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Now You See Me 2 (2016)

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MONSTROMETER
MONEY   Monstrometer4
LONELINESS   Monstrometer1
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer1
TIME    Monstrometer1

 

Stick It In Your Eye

If in the first installment of this derogatory franchise money was magic, in this one magic is a farce. Trying hard to figure out practical explanations for his crew of illusionists’ CGI tricks, panting writer Ed Solomon tinkers with various form of comedy, from a Rube Goldberg self-decapitation to slapstick to witty banter, the rest of the writing team being in charge of “character development”, or rather the illusion thereof.

Back are our Five Horsemen, even though the only female character has changed. Details. Please have a round of applause for Mr Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo,  playing Mark Ruffalo), Mr Wilder (James Franco, very good at smiling charmingly), Mr McKinney (Woody “Ham” Harrelson), Miss Lula, who doesn’t have a name since she’s a woman (Lizzy Caplan, as perky and quirky as Isla Fisher was, well, neither the one nor the other), and Mr Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, easily the best of the lot as he manages to infuse some measure of vicious cipher into his performance). And of course our super duper magical team of sociopaths would not come back without their pet peeves: Mr Bradley (Morgan Freeman, in charge of the ‘An eye for an eye” voice-over because he has a soothing voice), Mr Tressler (Sir Michael Caine, cashing his check), and some new flesh: Mr Li, who doesn’t have a first name since he’s Chinese (Jay Chou, who might have the best line of dialogue translating what grandmother said in Cantonese), and Mr Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe, good at cult lines like “Tadam!” or “Splash!”).

What does it say about a movie when the name of nine actors are above the title, among them two Oscar winners and three nominees? One thing: cash machine. In the first movie, the Four Horsemen, under the shady guidance of the fifth, were actually performing some grand illusions which Mr Bradley debunked, in order to rob heartless insurance magnate Mr. Tressler. In this one, they debunk their own tricks in order to perform a heist. If you have kept your childhood fascination for prestidigitation, disappearing bunnies and appearing doves, avoid this film at all cost: it must be the most depressing backstage visit you will ever have.

So, what happens this time, are you asking? Mr Mabry has invented the movie’s McGuffin, a program which is alluded to sometimes as a chip, sometimes as a card and as a stick the rest of the time. He proudly shows a PowerPoint presentation about it in Macau, where the Horsemen are teleported by way of a swirling pizza box and a debris chute. You don’t wanna know. He’s a genius, see, and therefore is insufferable and childish, the only way Hollywood knows to write geniuses to pander to the short attention span of its audience. Also, he looks and sounds high.

Said stick is the reason why an endlessly protracted scene involving an ace of spades will test your patience, not to mention the disbelief you had to check at the door. It is also responsible for Mr McKinney to have a twin brother, resulting in Woody Harrelson trying to out-ham himself. Those scenes are a pain to watch. It also brings together father and son Mr. Tessler and Mr Mabry and frankly, the very concept of Sir Michael Caine fathering Daniel Radcliffe is terrifying, if a good example of poetic justice. Damn stick.

Unable to give any character any motivation that is not rooted in family bonds, unable to stage any violence out of the proverbial “nobody gets hurts” box, unable not to picture Asians full of wisdom and – AWESOME! – able to speak English, unable to even film Macau or London, you can’t expect NYSM2 to know anything about pattern recognition or magic, even though it tries to bullshit you it does. If by the first hour you have not guessed who will be revealed as head of The Eye in the next movie, you deserve to see it next year. If you do, one guesses you will muse which one is best, pulling a head out of an eye or a hat out of a rabbit.

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La Migliore Offerta (The Best Offer – 2014)

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MONSTROMETER
MONEY    Monstrometer4
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer3
FEAR    Monstrometer2
TIME   Monstrometer2

True Fake

The best this movie has to offer is Geoffrey Rush, giving a subtly layered performance and elevating an otherwise classic (and classy) heist material to the heights of tragedy – and redemption. At the beginning, Virgil Oldman is seen as a cold fish, an auctioneer at the peak of his worldwide reputation. His refined eye can’t be fooled as he scrutinises works of art he manipulates with gloved hands, gloves of which he has dozens of pairs meticulously aligned in a special cabinet. He does not even take them off when he dines at his favourite restaurant, where he has his table and his monogrammed tableware. He is, at his core, disgusted by other people and refuses to touch them or their possessions.

