My Brain Says No, But My Heart Says Yes: Now You See Me: The Second Act

*Warning: major spoilers for both Now You See Me movies

Now-You-See-Me-2

For starters, let’s recap the first movie. Now You See Me, directed by Louis Leterrier, was a surprise hit of 2013, reminding us that magicians are kinda cool I guess, and hey, isn’t that the Hulk? The first film followed four individual magicians who are brought together by something called The Eye, a mysterious magician organization that directs them to do three big magic shows and act as robin-hood characters, giving rich people’s money to the poor. Trying to track them down is FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who has enough time in his busy schedule of being a magician mastermind/FBI agent/The Eye correspondent/Avenger/sad little orphan to have an annoying little romance with another FBI agent (Melanie Laurent). Along for the ride is narrator extraordinaire Morgan Freeman playing himself and Michael Caine, who is there to make me think for eight seconds that this is a Christopher Nolan movie.

I despised this first movie. I hated all the “protagonists” and their gimmicks and general mean personas. I hated the plot, which relied on someone being able to plan every move the other characters were going to make- I haven’t seen that in a movie before (sarcasm alert)! I hated magic tricks that were obviously made with special effects- anyone can do card tricks with jump cuts! I wasn’t impressed with anything.

But my friend sure was, and she took me to see Now You See Me 2 (which really should have been called, Now You Don’t). Now You See Me 2 takes place a year after the first film. The Four Horseman are now a bonafide group, with a new lady magician, Lulu (Lizzy Caplan, a million times more interesting and funnier than Isla Fisher), and their own group dynamics. They have been waiting around in secret as fugitives, waiting for their ringleader Dylan Rhodes to give them instruction on their next move. He’s getting his plans from The Eye, who we still don’t know anything about.

Finally Dylan has their next mission. They are going to hijack a big company announcement and exploit the con CEO and tell the audience about how their privacy is being sold. All is going well until the lights suddenly switch off. A distorted face appears on screen, revealing Dylan’s true identity. The FBI start to chase the group down. The magicians jump into a chute that is supposed to get them to safety…

But they wake up instead to find themselves in Macau.

I made a handy little cheat sheet to understanding this movie. I’m pretty sure this cheat sheet was what the writer used to create every scene in the film.

What the…

How the…

Why the…

Go to…                                                hell

In that order, in every scene.

As I was watching the film, I started to feel confused. Wait, I was laughing? No! I’m against this movie! Hold on…I have to admit, that was pretty cool. And man, I love that actor. Lizzy Caplan is great! That joke was perfect. What’s happening?!

NYSM2 does the incredible feat of fixing everything I hated about the first movie, and still making a bad movie. This time around, there is no exhausting setup. The film assumes you remembered everything from the first movie. In this film, the characters are more interesting, but there are way too many of them. The first film had a boring finale, this film has a finale that makes no sense. The first film was slick and empty, this film tries way too hard to have an emotional core and dramatic backstory to give it umph. In this film, Mark Ruffalo and Jesse Eisenberg get worse lines but better hair.

Now You See Me 2 is sloppy. The plot revolves around a mumbo-jumbo plot MacGuffin and absurd tricks that are clearly CGI and movie-magic. There are some truly cringe-inducing lines. All the characters are given long, drafty monologues about what is going on and what is going to happen in future movies. And the film obviously caters to Chinese audiences, giving us a promising young Chinese character who doesn’t get to do anything in the movie except be available for the press tour.

But despite all this, I was enchanted. I liked the location change, even if I know it’s just for the box-office numbers. The tricks are cool, even though it’s not real magic. The actors have such good chemistry the dialogue is easy to ignore. Having all the characters be unified as a team creates a lot more on-screen interest and development. There are some fantastic jokes that had me in stitches. Once again, Daniel Radcliffe proves his best roles are magic ones.

