Monday, July 28, 2014

Lucy: I AM Everywhere - A Review

L uc Besson likes to tell stories.  And we like to hear them.  "Lucy" is Besson's latest action – Sci-Fi drama.  Starring Scarlet Johansson, the film, on its very basic level is about a young woman who is forced to work as a drug mule.  Against her will, she will carry dangerous drugs from Asia, to Europe.  Something happens to the girl along the way that causes her to expand her mind, giving her the ability to wreak havoc on the drug lords that enslaved her.  Min-sik Choi Is Jang the drug lord and the film’s villain.  Morgan Freeman ("Through the Wormhole") plays a neuroscience with a theory concerning a human's ability to access fully their cortical capacity.  As a direct fact, this doesn't work, but as a metaphor for the evolutionary leaps that humankind takes, it does.  "Lucy" is a fun action film that touches on some heavy subjects, but not to be taken too seriously.  Besson is one who doesn't let facts get in the way of drama or entertainment.  Why should you?

The film starts as a scientific version of the story of creation.  Cells divide and synapses fire, Professor Norman (Freeman) continues his lecture, and reaches a point where he declares that life has a choice of immortality or recreation depending on the environment.  If the environment is hazardous then a life form will choose immortality.  Or if the environment is calm and stable then the life form will choose to procreate.  Animals mating and various images depicting evolution appear on screen, as the professor lectures.  Images flash on the lecture screen of the prehistoric savannah, a river with a small hominid creature drinking water.  Norman discusses various aspects of his theory that leads him to proclaim that humans only use 10% of their cortical capacity.  Don't get hung up on this claim, as Prof. Norman mentions later, "It is only a theory."

Lucy (Johansson) and her recent hookup Richard (Pilou Asbæk), casually dressed, straw cowboy hat, sunglasses and a large smile, tries to talk Lucy into going into the Taipei hotel and ask for a Mr. Jang and deliver a metallic suitcase.  Lucy, of course, is wary.  Whimsical music plays in the background, as Besson juxtaposes wildlife footage of a cheetah stalking its prey.  Lucy just met the guy, (images of a nightclub, and extensive party scenes flash in her head) after a few minutes of Richard trying to convince her, she starts to walk away.  Richard handcuffs her arm to the suitcase: the cheetah pounces on its prey.  From now on Lucy is no longer in control of her fate.  Poor judgment led her to this path and now she has no choice but to follow the path.  

A gunfight ensues in the lobby and Lucy is taken to see Jang.  Several thugs lead her to a room where she encounters Jang.  An older man, whose purpose now is deciding which individual, is suitable mule material.  After several bloody rejects, Jang, through an interpreter on the phone goes through an exchange that is both horrifying and hilarious at the same time.  Playing Jang is Min-sik Choi who was absolutely evil in "I Saw the Devil," and tormented and vengeful in "Oldboy.”  In Lucy, he is both ruthless and cruel to the very end.  Inside the case are several bags of a blue crystalline substance called CPH4.  Is it Walter White's Blue Crystal Meth?  The goal is to distribute the drugs via a set of mules to London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome.  Lucy is set for Paris.

After waking up with the drugs sown inside of her, her wound is still healing when she is subjected to abuse by some lowlife tugs, as opposed to the high-class thugs in Choi's employ.  The bag is ruptured and the effects of the overdose are immediate.  Lucy experiences uncontrollable levitation and psychokinesis.  Professor Norman, on the other side of the world, is still lecturing about what happens if a human reaches 20% of capacity, and with Lucy we see the effects, also juxtaposed with corny black and white archive footage of a magician levitating a woman.  Lucy begins unlocking parts of herself that were formally inaccessible.  

As the film progresses, and Lucy's powers increase, Besson shows a large graphic displaying the percentage points of mental capacity that our heroine now possesses and has access to.  Immediately upon escaping, she opts for having the bags surgically removed.  Knowing that "Lucy" is pure entertainment, the events at the hospital can only be described as absurd.  The surgeon (Paul Chan), whose patient Lucy kills, because he couldn't have saved him anyway, explains to her what CPH4 (a fictitious name) does in small amounts to help spur prenatal growth.  However, now that Lucy just ingested several kilos of the blue crystals, no one knows how she will react to the overdose.  Will she live?  Or, will she die?   Her conversation with her mom over the phone is touching, to a point.  Lucy can remember events that took place when she was only a month or two old.  Like drinking and remembering the taste of her mother's milk.  She bids her mom farewell.