But Virgil has a secret: for years, he has been under-evaluating arcane paintings of great value, expertising them as forgeries on which his partner in crime and failed painter Billy (Donald Sutherland, succulent as usual) successfully bids at auctions. Billy gets a cut of the profit and Virgil hangs his loots in his secret vault, where he can gaze at them in solitude. From the size of the vault and the number of paintings, one can say that this stunt has been lasting for quite some years.

Claire Ibbetson, a mysterious woman (isn’t there always one?) calls Virgil and ask him for an evaluation of a big collection of furniture and paintings. Reluctant at first, he finally agrees to meet her but she misses their first appointment, then another. He finally gets to see the collection but not its owner whom, her servant informs him, nobody has seen for twelve years as she suffers from agoraphobia and only leaves her panic room when everyone else has left the villa. She seems to be quite the bipolar recluse, with violent mood swings which only amplify his curiosity.

Said curiosity is heightened again when he finds a piece of machinery in the villa’s basement. After being expertised by a genius mechanics with whom he’s in regular contact, the fragment reveals to be part of a 18th century automaton built by Vaucanson (he of the mechanical duck fame), which value if completed would be inestimable. A game of cat and mouse starts between the auctioneer and the potential seller, to whom he hides his discovery. He spies on her and finally see her 50′ after the film started, and talk to her only well into the second hour.

Time and again he returns to the villa, grabbing here and there pieces of the automaton, which builds in parallel with the tension between the elusive Claire and himself. His initial mistrust is mollified by  her constant yo-yoing between fear and attraction. They quarrel like lovers well before becoming so. Anything and its contrary, under a constant suspicion of treachery and betrayal. Scopophilia plays an important role in their relationship; he buys her couture dresses and jewels, in the hope she will get better and can get rid of her phobia and join him for a trip abroad.

One won’t be so cruel as to spoil the ending of a movie, which is predictable but elegantly put together, with the help of a paralysed midget gifted with eidetic memory. Virgil loses some, wins some and, at the time of the majestic last scene in a Prague restaurant, is a changed man. Meticulously filmed, well played by all involved and benefiting from an Ennio Morricone score, The Best Offer is a quiet thriller, almost perfect but for a few inconsistencies, fortunately appearing early enough in the picture not to impair the final momentum. There is always something authentic in a forgery, and everything can be faked but what one is feeling towards oneself. Whatever the distance self-inflicted between one and the rest of the world, one remains part of it, for better or for worse. A brilliant machine with a telltale heart, The Best Offer deserves its title.

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Heist (2015)

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MONSTROMETER
MONEY    Monstrometer3
LONELINESS    Monstrometer2
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer1
TIME    Monstrometer1

 

Duckling, You’re Not A Swan

Titled the way a roadside motel could name itself The Ritz (the French title, Bus 657, is spot on), Heist is all consequences with no cause to speak of, if you except Cancer Child, that is. I mean, come on, CANCER CHILD? This, ladies and gentlemen, is a feel-good movie disguised as crime caper, so know that no one will get hurt but spectacularly dumb villains, that all included support cast will act unexpectedly smart/brave/noble, and that Robert de Niro has super powers. Oh, and Cancer Child will survive to her much needed operation. What?!

Family here is both royal jelly, his secretive support and surveillance system dripping sustenance, and proletarian Jell’O, a compact morass, wobbly but unshakable. On one side Cancer Child, on the other Poor Rich Girl.

In the middle stands Robert the Niro, accomplishing any Italian American’s dream by playing a father and the Pope, ruling his empire (a steamboat casino called Swan) by crude rules, of which we are told three, a far cry from the Ten Commandments. Not in the Holy See yet, Bob.

Commenting on his e-smoke as if his main minion has switched flavour from menthol to sodium sulfate, Bob pouts a lot, wears a ring the size of a coffee table and a neck chain which he doubtlessly uses to anchor the Swan when he leaves the premises. On the side, he launders dirty Chinese money with clockwork regularity, which has never drawn attention to the police before but hey, comes to the Chinese, mafia and dry-cleaning go hand in hand, eh?

Us, the audience, are treated to a collage of scenes heisted from all kinds of superior movies, Ocean’s Eleven and Speed being the more obvious. Bob can stay cool smoking in a gasoline-saturated vehicle, he’s that good. Sweet Jesus.

The brainpower not allocated to plot reigns supreme on christening characters so there is no need to develop them. Around Pope gravitates Mr Tao (Mao, come on, too obvious!), Dante (who goes through hell) and Cox (who, well, sucks). More cryptic is Detective Bauhaus, or it is an elaborate joke at form over function?

33% action, 33% drama, 33% nothing and only 1% its titular genre, Heist is nevertheless aiming at getting the money. Yours.

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