Friday, 29 August 2014

Lucy


Well, that certainly didn't go the way it looked from the trailers...

"Lucy" stars the wonderful Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, a young women who unlocks the powers hidden in her brain when she is used as a drug mule by a Korean crime lord.

Scarlett Johansson has become on of my favourite actresses these days. Apart from her striking good looks, she has not only shown herself to be very capable of kick-ass action (Come on Marvel, where is that Black Widow movie?), but lately has come out with some amazing displays of acting prowess as well. "Lucy" tries to unite those two qualities of her, actually ditching her good looks at some points. Which is part of Johanssons appeal, because she is willing to do that kind of thing, which is rare.

Luc Besson has never really clicked with me, the last time he impressed as a director was "The Fifth Element" and that was 17 years ago. As a screenwriter, he has done some really cool stuff... and a lot of other stuff. "Lucy" is different from most things he has done, and I mention that solely because that is not touched upon in the marketing. I always find it annoying when that happens.

This movie is not as much of an action movie as you would think, it goes for some really philosophical themes, which is very interesting.

Writing this I find that I'm trying to get around mentioning the basic idea of the plot... because it sounds so stupid. It all revolves around the false assumption that humans use a mere 10% of their brain capacity. This has never been true, but it is a very resilient urban legend. "Limitless" had the same premise, but its interpretation is much closer to reality, in which it merely provides its protagonist with a massive boost of memory and perception. It also refrains from counting by percentage.

The process of unlocking Lucys mental potential in this movie has some remarkable side-effects, such as telekinesis and control of matter. The great question this movie asks is what happens when Lucy hits 100%. Speculating about this is Morgan Freemans character, who might as well be called Professor Exposition. Freeman has become something of a professional supporting character and is usually very enjoyable, but here I found that his role was completely mishandled.

Johansson does a good job at portraying a young woman who finds herself losing her humanity and gaining a new perspective on everything. The script works against her at times, because it refuses to let the action sequences go. Those are done well, but don't have any feeling of urgency, because noone is Lucys equal, there is no danger to her, that's how strong she is. This might have been better off as a drama.

Another thing that Besson should have embraced more is that Lucy effectively becomes a goddess. Yet, people shrug off her displays of immense knowledge and power like it's just the most normal thing in the world.

Be that as it may, there is still a lot to be liked about this. Besson shows what he's capable of and edges on experimental filmmaking, especially captivating in the opening scene, which splices Lucys run-in with the Korean mob with footage of mousetraps and predators hunting their prey. Johansson is great in this role, which shares some similarities with Samantha from "Her". And in general, the direction this movie is taking is very interesting, it just doesn't take it far enough.

Had this blended a little bit more religion with its science parts, "Lucy" might have been a great movie. As it is, it is ambitious but can't quite deliver all it promises. It still is a very enjoyable movie to watch.

Also, if you haven't already, check out Cinemartians review over here.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

One page on Doctor Who

In an effort to start some new segments on my blog so I have something to write about when there is nothing good in theatres, I want to take the opportunity to write about different topics, whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like it. So enjoy the very first installment of "One Page on...", hope you enjoy. Today I want to take the opportunity to bolster my nerd credibility by talking about Doctor Who.

Today is the premiere of the first episode of season 8. I haven't seen it yet, but I am looking forward to it immensely. Reviews have been incredibly positive and part of what I always liked about Doctor Who were the first episodes on a new incarnation.

There are a few things that I want to see tweaked or fixed. I find that the Matt Smith run, while very funny, had a lot of issues as to where it refused to make any sense at all for a long time. Now this comes with the territory of time travel, but until last seasons christmas special the whole overarching story of the last three season was cryptic at best. All the mentions of "The Silence" went unexplained until the last episode. I really liked the way it all came together in the end, but it wouldn't have hurt to give us some hints beforehand. The overarching plot of season seven, the mystery of the impossible girl was wasted completely. I would have hoped for that to be played out over several seasons. Having a companion that actually dies more often than the Doctor, how cool would that have been?

Now I gather that there are a lot of people that heavily criticize Moffats capabilities as a showrunner. I still think that he is the best writer working on the show, at least when it comes to single episodes. For the coming season though, I do hope that he puts some serious work into the overarching plots.

