Tag Archives: Ocean’s Eleven

Now You See Me: the secret mind control behind the film magic revealed

2 Jul

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Now You See Me is an old-fashioned caper movie with a 21st-century sheen: Ocean’s Eleven meets Derren Brown. A raggle-taggle band of magicians — mentalist Woody Harrelson, escapologist Isla Fisher, card sharp Jesse Eisenberg and street hustler Dave Franco – are recruited one by one by a mysterious hooded figure who uses their skills in elaborate Robin Hood stunts to redistribute wealth. Morgan Freeman plays the magic-buster who is there to explain their tricks to the cops (Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent), and thereby also to the viewer; Michael Caine also lends star power in an underwritten part.

The film has become a surprise hit in the US, grossing over $100 million in a summer full of blockbusters, and industry pundits have put that down to good word-of-mouth and marketing centred on much-loved Morgan Freeman. That may be true, but I have another explanation, a fiendish and cunning explanation, one that all along has been hiding in plain view.

Look again at the poster: the film’s seven stars gaze up at you hypnotically, like Reservoir Dogs in 3D, over the vast heading “Now You See Me”. Having communed with my inner Derren Brown, I can exclusively reveal that it is in reality one giant subliminal command. As in, “You: See Me. Now!”

You might as well just go with it. The film is directed with enormous energy by Louis Leterrier of Transporter and Hulk fame, and spectacularly well edited by his regular collaborator Vincent Tabaillon (jointly credited with veteran Robert Leighton). One might wish more effort had been put into making the characters as likeable or the love story as convincing as the tricks, but the plot twists cleverly, keeping one step ahead of the viewer right up to the final frame.

That said, the key to magic, as the protagonists keep telling us, is misdirection, and that applies just as well to Now You See Me. It’s a film of smoke and mirrors, blinding the viewer to the fact that, at heart, it’s utter tosh. As with machines, the most durable criminal plans have the fewest moving parts; the magicians’ ridiculously complex schemes could easily have gone awry at any juncture.

And illusion on film simply doesn’t thrill the way it does live. When I was a kid, I half-believed in vampire visitations and fairy-tale wishes, and was so convinced that my parents were shape-changing aliens that I rattled the doorknob before entering to give them time to adopt human form. No? Just me, then?

Anyway, the David Blaines and Derren Browns can reconnect you to that childish sense of prickling wonder, where you almost start believing, for a split second, telepathy, or levitation, or the power to predict the future. On film you just believe in the power of CGI to do anything and that Woody Harrelson has read a script rather than minds.

Film itself has been called “magic at 24 frames per second”. To me, it’s enough to see other human beings living intensely on screen, in places I could never visit, and lose myself so completely inside them that I emerge at the end credits blinking, surprised to find myself sitting in a cinema.

This is not the kind of magic Now You See Me performs. But if you want nothing more than a highly entertaining way to spend an evening, then… alakazam!

Now You See Me opens on July 3

Steven Soderbergh: not shy, but he is retiring

28 Jan
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Sex, Lies & Videotape: made when Steven Soderbergh was just 26 —
the same age I was when I put it on Time Out’s cover

Steven Soderbergh has just confirmed his retirement from directing, having celebrated his 50th birthday. In early 2011 he denied the rumours, blaming them on a drunken conversation with Matt Damon and calling him “about as discreet as a 14-year-old girl”. Then that summer he semi-confirmed them, calling it a sabbatical. Now, in a forthcoming interview with the New York Times (http://bit.ly/WvVXay), he says he is putting down the camera for good, and picking up a paintbrush instead.

“The tyranny of narrative is beginning to frustrate me,” he explains. “Or at least narrative as we’re currently defining it.”

I feel proprietorial about Soderbergh. Sex, Lies & Videotape, made when Soderbergh was just 26, was I think the first Time Out cover I ever did. I too was just 26, and filling in while the Editor was away (Simon Garfield it was, now a prominent author of non-fiction books). It was bold to put an unknown, low-budget indie on the cover, in the days before indie films were a powerful force (Sex, Lies… was instrumental in making them so), but we all loved the film.

To be honest, it helped when the film company unearthed some Greg Gorman pics of Laura San Giacomo lounging on a bed in black leather boots (above). The title helped, too. “Sex” sells, of course. With “Lies”, you’ve got your conflict. “Videotape”, well, how better to win over the home rental market once the theatrical release is over? There’s a lesson there still for aspirant film-makers. A great title is worth millions in marketing.

That early commercial nous explains, in hindsight, how this indie auteur can have forged a parallel career as one of Hollywood’s most successful mainstream directors, balancing the likes of Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven and Magic Mike with Schizopolis or The Girlfriend Experience – and, in Traffic, fusing the two worlds. Not all his films are brilliant, but they are never dull.

He’s clearly a funny guy, too. Take this from the aforementioned New York Times interview, on his frequent collaborator George Clooney: “He inspires people. He listens. He’s generous. He’s loyal. He’s funny, which is crucial. He solves problems better than anyone I know. That’s why people keep telling him to run for office, but he’s too smart for that. If there were 500 of him, you could take over an entire country—but of course three weeks later you’d lose it again because of all the parties.”

The film world will be the poorer for his departure.

Soderbergh’s final film, Side Effects, opens in the UK on March 15

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