Year 9, Day 84 - 3/25/17 - Movie #2,578
BEFORE: It's the end of Michael Caine week, and he's going to serve as my link back to modern films, a time machine of sorts that gets me back from the 1960's. This would be a great time to follow up with the new film "Going in Style", which shares at least 2 actors with tonight's film, only that film doesn't get released until April 7. Don't worry, I've got other plans.
I've also got plans to attend a Craft Beer event later today, so I've got to get all of my thoughts down right away, so I don't lose track of them.
THE PLOT: The Four Horsemen resurface and are forcibly recruited by a tech genius to pull off their most impossible heist yet.
AFTER: This is how far we've come since 1967 - "Billion Dollar Brain" focused on a super-computer that took up several rooms, and was designed to enable a billionaire to defeat Communism. In 2016, the "MacGuffin" of this film was a tiny computer chip that can "hack" into any system, create a backdoor that would enable a billionaire to spy on everyone. In both cases, I'm willing to bet that the technology in question is purely fictional, really just reflecting the zeitgeist of the times, a reflection of the audience's perceived fears.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's catch up with the Four Horsemen (though I'm going to try to avoid spoilers, in case anyone out there didn't watch "Now You See Me" Part 1. Go and do that now if you want, I'll wait.). At the end of the first film, the Horsemen pulled a disappearing act, and at the same time, the identity of their mysterious benefactor, the "Fifth Horseman" was revealed. And perhaps it came as a bit of a shock, but then, that's what the ending of magic tricks are supposed to be like. So when this sequel starts, the audience in the real world has something of an advantage over the audience in the movie - we know that the Horseman who appeared to die is really alive, and we know who the Fifth Horseman is.
But there's an open slot on the team, since Isla Fisher wasn't asked back, or perhaps was busy, or turned the job down, who knows. So what a surprise, a new token female shows up and wants to join the team, just as the other team members start to receive mysterious messages that inform them that it's time to come out of hiding, and resume their work exposing shady corporate weasels. Their first target is a telecommunications giant who's planning to download everyone's private data from their hot new trendy Octa-phones.
But the hackers get hacked, the tricksters get tricked, the players get played. Someone's got a better combination of science and showmanship, and happens to be targeting the same target, so the Horsemen have to check their situation, regroup and decide if they want to work for their new benefactor, and align with his agenda. But with the resources of the world's oldest (and best?) magic shop, can they find out who the man behind the curtain is, and turn the tables to get out of their current situation? And can they finally connect with the mysterious order of magic known as "The Eye", if it even exists?
Because of the set-up, where the first job goes sideways, and then the successive jobs don't really turn out to be what they seem, there's this overall feeling that nothing ever really comes to fruition in this film, it's a giant mess of frustration that doesn't seem to follow the rules of magic - set-up expectations, distract the audience, and then complete the. trick in a surprising way. Where's the damn "prestige"?
And I've got the same major problems with a magic trick-based movie that I had with "Now You See Me", which is that most often, movie magic is used to make the tricks look better, to make impossible things appear to take place. I maintain that to be really impressive, the filmmakers should have been limited to illusions that could happen in the real world, because to do otherwise is a form of cheating. Take for example, a case where a Horseman throws a deck of cards into the air, and as the cards cascade down and cover him, he somehow vanishes. There's probably a way to do this in the real world, but deep down, you just know that the director probably cheated, and used movie special effects, because it was easier. Some may argue that makes a better movie, but one can also say that it sullies things quite a bit.
NITPICK POINT: Just like a magician, a movie sometimes needs to telegraph its moves. How subtly this is done is what separates good tricks from bad tricks. Early in the film, we're shown the Horseman practicing card throwing, so you have to know that this is going to be important. And sure enough, there's a long sequence where card throwing is very important - but we were told earlier that there's only ONE Horseman who's very good at it, and then when the story needs them to be, suddenly they're ALL good at it? Shenanigans. Also, the act of card throwing is based on all playing cards having a consistent, identical weight and thus knowing all the aerodynamics involved. If one were to, for example, stick something on the back of that card, and if that object had any significant mass whatsoever, then the aerodynamics would be off, and anyone's skill with card throwing would not work so well. Throwing the card by the old rules would probably be impossible, and it would fly off to one side, or straight to the floor. But thanks to movie magic, the card here still works exactly as it needs to, to advance the story.
Same problem with the rain seen in one of the later tricks, which appears to stop in place at a Horseman's command, and then rise up toward the sky. Because there was a trick in the magic shop that telegraphed this scene, we know this was supposedly done with strobe lights. But NITPICK POINT #2, this strobe trick works in the real world with a constant stream of water, and raindrops don't fall in constant streams, they're random - so strobe lights couldn't make raindrops appear to stand still. Again, movie magic trumps real magic, and makes the impossible possible. Plus, even if the rain was appearing to freeze in place or move up, it would still really be falling down, and wouldn't the audience still be getting wet? The trick just wouldn't work. EDIT: The explanation on IMDB says that perhaps rain machines were used, for constant streams of water, but that still doesn't make the trick work for the other reasons.
I have to apologize, because it seems to be a bit of a spoiler that Michael Caine appears here, but he was in the first one, and nearly the whole cast from the first one came back. Plus, anyone can see from the listings on IMDB that he will make an appearance, as I did. But there are more surprises to come, and in a similar fashion to the first film, finding out who's been pulling all the strings may want to you to go back to the beginning and watch again, with that knowledge in mind. Well played.
But, sorry, NITPICK POINT #3, in this film the FBI goes to London to track the Four Horseman. Last time I checked, the "F" in FBI stood for "Federal", not international. Would the FBI even have jurisdiction there? I doubt it. Plus, they use a van that says "FBI" right on the side (and it's not even part of a fake sign that reads "Flowers By Irene"...), so how did they get their van across the ocean?
Also starring Jesse Eisenberg (last seen in "American Ultra"), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Foxcatcher"), Woody Harrelson (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Dave Franco (last seen in "22 Jump Street"), Daniel Radcliffe (last seen in "Victor Frankenstein"), Lizzy Caplan (last seen in "The Night Before"), Morgan Freeman (last seen in "Ted 2"), Sanaa Lathan (last seen in "Contagion"), David Warshofksy (last seen in "Taken 3"), Jay Chou (last seen in "The Green Hornet"), Tsai Chin, Richard Laing, Henry Lloyd-Hughes (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Ben Lamb.
RATING: 6 out of 10 hypnotic suggestions