Woody Harrelson

Now You See Me

Now-You-See-Me-Final-Poster

2013

K/O Paper Products/Summit Entertainment

Directed by Louis Letettier

Produced by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Bobby Cohen

Screenplay by Ed Solomon and Boaz Yakin

Writing a review of a movie like NOW YOU SEE ME is a tricky proposition. It’s a movie about magic and illusion and like a well done illusion, it spoils the trick when you know how it’s done. NOW YOU SEE ME is put together like an illusion and the best way to see it is by knowing as little about it as possible. But let me take a whack at it. *Derrick cracks his knuckles*

Daniel Atlas (Jess Eisenberg) is a David Blaine type of street magician, preferring performing his illusions as close to his public as he can. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is a master escape artist. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is also a street level magician but he’s more of a hustler/con man than Daniel. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist/hypnotist. They’re all contacted by an unknown benefactor who turns them into team of performers called The Four Horsemen. Sponsored by billionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) within a year they become the toast of Las Vegas, known for spectacularly mind-boggling illusions. And then they pull off a real trick: during a performance in Vegas and with the assistance of an audience memeber they rob a bank in Paris, apparently by using actual teleportation and then give the money to the audience.

NOW YOU SEE ME

FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent) are assigned to investigate the case. The Four Horsemen can’t be arrested for the crime because there is no way that the theft could have been accomplished except by using real, actual magic. And the FBI is not about to cop to that. Enter ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) who now makes a lucrative living revealing how illusions are performed. It’s a job that doesn’t make Bradley very popular with magicians but he doesn’t care. He agrees to help Rhodes figure out how The Four Horsemen pulled off the robbery and the ones that they’re going to do next as Bradley is convinced they aren’t finished.

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He’s right, of course. But is he right about there being an unseen, unknown Fifth Horseman working behind the scenes, pulling all their strings? And are The Four Horsemen just very skilled, very creative illusionists or are they performing real magic? And why steal all that money just to give it away? Are these heists just parts of a larger, grander illusion The Four Horsemen are planning or are they elaborate initiations into a secret society of magicians known as “The Eye” that The Four Horsemen seek to join?

That’s a lot of questions and the whole fun of NOW YOU SEE ME is watching as they’re answered one by one. Here’s the attitude you should adopt when you pay your ticket and sit in your seat to watch the movie: don’t even try to figure it out as it’s happening. It’s like watching David Copperfield at work. It’s best to just sit back and enjoy as the illusion is performed. Try to figure it out after it’s over but don’t burn up your brain cells trying to pull apart how it’s done while it’s being done. You won’t figure it out. Trust me.

There’s a lot of star power at work here and they’re all fun to watch. Watching Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine go at it toe to toe is nothing short of wonderful and I loved all their scenes together. By now Jesse Eisenberg can play a hyper-arrogant snotty intellectual in his sleep but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to see him do it again. Isla Fisher doesn’t have a lot to do but look good but she does it awfully well. Dave Franco gets to shine in an amazing fight scene with Mark Ruffalo. Woody Harrelson sorta surprised me as he’s really laid back in this movie. He works as part of an ensemble and stays there. Mark Ruffalo is an actor who’s a lot better than he gets credit for and he once again demonstrates it in this movie. Michael J. Kelly and Common also appear in small but pivotal roles and Elias Koteas has a brief and unaccredited cameo. Keep your eye out for him as he shows up in the last place you’d think to look for him. Everybody is on their ‘A’ game in this movie and the only thing I can say is lacking is the characterization. It’s awfully short on that but long on plot. But the energy of the direction by Louis Leterrier who also directed two of the “Transporter” movies, “The Incredible Hulk” and “Clash of The Titans” more than makes up for the skimpy characterization.

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But the bottom line is that NOW YOU SEE ME is all about the unexpected. It’s a heist/caper movie, which I love and it takes place in the world of magicians and illusions which fascinates me to no end because it’s all about misdirection and deception. And making you think you’re seeing one thing while something else entirely is happening. And that’s exactly what going on in this movie. I had an awful lot of fun watching NOW YOU SEE ME. It’s an entertaining, professionally made summer movie. Enjoy with my blessing.

115 minutes

PG-13

The Hunger Games

2012

Lionsgate

Directed by Gary Ross

Produced by Nina Jacobson

Screenplay by Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray

Based on “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

In the interest of full disclosure I should start out by saying that I haven’t read the book the movie THE HUNGER GAMES is based on nor did I have any intention of reading it.  Now before you start jumping up and down and calling me a hater, hear me out.  THE HUNGER GAMES is a Young Adult novel and I generally don’t read Young Adult novels because…well, let’s face it: I’m not a Young Adult.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t read it if recommended to me by folks I trust.  I ain’t that much of a snob.  It’s just that I leave the Young Adult novels to the young adults.  After all, there are things I read that I think should be strictly for adults my age that they shouldn’t be reading.  It’s all about respecting boundaries for me.

