Thursday, 29 August 2013

White House Down

WRITTEN BY: James Vanderbilt
DIRECTED BY: Roland Emmerich
STARRING: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Jason Clarke, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Joey King
RATING: 3 stars

White House Down is basically a funnier version of Olympus Has Fallen, which was released earlier this year – and in some ways, that is quite a good thing. The filmmakers know they have a ridiculous story about a terrorist attack on the White House, and so, they just have fun with it. The first two-thirds are enjoyable with some good one-liners and action scenes reminiscent of Die Hard (although nowhere near as good as that pinnacle of action films) but then the final act falls apart a bit. The film is also too long and needed to have about 20 minutes cut out. But, what really makes the film stand-out against similar films of its genre is that there is a strong cast in pivotal roles that elevate it just enough to make White House Down a little more memorable.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a former soldier hoping to join the Secret Service to impress his 11-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King) who is obsessed with politics but does not get to see much of her dad. A former friend/flame (it is not really clear) Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) works in the Secret Service and it is her job to hire new recruits. But she does not think Cale is up for the job because he never finishes anything and he is notoriously unreliable. But when terrorists invade the White House, it is up to Cale to protect President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) and prevent World War Three.

Tatum has never really impressed me with his acting chops, but there are some performances that are at least a little more convincing than others. Fortunately, his performance in White House Down is one of his best. He looks like an action hero and he is actually very good at the comedy parts too. Foxx was unfortunately less convincing as a president. He lacked the presidential aura and only had a few good comedic moments. Young King was quite good, although she over-acted in a few scenes. Gyllenhaal was also solid and it is good to see her in a different kind of role.

Jason Clarke plays Stenz, one of the key terrorists. He must be one of the most underrated talents in Hollywood at the moment. Following great performances in films such as Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless and The Great Gatsby, he is exceptional yet again in this film. He seems to get a lot of good small roles, but I would love to see the Aussie actor carry a film. James Woods is also powerful in a surprisingly complex villainous role. Richard Jenkins rounds out the veteran talent as the secretary of state.

Director Roland Emmerich certainly knows how to blow things up and deliver on the action in his films. He has previously given us Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and Godzilla to name a few, and White House Down is just as, well, explosive.


 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Blue Jasmine

WRITTEN BY: Woody Allen
DIRECTED BY: Woody Allen
STARRING: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Bobby Cannavale
RATING: 3.5 stars

We are nowhere near the Oscar season, but Cate Blanchett has already garnered plenty of buzz for her performance in Blue Jasmine. The great things is that it is well-deserved attention. Writer/director Woody Allen has created a fantastically tragic character for her to portray. Much like Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (a role Blanchett has also performed on stage), this protagonist – or perhaps antagonist, depending on your point of view – is a woman struggling to adapt after her former life of luxury crumbles. Blue Jasmine is not really a comedy or a drama. Like many of Allen's other works, it seems to straddle both genres. While the film is not as amazing as Allen's recent work in films like Midnight In Paris or Vicky Cristina Barcelona, it still stands strong.

Jasmine (Blanchett) is trying to move on with her life after her rich New York husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was jailed over some illegal business deals. But Jasmine has lost everything and does not know what to do with her life. So, she moves to San Francisco to live with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) until she can figure out her next move. Unfortunately, the sisters are complete opposites and snobby Jasmine does not approve of her sister's lifestyle or choice of men, including her current partner Chili (Bobby Cannavale). When Jasmine meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) she thinks she has finally found someone rich and socially acceptable to save her from complete ruin. But Jasmine's mental health remains an issue as she tries to get her life back on track.

Interestingly, not only does Allen not appear in this film himself, but there is no Allen stand-in character either to be his obvious voice. I suppose the closest character to that is Jasmine herself, though she seems more mentally ill than just neurotic as the Allen-type character usually is. Nonetheless, the writing is as good as we have come to expect from the auteur. The film also captures San Francisco beautifully without pointing out typical tourist spots, except perhaps the Golden Gate Bridge. The direction is also interesting because the film uses a series of flashbacks without obviously pointing out that it is a flashback. I also enjoyed the use of music throughout.

