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Movie Review: Lucy

Lucy is a high concept sci-fi action film from Luc Besson, starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. The subtitle on the movie poster for Lucy reads "The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with a 100%.". This intriguing premise is what attracts and repels in what seems like a mash up of Besson's greatest hits.

Luc Besson is a filmmaker, who has earned his stripes as a director with films like The Big BlueLa Femme NikitaThe Professional and The Fifth Element. From writing and directing to producing, he's amassed a huge filmography of screen credits, making him an influential and powerful filmmaker. In a nutshell, he calls the shots and makes the films he wants to make.

In his latest film, Lucy, we're confronted by a scenario that could be described as The Fifth Elementmeets La Femme Nikita. Instead of Nikita or Leeloo, it's Lucy who is forced to take a new identity and able to develop special abilities in a dangerous world.

The trailer for Lucy screams The MatrixLimitless and Hannah, giving us the full Scarlett treatment and raising expectations. In reality, Lucy is more like Johnny Mnemonic meets Transcendence. Instead of carrying data in her head, a new wonder drug has been surgically transplanted on her person. Then, her superhuman abilities and the film's philosophical aspirations echo Transcendence and punctuate intense, mesmerising and raw sci-fi action.

iLucy Movie Review

"I've got to warn you, I'm more bombshell than blonde..."

The concept helps structure her evolution like a time bomb as we see her brain activity increasing from 10% to 100%. As the wonder drug permeates her system she becomes more aware, smarter and able to use her mind for a range of superhero-level feats from telekinesis to mind reading. It's exciting to see Johansson's character continually evolving, challenging the idea of what lies dormant in our heads. However, the sci-fi concept walks a thin line as Lucy goes from human to god.

Unfortunately, while intense and entertaining at times, Besson lets the line out a little too much. Instead of reeling us in, we become aware of just how ridiculous some of Lucy's antics are, within a worldly context. Throwing some wildlife documentary images on-screen and backing it up with a few choice words from an intermittent lecture by Morgan Freeman isn't enough.

While the action visuals are mesmerising, and Johansson is cool and totally committed to the performance, it often feels like it's folding back on itself, turning from high concept to self-parody. The opening is gritty, violent and makes an impact like something from The Professional. Moving forward, from the moment Lucy breaks free of her shackles, it just seems out there and too over-the-top to be taken seriously.

We love Scarlett and desperately want Lucy to wow us, but the borderline cheesy tone, loose science and muddled storytelling isn't enough to support the comic book visuals. Lucy would have had more license if she was an alien, but Scarlett already did that in Under the Skin, and that would have taken away from the exploration of the mind's potential.

All in all, it just feels like a beautiful misfire. We're entranced by Johansson, intrigued by Besson's "Weapon X" story, awe-inspired by the imaginative visual effects yet derailed by the anything-is-possible tone, amused by the silly-serious moments and thrown by the baffling-to-ridiculous human science. Ironically, this makes Lucy a film best enjoyed with your brain on standby mode.

The bottom line: Misfire

Movie Review: Big Significant Things

Big Significant Things feels like the sort of movie Alexander Payne could have directed in his early days. The comedy drama has a similar tone to About Schmidt, covering the cross-country adventures of a young man, who lies to his girlfriend in order to spend some time on the open road alone.

It's one of those wanderlust tales that captures the restless spirit of a stallion about to be tethered. Craig is at a cross roads in his life, possibly unsure of his real feelings towards his girlfriend, wanting some time apart to take stock of the next big chapter. His road trip to visit over-sized tourist attractions seems like a worthy distraction for him, and us, as we journey with him.

The low budget drama has an independent spirit that drives our hero, a confused man who wants to do the right thing. Harry Lloyd plays the naive Craig Harrison, like a nerdier, younger Tom Cruise. He's an attractive and awkward guy, whose vulnerability has been glazed over by a cool stare. He's not so much Harry and Lloyd from Dumb & Dumber, as much as he's a member from the geek love rock band,Weezer.

"I see a big bad moon arisin'."

The film has heart and we're drawn to Craig's quarter-life crisis. It's that clean cut look and affable nature that helps us enjoy his eccentricities and commiserate with his flaws. As a bit of a drifter, Craig's reaching out for intimacy from strangers, trying not to be in his situation for awhile. It's a melancholic state of affairs as on-the-road freedom, euphoria and spontaneity come crashing back to reality.

While British, Lloyd feels like homegrown Americana. His casting must have helped him feel more at home with the character as a traveler from a distant land. He's supported by Krista Kosonen, who helps stir things up as an intriguing romantic interest. Yet this is Craig's story, allowing Lloyd to dominate almost every scene.

Big Significant Things is a spirited comedy drama and feature film debut from writer-director Bryan Reisberg that captures getting lost on purpose with awkward sentimentality. The story's meandering and nostalgia-orientated path has some hooks in The Way, Way Back and About Schmidt. We relish the blend of real characters in a little big story about clearing the heart and the mind.

The bottom line: Melancholic

Top Ten Movies with... Anel Alexander

Anel Alexander is an award-winning South African actress and producer, whose range and series of nuanced performances aren't just turning heads, but making her a respected and highly sought-after talent.

