FlixChatter Review: LUCY IN THE SKY (2019)

You may have heard about a newsworthy story back in 2007, when an a NASA astronaut drove from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida (roughly 900 miles) in record time to (and allegedly wearing an adult diaper the whole way) in order to confront and kidnap a fellow female NASA astronaut who was involved in a sexual relationship with a fellow male NASA astronaut, whom the first NASA astronaut was also having an affair with. To put it bluntly, NASA was entangled in an “Astronaut Love Triangle,” which put a dark stain on the seemingly perfect life of NASA astronauts and also led NASA to create its first astronaut Code of Conduct. And more importantly for this review, it led to co-writer and director Noah Hawley to come up with the screenplay for Lucy In The Sky, which is also marks the directorial debut for Hawley and is loosely based and inspired by the “Astronaut Love Triangle” from 2007.

Lucy In The Sky stars Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, a NASA astronaut who has just returned from a space mission aboard one of NASA’s now-retired space shuttles. During the opening credits, we see her outside the space shuttle, starring deeply into the atmosphere and onto the lights of the world’s cities that shine brightly from outer space. As she returns home, her husband Drew Cola (Dan Stevens) tells her that her teenaged niece Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson) was dropped off at their house to be cared for due to her absent parents. Being childless, Lucy and Drew, both employed by NASA, are used to his as they often have to look after her. Drew is a frail soul, and can’t open jars without his wife Lucy’s help. The family is also devout Christians, giving thanks to Jesus before starting their meals. Portman delivers lines in a thick southern accent, the way a lifelong Texan would, and sports a haircut resembling professional ice skater Dorothy Hamill. Lucy has spent her entire life to be the best in school, not having an Ivy League education, and overcoming other challenges, including the type of household she was brought up in (more on that later).

After returning from the out-of-this-world mission to space, Lucy returns to daily life at NASA, running laps, doing carpool and continuing to train for her next mission. The movie’s director shows us this less-than-exciting life style by cutting the aspect ratio of the on-screen frame to a “square-ish” 4:3 from the original and glorious 2.35:1 widescreen space scenes show just minutes prior. This leads Lucy to find alternate way to fill the void of leading an exciting astronaut lifestyle so she beings to have an extramarital affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), who has also had a profound experience in space and is also looking to rebound on his single lifestyle and use his newly acquired title as space astronaut to satisfy his love life. The problem is that Mark is not only involved with the married Lucy but also with another younger and more attractive single astronaut Erin Eccles (amazing actress Zazie Beetz, who is fresh off her minor and insignificant role in Joker).

While not being involved in an extramarital affair with her fellow astronaut, Lucy Cola also has to take care of her grandmother Nana Holbrook (Ellen Burstyn, who literally steals the show right under Portman and Hamm), an ailing old woman who smokes, swears a bunch and packs a pistol in her purse to boot. A typical opinionated Texas granny, Burstyn isn’t afraid to tackle this role head on, providing some much needed comedic relief while the movie screens are dragging on. “I’m back” says Lucy to her Nana. “Oh, did you go somewhere?” asks Nana, seeming unimpressed with her astronaut granddaughter’s most recent trip to space. “Up and down,” replies Lucy as she remembers her trip into outer space aboard the space shuttle. There is also somewhat of a running theme that includes a butterfly being born out of a cocoon. After her nana passes away, things are set into motion that leads Lucy to take Blue Iris on a trip across the country to intercept the astronaut pair of Goodwin and Eccles. In the end, its Lucy’s niece that saves the day and has the brightest future, having learned from her aunt that she can do something different than her deadbeat parents did – change the course of her own life.

Natalie Portman is spectacular in the title role of Lucy Cola, but she also dragged down by a slow-paced and lackluster screenplay. Even the likes of Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz and Ellen Burstyn can’t save this film from its own factual inaccuracies and over-the-top climax. While the story of an astronaut gone crazy or full of lust can seem appealing at first, the sensationalism portrayed in the film does not make it more exciting or climactic. In fact, it does the opposite – making it seem that the director just decided to tell the story as close to what may or may have not happed as possible, without exploring why Lucy snapped the way she did. Was it a desire to get back into space and retaliating at those who were trying to prevent it, or was it that she just that her desire to be the best at everything suddenly overcame her rationale and her ability to made correct decisions? Regardless of the answer, we are left to wonder what the real human experience of Lucy Cola might have been. Even the close-up scenes of Natalie Portman in space can’t make up for the overall lackluster of the film.