My second wish is that they find the courage to take it back into some darker territory. I really enjoyed Matt Smith as the Doctor, but Eccleston and Tennant both brought a sincerity to the role that he lacked. The first episode of "New Who" with Ecclestons ninth Doctor impressed me because he was absolutely capable of violence, with the whole season even showing him to be quite cruel at times. David Tennant took the darker parts of the Doctor to a whole new level though, especially in the specials leading up to his farewell from the show, Planet of the Dead and The Waters of Mars. Those two, in my mind, show what the Doctor can turn into when left to his own devices. In Matt Smiths run, we got a lot of talk about how his enemies tremble before him, but it didn't really feel like there was a side to him that warranted that. With Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, I hope they can return a bit of the seriousness to the character.

On the other hand, Matt Smith was probably the funniest of the three new Doctors, and I don't want to seem as if I'm not acknowledging that. There was so much fun in his three seasons, it's hard to pick an example. Well actually it's not, because you just have to look to his relationship with the Ponds, definitely the most fleshed out companions so far, and the most enjoyable ones as well. Amy trying to seduce the Doctor before her wedding is probably my favourite moment in those three seasons.

So yeah, that's my thoughts, if you have anything to say to that, why not be the first person to comment on my blog?

When Animals Dream

It's like "Drive" meets "Let Me In", but with less dialogue.

"When Animals Dream" is a Danish horror drama, a rare genre indeed. It stars young new actress Sonia Suhl as Marie, a girl finding out that she inherited her mothers disease, effectively making her turn into a werewolf. It also stars Lars Mikkelsen, lately of some "Sherlock" fame, where he played Magnusson, antagonist extraordinaire, as her father.

There are some wonderful things about this movie. It takes its sweet time getting to the point, but it also encourages the audience to put a lot of things together for itself in the process, which is to be encouraged. It also doesn't shy away from symbolism, using the werewolf tale to touch on things like coming-of-age, sexual awakening and repression and conservatism in small communities.

Still, this is clearly more of a niche property, not very interested in immersing you into an entertaining story. I always felt that the central point of any werewolf story is not knowing who the werewolf is, feeling the same suspicion the characters feel, and I stand by that. This is an interesting movie, but dramatically, there is not much there and the story stays very small throughout the movie.

Furthermore, this movies discerning quality is that it is slow. Dialogue scenes drag on for a very long time with hardly any lines. There is very little action in this and when there is it never feels especially exhilerating, certainly not enough to leave an impression that is worth the slow build up.

So, all in all, this is interesting, but really not for mass consumption. If you liked "Let Me In" or the original "Let the Right One in", you might see something in this.

Another Me

Tell me whatever you want... Littlefinger is behind this.

"Another Me" stars Sophie Turner in a mystery thriller about mysterious doppelgangers, mysterious dreams and mysterious voice-overs... Sophie Turner plays Fay, a teenager whose life starts to unravel shortly after her father (Rhys Ifans) gets diagnosed with MS.

If that sounds a bit sarcastic, that's because there are a few major flaws in it that work against it.

But first the good stuff. The atmosphere in this movie is amazing. It's dark, gothic and puts you in exactly the right mood. Most of the actors fit into their role admirably, sole exception being her rival for the role of Lady MacBeth in the school play, who lays the camp on thick.

Now for the problem... While the direction by spanish director Isabel Coixet is solid, but her screenplay is not. The opening narration can only be described as excruciating, leaving you to ask the question if this is going to continue through the whole movie. Luckily it doesn't, but that does nothing to save the movie from some appaling writing, especially the final act.

I actually had real hopes for this movie. Films like "Haunted Hill" and "The Conjuring" have shown what can happen when you apply some real acting talent to mystery or horror properties. Sophie Turner is perfectly cast in this role and Rhys Ifans does a great job, but the bad script makes this almost unwatchable at times.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I would have been fine with this movie if it completely lost the big showdown in the third act and just had the humans and apes overcome their differences and start building a life around each other.
Not that I mind the way the movie turned out, it's probably the greatest blockbuster this year.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" stars Andy Serkis as intelligent chimpanzee Caesar, leader of an emerging civilization of apes, and Jason Clarke as one of the leaders of a group of humans trying to reestablish theirs.

This movie is a rare thing. In these days of impressive CGI work, few movies manage to give you the feeling that you just witnessed some oldschool movie magic. "Dawn" puts itself in the good company of movies like "Star Wars", "Jurassic Park" and most recently "Gravity", movies that just drew you in and wouldn't let go of you. The "Jurassic Park" comparison is perhaps the most valid one, as it is the apes rather than the humans that leave you speechless, trying to gather up your jaw from the floor.

The movie knows this and puts most of the focus on them. This leads to comparably little screentime for Jason Clark, Gary Oldman and the other human actors, which has been criticised because it does make them slightly underdeveloped. Jason Clarkes character has been described as "functional", which I find to be an understatement. He plays a very interesting character in my opinion, he just happens to be something that is somewhere between main and supporting character.

