Released: July 2014

Director: Luc Besson

Run Time: 90 Minutes

Rated R

Scarlett Johansson: Lucy
Morgan Freeman: Professor Norman
Min-Sik Choi: Mr. Jang
Amr Waked: Pierre Del Rio

According to certain scientists, humans consciously use between 10-15 percent of their brain capacity at any given time.  Others speculate that we only use 5 percent.  Nobody really knows how much capacity that we do have.  But many agree that there are certain points during our lives that our brain has expanded so we can learn more during a certain period of time.  So, what would happen if we were able to access more than 10-15 percent?  Again, nobody really knows for sure.  But that hasn’t stopped people from speculating.  Some speculation seems grounded in reality while other theories are something right out of a sci-fi movie.  Oddly enough, this premise serves as the basis for French director Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi action romp: Lucy.

Opening in the front of a building a man is trying to get into a building to see the head of a local mob boss, Mr. Jang.  Unable to get through, he gets his girlfriend Lucy to deliver a case to Mr. Jang.  As soon as she gets in the door, things get ugly as that man is shot and killed and Lucy is taken to the top of the building with the case, where she is forced to open it.  She’s apparently “offered” a job to deliver the contents of the case to some mysterious location.  Knocked unconscious, she wakens to find that Mr. Jang had a package of a new drug inserted into her abdomen.  When she reaches her destination blindfolded, she’s beaten by a local gang.  Unfortunately, that beating ends up making the package leak its contents into Lucy’s body.  After experiencing some very unusual side-effects of the drug, she attacks and ends up killing the people who kept her prisoner.  It turns out that the drug has enhanced her cerebral capacity to the point where her reflexes are faster and she’s stronger.  As time goes on, she begins to feel everything, from the blood in her veins to gravity itself.  She contacts famed Professor Norman to find out exactly what’s happening to her and where things go from there.

This is a very interesting film.  The trailer you see above would have you believe that Lucy is a balls-to-the-wall action flick.  That is surprisingly not the case.  Lucy has a lot more substance going for it than the film’s marketing would have you believe.  The whole 10-15 percent of the human brain capacity theme isn’t particularly original.  I’ve seen it before.  The science in Lucy is kind of on shaky ground.  Drugs that can enhance the human brain’s capacity?  There really is no basis in reality for that.  In the context of the film, it kind of works.  As for developing super-human powers when the rest of the human brain is unlocked?  Again, I doubt it, but there is no evidence suggesting that it couldn’t happen either.  It’s mostly folklore at this point.  For the sake of the film, let’s leave reality at the door, since we are here to see Johansson kick some serious butt.  The marketing for Lucy is pretty deceptive.  Why?  While Lucy definitely holds her own against the criminal underground with guns and stuff, when she’s actively using her new-found power, she really doesn’t rely on guns.  The scenes with her shooting people are actually kept to a minimum.  When you see her actively using her powers, it is spectacular, especially later on in the movie.  Luc Besson gave us the incredible La Femme Nikita, The Professional, and The Fifth Element.  He certainly knows his way around an action film, and crafts some pretty thrilling stuff.  There’s a car chase that has you gripping the edge of your seat.  When she unleashes her power on the Asian mob that’s after her, people get thrown around like rag dolls.  The visuals are absolutely stunning, especially near the end of the film.  I won’t spoil it, but it’s wild.  It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, but considering the amount of junk science used in the film, I can forgive it, because it’s spectacular.  There are a lot of spectacular visuals in this movie, from when the drug first leaks into Lucy’s body to her being able to see radio waves.  The visual effects are extremely well done.

Fresh off of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Scarlett Johansson proves that she can handle action just as well as any male actor and look good doing it.  I’ve heard of complaints about Scarlett’s performance in Lucy saying it’s wooden most of the time.  Towards the beginning of the film, that certainly isn’t the case.  Her performance changes as her character ends up losing her ability to feel emotion because of how she’s evolving.  Scarlett Johansson is a fine actress and I thought she did a fantastic job here.  Morgan Free is….well, Morgan Freeman.  He’s one of the finest actors of his generation and gives Lucy more credibility than it would’ve had if he wasn’t cast.  Luc Besson, obviously being French, uses a lot of foreign in actors in his movies.  But he has a particularly good eye for solid performers.  Min-Sik Choi plays the film’s villain, Mr. Jang, who is a real scumbag.  Choi clearly knows how to play a villain and does a great job here.    Amr Waked plays the cop, Pierre Del Rio, who seems to be both attracted to Lucy and afraid of her as well.  This is the first movie I’ve seen Amr in, and he doesn’t do too bad of a job.

