Trailer: “Lucy”

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What if we put Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman in a highly stylized action sci-fi that looks like “The Matrix” met “Limitless” and “Crank”? Interested? How about if Luc Besson was behind the wheel?

The basic premise of “Lucy” (by the way, Luc Besson apparently has a thing for turning people’s names into titles) is as follows: A girl (Scarlett Johansson) wakes up to discover that somebody has surgically inserted a bag of drugs inside her abdomen. Accidentally, some of that drug gets into her bloodstream and makes her uber-powerful to a point where the only thing that’s missing is Laurence Fishburne standing in the background saying ‘she’s the one’. It might not be the freshest idea ever, but – still – if there’s anyone capable of shooting aciton in a compelling way, it’s Luc Besson. And that makes me feel a bit excited, or even titillated…

“Lucy” kicks behinds on the 8th of August in the US and on the 22nd in the UK.

“Captain America – The Winter Soldier” – Star-spangled badassery

captain america review logoUp until now I have had serious problems understanding the draw behind a character like Captain America. I understand his origins in the popular culture as a spin-off from the blatant patriotic propaganda, but looking at him simply in comic book superhero terms, I couldn’t understand why he’s such an important figure within the Marvel Universe. He’s not a god, he doesn’t really wield a weapon granting him superhuman powers, he can’t fly, he’s not immortal, he doesn’t own a cool suit of armor… He doesn’t really carry a weapon for the most part, but a shield, which from a logical standpoint is just absurd. All he can do is run, fight and throw his shield around… In the company of folks like Thor, The Hulk, or Iron-Man, he looks – well – puny and unimportant, at least in terms of the actual combat, which challenges the notion of Captain America being perceived as a superhero in the first place. Now, having seen “Captain America – The Winter Soldier” (and having re-watched for the third time “Captain America – The First Avenger”) I think I understand his place within this universe of gods, aliens, superheroes and monsters. Continue reading

“Her” – Humanity gets an ‘F’

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Whenever Spike Jonze surfaces with his new film, it invariably causes a fair amount of buzz, and for a good reason. He might not be the most prolific director with only four full-feature films under his belt (and a boat-load of shorts and documentaries), but it doesn’t change the fact that each and every one of his creations is unique, cerebral and unforgettable in a way. Jonze’s films always bring something new to the table, by either inciting an intellectual conversation, or by offering an interesting new angle to a currently relevant topic, and “Her” is no different. In fact, it is much more socially relevant and brutally insightful than any other of his previous films. And it is a delight to watch. Continue reading

Filling the blanks in 2013: “Don Jon”

Just because you know how to drive a car, doesn’t mean you’ll know how to fix it, let alone build one. I think every actor, who desires to make the transition to the other side of the lens, should be told exactly that, and having seen “Don Jon”, I believe Joseph Gordon-Levitt should have seriously considered staying where he was. Surely, there has been a number of film stars who succeeded in taking that step (Mel Gibson, Tim Robbins, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood, or more recently Ben Affleck, to name a few), but the ability to perform simply does not warrant one’s ability to direct other actors and build a film from start to finish.

Just to set the record straight, at no point before seeing “Don Jon” (formerly known as “Don Jon’s Addiction”) had I been subconsciously discrediting this work and I was secretly hoping it would be as good as the raving Sundance reviews built it up to be. But let’s be honest – the idea of an actor going for a triple whammy as a début writer/director and a lead star in a comedy (dramedy?) based around a concept of the social perception of online pornography did raise a few flags – at least for me. I find it quite sad, because it could have been much more interesting, if done right.

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In essence, “Don Jon” is supposed to be a story about a guy with a problem. Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young, attractive stud that works out regularly, goes to night clubs with his buddies, picks up chicks for the purpose of banging, swears in his car, attends Sunday mass, and has regular dinners with his parents. Oh, I almost forgot… He also frequently, diligently and shamelessly jerks off to the ‘tune’ of online porn. It’s not that he’s a loser who can’t bed a girl – he’s just the opposite, but the real stuff never does it for him, because real girls would never do anything remotely close to what he can see online.

