Films I Neglected To Review: Contractual Obligation EditionBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/25/14 03:13:22
Due to contractual obligations, I am unable to offer full-length reviews of most of this week's new releases. Instead, please enjoy short looks at "I, Origins," "Lucy," "Magic in the Moonlight," "Mood Indigo" and "A Most Wanted Man." Most are pretty good and one is a masterpiece--see if you can guess which one it is.
As was the case with Cahill's previous effort, "I, Origins" is a sci-fi film that is more interested in ideas than in hardware and while the merging of science and spirituality has not always resulted in top-flight entertainment (as a recent rewatching of "Brainstorm" reconfirmed), it does work this time around. Granted, there are times when the story doesn't make a lot of sense (if our hero believes only in rational science, why does he also seem to be interested in numerology as well?) and it threatens to get ridiculous once Ian lands in India in the final third. However, Cahill keeps the narrative moving along without ever getting bogged down into gobbledygook and keeps the surprises coming without ever getting too far out into the ozone. Visually, the film is pretty spectacular without transforming into an orgy of soulless CGI effects. As the hero, Pitt is more engaging than I can recall him ever being in his previous performances--even as a scientific cold fish, he is still reasonably likable and interesting--while Berges-Frisbey is a memorable presence, if not a particularly stunning actress, as Sofi and the always-interesting Marling is captivating in a smaller role as the lowly assistant who grows in importance in Ian's professional and personal lives. Granted, "I, Origins" is a bit of an acquired taste and those who don't immediately respond to it are liable to write it off as utter hooey but for those willing to give it a chance, the results are, no pun intended, fairly eye-opening.
With its combination of neuroscience shop talk and over-the-top ass-kicking, "Lucy" is a film that is so crazy throughout that it practically redefines the word "preposterous" right before your eyes. While the sheer nuttiness on display will no doubt inspire many to simply dismiss it as complete silliness, those who have sparked to Besson's past live-action cartoons , such as "La Femme Nikita," "Leon" and "The Fifth Element," will be delighted to discover that he is back in his own distinct element here. The action sequences are exquisitely staged set-pieces that have been put together with a style, pace and dedication to spatial fidelity that makes the rapid-fire confusion of "Transformers 4" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" seem even more embarrassing than they already are and maintain a certain sense of humor amidst the carnage that keeps them from growing monotonous. While films of this type are not necessarily known for their standout performances, Johansson delivers a surprisingly strong and convincing performance in the title role--as implausible as the story gets, she nevertheless manages to ground it in a certain reality throughout and gets a couple of quieter dramatic moments that work just as well thanks to her efforts. I also really liked what is sure to be the most controversial aspect of the film--a truly wild finale that may be the most audacious climax to a popcorn entertainment since the ending of Ang Lee's "Hulk" in the way that Besson wholeheartedly embraces the bizarre implications that he has put forth. Love it or hate it (and there is no middle ground with this one), "Lucy" is not the kind of film that you will forget anytime soon and those who do respond to it positively are likely to find it one of the best pop entertainments to come around in a while.
Because the film is essentially about a decidedly cynical older man going to great lengths to prove to the world that a seemingly innocent and much younger woman is an incredible liar capable of duping practically anyone, there are some people who will look at "Magic in the Moonlight" as Allen's artistic response to the accusations against him that gained additional traction this past winter and not just because it literally begins with a shot of an elephant in a room. Personally, I don't buy it because the film is far too wispy and innocuous of a confection to support that kind of weighty conceit. This is the work of a veteran filmmaker who no longer has anything to prove to anyone and who prefers to indulge in works that allow him to play around with subjects that interest him--magic in this case--in his own particular way. To that extent, it is more or less a success, albeit a very low-key one--there are the requisite number of funny bits, Firth and Stone strike enough sparks to make you overlook the age difference between them (the latter is such a lively presence that I wouldn't be surprised if Allen started using her regularly as he did with Scarlett Johansson a few years ago) and the cinematography by ace lenser Darius Khondji is absolutely gorgeous. In the end, it may not add up to much more than a mid-tier Allen effort--no "Midnight in Paris" or "The Purple Rose of Cairo" but certainly no "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" or "Anything Else"--but for those viewers looking for something in a lighter and frothier vein, you could do worse than this one.
Is "Mood Indigo" for you? Here's a quick question--upon reading the above description, did you immediately think that it was the most preposterous thing that you had ever heard of in your life? If so, you should give this film the widest possible berth. On the other hand, if you thought that it actually did sound kind of intriguing, you should probably try to give it a chance. From a visual standpoint, the film is stupendous and Gondry's unique cinematic style--in which he eschews the slickness of CGI effects for a more low-key approach in which everything looks handmade--yields some stunning results here. (I guarantee that everyone who sees this film will yearn for their own pianocktail.) However, there is also a certain darkness behind the whimsy this time around that Gondry handles with equal deftness and when it gets to its dark, tear-jerking finale, some viewers may find themselves surprised by how touched they are by it. Throw in nice performances from the two leads--together they make the most ridiculously charming and good-looking couple in recent French film history--a trippy score and a lot of big laughs and you have all the makings for a fairly delightful summer sleeper.
It sounds compelling enough in the abstract but in translating it from the page to the screen, something has gone terribly wrong. Le Carre is famous for his densely packed novels in which the spies are more likely to sit in dreary rooms poring over data than engaging in globetrotting adventures but as films like "The Russia House," "The Constant Gardner" and the brilliant adaptation of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" can attest, it can be done when put in the right hands but that has not happened here. Screenwriter has streamlined the material to its most basic elements but has discarded most of the details, not to mention the anger at a world gone increasingly wrong that has become Le Carre's default position in recent years, and the results will leave most viewers feeling as bored as the characters are. Director Anton Corbijn, whose previous film was the great and wildly underrated "The American," likewise fumbles things by spending more time offering up one sterile, airless and overly self-conscious image after another in which everything is so deliberately composed that the film begins to resemble a photo shoot than an actual narrative. Sadly, even Hoffman--who almost never gave a performance that was anything other than compelling--comes up short here with an uncommonly lifeless and uninteresting turn that never rings true for a second. To be fair, none of the other lead actors are especially convincing--McAdams is especially off as one of the less believable Germans in recent screen history. "A Most Wanted Man" is that rarest of birds--a serious-minded film aimed at adults opening in the middle of the summer--but as its characters learn, often the hard way, the noblest of intentions do not always lead to a happy or satisfying ending and that is certainly the case here.
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