Reviews

Oxstu’s writers review the latest releases.

The Piano
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Review: The Piano

Rarely can any actor have managed to convey so much with so seemingly little as does Holly Hunter in The Piano. Her character, Ada, has been mute since early childhood, and not once in this intense, almost melodramatic film does she utter a single word. Yet without ever overstating herself by a single twitch of her face, or a single gesture, Hunter manages to give us access – startlingly intimate access – to Ada’s thoughts, reactions, and beliefs. She allows us to care deeply for this austere, severe woman. It is the central frustration of The Piano that Hunter is nonetheless contained by a screenplay that denies her, and us, the chance to maintain that intimacy through the film’s arbitrary and muddled final act. Ada finds closure, of some mysterious kind, but we by that time have been alienated from her by the perverseness of the narrative, and so we cannot join her in feeling satisfied with how this strange film ends.

Jane Campion’s film – and it is very much a personal project for the much-praised writer/director – is set in 19th-century colonial New Zealand (Campion’s home country). Ada has been sent there to marry a man she has never met, Alisdair Stewart (the excellent Sam Neill). She is deposited on a beach with the only two things she can show real emotion for: her young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin), and her sole mode of personal expression – her piano. Alisdair, who is sensitive, but firmly practical, refuses to have the piano lugged through the jungle to his house. Left on the beach, it is claimed by another local man, George Baines (Harvey Keitel). Baines asks Ada to teach him how to play it, and suffering profoundly under the absence of her piano, she agrees. Yet what Baines really wants is simply to hear her play, for he is aroused – both spiritually and sensually – by her music. Soon he is asking her to let him do other things to her while she plays. He sells the piano back to her, one key at a time, in exchange for a series of erotic favours.

The symbolism is as overt as this description makes it sound. As an allegory of woman subjected to and imposed upon by man, the film is effective: one man refuses, for reasons of convenience, to let a woman use her voice; another man wants to hear that voice, but reduces it to a sexual quantity. Both men, in their differing ways, deny this woman her independent identity and her self-expression.

Hunter is frighteningly good at showing us the awfulness of this humiliation: with each successive infringement of Ada’s dignity, she shows us her contempt, her outrage, at being thus treated.

And all the while she endures, stoically, knowing she has no alternative but to submit.

Paradoxically, however, in the film’s second half Ada’s behaviour begins to be inscrutable, and, it must be said, seems frequently arbitrary. She does several things that simply do not correlate with what we have been to led to understand of her feelings and desires. At this point it becomes hard to escape the suspicion that Campion is deliberately obscuring Ada’s motives. Perhaps this is to challenge us by placing us in the same position as the film’s two key men. When we do not understand Ada ourselves, will we be any more accepting of her than Alisdair and George are? Yet there is also the hint of an implication that Ada simply exists on a superior, more pure emotional plane to those around her, and that if her decisions are not comprehensible to us, we ought simply to recognise that we cannot hope to understand her, and question no further. This alienates the viewer, and the result is that the dramatic denouements of the film’s final scenes carry far less of an impact than they should.

It is now more than twenty years since The Piano won the Plame d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, and it remains a critical favourite.

Yet it belongs in that small and difficult class of films that cannot be said to be successful works of art, but which are still worth seeing for the sake of their ambition and for certain distinctive virtues. Chief among those, in this case, are the central performances. Neill and Keitel are as good as they have ever been. And Hunter, above all, is remarkable. Silent, cold, and hard as iron, she nonetheless succeeds in being persuasively, shockingly, nakedly human.

 

PHOTO/aysesos

Kirsten Dunst The Virgin Suicides
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Of Virgins and Suicides

“You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.”

“Obviously Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.”

So begins “The Virgin Suicides,” an ethereal mystery about a family of suicidal neighbourhood girls, and the boys who loved them. First time director Sofia Coppola captures the twilight of adolescence, somehow both endless and fleeting. The boys, now men, narrate the film, looking back on the tragedies that struck the Lisbon family. The men are still fascinated. How could these young women, who’d been so popular and desired, have been so miserable?

