Tag Archives: Lucy

All Hail the Bad-Ass Ladies of Summer

We all know the drill when it comes to the summer movie season.

Summer is popcorn time. Time to switch off the brain and have some fun. Time for explosions. Time for action. Time for Michael Bay to assault us with giant fireballs, urban destruction and noise. Time for action heroes, like Hugh Jackman and Tom Cruise, to run around, look worried, flash massive biceps and DO THEIR OWN STUNTS.

Yes, summer is an exciting time with a potential blockbuster we will all love, so help us, lurking around the corner EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND.

This year, the season is winding to a close after fulfilling all the traditional requirements described above. But something unusual happened, too, something worth noting and celebrating.

In those months that typically overflow with testosterone, more than a few of the BIG MOVIES were headlined by women. And these women delivered amazing performances, proving themselves every bit as — in some cases even more — entertaining than the dudes who usually dominate the summer movie landscape.

So I’m calling it: Summer 2014 was The Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies. Below, we pay tribute to the baddest of them all. Nobody deserves it more.

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Angelina Jolie in “Maleficent”: As one of the most famous people in the world, Jolie is celebrated for her benevolent activism, charity work and super-sized family with husband Brad Pitt, but there’s always been something slightly unnerving about her, too. Maybe that’s why she’s perfectly cast in Disney’s reboot of 1959 animated classic “Sleeping Beauty.” With those celebrated cheekbones sharpened to a knife’s point and all that slinky black leather, Jolie isn’t just striking to look at, she succeeds in transforming one of Disney’s scariest villains into a complicated, funny, tragic figure worth rooting for. Creepy yet playful, right down to that silky purr and killer sneer, her Maleficent is sinister and sexy, outshining every visual effect in a movie that’s built almost exclusively on optical bedazzlement.

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Shailene Woodley in “The Fault in Our Stars”: Hollywood’s latest go-to girl for movies targeted at the coveted teen demographic proved herself a capable action heroine in March’s “Divergent.” Two months later, she took on the risky role of Hazel Grace Lancaster, the beloved protagonist of John Green’s best-selling YA novel. What’s remarkable about Woodley’s performance is her unsentimental naturalism, portraying a 16-year-old girl who isn’t in love with a vampire or fighting for survival in a dystopian death arena. Aside from the harsh fact she’s dying of terminal cancer, Hazel is an ordinary young woman. Woodley embodies her sharp wit and candor with charm and a refreshing absence of glamor. In the film’s opening weekend, a largely female audience showed their appreciation to the tune of $48 million.

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Emily Blunt in “Edge of Tomorrow”: If we were to crown a queen of the Bad-Ass Ladies of Summer, that honor would belong, without question, to Emily Blunt. What’s that you say? You didn’t bother seeing “Edge of Tomorrow”? You’re not the only one. Director Doug Liman’s twisty sci-fi thriller under-performed at the box office, probably because of its resemblance to Tom Cruise’s previous twisty sci-fi thriller, “Oblivion.” The irony is that Cruise isn’t the true star of “Edge.” He may enjoy more screen time, but he plays second fiddle to Blunt, who brings a marvelous mix of toughness and vulnerability to the role of the alien-slaughtering, mech-suit-rocking Rita Vrtaski, aka the Full Metal Bitch. Blunt’s character is the last hope for humanity against slithery outerspace invaders who can control time, resulting in Cruise reliving the same day over and over. I know. It sounds like “Groundhog Day,” but the movie is far more clever than you’d ever guess and Blunt is its most winning asset.

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Scarlett Johansson in “Lucy”: We all knew ScarJo could kick some butt. As the only female member of “The Avengers,” she’s presided over some impressive stunt sequences, proving she’s more than just a hot chick in a catsuit. But Johansson takes it to another level in Luc Besson’s goofy, wannabe-existential actioner, playing a naive college girl who gains instant access to 100% of her cerebral powers when exposed to an experimental drug. At first, Lucy’s evolution manifests itself in lethal martial arts skills but by the end of the film, she simply has to flick her wrist to immobilize an entire gang of stereotypical Asian baddies. I liked the old Scarlett, so sweetly befuddled in “Lost in Translation,” but I love this new Scarlett — so cool, calm and controlled she’s barely human. Of course, Johansson has evolved enough as an actress to make sure her character’s humanity still comes through.

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Zoe Saldana in “Guardians of the Galaxy”: Here is another intriguing actress who has never let her beauty stand in the way of a versatile career. The characters she plays may be wildly different — whether in indie dramas or comic book adaptations — but they’re always satisfyingly strong-willed. As green-skinned warrior Gamora in “Guardians,” Saldana displays strength and humor, holding her own against the formidably funny Chris Pratt. Pratt, of course, plays Star-Lord Peter Quill, leader of Marvel’s unlikely band of galactic superheroes. Refreshingly, director James Gunn grants Saldana equal screen time to her male co-stars. Gamora shows her stuff in several epic fight scenes and she’s by far the most intelligent member of the Guardians. She may flirt with Quill but she never succumbs to his pelvic sorcery. She’s no damsel in distress.

