3 Days to Kill (2014)

The acclaimed directors McG and Luc Besson team-up to make a thrilling film… no, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Lucas and Spielberg teaming up for Raiders. Those were the days…

Goodness, those WERE the days, weren’t they? Look at us now: the Mouse owns Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar. Anyway, I digress; back to McG and Besson and….

Who calls themselves ‘McG’ anyway? That’d be like Spielberg using the moniker of ‘SS’ (er, okay, maybe not…) or Ridley Scott signing himself off as ‘Directed by Ridders’. Whoops. I’m digressing again.

Its always this way when I’m struggling to find anything to say about a movie. 3 Days To Kill: well, its terribly juvenile, quite insultingly silly. Its a spy caper of sorts, about some Yanks living in Paris and bringing with them violent gunfights and car chases, with maybe a European twist (that’d be the purple bicycle). Its something to do with the CIA and terrorists with a nuclear bomb, or parts for one, and in particular a creepy terrorist with an accountant. Ethan Runner (Kevin Costner) is a Secret Service agent with a license to kill (wrong franchise?) only he’s getting on a bit and is suffering a terminal illness (we know this because he coughs and suffers blackouts/dizzy spells at inopportune times). I spent the film hoping he’d suffer a dizzy spell/blackout whilst spending the night with his sexy wife/ex Tina (Connie Nielsen) because I thought that might be funny to see a tough-guy killing machine rendered impotent by illness but maybe that’s more suited to a Woody Allen spy caper. But I digress. Back to the plot, such as it is. With only weeks/months to live, Ethan has come to Paris to attempt to reconnect with his estranged family and his daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld) because he’s had some kind of epiphany watching old home movies (this film is really deep). Anyway, Ethan is suddenly offered a miracle cure for his illness by his new CIA handler, Vivi, offering him new hope so in-between his clunky attempts to reconnect with his estranged family he fills any spare time with chasing down his old adversary and smashing up Paris.

I’m not certain what’s dafter; the timely magic syringe or Amber Heard as Vivi DeLay, Ethan’s teenage new handler. Well,, okay, obviously its Amber Heard and she’s not quite a teen. But she’s terrible. I suppose to be fair, its a fairly thankless role. She’s some desk-jockey turned espionage savant/poor-man’s Sharon Stone. Actually, its the kind of role that Sharon Stone would have brilliant for- smart, beautiful, sexy, dangerous, experienced, she could have chewed up the scenery and left Costner begging for mercy. Instead, Vivi is the usual pretty, incredibly well-dressed vacuous young whipper-snapper who has done nothing but breezes around like a… what’s the term… a Mary Sue, that’s it: imagine Rey from the Disney Star Wars movies bossing a deadly assassin around who’s old enough to be her grandad, and you’re watching thinking, how come she’s not going out and doing the dirty work herself, she’s so obviously perfect? And yeah, maybe thinking like me, ‘where’s Sharon Stone?’

This is such a silly movie that’s absurdly confident that it should be taken seriously; it tries SO HARD. It fails so spectacularly. Such a shame what happened to Kevin Costner- no actor with his credentials deserves to be in films like this. But it pays the bills I guess.

Valerian & The City of a Thousand Planets

val1Valerian is an astonishing mess. It isn’t awful, but it is, well, really messy.

Here’s the thing: as some kind of motion-comic ode to the glory days of European sci-fi/fantasy mag Heavy Metal, it’s fantastic. Unfortunately, this isn’t a motion-comic, its supposed to be a movie. As the latter, its awful.

Which is the curious thing about last year. Denis Villeneuve gave us a slow, long movie full of ideas and philosophical concepts, and it struggled at the box-office. Luc Besson gave us a fast, stupid, action cgi-fest full of explosions and stunts and eye-candy, without hardly any trace of a plot, and that, too, struggled. I guess how you judge if either film ‘bombed’ rather than ‘struggled’ is down to expectations/point of view.  The same year Rian Johnson gave us The Last Jedi, and that sailed past a billion dollars in weeks. Well, you don’t have to bother yourself with words like ‘bombed’ or ‘struggled’ there, I think. As for the quality of the three movies, well…

Less is more, I think. Movie directors today really do seem to have a problem with cgi effects, with simply being able to do everything and anything. Like a kid in a candy store, they cannot resist having ‘just one more’. With Valerian, director Luc Besson seems to have emptied the entire store, and perhaps the storeroom in the back

It’s so noisy, so stupid. Most of the time, I didn’t know where to look. The multi-dimensional market in the desert had vast canyons teeming with life and neon and stores and details but it was a bewildering, confusing mess. The titular city of a thousand planets was gigantic and sprawling but, oh, where to look? What am I supposed to be focussing on? Half the time, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

Focus is a good word regards Valerian: there isn’t any. Perhaps Besson thought the visuals and the noise would carry it through.