Now You See Me 2 is not a great film. I cannot recommend you go see it if you didn’t have interest in it already. However, for what it’s worth, I had a smile on my face the entire time. The ensemble factor was wonderful. There were some incredible jokes that landed perfectly. I was in suspense. I wanted this little gang of magician vigilantes to be best friends and conquer the world. And for the movie that it is, I’ll take that.

-Madeleine D

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ADVENTURES IN MISSING THE POINT: ME BEFORE YOU

When a movie advertises itself as a “tearjerker,” I quickly become cynical and determined not to cry. I rarely cry at the movies. I cried twice at Inside Out, and of course, like everyone, teared up at Avengers: Age of Ultron (curse you hulkbuster scene, playing with my emotions like that!).

I didn’t mean to go see Me Before You, but sometimes you just gotta go to the movies with a friend and see what the hubbub is about. So I saw it.  (Paging all studio execs reading this review- I’m a girl who goes to big blockbusters, too. There were men in the theater. Please stop it with the obsession about making a lady-movie genre and excluding us from everything else.)

Anyway, I did not cry. I did, however, smash my water cup between my fingers and get very, very angry.

Me Before You

(HUGE SPOILERS BELOW)

Me Before You stars your favorite quirky neighbor girlfriend Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke), who lives in the most Englishy-place to ever be English. After she loses her job, she and her eccentric wardrobe of character development tries to find a new job so she can support her family. Luckily, the family who owns the castle next door needs someone to be a companion for their very beautiful and very rich son, Will (Sam Claflin), who is a quadriplegic.

Luckily for Lou, she doesn’t have to do any of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to Will (which would make this romance less glamorous) and instead is supposed to be a ray of sunshine. This is difficult though, when your patient is prepared to have physician-assisted suicide in a few months.

So obviously, Lou decides she’s going to make Will change his mind through expensive vacations, which obviously will work because how else do you find the meaning in life besides going on short, frivolous vacations that your rich family can easily bankroll? Will decides, however, that he must go through with the plan. His identity is too tied up in who he “used to be,” and at the age of 29, and 2 ½ years into being a quadriplegic, he obviously has the perspective to understand his life has absolutely no meaning now and no potential. So he tells Lou that even though he led her on, he is still going to die. But it’s actually super noble, because now she won’t be tethered down to him and he’s going to give her money to travel.

Yea!

So after a cry, Louisa and his parents decide to be supportive of him, because it’s “his choice.” “His choice” to play God, “his choice” to throw away all the good things life has given him, “his choice” to give a big middle finger to caretakers who spend their lives nobly.

Now I’m going to defend the movie for one second. The film makes it clear that this character, Will, is making this decision because his whole rich, playboy lifestyle was based on his image. It was his idol, his everything. He couldn’t imagine a life without it. The movie does not condemn all people with disabilities as burdens.

But, a lot of people with disabilities feel the same way Will does, but they are braver than him and power on. They live their lives because they know their value. Will is portrayed as a tragic figure. Real life disabled people are not tragic figures, there to make you inspired to run that marathon. They are just real people.

When I go to the movies, I look for examples of hope. Will showed no hope. And as someone who believes life is valuable and should be protected, the fact that the movie just shrugged and said, “hey, if you’re in pain or have it rough, just forget moral fiber and do what you want,” made me angry.

But let’s forget that glaring problem for a second and focus on some positives. The film is incredibly well-acted. Emilia Clarke takes what could be an insufferable role and makes Louisa very likable. I liked the emphasis on parents, and what they do for their children with disabilities. Besides the CGI leaves representing time, haircuts representing change, and overbearing vocals of Ed Sheeran singing “loving can hurt” while characters look glumly out of windows, the film is pleasant to watch. Solid cinematography and production design contribute to a film that is very well directed technically by Thea Sharrock.

But I can’t get the ending of the film out of my mind. The film does not glorify Will’s decision. But it is okay with it. And that’s wrong. I find it fascinating that the twitter hashtag for this movie was #LiveBoldy. Maybe, taking the actual movie into account, the hashtag should be #LiveBoldyIfYoureAbleBodied. In fact the title, Me Before You, is the epiphany of the selfishness in this movie, which misses the point of romance and relationships completely.

