RIORI Vol 3, Installment 74: Adam Brooks’ “Definitely, Maybe” (2008)


 


The Players…

Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz and Kevin Kline, with Derek Luke, Adam Ferrara and Bill Clinton (by proxy).


The Story…

Young Maya is seriously curious about how her parents—currently hurtling into divorce—met. Naturally, she sweats her dad, Will, for the straight dope.

With a sigh and a need to get some sleep, Will recounts his romantic past (in a PG kinda way) with three different but still special women, Emily, April and Summer. All seemed to have a lasting impression on Maya’s beleaguered father, leaving her to a game of connect-the-dots as to guess which one is really Mom.

Some little birdy tells Maya that Match.com had precious little to do with her existence.


The Rant…

This may come as no surprise, but I’ve never been much for rom-coms. In fact, I should’ve dropped that decree back when establishing the Standard.

Nope. Never much cared for ham-fisted jokes about dealing with the opposite sex. Ditto the proto-softcore sexual dalliances of well-shorn, upwardly mobile, late-20s white people. The cute and winking social commentary. Jennifer Aniston. The whole wad.

But I won’t deny that I’ve found a few entertaining. Maybe even approaching good (shiver). Still ain’t made of stone here, and despite my typical frothing foment here, there’s always room for exceptions, be it at a vegan buffet or the occasional Taylor Swift single (I like “Shake It Off,” okay? Ten billion 17-year old mallrats can’t all be wrong).

Of course there are a lot of classic rom-coms out there. Often high water marks that every Kate Hudson vehicle aspire to be and of course fall flat because Goldie’s kid can’t act. Classics like the lovely (but bowdlerized Capote adaptation) Breakfast At Tiffany’s starring the winsome Audrey Hepburn and the dreamy George “Hannibal” Peppard. Reluctant lovers that find each other alone in the crowd that is early-60s NYC. There was the cynical Jerry Maguire featuring both bromance and wooing cutie-pie Renee Zellweger. Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie; unconventional, yes, but Hoffman was trying to get into Lange’s panties (that counts I say). Hepburn and Grant stepping on the tiger’s tail in Bringing Up Baby. And of course Annie Hall, the only rom-com to ever win Best Pic, although it didn’t have to. Woody Allen would agree.

Beyond my short list, there are indeed nice, non-drippy romantic comedies around. Few and far between, to be sure, since a great scorched earth swath of these beasties have been following a tried-and-true formula (read: one that sells the tix to gullible Americans) toward the end of time. Kinda like the Book Of Revelation, seeing St John was such a fan of pixie dream girls.

The aforementioned formula is as such, with or without Kate Hudson and especially with Ms Aniston. I base it on the Patton Oswalt bit about what all rom-coms are all about: our characters trying to f*ck. That’s the endgame, right? Crisis averted. Tab A, slot B, Holy mana chunky peanut butter. Sad but true, even though not many money shots get beyond a transaction with the teller. Need I remind you of the ticket taker and all right, got it.

But that’s true, even if actually see anything or not! Sure, we can get kisses and hugs at Chuck E Cheese any day of the month, but it’s the burnt pizza smell we want to a hang over us like a satisfying romantic caper should. Plots with fleshed-out, ribald characters. Basic—but not sodden—plots with room to breathe, letting in some quick “Hey there” now and again. An actual interest, if not concern, that our lovers find their way towards lasting commitment. The occasional side-boob shot. Whatever works in favor of the story.

I think a lot of rom-coms fall dead in their tracks not so much as to derivative…everything, but to trying to pander to our wizened expectations. Okay, you and I aren’t jaded like that. Okay, I mean you aren’t jaded like that. I mean…

*sigh*

*blogger drinks milk straight from the jug, passes it around*

Our jaded exceptions. Why do we watch such pap? Mostly like it might have to do with the wishes of our significant others, always with that box o’ Kleenex and pint of Haagen-Dasz at the ready (read: your girlfriend, regardless of gender). Maybe we just want a dumb chuckle attached to pretty people behaving pretty stupidly around the potential object(s) of their potential affection. Hell, maybe we just want to look at said pretty people. Unsure on all fronts here, but what can’t be denied is that no matter how hardened to reality we claim to be we all need a li’l giggle-and-snuggle now and again. Like I said: not made of stone. Neither are you. Admit it, at the time “you complete me” made you warm and the eyes watered, if only for a flash.

