Today on The Shelf, or “L’étagère” in French, we’ve got some magic, some mystery, some horror, a bunch of TV seasons, and even a ‘nado fulla sharks. Heaven help us all. I wonder what Sharknado is in French? Hmm. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Tornade de requin?)
Four unrelated magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco) of different disciplines get an invitation from a mysterious hooded dude to join a scheme. In a year, “The Four Horsemen” as they’re now known, are the biggest act in Vegas, and their huge finale is to steal money from a bank in Paris. Wha’?!? This draws the attention of the FBI, which assigns an angry agent (Mark Ruffalo) to get to the bottom of it, along with a fresh-off-the-desk Interpol agent (Mélanie Laurent). Meanwhile, a grizzled ex-magician (Morgan Freeman), who now makes money debunking magic, is also trying to figure out how they’re doing it, and making the FBI look stupid in the process. Michael Caine’s in the movie, too, as the Four Horsemen’s incredibly wealthy benefactor.
Now, magic movies are hard to do because, well, movies are magic themselves. The best one perhaps ever is Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, which has a fair amount of science fiction in it (obviously) but also a great deal of actual sleight-of-hand and misdirection. The Illusionist, which came out the same year or thereabouts, suffered from not really explaining what was going on and relying on CGI trickery instead of magic trickery. Unfortunately, Now You See Me definitely falls more into the second category. It’s a twisty, turny narrative that I would imagine doesn’t hold up upon second viewing, given some rug-pulling toward the end. Whenever we see the Four Horsemen do tricks, there’s almost always a visual effect involved which, to me, takes some of the fun out of a movie about magicians.
Still, Louis Letterier’s direction is flashy and fast-paced, and there’s a lot more action than I would have thought. Everybody gives a good performance, especially Woody Harrelson as the washed-up mentalist who suddenly returns to prominence with the Horsemen. Despite most of the advertising being about the Horsemen, the real central characters of the movie are Ruffalo and Laurent, whose storyline is far more engaging than I expected and much more enjoyable, too. At a certain point, I didn’t even care about what the Horsemen were up to as much as I was excited to see Ruffalo almost catch them.
It’s a bit muddy and the plot is spread a little too thin, but Now You See Me is certainly entertaining, if flawed, action/comedy/mystery fare that you’ll very likely enjoy.
The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy set features both the theatrical cut of the movie and the extended version with about 12 extra minutes of stuff. Director Leterrier and producer Bobby Cohen do a commentary on the theatrical cut. There’s also a 15-minute EPK thing about the movie and a Blu-ray-exclusive 11 minute featurette about the history of magic — the Cliff Notes version of magic. Not great features, but common for a movie that did okay but not great at the box office.
For a brief and wonderful moment in 1996, between the end of the series’ Comedy Central run and the beginning of its stint on Sci-Fi Channel, Mystery Science Theater 3000 became a movie. And it wasn’t just a little indie; Gramercy, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, was its distributor, so Mike and the bots were actually able to get a higher-profile movie, 1955’s This Island Earth. The riffs in the movie are top notch and feature some of the most quotable lines in history (just ask Jonah Ray), and I still say things like “I just got outta the tubes, man” to anyone who’ll listen. Apparently, the movie’s only 73 minutes long, which might explain part of why its box office wasn’t as good as it should have been. Still, no Mistie should be without this example of when the niche thing we watched on Saturdays became a wide-release movie.
As is common with Shout Factory releases, the Blu-ray has some excellent special features, including a making-of, deleted scenes, alternate ending, a retrospective with interviews, and a feature about This Island Earth, 2 and a half years in the making.
Writer-director Rob Zombie claims this will be his final horror movie, and if it is, he’s certainly going out on an interesting note. While his earlier films were very much based in grisly, body-dismembering reality, this film is akin to things like The Shining or Rosemary’s Baby, in which the main character is driven slowly mad whilst malevolent otherworldly forces do their worst. The movie is much more sumptuous and visually striking than his earlier work, in my opinion, and features some very startling imagery. I’m interested to see how Zombie’s mentality and style translates to different genres.
And check out Rob Zombie on an April episode of the Nerdist Podcast.
Cockneys Vs. Zombies – It’s like Shaun of the Dead but angrier.
The Office: Season 9 – The final season of the American workplace comedy returned a lot of what made the show great in its heyday, though the Jim’s-Away-Half-the-Time storyline gets a bit old, despite the nice payoff at the end.
Revolution: Season 1 – This show had a lot of ups and downs in its first year, which really felt like two distinct seasons, but there are a lot of good performances and the action is insane. Plus, it’s very rare for there to be a quest show on network, TV so for that it deserves a look.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 8 – The little cable show that could reaches its whopping eighth season with more cringe-inducing hilarity than ever before. And, if you missed it, check out star Charlie Day on the Nerdist Podcast.
Sharknado – You know, I don’t think this movie’s nearly as good as everyone apparently thinks it is.