arthur Tressler (Caine), the insurance magnate whom the Horsemen exposed and nearly ruined in the first movie. Mabry also has sprung Thaddeus Bradley from jail and he has nothing but revenge on his mind. It will take a whole lot more than a few magic tricks for this group to escape Mabry; it will take a genuine miracle.

The first movie was a frothy affair that was light on the credibility but heavy on the entertainment. If anything, the sequel is even lighter on the credibility but as far as the entertainment value is concerned…not so much, I’m afraid. It seems a lot less lively than the first both in tone and in pacing. This sucker chugs along with tons of exposition then an elaborate magic trick before continuing to…you guessed it, more exposition.

Caplan is actually a delight here. Her character is witty, sassy and very capable as a magician. More importantly, Caplan inserts some badly needed fun into a script that should have been loaded with it. I mean, magicians who are crime fighters? Come on! That should be a slam dunk. Instead it’s more like a three-point shot…..from beyond half court.

Ruffalo is still, as ever, a bona fide Hollywood star but his role, outed in the first film, is less mysterious here and therefore less interesting. We know who he is and what role he plays and moreover, so do the Horsemen (although there’s a bit of a pissing contest between Daniel and Dylan about halfway through the film). The unnecessary introduction of a twin brother gives Harrelson double the screen time and the film an extraneous character who not only wasn’t necessary to the plot but also provides an unwanted distraction. A good 15 minutes of screen time could have been erased from this too-long movie just by removing the twin.

This is quite a disappointment. I was entertained by the first but found myself yawning my way through the second. The stunts pulled by the Horsemen are, as the first, almost all CGI which again wounds the film terribly. I think as I did with the first one that doing the magic with practical effects instead of digital would only have made the movie better. I mean, rain falling upwards? In London? Maybe on a stage somewhere but not out in the middle of the street. Movie magic is one thing, but that would have been better served in a different movie, like one with a kid with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Now, the makers of those movies understood what magic is all about better than the filmmakers of this one do.

REASONS TO GO: Caplan is a welcome addition to the cast. The premise is rock solid.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks the vitality of the first film. Makes an art form of the preposterous.
FAMILY VALUES: A bit of violence and foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Isla Fisher had to drop out of the film due to her pregnancy; Lizzy Caplan took over as an entirely new character.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/13/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Italian Job
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Central Intelligence

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True Legend (Su Qi-Er)


This armor is for the birds.

This armor is for the birds.

(2010) Martial Arts (Indomina) Vincent Zhao, Xun Zhou, Andy On, Guo Xiaodong, Jay Chou, Michelle Yeoh, David Carradine, Gordon Liu, Cung Le, Xiaogang Feng, Ka-Yen Leung, Jacky Heung, Ni Yan, Will Liu, Luxia Jiang, Ze Li, Hanwen Suen, Conan Stevens, Sylvester Terkay, Matt Weise, Dominique Vandenberg, Jon Heidenreich, He Hung. Directed by Yuen Woo Ping

Vengeance is one of the uglier sides of the human spirit. It warps the soul and is a kind of madness, an obsession that can turn a good man into something evil. Those who go through life seeking vengeance are likely to dig their own graves.

Su Can (Zhao) is a skilled general who rescues a prince (Heung) of the realm from a fortress full of enemies in a mountain stronghold. In return for his bravery, Su is offered the position of governor of Hubei province; however, Su doesn’t want it. Su is more interested in perfecting his own Wu Shu and retiring from the military life. He gives instead the position to his adopted brother Yuan Lie (On), who is jealous at having lived in Su Can’s shadow most of his life.

But not all of it  When Yuan was a little boy, Su Can’s father killed Yuan’s father who had been perfecting a particularly evil form of Wu Shu called the Five Venom Fists, afterwards adopting Yuan and his sister Ying (Zhou). Su had fallen in love with Ying and married her, further driving a wedge between the two men.

