Tag Archives: Heist

Now You See Me 2

“I hope you’ve been watching closely.”

In 2013, The Transporter director Louis Leterrier brought a little ensemble heist caper to the screen with Now You See Me. With aspirations to be the next Ocean’s Eleven, the film added a cool magical element to spice things up a little from the norm and hopefully make it stand out from the crowd. Sadly, the film set up well, went in a good direction but ultimately shot it’s load early, leaving a limp and disappointing ending.

So of course, we needed a sequel.

A year after successfully escaping the FBI and convincing the world that one of them is dead, the Four Horsemen are itching to get back into the limelight. Our heroic magicians, playing out their own Robin Hood story are finally handed their latest mission by the secret society that they are a part of, The Eye.

When their latest series of tricks set to expose and embarrass another upstanding asshole goes horribly wrong, The Horsemen find themselves the targets; not just of the local law enforcement agencies, but from a faceless voice who has a job for them. Foiling their escape and dropping the magicians off in Macau, the owner of the voice reveals himself to be technology prodigy Walter Maybry; a man with a somewhat personal issue with the wand waving band of thieves. Having been sent off to steal a super computer chip, the Horsemen must find a way to pull off their heist, expose the psychotic tech genius and keep themselves alive and out of a cell.

*Almost* the whole gang is here. Jessie Eisenberg’s Danny Atlas, Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder and Woody Harrelson’s Merrit McKinney all return as the Horsemen, led by – SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FIRST FILM – Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Shrike. Out for the sequel are Isla Fisher and director Leterrier. In are replacement Horsewoman? Horselady? Lizzie Caplin as Lulu; new director John M. Chu (the man behind such hits as Step Up 2 and GI Joe: Retaliation) and shiny new bad guy Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Maybry.

The film plays more or less the same beats as the sequel to the film the original was copying. That is to say, we are sitting down to watch a magical Ocean’s Twelve. With a little added stupidity.

Maybry has dragged the illusion loving tea leaves into his diabolical little plot because they messed with him and his interests in the first film. He’s also recruited McKinney’s twin brother Chase, who is basically Woody Harrelson, with Matthew McConaughey’s worst, most permed, romcom hair and an awful soul patch. As the story twists, turns and appears to unravel in front of you; nothing is as it seems as we build towards our big reveal.

Sadly, the sequel has the same pitfalls as the first. There are some really good ideas, some interesting set pieces and I am really liking the slightly more comedic tone the film takes. And I’ll be honest, the trailer for this film has had me intrigued for a little while. Specifically, I wanted to know what the hell – the unusually bearable – Jessie Eisenberg was doing in the rain and the context to the whole thing. I’ve got to say, it’s probably one of the coolest scenes I’ve seen recently. But I won’t ruin anything, mainly because it’s part of the third act but it is a butt load of fun to watch. Equally excellent is the team’s effort to steal the computer chip central to this whole story. A five minute long, beautifully choreographed set piece that had me enthralled the entire time.

If only the rest of the film was as good as these scenes.

For a heist movie, it’s clever, it’s a bit of fun and for the most part it’s a decent film. I’d even call it a good old romp. But like its predecessor, it leads to a damp squib of an ending that is far too convoluted for its own good and drags on for far too long. If you liked the first one, even a little bit, I’d recommend Now You See Me 2. But it doesn’t break any new ground. If you didn’t like the first, this wont do anything to change your mind.

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Focus

Will Smith’s latest movie, the heist-pulling con-comedy drama, Focus, is clichéd, it’s predictable, but it is hard to hate.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Will Smith and Margot Robbie in FocusCon-man comedy-drama’s are a dime a dozen. The majority of those that get churned out of Hollywood’s money-making factories all follow a very simple, very tried and tested format.

Firstly, set up the characters and assemble a team; pull a few small jobs; set up the big one and look like they’ve failed before– SURPRISE! [That] wasn’t the real con. [THIS] was. It’s a format that has always served the genre well and continues to do so, regardless of how artistically it may be presented from time to time. From Steven Soderbergh to Guy Ritchie. From The Hustler to The Thieves. Sometimes it works more successfully than others, of course, but it never really strays too far away from that traditional stratagem. Focus is no exception.

Written and directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, who have previously worked together on the feature films Crazy, Stupid, Love and I Love You Philip Morris, they reunite to bring their own spin on the con film. Staring the ever-popular Will Smith as Nicky, a professional con-man from a family of con-men, and rising-actress Margot Robbie as his protégé, Jess, they bring their own brand of humour and sex-appeal to what is essentially a disappointingly bland script.

