Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Film Review: "Lucy" (2014).

“Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?” This question is asked in Luc Besson’s latest film Lucy. The French-American Science-Fiction Action film is directed, written and edited by Luc Besson. The film follows a woman who was accidentally caught in a dark deal and turns the tables on her captors, and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

It stars Scarlett Johansson as the title character, along with Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked and Choi Min-Sik. The performances in this film were brilliantly performed despite being wasted on a B-Movie script with pretensions of prescience For the title role, Besson required "an actress who could be believable as extremely vulnerable, as well as superpowered, when her exposure to an illicit substance inadvertently makes her acquire incredible skills." And that's exactly what Johansson brought to the role. Johansson shines in this pseudo-intellectual action flick that represents Luc Besson's finest work since The Fifth Element (1997). Lucy may be the most powerful film character ever created. She has the powers and abilities of Professor X, The Doctor, Dr. Manhattan, Galactus, God from Bruce Almighty (2003), Scarlet Witch, and Tetsuo from Akira (1988) all combined into one. For Mr. Freeman, despite giving a brilliant performance as the scientific mind of the film, his character I felt was under-written and didn't do much. Which was a bit of a shame. This principle applies to Waked who also gave a great performance but I felt his character didn't really serve the plot other than to help Lucy with her mission. However, Choi Min-Sik gave the best performance in the film and stole the show. Besson said that Mr. Jang is the "best villain" he scripted since Gary Oldman's character, Norman Stansfield from Leon: The Professional (1994), adding that "Whereas Lucy is the ultimate intelligence, Mr. Jang is the ultimate devil." Which is exactly what I thought. He was the best Besson villain since Stansfield and Min-Sik not only fit the role like a glove, but also played the role perfectly.

In his latest outing, Lucy, acclaimed commercial filmmaker Luc Besson remains with his distinctive visual style, but the film ' s silly concept only diminishes the movie's overall enjoyment. With vast plot holes and superhuman leaps of logic, for all its gloss, hipster pretensions, plot craters and sometimes risible attempts at action, the film traffics in large, troublesome ideas about the human mind now and where it could be in the future, even if the film itself is far too convoluted and compromised to do those hairy questions justice. The film is nothing more than a rhythmless, shapeless, and, with the exception of a few shots, cheesy-looking. In the end, it presents itself as an ambitious, old fashioned, ideas-driven science fiction film that is never as mind-expanding as its futuristic images and topical, dystopian ideas seem to promise. It is not only a disappointing effort from Besson, but it is also one of my least favorite films of the year.

Simon says Lucy receives:

Also, see my review for The Family.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Film Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014).

“So here we are: a thief, two thugs, an assassin and a maniac. But we're not going to stand by as evil wipes out the galaxy.” This line, from the trailer, is basically what Marvel’s surprisingly unique film, Guardians of the Galaxy, is all about. Based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name, created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and produced by Marvel Studios. It is the tenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is directed by James Gunn, who wrote the screenplay with Nicole Perlman. In the film, Light years from Earth and 26 years after being abducted, Peter Quill finds himself the prime target of a manhunt after discovering an orb wanted by Ronan the Accuser and forms an uneasy alliance with a group of extraterrestrial misfits who are on the run as well.

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige first mentioned Guardians of the Galaxy as a potential film at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International. Feige announced that the film was in active development at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International during the Marvel Studios panel, with an intended release date of August 1, 2014. He stated that the film's titular team would consist of the characters Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon. Nicole Perlman, who was enrolled in Marvel's screenwriting program in 2009, was offered several of their lesser known properties to base a screenplay on. Out of those, Perlman chose Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's Guardians of the Galaxy, due to her interest in space and science fiction. In early 2012, James Gunn was brought in to contribute to the script. Gunn eventually rewrote the script entirely because "it didn’t work" for him; he would use the film The Dirty Dozen as a reference to convey his ideas of the film to Marvel.

The film features an ensemble cast including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro. The performances in this film were all superbly performed. Chris Pratt gives a winning performance as Star-Lord. Saldana gave her best performance in a Science-Fiction film yet! Bautista gave a terrific first performance as Drax. Diesel and Copper gave the best performance of the entire film as Cooper stole the show as Rocket and Diesel was the heart and soul of the film. Pace gave a menacing performance as Ronan. As well as Gillan as Nebula. Reilly gave the films comical touch.

It is an out-of-body experience. Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie that's going to entertain a lot of contemporary folk who have a soft spot for the virtually ritualized manners of Marvel comic-book adventure and it is Marvel’s most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie ever made! Gunn has succeeded in his attempt to create the biggest possible adventure fantasy based on Marvel’s most unknown property and films from his childhood. A legendary expansive and ambitious effort to the sci-fi genre, Gunn opens our eyes to the possibilities of that kind of blockbuster film-making and things may never be the same. In conclusion, it is a grandiose and unique epic with a simple and whimsical heart.