Anel started her professional career while studying Drama at the University of Pretoria, appearing in a number of musicals including: The Witness, Jesu - An African Portrait and Blondes, before being snapped up to play Liesl in local TV drama, 7de LaanWhile Alexander has a love for theatre and musicals, she's most passionate about film, a medium that she's conquering both on-screen as an actress and behind-the-scenes with her production company.

She co-starred in Discreet, a stage-to-film adaptation, played the leading lady in the "romcom" box office sensation Semi-Soet, recently won a kykNET Silverskermfees award for her supporting role in Faan se Trein and is set to star in and produce Sink. Alexander's company, Scramble Productions, is gearing up to go into production for this hard-hitting drama about a Mozambican maid working in Johannesburg, who is forced to make a life-changing decision after her daughter drowns.

While she's at the forefront of the South African film industry, Anel makes a point of finding a balance between work and play. We caught up with the talented actress and producer to get her Top Ten Movies interview...

"In my next life I will be a Broadway musical theatre star."

I can't watch movies without...

- At home I can't watch movies without my hunky husband, actor James Alexander, my 2 doggies Jozi and Oscar... yes, we called our dog Oscar so that we could tell our friends we have an Oscar, and a fluffy blanket. But when I go to the cinema it's all about the popcorn!

Which famous people share your birthday?

- After Googling famous birthdays on 26 November, the only name I recognized was Tina Turner. So apparently not many famous people were born on the 26th of November, or I'm just not smart or cool enough to recognize their names. Oh, and Charles M. Schultz, the guy that created Peanuts. That’s worth a mention.

What is the first film you remember watching?

- The first film I remember watching was Bambi. Actually, I don’t really remember watching the film but I do remember being profoundly profoundly upset about the fact that Bambi's mother died.

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

- It is a local movie and since I hope to have a long and prosperous career as an actress and a producer in the SA film industry, I would rather not mention any names...

Which movies have made you tearful?

- The first movie I remember crying in was Steel Magnolias. But after that, my top tearjerker is definitely Hachiko. If you are a dog person, you will get it. That movie broke me for days. I remember being at the gym the next day and just starting to bawl. I don't even cry in front of people I know! Had to SMS a fellow dog lover to get some sympathy. To this day when I see it on DSTV, I immediately have to change the channel!

Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?

- Definitely James Alexander. He has acted with Claire Danes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Charles Dance, Andrew Lincoln to name a few. So by association I would like to believe that I've "met" all those movie stars.

What's your favourite movie line?

- "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you gonna get." – Forrest Gump

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- I shot a chip commercial in Germany a few years ago and the whole week the Austrian make-up artist and the Italian wardrobe guy would tell me how much I looked like "Carly Saron". So they kept calling me "Carly Saron" all the time. Later in the week I figured out that they were actually saying "Charlize Theron", so I guess I would get old Charlize to play me.

If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?

- It would be about a prostitute and a conservative young man talking about love, life and faith and honesty and... wait, I've made that one. Uhm, it would be a fun "romcom" about a girl hiring a fake fiancé to save her job... also been there done that. Can't say too much about our third that's going into pre-production soon, but the dream film I want to produce one day: An Afrikaans magic realism film. Think Amelie but shot in the Karoo or some arb town like Koffiefontein with people speaking the 'taal'.

Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...

Movies are my happy place and I love too many movies to choose just 10, so I've tried to categorize them to make choosing a bit easier.

- Life is Beautiful (Foreign Film) ...I do what I do because I believe in the power of the medium of media, whether that be movies, theatre, magazines, radio or whatever. I believe in the power that media has to reach people, to challenge audiences and to spread and change ideologies. I have always had a desire to use that power for good, and that is exactly what a film like Life is Beautiful did. The message is profound, the acting and execution exquisite and no person with a heart that has seen that movie was left untouched.

- Amelie (Magic Realism) ...I love the genre, the quirkiness and the language. I think it was the first time I was fully exposed to magical realism and I was hooked from the first frame. I knew that one day I wanted to make something like THAT!

- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Genre-defying) ...I remember watching this film and being so inspired by the possibilities that the medium of film opened up. The magic of making movies lies in the "what if" and this film used that device in such a poignant way.

- Sound of Music (Classic Film) ...is probably the film I have seen the most in my life. I want to say hundreds of times, but my husband always says I exaggerate, so let's just say as kids we watched it until the tape was stretched. I absolutely love musicals! In my next life I will be a Broadway musical theatre star. Sound of Music is the perfect, classical musical and therefore the perfect classic film.

- August: Osage County (Adaptation) ...I have not been so completely absorbed by a film in a long time as I was with this. The script, the casting, the performances, every element of this film was carefully crafted. The ensemble was so powerful it left me dazed for days afterwards. It reminded me of why I became an actress. And then of course the fact that it was mainly a female ensemble makes it extra cool in my books. I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Hollywood (and South Africa) being male dominated: male writers that write for male actors living in a male world... My mom’s a psychologist. I’m ok now.