All that being said, Lucy definitely has some rough spots.  The main real issue that some people have a problem with is the movie’s science about the human brain.  I get it, for all we know about the human brain, we know fairly little about how a lot of it actually works.  Lucy tries to show us the potential for the human brain, even if it’s not based on scientific truth.   While the movie is 90 minutes long, the pieces between action scenes seem a little long.  Also, the trailer is another example of bad marketing.  As I stated above, the trailer has us believing that Scarlett Johansson plays this unstoppable blonde bombshell, when in fact the character isn’t actually looking for revenge.  People expecting another superhero movie aren’t actually getting one.  So, just be sure to temper your expectations.  This is a surprisingly smart little action flick that gets more flack than it deserves.  It certainly isn’t perfect, but the visuals along with action, really help propel this movie along at a mostly brisk pace.  This one gets an 8.5/10.

Experiences in Movies and Video Games

This post is going to different than my usual fare.  It’s different because I’m bringing video games into the mix.  Why?  I had an experience playing a video game last week that got me thinking about our experiences in movies and to a lesser extent, video games.  What is the usual intent of a movie or video game?  To entertain audiences, right?  For the most part, yes.  But there are great number of exceptions to the rule.  What do I mean when a movie or game is compelling or shocking?  A compelling story draws its audience in with a great story and great characters to the point where they want to find out what happens next.  It evokes a level of insatiable curiosity that can sometimes have unintended consequences.  A shocking experience infers that an audience is surprised by something that they were not expecting to see.  Usually, that shocking experience is often not pleasant.  It’s a form of provocation that certainly has its uses.  Shocking audiences is the trademark of many of today’s horror movies.  For video games, it’s very much the same, except the audience is actively participating in what’s happening in the game.  Video games are an interactive medium, so the experience tends to be a little bit more personal.  The thing to realize about what makes a game or movie compelling or shocking is that it depends on the individual.  What might be compelling or shocking to me, may not be for someone else.  We’re all built to react to things differently.

Some people have often mistaken shocking for compelling.  Here’s a secret:  A shocking experience doesn’t necessarily make for a compelling one.  Likewise, a compelling film doesn’t need to be shocking in order for it to have an emotional impact on an audience.  But here’s the real kicker: An experience can be both shocking AND compelling.  Take Saving Private Ryan for example.  That movie opened with one of the most shocking and violent war sequences ever filmed.  Yet, it was also compelling because it was a real event during World War II, and it helped push the story forward.  It also had the benefit of realistic characters that we got attached to.  This is what helps make a compelling story and/or experience:  Having characters that we can relate to and understand, so when they are put in dangerous situations, we feel for them.  12 Years A Slave is another such compelling story.  Again, it’s based on actual historical events, so that makes for more unique experience.  Is it a fun movie to watch?  Not really.  But it was an excellent film, nonetheless.  That’s also another issue that I would like to discuss.  A compelling film experience doesn’t always make for a fun one.  It shouldn’t have to either.  Historical films or war films can be compelling without being overly entertaining.  It depends on how well the story is written and how the characters are conceived.  Horror films have a hard time being compelling because they spend so much time trying to be shocking.  I’m not necessarily saying there’s anything wrong with that, as I tend to enjoy some of these movies, like Saw or Evil Dead.  I’m a movie buff, obviously, so I watch a lot of different movies.  Now, we know that movies and books can be great and compelling experiences, but what about video games?

