Sunday, June 02, 2013

It's Magic?: Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay and Now You See It

Another week, another themed double feature, although unlike last week's, it more or less went as expected - I'd heard Now You See Me wasn't very good, but I figured Deceptive Practice had a pretty good chance to be good; after all, who doesn't love Ricky Jay?

It's not a bad movie, it just suffers from a magician being too unwilling to give up his tricks, and I was kind of feeling lousy throughout - hot day, a fair amount of walking in the morning, not really acclimated to sleeping with the fan on because the temperature in Boston went from the mid-sixties to the nineties overnight this week.

Ricky Jay consults on magic for a great number of movies, but his name wasn't on the credits for Now You See Me, which instead mentioned being inspired by the magic of David Copperfield. There were some bits that carried over between the two, most notably characters throwing playing cards as weapons. Jay can throw them hard enough to embed them in a watermelon's epidermis, although the guys in the fictional movie mostly seem to be delivering nasty paper cuts.

My biggest problem - among the great number of issues Now You See It has - is with a certain plot device which is rather poorly used.


What the heck is "The Eye of Horus", anyway? There's talk of them being the ancient guardians of "real magic", but despite the impossible things the characters do, there's never any indication that it's meant to be anything but high-tech illusion. So the logical thing to assume is that it's a fiction that Dylan (hey, I said "spoilers!") co-opted to manipulate the magicians - although I suppose him being part of this super-secret organization would explain why he had the resources necessary to pull this off. Why the Eye decided to go along with this revenge plan, well, who knows?

Of course, if there is no real Eye, there's a somewhat logical if nasty way this plays out - the magicians meeting Dylan at the carousel is not them being recruited, but a trap, and the scene where the master villain eliminates his accomplices off-screen. I mean, that car chase on the bridge isn't exactly the plan of someone who particularly cares about the safety and lives of others, right? I suspect the idea that Dylan takes his revenge - including putting an old man in prison for the rest of his life, kills his henchmen, and then jets off to France to get the girl is a little darker than the filmmakers intended. Unlike the rest of the movie, though, it makes a vicious sort of sense.


Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 June 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

Even those of us who have never seen Ricky Jay do close-up magic will likely recognize the man from his side gigs as a character actor - and if you stay through the credits of those movies and others, he'll often be credited as a consultant on card-sharping, con artistry, and of course magic. He's also a prolific author, and I suspect that while his enthusiasm where the magicians who inspired him are concerned comes through well here, his books on the subject must be exceptional.

Ricky Jay Potash, we soon learn, was practicing magic from an early age, picking up the bug from his grandfather Max Katz, an enthusiastic and highly-regarded amateur. Through Katz, Jay met many of New York's great magicians like Cardini, Slydini, and Al Flosso; after moving to California, he would meet Charlie Miller and Dai Vernon. He talks about these mentors backstage at his performances, as clips of those shows and some of his TV appearances.

There's a well-known and mostly-respected code of secrecy among magicians that marks it as a brotherhood, and while it's admirable enough in its way, it leaves something of a gap in stories that the movie is telling: As much as Jay is able to give entertaining background on the magic scene and describe what various illusionists did well, he is obviously loath tell how those feats are accomplished. It's maybe not necessary information, but it perhaps makes pinning down what each mentor contributed to Jay's development as a magician beyond vague generalities.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Now You See Me

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 June 2013 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

The tagline for Now You See Me - both within the film and in its advertising - is kind of shameless in how it basically tells the audience not to examine things too closely, although I don't know if looking at the bigger picture makes things any less dumb. Still, if you go along with what the filmmakers present, it kind of looks like a good movie, though that's an illusion.

That sounds like a horribly snobby thing to say about the folks who enjoy it, so perhaps its more apt to say that director Louis Leterrier and everyone else involved do a good enough job of putting the pieces of a fun caper movie up on screen and zipping between them fast enough that even when the audience gets ahead of the characters or realizes that things don't quite make sense, it's not boring. There's enough scale and style that it feels like a big-screen movie, and the well-assembled cast is mostly tasked with the sort of things that they do well. The script by Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt, and Ed Solomon is completely hollow, but it checks off a lot of things that people like to see in movies, so the surface goes down smooth.

It does show its weakness from the very beginning, though, when four magicians - would-be-Copperfield Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and street hustler Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are recruited by an unknown benefactor. A year later, they're playing Vegas as a sort of magical supergroup presented by billionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), but when they incorporate a seemingly impossible bank robbery into their act, that gets the attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), French Interpol detective Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), and professional debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). It asks the audience to swallow something very elaborate to start with, while giving the characters just the most basic of personality quirks to define them. It's flashy and kind of instinctively engaging, but thin.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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nitu said...
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