At some point, Jon finally finds ‘The One’, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who has it all – hot, funny, (a little too) bossy… the whole caboodle. She convinces Jon to finish a degree and get a better job and basically turns him into a nice little boy-toy. Everything falls apart, though, the minute she discovers Jon’s little dirty secret, as she feels betrayed, because her man needs to seek satisfaction in the arms of virtual bimbos. This brings Jon to a defining moment in his life, where he will have to find out, whether he can do without his addiction. Weirdly enough, at the same time he befriends Esther (Julianne Moore) at his evening classes, who seems to be struggling with vices of her own.

The biggest problem I have with “Don Jon” is its story, or more to the point – its lack. I think it is more accurate to call whatever-this-is an idea stretched out to 90 minutes rather than a fully fleshed out story with compelling character arcs and an interesting (and more importantly – deeper) discussion on problem of the social and emotional disconnect between the online fantasies and the reality of a relationship. For some reason I don’t think Gordon-Levitt had a clear idea of where he wanted his characters to go, because past the setup the story goes exactly nowhere and the direction slides more into chaos with every minute of running time.

It seems to me that Gordon-Levitt was more concerned with filling the film with bullshit irrelevant dialogue instead of making it work in service of the characters, or the story as a whole. There is not a single minute within “Don Jon” that is not carpet bombed with unnaturally fast-paced dialogue (or the off-screen narration, equally fast). I could maybe see it as inspired by David O. Russell’s work, but it takes much more than putting four characters in a room and have them yell at each other to have it look good. In reality, the notion of leaving no silence between the lines comes across as awkward instead of brisk and refreshing, as though he was genuinely afraid of having his characters play without words. And it gets tiresome after a while, because nothing else really happens in this film – people just talk and whenever the story needs to take a step forward, we will see a character on screen spell it out for everybody. I mean, we are not that stupid, you know, and we can figure stuff out from the context, or body language, but I guess this is the ‘new guy thing’. As a result, “Don Jon” instead of touching on an important problem, it glosses over it in a morally infantile manner, thus making it look more like an after-school special about the dangers of masturbation.

Gordon-Levitt’s inexperience spills out onto basically every other aspect of the film. I can’t seriously blame the actors for their wooden and over-the-top performances, because they are for the most part very good actors. I know for a fact, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore cat act brilliantly when directed by a seasoned veteran who has the balls to enable them in a best way possible. Having your characters speak all the damn time and shout over each other doesn’t really come close to the level of the previously mentioned David O. Russell’s craftsmanship.

Additionally, cutting the film into three-second-long shots and overflowing the running time with the repetitive visual cues (as if ripped off from Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream”) does not make the film seem brisk and modern, but rather unoriginal and artificially cool. Then again, it can all be piled onto the curb of inexperience, because Gordon-Levitt clearly had no clue how to convey his ideas, so whenever he couldn’t have the characters say things out loud, he resorted to showing everything. Thus, whenever Jon watches porn, we see him watch porn. When he’s done wanking, we see a tissue. When he has a change of heart, we immediately see the obvious difference in his swearing in a car… The list goes on.

I could maybe give this film a pass if it wasn’t hyped up so much, because it evidently is a debut feature through-and-through. It’s flawed and full of rookie mistakes, with bland cliché characters and a very basic story arc, on which everything is hinged. Joseph Gordon-Levitt definitely needs to hone his skills before he can be recognized as a full-blown director and having the world raving about that rubbish film is not going to help him at all. If anything, he might end up with a severe case of Macaulaculkinitis, which we all know is fatal to one’s career.

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“Hitchcock” – Ironically devoid of suspense

I think for the first time in a long time I have no real idea what to say about a film. I know I want to, but I’m a bit conflicted, to say the least. On one hand, I just saw a biographical piece on one of the most important figures in the world of film making, but emotions aside, “Hitchcock” left too much to be desired and – quite sadly – did not deliver.

