Movie Reviews: Scarlett Johansson confirmed as goddess
Published 25/08/2014 | 02:30
Lucy, Cert 15A Suspicions always circulated that Scarlett Johansson was some class of goddess, but it has taken hit-and-miss director Luc Besson to confirm this as fact. Johansson is now prime real estate in Tinseltown, and had a lesser mortal been cast in the role of a girl transcending her human limitations via a synthesised drug, it would be hard to see the worshipping public fall on board as it has to the tune of $170million in global box office revenues.
Lucy is unashamedly a star vehicle for Johansson, but besides her comely jawline adorning the posters, it also succeeds by being cheerfully freewheeling in its barmy sci-fi ambitions. Matrix-like action scenes rubbish the laws of gravity. Time and space are jogged through like Terrence Malick on espressos. Johansson, donning Louboutins and a little black number as her powers grow, is all straight-faced poise while she has her way with the universe.
Limitless (2011) played a similar trick by letting Bradley Cooper utilise all his brain capacity by way of a pill. Lucy, however, rides roughshod over such restraint. In Besson's screenplay, packs of blue crystals alter our heroine's very DNA to the point of omnipotence, turning the planet into her personal tablet to be swiped and paused and surfed at will. Silly mortals Morgan Freeman (the gentle professor), Amr Waked (the helpful Parisian detective) and a crew of nasty Korean gangsters can only look on in astonishment as they are left behind.
Mad, mind-bending and marvellous fun, as long as you don't dare try to resist.
Million Dollar Arm Cert: PG
Sports movies have a dismal record when it comes to capturing sport's enduring facility for inspiring primal passions but the good news to report about Disney's latest family-friendly feature, Million Dollar Arm, is that it's a sports movie that isn't really about sports. It draws heavily on the respective worlds of baseball and cricket but knowing the difference between a home run and a half-century is not a pre-requisite for enjoying this likeable feature.
Starring Mad Men's Jon Hamm and based on a true story, the narrative centres on the career woes being faced by JB Bernstein (Hamm) a once successful US sports agent currently fighting a rearguard action against insolvency.
His faithful business partner, Aash (Aasif Mandvi) is a cricket fan but the latter's attempts to promote cricket's potential as a possible client base falls on deaf ears. Like most Americans, Bernstein has little interest in cricket but inspiration strikes during a late night channel surf involving footage that switches between Indian cricketers and Susan Boyle.
Faster than you can say or sing I Dreamed a Dream, Bernstein is heading to Mumbai armed with an idea for a reality show that will eventually involve two unknown Indian cricketers travelling to America to try out for a Major League Baseball team. Will the two winners, Rinkel ( Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh ( Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal) have sufficient "juice" in their throwing arm to cut it in the Big Leagues?
Directed with impressive vitality and panache by Craig Gillespie, Million Dollar Arm fulfils most of the criteria required of solid feel-good fare. Hamm anchors proceedings brilliantly in the central role and while the ending is a tad Hollywood meets Bollywood, the overall spectacle has plenty of juice.
Opens Aug 29th
Into the Storm (12A)
I often used to wonder what the "B" in B movie stood for. Was it "badly made", "budgetless" or "bereft of taste"?
Into The Storm is very much of the tradition that originated back in the 1930s as a way of making small profit margins off value-for-money double bills, where the B movie would be made for a fraction of what the main (or A) feature would.
Note, for example, the emphasis on set-piece thrills rather than any nuance in dialogue or script. You also immediately become aware that the film serves to merely trumpet its genre - in this case natural-disaster porn - without having to fuss over things like art, subtlety or acting.
None of this is necessarily a crime - cinema history would be all the poorer without the B movie - but Into The Storm falters long before its landscape-defiling finale by not fully embracing its B movie tendencies. It feels its rightful place is in the big league, what with its gargantuan CGI and doddering attempts to characterise its non-star cast - a weary group of storm chasers, a local teacher raising his two teenage sons by himself.
If anything, it's the hit rate of snarling twisters that make it tick. Similarly, the ridiculousness of the found-footage device and the dialogue ("I can't get my phone to work," says one character while chest-high in water) are accidental treats. Had it gone straight to DVD, one could forgive Steven Quale's film its shortcomings. This is harder to do as a cinema release.
Sin City: A Dame to kill For (16)
When Sin City swaggered into cinemas in 2005, it garnered a strong cult following with its dazzlingly dark and brutal rendering of Frank Miller's early 90s graphic novel.
Visually, that film won plaudits for its unorthodox green-screen method, which used "digital backlot" technology to present its hard-nosed tales of vengeance in a slick, monochromatic palette.
Thus the formula was never likely to be tampered with in this long-mooted sequel.
Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Miller return along with many of the original cast (Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson etc). Into the titular setting (a devil-may-care cesspool of cartoonish malice) a slew of new cast members slots more-or-less seamlessly.
Look closely and you'll notice good uses for Christopher Lloyd, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple and Lady Gaga. Over there, you'll find Josh Brolin being driven to murderous torment by Eva Green (playing the kohl-eyed femme fatale as only she seems capable). Over there, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a cocky gambler looking to take down the scorned poker adversary who had him beaten to a pulp.