Five years pass and Yuan returns home, ostensibly to reconcile. However, that’s not going to happen – his heart has grown far too twisted and evil. He murders Su’s father in a particularly brutal fashion and maims Su. Only Ying’s pleas stop Yuan from killing her husband. Instead, Yuan throws Su into a raging river, poisoned and badly injured.

Ying escapes, diving into the river after her husband and rescuing him. She takes him to the lonely mountain cottage of Dr. Yu (Yeoh), a herbalist. Su’s injuries are crippling and only through rigorous training will he be able to use his arm again. At first, Su is more interested in drinking himself blind. Not only did Yuan murder his dad but he kidnapped his son Feng (Suen) as well and Su is in no shape to rescue his own flesh and blood.

However, the Wu Shu God (Chou) takes pity on Su and along with a wise old sage (Gordon Liu) instruct him in the art of Wu Shu. It isn’t until later that Ying realizes that Su is going mad – he is training with nobody. She realizes that Su may never be recovered enough to rescue her son so she decides to go do it herself and gets captured for her trouble.

Su knows that he has no choice; he will have to set aside his demons and save his family. The showdown will be epic but it won’t end quite the way anyone expects – leaving Su broken and fighting in an arena against foreign devils. Has he hit rock bottom? And what will he lose on the way there?

Ping is best known as the action choreographer for films like The Matrix and both Kill Bill movies. He’s also a director and has done over 20 movies on his own. As you might expect, he is an accomplished director of action sequences and has a fluid visual style that’s quite pleasing. However, he is less strong with story and character, letting them take a back seat to the sometimes breathtaking fights.

And they are breathtaking. The fight at the waterfall between the Iron Twins and Su is beautiful (it ought to be; it took 15 days to shoot) and intricate, one of the best martial arts sequences you’re ever likely to see. There are several others which are similarly spectacular. Sadly, when the action stops and the talking starts, the movie grinds to a screeching halt…or screeches to a grinding halt. Choose your mixed metaphor wisely.

Ping is best known for his wire work and he augments that with some CGI sequences involving weaponry and Wu Shu wizardry. Unfortunately, like many effects sequences in Chinese films these days, the work isn’t up to par with modern standards and for the most part look kind of weak and shoddy  While I realize that practical effects aren’t always…er, practical for certain sequences, if you must use CGI at the very least make sure it doesn’t make your film look worse.

Vincent Zhao wasn’t particularly well-known in China when this was filmed – he’d mostly done television and commercial work but he does a pretty credible job here and is at the center of most of the action. Yeoh is one of my favorite actresses worldwide; even though her role here is brief, she elevates every movie she participates in and this is no exception. I could watch her chatting on her cell phone for hours and never get bored.

In fact, having Yeoh as well as the legendary Gordon Liu and the late David Carradine in one of his final roles all together in the same movie is reason enough to rent this sucker, even though they don’t appear in the same scenes at one time. Reason enough for me to seek this one out…and it should be reason enough for you to as well.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific action sequences. Yeoh, Chou, Carradine and Gordon Liu in the same movie – awesome!

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No plot to speak of. CGI detracts from the quality of the film.

FAMILY VALUES: Martial arts violence as you’d expect, some of it brutal.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Ping’s first film as a director since 1996.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a music video here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Unreported (the film made a negligible amount in the States although it’s Chinese box office is probably substantial) on a $20M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: War

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Local Legends

The Green Hornet


The Green Hornet

Britt Reid and Kato are a bit early for Mardi Gras.

(2011) Pulp Hero Adventure Comedy (Columbia) Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Jamie Harris, Chad Coleman, Edward Furlong, Analeigh Tipton, James Franco. Directed by Michel Gondry

The Green Hornet emerged from the radio serial and the pulp fiction heroes that introduced us to masked characters such as The Shadow. It was a different era, to be sure, with a Japanese (and then, beginning with World War II, Korean) manservant and a millionaire playboy, scion of a newspaper publishing empire. These days, that seems like something of an anachronism.