"The purpose of life is to pass on what we have learned."

From here on out, Lucy has an encounter with Jang again, this time the outcome is somewhat in her favor, meets with her roommate, is able to medically scan her body for health issues, write a prescription in Chinese, and give her lifestyle advice.  Lucy can manipulate the color of her hair cells so she can change appearance while at the airport.  She has a harrowing flight from Taipei to Paris, where at one moment she is multitasking, on two laptops at once, and then upon entering the lavatory, realizing that she is smoking hot, literally.  

In Paris, she contacts the police, informing them about the drug trafficking mules, which in turn contact the other countries and arrange for the arrest and export of the other mules to France.  Lucy knows information about people and things that she shouldn't know.  She is becoming quieter as her mind evolves.  By this time, Choi and his henchmen are in place in Paris and ready to attack.  Meeting with police Sgt. Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) they battle to keep pretty boy Jii (Nicolas Phongpheth), leader of Choi's thugs from getting the CPH4.  After a bloody battle that leaves all of the other three carriers dead and kills half of Jii's men.  Lucy and Del Rio embark on the requisite car chase, with all the obligatory collateral damage, Lucy and Del Rio enter the university where Norman, whose running commentary has been informing us where Lucy is on the evolutionary scale, and the two finally meet.  

Lucy's path now transcends humanity and the audience sees the loss on Johansson's face.  The actor, who started the film as a happy carefree blonde with little care on her mind, is now on a journey that takes her outside of time.  From the galaxy's very beginning to its end, Lucy, by the end of the film, transcends all.  Science Fiction is not a new genre for Scarlett Johansson.  Last year she supplied the voice of Samantha, in the romantic, Sci-Fi film "Her."  The same year she played an alien in "Under the Skin."  Johansson has played Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, in the Marvel franchise since 2010.  Although, not billed as a Sci-Fi film, Christopher Nolen's "The Prestige" certainly has some Sci-Fi elements to it.  In 2005, she starred in Michael Bay's "The Island" alongside Ewan McGregor.  In "Lucy,” she captures the spirit of what Besson is trying to achieve.  Her action scenes are as formidable of any of Besson's male heroes.  She allows her character to transform naturally during the scenes. For example, in a scene in the third act, when she says goodbye to Del Rio, she gives him a slight kiss as a symbol of the loss of her humanity and something to remember it by.  

"What makes us human is blocking us from understanding."

Besson's films have transformed somewhat since the days of "Leon the Professional," and the 1997 Sci-Fi adventure “The Fifth Element," we watched as he featured his wife Milla Jovovich in "The Messenger" and we laughed at last year's "The Family.”  Besson writes more than he has directed, and he's produced more films than he has written.  He wrote and produced “The Transporter” films, which star Jason Statham, and he co-wrote "Colombiana" starring Zoe Saldana of "Star Trek: Into Darkness" fame.  In 2008, he wrote the Liam Neeson film "Taken" and in 2012, he scripted the sequel "Taken 2" and "Lockout" starring Guy Pearce.  Maggie Grace co-starred in all three of those films.  Earlier this year he wrote and produced the Kevin Costner film "Three Days to Kill," a double entendre on Costner's character having only three days to watch his daughter and get an assassination job done.  

Some say that music is sound through time, and the music for “Lucy” is by French composer Eric Serra.  Serra provides compositions for many of Besson’s film and does a marvelous job here as well.  The soundtrack includes music from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to the trip-hop of The Crystal Method, the folk grunge of Beck and others, such as Damon Albarn's “Sister Rust” and “God's Whisper” by Raury.  Thierry Arbogast’s does an excellent job of bringing Besson’s cinematic vision to life.