The narrative of the film (or its focus, if you will) is based around the relationship of Nicky and Jess. After Jess tries and fails to pull her own amateur con on Nicky, unaware of who he actually is, she eventually convinces him to take her under his wing after what can loosely be described as a job interview. A series of small but well paying jobs later, a hint of romance between the couple blossoms and gambling problems and presents itself, before the biggest job they’ll ever pull appears. It’s nothing outstanding and certainly something you’ve no doubt never seen before (unless you’ve somehow managed to avoid watching any con-man film during your lifetime.)

Let’s get the performances out of the way first of all. To use modern parlance, Will Smith’s gonna Will Smith. He likes to show off his physique, so every other scene where he’s not looking pukka in a suit either shows him in a tight shirt or no shirt at all. His comic timing hasn’t yet deserted him which does make him perfect for the role. He’s charismatic, he’s funny, he’s just reliable ol’ Will bloody Smith putting in a shift that’s at a level somewhere between his Anchorman 2 cameo and Men In Black 3. His opposite, Margot Robbie, does what few actors and actresses manage to do when sharing the screen with the Fresh Prince, in that she often steals the spotlight away from him, much like she often did with DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Despite having to deal with a much weaker character, whose role as exciting young pick pocket is snatched away from you before you’ve noticed and replaced with generic love interest, she still lights up the screen with her enthusiasm and humour. In fact, on a number of occasions, her conversations with ‘sidekick to the stars’ Adrian Martinez were the most natural and genuinely funny moments in the entire movie. It made me wish I had a friend like Martinez.

The thing is, the performances aren’t the issue here. Even the series of escalating con-jobs the characters pull aren’t a problem either. We all watch films like this knowing exactly how the story will pan out and what level of character we’re soon to be dealing with. What we all hope to see instead are creative and inventive cons, heists, twists and swindles. It doesn’t have to be tense, the jobs don’t even have to be on a grand casino-robbing scale, so long as they’re entertaining and fun. To be fair to Focus, it isn’t intelligent, it isn’t clever and the twists are polarised from the get go. Nevertheless, they still remain the most entertaining aspects, as they quite rightly should.

I can’t complain about the build up to the individual jobs, both large and small, because quite frankly the fast-cuts and jazzy music simply makes them hard to dislike. As soon as Robbie is strutting through a packed street, pinching wallets and slipping off watches, it’s all made to look so incredibly slick. A scene at a football stadium that sees the culmination of (admittedly well plotted) teasing is both predictable… and, surprisingly, absorbing. If you’re anything like me, you’ll think you know how everything is going to pan out eventually anyway, but it’s that need to see the film to its conclusion that will keep you rooted to your seat.

Therefore, whilst it undoubtedly has a badly written and predictable story, full of genre clichés and obvious twists, I can’t complain too much about the cons. If I were feeling generous, I’d probably even describe them as well directed. Focus is, if nothing else, impressively and suitably flashy. At worst, these fancy-Dan jobs are diversionary tactics to keep you from thinking too hard about the intelligence insultingly poor “who’s playing who” romance angle between Robbie and Smith. It tries to keep you guessing right until the end. Unfortunately, you’re not wondering what will happen, it’s more that you’ll be wondering when it will inevitably be revealed. It’s infuriating how often they felt the need to explain away events and how it will relate to events-yet-to-be.

Still, as I say, it’s hard to dislike. Occasionally I sat up and took notice at how well it had been cut and edited; just little things, like when Jess walks into a clothes shop, or as they’re pulling a few minor con jobs during her “interview”, or (as seen in the trailer) when a maniac smashes his car into Will Smith’s sporty little two-seater Peugeot etc. Evidently Requa and Ficarra know how to shoot and write stunts more so than they know how to build character relationships worth emotionally investing in.

Conversely, at other times, I was practically stifling laughs at how awkward and downright terrible it was. A super-serious-sex-scene that I assumed was being played for laughs, given how early on they make reference to the fact that Jess can’t “play” men and is utterly crap at being sexy, wasn’t actually meant to be so funny. It was a genuine, proper, “please take me seriously” sex scene that just happened to be absolutely dreadful. If there’s one problem between the dynamic of Robbie and Smith, it was that romantic chemistry just never sparked.