Let’s face it, folks, despite how diehard cynical we are, watching a decent rom-com takes our edge of for a short time so we can ransack the peasant village with a clear conscious tomorrow. We enjoy love, hope to find it someday, and may unfortunately face the wreck and ruin when your crush spurns you or you find the bed empty next morning. I guess we watch such drivel because, hey, romance is hard. We want easy answers. Matters resolved in 90 minutes. Ain’t that true of all movies? Patience pays, too. I took half of forever for Travis to whack Sport, and Taxi Driver—though well made—was a sh*t-tastic romantic comedy. I blame Cybil Shepard.

Anyway, I think the reason that most rom-coms are maligned is that they fail to transcend the tropes. We know what to expect. We still pray for a successful tab A slot B…again. We get clever and winking instead of earnest and “Hey there.” Yeah, they make good cheddar, maybe based on the Oswalt theory on the Aniston x-factor. Can’t say for sure, but if we’re talking about the bottom line, regardless of genre, the fluffy flick must have something to rise above the cheeze.

There’s often a pillowful of fluff associated with rom-coms. It’s almost the stock in trade. What made the above goodies, well, above is a good plot, sharp acting and a keen directorial eye, like with all good movies. Takes a sharp director and scenarist to throw the correct spanner in the sticky, sentimental works and maybe, maybe a smart rom-com will emerge. Maybe it happened here with Definitely, Maybe.

But maybe not. The thing does star Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds here…


Will Hayes (Reynolds) is a modestly successful ad exec. Not his dream job, but it pays the bills. Bills like alimony and child support.

Poor Will is going through a divorce, to his college sweetheart “Emily” (Banks) no less, and is learning how to make the most of his time (read: visitations) with his young daughter Maya (Breslin). Like most doomed divorcees he asks himself how did it end up like this? Not just his dissolving marriage and the ensuing limited Daddy time, but how the hell did he lose some integrity and make his way in the cold, hard world schilling cereal punch-up to afford his apartment? And the impending alimony? And the impending child forget that.

One day Will scoops Maya up from school on his designated day. The school is awash in chaos. Parents screaming, kids howling. Is it a fire? Lone gunman? Cafeteria ran out of chicken fingers (again)? Nope. Sex ed. In an elementary school? Will asks no one, “Aren’t they a little young?”

Maya finds her Dad amidst the crowd. “We need to talk,” comes her plaintive demand. Yep, too young.

With her stern quip, Maya sweats Will as to how Mom and him came around to make the good sense to have her. Select day or no, Maya refuses to bunk down that night unless Dad explains who Mom was. She means really was. How did they meet? When did they fall in love? Was she really the one? It ain’t the most conventional bedtime story, but Will acquiesces and fields Maya’s interrogation, if only to shut her up.

Well, kid, there was your mom. Then there was your mother


Like I said, in order for your usual, drippy rom-com to come to life there has to be a modest degree of smarts attached to the story. I say that and also a blurred focus on the whole Kate Hudson angle. Namely, pay no mind to the couple canoodling behind the curtain.

What’s funny (and I don’t mean ha-ha) about Maybe is that said canoodling is well wrapped in the curtain. Almost non-existant. Wait, that’s not quite accurate. The curtain action is virtually an afterthought. While watching Maybe I formed the impression that regardless of all the textures and trappings it wasn’t trying to be a rom-com. The whole deal with Dad recounting possible mom against another possible mom to Maya was more of a coming-of-age tale rather than the Oswalt context.

Maybe was dry. Both in humor and delivery. A good thing, couched against my strident dictum regarding what often goes wrong with the usual rom-com. Namely, cotton candy and no cone to hold. And without my trademark snark, a lot of things can and have gone wrong with this maligned sub-genre. I won’t mention Aniston again, at least in this paragraph. This one.

