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Now You See Me 2: New Film, Same Show
Despite a handful of visually entertaining moments, Now You See Me 2 is a largely disappointing sequel. Those that weren't exactly won over by the first movie definitely won't be swayed into enjoying the follow-up, which ends up resting on a seen-it-all-before premise whilst delivering flimsy execution of magic with very little flair or freshness.
Picking up about a year after their last major magic stunt which ended up outsmarting the FBI and putting rival and local debunker Bradley (Freeman) safely behind bars, The Four Horseman - members including J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Franco) - have now gone underground, busy keeping a low profile whilst waiting for their next big mission from The Eye.
It's not long before the group is once again put to work when FBI agent Rhodes (Ruffalo) receives word that a major telecommunication company has been stealing and selling personal information and now hopes that the group - including newcomer Lula (Caplan) - can stage an appearance and expose their shady dealings to the public. However, their plan is soon foiled when they are magically transported to China, where the company's mastermind (Radcliffe) decides to blackmail them into carrying out a heist of his own.
Directed by John M. Chu, Now You See Me 2 manages to embrace a bubbly spirit and a brisk pace from the very beginning, giving the movie that 'brainless fun' trait and a unique visual style which separates it from its predecessor. Unfortunately, though, while Chu's efforts for trying to make sure that the action set pieces are slickly executed and generally engaging, there is a certain lack of substance and very little connection to the story as a whole, making all of its flashiness and visual grandness just surface-based. The main problem comes in the form of the over-explanations which lay behind the story's every move, while the magic tricks - which are not performed on stage anymore but are executed through a series of heists - are rather routine and predictable.
With the slight exception of Harrelson and Ruffalo, who manage to keep their characters engaging throughout, most of the characters serve as nothing but meandering plot devices, as opposed to fully rendered characters who we, the audience, are supposed to connect to and care for. Even newcomer Daniel Radcliffe couldn't muster up enough magic to create an impact.
Overall, fans of the first movie should find no problem enjoying the second round of flashy nonsense that Now You See Me 2 has to offer. As for everyone else, don't expect much.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.