The film’s presentation of the deaths is unnervingly calm, almost unreal.

How can the boys feel so unemotional about the deaths of the Lisbon girls, except for the way in which they remind them of their own fleeting youth? The film understands the misery and confusion of being young, but also the tragedy of its transient nature.

Kirsten Dunst’s Lux wakes up alone in the middle of a football field. It’s the morning after a school dance. She has just lost her virginity. Arriving home, Lux and her remaining siblings are locked away inside their home, a punishment for breaking curfew. The Lisbon girls become guarded by their parents, trapped in an ivory tower stuffed with records from the 50s and soft toys. At night, Lux retreats to the roof, wrapped in a blanket, cigarette in hand, an adolescent siren calling out to the neighbourhood boys, who offer up one of their number every night to keep her company. The younger boys watch these rooftop rendezvous from across the street – entranced, awestruck and terrified. Lux holds court on the roof, as fascinated by her audience as they are with her.

The film becomes about the male gaze, about the simultaneous idolisation and protection of the feminine.

Coppola’s camera loves Kirsten Dunst, all long blonde hair and toothy smile. She dances for us in front of the camera, twirling in slow motion. She’s a stone fox. But Coppola’s greatest asset is her capacity to return this gaze onto the audience. Her feminine sensibility imbues the film’s leering stare with the perspective of its female subjects. They seem to be looking right back out at us, through the pastel colours and soft rock soundtrack, through the knowing stare of Dunst’s Lux, who occasionally glances right into the lens. In this way, the girls’ real selves peer out through the memories and projections of the boys who remember them.

The film becomes a commentary on the cinematic medium itself, particularly in the gendered way it depicts coming of age narratives.

By the end of the film, the causes of the suicides remain elusive, just out of reach. The film has led us to regard these girls more as puzzles than people, unknowable and unsolvable. We see them as little more than a mystery. Perhaps this is how it always was.

And so we’re left, like the boys, consumed by an enigma.

 

PHOTO/David Zellaby

Pride miner photo
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Review: Pride

Anyone who has yet to see the new British comedy Pride should do so as a matter of urgency.

In the fine tradition of The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, Pride takes a bleak aspect of recent history, the deindustrialisation of the 1980s, and injects it with not only a fresh pathos but also a dose of irresistible warmth and laughter, not to mention a perfectly judged soundtrack.

Each main character comes of age politically or personally, be they in their twenties – the young gay ingénues of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) – or in their sixties – the busybodies of the insular mining village in South Wales, who do their best, by and large, to treat the gay activists hospitably.

In particular, the character of Joe (or ‘Bromley’ as he is known affectionately to his new friends), played skilfully by George MacKay, who is a fictional addition to what is in essence a historical re-enactment, provides a powerful illustration of coming of age on a number of levels. We meet Joe, a boy from suburbia (with all suburbia’s negative connotations), as he is swept up by the London Gay Pride march of 1984, unwittingly or perhaps surreptitiously; through the march he meets the other activists who shortly come together to form LGSM. Aged twenty, he is told he is still below the age of consent for gay sex – equalisation did not happen, remarkably, until 2001 – and boldly continues to play a part in LGSM as it attaches itself to its first mining community in the midst of the nationwide miners’ strike. He tells his parents he is on a residential cookery course when he goes down to Wales with the others.

The many photographs he takes, along with newspaper cuttings concerning the gay movement, are later discovered by his sister and parents, who are evidently shocked and disapproving of Joe’s homosexuality. Although Joe is not thrown out onto the street, as many young men undoubtedly were, he feels unloved and dedicates himself anew to LGSM. The ‘Pits and Perverts’ benefits gig of 1985 sows the seeds of his first love affair.

