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New release reviews - August 8

Posted by: Jim Schembri | 8 August, 2013 - 4:01 PM
Now You See Me.

NOW YOU SEE ME ***1/2 (116 minutes) M

A quartet of smarmy, super-confident, impossible-to-dislike magicians hit Las Vegas and lead the cops - lead by a suitably ruffled Mark Ruffalo - on a merry, mesmeric chase as they use their skills to steal money without leaving any tangible clues - aside from the suggestion they use real magic.

Clever, original, wildly improbable, wildly enjoyable and directed with all the necessary flash and dazzle by French pop-movie maker Louis Leterrier (Transporter 1&2; Unleashed; The Incredible Hulk; Clash of the Titans), the film combines the pleasure of a really well-engineered heist movie with a twisty-turny, topsy-turvy plot full of wit, double-takes and sleight-of-camera.

Jesse Eisenberg is terrific as the young hot-shot who specialises in close-up magic, but he's just part of a top-shelf ensemble cast that boasts Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson (yes, he still acts), Isla Fisher and Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds; The Concert).

The film breathes with ideas and plot points designed to engage your brain. In a movie market crammed with remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and franchise fodder, it's so refreshing when a film comes along that is as genuinely original as Now You See Me. See it.

PAIN AND GAIN *** (129 minutes) MA

In a refreshing, funny career left turn for mega-movie director Michael Bay (Transformers; Pearl Harbor; etc) three Florida muscle-heads join forces to rip off a wealthy businessman.

Great plan. Trouble is, they don't have a brain cell between them. And, as increasingly nutty as things get, it's based on a true story that happened in 1995.

Mark Wahlberg is the frustrated gym instructor eager to upshift his life; Anthony Mackie is his similarly lame-brained mate; Dwayne Johnson is the born-again ex-con who signs on for reasons to do with his jumbled understanding of how Christianity works.

Though arguably too long by about 30 minutes - a common complaint of most Hollywood films these days - Bay delivers a slick, energetic caper comedy where events become so ridiculous he is compelled, two-thirds the way through, to super the title "this is still a true story". At Wednesday night's preview screening, this scored a huge laugh.

To his credit, Bay suppresses his impulse to cut at his usual frenetic pace and fills the frame with plenty of head space and sky to let in all of that brain-baking Florida sun. And without having to worry about giant robots or special effects so much, Bay also gets the chance to properly exercise his talent for film comedy, a quality that laces a lot of his films (Bad Boys; Armageddon; the Transformer trilogy), and that too many critics are loathe to acknowledge.

One of the film's giant cherry treats is the turn by rising Aussie star Rebel Wilson, who puts in some very funny support as a lusty plus-size medico whose undeniable sex appeal ensnares a third of the team. Tony Shalhoub (Monk; Barton Fink) is a sweaty fireball as their victim.

Fun fact: At $26 million, Pain & Gain is the cheapest film Michael Bay has ever made; the main cast decided to forego a regular salary for a profits-participation deal.

THE BLING RING *** (90 minutes) MA

Sofia Coppola's feather-weight satire of rich teen girls who steal from celebrities is based on a real-life series of Hollywood burglaries in which the homes of such notables as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Rachel Bilson were regularly pilfered.

The quartet of convincingly air-headed performances from Emma Watson (quickly growing out of her Harry Potter phase), Katie Chang, Claire Julien and Taissa Farmiga (sister of Vera) touch on the moral vacancy of over-privileged youth; the gang casually use the internet to plan their heists, then hang out in the homes and party.

There's some point made about actions and consequences, though Coppola's lightness of touch and clear infatuation with the world she is supposedly skewering keeps the film from cutting too deeply. The film is the cinematic equivalent of reading a health warning on the frosting of an over-priced cupcake.

An fluffy, enjoyable romp, it's the best film Coppola has made since Lost in Translation (2003) and helps make up for having to sit through the tedium of 2010's Somewhere.

Fun fact: At 42, Sofia is something of a cinematic slacker compared to her prolific father Francis Ford Coppola. By the time dad was 42 he had (among other things) made Godfather 1 & 2, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation and had written The Great Gatsby, This Property is Condemned and Patton, for which he won the first of five Oscars. Suggests that cinematic genius is not genetic after all.

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