The Festival du nouveau cinéma gave me a look at two fascinating films by a couple important filmmakers with strong auteur voices.
Dracula reawakens from the bottom of the ocean in the 21st century
Curtis Harrington's NIGHT TIDE is a story of loneliness, psychological damage, and the terror of loving someone from a vastly different world.
Lucy. 2014. Directed & Written by Luc Besson.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton, Jan Oliver Schroder, and Nicolas Phongpheth. Ciné+/Canal+/EuropaCorp/TF1 Films Production. Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
I’m a fan of Luc Besson. His first feature film, La dernier combat, is a tour-de-force in thinking outside the box and innovative storytelling. Afterwards, he put out other wonderful pieces of filmmaking such as The Big Blue, Nikita, Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element and more. While he tackles an array of subjects throughout his filmography as a director, as well as a writer, Besson usually does impressive work when it comes to science fiction and contract killing. Let’s face it: this is his niche. Nothing wrong with it either.
All that being said, Lucy is not one of his best films. It isn’t trash, though. It just doesn’t measure up to some of the aforementioned efforts with which he hit, in my mind, grand slams. Where Lucy falls short is mostly in the writing, not the execution. The premise of the movie is amazing, but plays on a well-debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brain. If Besson had whittled away a few bits of his screenplay, there may have been a chance for his ambitious story to fit well with his style of filmmaking. As it stands, this is a decent enough action thriller, albeit one that doesn’t use much of its own brain power. Still, the adrenaline flows from beginning to end in classic Besson style.
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is American. She is 25, living in Taiwan. Succumbing to a dark request forced upon her by a recent boyfriend, Lucy is handcuffed to a briefcase full of drugs and made to deliver it for a villainous man named Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik).
Only after meeting Jang, things turn into a terrifying nightmare. Lucy, along with several other unsuspecting individuals, has her abdomen cut open, and inside is placed hundreds of grams of a new experimental drug called CPH4, tucked in a plastic bag. Life gets even worse once Lucy ends up in a cell, chained to a wall. After being beaten by a guard and kicked in the stomach, the bag inside her breaks, leaking the CPH4 into her bloodstream. The drug is meant to expand the brain function of a human being from the supposed 10% we use regularly, to a whopping 100%.
On a rampage to both save her own life, as well as discover what’s happening to her, Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) whose studies happen to involve the expansion of the human brain’s functions. Along the way she is tested, both mentally and physically. But most of all, Lucy is becoming – something new, something extraordinary, and something very, very dangerous.
At the start of the film, we’re introduced to an ape. Shortly afterwards, through dialogue, we discover it is Lucy – the first ever woman. This sets up an idea about evolution, biology, of science and the ways of the world. Although, most of this never really goes anywhere. It does, and it does not all the same. Part of what I mean is that it’s heavy handed. So much animal imagery in the first little while, and it was not needed. Whatsoever. I saw someone talk about this Besson film in the right way recently: it breaks too much a big rule of cinema, in that it tells us too much. Instead of showing things, letting the audience suss out the meaning, almost every aspect in the film’s initial quarter comes to us spelled out in great detail.
Something I did like, in that regard, is how Besson continually gave us the 10%, 20%, 30%, and so on. Not that we didn’t understand her brain power and function was increasing, it was simply an extra way for him to up the intensity. After each percentage update, you can almost feel your own adrenaline pumping, ready for the next big event, awaiting some kind of excitement about to drop on us.
I can’t exactly say this movie is filled with good performances. Not to say Scarlett Johansson or anyone else in the picture does a bad job with their role. But here there is Johansson, Morgan Freeman, and a favourite of mine Min-sik Choi (his turns in films like Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Oldboy, I Saw the Devil and others are fantastic). Between them, there is incredible acting power. Except none of that really makes it across here. Especially Freeman who is vastly underused for the majority of the film, as well as Choi whose charisma and idiosyncrasies are not used appropriately either. Particularly, I love Johansson and she does not do much at all in this film. Contrasted with a recent film like the unbelievably incredible Under the Skin, the almost phoned-in performance here makes Johansson look bad – simply because I KNOW SHE CAN DO BETTER. With such an interesting script and characters you’d think these actors might knock this one out of the park, at least as far as their jobs go. Unfortunately, we’re not given any such performances and it’s a large part of why this movie doesn’t do any better than mediocre.