An actual flaw, albeit a small one, is that what we do learn about the human characters and to some extent the apes as well, comes in the form of clunky exposition dialogue. With the Apes that's not a problem, because just hearing them speak is awesome itself, but dialogue along the lines of "Hey, you had a wife, right? She died, didn't she? It was the symian flu, wasn't it?" (exaggerated) could have used some polishing. There are some moments in this movie that show how it should be done, one involving Gary Oldman and a tablet PC.

But enough of the humans, what of the actual stars of this movie, the titular apes? For the first time, Andy Serkis gets top billing, and boy does he deserve it. Once more, Andy Serkis spawns debate over whether he should or should not be able to get a best actor nomination for Motion Capture work. He should, for multiple reasons. First, the sheer accomplishment of portraying a non-human character with such credibility. Serkis goes several steps further than just supplying human facial expressions and applying them onto a symian face in post-production. He moves like a chimpanzee, adds the evolution that the ALZ has sparked in Caesar and creates a whole new species from this.
Second, the character of Caesar itself is so well realized. His arc goes from being raised by loving humans, becoming a "Che Guevara" style revolutionary to being the leader of an emerging civilization of apes. He struggles between his sympathies for humans, keeping the apes under control and his own family.

Caesar also has to worry about discord in his own camp, impersonated by Toby Kebbels Koba, the ape from the first movie that was kept captive and being experimented on for years. Koba has a burning hatred for humans, which causes him to lose his respect for Caesar when he cooperates. He is a fearsome antagonist, not only because of his heavy facial scars. You also feel a maliciousness and intellect in him that make him so dangerous. There is a genuinely chilling moment when he stumbles upon humans, plays a circus ape for a moment and then goes on his way. His facial expression changes from fun cajoling circus ape to murderous warrior in a flash and you feel exactly how close the two humans just came to a brutal death.

Which brings us to the violence in this movie. Don't worry, it's not the bloody, gory type of violence, but it hit home anyway. It packs such a punch because we really care about the combatants in all the major engagements. When apes and humans fight I found myself longing for peace, cringing at every casualty. For any fight scene, the emotional core is the most important thing, so the audience can feel that there are stakes involved. "Dawn" has that down to a science, which is why some of the action scenes in this movie might be the best we've seen all year.

Finally, Matt Reeves deserves mentioning. His decision to put the actors into the woods instead of a green-screen pays off immensely, as the lighting and surroundings feel so natural and add credibility to the apes themselves.

Overall, this is definitely the best blockbuster we've had this year, even beating "Edge of Tomorrow" and "The Winter Soldier", both amazing movies. Watch it if you haven't already, if you have, watch it again.

Also, check out Cinemartians review over here.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

22 Jump Street

It's not supposed to work this way. The way the world works is that a comedy has great success and is then immediately followed with one or two sequels that sink the franchise into mediocrity. Well, "22 Jump Street" is here and Phil Lord and Chris Miller deliver one of the rare exceptions to the rule.

"22 Jump Street" stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, back as Schmidt and Jenko, this time as undercover cops in college.

"This department has invested a lot of money to make sure Jump Street keeps going.", says Nick Offerman towards the beginning of the movie. His whole monologue is dripping with meta-humour and that's really this movies greatest strength. Not quite as subtle as the Cornetto-trilogy, the movie tells you its game-plan 10 minutes in: Do everything the same, just with more money.

Last time we saw this was with "The Hangover Part 2", which had the same idea, but thought that meant repeating the same jokes. "Jump Street" knows that you saw the first movie. And because it so openly admits to doing the same thing, it actually manages to catch you off-guard when you got to comfortable assuming you know everything. It's not a big twist or anything, just small moments in which the movie winks at you and says: "You didn't think we were gonna do that, did you?"

This movie also adds some elements and twists others around. Part of what made the first movie so great was the realization that High School inexplicably favoured Schmidt on their second go. This time Jenko gets his time in the sun. Schmidts relationship to their boss, Ice Cube (now in a bigger office resembling an Ice Cube), gets fleshed out and leads to what might be the funniest scene ever put to film.

Hill and Tatum have a chemistry together that is incredible. Their unlikely partnership is put to the test, including a couples therapy session. Talk about subtext. As in the first movie, Jenko is the strongest character of this movie and Channing Tatum plays him with so much heart, you just can't help yourself wanting to be his buddy.

Possibly one of the greatest comedy sequels ever made, this surpasses the original and is a must-watch.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Priest's Children

Here's a movie I did not expect, in so many different ways. A croatian blend of Comedy and Drama that has what so many comedys coming out of Hollywood lack these days: It's own tone and voice.