Maybe was indeed dry. Like sober. No-nonsense, or at least very little. Sure, there was a share of being fluffy, but at the end of the day Maybe had some low-key dire consequences, namely regarding Breslin’s prying open Reynold’s shell (and she is so precocious in the best way possible. Think Olive). That invites the whole raison d’être with Maybe: it pries. It’s intrusive. It’s what drives the plot. It’s what my kid might call “cringy.” I didn’t laugh much over Maybe. I did cringe a bit, but for the better. Blame the arid atmosphere almost revolting against the typical star-crossed love interest factor. And let’s face facts, Romeo and what’s-her-tits has become hackneyed. Claiming that, one could blame the Bard for Aniston’s movie career (and no, I will not stop beating on her like a rusty cymbal).

The whole air of Maybe was drenched in shame and schadenfreude. Almost solely laid at the feet of Reynolds. Kinda odd saying that considering Reynolds here is uncharacteristically likable. I know, I’m just as surprised as you. His signature smarm is at bay, and plays the innocent here for a change (maybe the first time). Most flicks like Maybe come at you from a female angle. Not here, yet the movie shrewdly takes cues from above (eg: the diary scene). Will is not the most proactive “ladies man” you’d see in your standard whatsit. For that very fact, Maybe comes across more like that aforementioned “coming of age” story rather than a polite tale of chasing tail. It’s in reverse, besides the flashback sequences. It might be a film about finding oneself, except that our protag works the exploration angle reflected off of three females. Four if you count Breslin. I do. It was different.

Which may be why I didn’t roll my eyes (much) watching it. Wasn’t as much a chore like I anticipated (oh, how one suffers for their art). Like all rom-coms, Maybe is totally character driven with wobbly undercurrents driving the principals. What makes Maybe unique is a matter of arrested development. Past Will is only a fleeting distant from Present Will. All the naivete of youth never got lost with “maturity” regarding our chump. As an “adult” Will is still chewing over what his chosen path has led to, and with the wayback machine in full force thanks to Maya’s prodding, he’s made to examine his unexamined life so far. “Exorcise” is probably a better term.

And Will’s past demons—I mean women—do a pretty good job of defining where Will went. Their characters ain’t nothing to write home (or anywhere) about. Banks, Fisher and Weisz fall into the traditional female rom-com archetypes. Banks was the college sweetheart, left behind. Fisher was the wild one, perched in the cosmo mess that Will was virginal to. Weisz the free spirit, all artsy-fartsy possessing an allure far from Minnesota. All temptresses to Will. What made these stereotypes worked—barely—was how Will responded to their potential offerings. Most male rom-com leads have a definite quarry, whom are not only the requisite object of their affection but the Maguffin that makes the plot extant, be it Hudson or Keaton. Not here with Maybe. There is a real uncertainty (like with Maya’s questioning) as to who Will eventually hooked up—and stayed—with. Uncertainty since Will is still the wide-eyed, post-grad Clinton booster now schilling kids’ cereal. Don’t let the clothes fool you. Maybe is a rather earthy rom-com. Like Reynolds as modest, maybe a first.

I could go into the ups and downs of our female cast, but I won’t. For two reasons. One, theirs were where the sickly sweet smell of all rom-coms dwell. Their characters, gamely played mind you, were simply gamely played. Two, despite their relatively unique personalities, this was Will’s tale all the way. The ladies were both merely bookends as well as reflections of Will’s growth as an individual. How you like them apples? An existential rom-com, populated with three weird sisters, all named Inez.

Sorry. Philosophy minor. Moving on.

And moving on is all about Will. The guy apparently can’t (or won’t) get his emotional sh*t together. Small wonder due to the impending divorce. Smaller wonder why Maya’s all over her history like Rosie O’Donnell on a Big Mac. This push-and-pull between emotional security and emotional need drives Maybe, and rather than the coven’s influences crowding the scene, it’s Will’s shrugging that moves our tale along. From Ryan Reynolds! Far cry from Green Lantern, eh? And I still liked that trifle. Sue me.

