Thursday, 28 August 2014

Lucy (15)

Luc Besson is a funny old sod - on the one hand he gave us Nikita, The Fifth Element and Leon.

On the other he inflicted The Family and the Arthur animated trilogy on us.

So really, while the trajectory is on the downward, it's still anybody's guess as to which way he'll swing next.

And this is a film that - if the trailer is to be believed - is about a woman given super powers by a new drug made by a posh Englishman working for the Taiwanese mob.

But - and I know you'll be shocked by this - the trailer and the film have precious little in common. It becomes clear very quickly that the marketing department had no more an idea than Besson as to what Lucy is actually about.

What they think it's about is Scarlett Johansson's character becoming a kick-ass action heroine and exacting revenge on those who wronged her.

What he thinks it's about is an essay on life, evolution and the human brain.

And in a way, they're both right. Which makes Lucy every bit as confusing as that sounds.

But let's start at the start.

Lucy is a good-time party girl who for reasons no one cares to explain is studying in Taiwan. What's she studying? Frack knows. Can't be important.

People must leave the States to go to college in Taiwan all the time.

However, a drawn-out attempt to not do a favour for a bloke she met in a nightclub ends with her being handcuffed to a briefcase and being forced to go into a hotel and deliver it to a Mr Jang.

I say forced. She could just bugger off with the case, seeing as blokie has already stuffed $500 (her share of the delivery 'fee') down her top.

But she doesn't.

As a result, he gets shot, she gets taken up to Mr Jang's room by more burly men than should reasonably fit in a lift, and is operated on - along with three unknown men - so she can smuggle a new drug into America.

So far, to be honest, so good.

As long as you ignore the inter cut scenes of a neanderthal woman from a billion years ago, and various wildlife clips that serve to do nothing more than re-explain the action for the hard of understanding.

Meanwhile, at a lecture in Paris, Morgan Freeman's Professor Norman is explaining his theory of how man is only using ten per cent of his/her brain and what could be achieved if said usage could be expanded.

Only not to 100 per cent. He has no idea what will happen if a human were to start using the entire brain.

But what of Lucy I hear you ask.

Good question.

While the men who have been impregnated with the new synthetic CPH4 are put somewhere else, Lucy - for reasons that I'm sure were in no way contrived to provide an weak excuse to burst said bag of drugs - is chained up in a room on her own.

One botched sex assault later, she's having seven bells kicked out of her by a man who took the 'no' rather personally.

Actually it's nearer 10 bells, so severe and brutal is the beating we are "treated" to.

And so, her journey begins. The bag bursts and, after literally bouncing off the walls, Lucy finds she is able to operate guns, fight anybody who comes near her, and walk about without being challenged while carrying fire arms, drive, communicate to others via TVs, radios and phones, see the roots of trees, the physical embodiment of radio signals and diagnose health problems with just a hug.

She can also learn at record speeds, but you've seen Limitless so you knew that.

And all from having a man-made version of a pregnancy hormone pummelled into her system.

Still making sense?

Because from here, it gets super nuts.

That's not to say this film is not without merit.

Johansson's performance is everything you expect it to be - spot on, note perfect and totally believable. And it's only 90 minutes.

Freeman, though, just looks confused by the whole thing.

But then you would too if you start trying to work out how an entire, fully-armed, Taiwanese mob army not only manages to get to Paris (not actually knowing that's where Lucy was heading) but does so with enough artillery to keep the Russian army going for the next 20 years.

And don't start doing the maths about how quickly people get from Rome and Berlin to Paris. Even running at only ten per cent your brain will hurt.

Sure, the action scenes are handled well and the film looks great - but there is just too much being thrown at the screen.

It feels like Besson was going for a mash-up between 2001 and Limitless, but decided to make Taken 4 halfway through.

By the time the ending plays out you'll be digging out your eyeballs and stuffing them in your ears to spare you further pain.

Somewhere in here are several good ideas for films.

What we end up with, though, isn't one of them.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Expendables 3 (12A)

Right, cards on the table - honest confession time. I quite liked The Expendables. There, I've said it.

It wasn't what you'd call high-brow, sure. It barely made it to the dizzy heights of low-brow - but it did what it set out to do.

Old action heroes (and Jason Statham) chewed cigars, talked in cliches, blew stuff up and shot people. If you wanted anything else, you wanted a different film.

What I didn't want from The Expendables, certainly, was a failed attempt at a proper plot, cod psychology and an attempt to 'say something'.

No. Keep mouths shut and blow something else up. Then we can all go home happy.

Which is where the problems with The Expendables 3 start.

First, we have a twist. The old gang (Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture) are being retired, and Sylvester Stallone is going to use a new, young, hip, street bunch of hired guns/fists/knives/computer skills to finish the job.


To be honest, he should have done that before filming began, because what is now abundantly clear is just how bad certain people's acting has become.

That's not to say the young gang (Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey and Kellan Lutz) are Oscar-worthy, but they can at least all walk and talk at the same time (a skill that has clearly abandoned ol' Arnie Schwarzenegger), smile without splitting the skin and burble on without the need for subtitles.

Then there's the "plot".

