Now You See Me Movie Review 0 21

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see…
That’s the tagline for Now You See Me, a tricksy and hugely enjoyable movie about that polished art of deception – magic. That includes us, the audience, who get a seemingly all-angle view of what’s going on and should be able to see what’s coming next. But therein lies the fun of the film – it keeps you guessing as it thunders along at a breakneck pace. Plot holes may appear if you stop and think about it but it hardly matters when it’s so entertaining along the way.
The plot centres on four street magicians who, a year after being brought together by a mysterious fifth party, are now the slickest and most talked about magicians in Las Vegas, now going by the stage name of the Four Horsemen. When they pull off a daring trick of robbing a bank in Paris while on stage in Vegas, the FBI and Interpol get involved. The investigation is headed by Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who is frustrated by a team of magicians always managing to evade him.
The obvious comparison to make here is to Christopher Nolan’s complex, almost labyrinthine The Prestige, which took magic seriously and tackled it intelligently to make for a film that will live on in repeat viewings. Now You See Me doesn’t quite have that quality as it could readily be described as Diet Prestige meets Ocean’s Eleven but that’s absolutely fine. As a piece of slick blockbuster entertainment it ticks the right boxes.
It sometimes forgets it magical roots, delving into more generic blockbsuter territory with car and footchases (although they are very well done in their own right), but it works best when director Louis Leterrier – whose previous directorial credits include Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans – creatively shows the specific tricks that the magicians have up their sleeves. Who doesn’t love a good magic trick, to quote Morgan Freeman’s character? If you don’t then the movie probably isn’t for you. But for anyone even mildly interest in the showy art form then there’s plenty here to engage for a couple of hours. It often relies on CGI when perhaps practical effects might have been more interesting but they serve a purpose when some of the more elaborate illusions are on the menu.
Apart from the magic there’s loads of fun to be had in watching a great cast do their thing. While it lacks a certain amount of character development because of how many it has to deal with, the likes of Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Ruffalo are just great to be around. You’ll be second-guessing throughout as to who is really in cahoots with whom and if people are who they really say they are but that’s part of the joy of it.
Much the same as an actual magic trick in which the trick itself is far more interesting than the explanation, the film is let down by its silly and far too neat ending. It goes one trick too far with a reveal that’s frustrating and cheap when the rest of the movie has been so clever, witty and enjoyable. But for the most part it’s a good time filled with lots of twists and turns, fun characters and cool visual tricks. It may be all surface but that surface is shiny, slick and most importantly entertaining.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 182

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 208

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10