In fact, "pulp" is a word that springs to mind often in the Sin City films, and if you were a fan of the ultra-noir stylings of the first, this will probably rock your boat with equal vigour. The monologues are as grizzled as ever, the lines as cheesy ("I may have been born at night, but it wasn't last night") and the gratuitous bloodletting and sleaze is still never skimped on.
In the Godfather, Don Corleone famously said that revenge was a dish best served cold. It turns out it's equally delectable in black and white.
Obvious Child Cert 16
Talk about putting the pro in propaganda. Obvious Child has been described as an "abortion comedy" but in interviews, its star Jenny Slate, has been quick to point out that the film is not an "agenda movie in any way." Which is one of the more amusing thoughts raised by this provocative piece as only a pro-choice zealot could view this patchy affair as anything other than an extended massage of the pro-abortion mind-set.
The story centres on a struggling New York-based stand-up comedian, Donna Stern (Slate) whose life is about to take a turn for the chaotic. In terms of her access-all-orifices stand-up routine, remove the fart jokes and tedious references to male and female genitalia and she barely has an act. Think early Woody Allen without the one liners and you've pretty much put yourself in the picture. When her boyfriend dumps her unexpectedly, a rebound one-night stand with a business student, Max (Jake Lacy), leads to an unwanted pregnancy. A perilous socio-economic situation convinces Donna she needs an abortion, and the main dilemma depicted concerns whether it is advisable to inform the affable and extremely eligible Max that she's pregnant.
Any doubts Donna may have had about the procedure are dissolved when her mother informs her that she too had an abortion when she was a young teen and, get this, she was dancing at her sister's "sweet sixteen party the next day." All roads lead to flowers (I'm not kidding) and a fairytale ending for all concerned. Well ... everyone that is except the foetus. As she showed on her stint with hit US show Saturday Night Live, Slate is obviously an accomplished comic but the writing doesn't do her justice.
It seems only fair to state that Obvious Child has been critically well received in the US and won the Best International Feature gong at the recent Galway Film Fleadh. The suspicion remains, however, that the film's laughable pro-choice bias has earned it a free pass with critics.
Light on laughs to the point of irritation, the overall experience will only be properly appreciated by pro-choice advocates, fans of lame comedy and those afflicted with an attraction for being patronised.
Opens Aug 29th
Two Days, One Night No Cert
There is no particular point on the road back from depression at which you think, "I'm cured." It's like climbing out of a well, scrabbling for purchase, some footholds feel secure, others perilous, like you are going to slip back down into the depths.
Jean Pierre and Luc Dardennes' latest film captures that like no film I have ever seen. Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is recovering from depression when she finds she has a weekend to fight for her job. During her sick leave her bosses realised that they could survive without her and asked her co-workers to vote whether to lose a member of staff or their €1,000 bonus. They chose their bonus. Sandra must change their minds, a difficult task for anyone, it is almost impossible for someone in her fragile state.
Cotillard is the biggest name the Dardennes have ever worked with and these specialists in the nuances of human emotion require a lot of her. Stripped of make-up and all artifice she more than rises to the occasion, delivering a raw but nuanced performance.
Sandra has the extraordinary support of her husband Manu and Cotillard of the actor who plays him, Dardennes regular Fabrizio Rongione.
The exposition is slow but well-paced, the emotional layering excellent and it does justice to both what it is like to live with depression and to live with someone with depression. Without being depressing.
Now showing at the IFI
Deliver Us From Evil Cert 16
Ah, consistency in a world gone mad. It transpires that four decades after William Friedkin made the planet tremble with The Exorcist, the devil still has nothing better to do than sit around cursing at people and creating mischief for agnostics.
In the case of Deliver Us From Evil, Eric Bana is the latest religious sceptic/lapsed Catholic to have to grapple with Old Nick, who this time possesses a US soldier after being unearthed off in some eerie Middle-Eastern dustbowl.
Bana plays Ralph Sarchie, a real life New York cop on whose case file Scott Derrickson's film is based. Ralph investigates a series of bizarre and gruesome incidents, one of which sees a young mother incarcerated for infanticide. Shadowing his every move is Latino priest Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), who carries all the necessary scars of sin that such films require of holy men. Ralph shrugs off the demonic hints until his work begins to follow him home.
What separates Deliver Us From Evil from many other possession-horror outings is its strong police-procedural inclinations. Instead of being a black orgy of stabbing strings and cheap frights, much time is spent in the station, following lines of enquiry or in fist fights with the possessed. These blue-blooded macho flavours add a narrative thrust to the horror, which, when it does finally manifest in the customary exorcism ceremony, is less jarring than usual. Add to this some quippy one-liners, silly voices and frankly bizarre references to Jim Morrison, and a rare balance is hit. Bana, still a shadow of his Chopper heyday, is workmanlike throughout.
The blood does get chilled, but audiences are given space to breathe instead of having piercing terror rubbed in their faces for protracted stretches.
Now showing nationwide
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