But I ended up seeing THE HUNGER GAMES because of a couple of reasons: the first is that since the movie opened there has been a small firestorm due to some really nasty and unpleasant racially inflammatory tweets going around.  Seems as if some ‘fans’ of the book were upset upon seeing the movie and that some their beloved characters were (horrors!) played by black actors and actresses.  Now if they are fans of the book as they claim they they must not have read the descriptions of the characters.  From what I’ve read, the way Suzanne Collins describes a lot of the characters they could be biracial or black.  If you’ve been hanging out here for any length of time or listened to me on Better In the Dark then you’ve heard me quote Harlan Ellison: “We are not entitled to our opinions;  we are entitled to our informed opinions.”  So I felt that in order to know what I was talking about if this subject came up in discussion with my friends and/or enemies, I should at least see the movie.

The second reason?  Patricia wanted to see it.

Before jumping into the movie proper I should get out of the way that I don’t see what the fuss about the black characters are.  The way the characters are written, they could honestly have been played by any ethnicity.

THE HUNGER GAMES take place in a future North America that has been devastated by war.  Rebuilt into the nation of Panem it is not divided into 48 states but 13 Districts.  District 13 attempted to overthrow the oppressive government with no success.  Ever since then, The Capitol of Panem created The Hunger Games.  A yearly competitive televised pageant in which two teenagers from each District between the ages of 12 to 18 are selected by lottery.  The teens are trained, placed in an arena and fight until only one is left alive.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to save her sister Primrose (Willow Shields) from The Hunger Games.  Along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson)  she is sent to The Capitol for training.  They have an entire staff to supervise them including chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) alcoholic mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) himself a survivor of The Hunger Games and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) their stylist.

In between training and televised interviews with Hunger Games commentator Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) Abernathy struggles to get Katniss to open up and be more friendly to attract ‘sponsors’ who will help her stay alive through the competition. The situation is complicated by Peeta, who during his interview claims to have been in love with Katniss ever since they were children.  But is he telling the truth or is he playing to the audience, hoping to win favor from sponsors?  And does any of this matter when they’re in the arena?

For a movie that promises mass slaughter, THE HUNGER GAMES doesn’t deliver.  In fact, most of the killings take place off camera and the ones that we do see are shot in that mollyfoggin’ shaky cam so that it’s impossible to tell what’s going on.  I enjoyed the look of the movie as it has wonderful costume and production design.  The Capital feels like a real city inhabited by real people.  But I don’t understand the point of building us up with the promise of seeing these characters fight to the death and then not showing it.  And the movie is so emotionally distant so that when someone does die it has no impact, no feeling.  At least not to me as I feel I never got to know any of these characters at all.  It doesn’t help that the movie is directed with such seriousness and grim despair.  The movie badly needs energy and it just doesn’t have it at all.  It’s actually pretty dull going most of the way.  My thanks go to Woody Harrelson and surprisingly, Lenny Kravitz as the both of them are highly entertaining to watch and they kept my interest up.

So should you see THE HUNGER GAMES?  Chances are if you’re a fan of the books then you already have or plan to do so and so nothing I say will change your mind.  And that’s okay.  I get the very strong idea that this movie was made very much with the fans in mind.  But for the rest of you, I recommend you wait for the DVD.

142 minutes

PG-13

Game Change

2012

HBO Films

Directed by Jay Roach

Produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goeztman

Screenplay by Danny Strong

Based on “Game Change” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Anytime and every time I watch a movie that is based on incidents that actually happened or that starts off with the words; ‘This Is A True Story’ I immediately start thinking of bovine excrement.  Because for me, unless somebody was right there with a camera at the moment that it happened, you’re not accurately documenting events as they actually happened.  And even then, documentaries can be edited to reflect the attitudes, prejudices and politics of the filmmaker (I’m looking at you, Michael Moore) But even that’s all right with me.  We’re human beings and I don’t think that any of us can be truly and completely objective about anything that we passionately care about.  And that includes politics.  A subject that in the past decade has polarized this country in a way none of us have ever been seen before and probably never dreamed could happen.

My point being that I can’t take movies based on true events  entirely seriously.  They’re made long after the fact when people have had time to analyze, scrutinize, discuss and dissect what happened and why.  Factor in that everything everybody remembers or doesn’t remember is flavored by their emotional, mental and even physical condition before and after adds up to too much of a gap for me to accept everything presented in a movie based on true events in good faith.  But that was before we entered the age of YouTube, CNN, TMZ and two dozen 24-hour news channels.  This is pointed out by McCain Campaign Chairman Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) to Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) early on in GAME CHANGE and he’s right on point.  The 2008 Presidential Election was without a doubt the most compelling and important election in American history as it was the election that saw an African-American man elected President of The United States.   It was played out in public in a way that elections never had been before thanks to the communication and social media that now dominates and in so many ways infects our society.