-Madeleine D

Feminism in Film, 2015: Suffragette + The Intern

In 2015, two movies came out a month apart. Both were directed and written by women with strong feminist under (and over) tones. The first was The Intern, a comedy about a business woman and her new intern. The second was Suffragette, a British historical period drama, chronicling the early 20th century Suffragette movement. They are wildly different in tone and story, but both have significant correlating themes and messages.

Suffragette

suffragette

Directed by Sarah Gavron, Written by Abi Morgan

Suffragette is a story about a moral and political movement, told through the eyes of (fictional) Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a working class woman with a husband and son. Maud is slowly brought into the Suffragette movement, eventually giving up everything to be a footsoldier for the cause. Through the movie, she meets fictional (but inspired by real women) Edith Ellen (Helen Bonham Carter) and real-life figure Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). Streep is only in the movie for two minutes, but her moral authority is significant; if Meryl Streep told me to go burn down a governor’s house, I would probably do it, too.

Suffragette is a beautifully crafted film. There is plenty of heart and earnestness in it. All the actors are wonderful. Carey Mulligan shines through as Maud. Her expressions say everything, and she has a powerful arc of fear to bravery. She never loses her humanity though, or her grip on the audience.

The only thing that is a drawback to this kind of approach of telling such a big movement through one person is that the scope is small. We don’t know anything about what other suffragettes are doing. We don’t know what causes Edith, or Emmeline Pankhurst, to join. We don’t see the beginnings or ends of the cause. It is also exclusive to working-class white women of the time, when in reality there were all sorts of women in England and all over the world fighting for the right to vote.

But as it worked in 2014’s Selma, having a narrow focus allows for more emotional connection. There were plenty of painful moments in the film, and seeing it through one person’s eyes made it even harder to watch.

I also want to appreciate how the movie didn’t villainize too many people. Yes, there were a couple of men in and out of the government who were actively against the women in the Suffragette movement. But those men made points that they were just following the law. They had been taught their whole lives that women were inferior. They didn’t know anything different. Many women felt that way too, that to be a suffragette meant not being a “good woman.” That just points to the greater enemy- systemic sexism and conditioning. Any film that is able to get to the heart of an issue, while still showing the complexities of the situation, is a fine one indeed. It’s more than just a good movie, it’s a painfully relevant one, and that makes it important.

The Intern

The-Intern

Written, Directed, and Co-Produced by Nancy Meyers

Ben Whittaker is a great guy. He’s well off. Competent. Loyal to a fault. Thoughtful and nurturing.

Jules Ostin is a bright young entrepreneur. She owns a fast-growing e-commerce clothing store. She’s creative and smart, and has enormous potential.

One day, Ben and Jules meet. They form a special bond, and soon realize they are just what the other needs.

Because Ben is a 70 year old retired widower who wants to intern for Jules, and Jules is struggling with her marriage and work and needs a confidant and friend. Oh, you thought this was a romantic comedy?

The Intern is a polished, sweet, aesthetically beautiful movie about life, business, and friendship. Anne Hathaway as Jules and Robert De Niro as Ben are both extremely likable and well-cast, with natural chemistry. The movie has nice messages about the importance of every generation, what they bring to the table and what they can learn. While there are some jokes about Ben’s technology skills, and the frivolity of youth, everyone ends up being well-respected by the end.

Nancy Meyers injects some interesting observations into the film. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen any other Nancy Meyers movies, so I can’t compare the views shown in this movie to her other ones.) At one point in the film Jules observes that “girls have become women, and men have become boys,” pointing out the difference between Ben and her male colleagues. Long lost are the days of gentlemen.

This is an interesting view on how modern feminism has brought down men. Her husband is a stay-at-home dad, and (spoiler alert), is found to be having an affair. The movie never excuses this behavior, but it raises the question of, does this have anything to do with Jules’ absence and him not feeling like he’s living up to what it means to “be a man”?

