Now You See Me

now_you_see_me_ver3_xlgIt seems like it has been a long time since audiences were given a good movie about magic. Not since Nolan’s The Prestige or Berger’s The Illusionist  in 2006 has there been any that come close to being a success. But like those two movie gems, there is something special about magic movies when they hit their mark. They create the awe and wonderment that Hollywood cinema was built on, and this movie does nothing to interfere with that belief.

Now You See Me is the latest project of director Louis Leterrier, known more for his action movies (Transporter 1 and 2, Clash of the Titans) than anything else. A great cast has been assembled including starring roles for Mark Ruffalo, playing FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, Morgan Freeman as magician whistleblower Thaddeus Bradley, and the four horseman magician team of Michael Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco). Throw in supporting roles from Michael Caine as a millionaire businessman and Melanie Laurent as Interpol agent turned Ruffalo’s muse, and you have maybe the most star-studded cast of any summer flick. The plot centers around four street magicians who come together to create an act under the name of The Four Horseman. Instead of just wowing audiences with their illusions, they decide that each performance will end with them robbing someone out of copious amounts of cash. Both Ruffalo and Freeman’s characters are hot on their trails for completely different reasons– one to put them in prison, the other to expose their tricks to the public. As straight forward as it sounds, the twists and turns of this movie are abundant and constantly keep the audience on the edge of their seat.

You know a movie is awesome when Morgan Freeman can wear a sweet hat and purple blazer

You know a movie is awesome when Morgan Freeman gets to wear a sweet hat and purple blazer

This movie is incredibly entertaining and a delight to watch. You will be hard-pressed to find another movie this summer that integrates comedy and suspense so well. Even though the method of each trick is explained by Freeman’s character shortly after it happens, the audience will still have many questions to mull over throughout the entirety. In fact, there is almost an Ocean series-type feel after each reveal. The back and forth between the affable Harrelson and smug, arrogant Eisenberg is extremely enjoyable, while the role of Ruffalo as a surly detective really shines. One of the really interesting aspects of this movie is the moral ambiguity of basically every character. Who is the hero and who is the villain? It is a very intriguing technique that only enhances the thrill of the movie. The negatives of this movie are two-fold. First, the supposed romantic relationship between Ruffalo and Laurent seems a little forced and bogs down the pace at times. It may be a necessary plot device, but their onscreen chemistry leaves a little to be desired. Second would be the overall filmmaking seems a little second class at times. Don’t get me wrong, the script holds up very well, but Leterrier’s use of lens flares and shaky camera during chases can be a little much to handle. However, neither of these aspects are enough to really detract very much from the project as a whole.

I think the vast majority of moviegoers will leave this movie with a great sense of satisfaction. The premise of this film is fantastic, and one of the few genre movies that gives an ending that does not fail the exquisite build-up. Even though this movie is a pure summer popcorn-flick indeed, the refreshing and original ideas are sure to delight and amaze. This is one film that should not have to beg you to “look closely”.

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It’s my last post as a non-married man! Which also means I’ll be off enjoying some sun and the beaches of California, so I’ll be taking a break from movies for a bit, but I couldn’t think of a better film to leave off with than Inception.

When it comes to film, there are films which succeed at being acknowledged works of art (2001 a Space Odyssey), and films which succeed at being entertaining (Bubble Boy – That movie cracks me up.). Occasionally you find films which succeed in both regards. Inception is one of these films.

Christopher Nolan (director of Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) comes off of the worldwide success of The Dark Knight, not with another Batman film, but by returning to his roots with the keep-em-guessing twist and turns thriller where the audience literally has trouble keeping track of what’s up and what’s down, but has a heck of a time enjoying the ride.


The film follows Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mercenary thief, who can is hired to acquire something extremely valuable for his clients – secrets. He does so by entering a shared dream state with the target, and then proceeds to utilize the context of dreams to pursue his objective, and literally steal the information from their own mind.

On his latest job, he runs into some trouble with a particularly resourceful target, Saito (Ken Watanabe), who entraps Cobb into doing a job for him with the promise of a new life. Saito enlists Cobb to do something many believe to be impossible – plant an idea within the dream of a target in order to affect their conscious decisions, a.k.a. Inception.

Cobb recruits a team of dream specialists – Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) his right-hand man, Eames (Tom Hardy) the Forger, Yusuf (Dileep Rao) a specialist in sleeping drugs, and Ariadne (Ellen Page) the builder. Each specialist has a particular role within the inception plot, and to give any more information in how it plays out would be to ruin the very mind-bending twists and turns of Nolan’s cleverly executed film.