All right. It’s that time. Let’s talk tech. We can only wring our fists so long over the Patton theory. Cute chicks and their wicked plans only go so far (which can lead out to Toledo regardless of your zip code). I gotta give props to the notable props employed here, side-boob shots or no (less on the no part, one hopes).

Of course there were a few tips and tricks I nabbed that made the film a little smarter that your average Aniston—

*squished beer cans go clang*

Sorry. That hurt. You’re welcome. Where’s the potato chips?

I saw some keen camera work here. Namely, precious few close-ups. Maybe is an open film, probably reflecting the “room for interpretation” theme of the story. That and its opposite, wide frames and open space, doubtless a reflection of Will’s chosen, uncertain and virtually never-ending stroll through life, love and leaving. I’ve often felt in my travels that technique—such as it may be—in most rom-coms feature a lot of face time dappled with dewey eyes and wide open expanses. Again, not here with Maybe. Even the most open shots are tight, almost claustrophobic. This is a character study, right? Will is always under the lens; why not make him solid front and center? It’s almost relentless, which also adds to the sense that Maybe ain’t yer average romantic comedy. I began to suspect that over the relentless 2 hours. Might not’ve been a bad thing. Trying to absorb that.

Also, there’s a lot of passive 90’s pop culture noted in Maybe. Might’ve been nostalgia speaking to me; I remember all the Clinton/grunge/nascent World Wide Web stirrings back then stabbing my squishy adolescent skull. Like a sharp orchestra with well-waxed bows, such tones hit the ears to the properly receptive. I know this was all a setup to have a destination for Maya’s interrogating Daddy Will about when and where, but we didn’t get swamped with the likes of touchstones MTV Unplugged, Pepsi Crystal and/or affordable Discmans. Instead we passed through Will’s doors, snapped at but never snagging our coats. There’s a lot to say for subtlety so beneath that one barely remembers to zip up before bounding reluctantly out into the rain. Did I leave something behind? Maybe. Must’ve been Maya’s questions. Bless her.

There was a lot of purposeful cheekiness here, too. Granted not really a technical aspect of a movie, but for this kind of movie—again, this genre—sour cutesy can work wonders, especially here. A lot of knowing, narrow winking is the expected death knell of any credibility a rom-com tries to attain, which ain’t much (I dislike the genre, all right? Quit reading then). Maybe‘s cheekiness is a disguise for being self-effacing. There is an uncertainty about the “right woman” threading through the film. A lot of “okay, now what?” It’s the “hey there” factor here. Play cute, implode later. Shakespeare played that card a lot, and it worked so well “Taming Of The Shrew” is still de riguer in every high school English class. Trust me, I know. I used to be a respectable member of society and not reeking of salami, beer and beer. Them errant cans be my underlings now. Tremble before me.

*belch*

Wrapping this whole gob up, I’m still not a rom-com fan. As a whole—let’s call it—they’re usually too damned schmaltzy. Maybe managed to avoid this. Don’t misunderstand me: this stuff is decidedly not my thing. But I kinda liked it. Kinda. Maybe still had the hallmarks federally mandated to address. Pretty white people in amour (okay, to be fair we also had a pretty black guy, but he was unattached). Struggles regarding communication and self-doubt. Running a little too long (not feeling, running. We were pushing 2 hours here). The whole deal. However Maybe quietly strained against the boilerplate. A fan of the genre, I still ain’t, seeing for a clever director/scenarist trying hard to steer clear of said genre’s trappings and generate a flick I’ll watch, three stars and a bouquet.

Even though I never plan to watch Deadpool woo Wyldstyle ever again. I’m a guy.

Place your bets?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Another mild rent it. I’m just as surprised as you might, might be. Blame or thank Maybe‘s not obvious unconventional execution. I blame Ryan Reynolds as not smelling of Van Wilder. I should thank just being a guy here with some…er, very little patience. That and I think Isla Fisher’s hot. As well as Breslin. Today! Breslin today! Jeez.