I personally think that these are both worthwhile things to muse on, because modern feminism has gained a reputation for degrading men’s accomplishments in order to favor women’s, instead of simply shining an equal spotlight on both. Yet in the same movie, there are some contradictions. At one point, Ben tells a younger man to always carry a handkerchief for when women cry, (which at least two women do). Ben says, “I hate to be the feminist here,” which will rub some people the wrong way as a form of mansplaining. And the fact that Jules, while earnest, still totes a lot of the “overworked business woman” cliches is unnecessary.

It’s these, and a few other more spoilery things, that give me pause on The Intern. It has the right overall idea, but there are things here and there interjected into the movie that seem contradictory, or at least questionable. But on the other hand, our world is just as confused about feminism as this movie is, and if it’s supposed to be portraying real life, then I guess it is successful. But this has a whole lot of shine and convenience for a realistic movie.

Now I would like to draw some comparisons between these two 2015 Fall releases. Suffragette is about the beginning of feminism, and The Intern is about how we use it today. The Intern has some conflicting ideas about feminism, reflecting on the push and pull of the modern movement. Suffragette shows that at no point in time were these issues easy, or these rights achieved without compromise. Some women in the suffragette movement did some terrible things. Maybe for a good cause, but does that justify it?

For those who are uncomfortable with feminism, especially being labeled as a feminist, I am completely sympathetic. Modern feminism is associated with some unfortunate things (just like any broad movement), and is often most viewed through the voices of radical feminists. I understand not wanting to be associated with those things. But the idea that men and women are equal is what needs to be told through our media, even if it’s not under the umbrella of being called “feminist.”

That’s why it is important to evaluate these kinds of movies. Just because a movie has a “strong female character,” is about women, is directed by a woman, doesn’t mean it’s feminist. A movie that isn’t directed or “starring” a woman isn’t necessarily not feminist (i.e, Mad Max: Fury Road). We have to evaluate a movie on its art and message. It’s difficult to have these conversations. It’s tiring and frustrating, especially in this age of social media. But it is more important to have these conversations than to not. How else are we supposed to get anywhere? How are we supposed to get to a point where we don’t have to evaluate a movie based on its gender politics, Bechdel Test results, or the gender of the people behind the camera without starting the movement towards that? A place where movies don’t have to carry an agenda. But for now, we have to, and I applaud movies like these that take up the challenge of being conversation starters.

-Madeleine D

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

*incoherent screaming*

Oh hello there. I didn’t notice you over the sound of my screaming. How are you? Oh good. I’m doing well too. I just saw Captain America: Civil War after counting down the days since June 29th, 2015. It was pretty good.

Just kidding. It was amazing. And we’re going to go in depth on why, because me screaming about the importance of protecting Tony Stark is not going to be of much help.

Full disclosure: I am a huge Marvel fan. But I am also an aspiring critic, and I will do my best to balance the two. Admittedly, I haven’t always done my best with that (Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie I loved, but I recognize that I was a little monotone in the review because other critics were harsh). But I want to balance approaching this movie as a Marvel-nerd and as a normal moviegoer. Also, there are not really spoilers in this review, but if you haven’t seen it yet and you want to be surprised at character reveals, you should probably stop reading (and why haven’t you seen the movie yet?!?).

civil war 1

Captain America: Civil War is both a sequel to Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It deals with the consequences of the Avengers actions around the globe. Captain America/Steve Rogers thinks the Avengers do not need accountability, and Iron Man/Tony Stark believes they do. It is based off the famous 2006-2007 comic book title of the same name.

The film is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who helmed Winter Soldier. Age of Ultron was directed by Joss Whedon, who after having his spirit broken by the film, has quit Marvel for good, giving up directing Infinity War pt. 1 and 2, which is now going to the Russos.