As well as Blanchett's stellar performance, which will have you feeling sympathy and disdain for her, there is also a strong supporting cast. Baldwin obviously enjoys working with Allen because this is their third collaboration. Baldwin is getting older and yet he still often lands roles as the loveable rake and it works for him. Hawkins is a strong performer and her character arc is quite interesting to observe. Cannavale is also good in yet another different role for him, while Sarsgaard has a small but memorable role.

The ending is left rather open-ended, but I suppose the next step for all the characters is fairly clear. Blue Jasmine is ultimately an interesting examination of mental illness.





Sunday, 25 August 2013

Red II

WRITTEN BY: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
DIRECTED BY: Dean Parisot
STARRING: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough
RATING: 2 stars

I don't think anyone asked for a sequel to Red, but one was made anyway. Having now seen it, I can only hope we don't get a third instalment. Red II was far too long, had too many characters that were left underdeveloped, and was not particularly funny either. It is a shame to see so many good actors involved in such a mess of a film. Unless you really loved Red, there is not much merit in seeing the sequel.

Frank (Bruce Willis) is trying to live a normal life with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) when his old friend Marvin (John Malkovich) tracks them down with a warning that they are all in danger. At first, Frank insists he is retired, but when circumstances suddenly change, he is forced back into the game. Marvin and Frank explain to Sarah that years ago they were assigned to a mission called Nightshade where they were supposed to bring in parts of a nuclear bomb into Moscow. But the mission went awry and now, years later, people are after them. Their old friend Victoria (Helen Mirren) warns them that MI6 has also put out a contract for them. The group travels around the world including Paris, London and Moscow to find the bomb creator Dr Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) and get to the bottom of the mystery. Along the way, they are hunted by Russian spy Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones), American Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) and Korean Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee).

The best aspect of this film was Malkovich's acting. He was the funniest character and his delivery was great. McDonough was also solid and quite menacing. Hopkins had an interesting character but after the initial promise, he then became rather two-dimensional. Mirren and Parker had their moments, but they were ultimately not very memorable. Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to just be going through the motions. Willis was almost boring as the protagonist, Zeta-Jones continued her lacklustre run of recent performances with this role, and Lee was a caricature.

The action sequences were not very exciting either. These days, action fans can enjoy some ridiculously fun thrills in films like the Fast and Furious franchise or Bourne films. They are so outrageous that action films are constantly having to raise the bar of extraordinary explosions and fight scenes. But Red II fails to do this to even a moderate extent.

Red II falls flat in its action, comedy and surprisingly even its acting. Don't waste your time or money on this film.





Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Stoker

WRITTEN BY: Wentworth Miller
DIRECTED BY: Chan-wook Park
STARRING: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver
RATING: 4 stars

I think I may be in the minority, but I really liked Stoker. Stylistically, it is one of the most beautiful films I have seen in a long time and yet it is essentially "just" a psychological thriller. Ahh, but it is so much more than that – from the mysterious screenplay to the exquisite cinematography, apt music and use of lighting, and convincing acting. Stoker is South Korean director Chan-wook Park's first English-language film. What a great introduction to this artist for those not interested in foreign films.

India's (Mia Wasikowska) father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) has died in a car accident and she is not taking the loss very well. She withdraws from the people around her more than ever and begins to act strangely. Her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is also struggling to move on with her life. While Evelyn has a strained relationship with her daughter, she happily welcomes Richard's brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) into their lives. India feels uncomfortable with Charlie's arrival because she never knew her uncle existed until he came to live with them. India begins to investigate why her Uncle Charlie has entered their lives now and what he might want with her and her mother.

The film is a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, which also has a mysterious Uncle Charlie, and the title is perhaps also a nod to Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula, as it has a similar tone to the classic tale. It is very cleverly done by screenwriter Wentworth Miller, who is better known as the lead actor in the popular television series Prison Break.

Stylistically, Park has done well to give his film a unique feeling. The transitions between scenes is artistic but not in your face and annoying. It seems effortless because Park is so good at it. The close-ups on the actors' faces are also used to great effect. Even the opening and ending credits are original in their style.

