26 07 2014

Lucy” may well be the most peculiar movie of summer 2014.  Director Luc Besson strangely amalgamates high-brow ambitions with B-movie antics.  It amounts to a simple-minded film about big ideas, something far less than Besson achieved on “The Professional,” but I’d be lying if I didn’t have a decent amount of fun on the ride.

Clearly Besson feels more comfortable in the realm of the non-human, staging vibrantly kinetic car chases and action sequences with flashy visuals.  These sequences have a definite panache to them, which is good given that they largely have to power the entire film.

Besson keeps “Lucy” moving at a swift clip, so brisk that you almost don’t have time to think about how excruciatingly bad his inane dialogue is.  It’s obvious that he views words as means to the ends of expression and plot development, not ends in and of themselves.  Worst of all, these unimaginative lines are delivered by Scarlett Johansson and company with feeling equivalent to rote recitation, rendering the film’s human element unintentionally laughable.

The film’s editing could have used some work, too.  Besson begins the film by heavy-handedly intercutting animals and prey with the events of the story (a clumsy attempt to be artful).  Then, he cross-cuts an intellectual lecture given by a professor played by Morgan Freeman (an obvious ploy to be taken seriously on an intellectual level) between multiple scenes of Lucy.  If you think about it, the edit really makes no sense as it either has no sense of time … or Freeman’s Samuel Norman is giving the world’s longest address!

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 7, 2011)

7 01 2011

It’s a new year for the “F.I.L.M.” column, but more importantly, it’s the home stretch of the Oscar season!  Soon enough, the intense politics will start to die down and we will just be left to reflect on the performances and the movies.  To celebrate the season, the next seven weeks of the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” series will be devoted to covering little-seen and underrated gems from the 2010 nominees.

This week, I’m unequivocally recommending “The Professional,” Natalie Portman’s first movie, made when she was just 12 years old.  It’s an especially fun watch for any of Portman’s fans who have followed her work for many years as most of the mannerisms and techniques she still uses are on full display here.  It’s a little rougher, sure, but “Black Swan” was hardly the first time she commanded the screen.  16 years ago, she delivered a stunning performance of incredible mastery for someone so young.

As Matilda, Portman plays a tough young girl out to get revenge on the ruthless and merciless hitman, Stan (Gary Oldman), after he massacres her family including her four-year-old little brother.  While she hated her abusive and neglectful parents, the thought of someone slaying her younger brother makes her run to the assassin across the hall, Leon (Jean Reno).

The “cleaner” on the floor is a bit of a loner, executing his jobs with professionalism and precision.  Leon takes Matilda in at first for her own protection but reluctantly keeps her after she wins a sliver of his affection.  But she wants something more than shelter; Matilda wants training so she can take out Stan.  Again with reluctance, he agrees, and their time together brings Leon a sort of paternal pleasure.

This intense action movie directed by Luc Besson stands out among stacks of other movies in the same vain because it’s not a movie about the action; it’s about the performances, characters, and the story.  Aside from Portman’s incredible debut, there’s also solid work for Jean Reno, who truly deserves better and prominent roles than he usually takes nowadays.  And Gary Oldman also shines as the borderline demented killer Stan, so frightening and so brash that he makes for one heck of a villain.  Oldman really is one of the most utilitarian actors working today, and “The Professional” really does show that off.

Yet somehow, even at 12, Portman steals the movie in a manner indicative of how she would rule the screen for the next 17 years.  Sure, it’s child’s play compared to “Closer” or “Black Swan,” but anyone who made a bet back in 1994 on her becoming an Academy Award-winning actress could be cashing in big time pretty soon.