The reason I brought video games into the mix, was because of a specific experience I had playing a game called Spec Ops: The Line.  This is a 3rd-person military shooter.  This game came out back in 2012, so it’s not really new.  In terms of game play, it’s pretty average.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the story, setting and characters, Spec Ops would just be another run-of-the-mill shooter.  The game takes place in Dubai, where it’s been buried by severe sandstorms.  Your character, Captain Walker and two other soldiers are dropped in to find survivors and evacuate them.  Right from the get-go you’re dropped in without knowing what’s going on or who the enemy is, if there is any.  Almost right off the bat, you’re forced into fighting back against what appears to be insurgents, only to find out later that they were some of the survivors that your squad was looking for.  The game does a very good job of blurring the line between who is who and what the hell is going on.  You also end up going up against armed soldiers.  AMERICAN soldiers.  But you don’t know why they’re shooting at you or why they are there.  It’s a very ambiguous and messy situation.  The reaction your squad has to the situation is eerily realistic.  They’re confused about what’s going on, and later start turning on each other when certain things become clear.  It’s compelling because the game keeps you in the dark.  But there is a level in which you are forced to use white phosphorous mortar shells to clear a path through the city.  Through an infra-red camera, you can see people and vehicles moving, and you have to target some of them.  There is a bridge which has two tanks on top of it and a ton of people below.  You have no idea who or what they are, and you assume that they are the enemy.  The aftermath is truly horrific.  We knew the soldiers had it bad on the field, but the people in the trench below the bridge?  Civilians.  This game just made you slaughter dozens of men, women and children.  With the horrific images in your mind, you realize that the soldiers that you were killing earlier were trying to help the civilians.  That takes everything that came before and hits you in the gut with it.  When you understand how white phosphorous affects people, it makes it even more horrific.  It’s not shocking for the sake of being shocking.  It’s shocking to illustrate the dangers of assumption, command blindness, and lack of credible information.  Without such information, things can go horribly wrong.

Spec Ops: The Line is a good example of a how a video game can be truly compelling.  It certainly wasn’t entirely fun to play after that particular revelation, but I needed to find out what was going on and why things happened the way they did.  So, I kept going.  Let’s just say that the ending has an Apocalypse Now kind of vibe.  It’s compelling because you are participating in the game’s events.  In fact, the opening credits have YOU as a special guest.  There aren’t a whole lot of games out there that can craft an experience like that, and it’s a shame.  Gaming has the potential for incredibly in-depth and involving narrative experiences, but nobody is really taking advantage of the medium in that regard.  Sure, we have a lot of shocking stuff in games like Grand Theft Auto, but they are cartoonish at best.  The line between shocking and compelling can be blurred to great effect, and when it’s done correctly, it’s an experience like no other.  Is it a fun experience?  Not always, but it leaves an impression that sometimes doesn’t leave.  I feel that the best experiences are the ones that definitely leave an impression for good or ill, even Cannibal Holocaust.  Everybody has different experiences while watching movies or playing video games so not everyone is going to agree with what I’ve said.  There’s no right or wrong opinion here, it’s simply a matter of perspective.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Director: James Gunn

Released: August 2014

Run Time: 121 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Chris Pratt: Peter Quill/Star-Lord
Zoe Saldana: Gamora
Dave Bautists: Drax
Vin Diesel: Groot
Bradley Cooper: Rocket
Lee Pace: Ronan
Michael Rooker: Yondu Udonta
Benicio Del Toro: The Collector

Over the past 15 years we’ve seen a major surge in comic-book based movies.  We’ve seen so many movies from X-Men and Spider-Man to Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Superman, Batman, and The Avengers.  Over the next few years, including 2015, we’ll be witnessing Ant-Man, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, an actual Justice League film, and Captain America: Civil War.  That’s just scratching the surface.  Most of Paramount’s films and Marvel’s in-house movies are interconnected, often directly.  Marvel’s had more success with their movies than Warner Bros. and DC, but it’s still going to be interesting to see where things go.  It’s a great time to be a fan of comic-book movies.  It really is.  Filmmakers like Bryan Singer, Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon know what it takes to make a good comic book movie.  Others, like Brett Ratner….not so much.  But now, we can add director James Gunn to the list of directors who get it right.  And he got it right with the adaptation of a comic book series that didn’t seem to be as popular as others: Guardians of the Galaxy.