Kidman has been on quite a roll lately with some exceptional performances that have been underrated. This role is another compelling display of her abilities. Goode is also the perfect balance between charming and sinister. The film really belongs to Wasikowska though and she gives a great performance, especially in a rather disturbing shower scene. Mulroney has a pivotal small role and Jacki Weaver also appears as a suspicious aunty. The Stoker family dinner scene with her is appropriately awkward.

It is great to see a psychological thriller that relies more on cinematography and acting to tell a story, rather than cheap gimmicks. Stoker is worth a look.






Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Kick Ass II

WRITTEN BY: Jeff Wadlow
DIRECTED BY: Jedd Wadlow
STARRING: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey
RATING: 2.5 stars

The first question you are probably wanting an answer to is this: “Is Kick Ass II as good as the original film?” Unfortunately, the answer is no. Fortunately, it is still a fun film full of graphic violence and hilarious, foul-mouthed one-liners from a teenage girl. While some may be critical of the level of violence and crude humour, most fans of the original film will still enjoy the journey the film takes the characters in this new installment.

Dave Lizewski/Kick Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is afraid of patrolling the streets alone following the events of the first film, so he asks Mindy Macready/Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) to join forces with him. But Mindy made a promise to her dead father that her guardian Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut) aims to enforce, which means Mindy must give up crime fighting and live a normal teenager life. So, Dave joins a team led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) which also includes Doctor Gravity (Donald Faison) and Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), as well as several other small-time heroes. Meanwhile, Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) begins to plot his revenge against Kick Ass by creating his own super villain - The Motherfucker.

Taylor-Johnson and Moretz have more experience as actors since the first film so they give stronger performances in the sequel. Moretz still manages to steal many scenes with her one-liners and is a delight to watch. Carrey seems to be the replacement for Nicolas Cage, and while he is quite funny, Cage's character had so much heart and the sequel is missing that. Small roles for Faison and Booth are good, as well as John Leguizamo who needed a bigger role as Motherfucker's bodyguard. Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina) was also hilarious and a little scary at times.

Kick Ass II has copped a lot of flack from critics who loved the first film and found the sequel to be horribly violent. Even Carrey has spoken against the film's graphic aggression. Some might also think the characters have become caricatures of their former selves. But I think those people are being a little too sensitive. Kick Ass II is a silly, fun film. It does not pretend to be anything else.



Friday, 16 August 2013

What Maisie Knew

WRITTEN BY: Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright
DIRECTED BY: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
STARRING: Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, Steve Coogan, Joanna Vanderham
RATING: 3 stars

Based on the novel by Henry James, What Maisie Knew is a tragic story about parenthood and the turmoil that children suffer when their parents go through a fierce custody battle. With powerful performances and a heartbreaking story, the film is an emotional journey for audiences.

When Susanna (Julianne Moore) and Beale (Steve Coogan) separate, their daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile) is forced to spend 10 days at a time with each parent. Beale marries Maisie's young nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and in the hopes of getting sole custody of her daughter, Susanna marries young bartender, Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard). The self-centred parents love their daughter but are not the best parents and often lose track of who's turn it is to take care of Maisie. Soon, it is left up to Margo and Lincoln to take care of Maisie.

Aprile is amazing in this film and that is a testament to how well she was directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. They were able to get a lot out of her to create a very raw performance and build a strong feeling of emotion for her character. Moore's character was hard to like but she was very good as a trashy, wannabe rock star. Coogan's character was also very selfish but it is good to see the funny man in dramas. Skarsgard is convincing and has great chemistry with Aprile. His character couldn't be more different to his infamous True Blood character. Vanderham is also solid and her character is endearing despite her flaws.

My main issue with the film is the ending, which I won't spoil, suffice to say it needed more closure. It was also too slow in parts, especially considering it was not a very long film.

What Maisie Knew is an interesting examination of how children view adults and the way they deal with their problems, teaching us that perhaps children are more aware of the grown up world than we may think.



Thursday, 15 August 2013

We're The Millers

WRITTEN BY: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris
DIRECTED BY: Rawson Marshall Thurber
STARRING: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter, Emma Roberts, Ed Helms
RATING: 3.5 stars

Usually, when you have four writers on a film, it becomes a bit of a mess of ideas. Fortunately, that was not the case in We're The Millers. There are plenty of fun gags, but the plot is always moving along nicely too, so no scene feels out of place. There is also a good amount of character development so we learn a lot about the protagonists and care about their journey. But mostly, and importantly, it is just plain hilarious with its inappropriate and wild humour.