By the time of the Pride march of 1985, he turns 21, and in the film’s final comic flourish he is given a ‘21 today’ badge by his friends with the word ‘legal’ written on in marker pen. Joe therefore comes out as a member of the gay liberation movement, comes of age as a sexual being by losing his virginity, comes of age in the literal sense, and comes of age as a rounded human being, fighting for the worthiest of causes – by implication, the focus of gay activism by the end of the film turns sharply from the miners to survival, once the activists realise the full horror and tragedy of the growing AIDS crisis.

Not only for fifty-somethings (like my parents) who can remember this grimmer time, but for young people like me who understand angst, protest and who are eternally grateful for the freedoms the previous generation fought for, this film is indescribably moving.

It is also uproariously funny and full of great synthpop songs: Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’, Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’, King’s ‘Love & Pride’, to name but three. It is part bildungsroman, part rom-com, part historical drama, part musical. It is brilliant.

PHOTO/Hugh Llewelyn

THE RIOT CLUB; POSH
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The Riot Club: a dangerous fable of youth in revolt

 

 

Films aren’t their source texts, and they aren’t – unless otherwise stated – documentaries either. Debate rages as to the true purpose of a film (Art? Entertainment? Catharsis?), but going into one with the expectation it will somehow miraculously deliver the truth to us on a plate is naive. Still, this is a mistake critics ambling into previews of The Riot Club seem to insist on making.

 

I’ve made my point previously as to whether I think it’s useful to pin down film to a political agenda (if you don’t want to go fishing for the article, short version: I don’t) and the same can be said of its ability to incite regional or social stereotype. Without rehashing my previous argument, I think it’s valid to point out that all films are set within context. Scorsese: New York. Tarantino: the American South. The writers of BBC2’s Good Cop, two years ago: Liverpool. Films don’t speak for communities, or there would be a revolution of dissent every time we wrote conflict in a city area onto the screen. Good screen work simply flavours its project with the inflections of a particular social world, but neither appropriates, nor communicates for them; if it avoided them completely, the medium would lose something of its magic.

 

So, when Universal Studios invited me to preview The Riot Club at their official press screening last week, I entered the cinema studio with far less trepidation than some of the Old Oxonian reviewers calling the film out for not adequately representing their Oxford (circa, naturally, 1999). Apparently, the film has two categories, and two categories only, by which it can be judged: is it true to the political bite of its originating play, and does it honestly portray the Oxford experience of every single viewer who happens to have walked these hallowed academic cobbles?

 

Well. Firstly, any critic previewing a film who believes the translation of stage drama to screen doesn’t necessitate some kind of creative adaptation (or that the experience of myriad individuals can be accounted for in ninety minutes of screen time, while still miraculously generating a coherent plot and dramatic conflict) seriously needs to reconsider their understanding of the film medium as a whole. In the stage play Posh, we’re claustrophobically thrust into the company of ten young men in a single setting (the private dining room), descending – through turns of Wade’s acerbically comic dialogue – from refined banter to angry chaos; it’s bookended with scenes in a gentleman’s club’s drawing room, as a preview of the graduate version of The Riot Club, where troubles are washed away by money and the contacts in somebody’s little black book. Onstage, this is electric. Onscreen, this would shudder to a boring halt twenty minutes in. So, the plot is necessarily revitalised: scenes are drafted into college quads, Broad Street, tiny dorms, and a country manor, before we finally find ourselves locked away with the Riot Boys in their exclusive den.

 

Yes, it’s fair to say the film also neglects to concentrate its efforts on the entire student body of “our” Oxford. You don’t find the camera lingering on any of the other stereotypes we’re fond of. The Wadhamite vegan warriors don’t get a look in. Nobody is going to war over a slot at the O’Reilly either.

 

No, Scherfig’s Oxford is not my Oxford – nor is it the highly offended critic’s. It is also not the student population’s. Instead, it is an Oxford refracted through the imaginative collaboration of an Oscar-nominated director, an acclaimed dramatist, a gifted production team and a group of highly talented, gusty young actors. This might be an Oxford dreamt up without the insight of somebody who spent their formative days here, but such speculations are the driving force of all good stories. Let’s not change our minds now, just because it angles close to home. “Accuracy” was never fiction’s thing anyway.

