Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cinema in the Dark Double-Feature
LUCY (2014) & Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

LUCY (2014)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Directed by Luc Besson

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

The  Review:
Since I saw Scarlett's character 100% naked in Under the Skin, I felt obligated to see Lucy, where her latest character's brain is laid out 100% percent naked. So to speak. To be quite honest, I planned to skip this movie. I heard that it was so bad, it was good. And hilarious. I'm always up for a great bad movie. So I went. Problem was, it wasn't so bad and it wasn't very good. The movie sat on the fence and never quite committed itself one way or the other. It was kind of so-so.

Our story begins with Lucy being cajoled into taking a briefcase to a Korean businessman, Mr. Jang, and collecting a payment. The case contains a drug that Mr. Jang's henchmen sew into Lucy's abdomen. Three other "mules" (people hired to carry the drug across the border) also have the same packets of blue crystals in their bellies). Only, once in Europe in the hands of her connection, Lucy's packet is busted by a kick to the belly after she thwarts the captor's advances. The drug spills into her blood system and her IQ and DNA play a game of Quien es mas macho! As she grows smarter, she develops abilities and manipulating matter. Then the countdown begins. 20 percent brain capacity. 30. 40. The smarter she gets, the higher the body count gets.

The myth that humans use only 10% of their brain is not a bad idea for a movie, and the trailers truncate the best parts of the film, but when the trailers show all the good parts, one must be wary when attending these films, for the rest of the movie, the not-good parts, must surely be filler. And they are.

The story filler was the main problem. Director Luc Besson interweaves documentary footage of wild animals to underline important scenes, just in case his movie audience can't figure out what's going on. When the Korean thugs ponce upon Lucy, we next have a scene of a wild cheetah attacking its prey. Get it. Lucy is prey. And that's how the filler works: it condescendingly tells us what we are watching because we surely cannot determine that for ourselves.

Or not...

And besides the stock footage, there's the countdown, or, rather, the count-up. As Lucy's brain size increases, the screen notifies us with huge numbers showing what percentage of her brain she is using. I did laugh out loud once during the movie, and that was when the count-up jumped from 90 to 99%. I was half expecting 99 and a half. You see, the gangsters were closing in on Lucy as she was downloading all her brain power for Morgan Freeman, a scientist who didn't know that the 10% brain thing was all a myth. So, that 99% gave us one percent more suspense during that big finale.

All in all, there were some good moments in the movie to recommend it on a double-feature, but not as a single-feature. Not good enough to be good, not bad enough to be good, and no nudity. That leaves the flashes of gore and the stock animal footage. Although Scarlett Johansson fans are keeping this film in the theaters, non-Scarlett fans and Science Fiction geeks might want to go see Snowpiercer, my pick of the year, so far.


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Starring Chris Platt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Batista, Lee Pace, Vin Diesel.
Directed by James Gunn

Brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits-Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand-with the galaxy's fate in the balance.

The Review:
A cross between Star Wars, the original--not the sequels--and Flash Gordon, with a pinch of Monty Python thrown in, Guardians of the Galaxy is a geek adventure for the whole family. I loved spotting the allusions to 70s music and movies. The humor was tongue-in-cheek, but the overall tone of the movie moved from pathos to bathos with relative ease.

As a matter of fact, each character has a "revealing" emotional moment that plays against character. Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, is a raccoon who's undergone extensive surgeries and experimentation to turn him into an intelligent warrior beast, but his scars run deep and it's a poignant moment when he admits the horrors he faced as an "guinea pig" for the scientists. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel in a minimalist but effective role, probably steals the show with his one line: "I am Groot." When he varies his one line, it breaks your heart. Hell, I was on the verge of tears when I found out why Chris Pratt's character was called "Star Lord".

As a kid, I was a comic book geek. I read everything fresh off the rack, from Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Amazing Spiderman number 1 to Superman, Batman, and the Justice League, and everything in between. But, Guardians of the Galaxy slipped by me. I remember reading Star-Lord oversize comic in a Marvel Presents issue, but I never connected the dots. I don't remember the other characters. I did recognize Howard the Duck (if you haven't seen the movie, it's no big spoiler, believe me). So, I was not too anxious to see this movie. It's been out for over a month and even the great reviews couldn't drag me to a showing. If it weren't for the fact that I was in the theater for LUCY, I wouldn't have stayed for a double-feature of Guardian of the Galaxy. And I'm glad I did.

It doesn't make me want to rush out and read all the comic books, because what director James Gunn did with this movie was create a unique universe of Hollywood cinema and second league Marvel heroes and elevate it to a level on par with the Star Wars universe and the tongue-in-cheek humor of Flash Gordon, the Sam J. Jones version, where the Queen soundtrack may just as well be a character in the movie. So, too, does the soundtrack of Guardians prove to not only set the tone of the movie but make it a nostalgic experience set in the future. If anything, I want to see this movie again and again, and look for more layers, more references and hidden jokes. This is the best movie out this year. Sorry, Edge of Tomorrow, but you are now runner-up for best Science Fiction action-fantasy of the year. And that is no small feat for a B level comic book to accomplish. When you leave this movie, you'll be Groot, too.

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