Tag Archives: woody harrelson

Now You See Me (film)

Now You See Me is a 2013 heist flick, but with magicians instead of bank robbers. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco star as The Four Horsemen, street magicians who were brought together by a mysterious benefactor. They have a hugely successful show in Las Vegas, but they really hit the big time when they seemingly rob a bank in Paris during one of their shows. This gets the attention the FBI and Interpol, and then it becomes a cat and mouse game as The Four Horsemen attempt a few more magical robberies while the authorities try to figure how to stop them.

There’s lots of plot twists and shocking character revelations, but it’s a pretty by the numbers caper film. It’s kind of like Ocean’s Eleven meets The Prestige. There are multiple heists, people on both sides trying to outwit each other, and there’s an over the top action sequence that seems totally out of place. It’s an entertaining flick, but it’s pretty hollow. They use to many computer-generated special effects. They should have stuck to practical effects like how real stage magicians perform their tricks. At one point Isla Fisher floats around the stage in a CG bubble. That’s not a trick and that’s not impressive.

And there are way too many characters to keep track of or care about. Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent play the cops tracking down The Four Horsemen. Morgan Freeman plays a rival magician who exposes tricks and who helps the authorities. Michael Caine plays an Insurance magnate and the sponsor of The Four Horsemen with a shady past. Common has a supporting role as an FBI supervisor.

Now You See Me is just another Hollywood blockbuster that pretends to be smarter than it is. And it’s getting a sequel. It’s a franchise now. Bank robbing magician flicks are suddenly a genre. What is the world coming to?

Critically Rated at 11/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Zombieland

There are two major classifications of zombie movies. They are either horror films or parody films. Zombieland is one of the latter. That mean’s it’s funny. Ruben Fleischer makes his directorial debut and Jesse Eisenberg stars as a college kid struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. He teams up with a few other survivors, played by Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Bill Murray makes a cameo as himself.

The movie begins with Columbus (Eisenberg) explaining how the world has gone to shit and become infested with zombies. He has a list of rules (like cardio, limber up, check the back seat, enjoy the little things) that he follows religiously to stay alive. He meets another survivor going by the name Tallahassee (Harrelson).  Tallahassee is a badass with a knack for killing zombies and a soft spot for Twinkies. They form an unlikely partnership and soon come across sisters/con artists Wichita and Little Rock (Stone and Breslin). Despite the sisters stealing their guns a few times, the four of them team up and start heading to Pacific Playland, which is supposedly free of zombies.

Along the way they start bonding and getting to know each other. They hang out with Bill Murray for a little bit. Then there’s a conflict and the group separates. The sisters go to Pacific Playland and attract a horde of zombies, but Columbus mans up and rescues them with some help from Tallahassee. The girls are saved, Columbus gets the girl, and Tallahassee gets a Twinkie.

Zombieland is a good movie. It has an interesting premise, it’s funny, it has a great cast, and a distinctive look. It’s not the best zombie parody (Shaun of the Dead was funnier and smarter), but it’s definitely entertaining and worth watching. Jesse Eisenberg carries the film. He plays shy, nerdy guys better than anyone else in Hollywood. He’s like a suave, un-annoying Michael Cera. Woody Harrelson’s always fun to watch but his character is kind of one-dimensional, even with the revelation that he can’t cope with the death of his son. Emma Stone looks as lovely as ever. And you can’t go wrong with Bill Murray in one of the best cameos of all time.

Zombies are in right now. You should have seen this movie by now. You’re slacking if you haven’t. It’s been out for a few years now. You better get on that shit.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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The Hunger Games (film)

Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) takes on the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins. I never read the books, and all I knew to expect was a strong female character with a knack for archery. In a future dystopia, a girl is entered into a life or death contest that is part sacrifice and part entertainment. If you take Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, add a little bit of The Running Man and a splash of the Truman Show, and throw in some Fifth Element-esque costumes, and you end up with The Hunger Games.

In the future, the world we know has come and gone, and it is a new era. America is gone, and a new nation has arisen: Panem. There are twelve districts of varying levels of poverty surrounding a wealthy Capitol. There is an annual event called the Hunger Games where each district must sacrifice a twelve to eighteen-year-old boy and girl to fight to the death until a single victor emerges.

At the yearly lottery to choose the lucky pair, a plucky young lady named Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) bravely volunteers to compete when her younger sister is chosen. The other representative from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son. Katniss is brave and has skills with a bow. Peeta is cowardly and knows it.

The two leave District 12 and head for the Capitol. They meet their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunk and former Hunger Games champion. He gives them solid advice, like learn your enemy’s strengths and to be weary of the “Careers.” The Careers have been groomed from birth to compete and survive and thrive in the games.