Formal Hall - The Riot Club

 

Quite simply, there’d be no fun or fight in a film without a splash of imagination – regardless of how much they tell you at Night School to “write what you know”.

 

Instead, the film glances, anthropologically, into its imaginary world: into the lives of young people who, for the first time, are supposed to ask questions about the way they live, and who they’re supposed to be. The storyline is fairly predictable: two affluent new boys (Max Irons as Miles and Sam Claflin as Alistair, respectively) join the same college, swap dorms (in a telling exchange with Oedipally-challenged Alistair’s vicarious father), and, nominated by seasoned patrons, are invited to initiate in a secretive, privileged drinking society known as The Riot Club. Despite their ideological differences – the boys are virtually at one another’s throats in a telling tute scene, where vehemently leftwing Miles is countered by a cynical Alistair – both are invited to join the club. Ignoring Lauren’s advice, Miles is enticed; the camaraderie, promise of hedonism and, most importantly, of group membership located within that intense space between brotherhood and friendship, are too much to resist. But as the plot unravels, tensions of power inevitably begin to surface within the club itself, and – when these are married to an outdated sense of entitlement, individual bitternesses, a pervading sense that these boys have no idea how to behave in the real world, and a cocktail of alcohol, coke and rage – things take a sinister turn.

 

Lone Scherfig doesn’t do polemical films; she’s too experienced and too respectful of her own art form to digress that way. It saves itself from being the kind of condemnatory, embittered satire it might have become in the hands of even the most talented Brit director (escaping the veneer of prejudice in art is much more difficult when we’re living within the systems engineering it). There’s enough self-aware appreciation of the exclusive allure of these clandestine worlds in the project to stop it becoming hypocritically preachy: the fraction of a second’s thought before the landlord can respond to Claflin’s menacingly goading, “You love me; you want to be me”, and Hugo’s reminder to Miles when he starts bailing on the fracas, “you wanted to be part of this” – these are speaking as much to (and maybe for) the audience as they are the characters. Everybody involved in The Riot Club (both fictional and real) from production team to audience, is constantly reminded of the seductive appeal of groups like this one – groups that supposedly guarantees friendship, hegemony, privilege, a good time and, crucially, protection. They simultaneously repulse and fascinate.

 

 

Like any decent film, The Riot Club avoids hollering a single political message from the rigging; it isn’t a broadsheet opinion column and it’s not trying to be. The characters are by turns sympathetic and chilling for a good reason – to complicate our reaction to them. They might be a charming band of thugs, but they’re thugs nonetheless; and yet, all thugs have their reasons. The sickening crunch of Sam Claflin’s head whacking the sidewalk opposite Blackwell’s during the exposition sequence is enough to get us asking the right questions: when it comes down to his suspicious, resentful attitude – can we blame him? With all the prerequisite disillusioned markers of hooliganism, veneered in a particularly enticing brand of confident, drawling charisma, these boys feed our fascination with the decadently filthy. Even as spectators who can never access their world – a) because this is fiction and b) because if it were real, we’d “never be the right sort” to join – we’re complicit in feeding the fascination that is posh boys at play. It’s a film intelligent enough to realise we can’t escape how much we love to hate these boys… so we’re the ones egging them on.

