Monday, August 18, 2014

Lucy

For F*** Magazine

LUCY


Director : Luc Besson
Cast : Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Analeigh Tipton, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 21 August 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Some Drug References and Violence)
Running time: 90 mins

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson kicks a lot of ass as Black Widow but doesn’t have any actual superpowers to speak of. As the eponymous Lucy, she has all the superpowers. Just your average girl abroad, Lucy gets mixed up with the wrong crowd in Taipei and is made an unwilling drug mule for Korean crime lord Mr. Jang (Choi). Inserted into her abdomen is a packet of blue crystals known as CPH4. When the drugs enter her system following an encounter with some thugs, Lucy begins to tap into the unmined potential of her brain. She contacts Professor Samuel Norman (Freeman), the leading expert in this area. According to Prof Norman, humans use only 10% of their cerebral capacity. As the drug’s effects strengthen, Lucy inches towards optimizing 100% of her mind, giving her the power over her own body, the bodies of others and matter itself. As she heads towards omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, what’s next?


            From The Messenger: the Story of Joan of Arc to La Femme Nikita to The Fifth Element and to a different extent The Lady, writer-director Luc Besson’s forte is making extraordinarily skilled, powerful women look awesome. He’s at it again in Lucy, with Scarlett Johansson stepping in the shoes once filled by a young Natalie Portman and Milla Jovovich.  We’ll give Lucy this: it’s ambitious and it’s different. Besson could’ve been content with churning out a run-of-the-mill actioner and apparently, he isn’t. This strange beast of a sci-fi action fantasy flick has been only semi-facetiously compared to Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Mixed in with the requisite gunplay and car chases through Paris are scenes of an Australopithecus drinking from a prehistoric lake. This touch also imbues the name “Lucy” with extra significance.


            Unfortunately, it is very often evident that Besson has bitten off more than he can chew. “Humans are concerned more with having than being,” Professor Norman says during an expository lecture. This sort of faux-portentous philosophising is served with a side of heavy-handed symbolism: Lucy being recruited for the delivery job in the beginning of the film is intercut with footage of a mouse approaching a mousetrap and of a cheetah hunting gazelles. Cue the eye-rolling. Sometimes, it’s hard to discern if Besson truly thinks this is a deep, contemplative masterpiece or if he is aware that Lucy is simply a gleefully silly romp. The answer to “life, the universe and everything” makes even less sense than “42”, the answer famously put forth in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And let’s not forget that the “10% of the brain” myth is discredited, misleading pseudo-science.


            Johansson zones in as the superhuman Lucy and plays the transition from scared, naïve girl in over her head to single most powerful being in the world with entertaining élan. Lucy engages in more than a few morally dubious acts, but Johansson makes us cheer the character along regardless. Morgan Freeman once again does that thing he’s been doing lately: showing up in a movie to lend authority without doing any real acting. But hey, when you’ve got Morgan Freeman spouting all that techno-babble, it probably subconsciously lends it some credence. Choi Min-sik, Oldboy himself, is a suitably commanding presence as a downright scary career criminal who, after slaughtering a room full of innocent hotel guests, washes his hands with a bottle of Evian. Amr Waked is good as Captain Del Rio, the hapless cop dragged through Paris by Lucy as a “reminder” of her humanity. Fans of British TV will also get a kick of Julian Rhind-Tutt hamming it up as he forces the drug mules’ mission upon them.


            While a lot of it can be seen as wrongheaded and embarrassing, Lucy is very entertaining once the CPH4 is in her system and the plot gets into gear. There’s also lots of trippy imagery (strands of light over Paris! Shapeshifting arms! Nebulae in deep space!), created by Industrial Light & Magic, Rodeo FX and other visual effects houses. A scene set in an airplane is quite intense. Luc Besson’s regular cinematographer Theirry Arbogast and composer Eric Serra make the film a rather sumptuous sensory feast, in a way different from the biggest, most explosive blockbusters out there.