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‘Lucy’ and the Evolution of Scarlett Johansson

Lucy
Two and a half stars (out of four)
R (strong violence, disturbing images, sexuality)
90 minutes

“Lucy” is the exciting next step in the unlikely but intriguing evolution of Scarlett Johansson. I can’t emphasize enough how refreshing it is to witness an actress who was once celebrated for her luscious body transform into an action heroine whose mind is even more enticing than her sleek moves.

Johansson began her career as the girl from “The Horse Whisperer” and “Ghost World.” Thanks to that low, silky voice and those curves, she quickly became a sex symbol. While she has always projected pensive intelligence, she was relegated, in films such as “Lost in Translation” and “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” to the role of luminous innocent, a childlike beauty never in control of her fate.

It wasn’t until 2012’s “Avengers” that Johansson embraced her potential in the part of the quiet but deadly Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, Nick Fury’s favorite S.H.I.E.L.D agent. Yes, the role requires the actress to squeeze herself into a tight, black catsuit, but the character’s appeal isn’t found in her physicality alone. It’s in her precision, smarts and cool authority.

I think Johansson is the best hope we have right now of someday seeing a satisfying comic book adaptation featuring a well-written, well-acted female superhero. After seeing “Lucy,” I’m even more convinced of this. The film is part of a flawed but fascinating trilogy — along with the recent “Her” and “Under the Skin” — in which Johansson defies humanity, technology and even physics, time and space to become something mysterious and “other.” It’s clear our Scarlett is no longer content to bother with girlish trifles. What she wants now is to transcend.

Transcend is exactly what she does in “Lucy,” rising above the goofiest movie in French director Luc Besson’s prolific and often strange career. Because of her enlightened performance, the film is a lot of fun, until Besson’s silly-pretentious script runs out of steam. I’ll admit I enjoyed it a lot more than I probably should have.

Besson is at his bloody, stylish, Euro-thriller best in the film’s first act, in which we are introduced to the title character, a naïve college student who inexplicably happens to live in Taiwan. Duped into delivering a suitcase to Tapei’s most powerful drug lord (Min-sik Choi) — who is apparently Korean. Huh? — Lucy becomes an unwitting mule, awakening to find that a pouch containing an experimental substance has been stitched into her stomach.

In the film’s most electrifying scene, the pouch bursts, spilling its contents into Lucy’s bloodstream and making its way to her brain, where it unlocks hitherto unrealized cerebral potential. It’s a rush to watch Johansson suddenly snap from quivering victim to calculated killing machine, sending a would-be rapist flying across the room, using her belt to snare a nearby weapon.

Besson is riffing here on the well-worn myth that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity. In contrast, the chemically-enhanced Lucy’s ever-expanding noggin operates at up to 20% and counting. To emphasize his theme, the director intercuts Lucy’s violent exploits with a lecture delivered by a celebrated neuroscientist played by the mellifluous Morgan Freeman.

Freeman’s oratory goes on for so long, it begins to feel as if we’re trapped in a boring science class. When it comes to academics, Besson is something of a cheat, cribbing from such mind-bending sources as “The Matrix,” “Limitless” and the recent “Transcendence.”

The 10% of the brain thing is a fun idea but as the premise plays out, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. As Lucy’s brain opens up — Besson helpfully keeps us appraised of her development by flashing us the latest percentages — she acquires an uncanny new skill set, including telekinesis and the ability to fight off stereotypical Asian baddies, change her hair color at will, manipulate matter and use her mind like a universal remote control for all the radios, light fixtures, computers and cell phones in the world. She also has a killer fashion sense.

Besson contrives to send Lucy to his favorite cinematic location — Paris — to track down what’s left of the drug that is literally blowing her mind, dodging Choi (the star of “Oldboy” deserves much better) and enlisting the help of Norman and a typically Bessonish French cop (Amr Waked). In the City of Light, the director serves up trademark outbursts of violence, including a fairly run-of-the-mill car chase and machine-gun shootout.

A scene in which Johansson literally suspends a gang of astonished gangsters in the air with a flick of her fingers is more promising. If only “Lucy” was content to deliver a high-concept premise and bone-crunching action, along with a few moments of vulnerability. A hospital scene featuring Lucy phoning home to her mother is surprisingly emotional and more evidence of Johansson’s own expanding capacities.

Less successful is the nature footage Besson includes, like shots of cheetahs hunting their prey and a couple of completely nutso glimpses of the original, missing-link Lucy. It’s as if the director suddenly evolved into Terrence Malick.

“Lucy” gets pointedly weirder as it progresses and it isn’t nearly as smart as Besson thinks it is.

Photo: Jessica Forde