 

The strength lies in inspired casting, and the management of the relationships between characters. It is not a plot that lends itself to being easily driven by one protagonist, so it doesn’t; we might largely trail Miles, but it’s not just his show. This is not a piece for a leading man and his supporting cast, and in rending a film where its key motif is the oscillating dynamics of power, Scherfig has harnessed and exposed some of the brightest young stars of today’s film scene. Freddie Fox as the hapless, easily-led Club President James quivers and deigns in all the right places for a film playing with the theme of hypocrisy; Ben Schnetzer, Jack Farthing, Matthew Beard, Josh O’Connor and Olly Alexander counterpoint with all the raucous eagerness of kids willing to play along as club back-members vying for status; and Australian actor Sam Reid imbues an out-of-time Wildean Hugo with the correct degree of repression in every sense of the word. Veteran actor Tom Hollander’s cameo role is lived-in, expressing the kind of lazy sense of security that becomes any gang’s seasoned old-timer. And it is in the “opposition cast” – the three female leads, and Tony Way as the eager but conflicted landlord – that the film shines brightest: the opposition illustrates a still-standing chasm between classes, but not in a way that overtly condemns one over the other. The misunderstandings are mutual.

 

The three drawing names of the cast are undoubtedly Miles (Irons), Alistair (Claflin) and fellow Brit boy Douglas Booth, playing the viciously charismatic Harry Villiers. Reviewers’ focus seems to fall repeatedly on these actors’ looks, as though attractive faces carry performances by default. Actually, good looks would hinder them if uncoupled with serious attention to actually acting the parts; they aren’t meant to be wholly likeable, after all. Max Irons might come from acting pedigree, but that doesn’t mean he avoids working hard at capturing Miles’ conflicted mix of well-meaning, moralistic but curious and eager youth. He loses his grip at exactly the right rate to make the performance heartbreakingly nuanced, and believable. Booth’s womanising champion fencer Villiers is obviously seductive, but in a chilling, mechanical, dead-eyed sort of way; affecting that level of feigned interest, before allowing it to disintegrate into desperate misogyny, is a feat made so much harder when everyone seems to expect a typical leading man. He imbues gravitas into his role as covert leader of the pack, while still affecting the right insecurities. His smile is one you don’t want to be on the wrong end of. Booth’s accomplished, sinister performance is an actor’s, not a model’s.

 

Max Irons - Blood

 

Ultimately, it is Claflin’s Alistair Ryle who ends up show-stealing; undercurrents of darkness are visible from the off, but disguised by a considered, elegant maturity with an attention to detail that echoes the heyday of acting which characterised some of the great 1970s films. He lingers and takes his time over his performance where he pleases, building to a gleefully sociopathic climax with unnerving confidence. If Claflin isn’t winning awards yet, then he ought to be soon: his treatment of a complex, vulnerable but ultimately disgusting character foreshadows what should be an illustrious career in character acting. Without giving away spoilers, watch out for the moment which made a room full of professional critics gasp in horror, and you’ll see what I mean.

 

In putting these actors together, where Wade and Scherfig have definitely managed to echo the Oxford we know is in the hesitating, bumbling interactions and halting miscommunications of fresher’s week and that very first Michaelmas term. It is the bittersweet inverse-Lady and the Tramp relationship that blossoms between Lauren (Holliday Grainger) and Miles we see some truth about the fallibility of our own “cleverness”; that particular chemistry which only exists in the novelty of opposite worlds is palpable. She is the “bootstrappy northerner” dazzled by Miles’s easygoing confidence, the first in her family to attend Oxbridge, meritocratic and unpretentious; he is equally enamoured of her gutsiness, the fierceness that gets her to where she is and sets her apart from “those other girls” he’s known before. Miles and Lauren illuminate how class is important to the film, but the film does not betray a preference for state school over public school (as a metonym for lower class over upper) so much as it highlights the way today’s Oxford becomes a melting pot of young, keen but as-yet unexpanded minds. The anachronistic Riot Boys, clambering to hold onto their historical privilege, become monsters simply because they have no real place in that world – because they refuse to let go of a nonexistent fable that privileges them for no reason but name. The Riot Club cares about Oxford, but its cast of characters can’t comprehend what Oxford is. They scoot along the underbelly of a world that has moved on from them, and the power they have access to only operates in the shadows – which is what makes their existence so tragic.