And it also gave us Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska who was picked by Senator John McCain’s staff to be his running mate.  Both are still with us and if GAME CHANGE teaches us anything is that even if Sarah Palin didn’t become Vice President of The United States, she still won.  Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain (Ed Harris) is losing the race and he knows it.  In desperation he calls up genius political strategist Steve Schmidt and begs him to come on board his team and save his campaign.  Schmidt’s plan is to find a running mate who can compete with the rock star popularity and megawatt charisma of Barack Obama.  Campaign Manager Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) thinks he’s got just the thing: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who appears to have all the qualities they need and more.

She’s a married mother of five, everybody loves her, she’s accessible, she’s extraordinarily popular and it certainly doesn’t hurt that even after having five kids she’s gorgeous and looks wonderful on camera.  The problem is that she is woefully unprepared for the job.   She’s devastating in public appearances where she demonstrates a rock star personality equal to Barack Obama’s.  She’s spectacular when giving a speech.  But in horrendous one-on-one interviews with the press it’s as obvious as a slap upside the head that she doesn’t know a thing about domestic and foreign policy.  She’s ignorant of basic government practices and information that fifth graders know.  She can’t even name a single newspaper even though she claims to read “a lot of them every day” She makes statements that are blatantly untrue. And it soon becomes clear to Schmidt, Davis, McCain speechwriter Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan) and Senior Advisor Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson) that they’ve been given the mother of sow’s ears and they have absolutely no idea of how to turn it into a silk purse.

I wish that HBO had went ahead and made a whole mini-series based on the book as it deals with a whole lot more than just the McCain/Palin campaign which actually is only one section of the book.  But that’s a small quibble.  Taken purely as drama, GAME CHANGE is worth seeing just for the really strong cast that sells the story.  Ed Harris, Woody Harrelson, Jamey Sheridan, Peter MacNicol, Sarah Paulson and Ron Livingston are all great here.  And as Sarah Palin, Julianne Moore looks and sounds so much like her that it’s downright scary.  And while it would be easy for the movie to give us the Tina Fey version of Sarah Palin, the movie is remarkably fair in its depiction of her.  We see the opportunistic Sarah Palin who suddenly found herself thrust onto the world stage and promptly milked it for all it was worth.   But we also see the frightened and very much out of her league Sarah Palin who starts out as a goldfish among sharks but quickly learns how to be a barracuda.  I also liked how the movie showed the many times when John McCain was urged by his staff to run a dirty, mud-slinging campaign and refused.  As played by Ed Harris he comes across as a man of dignity and honor.

It wouldn’t take much for GAME CHANGE to have been pushed into a full-blown political satire as it comes awful close at times.  And through the use of today’s technology which enables the actors to be flawlessly inserted by digital black magic into archival footage, the line between fact and fiction is erased far too well, if you ask me.  Well worth your time to watch if you have HBO.  And if you don’t, be sure to look for it on DVD or Netflix.

120 minutes.  

There’s no rating for GAME CHANGE.  While there is no sex or violence in the movie, be advised that the f-bomb is dropped numerous times.

After The Sunset

2004

New Line Cinema

Produced by Beau Flynn, Jay Stern and Tripp Vinson

Directed by Brett Ratner

Screenplay by Paul Zybyszewski and Craig Rosenberg

Story by Paul Zybyszewski

I strongly suspect that the main reason why AFTER THE SUNSET was filmed was so that the cast and crew could have one hell of a working vacation in The Bahamas.  The movie was filmed on Nassau and New Providence Island and showcases the gorgeous Atlantis Hotel and Resort.  The movie makes The Bahamas look so beautiful and so much fun that halfway through the movie I wanted to shut it off, wake up The Wife and go book a flight down there right away.   Which is part of the problem with AFTER THE SUNSET.  You’re so busy looking at the gorgeous scenery and the cast enjoying it so much you’re really not paying much attention to the story.  And with a killer cast like Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris and Don Cheadle you would think you’d be on the edge of your seat savoring the remarkable acting talent on the screen.

You won’t and I’m willing to bet you won’t even care.  AFTER THE SUNSET is such a lightweight movie and it’s obvious that the cast aren’t even going deep into the bag of acting tricks that they’ve all proved in the past they’re more than capable of.  There are no heavy performances in this one and no big scenes.  AFTER THE SUNSET is as amazingly laid-back movie with no more substance than cotton candy and it’s a movie you’ll be hard pressed to remember three days after you’ve seen it.  But while you’re watching it you’re enjoying what you’re seeing.