This movie revolves around a young catholic priest on a small Island in Croatia, who finds out that his parish is using contraceptives to prevent the miracle of childbirth. With the help of a kiosk owner and an apothecary he sets out to poke holes in all the condoms on the island.

The strength of this movie is its unpredictability. The eastern european setting and sensibility makes this feel radically different from the comedys we are used to today. The humour feels vaguely episodic at times and it uses cutaway gags like you might know from Family Guy. Most importantly though, even if it goes for a very silly humour sometimes, this movie takes itself incredibly serious, and by the end of it, you are left wondering how much of this actually was a comedy. It makes you laugh and think at the same time.

The movie takes a very serious look at the state of organised religion these days and the most controversial issues are cleverly played for laughs. Apart from that, it touches on media, the influence of tourism and the social pressure in a small community.

The performances are strong, and the lead, who looks a bit like a mix of John Cusack and Adrien Brody, provides a strong anchor even through the more ridiculous scenes.

If you can find this movie playing somewhere and are tired of cut-and-dry comedies, this might be the one for you.

Hector and the Search for Happiness

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was one of my favourite movies this year so far, so here's another one, similar title, similar theme, similar story.

Hector has everything. He is a successful psychotherapist, who hasn't sold out, has a nice flat, no worries about money and a beautiful girlfriend. Still, something is missing and he goes to search for happiness. Literally... he even writes a diary about it. His travels lead him from China over Africa to the United States, and along the way he meets an ensemble of people that teach him all the little lessons he needs to learn about happiness.

There are a lot of genuine moments of humanity in this movie. A family gathering with sweet potato stew, a mountainside monastery and a warlords mansion. The ensemble is filled with some really great acting talent who all sell their roles and for the most part, the story works.

I say for the most part, because the final act, taking place in America feels like a step down and a regression from the journey our main character has made so far. It also features some weird science stuff that definitely had no place in this movie.

Finally, Hector himself poses a bit of a problem, because while his problems are arguably real and his pursuit of happiness is admirable, in the end, they are the definition of firsts world problems. Given, that is part of the realisations he makes over the course of this movie (and writes down in borderline campy one-liners in his diary), but it doesn't change the fact that his character is hard to relate to. Still, Simon Pegg gets some good scenes out of him, being the likeable guy he is. "Walter Mitty" had an actual reason for his quest, Hector not so much.

So after all, it's definitely enjoyable, but you might just as well go with a DVD of Ben Stillers take on a similar story.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Eyafjallajökull

Eyafjallajökulls marketing for some reason concentrated on the fact that Eyafjallajökull is a hard word to pronounce, which is why before watching this movie, I had no idea that it would be a road-movie taking place between Munich and Crete.

Now road-movies are not among my favorite films for a few reasons. The characters apparently always need to be polar opposites, which results in one main character and the weird one who gets all the jokes (Zach Galifianakis, I'm looking at you). Then a reason has to be fabricated for the two characters to be stuck in a car together for the journey. That happens within the first five minutes of the movie, usually about the time that the screenwriter leans over to the audience and whispers: "Yeah, just so you know, we're not doing logic in this one, so just go ahead and start suspending disbelief right now." Now I can do that, get behind the fact that our two main characters are now on the no-fly-list, because of reasons, trains are not an option and rental car companies have exactly one car. I just don't want to. Ideally, I want to see a little more effort than that.

That's where Eyjafjallajökull comes in... the volcano that is. Suddenly we have a real reason why flying is not an option and grounded flights really did put enourmous strain on other means of transportation. So now our two main characters Valérie and Alain have a real reason to go on a road trip. They already have a history together, so it makes sense that they would share a car, although maybe not the way you think.

I think the reason why I liked Eyjafjallajökull as much as I did is because it is so well grounded in reality. That makes it even funnier when it goes completely bonkers over the course of the movie. Valérie and Alain are absolutely toxic for each other, but the movie spends a lot of effort to show us believably that there was something there once. But for now, they bicker, they fight and they don't pull any punches.

I only really have one objection. Over the course of this movie it becomes clear that nothing you learn about the characters is simply there as a means to deepen the character. So for example when you learn that someone is a veterinarian, you bet that there's going to be a sick animal somewhere down the road. That takes some of the unpredictability out of it, but not too much. Especially the ending is not quite what I imagined.

So while it may not be the second "Intouchables" that the studio might have been hoping for, this is an extremely funny movie. Definitely watch it if you're looking for a good comedy.