Have you seen Lucy In The Sky? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Age of Adaline (2015)

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A lot of the times, I anticipate films based on its director or cast, but in this case, it’s the premise that intrigued me. I wish there are more fantasy romance like this made. It seems that a lot of romantic films are either rom-coms or something utterly tragic. Then there’s the Nicholas Sparks variety which I tend to avoid.

The fact that it’s a fantasy romance, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy this film. But hey, we don’t have issues with a plethora of superhero movies requiring that, so why not a romantic film?

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Right from the start, I was intrigued by the protagonist, who basically becomes immortal after a car accident so she always looks 29 throughout the movie. We meet Adaline when she’s around 107 years old, who’s settled into her eternal existence, having to move every decade with a series of fake identities to prevent people from knowing who she is. The only person who knows about her condition is her only daughter (Ellen Burstyn) who looks like she could be Adaline’s grandma. Burstyn adds a lot of depth in her brief role here, but Lively holds her own against the experienced Oscar winner.

The way the story unfolds is pretty straightforward but it’s so beautifully-told with a series of flashbacks that are done pretty seamlessly. The use of VO narration can be irksome, but I don’t mind it so much here, even though it’s a bit overdone in the end.

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The first meet-up at a New Year’s Eve party is breathtakingly perfect. Two good looking strangers lock eyes from across the room that’s followed by a sweet flirtation in an elevator. Michiel Huisman‘s Ellis has all the qualities of a romantic hero – handsome, smart, successful and an old-school romantic, what more could you ask for? Surely Game of Thrones‘ fans are familiar with his um, work. Huisman is Dutch but his American accent is very convincing, but most importantly, he has a great chemistry with Blake Lively and you actually root for them to be together.

I haven’t seen anything Lively is in, apart from her brief role in The Town, but I think she did a fine job carrying this film. She’s beautiful and has a phenomenal figure that make those vintage clothes look amazing. She also has that classic look about her that fit the role. Some actresses might look too modern here, but Lively also has that quiet grace about her that is so elegant and bewitching. They initially wanted Natalie Portman in the role and she would’ve been good, but I think the fact that Lively is a bit of an unlikely casting actually works well for the film. That said, I feel that she might not have the dramatic chops to pull off some of the heavy emotional moments that a more skilled actress could bring to the role.

The supporting cast are particularly notable, especially Harrison Ford as Ellis’ father and his younger self, played by Anthony Ingruber whose physical resemblance is uncanny. Even their voice sound similar. I LOVE Ford’s performance here, he doesn’t do romantic roles often but he’s got that lovelorn look down pat here.

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Now, with a romance like this one, a certain degree of schmaltzy-ness is to be expected. Yet there’s a genuine sweetness and charm in this one that swept me off my feet. Yes there are moments where the dialog comes off corny and the plot is rather predictable, but nothing that would derail the film for me.

I was convinced this film was based on a novel, as so many films like this are, but it turns out it wasn’t. It’s written by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz and I love the idea of lost love interwoven here in Adaline’s enchanting long life. I hadn’t heard of the director, Lee Toland Krieger, but he’s certainly got style as this film looks positively gorgeous. The costume and cinematography are so beautiful to behold, and the set pieces fit each era perfectly. The various San Francisco locations, such as the library where Adaline works, look so charming here, especially in the night scenes.

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I also like the use of music, featuring vintage and contemporary songs over the course of Adaline’s life. It just sets the mood nicely and gives you that swoony quality the film aims for. I went into this film with neutral expectations, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. In fact I love it enough where I certainly don’t mind watching it again.

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Have you seen Age of Adaline? Well, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Musings on Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR

InterstellarBannerI’ve been a big fan of Christopher Nolan‘s work, in fact I’ve seen all of his work and they’ve pretty much range from great to fantastic. I’ve been looking forward to Interstellar like most movie fans, but to be honest with you, for whatever reason, a couple of weeks before the film opened and as the hype reaches its tipping point, I started to feel… indifferent. In any case, I went to see it Saturday night anyway and instead of a straight review, this is more of my reaction to the movie… what I like and don’t like about it, so pardon if I’m rambling a bit…

The film is essentially about a small group of people going on a space travel adventure to save mankind. Well that’s the elevator pitch version anyway, but at the heart of it is a father/daughter relationship that transcend through space and time. I don’t remember seeing a specific year mention but the story is set in the future when the earth as we know it is dying, food is scarce as dust bowls continually wipe out farm crops. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widower & former NASA test pilot who’s now taking up farming with his father in-law and his two kids, Tom & Murphy. Cooper hasn’t quite given up his space aspiration as when he and his kids spotted a drone flying close by, Cooper gets all giddy and drives through those supposedly precious corn fields to chase after it.

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I discussed some crucial plot points here, so beware if you haven’t seen the movie

It’s perhaps one of the only truly joyful moment in the film, and it’s obvious that his 10-year-old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) shares his enthusiasm for science and space. Soon Cooper is reunited again with NASA in its secret hideaway. How did he get there? Well apparently a dust storm through an open window spells out the coordinates of its location in morse code. Say what? Well, that’s just one of the mind-boggling things about this movie and we’re just getting started. When Cooper gets to NASA, the elder professor Brand (played by Michael Caine, natch) tells him of a possible solution to humanity’s crisis and that is they’ve got to find a sustainable planet on the other side and Cooper is the only man for the job. Hmmm, wouldn’t you think that if he’s truly the only person for this crucial mission, NASA would’ve sought him out instead of waiting for him to somehow stumbles into their base? I mean, Cooper lives pretty much just down the road and they know he has the skills to pilot their ship.

Following the NASA encounter, the film doesn’t waste any time to shoot Cooper into space. Discussions about this movie would likely involve wormholes and black holes which frankly go way over my head, but there are a plethora of plot holes as well to contend with. The one I mentioned in the above paragraph is just one example. Apparently famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson have been tweeting about the ‘Mysteries of #Interstellar’ which you can find here. I kept nodding as I read each tweet, especially the one where Cooper cracks his helmet on one of the planet’s he visits and he’s even able to remove his gloves during a fight. Wouldn’t you think the Planet’s air is toxic to the human body??

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Now, plot holes in sci-fi movies are common, in fact, it’s kind of inevitable… I mean it’s ‘fi’ for fiction after all. Interstellar does have the appearance of being grounded in realism however, in fact, Nolan hires a real astrophysicist Kip Thorne in building the Black Hole for the movie and to ensure the depictions of wormholes and relativity are as accurate as possible. But yet, one doesn’t need to be a scientist that a close proximity to the black hole would’ve killed those astronauts instantly and thus that planet being so close to such black hole, which Cooper’s team dub Gargantua, simply cannot exist. I have to admit though, it’s been fun reading about all the stuff that don’t make sense in Interstellar. It seems that with a lot of Nolan’s movies, analyzing it is as fun as watching his movies.

That said, I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride. And what a ride it was. The imagery and visual effects is nothing short of tremendous. It’s something that I’ve come to expect from Nolan’s team, and they did not disappoint on that front. Everything is so meticulously-crafted. Though I’ve seen a lot of spaceships in other sci-fi films, I’m still in awe looking at all the details of the Endurance ship and all the other set pieces. Instead of his usual collaboration with Wally Pfister (who was busy making his first film Transcendence), we’ve got Hoyte van Hoytema in charge of cinematography. The Dutch-Swedish cinematographer impressed me greatly with his work in HER, but he’s outdone himself here with his astounding work. The earth landscape rivals the beauty of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, but it’s the visuals of the outer space and the barren alien planets that’s really breathtaking. But whilst the film’s scenery is truly a feast for my eyes, my ears aren’t so lucky. Hans Zimmer‘s score is often so loud to the point of irritation and it drowns out all the dialog, especially during the NASA visit where Brand is giving Cooper a tour. Perhaps it’s intentional, as this article points out, but really, I wouldn’t care about the thematic significance when my ears are hurting, y’know. I listened to the soundtrack later on and really enjoyed it, though I still love his work on Nolan’s Batman films more.

InterstellarStill5Sometimes I feel that perhaps I’m not smart enough to get Nolan’s movies… let alone TWO Nolans working together. Christopher and his brother Jonathan ‘Jonah’ Nolan collaborated on the script as Jonah originally developed it for Steven Spielberg who later passed on the project. To say that Interstellar is discombobulating is quite an understatement. I LOVE using that word whenever I get the chance to, but I don’t necessarily enjoy being in a constant state of bewilderment. The entire sequence involving Matt Damon is completely lost on me, not only did Damon’s casting completely take me out of the movie – “What’s Jason Bourne doing here?” “Wait, is this Elysium 2.o?” – the whole storyline of Dr. Mann wanting to kill Cooper felt preposterous to me. So he goes space crazy, okay… but I really didn’t expect the sudden villain-y scenario here and it’s a subplot I could do without.

I haven’t quite recovered from Mann’s um, riddle and Nolan’s already hit me with another as the film seemingly raced towards the finale once the film passed its two hour mark. I was totally baffled by the sequence of Cooper and the robot TARS inside some kind of a tesseract portal, supposedly built by ‘future us’ [as Cooper said during his frantic mumbling] which implies there’s advanced humans in existence by then who could build such a thing. Suddenly Cooper discovers it’s him who’s actually the *ghost* that haunts Murphy’s and knocks stuff off her bookshelf. There’s too much to digest here that my mind wander a bit, admiring the gorgeous scenery of that fifth dimension portal or whatever the heck that is. The whole time I kept thinking ‘how did they do that?‘ Then suddenly Cooper is floating again in outer space and before you know it, he gets rescued and wakes up in a whole new earth. O-kay…

When I wasn’t scratching my head pretty much the entire time, there were moments that I winced at the constant sobbing scenes that reminds me of Spielberg’s schmaltz-fest War Horse. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a genuinely emotional moments. I was quite moved by the father/daughter relationship in various points of time, the tearful goodbye and the reunion come to mind, but at times, I felt like I was deluged by over-sentimentality. I don’t know, maybe Nolan felt he’s got a reputation of being a cold or emotionally-detached that he went a bit overboard trying to refute that?

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[End of spoiler section]

Fortunately, the actors are more than up for the task to bring the humanity aspect of this space drama. McConaughey is a convincing everyman here, that I’m willing to overlook his Southern accent playing a character supposedly being from the Midwest. He has an effortless chemistry with Foy who plays his young daughter. My second favorite performance is Jessica Chastain as the older Murphy, not only she resembles Foy but she carries the same sensibilities and stubbornness displayed in her younger self. I’ve never been a big fan of Anne Hathaway but I think she acquits herself well, even delivering such a such a mawkish speech as “Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space” referring to her long lost love Dr. Edmund who went on a previous NASA mission. I’ve mentioned how I feel about Matt Damon above, I really wish they’d cast someone less famous & less ubiquitous than him. Michael Caine is always reliable, though they totally botched the aging process of his character [aka he basically doesn’t age at all in 23 years!]. John Lithgow and Ellen Burstyn both delivered a memorable performance despite their brief screen time.

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The longer I mull over it, the more I feel that Interstellar is a film I appreciate but not love. It’s not because it’s too confusing because I have loved other films I don’t completely understand, Nolan’s own Inception being one of them. It’s just that in the end, I just don’t feel as much connection with any of the characters and their journey. Despite all that crying in the film, overall the film didn’t tug my heartstrings as much as I had hoped. Heck I was more affected by the relationship of the robot Baymax and its protagonist Hiro in Big Hero 6, that movie was so joyful and emotional all at the same time. Speaking of robots, I thought TARS is a hoot and perhaps as memorable as any of the human characters. And hey, for once the robots are actually loyal to the humans whilst the main enemy of man is ‘Mann’, get it? 😉

The film has been called overly-ambitious and that its intellectual reach exceeds its grasp. I can’t refute either of those points, but I still have to give props to Nolan for making something bold and audaciously cerebral. I’m not just talking about dazzling us with jaw-dropping visuals but in the way he challenges viewers with stupendous and imaginative ideas. I appreciate that Nolan never asks us to ‘check our brain at the door’ or dumb stuff down to make things more digestible. But at the same time, there is also such a thing as having too many ideas and themes to process in a single film. There’s perhaps enough substance here to warrant say, a miniseries. The movie is nearly 3 hours long but it’s still not enough time to focus on one of those ideas, the result is sensory overload that threatens to suck the joy out of what’s supposed to be a piece of entertainment. I might revisit this film again later when it’s out for rental and perhaps I’d have a different opinion then.

Interstellar_TARSThis is one of the longest musings I’ve done in a movie, which is funny as I originally wanted to do a mini review of it but it proved to be impossible as there’s so much to say. Despite my gripes and what a lot of reviewers have said that it’s a beautiful-but-flawed film, I still urge you to see it. It’s the kind of film that’s meant to be seen in as big a screen as possible, as some of the sequences shot using IMAX camera are simply stunning. However you feel after you see it, Interstellar is still a worthwhile experience and it also makes for a fun discussion/reading afterwards. The Nolan brothers are certainly one of the most powerful siblings working in Hollywood today. Even if this one isn’t quite a masterpiece, they’re still a force to be reckoned with and I still look forward to what Chris Nolan will come up with next.

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So, that’s my thoughts on Interstellar. Do you agree/disagree? I’d love to hear what you think!