Sunday 21 September 2014

Review: Before I Go to Sleep

Year: 2014
Director: Rowan Joffee
Screenplay: Rowan Joffee
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth

Synopsis is here

Before I go to sleep is the type of pot boiler that you saw often in the 90’s. Usually late at night on terrestrial television. The film gets top marks for being thematically relevant, but its execution, is nothing to write home about.

Based on a popular bestselling 2011 novel, Before I Go to Sleep is another entry into “amnesia films”. Like Memento (2000), the film has a central character, whose ailment is so acute, it allows those around them to insidiously manipulate their fragile situation. When done well, you get Memento; an acidic thriller that is hard to shake off to this day. Before I go to sleep is a more neutered and neutral thriller. It’s as long as they come, but it’s so trim, there’s little to give it character. The film is smooth enough in its craft, but it's sanded down in such a way that there's no rough edges to make it stand out. Joffee makes a simple, moderate movie that does little to offend, however, after predicting the film's outcome in the first ten minutes, there wasn't much else to make me want to hang around. I stayed, however, because I’m not Rex Reed.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Before I Go to Sleep. Nicole Kidman does the cracked porcelain doll thing well. Mark Strong and Colin Firth are cast for clear, obvious reasons and both play to their strengths. The film's most interesting element is how the texts could be considered within the feminist argument. Here we have a fractured and damaged woman whose world is controlled and manipulated by the men she knows. The incident which brought about her amnesia, as well as the amnesia itself, creates an interesting commentary on how abused women are viewed, and how the trauma affects the victim’s psyche. Kidman’s line of “I wish I wasn't scared all the time” is an all too knowing remark.

This said, the film's overall execution makes little waves. Before I go to sleep, may perhaps be a more interesting book, with the film's streamlined execution, doing little to make us grasp hold of its characters. While the storytelling allows the viewer to stay one step ahead of the film. Not the place you need to be with a feature like this.

The film trundles along, with Kidman trembling nervously through the film's intentionally drab blue/ gray cinematography and Hitchcockian conceits. Yet when comparing this to films of last year, which gave us ludicrous, stylised, yet highly entertaining thrillers such as Trance, Side Effects and Stoker, this slightly dour, workman-like effort may find itself as fodder for bleary eyed insomniacs more than anything else.

Review: Lucy

Director: Luc Besson
Screenplay: Luc Besson
Starring: Scarlet Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik

Synopsis is here

Note: The opening of this review contains spoilers for three Scarlett Johansson movies, including this one.

It happened with a hint of humour and romance with Her. It also occurred to a more devastating effect in Under the Skin. Now here, in Lucy, Scarlet Johansson once again gathers all the human information she can, gains a complete understanding of humans as a species, before dissipating into the atmosphere and exiting our existence when her capacity for us have reached her peak. In Lucy, this trait of the actress is perhaps at its most ludicrous and yet still provides a certain amount of engagement.

Lucy is ridiculous in the same way that Neveldine and Taylor are. Our lead character accidentally overdoses on an experimental drug, and begins to level up in percentage figures. It's not enough that we have a dump truck of exposition around every corner. No, said information is often visualised by overtly obvious metaphors. So when you see a wide eyed Lucy quivering like a gazelle mesmerised by a cheetahs glare. The film cuts to a direct, on-the-nose, visual of such an event. Heroes and villains are broadly defined in such a way, I’m surprised we didn't have their name and main characteristic tattooed on their forehead. The premise of the movie is built around the debunked theory that we only use ten percent of our brain. There's a feeling amongst some that brainpower was not at full capacity when thinking of the scripting.

Lucy is part comic, part video game and all lunacy. The film is equal parts Limitless, The Fifth Element and Crank and it revels in its nuttiness, as did I for the most part. The film's channel hopping, A.D.D craziness will irritate some, but I have to admit it's the first piece of Besson tinged madness that I've had a laugh in for quite a while. The fact it's clearly winking at the camera and acknowledging its silliness is one thing, but the gusto and lack of cynicism is quite refreshing. Lucy wants the viewer to hop on for the ride as opposed to push shock buttons obnoxiously. Something that often distracts me from the likes of Nev/Taylor.

A lot of Lucy’s fun stems from its casting. The doe eyed and anatomically pleasing Scarlett Johansson, already showed in Under the skin just how well she can do the flat, distant performance. Demonstrating that segregated from human beings look is difficult to pull off without looking like its “bad” acting. Johansson loses the more serpentine movements that inflections that were noted in Johnathon Glazer’s sci-fi, and instead fuses her overdosing action hero with sharp, analytical head swipes and eye darts. Again Johansson makes the whole not-of-this-realm thing seem effortless.  Morgan Freeman appears to bring forth the necessary “wisdom” to proceedings, kicking off with a tutorial that clearly drives the film's tongue into its cheek. It’s an actioner which drolly muses over its powered protagonist entering God mode. Set pieces don’t last too long here, and why the hell should they? Johansson has pressed iddqd. We shouldn’t expect a near tiresome display of stunts. Although the sequences we see have their quirks. Lucy manages to indulge into the silliness of superheroes with a certain cartoonish aplomb.

Maybe I’m just happy that Besson keeps his expansive (and silly) ideas, light, loose and under 90 minutes. The film doesn't offend me by being longer than it needs to be, although the execution of the film’s last act lacks a certain punch. However, by the time Lucy starts communicating with telecom communications through windscreens, I was already too immersed in films nonsense to mind too much. Feather-brained it may be, but Lucy once again showcases Scarlett Johansson as a sassy alternative to Jason Statham and has Besson finding the right vehicle for his lunacy.  There’s much talk about Johansson’s Marvel’s arrangements, but if Johansson wants to keep pursuing this type of madcap premise, count me in.