Film Review: Lucy (2014)

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I both loved and hated Lucy. It has two really interesting, promising premises that fail one another in their indecisive execution.

From the beginning, as expected, Scarlett Johanssen steals the show. This is another chance for her to show off her unique, consistently watchable acting skills. The juxtaposition of before and after Lucy is excellent, with just enough of the film dedicated to grounding Normal-Lucy in her humanness before Extra-Lucy takes over. She is the most constant aspect of this film, attempting to hold the two warring halves together despite Luc Besson’s high-concept bungle. In fact, each of the actors did a great job–Choi Min-Sik in particular as the cool, calm, and collected (except when he isn’t) antagonist, brings a nice relentless animosity to the film, even though I think it’s misplaced as an element.

If this were simply a cerebral, Tree of Life-like exploration of what might happen if someone begins accessing the depths of their brain capacity, I could get behind it. That’s a fascinating premise to get us going. Even if the film remained nearly the same from the beginning until the arrival at the University, I’d be down with that. But the moment Besson decided to split our focus from the intellectual and move to the action, it went from science fiction that makes us think to a thriller that pushes the suspension of disbelief aside with each preposterous bullet that flies through the air.

If this had been simply a thriller with a crazy smart spy wiping out a drug ring, that would have been fine–and probable really exciting. But, the moment that, at 40% of her brain capacity, Lucy could stroll utterly unharmed through a hallway of villains, incapacitating them as she struts, the sense of danger from the Korean mob pursuing her at the university is cut off. Why the firefight? She allows the cops get blown to bits because she needs to focus, when it would take five seconds (not even leaving her office chair) to wipe everyone out. The tension is already there because she’s about to shred herself with the drug–we don’t need to cheapen that with a gunfight.

Finally, the question at the end that was supposed to answer that from the beginning? We were asked at the outset: “Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?” A good question that teases us and makes us think.

At the end, we’re asked: “Life was given to us a billion years ago. Now you know what to do with it.” What?! Oh yes, take a lot of drugs so that it’ll increase your brain capacity. Really? Don’t paint a cerebral sci-fi film with hollow philosophical questions. It’s confusing and it exposes the film’s flaws all the more. We definitely have no more answers to that question at the end than we did at the beginning. Don’t pretend that we do. That’s insulting to your audience.

Lucy should have been awesome. I loved the style, the score, the intercuts with the mousetrap, the cheetah, and the others like them. It brought up interesting ideas about the mind and what we can do with it, but it fooled itself into thinking that it was answering life’s great questions. There are already comparisons made to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Limitless, and other films like it, but those were well focused to do themselves justice and to actually bring up excellent questions. Besson tried to jam two films into one (I suspect to boost the already lacking running time), and he did neither justice and leaves us with a bemused, underwhelmed taste in our mouths.

Doctor Who 8.01 “Deep Breath” or, Bring Back the Heart(s) to Doctor Who

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I’m crazy torn by the premiere of the Eighth Season of Doctor Who, and it has nothing to do with Peter Capaldi’s brilliant performance–or Jenna-Louise Coleman’s, for that matter. It’s just about everything else.

I’m going to leave the more summary for the other reviews, so I’ll be brief.
For a more comprehensive summary you should be sure to check out the episode.

Spoilers follow…

A dinosaur in Victorian London chokes on the TARDIS, spits it out, and the Doctor and Clara roll out to meet Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.

The Doctor is suffering from a dementia-like amnesia following his regeneration, and Clara is disturbed by this surprising turn of events. As expected, the Doctor runs headlong toward the mystery about the dinosaur–which isn’t actually about the dinosaur but of course about clockwork cyborgs who are repairing themselves through dismantling people (a la the SS Madame du Pompadour from “The Girl in the Fireplace”). The Doctor finds himself and Clara reconciles with him.

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The plot was of absolutely no consequence in this episode.

It was about being eerie and shocking, from the dinosaurs to the unanswered questions about the clockwork robots. Even if they come back as part of a larger plan (which it seems as though they will), there was so little revealed about the cyborgs that it can barely be said that they teased something. The dinosaur was directly discarded in deference to the Doctor’s derailment into self-diagnosis and dangerous detective work.

The episode teetered on a knife-edge of brilliance and insanity. There was a requisite mystery that moved the plot forward, but it was constantly overshadowed by the brilliance of Capaldi. While Smith fixated on Fish Fingers and Custard (brilliance!), Capaldi looked into emotional depths of character that promise an exciting run as the Doctor. He brought out more acting prowess from the get-go than Smith did in his three years (Smith absolutely got there, and I wish he’d stayed just one more year to really settle into his character’s skin).

Capaldi’s 12th Doctor digs into the disorientation that the Doctor must feel when he changes his face, and Vastra sheds more light on why he must subconsciously choose his appearance and character. With all that the Doctor went through in the last year, this reflects his emotional and psychological state brilliantly, and I foresee that Clara (and the other upcoming companions) will have the job of redeeming and humanizing him more (without the flirting).