Although Besson professes some profound thoughts, I don't think he is really attempting to say much in that regard.  He doesn't seem to be that kind of a filmmaker.  Although there is no monolith that excites development of hominids on this planet, there is scene between modern but pre-transcendent Lucy and the prehistoric Lucy that is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s "Creation of Adam" fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Besson doesn't spend too much time like Kubrick did driving the point across with his visuals.  Instead, Besson allows the actors and the dialog to carry the story to its logical conclusion, ambiguous as it is.

"Time gives proof to the existence of matter. Time is unifying."

Overall, "Lucy" is a delightful action packed, easy on the eyes, science fiction film that, although is light on the philosophy, presents either a clear case for, or a cautionary tale against transhumanism.  More importantly, "Lucy" expresses our hopes for something more.  The human race is something more in the sense that, this is not all that we are, but a stepping-stone on the road to apotheosis.  “Lucy” makes a great date night film, with plenty of discussion points afterwards.  If you don’t get the chance to capture “Lucy” at the theater, then make sure you catch it on Blu-ray or DVD.

"Lucy" is in theaters July 25, 2014 

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi 
Year:  2014
Staring:  Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked 
Director: Luc Besson
Producer(s): Virginie Silla
Writer: Luc Besson
Rating: R
Running Time: 90 minutes
Release Date: 7/25/2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mike Cahill Returns With the Scientifically Mystical I Origins

I Origins: Poster Eye Mandala | A Constantly Racing Mind
Some things cannot be proved by science -- yet. That theme is one of the many story elements that director Mike Cahill ("After Earth”) wants us to take away from his new film titled "I Origins."  Both writer and director, Cahill depicts a world where science and spirituality come together to tell a love story that transcends death and challenges how we see the world.  Michael Pitt ("Seven Psychopaths") is Dr. Ian Gray. He is a microbiologist whose research focuses on the eye.  Brett Marling ("After Earth,” "The Sound of My Voice," "The East") plays Ian's lab assistant Karen.  Astrid Bergès-Frisbey ("Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides") stars as Sofi, Ian's cosmic soul mate. Finally, the "Walking Dead's" Steven Yeun co-stars as Kenny, Ian's roommate and research partner. "I Origins" runs just under 2 hours and contains swearing and some nudity. The MPAA gives this film an R rating.

Ian tells the first half of the film in retrospect. He is a husband, a father, and a scientist. Eight years prior, when Ian was a PhD graduate, he met a wild and exotic young woman at a Halloween party.  While the encounter was brief, the impression she left on him was lasting.  Ian didn't get the girl's name or number, and he doesn't know what she looks like because she was wearing a mask. He did get pictures of her eyes for his collection.  Apparently, he collects pictures of people's eyes. Part of the research he and Kenny does is with optical biometrics and the cataloging of the uniqueness of each person's eye pattern.  Eye color doesn't matter.  

After the encounter, Ian experiences an emptiness that he didn't realize he had, that is, until this magical woman momentarily filled, and then suddenly departed without a word. Kenny, still drunk from the party, notes that the logical scientist was waxing poetic. The next day, Ian meets his new rotating intern, Karen.  His first reaction to Karen is one of mild indifference with a slight bit of hope that she has the intellect to help him in his research.  His goal is to find a naturally evolved creature that presently is blind, but has a genetic compound that will allow a mutation that gives the creature the ability to sense light. He wants to build an eye from scratch.  Why would he do this?  Karen tackles the project with her full attention while Ian finds himself obsessed with finding that girl again.