Even the action elements of Lucy don’t end up making things pay off. As opposed to Besson work like The Fifth Element and Léon: The Professional, this one doesn’t pack as much oomph. There are moments of action and adventure. There are pieces of exciting fights. Ultimately, though, Besson opts to go more for telekinesis style fighting, shootouts, and flashy special effects work which does nothing for me. He claims wanting to make the first part similar to Léon: The Professional, the second akin to Inception, and the final act he hoped would draw parallels with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ambitious? Sure. Yet there’s not enough action and choreographed fight sequences in the entire film, at least not proper ones, for the whole premise to be fully realized. The trailer promised an almost non-stop thrill ride along with the titular character, but what we really get is a bit of action and lots of science fiction musing (misguided at that). Worst of all, the finale is packed with a huge gunfight, even a bazooka being fired. And wrapped up in there is a lackluster ending, leaving us with more questions than answers, as well as wondering how all the potential was squandered.
I can give this a 3 star rating without feeling bad about it either way. Luc Besson is a fantastic filmmaker and, at times, he can truly be a visionary from his technique to the way in which he writes his stories. With all the hopefulness of its premise, Lucy just cannot deliver the appropriate goods. Boasting an impressive cast, a fun idea and the visual flair of Besson, this should have been more interesting than how it turned out. While not every last bit of the movie was bad, obviously, there are too many misfires for it to be anything better than average. Here’s to hoping Luc pulls up the bootstraps and hauls out something better next time.
Soaked in Bleach. 2015. Directed by Benjamin Statler. Written by Donnie Eichar, Richard Middleton, and Benjamin Statler.
Starring Tyler Bryan as Kurt Cobain, Sarah Scott as Courtney Love; featuring, as themselves, Tom Grant, Brett Ball, Max Wallace, and Norm Stamper. Daredevil Films.
Rated PG. 100 minutes.
Admittedly, even though I’ve always thought Courtney Love is bat shit crazy, I never believed she (or anyone else) might’ve been covering anything up or hiding information concerning Kurt Cobain’s suicide. As much as I loved Cobain, worshiped Nirvana as a young musician with a bad attitude and even worse fashion sense, I just took what the media fed me about his depression and how he’d always seemed suicidal, that he took his I.D out and put it on his wallet so that when he shot himself they’d be able to identify his body easily… and so much more.
After watching this, the other reviews and articles touting this documentary as a ‘conspiracy theory’ are way off base. There’s too much in this film to deny, from actual police documents, the tapes Private Investigator Tom Grant has with Courtney Love on it saying some downright incriminating things and even some with Rosemary Carroll (the Cobain/Love lawyer) saying things against Love. See for yourself. Judge on your own. But here’s my take..
The first thing we hear is a conversation between Tom Grant and Courtney. She hired him to investigate after Kurt went missing, this was only briefly before his alleged suicide. On this first tape, Grant questions Courtney about where she’d found some other letter, supposedly from Kurt, and she is telling him it was under the pillows on her bed. Grant, being there the night before Kurt was found dead, knew different; he’d tossed the bed and found Rohypnol, which Kurt had a prescription for. He knew the difference, and yet Courtney tried sticking to her guns even when Tom told her otherwise. So right off the bat, we get this very real, raw version of Courtney – outside of the media, outside of other celebrities and what they think of her or the general public and their view – right from a tape. It’s damning.
From there, we learn a little about Grant whose life story reads much like a lot of police/military officers. The thing I kept wondering is, for those who don’t believe the man or doubt he is credible – what does he have to gain from this? He’s pretty much haunted with what he sees as the facts. He’s not exactly a celebrity himself because of Kurt or Courtney; most people pass him off as just another conspiracy theorist. Yet, as he mentions later, Tom still gets letters, e-mails, all sorts of communication asking about Kurt, wondering why nothing has been done when there’s actually a lot of evidence suggesting he did not die by suicide. It isn’t only Tom who believes, but unfortunately the police seem to be the real roadblock.
