Sunday, January 25, 2015

Movie Review: "Lucy"

Starring Scarlett Johannson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked
Directed by Luc Besson

Filmmaker Luc Besson has never been one to produce a thoughtful, quiet movie watching experience for his audience. The French writer-director, behind action-heavy films such as “The Professional,” “The Fifth Element” as well as the screenplay for “Taken,” keeps that streak alive with “Lucy,” his latest and perhaps wildest creation yet.

On the surface, it’s a revenge tale, but one that is unique because it places a female at the center. As the movie begins, Lucy (Scarlett Johannson) is an expat American living in Taiwan and more interested in partying than building a career. Her boyfriend forces her to deliver a package carried in a briefcase to an unknown party, with predictably bad results.

The contents of the briefcase, as Lucy soon learns, are dangerous synthetic drugs for which she must serve as a drug mule to transport out of the country. Her new “employers” are a group of gangsters, led by Mr. Jang (played by Choi Min-sik ), who will clearly not take ‘No’ for an answer.

A drug pack is surgically implanted into Lucy, who discovers its potency after the blue substance ruptures inside her. The drug awakens her brain by allowing her to access an ever-increasing amount of it, setting her off on a determined path to reacquire the other drug packs sent with other mules, while dispatching anyone who gets in her way.

One of her allies is Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), a scientist who is an expert on the human mind. She reaches out to him, providing him the chance to study and understand the transformation happening to her. Thankfully, the movie refrains from turning Freeman into a fighting scientist, and largely leaves the action in the hands of Johannson.

As she’s demonstrated by portraying Black Widow in the Marvel superhero movies, Johannson is believable as an action heroine. It brings a bit of plausibility to a film that practically begs audiences to not think too hard about what they’re seeing.

As the villainous Mr. Jang, Choi Min-sik (so good in the original “Oldboy,” a much better revenge-themed movie) is given precious little to do but look menacing and shout orders to his underlings. By the time he and his cronies arrive at a college campus hoping to kill Lucy and reacquire their drugs, it becomes apparent the presence of the villains is largely pointless. Previous scenes involving Lucy’s ability to render the criminals harmless through the sheer power of her mind seems to have no effect on the villains’ memories. Clearly, the obvious thing for the mobsters would be to simply cut their losses and walk away. But, alas, the screenplay feels the need to have each and every one of them die — even as Lucy has moved beyond revenge to reach the full potential of her mind.

The film’s final act suffers from a schizophrenic mind, as it tries to ramp up the action while also visually demonstrating Lucy’s transformation into an omniscient being who can control time and space. But because Besson keeps the proceedings moving so swiftly and entertainingly for most of its running time (a scant 90 minutes), the leaps of logic presented are easier to forgive.

Grade: B

(Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Oscar nominations get praise, criticism, per usual

In the hours and days (OK, even minutes) after the annual Academy Award nominations are announced, a large swath of emotions seem to emanate from Hollywood and beyond — particularly on social media. Declarations of elation for one nomination is quickly followed (or is preceded) by outrage over the exclusion of another.

I admit, to my partial shame, of getting caught up in following such discussions. I’ll click on links reading about the surprises and snubs in various categories, and the general reaction from a small portion of the media I can stand to absorb in the days that follow. Sometimes, I wonder why I even care what films get how many nominations, and which actors get left out of a particular list of nominees. I’m sure that despite his exclusion from the nominees for Best Director, Clint Eastwood (a two-time Oscar winner in the category) is sleeping just fine at nights.

Still, I find myself interested in Hollywood’s award season, and hoping that long overlooked actors (Michael Keaton and Julianne Moore, among this year’s crop) will get some love from the Academy, come awards night on Feb. 22. And yes, I find it baffling that some films or actors get overlooked. To this day, I still can’t believe “Shakespeare in Love” beat out “Saving Private Ryan” for Best Picture.

On that note, here’s a glance at a few of the Oscar’s major categories of the night, and my less-than-expert opinions.


“American Sniper”



“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“The Imitation Game”


“The Theory of Everything”


Three of these films (“Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) made my top five favorites of the year, so I’m good if any of them win. But I suspect “Boyhood” will emerge victorious.


Alexandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman”

Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”

Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Ditto the previous statement, but I’m happy to see Linklater and Anderson get their first directing nominations after years of solid work in the industry. Linklater will probably take the award home for 12 years of devotion to his highly personal movie.


“Big Hero 6”

“The Boxtrolls”

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

“Song of the Sea”

“The Tale of Princess Kaguya”

My pick: “The Lego Movie.” Wait, it’s not nominated?! Oh, nice one, Academy. Well, it’s still my pick.


No, this isn’t a hybrid award, but just to save on space and time, I’m going with Michael Keaton for “Birdman” and Julianne Moore for “Still Alice.” Upsets could happen, but both are the favorites and overdue to pick up an Oscar. That goes especially for Moore — a five-time nominee.