Lucy

LucyCinema’s fascination with what might come from an evolution in human intelligence is as old as film itself. Thus, finding fresh, original ideas for these kinds of films is often a lost cause. However, if you like your Limitless with a side of Tree of Life, then Lucy may be the ticket for you this weekend.

The latest film from French director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Family), Lucy stars Scarlett Johansson in the title role as a student living in Taiwan whose boyfriend tricks her into completing a drug deal that has some unexpected consequences. When the drug deal goes sour, Lucy finds herself face to face with drug kingpin, Mr. Jang (Oldboy‘s Min-sik Choi) who threatens to kill her unless she acts as his drug mule. Lucy is forced to transport Jang’s newly synthesized drug by having it sewn into her lower intestine, but when an altercation results in the drug leaking into her bloodstream, Lucy discovers that the drug has an unintended side effect of increasing her cerebral capacity. Now, armed with brain functionality that dwarfs that of the average person, Lucy goes on the warpath to seek revenge against Jang and his outfit. In order to keep the film from becoming a routine revenge film and to instill a bit of legitimacy to Lucy’s agenda, Besson introduces Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), a brain researcher who advises Lucy to act as any thriving organism does and attempt to pass down what she learns for future generations.

As I stated earlier, this is not the most original idea ever put to film, but Besson does put his artistic spin on it and successfully creates what is easily one of the best films he has ever directed (which to many is not saying much!). As we are reminded over and over, the average person uses 10% of his or her brain, but Lucy discovers that once 20% is reached, the rest falls into place like dominoes. Soon Lucy discovers that her body requires doses of the drug to survive, resulting in further increases of brain functionality, but she finds that she cannot sustain 100% cerebral capacity making her a paradoxical ticking time brain. Lucy’s journey to unlock the secrets of the universe and kill a drug lord does feel a bit unbalanced at times. Furthermore, at a svelte 90 minutes, the film also seems a bit hurried and cheesy at times. It is also a surprisingly violent film with plenty of on and off screen casualties that do not seem necessary or prudent to the story. The film is strongest in its set-up where Besson cleverly splices metaphorical imagery into his narrative to an almost subliminal effect. What is proven is Johansson’s charm and strength in the genre (Lucy almost feels like an audition for the upcoming Black Widow, Avengers spin-off that will star her and is now in production). Regardless of its faults, this is an artsy and visionary little slice of sci-fi that is worth checking out. B

Lucy is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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Now You See Me

 ImageIn 2006’s The Prestige, Michael Caine plays a magician mentor who says, “Making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back.”  In Now You See Me, Caine plays a very different character who in one scene learns this lesson in a very painful way.  Now You See Me is like The Prestige-Lite, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. 

According to Now You See Me, successful illusions are the result of misdirection and timing. In a summer teeming with sequels, it is refreshing to see an occasional original idea hit the theaters, and it is this misdirection and successful timing that perhaps enhances the appeal of this film.  In one of the year’s most enjoyable opening scenes, four unique illusionists (Jessie Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco) are drawn together by a mysterious individual who provides them with the blueprints to a spectacular act that only they are capable of performing as a team.  The team, now known as the Four Horsemen, begins performing a series of illusions that involve various heists including the robbery of a major Paris bank.  Ironically, the spoils of these robberies go not to the victors but to the audience of the show!  This Robin Hood-esque form of vigilantism draws the attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who is given the exceptionally difficult task of proving exactly how the Four Horsemen are guilty of these robberies. 

Casting is by far one of the film’s major attributes.  Eisenberg’s awkward, self-deprecating persona is put aside for one with much stronger bravado; watching him play J. Daniel Atlas is sort of like watching him play Mark Zuckerberg on personality steroids, in other words – kind of great.  Woody Harrelson does a great job as mentalist Merritt McKinney, which he plays kind of like Sherlock Holmes…on personality steroids – so also kind of great.  Dave Franco and Isla Fisher are very effective, but far less central to the film’s development.  Ruffalo and his partner Alma (Mélanie Laurent) are great at revealing the frustration of chasing down the clever illusionists, and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine expertly provide further dimension to the story by exploring the darker side of “magic’s” purpose.         

Now You See Me has a lot of fun with its premise.  Director, Louis Leterrier packs the film with style and tricks of the trade that keep the story moving and rather captivating.  Leterrier, mostly known for action films like The Incredible Hulk and the first two Transporter films, takes a crack at an ensemble piece where he must balance story with numerous characters – all the while keeping the audience in the dark about the exact motivations of these characters.  He is mostly successful at this, but the film requires a rather high level of suspension of disbelief and some serious overlooking of plot-holes.  It also has a bit of an unevenness to it as Leterrier cannot quite lose his proclivity for action and crowbars a 15 minute car chase smack in the middle of the film.  The scene is brilliantly shot and very exciting, but it also involves virtually none of the film’s main characters and thus, feels a bit superfluous.