I Origins:Sofi's Soul Searching Eyes | A Constantly Racing Mind

Cahill spends time throughout the film balancing self-determinism and fate, cause and effect, the science of biology and the inexplicitness of love.  Obsessed with finding the girl, he studies pictures of the eyes that captivated him.  One day while buying lottery tickets, he has an epiphany.   On his ticket are the numbers 1111, in the drawing, on the timestamp, and he looks up and the light and shadows of the building across from him draws him to a bus stop. Upon taking a short bus trip, where something cosmic tells him to exit the vehicle and points him to a billboard with the mysterious girl's eyes.  The billboard stands as a symbol in this film as the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg did in "The Great Gatsby."  Here, the ethereal eyes are a metaphor for the the young woman's soul searching for Ian's 

Eventually he does find her again, and they begin a relationship that could only be described as unscientifically magical.  Her name is Sofi and she is of Argentinean/French descent.  She is a free spirit with a childlike quality of taking in the world with wonder and a sense of magic.  She is careless, irresponsible, spontaneous, believes in the soul and individuality, while Ian rejects them all in favor of science and reason.   Ultimately, the two are complete opposites and, of course, the two are doomed.  In scenes with Sofi, the white peacock is the Bird of Two Instances, and plays a major role symbolically for her.  

Karen, on the other hand, is smart, focused, and attractive.  She continues working on the research project full time and finally comes upon a worm that has the genetic make-up that they need for their progressive experiments.  Like the lab rats that Ian and Karen use for experiments, Karen confines herself to the laboratory and the goal of making a major scientific breakthrough.  Marling plays the role of Karen with a sense of grace that mirrors her own life -- that of a focused young woman wanting to send a cinematic message with her films. 

I Origins:Brit Marling - Michael Pitt, ad Steven Yeun | A Constantly Racing MindAs Ian and Sofi's love grow, the two have conversations that show that the two have very different worldviews.  When Ian discusses his research of the eye and how he plans to disprove God by discrediting the Intelligent Design community.  Sofi asks, "Why do you try so hard to disprove God?" Ian's reply, "Who proved that God is there in the first place."  Another beautiful scene is of the two lovers discussing their life's philosophies concerning death.  Sofi pronounces that when she dies, she wants to be cremated. She wants her soul to scatter to the wind and be free like a white peacock.  Ian would rather be buried in the hopes that science will find a way to either reanimate his corpse or reconstitute him from his DNA. Sofi tells Ian, "You live in a room with books, a bed, your logic, but there is a door and there is something more on the other side." "Like my dirty laundry?" Ian laughs.  "No. you just cannot let go.  You have a hard time letting go." the scene is emblematic of another theme that Cahill promotes, and that is of both the scientific and religious communities needing to let go of their dogmatic stances and be open to a new light.
"...human beings are like these worms. Maybe God is all around us but we don’t have the proper sense with which to see Him."
Cause and effect play an important role in the arc of this story, and the price that each of the characters pays for their experiences is essential to their growth.  On the day of Karen and Ian's greatest achievement, is also the day of Ian's greatest tragedy.  The sorrow over the loss of Sofi transcends the trope known as "fridging."  We feel just as keenly as Ian does when she dies.  But this too leads our protagonist on a path he wouldn't have naturally taken.  Seven years later, both Ian and Karen, now full professors and are happily married to each other, they reflect on the Karen's decision to call Ian into the lab the day Ian and Sofi were planning to have a spontaneous wedding.   The events of this particular day are a turning point in the film, where the tone changes from glad to sadness but only for a while. 

While Ian goes through all the stages of loss and eventually finds solace in Karen's arms. The audience as a third party, like Kenny who is now working in the private sector, sees Ian's relationship with Sofi as impractical, but with Karen as the "logical" choice.  Memories of Sofi lay dormant with Ian and Karen knows it, but doesn't care, Sofi is dead, and she is there and Sofi isn't.  The couple's joy expands after Tobias is born.  In the hospital, although not a legal requirement -- yet, the nurse photographs the child's eyes. And despite the parents informing the nurse that they understand the science behind the uniqueness of the eye and that they have used the system and that it will generate a unique 12-digit code, like a social security number for the child, she continues to explain.  After the picture is taken, and the eye scanned, the computer glitches and an African -- American male in his 60s appears on the screen.  The man's name is Paul Edgar Dairy.  The nurse apologizes, reboots the computer, and creates a fresh entry for the couple's new son.  