Stray Observations…

  • “And then what happened?”
  • Early 90s = Arrested Development. ‘Nuff said.
  • “Probably…not.”
  • I love the opening montage (the Sly song goes a long way, too).
  • Is Rachel pretty? My vote’s not in yet.
  • “You should get on your horse.”
  • Ever play the game/see the movie Clue? Wanna wager Brooks did?
  • “I make a living.” Couldn’t resist either.
  • Strangest pop culture study of Bill Clinton I’ve ever seen.
  • “You.”

Next Installment…

It appears that Viggo Mortenson has A History Of Violence he was ignorant about. “Luckily” he found the best, worst refresher course. Coffee anyone?


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 53: Louis Leterrier’s “Now You See Me” (2013)


Now You See Me


The Players…

Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco, with Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.


The Story…

Taking a cue from Robin Hood, master magician J Daniel Atlas and his troupe of illusionists specialize in robbing from the rich—eg: banks to big to fail—and giving to the poor—erm, their audiences. And all the while trying to outwit the FBI agents determined to bring them down and all their hocus pocus.


The Rant…

“The world wants to be deceived.”

PT Barnum said that. To a large extent Hollywood took his notion and ran with it. Occasionally too far.

Saving my trademark salivating and snarling for…well, later, let’s take a practical look into the Hollywood entertainment complex and its machinations. Hollywood is based on deception. For real. En toto. They create stories that are (mostly) fabrications and flights of fancy. Actors are really nothing more than well-trained, well-paid liars. All that CGI sh*t you cream in your jeans over in The Force Awakens? Not there, Luke. Never was. Use the Force somewhere else. Oh yeah, that trick ain’t real neither. Sorry to pop your balloon.

Movies are nothing but two things: entertainment and deception. One might preclude the other, then again…well, later. And boy howdy, do we movie audiences f*cking love to be deceived. We have to be. We want to be. How else could one explain away the jillions of dollars the moviemakers toss around like so many platinum frisbees? All that cheddar better get recouped somehow. Hopefully with a winning hit (which are fast becoming few and far between these days) that’ll perpetuate the movie magic machine. Even a craptastic Adam Sandler flick—which may be a redundancy—that “tanks” still invites enough interest in the great, popcorn-dappled masses to get on Fandango for the advance release of Billy Madison 2: The College Years.

Slow down. That one doesn’t exist. Yet.

As Barnum put it, we want to have the wool pulled over our eyes. We pay our fee, walk into the theatre/rent that disc/stream that movie, suspend our beliefs and off we go into a 100-minute storytime wonderland with a cool plot, nifty acting and/or the occasional dinosaur rampage. All three if you’re lucky. Most of the time, we wanna go catch the pictures for fun and escape. Escape from our boring dinosaur-less lives and be deceived that Chris Pratt can really run that fast. It’s all in fun, it’s all a lie and that’s how we want it. So does Hollywood, so bless (and often curse) them for their tentpole endeavors and finally giving Ryan Reynolds a suitable role exploiting his sophomoric acting chops.

All of that was praise. I think.

As deemed by this blog, a great deal of movie fans drop down a lot of cash annually to be deceived. Often they walk away hoodwinked. These two things are not one and the same. You’ve heard me enough times bemoan the fact that Tinsel Town is nothing but money grubbing, more cash for less art and all of us sheep dutifully march into the lion’s den blindfolded wearing overalls made of pork. A significant amount of the time this is true, but it never stops the (disgruntled) patrons from coming back for more. Why?

Because the lies that are the movies are so much more interesting, sometimes engaging than our daily slog. After a hard, long week at your job, be it fighting fires, shipping out goodies from the local Amazon warehouse or putting spindles in boxes all the while cursing your high school guidance counselor, going out Friday and catching a flick is always a good tonic. We all can’t vault off to the Bahamas, but we can watch Batman duke it out with Superman. In a certain light the latter is far better. The Bahamas actually exist. Come to think of it why has “dinner and a movie” been the go to date for generations? Because it works. Dinner and a show. Comfort. One part real and the other a lie. Balance, and don’t we need more of that in our fractured lives?