Now You See Me is a lot of fun and fortunately, it does not run out of steam at the end.  Too often films like this are all set-up and no delivery, but the ending of Now You See Me is satisfying and very appropriate.  Hopefully, Now You See Me will find an audience and remind movie studios that once in a while an original idea is worth their consideration before they green-light Fast and Furious 12: Where Did I Put My Keys? B+

Now You See Me is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 56 minutes. If you like magic and you like movies and you’ve been looking for a way to make that miserable experience of seeing The Incredible Burt Wonderstone disappear, this is the movie for you!

Oblivion

ImageHot-shot pilot moves in expensive, cutting edge fighter jets, wide-scenic shots of Tom Cruise on a motorcycle…get “Take My Breath Away” out of your head – we’re talking about Oblivion here! While the similarities between Oblivion and Top Gun end at the aforementioned, there is no question that “Maverick” has all the right moves to portray galactic mechanic, Jack Harper in the most visually dazzling film of the year so far.

Oblivion opens in 2077 after an alien threat has left Earth a barren wasteland fit only for extracting a few vital resources before humanity abandons the planet altogether to start a new existence on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Cruise’s Harper is a glorified serviceman who supervises and repairs the various resource-extraction devices along with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). As the two near the completion of their jobs on Earth, Harper begins having visions of his life prior to the mandatory memory-wipe that is required for service-workers. These visions lead him on a chain of events that cause him to question everything he thought he knew about his life.

Director Joseph Kosinski creates a vividly rich and nuanced futuristic environment where much of the technology feels like what truly is on the horizon. Kosinski directed 2010’s under-rated visual spectacle, Tron Legacy, and it is apparent that he has his finger on the pulse of crisp, sci-fi style. Narrative-wise, Oblivion is a much more complex story than is likely expected. The complexities do provide some depth to the film and force the audience to pay close attention; however, the juxtaposition between the style and the narrative is not smooth. Occasionally, the film is forced into a lull as it tries to tie up its intricate plot points without sacrificing its visual pageantry. This is most apparent in the scenes that develop the sub-plot involving a human resistance leader named Beech (Morgan Freeman) and a mysterious NASA survivor named Julia (Olga Kurylenko).

Oblivion’s chief attributes are clearly its visual elements. Freeman and Kurylenko’s characters are thinly developed and the actors are mostly unremarkable. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that any film that features Morgan Freeman in any role is most likely not a bad movie. Thematically, the film is successful at developing some intriguing ideas about discovery and purpose. The film acts as a subtle homage to familiar films like Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Wall-E. Speaking of familiar, the score is oddly reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films. This is simply an observation, but having Morgan Freeman in the film as well certainly makes one wonder if this is some form of statement. Regardless, while some will no doubt be puzzled or dissatisfied with the conclusion, Oblivion mostly works as an epic and visually alluring entry into the science-fiction canon. B+

On a side note, seeing the film in IMAX or an XTREME screen is recommended as the film has so much to offer visually. Oblivion is rated PG-13 and runs 125 minutes.

Olympus Has Fallen

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High-adrenaline, fast-paced intense action, a victimizing, threatening enemy, and a strong, heroic lead character – Olympus Has Fallen succeeds where A Good Day to Die Hard miserably, miserably failed. On the other hand, it can also be said that Olympus Has Fallen succeeds where the original Die Hard also succeeded. However one wants to look at it, if you like any form of Die Hard, you are sure to like Olympus Has Fallen.

While the title may lead one to suspect that this is an epic Greek battle of the gods, this “Olympus” refers to the “most heavily secured building in the world,” the White House. Yet within thirteen minutes, a grisly surprise attack by North Korea causes this “Olympus” to fall and fall hard! Disgraced presidential security operative, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself in serious John McClane territory as he becomes the only eyes and ears that Speaker of the House and acting president Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) has on a hostage situation that includes President Asher (Aaron Eckart), Secretary of Defence McMillan (Melissa Leo), Vice President Rodriguez, and South Korean Prime Minister Lee (Keong Sim).

Butler plays this role well. He’s tough but also sympathetic. Director Antoine Fuqua keeps the action fresh, moving, and increasingly relentless. He also keeps it dark, and not just figuratively. Much of the film takes place in a darkened White House at night, which results in some confusing and disorienting action scenes from time to time. Butler’s main objective is to infiltrate the presidential bunker where North Korean terrorist Kang (Rick Yune) menacingly tortures and executes hostages until his demands for the US to withdraw all resistive forces from Korean territory are met. Kang is an excellent villain and Yune plays his part to a cold and ominous effect.

Olympus’s greatest advantage is its pacing and relentless action. There is little character development, barring a short prologue at the beginning that reveals the rift between President Asher and Banning; thus, the characters are hardly memorable. Instead, it is shooting, killing, stabbing, kicking, and punching and lots of it. The film isn’t lazy about its action though, and it is for this reason that it is successful in rising above average action fare. It is doubtful, we will see Olympus Falls Again, but for a one and done “kicking ass and taking names” kind of movie, this one feels like Die Hard on a “Good Day.” B+