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I was going to make a magician joke, but that wouldn’t be good.  Much like this movie.

I will say, it does have the occasional fun times scattered throughout.  This is such a weirdly constructed film though.  It’s also a very dumb film, and one I can’t really recommend (unless you’re looking for a Saturday morning getaway, then by all means, enjoy).

Where to begin?  It has a overly long prologue introducing our main characters, of which all you really need to remember is what their specialty is.  Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) is the illusionist, Henley Reeves (Fisher) is the escape artist, Jack Wilder (Franco, Dave) is the pick pocket, and Merritt McKinney (Harrison) is the mentalist.  The four of them are brought together to perform a massive show as the Four Horsemen, backed by Arthur Tressler (Caine), a guy with a lot of money.  Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) is a guy who knows the tricks of the show.  Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is the FBI agent assigned to bring down the magicians (it’s a caper film, plus a couple other things), and Alma Vargas (Laurent) is the Interpol agent sent to help with the case.  Cue magic acts, chases, and so many twists and turns, including one barely hinted at at all and emphasized by the mentalist character at the end with “We didn’t see that one coming!” because no one did.

It’s also an exasperating film at times too.  The structure is weird: there’s a massive magic trick, and then there’s the long exposition about said magic trick (the Vegas set occupies a lot of said exposition); rinse and repeat.  The film slows to a crawl when it’s just talk and flashbacks and reveals.  There’s no sense of flow or tension here.  The FBI are so thoroughly inept in this film, which I’m sure it could be handily explained away with the final reveal but it’s frustrating when they just can’t do anything of any worth.  It’s like Keystone cops on steroids.  And don’t get me started on the non-character that was Agent Vargas, who gets thoroughly insulted multiple times by Rhodes and still finds time to fall in love with him by the end.

There’s also the CGI usage in the film, and while it’s not exasperating, its usage almost throws the film into fantasy.  The Vegas set piece, for example, has Reeves pulling out curtains from her sleeves before revealing a really large contraption in the middle of their stage.  The New Orleans set and the New York City set has these odd CGI things as well.  There are plenty of practical stuff, which is good, but all magic in general has a grounding in reality, not matter how outlandish the trick is.  The CGI makes some of these things impossible.

So no, this really isn’t a good at all.  The characters are one-dimension, the structure is not good, and the endless twists and red herrings are too much.  It’s occasionally fun, but I can’t recommend a film that’s “occasionally fun”.

 

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It took me almost the entire summer to see this film. It’s not through the fault of others (though I had wanted to see it with other people), but somehow other, good to great films came along and I saw those. And I had to drive to see this movie too (I’m largely anti-driving today, given the fact that part of this review is being written on a train).

On to the movie, which by and large is quite good. When broken down, the situations can apply to just about anyone in a relationship, both heterosexual and homosexual, but given the twist of having the main couple as a lesbian couple with children (that, pardon my French, are fucked up but not too fucked up, which describes every single child in the history of humankind), some different things can be done with the formula.

If there is a glaring weakness, it’s Ruffalo’s character, Paul. It’s not his fault; the role of the schlep-like surrogate is perfect for him. What doesn’t work out well is the eventual recasting of him as the antagonist, wherein he becomes more of an opportunist and tries to get more involved in the family when things turn south. The shift is subtle enough, but it ruins the character, who throughout the film, despite his nonchalant attitude, comes off as a rather likable self-made man. Credit to Ruffalo for bringing that charm.

That change occurs during the third act, but the ending does wrap things up nicely. The first two acts are much stronger: much of the scenes of everyone meeting the first time is appropriately clumsy and embarrassing. Each scene tends to bring out the worst in the characters in often hilarious effect: Nic (Bening) is a raging alcoholic, Jules (Moore) is too analytical and micromanages everything, Paul offends everyone and then takes back everything he says to try and not offend anyone, and Joni and Laser (Wasikowska and Hutcherson) just want to get away from the table, period.  Jules ends up going to work with Paul, and their fling covers the second act.  Paul, being Paul, enjoys the sex, while Jules looks for acceptance and gets it with Paul.

The film is essentially a slice of life, just skewed in a way, with each character facing troubles and dealing with them in sometimes conventional and unconventional ways.  It’s entertaining, often times quite hilarious, and touching as well.  Save for the stumble in the third act, you can’t go wrong with this film.

So yes, it’s been out for two months already, and if you haven’t seen it yet, go ahead and do so.  You’ll enjoy it.

A-

I have to hand it to Martin Scorsese: he knows his craft, and he knows it well.

I say this because, even though Shutter Island isn’t the best thing it’s made, it’s still pretty damn good.  The story is one of those mystery suspense thrillers, in which the lead character, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) investigates the disappearance of one of the island’s patients.  He also can’t get the images of his murdered wife out of his dreams, which drives him to find the missing patient and to find another one of the island’s patient who is apparently behind the murder.  And, everything on the island itself isn’t what it seems: the head doctor, the administrators, the orderlies, everyone knows something that Daniels doesn’t.

I’ll stop that there, because there is a few twists along the way (including the final big reveal) that I won’t divulge.  I will say that, save for the final reveal (mainly because that one’s a shock), the revelations come subtly.  I had some feeling as to what the twist was going into the movie, but I guessed incorrectly.  Everything was there too.  If it wasn’t, I’d blame it on poor film making.  But this is Scorsese, and he handles his craft well.  He takes his players, set them all up, and when it comes time to figuring everything out, he eases it all in there.  He’s in no rush to tell his story (the total run time is 138 minutes, which is slightly shorter than some of his grander films).

The music is excellent throughout as well.  The opening notes over the title card suggest something large and ominous occurring, and doesn’t let up at all.  It’s handled even better with the reveals, simply because it doesn’t dominate the sound.  It’s the characters that show everything that’s going on, and with a cast that includes DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams, you know it’ll be done well.

Which is what this movie ends up being overall, a well done dinner.  Paramount stated that the reason it was delayed was because of financial reasons: they didn’t have the money to promote it during the awards season.  Personally, I’m not sure I see this movie winning much of anything, but it’s still pretty damn good.  An excellently structured, well acted, and well shot film.  What more can you ask for?

A-