Of course. Moviegoers embrace the lie because the alternative is the timeclock. Barnum knew this. Hollywood knows this. Hell, you know this. It’s the reason why we go see sequels. It’s why ILM exists, and spends its largesse on community projects. It’s why Brad Pitt makes more per film than the GDP of Belize. We need these lies, if only to counterbalance the truths of our unglamorous lives. It’s mental survival in a sense.

To wrap up this kooky, little intro let me tug on your coat a bit again about how we need the lie, the deception of movies. When I was a teen I got hip to James Bond movies. That’s some escapism there, my friend. Action, exotic locales, hot babes, cool tech, funny one-liners, villians you love to hate, nutty world domination plots and our suave 007 at the heart of all the madness. Whenever I felt crummy, I popped a Bond film into the player. Every time I believed the lie, from Connery to Moore to even Craig today and away I went. Bond got to do all this cool sh*t while driving a flash car that sported a flamethrower, kung fu-ing the girl would would later he’d be smooching and literally getting away with murder. He had a license to kill! Later on me and my married friends wondered where we could acquire such a license.

Kidding. Sorta. But again about the deception, next to nothing in the Bond films was/is very plausible (checked in on that license thing on the Black Internet. Zilch, but I now own the prototype Juno probe. Took what I could get), but that’s the point. The utter outlandishness of the films enhanced my need for cinematic lying. These days I’m not as impressionable, but the lie still works on me. As it does you. And thank heavens for it.

Now then, onto this week’s lie. And watch my hands as they never leave my wrists…


Prestidigitation. Know what that means? Sleight of hand. And that means? Legerdemain. Um, and that?

Fast fingers. Quick on your feet. Slick. Knowingly practical at deception. In other words, it’s how magicians make a living. Foolin’ ya.

J Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) is a master of this deceitful craft. As are his ex Henley (Fisher), a glammy escape artist, Merritt (Harrelson), a self-described mentalist (whatever that is) and Jack (Franco) the greatest pickpocket since the Artful Dodger. Together they tout their act as The Four Horsemen, and are Vegas-level magicians extraordinare.

Lately, despite their sold out shows, Atlas and crew have an itch they can’t scratch. It’s not the next big act to pluck. They need a bigger rush. Make their theatrics more…homespun. Sure, they can hypnotize, mesmerize, spin and twirl, but card tricks and chained to the tracks can only go so far in the shock and awe department. Atlas thinks it’s high time to bring his circus to the masses, minus tickets.

Fast forward. On multiple occasions, and around the globe, the moneychangers find their vaults raided if not emptied. And for every one of the Horseman’s shows, audience members suddenly find themselves in the black, as if by…well, you know.

FBI agent Rhodes (Ruffalo) and his team do not take kindly to a bunch of high-end birthday party entertainers robbing millions and pissing it away on strangers. How can this be happening? How can this be real? And why the hell ex-magician cum Penn And Teller clone Thad Bradley (Freeman) constantly hounding Rhodes on misdirection?

Could it be the Four Horseman’s crimes aren’t truly crimes? Is there more than meets the eye? What’s up with the Robin Hood gimmick? Where the f*ck did all that money go? Will Bradley ever leave Rhodes alone?

All of this and maybe if Rhodes is able to unlock the mystery…


I like magic tricks. I like going “Huh” and “Whoa!” and “How’d he do that?”

Last year at Bethlehem, PA’s Musikfest while waiting for a show to start, me, the wifey and the kid happened upon a street performer, one of many many. He was a magician/comedian/contortionist who looked like Screech and dressed like Richard Simmons. His jokes went that way, too. Regardless of his endearing, self-deprecating schtick the guy did demonstrate some great tricks. Some were explicable (like uncurling himself from a toilet seat, which had to hurt) and some weren’t (like swallowing and entire, fully inflated ballon with nary a pop). We three were delighted, and came back the next night to see him perform again. Alas, he had moved on.

Sigh.

Which I how I ended up not liking Now You See Me much. It’s endgame was not “Cool!” and more like “What the hell?” Then I scratched my head, and not because of the nits.