David Burke (Jason Sudeikis) is a pot dealer who loses his stash and money when he is attacked by some thugs. Facing a large debt to his supplier, Brad (Ed Helms), David makes a deal to smuggle "a smidge" of drugs from Mexico into the United States. To make it through customs, David enlists the help of his stripper neighbour Rose (Jennifer Aniston), geeky neighbour Kenny (Will Poulter) and runaway teenager Casey (Emma Roberts) to pretend to be the Miller family on a 4th of July caravan vacation. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

Sudeikis is a likeable actor. His comedic timing is spot on and he has great chemistry with Aniston. Speaking of Aniston, she was quite convincing in this motherly role but surprisingly lacked believability as a sexy stripper. Even her much talked about seductive strip tease scene lacked spark. Despite her great figure, she is more of a "girl next door" than a bombshell. But we can overlook that because she is a clever comedic actress and her performance in this film was solid. Roberts was also strong, but it was Poulter who stole most scenes. He was hilarious in everything from his rap scene, spider bite horror and kissing lesson. I won't spoil the details of any of those moments. Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn and Molly Quinn play another family caravanning in the area and very funny too.

We're The Millers is not going to stimulate your intellect, but it sure will make you laugh out loud a lot with its crude humour.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Elysium

WRITTEN BY: Neill Blomkamp
DIRECTED BY: Neill Blomkamp
STARRING: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura
RATING: 3 stars

At the very least, you would have to admit that Elysium is original. The film is full of action, suspense and graphic violence, while also exploring social issues like class and race. It also holds a mirror up to society for countries like Australia where the asylum seeker issue is paramount. The parallels drawn between the science fiction world and reality are fascinating to examine. While no message is drilled into the audience - because the film is clouded with battles and explosions that provide great entertainment value - the film does raise questions worth considering for those willing to delve deeper into the moral of the story and think about how it applies to our world today.

In the year 2154, the rich live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population remains on Earth where there is pollution, disease and poverty. Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is in charge of enforcing anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the people on Elysium. She even uses undercover mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to enforce the law in some unethical ways. But it does not stop rebels on Earth from trying to reach Elysium. Meanwhile, Max (Matt Damon) has had a troubled youth on Earth but is trying to get his life back on track. When he absorbs a lethal dose of radiation while working at a factory, Max decides the only way to save his life is to get to Elysium and use their advanced healing machine. With nothing to lose, Max agrees to take on a dangerous mission to save his life and help those left stranded on Earth.

If any other action star had been cast as Max, the film would probably not have the same impact that it does with Damon at the helm. For starters, unlike many action stars, Damon can actually act. His character has quite an emotional ride and Damon brings the right amount of sympathy. He also has good chemistry with Alice Braga who plays his childhood friend. She is also a catalyst for many of Max's actions and builds his character. Foster has been very fussy about her film choices in recent years and I assume she chose this role so she could work with writer/director Neill Blomkamp, following his success with the unique film, District 9. But she should not have bothered with the role because she was embarrassing to watch. Her accent was all over the place and there were too many close-ups on her face showing a permanent scowl. She was a caricature villain. In contrast, Copley was a more convincing villain. He was both creepy and menacing. Diego Luna also has a small role as Max's best friend and gives a solid performance, while Wagner Moura is also impressive as leader rebel, Spider.

Although I had some problems with the resolution, which I will not spoil, I still enjoyed Elysium for its originality. If you like action films with a little more substance than The Fast and The Furious, but that also makes more sense than Oblivion, then Elysium might be the film for you.



Sunday, 11 August 2013

July Releases

I was away for a month and have been playing catch up on several films I've missed in July. Here are a few brief thoughts on some I have seen:

The Lone Ranger - Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) tells the story of how lawman John Reid (Armie Hammer) became The Lone Ranger fighting for true justice. I have a few problems with this film. First of all, while the story has some intrigue, the "twist" can be seen coming from a mile away. Secondly, the chemistry between the leads is almost non-existent. Depp is quite funny but I am tired of seeing him play the same kind of quirky character in a different costume for each film. The Lone Ranger is also too long, but director Gore Verbinski does deliver some good action scenes. 2.5 stars.




