I've always found "magic" to be pretty cool. I think most people like it as well. Whether you actually believe in magic or just appreciate the intricate trickery involved, the performance put on by a magician is generally admired. Those who don't enjoy what magicians do are often bothered by the fact that they can't pull off the tricks themselves or even explain how they're done. This is what makes Now You See Me such an enjoyable film to watch. Not only do we get to see elaborate tricks performed, we're shown how they were done. And these aren't just card tricks or sleight of hand; these tricks are performed on a grand scale. I'm talking about robbing a bank in front of a crowd of thousands. The movie begins with four separate magicians being brought together to combine their skills for a magic show unlike anyone's ever seen. Jesse Eisenberg is the showman with great hands who kind of leads the group. The others include a mentalist (Woody Harrelson), an escape artist (Isla Fisher), and a master pickpocket who can also pick any lock (Dave Franco). The four of them make an all-star team of illusionists. When they perform their first show in Las Vegas, they appear to rob a bank in front of the spectators' very eyes. The audience is wowed, but word gets of this to the FBI. The magicians can't really be prosecuted though because the performance seems too impossible. To convict them of a crime would then mean that the FBI is saying magic is real. They'd look like fools and the press would be all over them. But this doesn't stop the main agent on the case from following their every move. The "four horsemen" as they're called continue to do shows. What also impresses the crowd is that these great magicians aren't keeping the money for themselves. They take the money and distribute it directly to the audience. (What a way to make fans.) With the addition of actors like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, it's an ensemble cast where everyone has an important role. Jesse Eisenberg brings the same cocky confidence he brought to his role in The Social Network which fits perfectly here as the leader of the show. After all, there's never been a good magician who didn't seem sure of himself. The movie moves quickly and there's never a dull moment. There's a great twist in the film that you probably won't see coming either. Altogether, Now You See Me makes for a very entertaining thrill-ride that sets itself apart from the rest. It opens on May 31.
When a movie makes a lot of money, the studio who made it automatically starts thinking about a sequel. Such was the case with Iron Man. They could have made one sequel and let that be it. But the folks at Marvel Studios decided to go bigger and make movies starring other characters from their comic book universe. They put them together in The Avengers and broke all kinds of records. So why not go ahead and make another Iron Man film? It was the one that gave Marvel the whole Avengers idea in the first place. The problem is... this 3rd installment was completely unnecessary. Iron Man 3 brings back Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Starks, the successful engineer who decides to become Iron Man. It also brings back Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts who has become his love interest, and Don Cheadle as his military buddy Rhodes. Rhodes became "War Machine" in Iron Man 2 but now goes by the less threatening moniker, "Iron Patriot". What Iron Man 3 doesn't bring back though are any original ideas. What made the first film so enjoyable was seeing a superhero with such wit and smart-ass humor. But by the 3rd time around, you got to bring something new to the table - and this film doesn't. As all superhero movies do, it introduces us to another villain in "The Mandarin". While it's certainly not a dangerous sounding name, he's portrayed as an Al-Qaeda-like terrorist bombing various parts of the United States. But having 69 year-old Ben Kingsley play the role doesn't make him seem like too much of a match for Iron Man. Even with an added twist thrown in later, the villain here isn't as menacing as Mickey Rourke was in the previous sequel. Of course, the film has tons of over-the-top special effects and the sound is incredible. But non-stop action doesn't make up for a weak storyline. While the constant action may keep things moving, the ridiculously cheesy ending was the nail in the coffin for me as far as giving the film a good review. The big climactic battle at the end even takes place at a giant cargo ship which has been the same setting for many movie endings before. It's not even the first movie with Robert Downey Jr. to end there (U.S. Marshals - the sequel to The Fugitive)! Not to mention, some of the CGI scenes started to feel like they were ripping off the far superior Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The lack of originality in this film makes me lack ever wanting to sit through it again.
