If you regularly read my film reviews – and if you don’t then why not – you might notice I don’t do star ratings. I did them in my very first reviews on here, of Cloud Atlas and I Give it a Year (4 and 3 stars respectively) and then stopped after that. The Guardian does them, The Times and Empire all do them, and when I’m looking for a film to watch I’ll look up the Rotten Tomatoes score if I haven’t heard of it. I just have a problem with prescribing them myself.
Take the two films above for example. I’ve decided that Cloud Atlas is better than I Give It a Year. But I saw I Give It A Year first, so set the bar with the first film, without Cloud Atlas to compare it to. This is a problem that can go on forever until you’ve seen all the films for all eternity and work out how you’re ranking your Godfathers against your Grace of Monaco’s.
Now, clearly, this isn’t possible and I’m exaggerating. But if you were to see one film, and decide to give it 3 stars, say, The Talented Mr Ripley, and then you saw the similar but better Catch Me If You Can, you’ve got to give that more stars. Even if really you only think it’s a 3 star film and poor old Mr Ripley is only a 2.
Star Ratings can be handy if you’re only glancing at a review, and want to get the point quickly – if a film has 1 star you definitely won’t be bothering but if it has 4 you might take a punt. But for me, I don’t feel comfortable coming to a decision that final. Often I’m not entirely sure of my thoughts until I’ve written them down and read it back. In a review you can talk about the nuances of a film, the good points and bad points in a way that explains your view of it without revealing anything which would spoil enjoyment. As Frankie Boyle put it on Twitter last September:
The way you judge one film is going to differ from the way you judge another, (as it should) and you can’t, for example, compare a silent 1927 Hitchcock film within the same parameters as something like a 2014 Michael Bay film. As time moves on the boundaries of what is expected from blockbuster cinema fluctuates and, as well as changing technology, cinema is partly ruled by what is fashionable. Each film you see will have its own merits and its own downfalls, and will be loved by different people for different reasons. For me to put a number on this makes 0 star of sense.
The new film from Luc Besson, of Leon and Fifth Element fame, sees Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) coerced into delivering a suitcase for her boyfriend, which soon escalates into being a drug mule for some rather dubious looking mobsters and a rather spiffing English middle man (Julian Rhind-Tutt). After the package carrying the drugs inside her lower intestine bursts, causing the new and experimental drug to enter her bloodstream, the effects of the drug take hold. Lucy finds she can access more and more of her brain – but what will happen when she reaches 100%?
While all of this action is taking place (and it is pretty action packed) we see Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) talking to his students about what might happen were we to use more than 10% of our brains. He suggests the effects of different percentages of use – controlling others, controlling matter. He suggests that time is the only thing that cannot be controlled, like an anchor tying the super clever to reality.
These quick edits, between the theory from the professor and the reality lived out by Lucy at first seems interesting but after a few back and forth cuts soon feels lazy – the professors comments like a parallel commentary on what is happening in the main plot for those audience members not quite up to speed.
Besson’s use of stock footage, particularly that of wildlife brings to the foreground the suggestion that those humans using only the 10% brain power are much the same as the animals. The mirroring between the scary world Lucy now enters and the animal kingdom, neatly suggested through the interspersal of shots of the mob closing in on Lucy and a herd of leopards chasing down a gazelle, really hits this home. But after this nicely edited moment, the use of stock footage and the questioning of what humankind has achieved with its intelligence is laboured over – the footage of cities and people and the humdrum of life in Taiwan made me feel more proud of what has been achieved, rather than agreeing that we were wasting what we had ‘been given’. I’m aware science fiction shouldn’t necessarily be realistic, and whilst there are some rather cool moments of the drugs impact on the human body, it felt so far removed from reality, and the drug-fuelled Lucy was so inhuman in her movements and dialogue that I found it hard to care whether she survived it or not.
After watching the trailer you’ll be unsurprised to hear that Lucy is much the same concept as the 2011 Neil Burger film Limitless. Whilst Limitless used the notion of the magic drug that upped brain usage to highlight moral issues and maybe say something about substance reliance, Lucy feels at times lazy, and has little to exapnd as a science fiction idea. She is able to control more as she is able to use more of her brain, but what does it really effect? Not much I’d say. Certainly not me.
Ben Stiller directs and stars in this new adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 story about a daydreamer who works in the photo department of Life magazine, handling the stills of the people whose lives he longs for. Walter takes drastic steps when a negative goes missing, sent to him from hero and photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), intended for the last edition of the magazine. Faced with the prospect of never again getting to speak to his co-worker and crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and with the loss of the publication which speaks so clearly to him looming, Walter changes his life in a way even he never would have imagined.
There’s the bones of a good film here, amidst all the various styles jumbled together. There are comedic moments from ‘transition manager’ Adam Scott, romantic ones from Kristen Wiig and fantasy ones from Walter’s wild imagination. It’s half an hour too long, and feels on the verge of being brilliant, but as though some of the innocence of Walter’s character has diminished. There are amazing moments, such as Walter deciding to go to Greenland and running past the most iconic Life Magazine front covers, or Kristen Wiig singing Space Oddity as Walter leaps onto a helicopter mid lift off. It’s also a beautiful advert for Iceland, with breathtaking shots of the landscape.
But it’s the character writing that lets this film down for me. If Walter’s life is so quiet and boring would it really be so easy to go and talk to the girl he dreams of? And would it be so easy for him to leap on a plane, to wear cooler clothes, and to become increasingly Ben Stiller-esque?
Part of the beauty of the concept of this film comes from its simplicity. This adaptation feels like it went too large, dreamt too big and lost some heart along the way.