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.


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 | Lucy (2014)

Two films, two reviews, one night. Sleep is for the weak. Both reviews will have diametrically opposed commentary on one topic. Yet there are similarities in them as well. Let me get to a bit of color commentary on Lucy, I want to be able to get both reviews out before it gets too terribly late, even if most of you won’t read this for another 5 hours now.

Trailers. I promise one day I will get so mad at the trailers for movies I will do a Rant in the Darke. Today is not that day, but it’s oh so tempting. I would say easily 80% of the most intense scenes of Lucy are shown in the trailer. POssibly as low as 60 but thats pushing it. This annoys me. The movie offers no surprises in that regard. Hollywood fail folks. Trailers are designed to entice. Get you going “Oh I think I want to see what this is all about”, perhaps “That looks interesting, what happens in it.” It shouldn’t be after seeing the film going “I saw this why? The trailer showed so much.”

The trailer, however, did not show everything. For that I am partially thankful. I wish they had been more careful, but the question is what didn’t they show?

Luc Besson, you beautiful, sick fiend. Will you ever be satisfied? You directorial style is eternally refreshing and paced well for audiences across the globe. You waste no time in the movies 1:28 running time. The movie is absolutely as lean as it can be. Even with your oddly bizarre inserts during scenes which were jarring at first, but acceptable with the story you’re telling. When you introduced the world in 1990 to La Femme Nikita, then in 94 to Leon The Professional, and in 97 to the 5th Element you continued to push boundaries of action, women, and science fiction. Those are but some of the highlights of your directing career. They also inform your audience that not everything you see is what you get.

You also of course are a writer, with a tendency to be the sole writer upon a film. Thank you. You gave us Nikita, Leelu, and Leon. You brought Jet Li to Paris for Kiss of the Dragon and gave us Jason Statham’s driver in The Transporter. You gave us an introduction to David Belle in District B13. You gave us a man who has a special set of skills. Skills he’s honed over a long career and he does things when people are Taken. So many icons of modern action are at your hands.

The way you treat women is a fascinating study as well. They tend to be victim and powerful. They tend to, in your own habits of writing, start from the bottom and become something more. Something better. You do that with a belief in humanity that it can be more. That it can be good, even with the cynicism and pessimism of the worlds you create. For that, I thank you. You aren’t perfect and your initial treatment is…a bit uncomfortable at times, but your empowerment is to be commended.

Did you nail it again with Lucy?

Well. Yes, yes you did. The movie runs sickeningly lean. Too lean I think. There are scenes that could have used more meat to them. More depth, but I don’t think it what was what you were intending. The pacing is amazingly quick and yet easy to follow at the same time. Your casting is certainly not white washed and again I blame your brilliant european sensibilities for that. It wasn’t as xenophobic as I thought. It just was.

I think thats the secret to Lucy. It is. If you will pardon a bit of sacrilege, I am that I am. Not far off the mark. Everyone is who they are without apology or explanation. Bad guys are bad. Good guys are good. Scientists are scientists (that actually seem to want to do science). Lucy is Lucy.

What about that cast though is there anything to it? Well Scarlett Johansson actually carries the film. Her reaction to the events and how she passes through the world helps a lot. Is it a bit emotionless? Yes. Thats to her credit. If you watch her other films, even Widow has emotion as she does her thing. There’s something minimalist here that needs to be appreciated. Especially within the context of the story. The rest of the cast is good in what they do, but really the weight falls on Johansson and she doesn’t let it hold her down.

She did what I hoped and became a strong female character that carried a film on her own.

The movie does one other successful thing. If you remember my Transcendence review, it annoyed me to the point of rage on how it treated the advancement of the mind. This one? Not only embraces the possibility of that kind of enhancement. It takes that possibility on a date, gets drunk with it, and lets itself be taken advantage of by the possibilities it offers. I think they are in a deeply committed relationship now; or just committed. Hard to say.


If you were interested in Lucy at all? SEE it. Please.
If you weren’t but now are curious – sound off below AFTER you see it with your thoughts for a chance to win tickets to another film.
If you like the game Mage the Ascension – SEE IT. You’ll be saying “‘fraking ‘genitors” the entire time.

If you don’t dig good sci fi or sci fi in general. Give it a pass.
If you don’t like or can’t accept quasi science in your sci fi – pass.
If your kids want to see it…I am …uncertain. Maybe 13+.

Lucy, much like Snowpiercer is the kind of movie we need. Yes, it needs more meat to its story, but it took risks. Good ones. They paid off for me.

I really enjoyed this and the thoughts the movie left me with. It had a message and a good one at that. Whats the message?

See it and find out. You tell me! I know what I got from it.

Darke Reviews | Transcendence (2014)

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” – Albert Einstein

Since the movie saw fit to quote Einstein as it’s push for research into artificial intelligence, I thought I would open with a quote that the movie didn’t mention  (surprisingly). Last week when I reviewed Oculus I spoke of the things we fear as a (western) culture and how that drives our trends in horror movies. Sci-fi also delivers some of those fears as well, but rather than trying to terrify us on an emotional level; it goes for the scare on a mental level and ultimately tries to make you think.

