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A Squircular Blog from The Squiss

Film reviews, essays, journalism, insights and general ramblings

from Edward Field, the Squircled Stegophilist.

 

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Lucy ****

27 August 2014

It’s been a while since Luc Besson really excited me. I’m going to say 1994, with the sublime Léon. His most recent outings as writer (3 Days to Kill) and director (The Family) have been dull thuds that threatened to overshadow the resounding successes of his hitman triumph and the likes of Subway and The Big Blue. Twenty years is a long time to wait for something worth celebrating, but finally we have Lucy to admire.

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Let’s not get too excited, though. Lucy is a curio, an enjoyable return to form from the French auteur (a contentious mantle and one worthy of debate another time), but is a long way from being a classic, despite a solid, central performance from Scarlett Johansson in the title role.

When Lucy is forced to deliver a briefcase to the violent criminal kingpin Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), she winds up with a bag full of a new synthetic drug sewn into her belly. Before she can complete the delivery, the bag bursts and the drug infects her, unlocking the unused 90% of her brain and transforming her into an acutely aware, brilliant superhuman with warrior-like powers and a drastically reduced shelf life on this earth.

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At this juncture we should perhaps take a momentary step back into reality. Lucy is a whimsy built on a fallacy. We don’t use a mere 10% of our brain. We use all of it (although a look at some people around here does bring that accepted ‘fact’ into question) but understand perhaps 10% of the brain’s workings. And while we’re at it, if you cut a worm in half, you don’t get two worms, you end up with a dead worm in two parts. Deal with it!

However, facts can get in the way of a good story and so Besson dispenses with them from the outset, not that I have any particular issues with that. For the most part, Lucy is exciting and a thoroughly enjoyable romp. There are plot holes aplenty but Besson bats them away with aplomb, and concentrates on the thrills and the race against time. This is Limitless meets Transcendence with a serious armoury thrown in for good measure. There is much to enjoy as we watch Lucy evolving physically, mentally and emotionally before us, becoming ever more resourceful and violent as she seeks out Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), the authority on the mind and brain function, for help and to impart her knowledge to him.

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Morgan Freeman, though a comforting presence, is unremarkable, playing essentially the same role as he did in Transcendence. His Professor Norman is virtually indistinguishable from his Joseph Tagger and the impression he gives is of a man coasting in his dotage. His performance doesn’t in any way detract from Lucy, it just doesn’t enhance it.

The presence of the hominid Lucy is awful, however. Didn’t Besson think about looking at the make up and CGI created for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or even the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Awful, just awful. And the confusion of travelling through space first and then time is clumsy and implies he is uncertain of his historical chronology and geography.

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The principal failing of Lucy is its culmination, which of is largely unsatisfying though hardly surprising. Lucy sets out with high ideals of uniqueness, boldness and enlightenment but is unable to be truly original and has to settle for a rearrangement of old ideas. That isn’t entirely the fault of Luc Besson as we must shoulder some of the responsibility. We are creatures of limited comprehension, we cannot truly fathom the infinity of the universe (something has to contain it, surely…) and this, Lucy, is no different. We have a need to box things up to understand them and by doing so Besson immediately limits it.

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‘It’, the expansiveness of intelligence and our potential, becomes something tangible for us to scrutinize. Professor Norman states early on that he doesn’t know what would happen if we ever harnessed the entirety of our brain capacity. He can only hypothesize; the rest is a mystery. Besson, however, attempts to explain and portray it for us. The bolder move would have been stop short of an explanation, to perhaps watch Lucy’s brainpower percentage rise and to fill the screen and auditorium with white noise until the credits cut in, leaving us puzzled, confused, befuddled, just as Professor Norman is, but I suspect Besson feared the cries of outrage from audiences and critics and instead he gives us a convenient, comprehensible resolution.

Lucy needed a visionary at the helm. Whilst Besson is imaginative and delivers a rollicking good ride (on a good day), he lacks the courage to create something truly unique and astounding.

Another film review from The Squiss.

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The Keeper of Lost Causes ****

24 August 2014

The latest in a long (endless?) line of fine Scandinavian police thrillers, The Keeper of Lost Causes (Kvinden I buret to give it its Danish title) is a taut, thrilling cop drama that compels and seizes the interest for the duration of its 97 minute running time.

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In the aftermath of an ill-fated mission that leaves one colleague dead and another seriously injured, police inspector Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is bumped from his department and tasked with setting up Department Q, a dead-end desk job that requires him to spend the next few years ensconced in a dusty basement with a new partner, Assad (Fares Fares), tying up the loose ends on old cases. Instructed to close three cases per week, Mørck and Assad begin with the investigation of a politician, Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter) who disappeared five years previously. Written off as a suicide, Mørck is determined to prove there is more to the case and delves into a murky case of abuse, murder and kidnapping.

