Now You See Me (2013)

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Directed by: Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans, Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk)
Written by: Ed Solomon (screenplay), Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt (screenplay and story)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

I’ve learned to distrust trailers, as much as I enjoy them.  More times than not, a movie doesn’t live up to the hype presented in a 2min clip (Warm Bodies being the current exception).  In this case, the how’d-they-do-that thriller had me from the trailer and I rushed out to see it.  The movie, about four magicians who conduct a series of heists and the cop who is trying to capture them, has a great premise but it flounders as it tries to focus too much on a story that isn’t deftly constructed.

What I liked:  The movie is, quite simply, entertaining – if you ignore the holes.  It moves forward fluidly with a chuckle here and there and the characters are engaging if underdeveloped, to the movie’s great misfortune.  The Four Horsemen: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco have characters that suit their strengths as actors, which would be great fun if they were ever onscreen as more than a plot point.  Their grand spectacles are funny and baffling but fail to generate any tension.  Mark Ruffalo carries the film as the frustrated cop trying to catch up to their trail of larceny.  Riding his wave of frustration is the best part of the movie.

What I didn’t like:  Again, the premise is what engages but the follow-through is lacking.  For a movie that claims it is smarter than we are, I was overtly aware that it wasn’t, on most counts. That said, I did enjoy the trick reveals and the magicians’ great spectacles.  However, the movie never delves any deeper than the heist itself.  As David Denby noted in his New Yorker review, “It seems that the director, who also made “The Incredible Hulk” and “Clash of the Titans,” will do anything to distract us from the emptiness to which he has devoted himself.’  That said, we don’t all need depth to be entertained and I would recommend the movie as a fun summer flick.

My rating: Enjoy it for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

IMDb 7.5     rotten 47%

Headhunters (2011)

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Director: Morten Tyldum
Writers: Lars Gudmestad, Ulf Ryberg and Jo Nesbø (Novel)
Starring: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Eivind Sander and Julie R. Ølgaard

It’s no easy task to recruit some people to watch a movie with subtitles (if it isn’t the Millennium Series) and I promoted the Norwegian film Headhunters to friends and family to the point of unrealistic expectations in the hopes that they would overlook their prejudices and enjoy one of the best crime thrillers I’ve seen in awhile.  I mention this because it was my father who most aptly described the movie as the credits began to roll:  “You see,” he said. “If you have a good story, you don’t need a big budget.”  This essentially sums up what I found most enjoyable about this movie: The story.  It has the feel of, as director Morten Tyldum mentions in the extras, an “American action movie” but was made for “the budget of those movies’ lunches.”

I’m sure if I deconstructed the plot I would find anomalies but the story, about a headhunter who moonlights as an art thief to satisfy the unattainably expensive tastes of his wife, coupled with gripping action, sleek design, raw characters and smooth acting as well as the beautiful Norwegian countryside (if in fact that is what we’re seeing) makes the movie a bite-your-fingernails adventure.

What I liked: The movie surprises you.  The formulaic action elements are all there but how the movie gets you from A to B is what makes this a real thriller.  While some critics have argued that the plot holds its twists too close the chest, I would argue that the ambitiousness of the film isn’t the main draw: it’s the journey.

What I didn’t like: The story doesn’t always make sense and the final reveal is unnecessary but, again, the holes enable the director to have some fun and I appreciated it.

My rating:  I wish I had seen it twice on the big screen.

IMDB: 7.5

Rottentomatoes: 92%