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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.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two

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“I’ve been watching you, you’ve been watching me. And I’m afraid we’ve both been played for fools.”

Teen fiction trilogies; final films split into two parts; a star’s wasted talent; The Hunger Games ticks so many of my pet hate boxes that even if I was its target audience I would have absolutely no business sitting for 137 minutes to see the fourth part of this dystopian trilogy for kids. But there I was, having only recently watched Mockingjay Part One, surrounded by far too many people that are my age, all of us various degrees of curious as to how Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen was going to end her story.

Fresh off of an attempt on her life by fellow Games survivor Peeta, Everdeen’s love interest who’s been brainwashed by The Capitol and the people that rule the country from there, Katniss is still the poster girl for the country’s rebellion and has become the most important of commodities in the fight against corrupt President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Having cleared the way for an assault late in the last film, rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore), guided in part by former games maker Plutarch (the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman), has put in motion a plan to take the Capitol and the ruling presidency and bring a new time of peace to the country of Panem. Standing in her army’s way, however, is a city filled with lethal boobytraps and sadistic games that Snow has put in place to thin the ranks of the rebellion before they reach him.

Essentially on propaganda duty, Katniss is left at the back of the assault to be filmed across the battlegrounds in which the rebels are victorious, with her job being to inspire hope and a want to fight in the citizens of Panem while simultaneously instilling fear and doubt in their enemy through a steady stream of courageous looking vignettes to go with the wander through the maze of a city. Deciding to take it upon herself to be the tool of Snow’s destruction, Katniss fights through every inch of the ruling city to claim her target and finish the Hunger Games for good.

Including part one, Mockingjay is more than four hours long and for the most part, it is very well paced and almost perfectly formed. Part Two starts out relatively quickly after the slow-ish burn of Part One, not much time is wasted in getting to the action. As quickly as Katniss’ old squad leader Boggs is assigned as her lead guy again, her and her band of merry men are in the war ravaged city heading to Snow’s hideout and jumping into the maze of traps that await them. Each scene is filled with tension and shot in such a way as you feel you are in that ruined world with them; every moment you spend with Katniss has you wanting to take the next steps with her and push her to her goal. You are definitely rooting for this girl to get her job done and get back home.

But it feels too long. At two and a quarter hours, Mockingjay Part Two feels like a bit of a slog at times. It could have easily been shortened by half an hour and it falls victim to that most common of problems with films trying to do and say too much, it ends several times before it actually ends. Everything is tied up with a nice neat ribbon, but it could have been completely pulled from the film and it would have been much better. That’s my only real gripe though. The film, and the series, turned out to be pretty decent, not totally unwatchable fluff that, maybe, will pave the way for the teens it’s aimed at to look into other dystopian films and perhaps trip across greats like Battle Royale. That isn’t to say I’m going to run out and sit through the mountains of teen fiction guff that has been turned into into films for the undeveloped fools to digest, but I won’t run screaming from them just yet either.

Like Kristen Stewart before her, I still much prefer Jennifer Lawrence outside of the franchise that made her a household name, but i can’t fault her performance across the entire Hunger Games series and to see her develop from the girl who volunteered for the Games to the woman that spearheaded revolution is a pretty impressive thing to watch. But she’s only as good as the cast surrounding her and it’s a more than impressive roll call on that count. The previously mentioned Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland are joined by the likes of Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, a pair that kept me interested through the first instalment and are still excellent in the fourth with a few extras in the form of Daredevil’s Elden Henson and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer to name just a couple that all make stand out performances.

Bottom line, I’m not the audience that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two is chasing after, but it doesn’t stop the film from being just a little enjoyable. It’s a fitting conclusion to a series that has been consistently improving but at the same time, somehow, consistently average. Slightly overlong and a little predictable, but overall, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I’d go so far to say as I walked out of the theatre mildly impressed with what I’d just seen and happy I’d stuck with the series to its final, cliched shot.

Failed Critics Podcast: Hunger Games Special

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May the odds be ever in your favour as Steve Norman, Owen Hughes, Callum Petch and Chris Haigh volunteer themselves as tributes for this Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 themed episode of the Failed Critics Podcast.

We’ve got a young-adult adaptation inspired quiz to kick things off before covering news on: the latest sci-fi fantasy remake to get its own Hunger Games style franchise; Wonder Woman finally having an announced cast; and ask if it’s right that cinema chains should ban the showing of an advert created by the Church of England.

All of this, plus a review of the final movie in the Hunger Games series and a special triple bill, where the Failed Critics are assigned an individual actor from the movies and each pick their three favourite movies of that particular actor.

Join us again next week as Steve, Owen and Callum return for reviews of Bridge of Spies, The Good Dinosaur and Black Mass.

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The Week In Film – 24 September 2014: Over Elaborate Movie Titles

This weeks article is brought to you by the hashtag #OverElaborateMovieTitles. If you don’t get it the title, listen to the last podcast and then check out our Twitter page.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

true detectiveReal Crime Investigators

Casting news for the second series of hit HBO show True Detective has been drip fed to us this week. Colin Farrell is set to star alongside Vince Vaughn.

These are a couple of brave choices to pick for lead roles. Neither have the acting chops that stars of the excellent first series, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, have.

Both can be good on their day but both have had very hit and miss careers in the silver screen.

Vaughn was good in the likes of Swingers, Old School and Dodgeball but has been in a lot awful – just awful – comedies and the only serious role I can think of him in was the Jurassic Park sequel.

Farrell’s career has been better but he is still capable of a Miami Vice sized stinker.

The first series will command optimism for the second, the current cast may dampen it.

Where Batman’s From

The Batman prequel (I think) Gotham premiered in the US to mixed reviews.

The show tells the story of Gotham pre-Batman and features Bruce Wayne as a child and is more about the early careers of Commissioner Gordon and some of the most iconic villains from the comics.

From the sounds of it they tried to cram too much in to the first episode in terms of nods and references but hopefully it can develop in to a good series on par with fellow DC small screen show Arrow.

Men and Women Who Are Mutants

Bryan Singer is returning to the X-Men franchise to direct the next outing, X-Men: Apocalypse.

Singer directed the first two and Days of Future Past which absconds him from responsibility of the awful third and the standalone Wolverine films.

A Group of Mates

When researching this weeks column I found a quiz celebrating the 20th anniversary of Friends. 20 questions testing your knowledge on the much loved sitcom.

I am not the shows biggest fan, I can take it or leave it. Saying that I have probably seen every episode due to years and years of repeats.keanu reeves

I scored 15 out of 20. Respectable. Does the fact that a programme that I would not rank in my top 10 in its genre is so ingrained in my brain show just how good it really was?

I actually scored 1.7% less on a 15 question quiz on Spaced, which I like much more than Friends.

69 DUDE!

Some guys have all the luck. Keanu Reeves has found a girl in his library and in his pool in the last few weeks.

Imagine that. Having a pool and a library. Some towns don’t even have those resources.

Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.