Darke Reviews | Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Ok, so I asked permission from those running the screening tonight and I was given a greenlight to write this. Lionsgate Marketing held a screening for this film tonight and I decided to forgo much needed sleep and attend this. Now if you haven’t seen the first film, you are missing out. Much as I said in the last review, how does one write a spoiler free review of a movie about Magic and Misdirection? Illusion and Mystery? Quite simple really – I look for the blind spot and use it to my advantage. Now clearly I am a fan of the first film, it’s on my list of 20+ views. The real question you ask yourself now

Should I see it? What will she tell me?

The movie is based on the characters created by Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, who do not return for this picture. The third horseman Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Bill & Ted) returns, which means technically the first film violates my rule of three, this does not. Joining Ed is writer and producer, Peter “Pete” Chiarelli (The Proposal, Eagle Eye).  These two had a tough challenge in setting up a mystery that continues the narrative arc of not just the original film, but the characters themselves. They had to do it within a world that made you, just for a moment, believe in magic again. I would like to say they succeeded mostly. So I shall. They succeeded – mostly. They avoided a few painful narrative pitfalls and tropes, while happily engaging others in a way that reminded me of the first film at times. They also had an uneviable task of writing out one actress (Isla Fisher) and in another (Lizzy Caplan) to join the Horsemen. Unlike other replacements, this was simply due to Fisher being pregnant and otherwise unable to perform the role of Henley. There are a few missteps in characters as the movie migrates into act 3 that I land on their lap, but it’s really solid otherwise. It made me, and the entire theatre, laugh on the right beats and “oooh” at the others.

Jon M. Chu was given the task this time to direct, replacing Louis Leterrier. Chu is best known for his work in the Step Up series (2 and 3), the much (deservedly) maligned Jem and the Holograms, and the surprisingly enjoyable GI Joe Retaliation (this is the second one where ice doesn’t sink). Knowing this explains a few of the beats of the film and one of the glaring flaws to me, which is the camera work. I don’t know if it was him or the director of photography, but there were a few shots in the movie that left me a little disoriented from the sweeping camera moves and distorted angles which didn’t really add. His background does explain why the rain sequence shown in the trailer reminds me of Step Up 2’s finale when seen in full. Not a complaint as the dance is epic, just an observation. The change in director does change the tone of the beats and pacing somewhat, but it doesn’t harm the film in an relative way. I have a sense, however, that the budget of 75 million from the first was not given here, something is just off in the film that makes it feel a touch cheaper and that is not the fault of Chu. It’s quite possible I am wrong and they used every bloody penny and then some to achieve what they did across the multiple filming locations.

Let’s talk acting shall we?

Jesse Eisenberg (Daniel Atlas), Woody Harrelson (Merritt McKinney), Mark Ruffalo (Dylan Rhodes), Dave Franco (Jack Wilder), Michael Caine (Arthur Tressler), Morgan Freeman (Thaddeus Bradley), all return. All do well in their parts and this is not really a surprise to anyone who watched the first. Mélanie Laurent was missed in this one, without the explanation that was given Fisher’s character. New members to the cast are Daniel Radcliffe, whom I enjoyed in his role and wanted more of him through the film because the boy can be damn charming. Jay Chou (Green Hornet, True Legend) is painfully underused in the film. It was good to see Sanaa Lathan (Alien vs Predator, Blade) again , though much like Chou her role was limited. It’s sad to see them both given so little, but it does retain the focus where it needs to be on the core characters of the film as they come back for a last trick for their lives.

From a technical perspective I’ve targeted the camera work and just something about the film itself that feels lesser somehow. That aside, the tricks are worth it. David Copperfield, yes *the* David Copperfield served as a producer on this film and it shows. I heard a gentleman after the film say there were four professional magicians in the audience and they said most of the tricks they saw could be done. That says something as we are constantly assaulted by things that are not done in camera, yet many of these tricks were and that effort shows. True CG was used to fill in the blanks and to pull off some of the tricks, but that doesn’t change the quality of it from an entertainment perspective.

TL;DR?

As I said on exiting the film, this is a solid sequel. It isn’t better than the first, but it holds up really well. I liked what I saw. I was entertained and as I have said many times before and will continue to do so. Movies serve a purpose for us. Some are to educate. Some are to make us think. Others are there for the entertainment and joy they bring. This is the last of the choices presented and it does what it needs to do and I had a good time. I do plan to pay money to see it again to put my 10 bucks to it’s box office haul.

I would have preferred the original title though: Now You See Me – The Second Act.

Should you see it?

If you like the first? Absolutely. If you didn’t watch the first, see it then watch. It is a good matinee flick and alternative fair to TMNT or Warcraft this weekend.

Will Jess buy it? 

