Tag Archives: Mark Ruffalo

Reappearing Act

Do-gooder magicians return for more hocus-pocus hijinks

Online Poster - Caplan, Franco, Eisenberg, Harrelson_small

Now You See Me 2

Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman & Daniel Radcliffe

Directed by Jon M. Chu

PG-13

The magic of the movies sometimes makes for some nifty tricks, and this “reappearing” act is a good one—a sequel to the 2013 hit about a foursome of infamous crusading magician tricksters whose large-scale, steal-from-the-rich stunts have made them worldwide rock-star Robin Hoods.

Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Dave Franco return as three of the so-called Four Horsemen, with Lizzy Caplan (Virginia Johnson on TV’s Masters of Sex) coming aboard to replace Isla Fisher from the original. Mark Ruffalo is back as FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, whose “reveal” as the Horsemen’s hidden-in-plain-sight mastermind was the first movie’s final bit of hocus-pocus.

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Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman again rounds out the ensemble as Thaddeus Bradley, a former master magician-turned-trick-debunker who was framed and sent to prison for the group’s last big caper.

Joining the cast is former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe as a megalomaniacal tech billionaire who hijacks the Horsemen to coerce them into heisting a new super-high-tech computer chip that, if delivered into the wrong hands, would compromise the privacy of every computer—and every computer user—in the world.

The only problem is, which hands are the wrong hands, and which are the right ones? In a movie about magic and misdirection, it’s awfully hard to tell.

Director Jon M. Chu, whose resume includes two of the Step Up dance flicks, keeps things moving along briskly with a sense of fun, fizz and sizzle as the do-gooder scamps zip from New York to China to London, trying to stay one step ahead of the law. The plot gets bogged down a bit as it tries to layer on detail and backstory, but when the Horsemen get down to business, things really come alive—like in an absolutely stunning sequence in which the purloined computer chip, attached to the front of a playing card, is masterfully flipped, flung and flicked from Horseman to Horseman to avoid detection while they’re each being searched. It’s the movie’s centerpiece trick, a sexy, super-slick bit of slight of hand, and a showpiece of computer-assisted “card-istry.”

Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson

In one of the movie’s best running gags, Harrelson has a ball in a new, “surprise” role—in addition to the smooth-talking hypnotist Merritt McKinney, he also plays his sibling-rival twin brother, Chase, who sports a head of curly hair and a mouth full gleaming white chompers.

One of the coolest things about Now You See Me 2, like its predecessor, is how it shows the audience how its trickery is done—after the razzle-dazzle, it pulls back the curtain to reveal the nuts-and-bolts explanation behind each jaw-dropping effect, the trap doors, the trickery, the switcheroo, the behind-the-scene hustle-bustle that made the illusion possible.

Magic, it lets us know, requires practice, hard work, concentration, planning, patience and super skills. That doesn’t make it any less amazing, or any less wondrous. “The best tricks,” says Morgan Freeman’s character, “work on many levels.” Now You See Me 2 is a multi-leveled magic show, heist caper, comedy, drama and globetrotting action-adventure romp with characters whose company you’ll find most enjoyable.

Now you see them, now you don’t. And you’ll all but certainly see them again—in Now You See Me 3.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Super-Stuffed

New ‘Avengers’ is full of most everything—including itself

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner

Directed by Josh Whedon

PG-13

Summer is when Hollywood rolls out its big guns, and this star-packed, superhero-stuffed eruption certainly starts things off with a bang.

The second movie in Marvel’s Avengers franchise, it’s full of just about everything, including itself. It’s got all six of the do-gooders from the first movie, plus a couple of newbies. It’s dense with character backstories, relationship dramas and plot points that zip and zing in every direction, including forward—to more movies to come—and backward, riffing on things that happened in previous ones. It begins with one extended mega-wallop of a fight, a castle siege in a snowy forest, and ends with an even larger one, on a crumbling island city in the sky. And it crams even more in between, including a dyna-whopper that rips up most of Manhattan.

I imagine insurance premiums for the Avengers are through the roof.

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James Spader provides the voice of Ultron.

Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) band together again, this time to fight an evil, smack-talking robot, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who quotes the Bible and sings a ditty from Pinocchio as he goes about his mission of global annihilation.

Two new characters, the genetically altered twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), also come aboard—but only after playing freaky and fast for the other team first. Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Mackie and Cobie Smulders return for cameos. Look—there’s Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings! Paul Bettany, previously unseen as the voice of Tony Stark’s computer system, Jarvis, materializes anew as a floating, red-faced uber-android named Vision.