Simon says Guardians of the Galaxy receives:

Also, see my review for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Beauty and the Beast" ("La Belle et la Bête") (1946).

For my twelfth and final entry for the NZIFF, I have watched, what I consider, the most beautifully gothic and possibly the best take on the classic fairy-tale, Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête, or Beauty and the Beast. “Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause the beast shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity, and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood's open sesame: "Once upon a time..."” This scroll, about the essence of a child’s love for fairy tales and fairy tales itself, opens this 1946 French romantic fantasy, an adaptation of the traditional fairy tale of the same name, written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1757 as part of a fairy tale anthology (Le Magasin des Enfants, ou Dialogues entre une sage gouvernante et ses élèves, London 1757). Directed by French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, the film stars Josette Day as Belle and Jean Marais. The plot of Cocteau's film revolves around Belle's father who is sentenced to death for picking a rose from Beast's garden. Belle offers to go back to the Beast in her father's place. Beast falls in love with her and proposes marriage on a nightly basis which she refuses. Belle eventually becomes more drawn to Beast, who tests her by letting her return home to her family and telling her that if she doesn't return to him within a week, he will die of grief.

This film adaptation of La Belle et la Bete adds a subplot involving Belle's suitor Avenant, who schemes along with Belle's brother and sisters to journey to Beast's castle to kill him and capture his riches while the sisters work to delay Belle's return to the castle. When Avenant enters the magic pavilion which is the source of Beast's power, he is struck by an arrow fired by a guardian statue of the Roman goddess Diana, which transforms Avenant into Beast as Belle declares her love for the Beast and reverses the original Beast's curse. When the Beast comes back to life and becomes human at the end, he transforms into a Prince Charming with Avenant's handsome features, but without his oafish personality. The adaptation also borrows from La Chatte Blanche by Marie-Cathérine d'Aulnoy, published in Les Contes des Fées, Paris 1697-1698, in which servants, previously magically reduced to their arms and hands, still perform all servants' chores. In the original tale, Belle has three brothers, whereas in the film, she only has one. Also in the original tale, Belle and her family are forced to move to a farmstead in the countryside after the loss of their fortune; in the film, they continue to live in their townhouse. Also in the original tale, the sisters are turned into statues as punishment for their cruelty, whereas in the film, they are merely forced to carry the train of Belle's gown at her wedding, though it is implied that they will now be her servants. In the fairytale, Belle repeatedly has dreams about a handsome prince (the Beast in his true form) imploring her to love the Beast, to which she replies she cannot. She believes this Prince is, like herself, a captive in the Beast's castle and searches for him during the day. This does not occur in the film. Jean Marais originally suggested to Cocteau for the beast to have a stag's head, obviously remembering a detail in the fairy tale La Chatte blanche: The knocker at the gate to the castle of the princess/The White Cat has the form of a roe's foot. While this suggestion followed the narrative lines of its fairy tale origin and would have evoked the mythical echo of Cernunnos, the Celtic stag-headed god of the woods. Marais' idea was nonetheless refused by Cocteau who feared that in the eyes of modern cinema audiences a stag's head would turn the beast into a laughing-stock.

Beauty and the Beast is a priceless fabric of subtle images, a fabric of gorgeous visual metaphors, of undulating movements and rhythmic pace, of hypnotic sounds and music, of casually congealing ideas. the dialogue, in French, is spare and simple, with the story largely told in pantomime, and the music of Georges Auric accompanies the dreamy, fitful moods. Jean Cocteau's film remains the most seductive version of the classic Gothic Romance tale. Conjuring pure magic from the simplest of effects, the film's Beast makeup is so perfectly detailed that you forget the fact that those longing eyes staring out from it belong to a man (more specifically, the film's male lead Jean Marais). The settings are likewise expressive, many of the exteriors having been filmed for rare architectural vignettes at Raray, one of the most beautiful palaces and parks in all France. And the costumes, too, by Christian Bérard and Escoffier, are exquisite affairs, glittering and imaginative. The film is a wondrous spectacle for children of any language, and quite a treat for their parents, too. But yet it's not exactly a film for children, however it is one generations of children have enjoyed. And it has the ability, just like Disney films, to bring out the child in adults. Cocteau's first full-length movie is perhaps the most sensuously elegant of all filmed fairy tales. As a child can escape from everyday life to the magic of a storybook, so, in the film, Beauty's farm with its Vermeer simplicity, fades in intensity as we are caught up in the Gustave Doré extravagance of the Beast's enchanted landscape. In Christian Berard's makeup, Marais is a magnificent beast, giving us a Beast who is lonely like a man and misunderstood like an animal; Beauty's sacrifice to him holds no more horror than a satisfying romantic fantasy should have. The film is as much a feat of feverish delight as it was in the dark days of Vichy and World War II: a magical passage to another, more impassioned and bewitching era. "Astonish Me!" was Cocteau's special motto. Astonish us he does in this film.

Simon says Beauty and the Beast receives: