FlixChatter Review: LUCY (2014)

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A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

Luc Besson is a hit and miss director for me. Of his recent works, The Family was abhorrent, but The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec has its charm, so I proceeded this one with caution. The premise of this action sci-fi is rather preposterous, but that goes with the territory with Besson.

Scarlett Johansson portrays both sides of Lucy convincingly, before and after the *transformation.* She started out as a typical wild & fun-loving college student who inadvertently got involved in some serious mess when one of his party buddies forced her to deliver a suitcase to a Korean mafioso at a hotel. Naturally she’s scared witless and utterly confused as to what the heck’s going on and you truly felt for Lucy in this scenario. When she was brutally assaulted by her captors, the powerful drug that’s sewn into her abdomen was accidentally released into her system. Well, all hell break lose as Lucy then sets out to avenge her captors.

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Despite the preposterous action sequences, I was quite engrossed in Lucy’s journey even as she quickly transform into some kind of a super-heroine with off-the-chart cerebral and physical prowess. If you’re familiar w/ Besson’s work, you can expect over-the-top bloody shoot-outs and of course, exhilarating car chases. It’s odd though that even though the setting is mostly in Taiwan, the villains all speak Korean.

Morgan Freeman is playing yet another wise-guy of sort, something he could do in his sleep practically but he’s still watchable even when he spent most of his time here looking perplexed. He plays Professor Norman, a well-known scientist whose research happens to be on brain’s cerebral capacity and he ends up being Lucy’s ally. Choi Min-sik is effortlessly sinister as the sadistic Korean drug kingpin. Amr Waked, whom I really liked in Salmon Fishing in The Yemen, has a small but memorable supporting role as a Parisian police captain. The star here is definitely Scarlett, she’s definitely has the charisma and star power as the protagonist. A lesser actress would’ve turned Lucy into a cyborg-like creature, but she’s still able to display a sense of vulnerability. There is an emotional moment when she calls her mother, knowing that the power of the drug will soon consume her. There’s a rumor that the role was initially offered to Besson’s ex Milla Jovovich, I doubt I’d even be interested in this if she had been in the lead.

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Now, the movie attempts to be philosophical and it doesn’t quite work. I just don’t think Besson has it in him to really explore the depth of such a question about ‘the meaning of life’ and such, he’s more interested in the action. The *science* presented here is absurd, but hey, it’s science fiction after all, the logic-defying thing is sort of expected. At the same time, it’s actually not as vapid as it may seem, in fact, it’s engrossing enough that I was willing to go along for the ride. And that’s a pretty thrilling ride down to its wacky and bombastic conclusion.

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Have you seen Lucy? Well, what did YOU think?

Weekend Roundup: TCFF Sneak Peek, a French comedy & the Great Gatsby

Happy Sunday everyone!

Well it was a rather packed weekend starting with the a TCFF Insider Series event on Friday night. It was the perfect venue for early September as a touch of Autumn filled the air as we gathered poolside at the University Club in St Paul on top of Ramsey hill, whilst sipping cocktail & munching delicious hors d’oeuvres.

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We watched a compilation of 12 trailers of some indies/docs/features films that’ll be showing at the film fest in mid October. One of the features are already on my most-anticipated Fall movies list, yay! I can’t tell you yet which films are playing as details are still being finalized, but let’s just say I’m super excited!

Well I only got to see two movies this weekend. Somehow my hubby and I have been in the mood for French comedies lately. Last week we saw The French Minister, well this weekend we saw…

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

I’m not always a fan of Luc Besson movies but this one turns out to be entertaining. It’s got a bit of Indiana Jones/The Mummy but with a female heroine instead. But this movie is more of a zany fantasy-comedy with some laugh-out-loud moments involving mummies being brought back to life. Louis Bourgoin as the protagonist is fun to watch. She reminds me a bit of Katherine Heigl with dark hair but with more spunk and likable presence. Mathieu Amalric (who I remember as the villain in Quantum of Solace) has a small role but entirely unrecognizable here under heavy *ugly* makeup.

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The movie is loosely based on a French comic of the same name that takes place in in 1910s Paris which features some gorgeous scenery of the city of Light. Some of the movie’s more fun and fantastical part involves a large Pterosaurs that hatched when a Professor uses a telepathic technique. The CGI looks pretty good and definitely enhances the fantasy element of the story. I was quite surprised however, that the reason for all those adventures Adèle went through turns out to be quite a heart-wrenching, albeit there were some creepy moments involving Adèle’s sister. Besson made some hilarious *historical* reference as to the origin of the pyramid in front of the Louvre, though the cliffhanger involving a doomed ocean liner is rather odd.

Overall I enjoyed it, I think if you like the two action-adventure movies I mentioned above, you might enjoy this one too.

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Sunday night is usually reserved for some Toby Stephens watching and this time I chose this TV Movie of …

The Great Gatsby (2000 TV Movie)

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I’ve seen this movie three times so far and I enjoyed it every single time. Sure it didn’t have the lavish style of Baz Luhrmann’s version nor its budget to depict the lavish, over-the-top parties in Gatsby’s house, but it certainly didn’t put me to sleep like the 1974 version with Robert Redford. I wish this adaptation had captured the manic energy of the roaring 20s though, even the music was a bit melodramatic. But the two performances, Toby as Jay Gatsby and Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway, won me over. In fact, just like in the 2013 movie, there’s more chemistry between Jay & Nick than Jay and Daisy.

Toby made for a charming & suave Gatsby, with that signature smirk of his and looking dapper in those tailored suits, but what I like about his performance was how emotional and real it was. The way he looked at Mira Sorvino’s Daisy made you believe he truly was infatuated with her, that he was besotted beyond reason. I’ve grown to like Rudd’s performance here as well as the story’s most relatable character. I’ve seen him mostly in comedies but he certainly had dramatic chops and he makes for a compelling and sympathetic narrator of the story. What’s more important than the visual style and costumes, which this adaptation lacked due to budget constraints, it does capture the tragic story of Gatsby and like Nick, I certainly was on Gatsby’s side.

Since I bought the dvd, it came with a great biography of its author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who undoubtedly has lived an intriguing life that rivals his most famous literary hero.

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Well, that’s my weekend roundup folks. So what did you see, anything good?

FlixChatter Review: 3 Days to Kill

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A dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

Ok, the fact that McG directed this from Luc Besson’s script doesn’t exactly spell ‘must see’ on my list. Heck, the last film by those two I saw were This Means War (even w/ Tom Hardy in it, it’s only worth seeing when killing time on a plane!) and the abysmal The Family respectively. But I gave this a shot because I’m a big fan of Kevin Costner and it’s nice to see him in a leading role again.

So the film begins with a shoot-out at a hotel between a CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) and the agency’s biggest fish, a nasty terrorist in possession of nuclear bombs. The operation was a bust partly because Renner passed out as he’s apparently been suffering from brain cancer. So he’s given only a few months to live and he decides to spend it with his estranged wife and teenage daughter in where else, Paris. That’s classic Besson as he has such a penchant for setting his films in his hometown the City of Lights.

What surprised me here is that this flick is not just all action and car chases, though of course you can expect a lot of that from McG and Besson. There’s equal drama here in the form of a father-daughter relationship. I don’t mind that part even if it all looks familiar and somewhat schmaltzy at times. Hailee Steinfeld is quite good as his bratty teen Zooey who’s slowly warming up to her dad, she makes her character more interesting than otherwise would under a less capable young actress. Connie Nielsen doesn’t get much to do as Costner’s estranged wife but it’s been a while since I saw her in anything so it’s nice to see she’s still working.

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The resemblance to Taken is uncanny given the action paired with father/daughter drama. But the fact that there are more preposterous action scenes in the Liam Neeson vehicle, Taken was decidedly more entertaining. It may seem that Neeson is giving advice to Costner to be another aging seasoned action star, but to be fair, Costner was already doing action flicks early in his career, even played a spy in No Way Out and most recently a CIA mentor in the latest Jack Ryan movie. I must say he’s still got it, and still looks good doing it, too.

I think the weakest link in this movie is Amber Heard. Her character is so darn cheesy, the clichéd femme fatale of a blond seductress with stiletto heels & red lips, complete with corny lines like “I’m everybody’s type” as she shamelessly flirts with Ethan. There’s an apparent disdain that Ethan is showing towards Vivi which is nice to see as I share his dread. All the scenes with Vivi is so lame and cringe-worthy. I was never fond of Heard since I saw her in The Joneses, and she proves to be a one-note actress here.

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Mixing genres is always tricky and I don’t think the filmmaker/writer involved are skilled enough to make it work here. It ends up working more of an action comedy with some drama thrown in. The espionage stuff is used more in a gimmicky manner that I can’t even call it a spy thriller. There’s also a subplot involving an African immigrant family staying in his Paris flat that feels awkward here. I think it’s meant to show Ethan’s softer side but it’s rather overkill as we’ve already got that from his relationship with his daughter. Plus that whole baby delivery is so unrealistic that it was utterly risible. There are some genuine laughs to be had though, especially the scenes involving Marc Andréoni as the bad guy’s limo driver. There’s also a droll running gag with Ethan’s phone, set to Icona Pop’s perky tune I Love It (I Don’t Care) by Zooey, that keeps going off at the most inopportune time.

All things considered, I find this movie fairly entertaining as I didn’t take it too seriously. Much like True Lies where there are more plot holes than bullet holes in the cars the hero’s shooting at. The Paris scenery are nice to look at and there’s the obligatory car chases and shoot-outs that should please action fans. I definitely think Costner still makes this one worthwhile in my book. He’s watchable even in the the repetitive scenes of him being disoriented from the cancer drug. At 59, he’s still got his movie-star charisma and presence to pull off an action hero role. I’m certainly glad this turns out to be better than McG and Besson’s previous films I mentioned above. So if you’re a fan of this genre and Costner, I’d say this is well-worth a matinee viewing or a rental.

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Have you seen 3 Days to Kill? Well, I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Family

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Oh boy, where do I begin. Honestly, I dreaded writing this review. At first glance, the premise seems like it has potential. A mafia boss and his family under the witness protection program are relocated to a sleepy town in France for snitching on the mob. Even under the surveillance of CIA Agent Stansfield and his men, things quickly go awry as The Manzonis, er The Blakes as they’re now called, have a hard time fitting in. Can’t teach old dogs new tricks they say, especially when those dogs are a Brooklyn mob family who are so set in their ways in dealing with problems.

Now, add a dream cast, well dream trio really: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones, naturally I expect at least a decent dark comedy. Alas, this turns out to be THE biggest dud I’ve seen on the big screen so far. I was pretty close on walking out a few times as the movie seemed to go on forever with barely a single laugh coming out of my mouth. Saying this movie is contrived is putting it mildly. Every single scene is seething with bad taste and every Mafia clichés imaginable, not to mention every French and Italian/American stereotypes. What’s worse, you can figure out the plot from miles away. Even the way the Brooklyn mafia clan find out where they live is so predictable it’s downright irritating.

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It’s really quite painful to watch great actors in something this terrible. Y’know, sometimes I don’t mind ridiculous, heck, I’d even tolerate absurdity. But a comedy that’s entirely unfunny — especially with THIS cast — is excruciating. Trust me, I wish I didn’t have to be so harsh but I kept hoping for one redeeming moment, but nope, that moment never came. Ok, there is one scene towards the end but it’s so self aware at its own joke that it feels so forced and exploitative. That scene too, was entirely predictable! I could tell the whole theater wasn’t enjoying it as I didn’t hear much laughter from start to finish, maybe a chortle or two… or perhaps a snicker?

De Niro has done similar comedic role that’s poking fun of the mob in Analyze This. To be honest with you, I’m kind of tired of that shtick, it’s only fun for maybe two seconds. Now, De Niro and Pfeiffer didn’t exactly phone it in here, I give ’em that, but I’d think they’d recognize a bad script when they see it by now? I’m a big fan of Tommy Lee Jones with his deadpan delivery but here he looks bored the entire time, like he couldn’t be bothered. Hmmm, perhaps that should be a warning to moviegoers?

Tonally, it’s all over the place, Besson just can’t seem to get his footing on what kind of movie he wants to make. I think he aims for a dark comedy but his approach is more like ‘shooting in the dark and see what hits,’ resulting in a misfire no amount of talent could save. It’s astonishing to read later on that Martin Scorsese is one of the executive producer, wow!

The subplots involving the Manzoni’s kids are so uninspired, but not exactly the fault of the young actors. I think John D’Leo and Glee actress Dianna Agron were serviceable enough, D’Leo is especially believable as a sly kid who learned everything from his wiseguy dad. Agron’s role as a principled virgin who takes pleasure in beating people up is so oddly-written though. In any case, the family’s German Shepherd still made more of an impression to me than those two.

His expression just about sums up my sentiment about this movie
His expression just about sums up my sentiment about this movie

There are violent scenes and profanities abound here, which warrants the R-rating. Perhaps people who are into mob movies might dig this one more than I did, but, really fans of any of the main stars here deserve better. Sorry to De Niro fans out there, but I think this Screencrush reviewer said it best: Robert De Niro‘s name on a film project is now more a red flag of warning than a sign of quality. Same with Luc Besson I guess, so don’t expect this to be remotely as shrewd as The Professional and Transporter/Taken film. If you want an action comedy from Besson that’s actually watchable, I guess just rent or rewatch The Fifth Element. By the third act, I was hoping someone would actually take a hit at the whole Blake family and spare us from our misery. I use the word complacent in my review of The World’s End and that’s a word I could use for the major talents involved here, too.

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Well, what do you think of this one? Let me know your thoughts.

Nifty flix teaser poster: From Paris with Love

frompariswithloveLuc Besson’s new spy thriller’s got a super cool looking teaser poster! It’s so clever in its simplicity, yet so beautiful and elegant I can’t take my eyes off it! The Eiffel tower icon is sort of cliche in a way but I don’t mind it at all here, it’s a bit James Bond-y. Could be perfect if they’re making a From Russia with Love version in Paris, eh?

The trailer however, is meh (and it’s NOT in HD, it’s annoying when a YouTube clip is mislabeled). It’s cool if you like Luc Besson and the Fifth Element. I’m not a huge fan personally, I LOVE the original Transporter with arguably the B-movie king Jason Statham, but the 2nd & 3rd sequels should be obliterated from cinema history IHMO. Travolta is sporting a bald look again, which makes me immediately think of him as the baddie, but he’s playing an FBI agent here. He’s teaming up with the Tudors‘ Henry the VIII, a.k.a Jonathan Rhys Meyers to stop a terrorist attack in the city of lights.