This Is The End - While attending a party at James Franco's house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse. This film is simply hilarious. I've always wanted a Pineapple Express sequel and I suppose this is as close as we're going to get. There are some great cameos, especially from the Backstreet Boys, Emma Watson, Paul Rudd and Channing Tatum. The film has such a ridiculous concept and while there are some jokes that go too far, it is a fun experience overall. 4 stars.



The Heat - An uptight FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) teams up with an unorthodox Boston cop (Melissa McCarthy) to take down a drug lord. Who would have thought teaming up these two women for a buddy film could be so good? This film had me laughing out loud a lot. Unlike The Lone Ranger, their chemistry was fantastic. Apparently there is a sequel planned. I can't wait! I hope Marlon Wayans returns and gets a bigger role. 4 stars.



The Wolverine - Set after the X-Men films, Wolverine is living alone and miserable after the death of Jean Grey. He visits Japan to say farewell to an old friend who is dying but finds himself having to protect the man's granddaughter from several people who want her dead. Meanwhile, he is confronted with the possibility of becoming mortal. This film is much better than the previous Wolverine film, although it is a little slow in parts. There is a lot of renewed interest in this franchise following the success of X-Men: First Class. With another X-Men film in the works and all the talk about Hugh Jackman's abs, it hardly even matters if the film is any good because there's just so much buzz. Fortunately, the film is very good. Comic book fans will be pleased to see the focus on the Japanese years. The female leads supporting Jackman (Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima making their feature film debuts) are very good too. 3.5 stars.



Behind The Candelabra – Talk about powerful performances. Michael Douglas is fantastic and Matt Damon gives his best performance ever on-screen. The film is based on the autobiographical novel by Scott Thorson (Damon) and his tumultuous five-year relationship with icon Liberace (Douglas). It is a fascinating story about Liberace's secret homosexuality juxtaposed with his extravagant lifestyle and entertainment persona. You would have to wonder what Liberace would have thought of the film if he were still alive. The film is a little long and could have explored other plot points further, but it is an intriguing exploration of Liberace's private life. There are also some great performances by co-stars including a very funny Rob Lowe and a versatile Scott Bakula. 3 stars



Friday, 9 August 2013

Pain and Gain

WRITTEN BY: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely,
DIRECTED BY: Michael Bay
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johsnon, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub
RATING: 2.5 stars

As a journalist, I have written my fair share of articles about people who have been in trouble with the law for doing ridiculous and stupid things. But I don't think I have ever come across a story as long and embarrassing as the true story depicted in Pain and Gain. I was not familiar with the case before seeing the film, but I later learned how outrageous the true story was, although the film certainly changes and exaggerates a lot of events. Survivors have shunned the film for representing the criminals sympathetically and making it a comedy when there was so much tragedy involved. But, it is actually a bizarrely funny story and it is this fact alone that makes the film so intriguing. Unfortunately, the result is not quite as powerful as the concept because director Michael Bay has over-directed the film and polluted it with unnecessary action when it should be a black comedy.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a Miami bodybuilder in search of the American dream. He recruits fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict bodybuilder Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a devout Christian, to help him with a ridiculous get quick rich scheme. They fumble and fluke their way into kidnapping unlikeable millionaire, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), and force him to sign over his wealth to them. But, as things start to unravel for the trio, they are forced to commit more crimes, including murder to cover up their screw ups.

There are some interesting aspects to the film, including the way the story is narrated by different characters. It is a good way of learning about each of their points of view. There are also some very funny moments – many of which are created by Rebel Wilson, who plays Mackie's love interest. Ken Jeong also has a good small role as a motivational speaker who tells Daniel to be a "doer" instead of a "don't-er". Unfortunately, there are also a lot of jokes that fall flat and could offend some people. At about two hours, the film is also too long.