*blogger now considers taking the cards so close to his chest and tossing them into the Cuisinart for good*

Don’t misunderstand me. For the first act I found Now exciting and fun. Sure, it was in a fast and loose, cheap kinda fun, but it was about rogue magicians! What’s not to dig?

Well, trying to keep up such a pace—or with such a pace—got rather exhausting. You know how when you see a magician perform and you’re hyper-vigilant in your gaze? You wanna catch him in the act and always fail? That’s how I felt watching Now‘s progression. At first, the movie’s rapid fire pacing was easy to follow. I thank the music. But over the next hour-plus I felt that either I should be part of the ADHD Millenial generation or in need of a Red Bull injection to my femoral artery. Both maybe. I know I claim by this movie buff that pacing either makes or breaks a picture. With Now, I never felt so dizzy or exhausted by such breakneck speed of plot. In reflection, the film’s whirlwind pace might’ve played into the entire subterfuge schtick of the alpha plot. I’d like to believe that. Until I can stop my head from spinning long enough to maybe accept this idea, get me a bucket.

That was my only real significant grievance (but not the last) with Now; the sh*t came down so fast and furious I had precious little time to digest what was happening. I like a little wiggle room with my movies to, I don’t know, absorb and appreciate what I’m watching. Didn’t get breathing room with Now. I know director Leterrier made his mark in frenetic action films (and I dug his Incredible Hulk flick pretty good), but I think his manic delivery was his undoing here. We got a film about magic tricks wrapped around a mystery with a chewy center involving revenge. It’s all a mystery, and we need some oxygen to search out the damned mystery’s clues. Not gonna happen here. Gotta give Gen Z the Pop Rocks enema before selfie number 17 in front of the soda machine in the lobby gets on Snapchat.

Call me bitter. I dare you.

Anyway. As cool as the concept was, and the hook had me I realized at the 45-minute mark that Now‘s plot made little sense. The Four Horsemen’s shows were both stage and show and had an urgency to create financial ruin for those who invited it. Fine. Why? There was a warped Maguffin dropped at the film’s outset, but so little was offered it made this guy confused for too long watching this movie. Again, I assume it might have had something to do with the underlying “not is all that is seems” theme. I still was rendered unsure. It’s a sweet paradox, makes you think too much.

The other day at work my boss was trying to bamboozle a co-worker with the classic “Schrodinger’s Cat” riddle. After confusing the other guy he asked me, “Hey, is the cat over here or over there?”

I answered yes. I think I won a prize. The tickets stopped rolling in for a full minute.

This wonky example pretty much describes the plot progression of Now. Is the movie good? Yes, until it’s not. And when it’s not, recall when it was good and hang on to that until the film’s not good again. It’ll approach sense in the next scene. I need an Advil. Another Red Bull might help, too.

What was the best part of Now was our ensemble cast. I’ve been trying to steer clear of waxing rhapsodic about a flick’s acting for the past few installments, I know. But we got us an ensemble cast here, littered with myriad talents that have no sane reason for being in a movie together. So cut me slack at bit, please? Thanks.

So then, I’ll break a promise. Does Eisenberg have to play skittish in all his roles? Some sort of contractual obligation? Despite or thanks to his signature twichiness Eisenberg’s delivery as Atlas was prime magician role incarnate. Smartass and always knowing the game was afoot three paces ago (mostly because it was his footprints). His Atlas was also not very likable. Sleazy and very obvious in being into his gig to only serve his own ends. As much as I enjoy magicians, they are a shady lot. Atlas was shady, but also a bit more than cocky. Ostensibly he was the villain in Now‘s rogues’ gallery, and I must admit that a greasy adversary does a good crime caper make.

Lesser can be said of Fisher and James’ little bro. Both were mostly wallpaper. Henley’s job was to look good (which she did) and Jack’s job was to be raffish (and look good, which he did. Don’t judge me). I understood the need for a team of tricksters to pull off their heists. We gotta have various facets of a hive mind to better understand—despite the difficulty—the motives behind the crime. Sure, plenty of crime capers have involved a single mastermind…wait, they don’t. There’s always a holy host of miscreants shouting at each other to establish motive and possible outcome (usually bad). Think Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects or even Heist. Myriad weirdoes wending and winding around each other to find their quarry as well as accusing each other about who scored said quarry before the other guys did. Fisher and Franco were merely distractions, and possibly elements of the whole misdirection theme of the movie. Maybe. Mostly I found the two superfluous, and nowhere approaching Mr Pink.