Somewhere in the galaxy on an unknown planet, a mysterious masked figure explores a mysterious old ruin when he comes upon a mysterious orb.  When he takes off his mask we found out that he’s a human named Peter Quill.  Soon, he’s apprehended by hostile forces who try to take him in for questioning.  Escaping with both his life and the orb, he makes his way back to a more civilized world to trade in the orb for some serious cash.  Little does he know that he is not the only one looking for that orb.  A brutal dictator by the name of Ronan the Accuser is searching for the orb so he can destroy the people that persecuted him and his family.  After being attacked by a mysterious green-skinned woman, Gamora, a talking raccoon named Rocket, and a giant tree-like figure, all figures are arrested and sent to prison somewhere in the galaxy.  The story is actually pretty good.  And yes, Virginia, there is a talking raccoon named Rocket.  While most of Marvel’s offerings have been superhero movies, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a superhero movie.  Tone-wise it’s more like Joss Whedon’s Firefly or Serenity.  The premise is so off-the-wall crazy it works.  It feels like a combination of Star Wars and Serenity.  It has more aliens though.

When your movie starts with the main character listening to Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love, you’re in for a real treat.  In fact, all these songs from the 60s and 70s play a huge role in the film.  There not just there for the sake of being amusing.  It helps.  One of the funniest scenes in the film has Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling playing.  But there is a real reason for why Star-Lord listens to this music.  The reason is actually fairly sentimental and quite touching, really.  Yeah, this is NOT a movie that takes itself seriously.  In case I didn’t mention it before: Talking. Raccoon.  I honestly regret not seeing this one in theaters, because it is a blast.  I hadn’t really heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics before the movie was announced, so I guess that’ why I didn’t see it initially.  This is by far one of the most entertaining movies of 2014.  It is also one of the most spectacular.  The locations are absolutely stunning.  Not only do you have different landscapes and planets, but the ships and stations are incredibly detailed and enormous.  There is a location called Knowhere, that’s a mining colony set in the head of an ancient being.  It’s huge.  The sets themselves are a joy to behold.  Yeah, they’re enhanced with CG, but the actual sets are big.

If the sets and visuals are big, the action is bigger.  This movie is jam-packed with awesome action and chase sequences that are chock-full of humor.  You’ve got huge air battles around enormous ships that remind you of Star Wars and you’ve also got people on the ground taking on enemy forces.  Fights are well-choreographed and combined with the awesome CG, this movie is just a riot from beginning to end.  The humor in the film isn’t the wink-at-the-audience kind of humor.  It feels genuine given the circumstances and feels more natural given the interactions between the characters.  All this stuff would be for naught if the characters weren’t memorable.  These are some of the wildest characters I’ve ever seen.  We’ve got the green-skinned beauty, Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana; the barbaric Drax, played by WWE vet David Bautista; Rocket the Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper; Groot is voiced by action movie veteran Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker as the mercenary Yondu, and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill a.k.a Star-Lord.  Everyone here brings their A game, and just knocks it out of the park.  Groot only says three words at a time, all the time: “I am Groot.”  Michael Rooker almost steals the show.  His character is not only funny at times, but he’s tough nut.  His weapon is unique in which it’s activated when he whistles.  The villains are pretty interesting too.  Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace, is absolutely threatening.  He’s super-strong, carries a massive hammer and is more than willing to slaughter his way across the galaxy to get what he wants.  The one that DOES steal the show is Rocket.  This guy is absolutely hilarious.  He’s a trash-talking raccoon that carries a rocket launcher.

One of the most important things in a movie, as I have said many times before, is the music.  In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s not just the score by Tyler Bates, but it’s also the songs that Star Lord listens to throughout the film.  You’ve got Blue Swede, David Bowie, Norman Greenbaum, Redbone, Raspberries and The Jackson 5.  It’s a wild selection of music and yet, it works.  It really makes the movie better.  If the movie wasn’t handled as well as it has, it would’ve crashed and burned.  Thankfully, James Gunn was more than up to the task and delivered one of the most eclectic and wild rides of 2014.  I don’t think I can recommend this movie enough.  It’s great fun, with awesome action, great music and amazing characters.  I can’t wait to see where Guardians goes next.  It should be spectacular.  Who knows, it might eventually even tie into the rest of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.  One never knows.  So, yeah, the movie’s a riot.  9.5/10.

Previews: YAY!!!