Wahlberg holds the film together reasonably well and has obviously put in some effort to bulk up extra to be like a bodybuilder. Johnson is perhaps the most sympathetic of the bad guys and it is a good role for him to play a sensitive, religious, beefy guy who cannot seem to stop snorting cocaine. Mackie has some of the more embarrassing scenes involving his manhood and is quite funny in parts, while Shaloub is roughed up a lot in the film and is entertaining. Ed Harris is also very good as the private detective who investigates the trio of misfits.

Pain and Gain has its moments of goofy fun, but it lacks any memorable staying power.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Jobs

WRITTEN BY: Matt Whiteley
DIRECTED BY: Joshua Michael Stern
STARRING: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Dermot Mulroney, J. K. Simmons, Lukas Haas
RATING: 2 stars

Steve Jobs is without a doubt one of the greatest minds in technology the world has ever seen. He was also, according to many people, incredibly difficult to work with and not the most socially friendly person. His story is a fascinating one and less than two years after his death, we've already got a film to chronicle his inspiring journey. Unfortunately, Jobs is not an inspiring film. It focuses on his early years but barely touches on some hugely significant aspects of his personal and professional life. The film is also very slow and fails to engage audiences, which is ironic considering the influence of the man himself.

The film follows Jobs' rise, fall and rise again in the technology world but stops at 2000 on the cusp of the release of the iPod, which began the real Apple revolution. While it is great to learn more about those early years, including his college drop out, it would have been equally interesting to learn about the hurdles post-2000. It also would have been helpful to learn more about his time in India, which seemed to be a huge influence on him.

Kutcher is not known as being a very good actor. There has been a lot of talk about the casting choice and whether he could pull off the role. Unfortunately, the skepticism is warranted because, while Kutcher was not terrible, he was not particularly memorable either. He seemed to be reciting lines for long speeches without showing any emotion on his face. He had the Steve Jobs walk but perhaps overdid it at times. The supporting cast was a little stronger, including Dermot Mulroney as the friend and foe Mike Markkula, Josh Gad as the funny and emotive Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Lukas Haas as Jobs' old friend Daniel Kottke.

If you really want to know about Steve Jobs' life, I would recommend reading about his life, rather than watching this film.



Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Now You See Me

WRITTEN BY: Ed Soloman, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
DIRECTED BY: Louis Leterrier
STARRING: Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine
RATING: 3.5 stars

Now You See Me raises questions, for those interested in magic, about looking closely at the details and paying attention to tricks of misdirection. It is an interesting point because the closer you look at the film the more it crumbles. But, if you are willing to suspend some reality and immerse yourself in the film, you will actually enjoy Now You See Me. There is a strong, likeable cast that holds it together and a twist at the end. Even though I saw it coming, I know many others will not. As far as magic films go, it is not as impressive as The Prestige, but it is still full of clever tricks. In fact, it has an Ocean's 11 vibe about it, which keeps the humour and intrigue flowing.

We are first introduced to four magicians – arrogant J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), his former assistant Henley Reeves (Fisher), mentalist Merritt McKinney and pick-pocketing card trickster Jack Wilder (Franco). Each magician receives a tarot card that leads them to an old apartment. The films jumps to one year later as they are enjoying the success of their magician supergroup called the Four Horsemen, sponsored by Arthur Tressler (Caine). Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) is also watching their every move as he tries to solve how they perform their magic. But when they perform a show in Las Vegas, they manage to use their magic tricks to rob a Paris bank. They are then pursued by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).

The cast includes an impressive list of actors, led by Ruffalo. He never plays it safe and is always a completely different character in everything he does. His performance in Now You See Me is brilliant. Eisenberg is also convincing and Harrelson is quite funny. Laurent is good but the sexual tension between her character and Ruffalo's character was hardly necessary. A better love story was the one between Henley and Daniel, which was not explored enough. In fact, while Fisher's character was interesting, she was unfortunately underused. Franco's motivations are also one-dimensional. It would have been good to flesh out their characters more. Nonetheless, both give solid performances. Perhaps we will learn more about them in a possible sequel. Caine and Freeman are reliable actors and are also a welcome addition to the film as pivotal characters.

Perhaps Now You See Me over-reaches with its story and falls flat in some areas, but it sure is fun.