In essence it's about hunting down Mel Gibson again, seeing as he's not dead n that, but there's the sub-plot of putting the new gang together. Oh, and the other sub-plot (freeing Snipes) that leads them to discover the main plot.

Still with me?

Putting the new gang together requires many a scene with Kelsey Grammer - the man is making some odd film choices - but his presence serves to throw a spotlight on just how bad Arnie and Harrison Ford have become.

Frankly, Ford, when you're being acted off the screen by Stallone, I'd say it's time to go home and let Calista Flockhart earn the money.

That's not to say this film is totally without merit.

It starts off as you'd hope - minimal talkage, shooting and explosions abound - and overall the fight scenes and gun battles are well choreographed.

There are even some light moments of humour and Stallone's line "I am The Hague" is simply wonderful in it's weighty crassness.

But how the hell did director Patrick Hughes make this so steamingly dull?

The whole thing clocks in at over two hours, but it feels like four. I have a rule of never leaving a screening while the film was on, but happily went to the loo twice.

I didn't need to, I was just bored. And the second time I wanted to see if I'd miss anything. I didn't.

It frankly scares me that this man is being tasked with the Hollywood remake of The Raid - something that was already a bad idea.

OK, granted, you can argue that he was hampered by a cast so weighted down with egos it was never going to be easy to make a balanced film, but that was the gig.

He failed.

Sometimes, a big dumb film full of explosions can be fun - like, say Die Hard 5.

And sometimes you can find yourself wondering if it's possible to will on a heart attack just to alleviate the boredom.

The Expendables 3 is the closest I've come to wanting to find out.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy (12A)

Yeah, I know, it's been out a week already - sometimes life has a habit of getting in the way of what we want to actually do, you know?

And anyway, the best things are worth waiting for apparently.

Well, that's certainly true in this case...

Marvel aficionados will already be aware of the universe of the Guardians - a man who's half human, a racoon with attitude, a talking tree, a brick outhouse with body art and the adopted daughter of big baddie Thanos.

But the movie fans are getting something new. None of the established characters are present (despite Iron Man flying around the first book), and so we are thrown into a whole new world.

And boy are we thrown.

Fight scenes come flying at you at lightning speed, the quips and gags whizz past with glee and the new characters become old friends within the opening thirty minutes.

Much like the Avengers, Guardians is a BIG film. There's a lot going on and a huge cast of characters, and it all gels quickly and easily - serving up one of the best films Marvel have put their name to.

Where Winter Soldier fused action with classic thriller tropes, Guardians just goes for all out fun - and not only hits the target, but leaves it shattered in a million pieces while you sit there with a huge grin on your face.

A lot of this is down to James Gunn's direction and Nicole Perlman's script (co-written by Gunn), but the real stars of the show are, well, the stars.

Chris Pratt was clearly born to play Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, bringing out a perfect balance of naivety and arrogance, and he's balanced perfectly by Zoe Saldana's Gamora - her ice cool aloofness and kick-ass fight scenes being nothing short of delightful.

Then there's the 'voice' artists - Bradley Cooper's Rocket (all racoons should now come with mahoosive guns) is comic genius, while Vin Diesel isn't exactly stretched playing Groot (I AM GROOT is all this walking mass of twigs can muster), his gravel tones fit the bill.

It's a real credit that to Dave Bautista that Drax The Destroyer doesn't get lost in the mix.

But the huge surprise is Lee Pace.

Anyone who watched Pushing Daisies (and you should have done) would not have imagined that he could not only own the big screen way, but he infuses Ronin with such evil and menace he could easily become Darth Vader for a new generation.

And the Star Wars references don't end there.

It's hard not to watch Guardians Of The Galaxy without having a bit of your brain thinking 'JJ really needs to bring his A game to Episode VII', because the dialogue is so sharp and the space battles so slick it makes you realise just how far Lucas dropped his ball on the last three efforts.

The plot itself is really neither here nor there - Ronin wants the thing everyone else wants to do bad stuff with, everyone else wants to stop him getting it while hoping to flog said thing to a variety of bidders.

There's no noble cause here, let's be clear.

It's a band of renegade pirates forced to do the right thing, almost reluctantly.

And in doing so, friendships are formed. Obviously.

And it's here that Guardians really comes into it's own.

Yes, things go boom, there are laughs a plenty, and people hit each other in a lot of different ways, but this film has a real emotional heart.

While you start caring for the characters pretty much from the off, it's how they end up caring for each other that carries the biggest punch.

Even the scenes that are clearly thrown in just for the 3D version don't stick out like sore thumbs (Spidey 2 take note), instead they blend seemlessly into the mayhem and bedlam that has been lovingly crafted on screen.

And if all this wasn't good enough for you, there's the soundtrack.

No need for an epic score here, no sir - instead we have classic hit after classic hit, all with a good reason for it being there.

Yup, even the soundtrack is a key part of the film.

The summer blockbuster has, over the years, got a bit of a bad rap - with Transformers leading the charge of films that put cash and products ahead of proper storytelling.

With Guardians, however, we have the start of a new franchise (Marvel has already said the sequel is coming) that has it all - heart, soul, action, drama, suspense and more laughs than most comedies seem to be capable of managing.

Go. Sit back. Immerse yourself in a whole new world you won't want to leave.

And remember to stay 'til the very, very end!