I Origins:Michael Pitt - Astrid Bergès-Frisbey | A Constantly Racing MindMonths later, they have an encounter with Dr. Jane Simmons (Cara Seymour), a Yale researcher claiming to want to check Tobias for Autism.  Once again, Ian's life is set on a new course after realizing that Dr. Simmons was actually searching for something as important as Autism but potentially more meaningful to the human race -- the transmigration of the soul. First, there is a trip to Idaho to discover the truth behind Simmons' research, and then Ian undertakes a journey to India encouraged by his logical, loving, wife.  What he finds there are old emotions that as a scientist he finds hard to return to.  A part of his life that wasn't anchored in normalcy, but unhinged by spontaneity and superstation, one where there was no closure. 

In India Ian meets a woman who prepares him for the self-discovery that he needs to complete his journey. William Mapother from Cahill's "Another Earth," makes a brief appearance, serving as a literal symbol of faith.  In a conversation with Priya (Archie Panjabi), a community service worker. They discuss Ian's scientific ideology, and how it fits into his trip to India. Ian expresses that he is looking at data points and it is the data points that prove his reality and why believing in an unseen, an unheard God is ridiculous.  Priya asks him what if religion could prove something that science could not.  Ian replies that is nonsense to consider.  However, Priya replies with this wonderful saying from the 14th Dalai Lama; 
“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”  
Michael Pitt’s characterization of Ian is correct for a dogmatic scientist caught unaware in Sofi’s magical charms.  Astrid Bergès-Frisbey’s captures Sofi perfectly.  With her lithe body, long brown hair, and soul catching eyes, there is little wonder why Ian is captivated by this woman-child.  The question be
comes how long could Ian put up with Sofi’s qualities before they become a liability to their relationship.

Markus Förderer's photography is well done, especially when photographing the film's main symbol, the eye. The image of the eyes that Förderer films, turns magically into a mystical mandalas that one can view both the entire universe but deep into the soul as well.  Technically, Förderer's does a great job, especially in Ian's bus ride and billboard epiphany scene. While Cahill directs with a style that is sometimes Malick and sometimes Hitchcock and sometimes something else altogether.  "Fall on Your Sword" founder Will Bates' ("Another Earth"), and Phil Mossman's ("We Are What We Are") ambient compositions are both compelling, and energetic. Also included are Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack," The Dø's "Dust It Off," and a few others that work together to set the proper moods for Ian, Sofi and Karen's journey.

"I Origins" is an impressive story, beautifully filmed and does what the director and the actors intended – to depict a love story with smartly written characters with a foundation in science but with an aura of spirituality.  Wordplay and symbolism are an important aspect of the narrative, and sometimes you can't help but feel overwhelmed. The final act is the most important, as all the themes and allusions come to a nexus in a young girl by the name of Salomina (Kashish).  The young lady is amazing and fulfils the cinematic and narrative promise Cahill makes in the first act of this film.  However, the conclusion of "I Origins", as they do in Mike Cahill films, leaves the viewer with the impression that they may have missed something.  The ending is subtle and allows for the viewer to make up their own mind about what just took place.  The viewer isn't left empty but fulfilled in that they just witnessed something marvelous but was there all along.  Go see "I Origins" when it comes to your area.

Fox Searchlight is opening "I Origins" in a few major cities across the nation. Take a moment and check the Limited Release schedule.  The film opens in these cities on July 18, 2014. More release dates and locations are in the works.


Movie Data

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Year:  2014
Staring: Michael Pitt, Steven Yeun, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Brit Marling 
Director: Mike Cahill
Producer(s): Mike Cahill, Hunter Gray, Hunter Gray
Writer: Mike Cahill
Rating: R
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: 7/18/2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: 5 Minute Extended Clip

Everywhere I turn I see or hear about the "Guardians of the Galaxy" opening in theaters on August 1, 2014.  Marvel is releasing various trailers in support of their new cinematic space adventure.  

In the trailer below, Rhomann Dey (John C. Reilly) introduces each character as they appear during processing at  Kyln prison.  Reminiscent of the 1967 Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine film "The Dirty Dozen," the group of criminals assemble for an important mission.  For the Guardians, what is more important than saving the galaxy.


Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Year:  2014
Staring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace
Director: James Gunn
Producer(s): Kevin Feige
Writer: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date:  8/1/2014