It translated well to a 26-episode run in the late 60s on television, with Van Williams in the title role and the legendary Bruce Lee as Kato. While the show didn’t last long, it remained in the public consciousness due to the involvement of Lee. Dying too young will do that to your legacy.

How will such characters translate to the 21st century however? Britt Reid (Rogen) is the party-hearty son of James Reid (Wilkinson), the crusading publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a newspaper that was one of the last family-owned holdouts in an era of corporate news and the growing incursion of the Internet on the traditional profession of newsgathering. 

When the father turns up dead, it is left to the son to pick up the pieces. He becomes the de facto publisher of the Sentinel, despite having absolutely no knowledge of the newspaper business nor any desire to learn. He relies on his dad’s right hand man Mike Axford (Olmos) for the day-to-day operation of the business.

When a cup of coffee isn’t to his liking, he discovers that the great coffee that he had enjoyed every morning had come from his father’s car mechanic, Kato (Chou) whom he had fired in a drunken rage (along with all of his father’s other personal employees). You see, Britt’s relationship with his dad was dicey, as his father was constantly belittling him with aphorisms like “Trying doesn’t matter if you always fail” with the understanding that Britt always failed. At least he could probably afford the battery of therapists he would probably need after emotional abuse like that from his dad. 

He rehires Kato and discovers something of a kindred spirit. Kato has an affinity for gadgets and a brilliant engineering mind (he’s also a bit of a perv with drawings of women amongst his engineering diagrams). As dear old dad had grown more paranoid that he might be the target of violence, he’d had Kato outfit a 1966 Chrysler Crown Imperial with bulletproof glass and a few weapons of mass distraction. 

Britt and Kato get drunk as men often do when they’re bonding and go out to deface a statue of Britt’s dad that stands guardian over his gravesite, which men often do when they’re bonding. After detaching the statue’s head, they come across a mugging in process. Britt drunkenly tries to prevent a rape from occurring but bungles it, only to be saved by Kato who is also a talented martial artist. 

The experience turns out to be an epiphany for Britt. It was such a blast helping others; why not do it as masked heroes? And in order to throw a twist into things, why not masquerade as villains so that they can topple them more easily from the inside?

Britt uses his newspaper to publicize the new villain who is dubbed the Green Hornet. This doesn’t please Chudnovsky (Waltz), the kingpin of all L.A. gangs. He’s the sort who walks into a nightclub, only to be insulted by the owner (Franco) for not being hip enough, not being frightening enough and for dressing poorly. Chudnovsky responds by blowing up the nightclub and everyone in it. He is worried that people will not perceive him as frightening. If a ganglord doesn’t have his rep, what does he have?

Britt’s increasing incursions into Chudnovsky’s business earn Britt and Kato the attention of the crime boss. Even though the Hornet and Kato are being helped by Britt’s executive secretary (and budding criminologist) Lenore Case (Diaz) and Kato’s not inconsiderable arsenal of gas guns and door-mounted machine guns, Britt not only has Chudnovsky’s army of goons chasing him but also the police and district attorney Scanlon (Harbour) on his back as well. Will the Green Hornet succumb to insecticide before he’s had a chance to sting anybody?

I am torn on this one. Director Gondry is an incredible visionary with such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (awesome) and The Science of Sleep (not so much) in his filmography, but this is his first really straightforward mainstream film. He adds some of his unique visual flair, like showing how Kato’s mind slows down when in a stressful situation. The pacing is nice and the action sequences are competently done. For someone who has mostly worked on smaller budget films, Gondry does a terrific job here.

So does Chou as Kato. Chou is a pop star in Asia although not so well known here. His English is problematic, but he has the martial arts chops and the likable charisma needed to entice American audiences. He no doubt will be a star here if he chooses to be – and he can lose the accent a little.

