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Thread: Lucy - directed by Luc Besson

  1. #1
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    Lucy - directed by Luc Besson

    Those science fiction fans wishing to get a break from the repeated bang over the head giant robots or comic book super heroes that have the same villains may want to invest 90 minutes in Luc Besson’s latest offering. The premise is a simple one and – if memory serves – one repeatedly used in sci-fi novels going back to the 1950’s when the idea was first proposed. To his credit, Besson is at home with the sci-fi genre. “The Fifth Element” is popular among sci-fi enthusiasts as a classic. Besson isn’t afraid of interweaving violence into his plots as well with such offerings as “Leon” the story of a professional hitman and “Taken” another action movie that showcases Liam Neeson shooting his way across Europe.

    The plot is simple – take a drug and expand your mind. We saw this most recently in “Limitless” with two outstanding actors taking the lead roles. A rather male-dominated film with lots of testosterone being flexed, “Limitless” has a similar message: “If we could only use more than 10% of our brain…” Here, writer/director Besson gives a female heroine capable of just about anything once she undergoes the drug transformation (just as Bradley Cooper’s character did in “Limitless”). Counter to the Taiwan terror of being an implanted carrier of drugs, we have the plot of professorial Morgan Freeman as Sam Norman. He contends that if we only had access to more parts of the mind, there isn’t anything we couldn’t do (excuse the double negative).

    The camera opens in Stanley Kubrick fashion (the dawn of man) with a very realistic CGI early humanoid. In this case, the Leaky discovery from Africa known as Lucy. She is aware that in addition to the abundance in her world, she lives life on the edge having to deal with predators such as a cheetah. The parallels are drawn between the first humans and Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) in Taiwan, trapped into dealing with a drug kingpin who kidnaps and then forces people into carrying his drugs inside their bodies to other countries. Choi Min-sik plays a good villainous Kang in counter to the whimpering Lucy during the film’s opening scenes. Johansson’s level of acting is so convincing to this viewer that they help me forget the many leaps of logic Besson asks us to take in spelling out his Sam Norman theories given during a parallel cut scene. While Norman is explaining to his colleagues his theories about access to the brain, Lucy is struggling with a new incision on her abdomen. When she rebels, one of her jailers kicks her in the stomach and punctures the bag of drugs. The “experimental” drug flows into her body. Hence, the transformation that allows the special effects artists to make us believe she now has access to her brain and that will affect the world around her.

    Being a science fiction reader and writer, I can tell you that sometimes your reader or viewers will accept your hypothesis and other times they will challenge the science if you stretch your point to incredulity. Besson takes “Limitless” one step further and indicates as humans we’d be able to bend the electromagnetic spectrum to our will. While it is a noble thought and one “devotedly to be wished,” the practical scientific side of my nature says a resounding, “No!” Still, the film is well made – the action scenes are exciting though repetitious, the dialogue is crisp but familiar and the outcome predictable to most readers of sci-fi. I found it a refreshing change from seeing super creatures flying through the air, defying gravity and dodging bullets or explosions. Besson’s tale of drugs to mind to conquering the universe is a card hand played after the participants have already ended the game and realized it is time to move on.

    Recommended for some touching scenes by Johansson and a gritty Choi Min-sik; some decent action and no brainer plot. Otherwise, it goes into the category – I’ll add it to my sci-fi DVD collection to look at certain scenes later.
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    Welcome back, CINEMABON! Long time no see.

    Myself, being more interested in seeing Linklater's BOYHOOD (that perhaps not yet available down your way?) -- I was unaware that Luc had directed a new film. He produces a lot more than he directs, as you probably know. Looks like Lucy has some serious skills, Scarlett edging into Angelina's superwoman territory. Unfortunately I missed LIMITLESS though the idea sounded interesting. Its 59% Metacritic rating didn't make it seem a must-see. But LUCY has a 60%--much better! Have you seen Scarlett in UNDER THE SKIN? There has been a lot of talk about that.

    Walter Chaw has a fun review of LUCY this week: he demolishes it but likes things about it -- and refers to TRANSCENDENCE, which your summary suggested. He notes in its favor its "a breezy 88 minutes."
    Luc Besson projects I like:

    LE DERNIER COMBAT. His debut, film-school film, very 'experimental' sci-fi
    THE BIG BLUE. Perhaps his most personal film.
    LA FEMME NIKTA. Cult.
    DISTRICT B13. He wrote, Pierre Morel directed. Big Parkour movie. I like French ghetto ("banlieue") actioners.

    That's about it.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-26-2014 at 09:48 AM.

  3. #3
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    Still swamped with my editor (she's a slave driver, cracks the whip, everything...). We're trying to have beta ready for reader's group in October so starting next week, I may not see the light of day for two months (no movies????).

    My sci-fi friends, including writer Fraser Sherman, found the second half of the film - Lucy - so full of cliches as to make it a miss for recommendation. He's probably correct. I know how busy you are. I had high hopes going in but let down coming out. Johansson does give great "pre-drug" performance. But to sit through the rest, you'd be bored. I read your posts often. You are a gift to cinema. I'll miss Oscar as it sounds he'll be busy this fall teaching a class. Sorry I can't contribute more. I had to sneak out on Friday morning after I broke the shackles on my laptop.