All the contestants are treated like celebrities and they all appear on a TV show hosted by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). They try to be as appealing as possible in order to gain sponsors to provide them with supplies during the games. Peeta reveals a hidden crush on Katniss during his interview.

Katniss isn’t sure if she can believe him, especially when he forms an alliance with the Careers as soon as the Hunger Games start. Half the contestants are killed on the first day, but Katniss uses her skills to survive the first night.

Peeta leads the Careers to Katniss, but she’s able to drop a tracker jacker hive on them. Tracker jackers are like mutant wasps with hallucinogenic venom that’s deadly in large amounts. Katniss forms an alliance with Rue, a young girl from District 11. Rue basically saves Katniss from dying, and she saves her a few times. They find out where the Careers are staying and hatch a plan to destroy their supplies. The plan works, but Rue dies and Katniss feels bad.

Haymitch Abernathy is busy promoting Katniss and Peeta as star-crossed lovers in the attempt to get them more sponsors. This results in the Gamemakers announcing a new and unprecedented rule: there can be two winners if they are from the same district. Katniss hears this and decides to go find Peeta. She tracks him down and discovers that he’s badly wounded from a fight with Cato, the leader of the Careers. They get to know each other, more shit happens, more people die, some crazy mutant dogs show up, and eventually only the two District 12ers and Cato are left. And then there’s more fighting and only Katniss and Peeta are left, but instead of being declared dual winners, the Gamemakers change the rules again and say there can only be one victor.

Katniss decides a suicide pact with Peeta is a great way to get out of this jam, and the Gamemakers change the rules again and they are both winners. Hurray for District 12. Unfortunately, this action will rock the boat and threaten the dominance of the Capitol. The stage is set for the sequel.

All in all, this is a pretty satisfying movie. Jennifer Lawrence does a great job as Katniss and she carries the movie. Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland also play supporting roles and they add a little flavor. The cast in general was pretty solid, and that’s a tough thing to do with so many teen-aged actors.

I know that the books are probably a lot more detailed, and the movie leaves a bunch of stuff out, but the movie can stand on it’s own. There are too many characters to care about and there are a few plot holes, but that’s typical of most movies these days. It’s worth watching and maybe someday I’ll get around to reading the books.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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Game Change

Game Change is an HBO original film about Sarah Palin and the 2008 presidential election campaign. Jay Roach (Austin Powers?!?, Meet the Parents) directs Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, Ed Harris as John McCain, Woody Harrelson as campaign senior strategist Steve Schmidt, and Barry Obama as himself.

Before I get started let me just say that I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I don’t vote; I think it’s a hollow privilege. But I think politics are fascinating. This film feels like a documentary and you get an inside glimpse of the GOP and how modern campaigning works.

John McCain’s presidential campaign has hit a snag. Obama is just too popular. He is the man, he is a rock star. McCain brings in Steve Schmidt to get his campaign back on track. Steve figures the best way to do that is to find a charismatic running mate, a game changer. They eventually stumble upon an unknown governor from Alaska who just might be what they need. Sarah Palin gets thrust into the national spotlight, something that she was mentally, emotionally, and politically unprepared for.

Palin isn’t ready to be on the main stage. She has a concerning lack of simple US history, she doesn’t have any grasp of foreign policy. She thinks that Saddam Hussein attacked America on 9/11. She seems pretty damn stupid at times. But, man oh man, can she talk to people. She can relate to them. She is a rock star like Obama; she’s just in a shittier band.

Julianne Moore is Sarah Palin. It’s uncanny how well she portrays Palin. She captures her charisma when she delivers speeches, and humanizes her in private, intimate moments. You feel like you are watching home movies of her, and not some HBO flick produced by Tom Hanks. There’s one scene where Palin’s deployed son calls her from Iraq to wish her luck in a debate. After the brief conversation, tears well up in her eyes and Steve asks if she needs a moment. “My son is safe. My son is safe,” is her response. Politics are important to her, but family means everything.

Ed Harris does a great job as John McCain. He sort of acts as a wise grandfather figure. He worries about Palin’s emotional and stress levels, he cares about her. He recommends sending her to the desert so she can avoid a breakdown and have some time to relax. He also defends Obama from racist Republicans, saying he’s a decent family man. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of strategist Steve Schmidt is the glue that holds the movie together. His 60 Minutes interview bookends the film. He is given the impossible task of making McCain more popular than Obama and trying to control Palin.

This is an interesting movie showing the behind the scenes chaos of an historical election. You see how much help Palin needed to be presentable to the public. She is put under a microscope and almost has a nervous breakdown. She sits and stares blankly at the walls. She fights back tears as she sees Tina Fey’s scathing SNL impersonation of her. You feel bad for laughing at a real person. That’s what this movie did: it turned Sarah Palin into a real person. This is more than a good movie about politics; it’s just a good movie.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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