 

Whether or not Miles’ and Lauren’s relationship turns out for better or worse, their awkward, not-quite-on-the-same-page-but-trying interactions are a keen-eyed metaphor for how this university takes its students from the edge of confident adolescence, and tips them over into the unexplored terrain of adulthood. It’s a metaphor that persists throughout. Mistakes happen. People are hurt. Friendship does not always follow the rules we set for it. There are uglier sides to all of us than we ever imagined growing up, and we only figure out where we stand when we’re confronted with the opportunity to choose.

 

Of course, it isn’t perfect (and I’m aware people are going to think I’ve been brainwashed by the nice people at Universal if I say otherwise). Yes, the opening sequence – a soft-edged throwback to the 1700s and the days of the club’s original founding, with the dreamy focus of seasoned cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov to thank for its odd surreality – jars a little with the pared-back anti-Hollywood realism of the rest of the film, but our flashback dalliance is brief enough to be forgiven as a necessity to plot set-up. Also: Aston Martin, Broad Street. I’ll leave that one up to you. But that final shot of Claflin, all one-time smile and reassembled self, tailored coat and leather glove? Cinema gold.

 

The truth is this: it’s a political film, yes – in some ways, all films are. It bites where it should hurt into people who need to remember nobody is above their past, and money and connections do not absolve us of our mistakes. As such, it is bound to cause controversy. Films will always dally with reality, just as much as reality will have its hand in fantasy. Anybody who refuses to admit the Riot Boys to the cobblestones of an imaginary Oxford is somebody confusing the two, and that smacks suspiciously of fear – fear, perhaps, which only arises when something bowls too close to home. I stand by my former prediction, that the film is a fresh interrogation of gang culture; but, along with this, it is an interrogation of what it means to be young and on the cusp of adulthood. Before Posh came to the theatre, a 2006 Contemporary Theatre Review interview with Laura Wade called her an “urban fabulist”. They got it right. Wade deals in fables; Posh was her swansong, and The Riot Club, its cinematic realisation. It is a cautionary tale about the mistakes we can make when we chase our place in our world, and a dangerous fable of youth in revolt. Go and see it. You have to.

 

 

Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club is released in UK cinemas on September 19th. 

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy
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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

A racoon. A tree. A green woman. A hunk of tattooed red muscle. Two blue villains. Surprisingly, the central character of the film hails from what we’d call Earth, and looks completely normal. Some may even go as far as to say pretty average looking (no offence Chris Pratt).

Guardians of the Galaxy is a space action adventure that doesn’t tie itself in complex plot-knots. Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) is taken from his home planet as a child and grows up with thieves and back-alley dealers as a family. They may be a bit rough around the edges, but as is reiterated, they didn’t eat him. His latest job – to recover a silver orb from an abandoned world – doesn’t go to plan, and Quill ends up in a high-security prison with the ragtag bunch Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). Simultaneously, bad guy Ronan the Accuser is waging a war to destroy the planet, but to do so he needs the orb. Thus, the Guardians of the Galaxy are born – though to begin with, teamwork is definitely not their strong suit.

GotG was largely viewed as Marvel’s biggest, weirdest risk in amongst the success of its ‘Avengers initiative’, a franchise which has set the bar for the superhero/comic-based genre. It certainly can’t be denied that the trailers released in the previous months did nothing to transform people’s doubt. Instead the trailers emphasised the film’s differences as much as possible in the space of several minutes.

GotG always appeared a bizarre concept, and the filmmakers unashamedly celebrated this fact.

Strangely enough it is a risk that has paid off, and GotG is in good cinematic shape. It is frankly one of the most fun, laugh-inducing mainstream oddities of its genre. Perhaps its most striking success is that it doesn’t come off as a mere botched attempt to be ‘anti-Avengers’.

The jokes and general sarcasm are what make GotG a great watch.

The minute you snort unexpectedly into your popcorn, there’s no turning back.