As it is, we have two main protagonists without any charm at all, played by actors with no chemistry. Perhaps Besson thought, again, that the visuals and noise would carry them through. Alas, he was wrong. Who the hell cared about either of them? We didn’t know them at all. Some horny young bloke hot for his gorgeous chick partner babbling on about a marriage proposal whilst they have a crazy mission that is unclear and makes no sense?

But it sure is pretty. The prologue piece, showing the foundation and expansion of the titular city, to the sounds of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, feels like something approaching genius. Its snappy and gorgeous and a little 1970’s psychedelic, complete with Roy Batty gravelly intoning something about the future. It’s all rather downhill from there.

val2Problems arise early on with a visually impressive sequence on a strange alien planet that promises much, but is deliberately vague robbing the sequence of any drama or context- it seems to mean nothing but looks very pretty doing it, and thus sets up the tone for the remainder of the film. We cut to our two pretty stars and their vacuous, meaningless zero-chemistry relationship and they are off on a mission on a desert planet that yes, looks amazingly pretty but, well, means nothing. Oh yeah, they steal/rescue (even that isn’t clear) a little alien critter we saw in the earlier alien planet segment but we don’t know why, even when they than take that critter to the city of a thousand planets.

Oh, and there’s a really odd sequence involving Ethan Hawke and Rihanna that seems like a pointless diversion and… well, it looks pretty.

People like me reading Heavy Metal and 2000AD in the 1970s dreamed of films that looked like this. Little did we know that they wouldn’t mean anything, other than looking so spectacular.

 

Scarlett Goes Bonkers

lucy12017.17: Lucy (2014) – Film 4 HD

There was a time when a Luc Besson film meant something rather special. I still recall the almighty stir caused by La Femme Nikita when it came out on VHS and Besson seemed to hit the international mainstream with a bang, and later films Leon and The Fifth Element only cemented him as a major director. He had an ability to make big, stylish films with an American ‘look’ while maintaining a quirky European mentality and feel. But then something weird happened. As a director, his career has followed an odd trajectory towards obscurity, as he seems to prefer to write screenplays and produce films rather than direct. If anything, this doesn’t help matters as everytime he does finally direct a film the ensuing weight of expectation becomes something that the films can rarely live up to (possibly why John Carpenter doesn’t make films anymore). Not that Besson seems to care what anyone else thinks.

So anyway, Lucy is a film I always wanted to watch but considering Besson’s fall from grace as a director I was wary of catching up with it. Mixed/downright angry reviews when this came out at the cinema didn’t help either. So after a few years it has turned up on tv and I’ve given it a shot. Glad I did. Sort of.

Lucy is bonkers . I used to think The Fifth Element was odd and eccentric but goodness, its positively restrained next to this utterly turbocharged crazy mash-up of The Matrix and Akira. The shadow of Akira in particular looms large over the film, an obvious major influence on Bessons mad story about advanced human evolution and mind-bending powers twisting the very fabric of reality.

Logic is thrown out into the street and kicked snivelling into the gutter, because Lucy is just plain nuts. Spectacular yet often oddly boring action sequences attempt to divert attention from the utterly daft premise, but it is kind of fun.Scarlett Johansson is no stranger to superheroics in films thanks to her track record in several Marvel films but as the titular Lucy she races from well-meaning dumb blonde to cosmic time-travelling Goddess in about ninety minutes. Its a breakneck pace that ultimately undermines the film as it becomes ever-more divorced from reality and more like a silly cartoon. Maybe Besson should have been happy to leave Lucy using 50% of her superpowers and left us some frame of reference and danger. Instead he goes all the way to 100% and Lucy leaves humanity far behind her. God only knows where a Lucy 2 might have headed.

But yeah, its mindless fun for much of its time, and as always Johansson is a charismatic lead. Worth a watch.