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Paul Bettany

If you’re a Marvelite, you’ll probably be in fan-gasm heaven. Otherwise, you might find the constant, crashing swirl and whirl of imagery and the barrage of inside references overwhelming and exhausting.

The cast is top-notch, and returning writer-director Josh Whedon packs the script and the screen with cleverness as well as ka-pow. But even at a lengthy 141 minutes, things still feel jammed and crammed. All the busy CGI huffing and puffing make the quieter moments stand out even more, like a scene in which the other Avengers, a bit tipsy after a party, humorously try (unsuccessfully) to lift Thor’s hammer from a coffee table, or the romantic subplot between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner, in which she reveals a deep secret about her past and he painfully admits why his raging alter ego makes him less than ideal as a boyfriend.

It’s all part of the Marvel long game, a studiously crafted, mega-million-dollar maneuver in which comic-book characters are morphed from page to screen, connected, separated, then re-combined in various combos for a seemingly endless chain of box-office catnip. Coming up: Ant Man on July 15, a new Captain America next summer, the third Thor plus Dr. Strange in 2017 and another Avengers in 2018.

“Someone’s been playing an intricate game and made pawns of all of us,” muses Thor as Ultron draws to a close. True that, in more ways than one.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Some Enchanted Evening

Music helps heal two broken characters in uplifting summer gem

(L-R) KEIRA KNIGHTLEY and MARK RUFFALO star in BEGIN AGAIN

Begin Again

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley & Adam Levine

Directed by John Carney

R, 104 min.

Summer is typically when Hollywood brings out the big guns—space aliens, shootouts, explosions, careening cars, rambunctious comedies. But here’s a captivating little romantic charmer that floats along as easily as a summer love song.

Maybe that’s because it all revolves around music. When a bottomed-out record man (Mark Ruffalo) meets a down-in-the-dumps singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) recovering from a devastating breakup, it turns both of their bruised lives around.

Sure, it’s a bit of a cliché, but Ruffalo and Knightley are immensely likeable—and believable. Knightley, the British actress better know for her Pirates of the Caribbean roles than for anything that requires crooning, shows that she can indeed more than capably carry a tune.

(L-R) KEIRA KNIGHTLEY and ADAM LEVINE star in CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE?

Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine (right) makes his movie acting debut as the rock-star boyfriend of Keira Knightley’s character in ‘Begin Again.’

Ruffalo plays Dan, a scuffed-up New York producer who’s just been canned from the record label he co-founded back in his glory days. “We need vision, not gimmicks!” he fumes. Knightley is Greta, the guitar-playing girlfriend of a fast-rising pop star (real-life pop-rock star Adam Levine, lead singer of the band Maroon 5, making his movie debut), “marooned” herself in New York when she finds out—by deciphering the lyrics of his latest song—that he’s been cheating on her.

The audaciously creative musical project they agree to do together—recording outside, here, there and everywhere, in various New York locations—brings them together, although not exactly to the destination you might think they’re headed.

BEGIN AGAIN

Ceelo Green & Mark Ruffalo

Ceelo Green plays a version of himself as a music mogul who owes Dan for his success, and rapper Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) dons a shirt and tie as a record exec. Catherine Keener has some very natural moments, never overplaying, as Dan’s ex-wife. As their provocatively (under)-dressed teenage daughter, Hailee Steinfeld, 17, gets to play a much more contemporary character than the one that brought her into the spotlight in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of True Grit.

The elements of the story interlace in delightful, heartwarming, human ways, all led by the music. This is a music-lover’s movie, no doubt about it, from the well-crafted original songs written for Knightley and Levine’s characters, to the numerous scenes involving the music business, songwriting and recording, and discussions about artistry, integrity, the creative process, and the potent emotional pathway that leads from the ears to the heart.

(It’s also a reformatted Americanized makeover, by Irish director John Carney, of his 2006 movie Once, if you’re taking notes.)

A particularly lovely sequence has Dan and Greta sharing each other’s favorite songs on earphones as they traverse New York. As they listen to Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, watching a parade of Manhattan nightlife, Dan remarks how music makes moments memorable, like little “pearls on a string” of otherwise ordinary experiences.

Begin Again won’t make the list of this year’s big, boomy blockbusters. But it’s well worth seeking out if you’re looking for a cool little pearl to savor some sweet, enchanted evening in the middle of the summer heat.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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