With a gag-a-minute, one or two inevitably fall flat, but the pace is picked back up almost immediately. Priceless moments will win you over whether you love it or loathe it.

The comedy has one major drawback; the action is compromised. The seriousness of the situation at hand (evil blue villain trying to destroy/conquer the galaxy while murdering millions) is downplayed far too much. Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) doesn’t have enough screen time to justify the terror his name induces, nor does he prove to be much of a challenge to a group of misfit criminals. The film seems massively unbalanced in terms of tone, as when the danger is supposed to become very real the tension barely cranks up a notch. Instead everyone is waiting for the next joke, including to some extent the Guardians themselves. Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill busting moves in a pile of rubble as Ronan prepares for mass destruction is an example of a laugh too far for true threat credibility. Is anyone even paying attention to the villain? Isn’t this his crucial scene? Poor Lee Pace.

As a summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fresh and funny Marvel film that’s basically a parody of itself. It’s anti-hero, anti-serious, and essentially anti-expectation. GotG is a bold move from director James Gunn. With whispers of a confirmed sequel in the wind, hopefully he’s prepared to bring more of the same madcap entertainment to us soon.

 


Rheanna-Marie Hall also attended the Guardians of the Galaxy press conference on behalf of the OxStu. The panel included Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and director James Gunn. Read about her experience here.

 

lucy-movie-poster
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Review: Lucy

 

Luc Besson’s films haven’t received much praise over the past few years and unfortunately his latest release, Lucy, does nothing to change that fact. Starring both Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, this film had the potential to be pretty darn great, but it fell short at just about every hurdle. The film follows the story of Lucy, a student who is captured and forced into becoming a drug mule when a packet of a new drug, CPH4, sewn into her abdomen. Her story takes a turn for the worse when she is violently attacked, causing the drugs packet inside of her to burst, releasing very large amounts of the drug, which increases the user’s brain function capacity, into her bloodstream. Lucy immediately begins to develop powerful mental talents such as telekinesis, the ability to absorb information instantaneously and mental time travel amongst other things.

The fact that Lucy passed under the radar in terms of popular summer film releases surprised me at first, but on seeing the film, this surprise quickly evaporated. Whilst the plot is intriguing and there are some superb special effects, the two don’t quite mesh together and the film begins to crumble as soon as it begins. Typical of Besson’s films, there are a number of interesting special effects, and its visual nature makes it an attractive piece, yet the attempt to combine complex action sequences with what could have been an intricate and intelligent story about the capacity of the human brain results in a muddle (a beautiful muddle, but a muddle nonetheless).

Of course, audiences don’t need (or often want) a comprehensive explication of the science behind these sorts of films, but Besson doesn’t even provide enough information to support a basic understanding of what viewers are seeing. He leaves the audience completely baffled as to what exactly is going on for all 89 minutes of this film.

One of the key issues in this film is the fact that it seems just too ambitious. In his ‘Statement of Intent’, Besson compares Lucy to Nolan’s Inception. Really, Besson? This film seems lost and misguided, unsure of where it’s going and what it’s trying to be. At several points through the film, the audience would burst into laughter, but whether Besson intended this is unclear. I certainly wouldn’t classify Lucy as a comedy.

While it begins with promise, with suggestions of a complex plot in the vein of a serious thriller, it swiftly degenerates into a slew of meaningless action sequences reminiscent of Besson’s Hitman.

The film’s only saving grace is Scarlett Johansson, whose performance is nuanced both when destroying her enemies and in the film’s quieter moments. Yet while the acting is commendable, without a coherent plot to support it, it all goes to waste.

Indeed, Lucy has received very mixed reviews from critics since its release, but a lot of those reviews tend to be along the lines of ‘it’s better than expected’. I would argue that that doesn’t equal ‘worth watching’. All in all, Lucy had the potential to be a great film, but its poor execution left me feeling confused and disappointed.

The Oxford Student

Oxford's Newspaper since 1991