Summary: It’s high-falutin’ and quite silly, but dazzling visuals, fun action and a commanding lead performance by Scarlett Johansson make Lucy a halfway-decent diversion.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Expendables 3

THE EXPENDABLES 3

Director : Patrick Hughes
Cast : Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 14 August 2014
Rating : PG13 (Violence & Some Coarse Language)
Running time: 126 mins

 “If you’re looking to get the job done/ Be it murder or rescuing ladies/ You cannot do better than old guys/ Who were popular back in the 80s…” so go the lyrics to comedians Jon and Al Kaplan’s musical spoof of The Expendables. Those grizzled guys are back with some young blood to add to the crew. Barney Ross (Stallone), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Lee Christmas (Stallone), Toll Road (Couture) and Hail Caesar (Crews) break old team-member Doctor Death (Snipes) out of prison. In the ensuing mission, they encounter Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable-turned weapons and dealer and war criminal, hitherto thought of as dead. Barney brings in a younger bunch of mercenaries (Lutz, Rousey, Powell, Ortiz), with Spanish Armed Forces veteran Galgo (Banderas) insistent on joining. He is also assisted by Trench (Schwarzenegger), Yin Yang (Li) and Major Max Drummer (Ford), going up against the army Stonebanks has in his pocket.


This entire film series exists as a loving ode to 80s action films, featuring those who starred in said films proving they’ve still got the right stuff. As such, there was something of an outcry over this movie’s PG-13 rating – as the Kaplans put it later on in their song, “PG-13 is for pussies”. This reviewer wasn’t too bothered by that – while bloodless, the body count in this one is still very high. Also, the one f-bomb is given to just the right actor. No, this movie’s problems lie elsewhere. Succeeding Stallone and Simon West at the helm is Australian director Patrick Hughes, known for his neo-Western Red Hill. His direction here is mostly rote and journeyman-like; while competent, the action sequences lack flair or drive. There is a curious dearth of urgency or intensity in this action-thriller, even when an actual ticking bomb is introduced. It’s not like there isn’t a lot of shooting, punching or stuff blowing up, but the film often feels like it’s spinning its wheels, going nowhere fast.


            Why do action film junkies go to the Expendables movies? To relive the glory days of their cinematic heroes. As such, anytime the “Young Expendables” are onscreen, this reviewer was counting the minutes to when the actual Expendables – you know, the guys we came to see – would return. Even without Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz, the roster is already pretty crowded. There’s no time for us to get to know anyone and in place of characterisation, there’s bickering, mutual ribbing and general macho bro-ey-ness. We’re not expecting Chekhov or Mamet but just give us something to hang on to! The action sequences are fine, they aren’t infested with shaky-cam as most contemporaneous action sequences tend to be, but the sub-par visual effects work is carried over from the last two films. If it’s meant to evoke the cheap look of 80s action movies, then that’s the wrong nostalgia bone to tickle.


            The film is at its best when it goes for nostalgia in the right way, with its stars winking and nodding at the audience via references to their past work. Snipes’ character loves blades and jokes about being jailed for tax evasion. Schwarzenegger gets to say “get to the choppa!” Kelsey Grammer’s character makes a crack about ex-wives. However, in-jokes alone do not a good movie make. In spite of the humour, this go-round just seems a whole lot less fun. Indeed, Stallone often looks as though he’s grimacing through a heavy, dead-serious thriller. Nothing in this one matches Chuck Norris spouting his own “Chuck Norris fact” in the second film. Also, Harrison Ford does not say “get off my plane”. That’s a missed opportunity right there.


Mel Gibson is apparently paying penance for his myriad indiscretions by appearing in genre schlock like this and last year’s Machete Kills. He does go crazy-eyed Mad Mel but fails to be as memorable a baddie as Jean-Claude Van Damme was. Somewhere between the writing and direction, the potential for Conrad Stonebanks to be a spectacular bad guy is lost. Jet Li doesn’t bust a single kung fu move. What’s up with that? And yes, Ronda Rousey is a badass UFC champion, but this film is yet another example of “The Smurfette principle”, with one lone woman among a bunch of guys. Where are Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Yeoh?

            A good chunk of the film seems to exist as a rather petty raised middle finger to Bruce Willis, with whom Stallone had a falling out with over the former’s salary. It’s a good thing then that Harrison Ford is an upgrade and seeing him chew Stallone out earlier in the film is as exciting as the biggest action scenes are. “I haven’t had so much fun in years,” he says. We almost believe him. Antonio Banderas as the talkative comic relief – that’s an odd choice, but he’s still fairly entertaining. The Expendables 3 never amounts to more than the sum of its parts and even when Kellan Lutz’s stunt double jumps a motorcycle off the tail of a crashed helicopter, it falls short of effectively harkening back to the 80s action films it wants to homage.