As with so many of Nolan’s works, Inception relies heavily on exposition, much of which is carried out through the introduction of Ellen Page’s character to the team. She’s a fresh-faced college kid looking for all the answers, and her questions provide much-needed answers for the audience as they get on board with the premise. However once the audience becomes familiar with the concepts, Nolan hits the gas and it’s an action-packed ride to the finish.

Was Inception without its weaknesses? No. The ending, for one, draws a strong line and lands firmly on the side of artistic, leaving many theater-goers with a twinge of dissatisfaction. You can see where the director was going, but you kind of wish he’d just played to the masses and gone with a more satisfying conclusion. Don’t want to say any more about it, when you see it, you’ll understand.

I’m a fan of soundtracks, and Hans Zimmer has done his fair share of scores I enjoy. He and Nolan have had a good partnership going for a while now, so his involvement on Inception should come as no surprise. The music is extremely similar to that of Dark Knight, and the deep blaring horns start to get a bit excessive after a while. There’s a brilliant parody of this on YouTube combining Dora the Explorer and Inception, and the blaring horns get called out. Pretty priceless.

You have to wonder if there was a pool going as to how many times these guys would hurl during filming.

The visuals are amazing in this film. Nolan clearly had a vision that exceeded what’s been done before. The film had a Matrix-esque quality to its originality of visual effects. But at the same time, many of the visuals are presented in Ariadne’s first venture into the dream world, where she begins to play with being able to manipulate the dreamscape. After that, the concept of being able to manipulate the dreams to extreme effect seems to get lost. It’s like the fact that anything and everything can happen in dreams is swept to the side in order to provide a more efficient plot device. I wanted Nolan to do more to push the envelope. He shakes things up, and connects some interesting ideas, but he could have gone farther.

The performances were excellent. Nolan rounded out his cast with several familiar faces to his films – Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow – Batman Begins) plays Robert Fischer and Michael Caine (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) plays DiCaprio’s father. I’m always a fan of Ken Watanbe’s work, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really finding himself a good breadth to his work. Plenty of rumors are flying as to his potential as the Riddler in Nolan’s next Batman film. One has to mention Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) and really, Ellen Page finds yet another chance to flex her acting muscles in another genre.

This film was witty, it was intriguing, it kept me guessing and kept me interested throughout. It was 2.5 hours long and I barely noticed, which is always a good sign. It finds a nice balance between the artsy and entertaining, giving itself some substance without getting too tied up in the pursuit of cinematic art. Most of all, this film is original. Something we see far too little of these days. Nolan may find inspiration from older classic films, but the execution on top of this core is purely Nolan.

I’d recommend seeing this one on the big screen, although the IMAX wasn’t anything to stand up and shout about. So maybe save the few bucks and see it on a regular screen.

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Is Anybody There?

Here it is, venture number one into the world of Walking Taco film reviews. I will try not to disappoint.

From time to time there are smaller films, usually produced in a foreign market, that just capture my interest with a trailer. I find myself inexplicably drawn toward them, and when I find them at the local video store, I end up picking up a copy to see if all the mental hype I gave the film was worth it after all. This was one of those films.

Is Anybody There? stars the indomitably pouty-sounding Michael Caine as an aging magician who has recently been admitted to a retirement home to begin the slow descent into senility. While there, he’s befriended by a boy whose family runs the home, played by Bill Milner, only notably recognized for his role in the film Son of Rambow, but who does a fine job playing opposite of an Oscar Winner. The only other actor of notoriety is Rosemary Harris, who plays a bit part as one of the retirement residents, but is most well-known for her portrayal of Aunt May in the Spider-man movies.

I wanted to like this movie. All the reviews herald Caine’s performance as one of the best of his career. (Mind you we should all realize that reviews must be taken with a grain of salt… says the guy writing a review on a film review website.) I did think Caine did well with the role, so at least I can see why all the positive press focused around that. But the film itself seemed to lose a lot of the uplifting heart that shows up in the trailer. The fun seems to bleed away to be replaced with a much more bleak view in the pursuit of some form of an authentic realism.

Michael Caine and Bill Milner seem to ponder - wasn't this supposed to be some kind of unlikely-buddy film?

Instead of cherishing the brilliant moments of watching an elderly magician taking a socially awkward boy under his wing to bring him out of his shell, we’re focused on the depressing instability and grim ending we all face in our lives all of which gets more and more rushed by the end of the film. (No spoiler there, the film is about old people who go to a retirement home to die. That’s presented in the opening minutes of the film.)

Like I said, I wanted to like this film, and ultimately I enjoyed the performances, but thought the film focused too much on the down side of things to really leave the audience with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. If this one comes up on TV (doubt it will) or you feel like taking in a few good performances through your Netflix, give it a shot, but otherwise check out Caine in Inception when it comes out, and call yourself good.

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