2014 was a fantastic year for movies.  We got great films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Hercules, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Raid 2.  We also some pretty bad movies like I, Frankenstein, Legend of Hercules, Brick Mansions, and The Protector 2.  Mostly, the movies were really good, and it looks like the upcoming slate of movies this year is going to be awesome.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Wow.  I mean, WOW!  I’m going to be honest here: I’m biased towards Marvel’s films.  I’ve got most of them on Blu-Ray.  Starting with Iron Man, a good chunk of Marvel’s movies were heading towards what would end up being one of the most anticipated comic-book movies of all time: The Avengers.  The resulting film was an absolute blast.  Written and directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers was the first true ensemble superhero movie of its kind.  Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, The Hulk, and Thor came together in one of the most epic movies in the past 5 years.  It had great writing with a great sense of humor.  It also had some of the most incredible action sequences and visual effects ever seen in a comic book movie.  The sequel looks to one-up the original film in every possible way.  It also looks like some of the heroes might be in serious jeopardy.  This could the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Universe.  The Avengers: Age of Ultron smashes into theaters May 1st of this year.

Seventh Son

This one definitely looks interesting.  Jeff Bridges as a knight fighting demons, dragons and witches?  I’m down for it.  The visuals look absolutely incredible.  There’s a problem, though.  This movie was supposed to be released LAST year.  But due to some kind of falling out between Legendary Studios and Warner Bros, the rights to the film got sold to Universal Pictures, which delayed the film.  It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen, but it’s never a good thing.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed with this one.  I’m still rather intrigued.  I love the fantasy genre.  So seeing something like this gets me interested.  This one actually comes out in less than a month: February 6, I believe.  I’m keeping an eye on it.


I didn’t even hear about this one until towards the beginning of the month.  Directed by Neill Blomkamp, Chappie tells the story of a robot that has been adopted by a fairly dysfunctional family.  This movie looks like one of the most compelling movies of the year.  I’m honestly excited because Neill Blomkamp is one of my favorite filmmakers.  This guy gave us District 9, one of the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen.  It also gave us a new star in Sharlto Copley, who plays the titular character in Chappie.  The film also stars Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver.  Chappie could very well be the sleeper hit of the year.  The movie comes out on March 6.  It’s another one that’s worth keeping a lookout for.

The Peanuts Movie

Is there anyone who hasn’t read the Peanuts comic strip?  I grew up reading a lot of comic strips and Peanuts is absolutely one of my favorites.  I also grew up watching the holiday specials which were absolutely fantastic.  When I heard that they were making a movie, I was rather curious how they were going to do it.  They could have easily done it in CG, but it looks like stop-motion animation.  Granted, this is a teaser trailer, but it looks pretty fun.  It seems to maintain the humor and good nature of the comic strip.  Count me in.  It doesn’t come out until November 6, however.  Good grief.

Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse

Would somebody please explain to me where the hell this came from?  While I try to make it a point to rarely preview direct-to-video movies, there are exceptions.  I first got a glimpse of Dragonheart 3 when I was watching the Scorpion King 4 DVD the other day.  Don’t judge me.  I remember the original Dragonheart with Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis and Pete Postlethwaite.  It was a pretty fun romp.  Also, the dragon was voiced by Sean Connery.  It certainly helped that the dragon was worked on by the same guys who did Jurassic Park.  It was a pretty awesome movie.  Nobody had expected a sequel, let alone 2.  Dragonheart 2: A New Beginning was released 15 years ago and was direct-to-video.  It was poorly received, but I didn’t think it was that bad.  The third act of the film was pretty lame, though.  Looking at the trailer for the third film here, it looks like they   actually put some serious effort into the dragon.  They also managed to get Sir Ben Kingsley to voice the beast.  This one’s coming straight-to-video on February 24.  Honestly, I’m not overly surprised.  They did make three Scorpion King sequels.  I’m just amazed it took them this long.  Still, it’s probably going to be better than most of the Sy-Fi channel garbage that they’ve been putting out lately.

Well, that concludes this batch of previews, so I hope everybody gets out to the movies this year and help support your favorite film.  So, any thoughts or comments?  I would appreciate it.  Thanks for reading.