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With both Kaas and Richter alumni of the original series of The Killing, and Fares a star of both Easy Money and Zero Dark Thirty, the central trio makes for a very solid human triptych, even if displayed as separate components (he wrote carefully, determined not to lead or hint or give anything away). The relationship between Mørck and Assad, particularly, is a sufficient variation of the ‘cop buddies’ partnership to make it feel new. Both policemen have their foibles, their differences and their similarities; Mørck is out of favour, Assad has been trusted with something vaguely resembling a promotion, Mørck is silent and brooding, Assad celebrates his new found ‘freedom’ with ear-bleeding music, Mørck is a battering ram, Assad invests time to achieve his results…

As an aside, The Keeper of Lost Causes succeeds magnificently in portraying a Muslim character in a positive light in a film that isn't about that issue. Assad could be anyone; he just happens to be a Muslim.

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Though The Keeper of Lost Causes will invariably be compared to The Killing, it is closer in tone to the thoughtfulness of Wallander and the cynicism of French series Spiral and is spiced with the dark violence of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. There is humour within the gloomy folds of this thriller but it is cold and cynical as befits a yarn of kidnap and murder.

I saw much of the outcome in the first fifteen minutes of The Keeper of Lost Causes but it was a still an electrifying journey that has a great deal to celebrate, not least of all a sublime accident sequence. Think ‘ballet with cars’ and you’re getting close.

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Like all good thrillers, The Keeper of Lost Causes works on the terror factor that it could happen. We don’t tend to believe in zombies and vampires, although I’m up for a short-term zombocalypse armed with a crossbow and a katana, but humans with a vindictive streak and a penchant for malevolent revenge? Yep, they’re far too real to ignore.

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The Keeper of Lost Causes is a rare treat for another reason: it clearly sets itself up for a sequel and director Mikkel Nørgaard has duly obliged with the second adaptation of author Juss Adler-Olsen’s novels, The Absent One (Fasandræberne), released in Denmark this autumn.

Roll on the end of the summer!

Another film review from The Squiss.

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Into the Storm ***

12 August 2014

Into the Storm is not a great film. There isn’t a great deal in it that is original, it’s cheesy as hell, there are countless lapses in reason and plot holes vast enough to fly a herd of tornadoes through.

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But it is fun.

The short version is Into the Storm is Twister on serious amounts of speed. That’s pretty much all you need to know. If you’re in the mood for logic-defying action, trashed houses and good old ‘Americans are great and can beat anything anyone (including God) can throw at us’ action in which nobody of any consequence suffers hideously, then pull up a chair, pop a beer and start chewing pizza.

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Into the Storm occurs on one day in a small town, Silverton, which is just about to deal with an onslaught of tornadoes the like of which it has never seen before. While the townsfolk, led by Gary (Richard Armatige), duck and cover, a group of storm chasers, including Allison (The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies), head for the vortex of the first cyclone unaware quite how hairy it is all about to become. Throw in a couple of redneck goons who should have won a Darwin Award eons ago, young love and a lost dog and most of the boxes are ticked. Actually, it’s so predictable you could probably draw up your own chart and tick the boxes yourself. It even throws in the tattered Stars and Stripes in the climax just to make sure we understand that America survived, and won, yet again.

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Into the Storm is an all-out action-thriller-adventure that is a loud, brash statement that the disaster movie is back! It’s no Towering Inferno and lacks the ability to terrify or the will to wreak havoc with our emotions but it is a fine ride, is sometimes unintentionally funny and is a brainless way to lose a Friday night without effort or strain.

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Into the Storm is a two-star film that earns three stars purely for the excitement and the effects. CGItastic! The twisters are fab, the devastation of Silverton looks fantastic and the sound mix is enough to make you want to be there to witness it for yourself, albeit with concrete shoes to keep you grounded.

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There is no call for emotional attachment and a distinct lack of death for a film concerning such a violent weather conditions, but if you’re prepared to disengage the brain and enjoy the effects you’ll have a ball. Just don’t waste any energy trying to figure out how the very same tornado that can rip aircraft into the air from an airport cannot prise human fingers away from an iron railing.

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Stupid, but fun.

Another film review from The Squiss.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West *

8 August 2014

The trailer for A Million Ways to Die in the West looked fun. Good cast, black comedy, and a team with a track record.

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I did smile once. I checked my watch and it came on 33 minutes with the start of the bar fight. Up until then I’d stifled groans and sighs of exasperation at horribly obvious and clumsily set up lines like, “Dude, you really shouldn't drink & horse.”

Ho hum.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West sets out to be a clever parody of the perils of the Wild West but winds up a painfully obvious, drawn out, 21st century looser flick with sledgehammer dialogue and fancy dress.

Alas, it isn’t very clever and wasn’t at all funny for a full hour. Beyond that I have no idea and little interest as the boredom threatened to rot my brain and I departed before grey matter leaked out of my ears.

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I’m sure there’s a joke somewhere in A Million Ways to Die in the West but it's difficult to hear it amongst all the dull thudding. 

It warrants one star purely for the presence of Charlize Theron. She may make poor choices occasionally, but she remains a fine actress and the cause of more than a few heart flutters.

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It wasn’t an entirely wasted evening; I made it home in time to watch a couple of episodes of The Inbetweeners.

Another film review from The Squiss.

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