Mistress America

If, when you were younger, you got to hang with the older kids, you can understand how Tracy (Lola Korke) feels when she gets to pal around with her older sister-to-be Brooke (Greta Gerwig) in Mistress America.

It’s nice to be accepted by someone with more life experience. But sometimes you find that the more worldly person may lack certain life skills. Mistress America is a tale of a few weeks in the lives of these two likeable women and it’s a fun visit to their worlds.

Tracy is a lonely freshman at Barnard College. She meets and likes nerdy guy Tony (Matthew Shear), but he directs his affection to Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones).

Tracy calls Brooke, the 30-year-old daughter of the widower who’s set to wed Tracy’s divorced mom. Brooke and Tracy explore Manhattan. Brooke drinks, she smokes, she exudes confidence. She is beautiful and seemingly carefree. Her life is far more exciting than Tracy’s.

Brooke shares her life story with Tracy, including details about her “nemesis” Mamie-Claire and ex-fiancé Dylan, who is now married to the nemesis. She shares her vision for a restaurant she wants to open and shows Tracy the space she’s leased.

When investors pull out, Brooke must come up with $42K within days. Amazingly, she goes to visit Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) and Dylan (Michael Chernus) at their modern mansion in Greenwich to ask for money.

The mansion episode is madcap silliness. Because Tony has a car, he drives Brooke, Tracy and Nicolette to Connecticut. At the house they find Mamie-Claire leading a gathering of pregnant women. (It’s a book club meeting.)

Brooke delivers her pitch to Dylan for money. During the mansion visit, Tracy is accused of incorporating elements of Brooke’s life into a short story titled Mistress America (taken from the name of a TV show Brooke wants to create). The assemblage reads the story together and Brooke’s feelings are hurt.

The plot of Mistress America is secondary to these two characters and the way they interact, which is frequently hilarious. They present a number of contrasts: older/younger, gorgeous/plain, not obviously smart/brainy, brassy/quiet, callous/sensitive, etc.

Mistress America (directed by Noah Baumbach, co-written by Baumbach and girlfriend Gerwig) is light comedy but Gerwig’s performance is powerful and memorable. If you have 82 minutes (from opening logo to end titles), you’re likely to be amused, if not fascinated.

Now You See Me

Now You See Me presents illusion on a grand scale. Not only the outsize magic tricks, but the characters and the plot points, too, are not always what they seem to be. The result is a vastly entertaining movie.

At the movie’s start, four magicians are introduced in brief vignettes: Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco). After demonstrating their talents, each gets a mysterious card inviting them to a meeting that results in their forming a team.

The Four Horsemen, as they call themselves, begin with a true WTF? illusion in which they rob a bank in Paris from their Las Vegas stage. Hard to explain the depth of the illusion here, but it’s a mind-blower. (The audience volunteer for this trick looks, on first glance, to be a very big star in a cameo. Whoa! But, no, it’s not actually Robert Downey Junior, just a guy who looks a bit like him.)

When the Paris bank finds that their Euros have gone poof, FBI agent Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma (Mélanie Laurent) question the four, but release them. Also entering the story is Thaddeus Bradley (played by Morgan Freeman), a former magician who has made a career debunking and exposing other magicians’ tricks via a line of successful videos. Michael Caine appears as the Four Horsemen’s manager/advisor/benefactor.

As the fast-moving storyline progresses, the main question to be answered is who assembled these four and what is this person’s motivation? Following a trick/stunt in New Orleans that includes the apparent criminal theft of more money, our gang of four retreats to New York. As authorities close in, they run. Magician Jack is pursued in an exciting chase through Manhattan traffic that results in a fiery crash on the 59th Street Bridge. Jack’s apparent demise leaves no one feelin’ groovy.

After the Four Horsemen’s penultimate bit of business atop an NYC rooftop, all is explained and the elaborate, tangled web is unraveled.

With some films, you might hope to get to know the characters better, but with Now You See Me, it’s the plot that keeps the wheels turning. Mere surface awareness of the film’s individuals turns out to be for the best, I believe. Because, as Eisenberg’s character Daniel says at the movie’s beginning, “The closer you look, the less you see.”

(Rated PG-13.)

Premium Rush

“Premium Rush” is a movie my sons would’ve loved when they were 11 or 12. The movie is kinetic. It rarely stops moving. And some of the bike stunts are really cool. The title refers to the priority delivery status of a package, but it can also describe the adrenaline flow the movie sets off.

The film has hip younger characters, bumbling older characters, a friendly rivalry, a hint of romance, a bit of mystery, several chuckles and danger on many fronts. (Its rating is PG-13.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a bicycle courier in Manhattan. He does all the things that give some urban cyclists a bad rep: running red lights, riding between lanes of auto traffic, riding against the flow of traffic, taking to the sidewalk when the road is clogged, etc. He has no gears and no brakes on his bike.

The story revolves around one important delivery that has to go from Columbia Law School to Chinatown during afternoon rush hour. Michael Shannon is a crooked NYPD detective who wants to intercept the package, in order to pay off a gambling debt. “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi is the courier service’s dispatcher.

From the excellent opening shot, which shows Gordon-Levitt floating through the air in slow motion, director David Koepp takes us back a few hours to set everything up. He picks up from that slo-mo float to get us to the climax. The out-of-sequence storytelling works well.

If you’ve ever driven in Manhattan, you may have experienced bicyclists darting in and out amongst heavy traffic. “Premium Rush” depicts that reckless behavior with multiple shots of the bike riders in precarious situations on crowded streets. Gordon-Levitt’s risky riding is further revealed via many POV shots. One effective technique shows him speculating—in a split second—his chances of success among several options for getting through a congested intersection.

Will those over the ages of 11 and 12 like “Premium Rush?” I think yes. The action blends well with the storytelling. As a bike rider who prefers the Katy Trail, the idea of racing through the streets of NYC is frightening. But the vicarious thrill I get from this movie is a rush.