In the past year we have seen a rash of Sci Fi movies asking us what makes a man (Oblivion), what defines a soul (Robocop, I Frankenstein), should we fear technology (Paranoia – yes it sucked, but it asked). Those are but a few. So my opening quote is our fear. Are we too connected? Too dependent on machinery? How far is too far for science? The thought of Dolly and it’s implications terrifies many. Don’t get me started on Bern and the Collider. We have decades of movies now telling us that Artificial Intelligence is the end of man kind. Decades of being told to be afraid of advancement in this field. 2001, Terminator, War Games,  the Matrix, and more recently Battlestar Galactica all show us the terror of our machine overlords and what “will come to pass”.
This is where Transcendence comes into play.

It had the opportunity to come in and shake things up. To tell us to not be afraid of the machine. To not be afraid of science and technology. First time screenwriter Jack Paglen and director Wally Pfister are just as afraid as the movies want us to be. I lay the blame on Christopher Nolan. He is an executive producer on the film and Pfister has been his Director of photography forever and a day. So I think Pfister was acting as a mouthpiece for Nolan here. CNS raises its head to the surface but never quite breaks through. It verges on the pretentious and preachy and filled with its own self importance of the message it wants to deliver. It just sort of falls flat on that message.

I want to like this movie more than I do. I truly do. The fact that it came in with a preconceived notion that technology was bad and our humanity, our soul, and our consciousness were divine bothers me on a deep level. This film had such great opportunities to ask questions – which it kept trying to – and really explore the answers. Instead we get a sort of jumbled mess of shots of people walking, people looking pensive, and effects that were verging on dated a few years ago. Thats what really makes me angry though. It ASKED some of the questions it was trying to get to. It was just asked from a bias that made it difficult to answer. It asked the questions in such a way that it may as well have asked “so when did you stop beating your wife?” Yeah that is a little extreme. I am angry though. There was such potential here and they threw it back in our face. A movie like this should make us think. It should have us give a hard look at everything. I did while the credits rolled, but its my nature.

Why so worked up about it though? There’s plenty of bad movies out there that try to be more than they are.

You are right, there are. None of those have the raw potential to be more. The script isn’t horrific overall. Its shallow and afraid, but not horrific. The movie succeeds where so many fail because it has actors you want to watch. It has actors you give a damn about. Thats why I am angry, because it had potential. The movie gives me back the Johnny Depp I love from the Ninth Gate, the Tourist, and Finding Neverland. It serves to remind me that he is a tremendous talent capable of nuanced performance through voice alone and not just Disney and Tim BUrtons pet goofball. Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3, Vicky Christina Barcelona) also runs the gambit of emotions in her performance. I was pleased, even if she did come across as a “we couldn’t get Scarlet Johansson” at times. Its unfair, but for the first few trailer passes I thought it was Scarlet. Her acting, however, really does let her hold her own on the screen with a cast of actors you will recognize.

Paul Bettany (Knights Tale, Iron Man), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), Morgan Freeman (will do anything for a paycheck), Kate Mara (House of Cards),  Clifton Collins Jr. (Boondock Saints 2), Josh Stewart (Criminal Minds), Xander Berkeley, Lukas Haas, Cole Hauser, and others fill this cast with talent. Freeman is wasted as he often is these days and generally uninspired – also as he is these days. Nearly all the actors do their very best to deliver when they can. The standout is Bettany. He and Hall carry the film and deliver the necessary emotional punches that it needs when it needs it. Bettany successfully upstages (in the best way possible) Freeman at every turn and easily is a beautiful presence on screen with Depp and Hall. I really hope to see more between Depp and Bettany as they both can play each others dramatic and comedic talents to the fullest in anything they do, as well as hitting action beats.

Alright, no technicals this time. I kind of got my dig in there earlier. The effects are satisfactory, not mindblowing. They are a step up from the last time we saw something like this in The Lawnmower Man.


I really want to recommend this, but I can’t. It is not for all audiences and only a few people I know would enjoy the conversations that come from it. Mage the Ascension players might see this as a Virtual Adept gone Maraud. Some folks might enjoy the conversation they develop on their own after.

Does our technology out strip our humanity? Is there something to fear? I will be honest folks, I wouldn’t mind having that conversation with people, but the movie isn’t needed for that. perhaps some day we will get a movie that doesn’t tell us to be afraid of AI.

Next week – I will be talking about Imports vs. Domestic with Brick Mansions.

Darke Reviews | Now You See Me (2013)

As I prefer to give spoiler free reviews as much as possible, this film presents an interesting challenge. How do you review a movie about magicians and their tricks without giving the slightest hint about what is inside? I don’t have the luxury of misdirection and slight of hand. I would tell you the closer you are the less you see, but this is a text medium and you see everything that I write and can interpret it as you see fit.