    Looking forward to more insights. Hope you are well, Chris.
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    I have now seen LUCY, so stay tuned.

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    As promised.

    Luc Besson: LUCY (2014)



    It all happens so fast

    Lucy is a movie from Luc Besson. Besson is generally much more a producer than director and, on the rarer occasions when he does turn to mise-en-scène, one expects something big and flashy, probably involving a super-woman; his signature work is the 1990 La Femme Nikita. He's been unusually busy directing lately, with a trashy mafia comedy called The Family starring De Niro, a Franco-American production, released only last year. The new one, evidently a Franco-Asian product this time, with, again, American stars, features Scarlett Johansson as a wonder-woman, more in M. Besson's line. It starts out promisingly but its concept is too extreme. Lucy self-destructs -- and a heroine who implodes doesn't satisfy the mainstream audience for whom this movie was designed. Perhaps it doesn't matter, if your'e just there for some bright color and fast, loud action, as the Asian market may be (hence the value of the large Korean tie-in and the Taiwan starting point).

    But Lucy has ideas, big ones; it just doesn't quite know how to integrate them into a movie. It's almost funny when you think about it the way the movie plugs in its key concept -- that humans use only 10% of their brains and if they used just 20% the effect would be spectacular -- by having a professor, Morgan Freeman, mouth it in a large lecture hall. Can you notice how completely artificial the student "questions" are? Morgan Freeman is the professor, with that soothing voice from The March of the Penguins and many voice-overs since. This is an action film masquerading as a high-concept sci-fi flick, and Morgan Freeman, enunciating rather than acting, is little more than filler on the way to shoot-outs and the spectacular special effects. We're getting a bit tired of these Hollywood-style profs though enunciating devastatingly "important" ideas that, without big stars and a heap of megalomaniac CGI, wouldn't amount to a hill of beans. We're still reeling from the fiasco of Johnny Depp (an actor who dropped out of school at 15) as a prof just a few months ago in Transcendence, whose high concepts Lucy's resemble. Dumb pictures about big brains. A French guy can make them too! I give Besson the edge: his visuals are colorful and snappy.

    One suspects a coproduction arrangement that provided Besson with a lot of Korean heavies at a bargain rate. Unfortunately they turned the whole thing into an unusually thuggish shoot-'em-up (Asians transformed into parodies of themselves almost as racist as Ian Fleming's Odd Job), and it all ends in the requisite orgy of meaningless CGI. One walks out feeling absolutely nothing.

    Yet it begins hopefully, with a lot of excitement, and Johansson acting her head off as a bad girl in Taiwan who gets trapped by an irresponsible semi-boyfriend into delivering a mysterious attaché case to an ominous Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi of Park Chan-wook's cult classic Oldboy). They may be as irrelevant ultimately as the lecture hall scenes, but the weird cut-ins of images of big cats catching prey spliced along with the sequence when the heavies are moving in on Scarlett Johansson seem bold, beautiful, and fun, a reminder that Luc Besson began with a film-schoolish and very strange, arty sci-fi film, Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle), dialogue-free, in black and white, and described as "engrossing" by Janet Maslin, then (1984) film critic of the NY Times.

    Walter Chaw had a fun review of Lucy last week, when the movie opened: he demolishes it but likes things about it -- and refers to Transcendence, whose premise is similar. Chaw notes in its favor Lucy's being "a breezy 88 minutes." It may be short because it has a premise that self-destructs. The protagonist, whose name links with that of the earliest hominoid. This is a fact that the wildly ambitious screenplay does not fail to exploit in a final time-travel tableau with a clichéd echo of Michelangelo's endlessly referenced God-to-Man touch-off on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It's highest-evolved meets, well, least evolved, I guess, because the new contemporary Lucy is the ultimate human, who has achieved 100% of her mental capacity, and thus can do, it seems, anything. And it all started with being a surgical drug mule whose surgery went wrong.

    The real clone of this plotline, though it's modest by comparison in both concept and budget, is Neil Burger's Limitless, which starred Bradley Cooper as a man who takes "mysterious" pills that, yes, bring up his accessed brain capacity to 100% of potential. But Cooper's character doesn't want to rule the world, be everywhere, and master all knowledge. He just goes from an unpromising life as a struggling writer to being a top analyst on Wall Street capable of cornering the market. That's what people do, hey. As the first name-last name Professor Norman (Freeman) tells us, he doesn't think humans are yet ready for 100% access to their brain capacity. Neither, evidently, was Luc Besson, who penned this opus as well as directed it.

    The one who is ready is Scarlett Johansson. A French writer, enthusing about this movie, calls her "sulfurous." I guess that means sultry and explosive. She is. However, Lucy has been completely ignored by most of the important French critics, and praised very wanly by the lesser Parisian scribes who've spoken of it. Ms. Johansson has tried her hand at being a computer voice (Her) and an avenging alien (Under the Skin) lately. Now she's shown she can give Angelina Jolie (see Wanted; Salt) a run for her money. But I'm wishing she'd play a drawing-room comedy again, as she did in Vicky Christina Barcelona. Those can be a challenge too.

    Lucy, 88 mins., opened in the US 25 July 2014.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-01-2014 at 03:36 PM.

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