On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 20, 2014

Lucy is lightning fast. As soon as Luc Besson's latest European-tinged philosophical reflection disguised as an action film begins we are in the throws of multiple ideas and unknown situations. There is never a moment as the film begins to unfold where one wonders past what Besson's intent was with the film as, despite Morgan Freeman preaching to a choir of eager college students, we easily become wrapped up in these universal questions and ponderings. Three years ago the highly regarded Terrence Malick crafted The Tree of Life, a film that attempts to cover the span of not just one human life, but the existence of life on our planet and in some weird, off-beaten way Lucy attempts to explore the same thoughts and ideas with the added-bonus of putting our central human subject in a state of heightened reality. This all may sound quite strange given the trailers for this Scarlett Johansson-starrer made it look like a science-fiction action flick but is largely not. Still, one would certainly classify the film as science fiction as this is a movie more about the endless possibilities than it is who our heroine will fight next. Taking its cues from the myth that says humans only use ten percent of our brains, Besson explores what might occur if we were enabled to use the full capacity of our cognitive reach and he thinks some strange stuff might begin to happen. The thing about Lucy though is that this is a film you can't take overly-serious or become caught up in the semantics of or if any of it was remotely possible, what it might actually mean. No, what one must be able to do with a movie as (somewhat) outlandish as this is to take it all in on its own terms and enjoy it or leave it alone altogether. For me, I love an interestingly strange premise, the science fiction genre in general and Johansson has been on somewhat of a streak as of late so I was more than willing to look past any breaks in reality and simply enjoy Lucy for what she is: Besson's exploration of the nature of life through the eyes of the kinetic energy with which he directs. Full review here. B

When one approaches a film with a certain set of expectations based on the individual components and what it could potentially add up to as a whole it gives way to a certain direction we think the film will go. From the outside looking in The Drop starring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini in his final screen role sold itself as a Brooklyn-based crime drama that centers around a robbery gone wrong and the investigation that brings a certain drop-point system to its knees. While all of this is still very much a part of the film, it isn't the centerpiece, as an audience we aren't drawn into the plot as in the series of events that make up the story, but instead become more interested in how these specific characters will decide the course of the story rather than the tropes typically employed in this genre. To be fair, it is a deliberately slow-paced affair that sets the tone of not only the critical environment in which the movie takes place, but the attitude of our main character and how it lines up with the aforementioned plot elements that combine to bring home more than we bargained for in the third act. As the film goes on and we wonder why the tension never reaches breaking points with the police involvement or why more things, shocking things aren't happening we are getting a portrait painted for us and we don't even realize it until director Michaƫl R. Roskam wants us to. There are core questions people have to ask themselves when put in a predicament such as Bob Saginowski (Hardy) is. What is his overall goal in life? What is standing in his way? What might he lose if he doesn't achieve his goal? They are questions that Dennis Lehane no doubt asked himself as well when he penned both the screenplay and his short story the film is based on. These questions though, ones that typically provide a kind of structure for where a story needs to go, while still in place, are allowed to become side-tracked and thus result in a film where it doesn't feel we are dipping in on a very specific moment in time in the life of the characters, but that this is simply another set of struggles, another set of detractors in a neighborhood where everyone is fighting to make a living and maybe one day, achieve their ideal goals. Full review here. B+

In some ways Laika Studios is becoming the indie animation factory where alternative children's films go to flourish and are received with almost guaranteed better reception than anything the likes of Dreamworks, Disney or even Pixar put out these days. Don't get me wrong, those studios still make more money and get more attention and of course don't put out bad products (How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Frozen were critical successes as much as they were commercially and the upcoming Inside Out looks insanely ambitious),but at this point critics turn to Laika for something a little off the beaten path, something not so conventional in the realm of animation and typically, they are handsomely rewarded by the stop-motion studio. This kind of elitist, pedigreed status may already be hurting the studio though as with only its third feature out I came away feeling rather indifferent about the whole experience. This may be due to the fact my expectations were rather high given I really enjoyed, dare I say loved, Paranorman and thought it to be an exercise in both nostalgia and expert craftsmanship that resulted in a thoroughly entertaining and weighted film. The techniques used to bring the characters and worlds to life typically serve only to enhance the tone and intended darkness of the stories being told while keeping the overall facade light as if all a masquerade for the children with deeper meaning behind the mask for their parents. This works to a certain extent with our titular characters in Laika's latest film, but never do we find the connection to our human surrogate that we did to Norman whilst on his quest to prove he could rid his town of its age old curse. This lack of connection is odd because both characters are essentially outcasts, people who don't integrate into society seamlessly and thus require and adventure for some type of initiation and acceptance to be felt. In The Boxtrolls our surrogate is a young boy adopted into a society believed to be monsters based on appearance alone (it's easy to see what the moral of the story will be, huh?). Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), as he is so lovingly referred, is both charming and naturally intuitive given his strange predicament and his plight is at least endearing if not all that interesting while the biggest let down of all is that this is just what you expect it to be and little more. Full review here. C

It is difficult to deduce an opinion from something which you feel you didn't really experience in the way it was intended to be. I watched Terry Gilliam's latest fantastical daydream, The Zero Theorem, on my laptop after renting it from Amazon, but the impact wasn't nearly as thrilling given the themes and ideas it seems the director intended to touch on. As with many a Gilliam film, the visuals are key here and the environment is overpowering to the transparent dialogue that changes up speaking patterns and use of words to seem different or original, but evoke little meaning in their change. Throughout the entire film our lead character, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), refers to himself in plurals and though this is meant to suggest some type of existential meaning where he is all and all are him, we aren't ever really given clear reasoning as to why this guy is such an oddball besides the fact he lives in a similarly crazy-seeming world. It is this kind of mentality, this type of "off the beaten path" style for the sake of being different that is more irritating than innovative and if anything it seems Gilliam is splashing together little bits of his filmography to create something as outlandish as ever, but the issue is that none of it sticks. I enjoy a good conversation about the point of life, where we come from-faith, God, science, family, humanity and all of that stuff (good stuff that serious conversation and insight can produce) but screenwriter Pat Rushin, in his feature debut, has given Gilliam nothing particularly insightful or revelatory to work with other than asking the question of why one might want to prove that everything is for nothing? What would be the point Qohen asks? There is no thoughtful response though, there is no epiphany that comes forth to his apparently genius mind, but rather we are left with an age old John Lennon sentiment that doesn't so much invigorate us about our psychological state of being, but more comforts our human condition in flowery ways because the film is written with such flowery language. Full review here. D+

I never made it around to seeing The Conjuring Spin-off, Annabelle, and I don't know that I will. If I do, it likely won't be until the fall when it feels more appropriate. Even then, it feels like there are much better scary movie options to see first before wasting time on this badly reviewed cash grab.

White Bird in a Blizzard on the other hand I will make an effort to see as I've heard conflicting things, but that the twist in the middle is rather good. I've neither read the novel this was based on nor do I really know much of what the film is about, but it seems to have a solid cast led by the always charming Shailene Woodley and director Gregg Araki has made some interesting if not necessarily good features.

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