Overall then, as I said on last week’s podcast, it’s painfully obvious right from the get go exactly what sort of movie Focus is going to be, but it’s hard to hate it. If you can do your utmost to stop second guessing it, just sit back and let things play out as intended, then it does have a number of redeeming qualities. It’s funny when it wants to be, the jobs they pull are aren’t the most daring of any con-man film I’ve ever seen but are set at just the right tempo, but it won’t be anything new to regular film watchers. It plugs the gap of this year’s dumb but flashy light hearted thriller. To compare it to recent con-films, it’s more Now You See Me than it is American Hustle. Fine to watch if there’s nothing else on at the cinema and you’ve got a burning desire to munch some popcorn, but not really a particularly special film.

Focus is released in cinemas nationwide tomorrow (27 Feb). You can hear Owen talk about the film on last week’s Failed Critics podcast with Steve, Matt and Paul.

The Love Punch

The Love PunchIt may be definition of lightweight, but that turns out to be The Love Punch’s biggest strength, second only to the natural charisma and chemistry of leads Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

If you’ve been following along with the website this past week, you may have noticed that I went to the cinema a lot.  A total of six times, in fact, with five of those being turned into reviews (the fifth is the one you’re reading right now, in case you’re wondering, keep up).  You may have also noticed that a whole bunch of them sucked uncontrollably.  Divergent, unfathomably stupid and a seemingly endless slog.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2, permanent potential pulveriser that learnt absolutely nothing from its last attempt two years ago.  Khumba, earnest and full of heart but amateurishly made and majorly derivative.  Transcendence, “computers are scarwey and women should stay in the kitchen instead of science-ing because their emotions can’t make the tough decisions”.

In short, it’s been a bad week for movies.

I fully expected to continue regretting my voluntary decision to see and review all the recently released non-horror movies that I could in the last week as I sat down to watch The Love Punch.  I’d seen one truly good film all week up to that point (Richard Ayoade’s absolutely phenomenal The Double) and I wasn’t expecting a film whose trailer’s centrepiece gag was having its middle-aged cast all rush off to the toilets for a wee in quick succession to one another to suddenly turn around my fortunes.  But do you know what?  Perhaps it’s due to having been beaten down by incessantly bad films for the better part of a week, perhaps my standards have been sufficiently lowered as a result, perhaps they caused a desire in me to give a positive review to something, frickin’ anything, at this point, but I really enjoyed The Love Punch.

OK, before we move on, I should probably clarify that it’s not actually down to any of those things.  I may be human, but I can still tell a bad movie from a good one even when I’ve spent an extended period of time wading through the crap.  So, if The Love Punch did stink to high heaven, I’d still be capable enough to tell you that it did.  But it doesn’t, it’s actually really good.  Not spell-bindingly amazing, not “Best of the Year” and most certainly not flawless but far better than its title of “The Second-Best Film I’ve Seen This Past Week” would make it sound, considering the competition.

Our story revolves around Mr. and Mrs. Jones, both divorced and staring down old age like it’s the barrel of a gun.  Richard (Pierce Brosnan) is days away from retirement, has just broken up with yet another in an apparently lengthy line of young wives and is nursing feelings of loneliness and boredom.  Kate (Emma Thompson) is saying goodbye to her youngest daughter as she leaves for college, is facing life alone for the first time and has resorted to Internet dating to try and find love.  They’re brought back together when Richard’s company is liquidated of its assets by its new owner, taking with it everybody’s pensions but, most importantly, Richard and Kate’s which they’d stored away in order to pay off university fees, mortgages and basically everything that needs money these days.

In response, they both hop on over to France to confront the man personally responsible for the mess (Laurent Lafitte).  When he gloats about how he doesn’t have to give them jack as what he did was apparently totally legal, and he does so whilst all but twirling his non-existent moustache, the pair decide to get back at him another way: by stealing a diamond necklace from him valued at $10 million, recruiting their mutual married friends (Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie) to help out.  Does such a set-up lead to a lot of comical misunderstandings, testing of the married couple’s relationship, the possible romantic reconciliation of our two leads with one another and a whole bunch of things you have likely seen and promptly forgotten about before?  Why of course it does!

So, it’s silly and light.  There’s little depth here.  It’s not really got anything to say, it’s not pushing any boundaries and nobody in the story is ever in any real danger (not even during an Italian Job homage near the end).  Honestly, though, that’s actually one of the film’s biggest strengths.  There’s not a bad bone in its body, it’s all very pleasant and nice but it doesn’t feel patronisingly so or cynically calculated.  It feels genuine so it comes off more like a nice warm prolonged hug than an endless talking down to or insulting of my intelligence.  That’s a harder line to walk than one might think but The Love Punch pulls it off and that atmosphere is what helps propel the film through its very brisk 90 minute run time.