Now why I bring this up is that as the Marvel movies increase, a bigger and bigger checklist appears. Age of Ultron included a checklist for Whedon that included introducing two new superheroes, foreshadowing Civil War, setting up the Infinity Stones for Infinity War, expanding the cinematic universe, and sticking to a comic book storyline, along with also being a worthy predecessor to one of the most successful movies of all time.

Now with Civil War, the Russos must restore the faith of the fans unhappy with Ultron, do more extending of the universe, foreshadow Infinity War, add two new characters, one who is almost hated and half-owned by another studio, and include another ten characters not usually in a Captain America movie, as well as convince everyone that Captain America is not gay, even though he literally starts a war for a guy.

So while I loved Age of Ultron, I understand not everything Joss Whedon was asked to do was handled well. It seems like he gave up in parts, the parts he didn’t care about. The Russos, on the other hand, do their darndest on everything, making it seem like everything they are given is exciting and new. There is an attitude difference towards the films from the filmmakers that really shows through, and is a big part of the success of the film overall.

But there are also some other factors that contribute to the success of the film.

  1. The motivations were clear and earned. Unlike with Batman v. Superman v. Rotten Tomatoes, the characters listen to each other and hear each other out. These problems and the breaking of spirits and psyches have been evolving for the past 12 movies. This is why a cinematic universe works when it’s well done. Each decision made in the movie is a deeply personal one for each character. If we hadn’t had those other movies, there would be no way we would be able to understand why each character is making the decisions they are making.
  2. Every character gets to shine. For a movie that is so crowded that not even all the main characters get their names on the poster, everyone gets a few moments. Yes, some of these characters are fan-service, Easter eggs, or serve as setting up future movies, but everyone gets a time to shine, and it is very well-balanced. It’s a huge movie, but it doesn’t feel over-stuffed or rushed.
  3. The new additions are amazing. Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther is incredible. He has a very thoughtful introduction, and is very different from all the other Avengers. He is the real righteous superhero, not Captain America. He goes from seeking revenge to wanting true justice. He saves people on a worldwide and personal level, which is the exact problem between Ironman and Captain America. Tony Stark has a bigger vision than Captain America, but Captain America cares very much about individual people. T’Challa (Black Panther) cares about both, and I loved seeing such a good role model. Tom Holland as Spiderman was also great. Those who have Spiderman fatigue, never fear. This Spiderman is different. He acted like a real high schooler, not a super-model pretending to be dorky high schooler. An actual high schooler who can’t fight a battle because he has homework. I can’t wait for his and Black Panther’s upcoming solo movies.
  4. They made the old characters fresh again. After a fifth or sixth time playing a character, it can be tiring for the audience to see the same thing. But this movie really took the arcs of the characters that have been developing for a while, and used them to evolve the characters. For example, one thing they did was change up Black Widow’s fighting style. Up until now, she has used a lot of agility, like wrapping herself around a person or flipping them over. It’s usually how women in film are portrayed with a fighting style- more about grace than brute force. But in this movie, she fights much more with brute strength. She uses her whole body to attack someone, which was a reflection of her character in the movie. She’s done, she’s tired. She helped build this little family after she lost everything, and now they’re tearing themselves apart. She wants it to end, she doesn’t want to fight anymore, and her aggression shows it. Little details like this really make me appreciate the Russo’s artistry.
  5. It’s just a really, really good movie. The pacing, character arcs, balance of humor and suspense, action, and just overall production values and acting are phenomenal.

Now if you are a casual movie-goer, I don’t think this movie is going to hit home for you as much as it does for for me and my fellow nerds. There are a lot of emotional punches that relate back to old MCU movies. There are ties that go back to the first Iron Man and Captain America movie from Phase 1. But, if you’ve seen most of the movies and kinda remember them, then it’s going to be a good experience, especially if you have a good grasp on The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron.

But as someone who has committed to all 13 movies, I was over the moon. I was geeking out about the movie with the people I went with. The whole audience was alive. It really reminds you how movies, especially big blockbusters like this movie, can bring people together.

Because united we stand, divided we fall.

-Madeleine D will return in another review