Director Louis Leterrier (Transporter, Clash Of Titans) brings us the tale of four street magicians trying to make it big. We have the talents of Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave “We couldn’t get his older brother” Franco, and Jesse “Not Michael Cera” Eisenberg as the aforementioned magicians. They have come together for a heist of what we can only assume is epic proportions. Hot on their trail is the FBI, Interpol, the 1% and a professional debunker.

Lets talk about the acting a bit, the four magicians all play their parts well. They deliver on their promises and keep you wondering what is real and what is not. In this they succeed. If you are looking for character growth or depth, I hear that Joss Whedons “Much Ado About Nothing” comes out next week. Then there is the FBI Agent, the now famous Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk in the Avengers), who plays his part admirably; which is to say frustrated, annoyed and always a few steps in the wrong direction.

Interpol is played by relative newcomer, Mélanie Laurent, who sadly lacks any form of chemistry with Ruffalo and largely ends up as window dressing. Then we have Morgan “Is my voice epic enough” Freeman playing a magician turned debunker. It’s entirely possible they cast him for his expositional abilities. He too is after our four maverick magicians for his own reasons. Freemans confidence and usual swagger, along with the writing keep his character an interesting part of the game being played in the roughly two hour running time.

The movies largest flaw is the Director of Photography feeling the need to do spinning 360 camera shots incessantly. I am truly boggled at the Director/DP need to use tricks of the camera that people have been complaining about for years now. Shaky Cam and Spin Cam are nauseating and do not actually bring you into the action of the film. If he was deliberately trying to be disorienting, then he succeeded, disgustingly so.

SO where does this review leave us for the TL;DRs out there?

If you want to know the trick, want to see it play out? The grand scheme?

See it, matinee would be fine.

If you weren’t the least bit curious, you can give this a pass til Redbox or Netflix.

I was entertained for my two hours, I had a good discussion on the film and its characters and their motivations. I believe that is what a movie should deliver at the end of the trick and it does. It doesn’t take a mentalist to see through it; so come in close and stay for the trick.

Darke Reviews | Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

If you haven’t heard of it, I am not surprised. The studio didn’t market this one heavily and after watching it I am left with a burning question – Why the frak not? We could not escape the advertisements of the wanna be Die Hard movie and it was an apocalyptic piece of celluloid garbage next to this. AGDtDH (I refuse to type it out) director John Moore needs to talk to Olympus has Fallen director Antoine Fuqua on how to do a Die Hard movie, much less how to direct an action movie.

This film is what Die Hard 5 should have been. Antoine (Shooter, Training Day) delivers in his usual directorial sense an action movie with no holds barred and no F-Bombs left behind. This movie is a bloody, brutal love letter to the original Die Hard. I swear there’s even a handful of scenes where I think the script writers paused writing, watched the original Die Hard and went – “How can do we do a scene like that?”. John McTiernan (director of the original Die Hard) would be proud of the bromance between these two films if he was allowed back in the U.S. Notice all my references to Die Hard? You should – this movie truly is Die Hard in the White House.

Fuqua pulls together a list of actors you know that is really quite impressive – Gerard “300” Butler, Aaron “Two Face” Eckhart, Rick “Ninja Assassin” Yune, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Angela “should have been Storm” Bassett, Cole Hauser, Dylan McDermot, Ashley Judd, and Morgan -mother frakin- Freeman. The movie starts with a car accident on an icy bridge after letting you get to know a few of the characters and their relationships. We have President Asher (Eckhart) and the head of his Secret Service detail Mike Banning (Butler). A few months later after things went pear shaped, we have tensions with the 21st century boogeyman – the North Koreans, on the rise. Approximately 20 minutes of time is devoted to character introductions. After that, it’s time for the bang. There is a lot of Bang. And Boom. And “Ow!!!!” Butler is everything we should expect of our action stars these days. The quips are few. The fights are brutal and efficient. The fights actually make you believe this guy has been trained to, oh I don’t know kill every person in the room that isn’t supposed to be there.

For all my enjoyment the movie is not flawless. It required one specific leap that would not happen. Once the Secret Service goes into action to protect the President, the President no longer gets a say in what happens to those around him. Their job is him, no one else. There are a handful of other moments that had me ask Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, but then I remembered I am watching a movie where the White House is getting attacked and taken over. I let some of the logic fails slide. One I cannot let slide is the subplot of the movie; where the moment the McGuffin is introduced I as the audience member understand the plan. Generals, Secret Service and other people ostensibly smarter than I am (character wise) do not see this “twist” coming. It angered me. With everything else executed so well, this Fail is kinda a let down.

for the TL;DR crowd –

If you are an action movie fan – see the first action movie worth a damn this year!!!
If you are a fan of any of the actors mentioned – See the damn thing!!
If you like the director – see the damn thing!

If you are not a fan of violent action – Give this a pass. I did mention the fight scenes are brutal. I am not joking. Knives are not to be messed with.

And for gods sake, if anyone who does read these reviews of mine knows anyone in Hollywood – point them to THIS movie on how to do an action movie or the next Die Hard the RIGHT WAY.

Olympus may have fallen, but thankfully the action movie has not.