Yep! BluRay even.

What’s next for reviews?

A much overdue The Highrise, TMNT (tomorrow night after I see it), Warcraft (Thursday night).

Darke Reviews | American Ultra (2015)

Well this proved to be an interesting evening. Go to a movie, get all settled in with the nice recliners at Roadhouse Cinemas, get a drink and a pizza and start to enjoy. Then the movie pauses. We’re given some excuse of a technical difficulty. Then…5 minutes later – “So yeah there’s been a bomb threat. We need to evacuate everyone.” They handled it well. Everyone was orderly, they comped any food & drink already ordered and provided free tickets to another show. All in all – very well done. I feel sorry for the loss of revenue tonight because some kid was a jackhole (note: this is an assumption). This is the reason you are only getting one review tonight rather than two as the next available showing for this gem was at 9:45 at another theatre. So my friend and I hauled ourselves over and watched the first twenty minutes again…and that should tell you a little something already.

Now…for the rest of the story.

It is entirely likely you have never heard of American Ultra unless you saw a trailer on my facebook page the other week. It was not marketed well, or at all, yet the trailer was oddly compelling.  Need a refresher?

The film was written by the same man who gave us the better parts of Chronicle, Max Landis, and directed by Project X director Nima Nourizadeh. I can’t really go in depth to their body of work as usual as I have not watched Nima’s first film; not my genre. Landis on the other hand I can talk a little more about having seen Chronicle and looking forward to his next writing project Victor Frankenstein. He seems to have a good understanding of personal interactions, humor, and action. While his pacing stutters a few times the movie has an incredible amount of heart to it for what appeared to be from the trailer a screwball, surreal, action-comedy.

It is so much more, and less, than that. Landis script gives us a reasonably well constructed almost satirical look at the action spy genre.  It knows what it is and isn’t. It warmly embraces it’s absurdities. It is closer to Mr. and Mrs. Smith than it is Pineapple Express. It is a character driven movie with the two stars moving things forward in very real and very human ways. I give Landis credit here as the people in this movie are some of the most realistic and honest I have seen in a very long time.  The relationship between Jesse Eisenberg’s character Mike Howell and Kristen Stewarts Phoebe Larson felt like a real relationship. The dialogue and subtle interactions that the actors, Nima, and Landis spun together put more heart into this film than probably any film in the past two months.

This isn’t to say it isn’t filled with action, because it is. This isn’t to say it isn’t surreal at times, because it is. I found myself laughing at various intentional beats in the film due to their pure absurdity and the straight man reaction of the players. The best comedy, in my opinion, is that where the people who are delivering it act as if they aren’t in on the joke.  That said, there are few actual jokes and more moments that will make you laugh, make you smile, make you cry. There are more than enough scenes where you go “what the-“.

What helps here is the actors. Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network, Zombieland, Not Michael Cera…) is able to sell all the emotional roller coaster his character goes through. Partnering him with former Adventureland co-star Kristen Stewart (The Runaways, Twilight) was a good call. The two have genuine chemistry in this movie. The first twenty minutes have more ‘real talk’ and actual relationship type behaviors than any movie I have seen since If I Stay last year this time (almost to the date). That takes a lot of skill, subtlety, and more acting than people give Kristen Stewart, or Eisenberg, credit for. While Twilight has earned her much in the way of mocking, it also did not provide her a lot to work with and if this is the potential for the young actor, then I am happy to support her in future films – you should be too. As an aside I have an interest in seeing Adventureland now.

From a technical standpoint the movie is ok. Again there’s something just off about the pacing, but that might be intentional to allow some of the more awkward moments to sell. Some fights we get shaky cam, others we don’t. Obviously the ones without are superior. The make up work is solid for the injuries building throughout the film and looks as believable as the bloodsplatter looks ridiculously over the top. It isn’t Hammer films bad, but you know what you are seeing and aren’t seeing.

TL;DR?

I frequently say in this section that the most successful films are those that evoke emotion. This made me tear up once or twice. It made me laugh a lot more. More than that though? It made me smile. It’s been a few weeks since I truly had a movie that I just found myself relaxing and enjoying through and through. It was a comfortable, fun little ride that I would probably go on again if asked. It’s also nice in a summer of sequels, remakes, reimaginings, and reboots to see and be able to celebrate an original property.

If the trailer above intrigued you , I would ask that you go see this movie this weekend. Don’t wait. Studios rarely care little beyond the actuals of the first weekend. With next to no movies coming up for a full month that look to be worth anything – give this one your time.

If you weren’t intrigued by the trailer or were put off by it, I understand. This won’t be the movie for you; so don’t try to defy the odds.

I am glad I got a chance to see this one tonight, make a chance for yourself.