Jesse Eisenberg

Now You See Me (2013) [Blu-ray]

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This summer, one of the big blockbuster films that had been expected to do impressive business was Will Smith’s After Earth; when that rather emphatically died a death at the box office, it left a hole in the cinemagoers’ calendar that allowed a rather different film to pop up from under the radar and replace it, attracting an audience and ultimately doing the sort of business that has Hollywood executives asking “What the hell just happened, and how do we copy it?”

The film in question was the heist/con movie Now You See Me, which while far from being any sort of low-budget art-house flick was also not expected to be one of the bigger films of the year; a solid midfield performer, if you like. A lot of people (critics especially) were rather sniffy about it, but it pulled in the audience because it was just a likeable, fun flick with few expectations pre-heaped on it. Being quite a fan of heist/con movies (Ocean’s 11 is one of my favourite films) I was keen to see this one to see if it would deliver or disappoint; the fact that the con is mixed with magic and illusion was undoubtedly a double lure for me. (Full disclosure: my uncle is a professional magician working in the US, which makes me very susceptible to falling under the spell of a magic performance.)

While I’m certainly not going to make any claims for this film being a great piece of cinema or anything other than a glitzy piece of shiny nonsense, the fact is that I liked it. Okay, loved it. And not just a little – I had a smile plastered on my face for almost the entire two-hour running time. I can’t remember the last time that I watched a film that I simply enjoyed for the pure pleasure and fun of it nearly as much as I did this one. Possibly not since the aforementioned Ocean’s 11, in fact. Read the rest of this entry »

Rio (Blu-ray)

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Rio is another film on the seemingly never-ending production line of family friendly CGI-animated films that seem to arrive at cinemas every few weeks.

In terms of plot, there is absolutely nothing new here whatsoever. It sticks so rigidly to tried-and-tested formula that it’s almost fun to play “spot the homage” and work out in which previous film or films the same plot device, storyline or scenario has previously appeared. The opening, for example, is pretty much Finding Nemo – although without the wheedling, annoying father having angst over his son being kidnapped as a pet macaw for humans. (Linda – his eventual human ‘owner’ – becomes the substitute for the questing father later on in the film.) Strangely the subject of Blu’s parents is never raised – they never appear (although the mother’s voice is heard off-screen) and so they never die, although when it emerges that Blu is the ‘last male of his species’ it’s pretty much clear that they’re long-goners just without the tears to upset the kiddies.

Blu eventually returns to the land of his birth – the rain forest around Rio de Janeiro – and quickly picks up the usual motley entourage just like … well, just like every CGI family film there’s ever been. There’s good guys, there’s bad guys, there’s even a bulldog doing a reasonable approximation of Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo, and the whole thing progresses to the inevitably satisfying happy ending.

But the thing is that it really doesn’t matter: the film’s strengths are really to do with the stunning visuals, with the rainforests and the vibrant city of Rio the film’s real stars and breathtakingly well done in high-res. There’s eye-popping vibrant colours throughout, and some wonderful Brazilian music and songs that give the film such a delightfully different flavour from the usual films of this kind that it genuinely wins you over despite how it’s in cruise control mode in other areas.

The film doesn’t overdo the celebrity voices, with Anne Hathaway on good form as the macaw’s love interest Jewel and Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement doing a scene-stealingly wicked villain of the piece as the inevitably-British bird ‘heavy’, Nigel. But for my money the film hinges upon Jesse Eisenberg pulling off the Woody Allen-esque neurotic, flightless Blu at the heart of the story that makes or breaks the film: and fortunately he’s well up to the task and he and his character manage to take you along for the ride no matter how churlish you might be feeling be going in.

There’s no post-modern ironic edge, no real attempt to add ‘something for the adults’ to the film’s mix like Pixar of old would have done. It’s just a straightforward kid’s film that adults will enjoy (or not) at the same basic level: as part of an undemanding but fun evening of family entertainment. If you need something with intellectual heft then give this one a miss; but if you just want to sit back and enjoy with your brain in neutral and drink in the music and gorgeous visuals, then it would be hard to find better this week.

If nothing else, it’s a delightful antidote to the chilly autumnal weather outside, and the overload of Hallowe’en fare on the television!