There have been less and less movies with original ideas released over the last few years, with superhero adaptations and sequels being so in demand. Luckily, science fiction is one genre where there's always room for new ideas to be filmed. It's not based in reality, so the possibilities are endless for what stories can be made. The latest entry in the sci-fi genre is Oblivion. The movie takes place in the future after Earth has been attacked by aliens. Tom Cruise plays a technician trying to extract the planet's remaining resources for a colony where the rest of the survivors reside; he's told that he will join them after fulfilling his duties. Cruise narrates the film explaining this to the audience since we're not shown exactly what happened. But as the film progresses, we see that what he has told us may not be entirely true. Morgan Freeman shows up almost halfway through the film to inform him of this. It's great casting because the audience has followed Cruise's character and all that he's been saying, but now there's a possibility that he's been wrong about everything. After all, what other actor are you going to believe in a movie over Morgan Freeman? Cruise spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out right from wrong as we follow him combing the planet for answers as well as engaging in Star Wars style spaceship shootouts. There are a couple of surprises here and there, but the twists in this film are more feasible than that of the last movie I reviewed, Trance. Remember, sci-fi can get away with a lot more. There are elements of the film which can be compared to a smaller film from a few years back called Moon, but Oblivion has a more complex premise and also differs in that it's a visually stunning film. The sound and cinematography are excellent. The problem with the film is that it's very slow-moving. And even near the end when it resorts to a typical mindless battle scene (as so many smart sci-fi films unfortunately tend to do), it made me miss the slow parts just because they were still better to look at. But Tom Cruise gives as good of a performance as he can; another actor without Cruise's intensity wouldn't be able to carry a film like this where he's in pretty much every scene. This isn't a sci-fi classic by any means but it's good enough to at least watch once just for the sake of seeing a film with its own unique look.
Most film critics or general movie lovers prefer a film that makes them do a little thinking. There are only so many dumb, predictable films out there already. But on the other hand, it's not much fun when a film requires you to do too much thinking. And you're very likely to feel mentally exhausted after watching Trance. Here is the basic plot of the film, before it goes in a million different directions. Simon, played by James McAvoy, is an art auctioneer who becomes mixed up with a group of criminals trying to steal an expensive painting. The painting gets lost. Simon knows where it is but suffers amnesia after being knocked unconscious during the heist. Since he is the only one who knows the location of the painting, the criminals resort to using hypnosis on him. Rosario Dawson plays the hypnotist hired to help him gain his memory back. From that point on it's hard to tell what's real, what's not, and who's playing who. It is entertaining for a good while... trying to figure everything out and hoping for some satisfying conclusion. Everybody likes a good plot twist. But there are points in the film where you feel one twist has occurred, and then you find out that wasn't the case at all. There's too much blurring between the lines of reality and what might only be in Simon's head. The fact that I'm still not entirely sure what happened isn't exactly fulfilling, and there's already debate between people who've seen it proposing different theories as to what really happened. So credit goes to the film for engaging discussion. Yet I feel that the main reason I'd ever be encouraged to watch it again would be just to figure out what happened. At the same time though, the movie did keep me very interested throughout. But if you're not even sure whether you actually liked the movie or not once it's over, that means it still could have been better.
Gerard Butler gained fame in the United States as the lead character in the supremely macho film 300. Since then, his films haven't fared too well, especially when he's branched out into romantic comedy territory. There's nothing wrong with branching out. But the new film Olympus Has Fallen proves that "tough guy" is still the role he plays best. In the film, the White House is taken over by terrorists. Butler plays an ex-Special Forces operative who becomes the one person inside that the terrorists aren't aware of. It's a big house after all. The plot may sound a bit ridiculous. But early scenes showing the strategic takeover are done extremely well and demonstrate the possibility of how such a thing could happen if executed properly. Ultimately, the film plays out much like Die Hard set in the White House. That film is considered the greatest action film of all time by many. This movie doesn't quite match the awesomeness of that one but it's still a pretty fun ride all in all. And Butler excels in the art of kicking butt on film. Morgan Freeman plays the Speaker of the House who becomes acting president once the actual president is held hostage by the terrorists. Aaron Eckhart plays the president. Freeman adds some gravitas to what's a pretty straightforward action film, even if he's not given too much to do here. It's not a film that will stand out in your memory years down the road, except for the fact that it was released just 3 months before a similar movie called White House Down. But lovers of the action film genre will be given plenty to enjoy about it. Olympus Has Fallen opens on March 22.