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This is Steven Moffat’s challenge: Go back to where you started. Remain eerie and intriguing, absolutely. But bring back the heart in Doctor Who. This episode was at its best when exploring the conflict between the characters–the confused Doctor and the companion who just seemingly lost her best friend.

Bring back the stuff of Captain Jack and the Dancing Doctor, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” or the Girl who Waited for the Mad Man in a Box with fish fingers and custard. That emotion drives the story and keeps the audience. The timey wimey wibbly wobbly mumbo jumbo (with plot holes the size of the time vortex) needs to take a back seat to the heart that embodies the core of Doctor Who.

Brief Book Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

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This is another successful Middle Grade book by Holly Black which explores the time in which you’re supposed to grow up but you’re not quite ready to give up your toys or to cease believing in a fantasy. She’s always brilliant at capturing that time of life when kids are on the cusp of growing up, and there’s that last vestige of wonder struggling to keep their feet off the ground.

Brief Book Review: Eleanor and Park

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This was the perfect blend of romance and geek. A love letter to 80s music and comics. It deals with body image and identity and the way that love may blind or embolden us. It explores just how comics can comfort those who hurt, bring people together, and let people discover their inner geek and how that’s ok, and that love doesn’t always turn out how you think it will.

Broadchurch, Episode 1

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Broadchurch, Episode 1:

The short and sweet: I love seeing David Tennant again, even though this isn’t nearly as light a show or role as the Doctor. It’s just dark all the way through. It draws you in, though, and you just need to keep going. He’s so conflicted and tense, and at this point we only have a touch of his backstory, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

I’ve only seen Olivia Coleman in comedic roles until this point, but she’s defying my expectations thus far. It actually refreshing to see her this way, and as she finds herself dramatically her character is figuring out how to be a new kind of cop, dealing with a murder for the first time.

I have my suspicions as to the killer now, but of course I don’t know if it’s just who they want me to suspect, and clearly there are too many unanswered questions to actually come up with an accurate theory. More and more people seem suspicious.

I’m curiouser and curiouser to discover how Arthur Darvill, David Bradley, and others in the supporting cast will complexify (yes, I said it) this mystery.

P.S. Britain: you are beautiful!

Film Review: The Mortal Instruments, The City of Bones

TMII finally broke down and saw The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. I was underwhelmed, but I went in expecting to be, so I can deal with it. I got really into Cassandra Clare‘s book series, which is well-written and funny, reinvigorating urban fantasy and not going completely Twilight, so I knew to be wary of anything that messed with the books I enjoyed so much.

First and foremost, the casting. Lily Collins, Aidan Turner, Lena Headey, Jared Harris, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers were the only ones cast properly. Collins particularly does a great job as Clary, which I had doubts about when I saw that she’d been cast. She emotes so well throughout the entire film, demonstrating just how tired and shellshocked she would be if her entire world came crashing down. Unfortunately, none of her costars (save those named above) can match her level.

Jace was completely, totally, and utterly wrong. Jamie Campbell Bower looks 30, and is too emo for Jace. While Jace has emotional depth in the books, and he can brood with the best of them, he is the most amazingly sarcastic, narcissistic characters ever–and this is delightful. While Bower is physically fit and unable to wear a shirt that closes, he brings nearly none of the trait which Jace employs most: his snarky sarcasm which he wears as a banner. He trades in his myriad, bravado-laced, hilarious one-liners for husky whispers of sweet nothings to Clary. This is unfortunate and unforgivable.

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Alec and Isabel (Kevin Zegers and Jemima West) look even older than Bower, and they lack any personality other than grump and gruff. Finally, Simon. That poor old man is not a strong actor, and when set against Lily Collins he just looks poorer. He was there for the sole reason of creating a love-angst triangle. While that’s there in the books, this is a sad reduction of his character. Finally, Magnus Bane was completely stonefaced–wholly emotionless. Are you kidding? This is a flamboyant, glittery warlock with a cat named Chairman Meow (also absent) at a party filled with fairies and other downworlders. He never changes his expression once! Please.

This brings me to a point that irks me about a lot of YA book adaptations (though a lot of other teen films do this as well, not just book adaptations). Why can’t we have actors who are the same age of their characters? This is so often a major distraction. Honestly, when the character looks like they’re about to graduate college rather than high school, why hire them? Twilight did it right for Kristen Stewart’s Bella but not for Pattinson. Harry Potter did it right until the production time overshot their age. The Percy Jackson series has so many flaws that this is the least of its worries, but it still makes this mistake.

Anyway, back to the film. Plot wise, this hits the high points of the book, but with none of its depth. Granted, these are long books, but some attention could be paid to the substance and we could have been spared the reductionist rendering. This is a complex series, with multiple subplots and subtext that becomes more significant as the series moves forward, yet this is a surface-level film on the whole, which directly led to its underestimation and lightweight showing in the box office and critical reviews.

As I said, this is what I expected, so I’m not as mad as I’d be if I was hoping for greatness. But still, don’t make a film based on beloved books while paying little to no attention to what makes them beloved in the first place.

P.S. If they gut The Fault in Our Stars, I’ll scream.