Max Burdett (Pierce Brosnan) is a Master Thief of the old school.  He’s never been caught and his trademark is that he always has an absolutely unshakeable alibi.  Matter of fact, Max always has concrete evidence that he was somewhere else whenever a heist was pulled.  Max’s latest heist involved stealing the second of three large diamonds once owned by Napoleon.  Max has already stolen the first.  The second diamond is being guarded by ace FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson) but Max is able to steal the diamond right out from under his nose with almost ridiculous ease that makes Stan the laughingstock of the FBI.

Max and his gorgeous lover/partner Lola (Salma Hayek) head off to The Bahamas for a well-earned retirement.  Stan has been suspended and his career is on the verge of the abyss.  On his own he tracks them down because Stan knows that the third Napoleon diamond is on a cruise ship heading for The Bahamas and he knows that Max knows.  And Max knows that Stan knows that he knows.  And Lola knows that Max knows that Stan knows that Max knows.  You see, Lola doesn’t want any part of the heist.  She honestly wants to retire and give up boosting ice.  But Max has a clever scheme to get both Stan and Lola to help him steal the diamond and the best part of it that the two of them won’t even know it.

It’s driving poor Stan crazy trying to keep one step ahead of the wily Max, even with the help of local police detective Sophie (Naomie Harris) who has her own problems trying to put local crime boss Henri Moore (Don Cheadle) behind bars. But seeing as how Henri and Max enter a partnership because Max is going to need Henri’s island contacts to steal the diamond, she agrees to team up with Stan to get the goods on both of them.

If this sounds to you like a harmless caper/crime/screwball comedy/romantic thriller you’re absolutely right.  AFTER THE SUNSET incorporates all of these elements as well as those of the buddy film since Max and Stan surprisingly develop a real friendship.  Max puts Stan up in the $25,000 a night Bridge Suite in The Atlantis Hotel.  Stan calls up Max and says he can’t be bribed that easy.  Max says it’s no bribe: he just wants Stan to see how Max lives.  There’s a really funny scene late in the movie where Max and Stan have messed up their respective relationships with Lola and Sophie.  Max goes to Sophie to try and talk her into taking Stan back while Stan pleads Max’s case to Lola.  The disbelieving look on the faces of the two women is priceless.  Max and Stan become so buddy-buddy that at one point Stan’s boss asks him seriously: “Are you and this guy dating or something?”

But that’s also a problem with AFTER THE SUNSET: it switches gears so fast that you’re never able to get comfortably into a mood.  The romantic scenes between Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are either full of steamy sexual energy or seem as if the screenwriters are using lines and gags stolen from “I Love Lucy” reruns.   The heist scenes are either full of action and tension as any of Brosnan’s James Bond movies or so incredibly devoid of any common sense and logic you wonder if Max Burdett studied under Wile E. Coyote.  The scenes with Brosnan and Woody Harrelson are either deadly serious as when they’re pointing guns at each other in a John Woo type standoff or completely slapstick as when they’re on a boat fishing and catch a shark.  What happens next wouldn’t be out of place in a Martin & Lewis comedy.

Brett Ratner isn’t exactly one of my favorite directors as I absolute detest the “Rush Hour” movies and well made as it was, “Red Dragon” was a totally unnecessary film.  He’s all over the place here, never settling down for more than a minute as if he figures we would get bored if the movie was an out-and-out heist thriller and threw in as many elements as he could to keep things jumping.

I’ve got no complaints with the acting.  As I’ve said earlier, everybody in the cast looks like they had an absolute blast making this movie and it comes across on the screen.  And it’s worth watching just for the supernaturally beautiful Salma Hayek.  She looks so good in this movie it made my toes tingle.  I know women who have said that they’ve never thought about being a lesbian but Salma Hayek could make them change their mind in a New York minute.  It’s literally impossible to take your eyes off the screen when she’s on it.  And she has a really good rapport with Pierce Brosnan.  I’d really like to see them do something else together, maybe a modern version of “The Thin Man” Brosnan goes through 90% of the movie unshaven and rather scruffy looking but I don’t think the ladies are going to mind one bit. Don Cheadle has fun with his role as a crime boss but he has way too little screen time.  And his last scene is so abrupt and out-of-left field you may feel cheated by its resolution.

So should you see AFTER THE SUNSET?  It’s very difficult for me not to recommend this one.  The main thing in its favor is that it’s thankfully unpretentious.  It is what it is and that’s all it is.  It’s not trying to be a Big Important Film or win any Academy Awards.  It’s light, easy on the brain and the eye.  The guys have Salma Hayek and Naomie Harris to drool over while the ladies can groove on Pierce Brosnan, Don Cheadle and Woody Harrelson.  The locations and scenery are beautifully photographed and you feel like you’re catching a tan just looking at the movie.  It’s an okay Late Friday Night movie to chill with the wife or girlfriend.  AFTER THE SUNSET definitely isn’t going to make either of you feel like you wasted your time.

Rated PG-13

97 minutes