Harrelson was me. Moving on.

Lastly the pinion on which Now spins, Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Rhodes (a name that irked me for some reason). I’ve never seen the guy ham it up so much as I did here. It was tough to divorce myself from his  performance in Zodiac‘s Det Tocchi to let in the manic agent Rhodes. Right to the quick Ruffalo’s Captain Kirk-like scenery chewing was unlike anything I saw the guy do before in any of his roles. It was rather annoying, yet compelling. Again the misdirection thing, which came to an abrupt resolution in a fast, forced, final fifteen minutes (pretty good alliteration there, huh?) was likely the reason for Ruffalo to act so damned crazy. I got tired of his determined cop schtick right quick since it was made up of a dozen different determined cop schticks I’ve seen over the years. Then again, maybe the guy was just having some fun. But at my expense and winnowing attention span.

The rest of Now, since the meat of the show has been flayed, dribbles down into tedium. The fast paced first act? Well the next few were so jacked up on the Mountain Dew I had precious little time to enjoy the stunts, tricks and Fisher’s low cut blouses. I kept feeling like I was falling behind, misdirection theme be damned. When watching a magician pull their trade there has to be a small space left to breathe, you know, to absorb and then appreciate the trick. Rampant collateral damage and warp-speed editing can throttle you. Did with me. Cough.

And in defiance of Now‘s lightspeed pacing, the movie began to feel stretching. There was a lot of info dump at work, and over the course of two hours no matter how quick the action was there felt like a great deal of plot development was both rushed (to maintain the film’s rapid fire action) and sluggish (to reflect for a little to long via exposition, to keep the audience in the know). If Now was supposed to be a kinda Robin Hood tale then for what end? You can’t just rob and pillage for the sake of the story and expect to hang up abruptly to consider why. It got jarring towards the end, and ultimately made for an exhausting viewing experience. In sum, regardless of the quick pacing Now ended up stretching. It became a slow crawl to get to the heart of the “real” story, whatever it was.

Now, Now‘s biggest crime in my opinion is what has been used prior in other, more satisfying crime capers (eg: again The Usual SuspectsSe7en and to a degree Fight Club): explaining the motives as well as the tricks used against you to f*ck with your head. You don’t just explain eeverything. At least in one, lethal does. Now tries to make up for all its trickery in a rapid clip expo that should’ve taken a half an hour in maybe, oh, twenty seconds. That deal completely undid the f*cking entirety of the movie’s raison d’etre. If this was a film about deceiving the deceived, wouldn’t it have been more fair to let in a little light here and there so that us brave few that still have a Twitter-less attention span could deduce what might have been happening? Maybe then a full explanation about the past few of your precious little 90 minutes would be necessary. Me? I like to come to my own conclusions on my own time. Makes for a more satisfying movie watching experience. I graduated from spoon fed Gerber at least since senior year.

Damn. Here was a movie I should’ve liked. Instead I got fed tedium and fatigue. A fast paced movie nonetheless! Now had a lot to offer and enjoy, but after watching it I felt wasted and in need of Vivarin and some thumbing through Houdini’s bio with a highlighter with the crew of Hardball at my defense. Put plainly a movie about magic should not hoodwink the audience by waiting for the sleight of hand to. Take. It. Down. A few. Notches.

Now sleep!


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Trickery can only go far, even within Hollywood deception. The Four Horsemen used their magic to make money disappear? Where’d my 100 minutes go, huh?


Stray Observations…

  • “Too many French people in that room.”
  • Strangest post-Katrina fund raiser I’ve ever seen.
  • “I like squirrels. I’m not a frat guy.” Sounds like a confession to me.
  • That’s how I take my coffee, plus three sugars.
  • They had to kiss.

Next Installment…

A trip to London could be a new chance at love for Last Chance Harvey.