- Chicago (Musical) ...notice the musical theme coming through? I literally belt out every single song when watching this. I want to be Velma or Roxy or even the girl third from the left so badly! The production design and costumes and just the way the musical was adapted for screen was brilliant. I've seen the musical on Broadway and in South Africa, and the film version does the stage show absolute justice and more.

- 21 Grams (Drama-Thriller) ...James and I went to visit a friend in LA that was studying at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. It was Oscar season and the students got to attend lectures by the 5 directors nominated for Best Directing. We were fortunate enough to hear Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu speak about 21 Grams in person. By the time we eventually got to see the film, I was just blown away.

- Semi-Soet & Discreet (Local) ...these are my babies and any mother would be wrong if she didn't list them as her 'favourites'. Discreet was made at a time when nobody was really making films independently and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do... until we made Semi-Soet! But I’m incredibly proud of what both films achieved in the local film industry, raising the bar and moving boundaries for young, new film-makers to come.

- The Incredibles, Despicable Me, Finding Nemo (Animation) ...I'm a sucker for animation, the humor and life lessons that get portrayed to young and old through this timeless medium... just gets me every time.

- The Shawshank Redemption (Drama) ...enough said.

- La Vie En Rose ...and because I'm a girl I insist on having a freebie! Marion Cotillard's performance in this film has to be one of the most worthy Oscar-winning Best Actress awards ever!

Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.

Movie Review: Hard to Get

Hard to Get echoes a similar passion and energy to the acclaimed Congolese crime thriller, Viva Riva. It's arguably South Africa's best action movie ever, powered by a similar sweaty, sexy and dangerous intensity on the back of world-class production values and surprisingly mature film-making for a number of feature film debuts.

We're blasted into a quick-paced action romance crime thriller in the style of Bonnie & Clyde as Skiets, a tough streetwise beauty, and TK, a self-professed ladykiller go on-the-run after stealing a local hoodlum Mugza's prized vehicle. After Skiets appears at a local township tavern on the arm of Mugza, TK steps in to help before the two find themselves on the road to Jozi.

Hard to Get grabs you from the get-go, brandishing great bit characters at every turn, with two incredibly charming co-leads. The unrequited chemistry between Skiets and TK is what fuels the burning romance at play. Skiets is not just another conquest for TK, which underlines the movie title as an on-the-run thriller and a play-by-play romance. At first, you imagine the subtext may be some sort of abstinence propaganda, which would be refreshing, but those thoughts fade soon enough.

Pallance Dladla was part of the crew that brought us Donovan Marsh's Reservoir Dogs style iNumber Number. Dladla's a handsome fellow, completely believable as a player and instantly likable as our hero. While we see things from his perspective, this is really the Thishiwe Ziqubu Show. Skiets is a strong female character, refreshingly so, and while they share equal billing - we know who's really calling the shots.

Dladla is a love fool, inadvertently falling for a seemingly unattainable woman, who draws him into her mysterious world. That enigmatic, unexplained spirit is what makes Ziqubu attractive and compelling. She's a drifter, living each day as it comes with a sense of wind-directed purpose. The two deliver fine and charming co-lead performances, which propel the action-adventure as they bounce from one boss to another.

Hard to Get Movie Review

"Babe, you can drive me... crazy... wherever, whenever."

Israel Makoe is quickly becoming the go-to gangster of South African cinema and with good reason. As an ex-gangster he has the chops, knows the lingo and can sell each part with great conviction. Having played prominent roles in TsotsiFour CornersiNumber Number and now Hard to Get... he's a poster boy for South African crime drama thrillers. His sledgehammer size and strong presence is felt in Hard to Get as an intimidating, relentless and strangely comical hoodlum, Mugza.

Paka Zwedala is quite beautifully cast as Gumede, the wealthy businessman, who like a shark enters the fray with a bump. It's a quietly powerful performance that embodies Gumede's devious scheming, always plotting a couple of chess moves ahead of his opponent. The emphatic Jerry Mofokeng plays the bar owner Greezy, as yet another spirited and colourful character, adding some experience to an already strong ensemble.

The quickfire editing from Nick Costaros, Chris Letcher's driving urban soundtrack and Thuso Sibisi's snappy script support Zee Ntuli's slick vision for this gritty actioner. From dusty township back streets to the neon lights of downtown Joburg, Tom Marais adds weight, consistency and cinematic flair. We're wrapped up in the charm, wit and chemistry of the characters; entertained by the oily mix of tough action, offbeat comedy and unexpected horror; and fascinated by the snappy Bonnie & Clyde antics of our smooth criminal duo.

The nutty and lovable characters seem to exist in their own Wild West microcosm of South Africa, a law unto themselves. The lack of police presence and some more motivation for the hedonistic and reckless behaviour of our heroes would have added more weight to Hard to Get. Yet, these factors seem a little petty and ungrateful against the film's far-reaching strengths.

Hard to Get relies on subtitles, making the prospect of another Hollywood style remake seem inevitable. It's promising to see such a high-calibre action romance film emerging from South Africa. This is a must-see, the sort of movie that will capture the imagination of budding SA film-makers. It showcases what's possible, harnesses the genre in a fresh way and will contribute to changing the face of South African cinema.

The bottom line: Edgy

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