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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Now I've Seen It, Now I'm Never Watching It Again

I have a very love-hate relationship with magic. On the one hand, I love the concept of using sleight of hand and mind tricks to create an impressive illusion or even to influence another person, but on the other my insatiable ego cannot withstand the frustration of not being able to work out how the trick was done. It's like loving Ben and Jerry's but at the same time seething with each delicious spoonful due to your lack of knowledge of ice cream production.

How they get the fish in there will forever be a mystery.
In keeping with that, I also have an equally tempestuous relationship with movies about magic. The Prestige is another masterpiece of Nolan-ness, merging the best of Victorian garb and David Bowie with Wolverine, Batman and a giant cloning machine, making it essentially the Three-Course-Dinner gum of the film industry; why would you ever need anything else? And yet, at the same time, I can never seem to fully enjoy it. I think it's partially due to not enough Bowie, but mainly because in a medium where you could be watching aliens blast the ever-loving shit out of each other with planet-sized balls of boiling plasma, magic is just so bloody difficult to make impressive on the big screen.

The fact that the movie's epilogue turns you into a giant blueberry doesn't help proceedings either.
Now You See Me is the new magic movie on the block, all hip and cool and with light-up trainers and a shiny Charizard. The poster tells us everything we need to know, with a high angle shot of the main characters standing in an aesthetically pleasing arrow formation being the universal sign language for Hollywood crime caper movie. Our rag-tag group of unlikely tricksters and fast-talkers will come together to pull off the most mind-bogglingly complex robbery (that the least coked-up Hollywood writer that day could scrawl on toilet paper before passing out) leaving the authorities, and the viewers, in their wake until the massive twist at the end that brings everything together. But this time there's magic! Magic makes everything awesome.

Except Harry Potter, which manages to consistently achieve absolute mediocrity.
The film starts out strangely promising with a sensationally well done opening sequence that had my brother Googling how they did it. Soon, we're introduced to a quartet of various magic styles, each promising a potentially novel contribution to the crime caper genre. We're hoping for sleight of hand to make keycards or phones vanish and reappear, mind tricks to bypass security, being locked in the safe they're trying to break into and then breaking back out of it. That kind of stuff. The classic tropes of magic being turned around and used to perform a daring heist.

Yeah... That doesn't happen.

It's probably easier if you guys just stay like that until I've finished talking.
Now You See Me, in a very suitable style for it's subject matter, spends the majority of it's 2 hours of Chinese water torture tricking you into believing it might actually be a good film. Starting out in humble beginnings with a joyous romp through the world of card tricks, mind reading and escapism, all of a sudden we're thrown into a overblown mess of nonsensical plot twists and some tosh about a secret organisation of Egyptian magicians (Egypticians). The whole movie holds a certain air of The Box; plenty of promise at the start, then, well, the rest of the movie happens and proceedings take a decidedly harsh nose-dive. Unlike our grumbly-voiced fable-equivalent of a wooden plank with a nail in it, however, this film not so much as crashes into the north tower in an explosion of frustration and terrible CGI, but more glides slowly into the Hudson river, leaving everyone involved confused, angry, and slightly damp.

Pictured: A subtle metaphor for poorly executed deus ex machina.
This film zig-zags around the mess of a plot arc and film styles faster than a sexually confused 14 year old scrolls through porn tabs on his brother's laptop. One minute you're watching the slow, well thought out set-up to a daring heist, then the next you're thrown into a painfully dull car chase and the whole thing becomes a completely unremarkable action movie. Another minute later and you're watching Chinese people peeing on each other. You're tossed around so much that by the hour mark the whole thing runs out of puff and just starts to peeter out. It's not often that I get genuinely bored watching a film, but by the fourth time Morgan Freeman's equally as fed up-looking character (who's only purpose is to act as a way of providing tenuous explanations for each trick in the film) blows the whistle on the "Four Horsemen"'s escapades I found myself anxious for the whole thing to be over. I nearly cried when I checked the time and found another half an hour to go.

And you guys complain about the long wait for the inevitable.
To try and achieve a modicum of structure to this witty and scathing critique, lets lay out each issue in a more bite-sized manner. Firstly, the plot. This is one of the many occasions where the use of good old Scorsese levels of all-encompassing greed to drive the plot forward would have been a good thing. Instead we have the frankly ludicrous introduction of a secret cult of super magicians half way through the film which act as the motivation of our central characters to perform their various police-evading feats. Why? Is there some amazing magic knowledge they will achieve? Are they trying to take over the world? No. They just want in the club and have to do three big stunts to prove their worth. That's it. The whole film is just a fraternity initiation.

With less robes, paddles and homo-eroticism.
As for the acting? I dare you to watch this film and find a single character who is original, charismatic or just not genuinely bored. Even the supposed comic relief by Woody Harrelson (no banjos to be found either) is dampened by the fact that he delivers every line with the same enthusiasm as the teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Then there's Isla Fisher, or as she shall now be known, The Human Answering Machine. On paper, sure, she did her job. She turned up, she read lines, she walked from point A to point B and waved her arms about a bit. But her delivery makes that guy selling jewellery on channel 6000 at midnight on a Sunday look as three-dimensional and dynamic as a porn star's breast. In layman's terms, she sucks balls.

Bingo balls.
And then there's the special effects. Now this may just be me, but if you're going to make a movie about people performing a ludicrously complex robbery which needs to be logically explained by the film's end, you need to base it relatively firmly in the boundaries of reality. And if the gimmick of your movie happens to be based on real life magic tricks, then surely it should be of the utmost importance that everything you see being performed on screen (magic-wise anyway) is actually happening. Evidently the makers of Now You See Me did not share my sentiment because most of the events in the film that could have been done in real life was instead created using the wonders of CGI. Even a fucking spinning cloth is computer generated. How hard is it to set up a load of wires and pulleys to do exactly the same thing? Or if you really have such a pixelgasm for this bollocks, why not hire someone with more experience than a college course in MS paint?

A thousand graphics students just submitted this as their portfolio.
Costumes? Bland. Set design? Unnecessarily garish and shiny. Action? Boring. Every time something new is introduced to this movie, you hope that it'll make the ordeal a little better, but it just digs the knife in deeper and reminds you that yes, you have wasted two hours of your life watching a very big budget children's birthday party.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Drinking a Bottle of Cough Syrup Whilst Smoking Weed -
Seems like a good idea at first, and is enjoyable for about ten minutes. Then your eyeballs turn to steel and ants start screaming your mother's maiden name at you until you hide under the kitchen sink for the rest of the evening. You are never getting that night back.

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