Rogen can be a terrific comic actor but this won’t be a role that I’ll rank among his best. His Britt Reid is obnoxious, arrogant and a bit of a screw-up. He’s not terribly likable and we wind up rooting for Kato more than we do for Reid, who is in dire need of an ass-kicking. It’s hard to root for Britt when he treats everyone around him like crap and comes off as an ignorant, spoiled brat who didn’t get spanked enough as a child. That Britt is so badly developed is certainly the fault of the writers – wait, Rogen co-wrote the script. Tsk tsk.  

Diaz is a beautiful woman who can be a pretty good comic actress when she’s given the right role, but she really isn’t given any role here. She’s eye candy, sure but she isn’t onscreen enough to really make any sort of impression. For my money, I would have liked to see more of her and less of Rogen.

The gadgets here are worthy of the Q Division, particularly the Black Beauty (the tricked-out Chrysler) which takes a licking and keeps on ticking. We didn’t need Britt to give us a “whoooa!” whenever a new gadget was introduced, but still, that’s part of the fun.

And it’s fun that’s the operative word here. This is a highly flawed action adventure comic book kind of movie – but it’s entertaining enough to be worth your time and money. Don’t expect much, just sit back in your stadium seat, munch on your popcorn and let the movie wash over you with its car chases, explosions, gas guns and quips. It’s a wild ride and that’s not a bad summary for any movie.

REASONS TO GO: Chou is a great deal of fun and Waltz has great fun as yet another cartoon villain. Gondry really plays up the cartoonish aspect of the genre. The Black Beauty is mofo cool!

REASONS TO STAY: Brett Reid is such a clueless douchebag that there are times you just want Kato to kick his ass. A few of the gags stretch credulity a bit too thin.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some cartoon violence and there are an awful lot of heavy things dropped on the skulls of an awful lot of people. There’s some foul language as well.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Seth Rogen’s first live-action movie that wasn’t rated “R.”  

HOME OR THEATER: Fun movies like this one should be seen in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Crazies

New Releases for the Week of January 14, 2011


January 14, 2011
Laugh at my jokes or my friend will shoot you.

THE GREEN HORNET

(Columbia) Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour. Directed by Michel Gondry

Britt Reid, the son of a crusading publisher, has disappointed his father all his life. When his father is murdered, Britt’s aimless life takes focus. He wants to make a difference. As Britt Reid, ne’er do well and party animal, he is powerless. Aided by his father’s confidante Kato, Britt takes on the persona of the Green Hornet, a crime fighter armed with amazing weapons and cruising the town in the Black Beauty, a car that puts the Q Division to shame.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, featurettes, clips and a web-only animation here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Genre: Comic Book Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content)

The Dilemma

(Universal) Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly. When a man sees his best friend’s wife cheating on him, he’s stuck with a terrible choice to make. Does he tell him and put him into a place of misery and pain? Or does he keep it to himself. The problem is the more he tries to make things better, the worse the situation gets.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving sexual conduct)

 

The Heart Specialist

(Freestyle) Zoe Saldana, Wood Harris, Brian White, Marla Gibbs. A group of first year residents discover the joys and perils of medicine at a shabby hospital in South Florida, learning not just about being a doctor but being a caretaker as well. All this happens under the aegis of a kindly Chief Resident, who has a skeleton in his closet that threatens to undo all the good he’s done.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Drama/Thriller/Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexual content and language)

Made in Dagenham

(Sony Classics) Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson. At the Ford Plant in Dagenham, England in the mid-60s, a group of spirited women decide that no longer are they going to accept less pay for equal work as the men. A one day walk-out turned into something a lot more important as the women go up against their union, their company, their community and ultimately the British government in their effort to get justice for all women in the workplace. Based on a true story.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama Based on a True Story

Rating: R (for language and brief sexuality)

Rabbit Hole

(Lionsgate) Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard. In the new movie from acclaimed indie director John Cameron Mitchell, a couple is shattered when the worst thing that can happen to a family occurs. Neither one knows how to navigate their way back home from the labyrinth that is the rabbit hole. This won great acclaim at Toronto and was thought to be a leading Oscar contender this year, although the buzz has died down since then.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, some drug use and language)