I have to admit, that I held really high hopes for “Hitchcock”. With great award-winning cast and almost legendary status of Hitchcock’s persona that extends beyond the world of film, this biopic had all the chances in the world to give “Lincoln” the run for its money. And as much as I’d like to say that Sir Anthony Hopkins pulled a fantastic performance of embodying the one and only Sir Alfred Hitchcock – a movie extraordinaire, it was far from enough to let the film as a whole shed the skin of mediocrity. I don’t mean it to sound belittling neither to Hopkins nor to Helen Mirren (or even Scarlett Johansson, for that matter), because their respective performances were just a delight to watch, but it was just not enough.

I would even go as far as to say that Hopkins’ Hitch (‘Call me Hitch, hold the cock’, as he would allegedly say to Vera Miles) was so convincing that at times I would forget completely that it was in fact Sir Anthony Hopkins that I was watching. And it’s no small feat to achieve, as Hitchcock’s physique was – shall I say – almost too unique to personify, especially with the fact that Hitchcock’s facial features are essentially ingrained in popular culture. I think everybody would recognize the legendary shadow that accompanied Alfred wherever he would go.

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Understandably, it took an unimaginable amount of effort for Hopkins to show Hitchcock in the most realistic possible way and I have to congratulate him on that, because with the aid extensive make-up and top-notch acting, the Hopkins’ demeanour – otherwise unforgettable and powerful – would fade away altogether making way for Alfred.  I do know that it is much easier to understand and learn the character when you have extensive footage of your subject at your disposal, which was not the case for Day-Lewis when he portrayed Lincoln, but I can honestly say that Hopkins should not be ashamed of his work – a work, which was just phenomenal.

Regretfully, I cannot extend my admiration to the entirety of “Hitchcock”. Let me put it this way: I enjoyed watching it very much, but it’s rather the opinion of this little boy religiously in love with cinema that resides in the dark recesses of my brain. I really enjoyed the opportunity to catch a glimpse of how the master used to work (even if the details were not exactly true), I loved to take a look at ‘the making of’ “Psycho” and see Hollywood through its kitchen window. What is more, the story is told in a way that makes us feel as though “Hitchcock” was just an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock presents”. Nevertheless, life is not a fairy tale and “Hitchcock” lacks too severely for ‘the adult me’ to acknowledge it as a great movie. It’s OK… at best.

Just like the award-winning “Lincoln”, “Hitchcock” is burdened by its script. It’s not enough to put fantastic actors in front of a camera for the viewers to fall in love with the picture. A good movie needs a compelling story even when it brings a legendary person back to life. The story “Hitchcock” tells basically boils down to showing how big of a role in Hitch’s life played his wife – Alma Reville. In essence, the film turns out to be more of a tribute to the woman hiding in the shadow of the master, and it was quite a shadow I might add; a shadow that could house more people than just Alma.

In the end, “Hitchcock” tries to be a love story, but the sad truth is that a good romance needs that spark of uncertainty, betrayal and heat. Instead, we see just a regular couple who’d  been there for one another for longer than they could remember. We see their spats and disagreements, the unspoken words of approval and the resulting unspoken grudge that Alma held against her husband, but nothing more… It’s not enough for a good story arc, at least not in my opinion. A decent love story needs to make me care for this couple. I need to feel the cathartic relief at the end, and in order to get me there, the characters need to have a bit more on their plates, if you know what I mean.

I still believe that “Hitchcock” could have been something more than just a hat tipped to Alma Reville. I understand that premise though, because her involvement in Hitchcock’s legend was probably far greater than anyone could possibly fathom. However, the film ended up being just an acting extravaganza. What I find the most ironic of it all, is the fact that the story about ‘the father of horror and suspense’ turned out to be fizzed-out and anti-climactic and if it hadn’t been for Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, it would have gone past the cinemas completely unnoticed.