Summary: There’s less vim and vigour in this third go-round for Stallone and co. and worse, they have to jostle for screen time with those meddling kids.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Shoutout from Lexi Alexander

When I was part of Zoe Saldana's round-table interview during the Guardians of the Galaxy Singapore press tour, Saldana spoke about the dearth of women in creative roles in Hollywood (you can read the article here). I brought up Lexi Alexander, director of Punisher: War Zone, Oscar-nominee for her short film Johnny Flynton and a World Point Fighting/Karate champion. In short, an all-around badass.

This piqued Saldana's interest and I was really thrilled that Ms. Alexander herself came across the article and mentioned it on Twitter. Here are some screenshots of her Twitter feed and the responses it received:



"Femme Malheureuse" is French for "Unhappy Woman". Thanks Ms. Alexander for considering me an #ally! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con 2014: The Booths/Exhibits

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Batman, so the main draw on the convention floor for me was WB/DC's display of artifacts from the Batman film anthology, including all those Bat-cowls, Batarangs, the Joker thugs' masks, the memorial statue from The Dark Knight Rises and even Martha Wayne's necklace. Of course, there was an abundance of cool displays in addition to Caped Crusader-related paraphernalia - take a look!

Legendary is pretty happy about Godzilla's box office success.

The Hilton is not safe from the Kaiju's wrath!


A super-armoured storm chasing vehicle from Into The Storm.

Original muppets at the Profiles in History prop auction booth.

Keep punching, America!


Original Chaplin hats.

SNIKT!




The famous Patton helmet.

Om nom nom.

Oh yes, Mystique.

And from the back, because why not?
Hobbit feet for sale, get your Hobbit feet right here!








"Hello. I want to play a game."


Apparently, these costumes are Expendable as well.



Affleck's cape and cowl from the upcoming Batman v Sueprman: Dawn of Justice.





"no no no no, I shoot the bus driver."





Jungian archetypes, yay!


St-st-st-st-sticky bomb (gun)! 


"WHY DOES HE WEAR THE MASK?!" 











The Sonar Suit cowl that was scanned into the computer for the visual effects in Batman Forever.



Hey Selina!




Design by Brian Azzarrello, artists of Batman: Noel and Joker.

Sideshow's booth can always be counted upon to display some really gorgeous statues.





"I'm gonna need that guy's bandanna!"


More props for auction! Not the biggest fan of this Batmobile design but in person, this thing is gorgeous! 

The Joker and helicopters don't mix.

Sandworm! 






A Kaiju flesh mite! 






That's a piece of Threepio.


The door-knocker on Jabba's Palace, next to a cap with the fake production working title for Return of the Jedi, Blue Harvest.

Racist stereotype notwithstanding, Nute Gunray's mask is well-made.


The extras that come with Bond's cars.


Holy crossbow, Constantine!



Jaeger pilot suit from the back. 

Lord Business towering over the Con floor.



Her name was Lola...
...She was a showgirl...

The pod from GotG.


Hot Toys makes my wallet weep. 











Judge Death.

Batman takes a moment to pose in front of cardboard Gotham.

Clues! 

Clues! 

Clues!

Clues!

Ziplining! 
Whee!




Costumes from the upcoming Max Steel film.

NECA has, as usual, some great dioramas.





A Ripley figure?! Finally, finally, finally! 




Apes now.

Apes then. 


You know the only thing anyone who buys this is going to do is painting it to be movie-accurate.








Because there's always a thick crowd around the Marvel booth, I snapped this picture of Loki's scepter from a distance.



Someone's gonna get a facehugging.

The Goliath, from Evolve. 


Catwoman ridin' her hog, design by Dustin Nguyen. 

Nope, nothing untoward is gonna happen to Cap in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Nothing untoward at all.






Look out for those stairs!





Signature of stop motion puppet artist and later visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett. Also famously the "Dinosaur Supervisor" on Jurassic Park (you had one job, Phil!) 

Keeping the peace.