Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Lucy

It’s not uncommon to walk into a film screening with a preconceived notion of whether you will like the movie or not. Sure, this is kinda against the ethics of the film critic, but I’m willing to bet I wasn’t the only one to walk into the last Riddick flick with a chip on my shoulder.

That being said, I have to give it up for Luc Besson’s latest directorial effort, Lucy. Everyone sitting in the audience of my screening knew it would be dumb, but were hoping for at least a fun dumb. Besson, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed the film, somehow has produced a movie that is so stupid that it goes so far outside of his comfort zone as to become perhaps his finest work to date.

Scarlett Johansson stars as the titular Lucy, a college student abroad who finds herself caught up in the European drug trade. Kidnapped, she awakens to find that her stomach has been sliced open in order to hold a baggie of illegal narcotics, with orders to transport the booty by an evil drug lord (Oldboy’s Min-Sik Choi). Once the baggie bursts and the contents begin flowing into her system, the fun begins.

Besson has never had the reputation for bringing smart films to the screen, so maybe that is why Lucy ends up being so outstanding. Don’t get me wrong, the whole concept of humans only using 10% of their brain’s potential is a laughable concept, but Besson pushes through any flawed logic by sheer willpower. Here we have the extremely poor man’s version of Tree of Life, with Johansonn traveling through Earth’s history as a silent witness to both its birth, as well as its death.

Taken as given, Lucy is his greatest cinematic feat to date. If there is a tragic flaw, it is in the casting of Johansonn. Game as ever, the actress does her best to inhabit the role, but there is a vibe that this kind of thing is behind her now. Whereas an unknown actress would blow folks away with this degree of a performance, here one can’t help but wonder if after watching her perform for close to two decades onscreen, maybe the college kid roles can go to someone else now.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: Tim's Vermeer

Some of the best documentaries come not from revelations made before the camera starts rolling, but from subjects that the filmmaker just finds interesting. Think of the great docs held in high-regard: Hoop Dreams follow a pair of young basketball players before college and the pros ever come into the picture; Roger & Me was Michael Moore’s attempt to find out why General Motors decided to destroy his hometown; and the list goes on.

With Tim’s Vermeer, filmmakers Penn & Teller (yes, the magicians) focus the camera’s lens on their friend Tim Jenison, a Texas inventor fascinated by one of the great mysteries in art history: how 17th-century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer was able to paint masterpieces that were near-photorealistic, 150 years before the invention of the photograph?

Tim has followed his fascination with various subjects into a pretty comfortable lifestyle, with his inventions bringing millions of dollars. In his attempts to recapture the exact conditions in which Vermeer worked, he spends countless dollars on studying and building work spaces of exacting detail; calling on his family and friends to pose for hours at a time; and even manages to finagle a private showing of the Vermeer inside the Queen’s private collection at Buckingham Palace.

While Tim’s story is fairly interesting, one wonders how much more interesting it would be with a veteran storyteller behind the camera. While the magical duo of Penn & Teller has charisma to spare on stage, here they fail their friend in bringing his story to the screen. Even at a short running time of 80 minutes, it plods along at points, making one wonder if it would have worked better as a short doc all along.