Friday, June 14, 2013

"Now You See Me": If you don't see me, I'm dematerialized; revisiting "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige"

Now You See Me” truly dazzles, in global magical tricks that sweep across the screen, and make you wonder how reality gets transcended.  And it’s all in the style of comedy, even if about a heist that is more than a “smash and grab job”.
I’ve probably “dated” someone who did tricks for tips ad clubs before – that would happen in New York in the 70s.  Four street performers are invited by an unseen figure in a hoodie to a dank, grungy flat (in the far East Village?)  They’re pointed to some kind of reality-changing device out of J J Abrams.
A year later, they emerge as the “Four Hoursemen” at a Vegas show.  It reminds me of “Atlantis”, a show I saw at the Luxor in 1997.  The four people are Daniel Atlas (card trickster Jesse Eiesenberg, trim and dapper and still impersonating Mark Zuckerberg with articulate by slightly aspie verbal delivery – very captivating); Jack Wilder (David Franco), who dares customers with money to figure out tricks; Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), a hypnotic eye; and Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher).  Why the 3:1 male-female ratio?
Promoter Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) comes up with a scheme to appear to rob a bank overseas and give the audience cash, dropping bills (maybe Monopoly money with the four hosrsemen printed on the bills)..  How this could happen with any magic is simply fantasy – but the consumer is squashed out of existence and rematerializes  (perhaps by digital transmission and 3-D printing) in France to rob the bank. Mark Ruffalo joins the fray as the FBI agent, along with Interpol’s Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent). 
Overseeing all of this is super magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who can explain everything.
Now, this movie takes magic to the level of Clive Barker’s 1991 novel “Imajica”, which, amazingly, has not become a film yet (there are rumors that Lionsgate and Summit are looking into it).  I guess the Freeman character is a kind of “Gentle” from the novel, the master forger.  All  you need is the four other dominions and a final showdown with God. 
At one point, on a plane, Caine’s character asays, “just do me”, as if he were right out of Modern Family.
This film is a real spectacle, if it doesn’t make literal sense.  There’s a mystery about what secret these guys have.  You want to see more character development.  (I  wanted to yank Jesse Eisenberg right out of the screen.  He’s nerdy even when he announces “Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to rob a bank.”))  There’s also a sense of mass celebrative effects that Kathryn Bigelow had created in her 1995 “Strange Days” which has a vaguely related premise.  3-D would have been effective in this movie, particularly in the scenes where Isla's character floats above the audience in a soap bubble.  

The French director, Louis Leterrier, gives the whole production a New Wave look at times.  The film is in English, but could have worked in French.  The production sponsorship (through Summit Entertainment) seems to be French Canadian (Quebec).  There are on-location shots in Paris, New York, Las Vegas, Louisiana, and maybe Montreal. 
The Summit site link is here.

I saw this late evening Thursday (after the storms) at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA..  I was surprised that the small auditorium was almost full on a weeknight.

The film could be compared to “The Prestige” (in  which Caine appeared) and “The Illusionist”.  

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