It becomes very clear that police negligence really had a hand in what came to pass. On top of that, Courtney Love set the stage for this “suicide” – when she hired Tom Grant, filed a police report (and did so in fake fashion using Cobain’s own mother’s name – the media promptly reported his mom was worried he was suicidal and filed a Missing Persons), and then perpetuated the myth of Cobain being frequently suicidal. What really troubles me is this idea of the myth – that Kurt really wasn’t a suicidal person. Yes, he was depressed. Yes, he had killer stomach pains that put him in agony. But he was happy with his friends and people around him. After the stomach pains were cleared up and doctors put him on the correct medication after many stressful years, Cobain himself told an interviewer he felt the best he’d ever felt and he was plenty happy. Sure, no one knows what’s going on in the mind of someone behind closed doors – ultimately, we never know. I had a friend who killed himself and none of us in our circle of friends ever expected it. Yet so many close friends claim Kurt never ever talked about suicide once.
Furthermore, he’s not in the movie but Buzz Osborne knew Kurt, and the rest of Nirvana, from the beginning – he and Kurt went to high school together, he knew him before and after Nirvana hit the bigtime. Buzz claims Kurt was never suicidal, it was all a lie. He has harsh words for the other Cobain documentary that recently came out, Montage of Heck, because aside from the suicide myth it portrays other stories that are not actually true (the story that Kurt supposedly had sex with an overweight, mentally handicapped girl when he was young is a total fabrication, according to King Buzzo). So during Soaked in Bleach, we get a lot of other opinions from people very close with Cobain that jive with that of Osborne – that Kurt could be quiet, shy, but the idea that he was a suicide case is untrue.
What really drove this home is Courtney Love. When Cobain accidentally overdosed on his Rohypnol prescription after having a glass of champagne, the incident was not called a suicide at the time. At first people speculated it was an attempt, but it was confirmed as being accidental afterwards. Love did not, at the time, claim Kurt tried to kill himself. Nobody did. Then, after Kurt was found dead, immediately Courtney began telling the media how he tried it in Rome, he tried before, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. This is categorically untrue. Max Wallace brings up the fact they even talked with the doctor who attended to Kurt that night in Rome, and the doctor also denies to the bone it was a suicide attempt confirming it was most certainly an accidental overdose. It isn’t hard to see Love helped the media run with the image of Kurt as a suicidal persona.
Once things get to the real down and dirty faces, looks at the crime scene and all that, it’s even more of an affirmation that Tom Grant is not just some ‘conspiracy nut’. The tapes are one thing, hearing Courtney go on about how maybe Kurt disappearing and all that before his death would be good for publicity on Hole’s next album and hearing her just lie to Grant over and over, but the crime scene is a whole other beast. I don’t want to say too much more because the evidence is some of the real knock-out stuff in this film.
I did like the little drama recreations they did with actors playing Love, Grant, Cobain, and others involved. Some of it was pretty decent. Not that she doesn’t deserve it after seeing this movie, but they really went hard at Love with their portrayal. However, I don’t see it as being that far off base. If you didn’t think Love was crazy before, you absolutely will after watching this. It’s hard not to. A lot of the evidence presented makes you wonder how this case isn’t being re-opened and investigated again. Truly. This was an eye-opener of a documentary. Even worse, it’s coming out that apparently Courtney Love has bought Twitter followers, et cetera, to help tank ratings on websites for the film; IMDB is usually bad for ratings, but the skewed low rating for this was ridiculous as about 1,000 ratings of 1 before the release drove it down. Suspicious? Make up your own mind.
This is absolutely a 5 star documentary. I love Cobain, his music, all of it, but to see this was truly fascinating. I can’t get over it, honestly. I want to watch it again several times just to take in all the information. The whole thing is spooky. I’ll say no more other than – the directing is great, this whole film is put together well, and Tom Grant is a saint for offering himself up all these years as “that conspiracy guy” who has actually been fighting the fight for real justice.
One thing resonated with me deeply. Tom brought up how there have been tons of suicides that have been copycats of Kurt – either they did what he did exactly, or their suicide notes quoted Nirvana and related to the late rockstar – and he just wants the truth out there. Because it’s a shame for any kid to kill themselves, but if it’s partly due to the fact Kurt supposedly did, when he might not have, then there is a real need to have the truth known. Not only for all those kids, future kids possibly, but also for Kurt, for Frances Bean, and for all the people of a generation who related to him through his music.