The other thing that helps make The Love Punch a very recommendable experience?  Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan and the chemistry they have.  OK, maybe that’s three things, but they are all great here.  Thompson and Brosnan are, in fairness, very charming and likable actors who could coast their way through roles without even trying and probably get away with it (let’s face it, Brosnan did for four straight Bond films) but they’re on fine form here.  Both understand that this isn’t the next Schindler’s List but that such a fact doesn’t give them carte blanche to sleepwalk through the movie.  They strike up a great chemistry together, rattling off witty dialogue and fast-paced bickering so naturally it almost seems second nature to them, and that chemistry helps sell the romance at the centre so that I actually felt super warm inside at the finale.  They’re clearly having a lot of fun, too, which again helps with the enjoyably breezy and light nature of the film.

Joke-wise, this is supposed to be a comedy after all, much like the rest of the film, no ground is being broken and you probably won’t remember any of them or be quoting anything from it in several months’ time.  They are often funny though and this is because, and this is why The Love Punch often gets away with things that the similarly “let’s watch some aging and otherwise classy actors go have a fun holiday somewhere and be all silly”-themed Last Vegas doesn’t, the jokes are based on the film being aware of how silly it is and are based on the characters, not the actors.  Most of the time.  For example, there’s a section where our four actors put on some scuba gear and ridiculously go paddling out into the sea in order to break into their mark’s cliff-side mansion.  Despite how that may read, the film doesn’t play it as “Look!  It’s James Bond and Emma Thompson in scuba-diving gear!  That’s inherently funny!  Laugh!”  Instead, it goes for “Look!  Kate and Richard’s plan involves them having to get into scuba gear that makes them look rather stupid!  Isn’t this whole thing rather silly and unbelievable?”  And it is, so I laughed.

An earlier example involves Kate having to go undercover by pathetically passing herself off as a relative of the bad guy’s bride-to-be at her beach-based hen party; cue a montage of Kate partaking in volleyball, jet-skis and parasailing whilst attached to a speedboat.  Once again, the film doesn’t treat the joke as “Look!  It’s Emma Thompson in a 50s-style bathing suit partaking in young people’s activities!  You wouldn’t have expected her to do that, would you?  LAUGH!!”  Instead playing it as “Look at what Kate’s gotten herself into, now!” and that’s a key distinction because these don’t just feel like an endless series of one-note “Look how we managed to get [x] actor to debase themselves for your entertainment now!” scenarios, they instead feel grounded in actual characters, like there’s a reason for their existence.

I did specify “most of the time” for a reason though and that’s because, yes, sometimes the film does cross the line and ask us to laugh because “it’s [y] actor doing a wacky thing that you wouldn’t have expected because THEY’RE GETTING OLD!” and you can tell when it’s crossed that line because it will bust out the super slo-mo camera and back the scene with hip-hop for ‘ironic’ effect.  These only stick out because they’re so lazy and they betray the effort that’s gone into crafting the better jokes.  Like the way that Kate and Richard will both enter into a very quick diatrabe argument whenever one forgets to use the term “ex” when explaining their relationship to people before snapping back like nothing had ever happened, or their brief interactions with their university-based hacker son and his criminally unlucky roommate, or the utterly paper-thin nature of their heist plan, or what happens when the bride-to-be starts having a public crisis of conscience, or when Jerry, the husband friend, buys a gun.  They’re often easy, but there’s effort put into that easiness, a choice to try and make funny jokes that don’t offend anyone or have much teeth but are still funny, which is something that lesser comedies can’t seem to pull off.

So, yeah, it’s lightweight but when has that necessarily been an automatically bad thing?  Something nice and light can be appealing comfort food, a nice time at the cinema to escape from life’s troubles for a while, that’s trying very hard to not try hard in a way that isn’t immensely loathsome.  The Love Punch, then, is the film equivalent of a slice of trifle and I very much love a nice slice of trifle every now and again.  It’s very British, smooth, lacking in edge but leaves you feeling all nice and warm and fuzzy for a very good while after digesting it.  Of course, trifle doesn’t have a very enjoyable to watch Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should check out The Love Punch because it’s better than trifle.  Or something.

Callum Petch took her home to his place, watchin’ every move on her face.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!