The labyrinth

Before long you’re lost and alone.
At first you feel like a forgotten King.
Like a boss on the throne.
Then paranoia sets in.
Where is home? Which way do you go?
Cos maps mean nuthin’ here sunshine.
This situation ain’t divine.
All you’ve now got is fear and time.
Maybe you deserve this?
It’s clear you’re here cos you’re worthless.
Like a broken banger it’s time you were put out of service.
You shiver at this predicament.
Body quivers like a bust lightbulb filament.
To escape this you’ll need to be diligent.
But right now, you’re a picture of innocence.
C’mon, snap out of it, get offensive and militant.
Stay loose for threats and be extra vigilant.
Cos with no way out you’re stuck here a permanent citizen.
And make no mistake, the road home will be tough and won’t pass without incident.
But you’re made from rough stuff.
Cheeky and a little bit impudent.
All you need to break free is some good, hard discipline.

But that’s all to come.
Right now, lost in thought, you’re stood static like a scared little rabbit.
Time to move fast, be rapid, cause havoc.
But, like Medusa, the maze she shifts.
As you focus your gaze she turns and twists.
The effect is odd.
Like an eclipse that plays tricks.
Can’t you climb the walls?
After all, they’re just bricks.
But their surface is like sheer granite glass.
Whoever has you trapped like a rat holds the power, but can it last?
Time you tracked them down.
And attack on two fronts in a tandem blast.
Cos this ain’t a case of mere random chance but a brutal assault.
So you stop, feeling guilty and futile like it’s all your fault.

But now is no time for introspection.
As the maze, she beckons, and you need to teach someone a proper crazy lesson.
In some sort of surgical strike with no phased progression.
Fainting left and right to keep them dazed and guessing.
Bring them the fight, so they’re grazed and tested.
Make them give up ground till they’re enraged and aggressive.
First though, you have to find where they’re hiding.
Sitting scared in their lair is where you find them residing.
Thinking they’re smart but alone with no one to confide in.
Last thing they want is to stop this fighting.
Maybe this is how it ends?
Maybe you can now be friends?
The thought, you think, is kind of exciting.

Evolving monkey

Fat monkey, cheeky monkey.
You’re so funny. Sat there evolving, resolve dissolving.
Dealing with big, scary feelings that make you feel like bolting.
Have you straight up flee, running like hell for the trees.
Like you’re fighting a disease cos your mind’s a maelstrom.
And right now… you’re about to fail, son.
Cos your brain’s a storm of conflict as blood vessels constrict and you deal with these thoughts.
Fight the cause.
Embrace them or drown and get sucked under by unrelenting force.
But be mindful of the way you retrain your brain, naively thinking there’s a get-out clause.

How can you have such little control?
You need to breathe.
Uneasy feelings have you trapped in a bitter hole.
Maybe that’s their goal?
And anyway, why is it you and them?
You’re on the same team, right?
Kindred spirits, brethren.
Least, that’s the theory.
But paper versus practice is incomparable.
A poor man’s test with too many variables.
So you muddle along, saddled with this burden you can’t sell for a song.
Why is your mind so dark? Every thought so wrong.
Maybe you should smoke more and start hittin’ the bong.
Til blue smoke chokes the trees as it floats through jungle leaves before long.

But kicking back like this leaves you open to predators.
Face facts, you’re too wasted to cover your back.
Odds are you’re due a visit from a morbid messenger.
But there’s a glint in your eye, for now isn’t your time.
You’re still evolving and jungle law dictates there’s no room for folding.
Soon you’ll emerge in the morning mists, sun-kissed like a beast from the chiller.
Skin ice cold you’ve clearly evolved.
You’re now a stone-cold silver-backed mountain gorilla.
With feelings firmly faced and abated, now you’re armour plated.
The jungle holds no drama, you’ve fed the flames that bubble in your brain, you’re sated.
You’re monkey version 2.0.
Cheeky, carefree and elated.

Worker bee

You’re a worker bee, when it comes to hard graft you’re far better than me.
Pushing to achieve you leave yourself with barely a second to breathe, you tend to get in too deep, so fast you can’t leave.
Pur-lease you tell others you’re just getting started, while others are smarting you’re sticking your arm out, chancing, taking risks, getting licked and making moves.
Yet whatever you do you tend to stay true… to yourself in your journey to ultimate wealth and riches.
Moving up with your fellows bees you learn to get along, you’re not bitches you’re strong, you learn to please and grease the wheels lest they look at you with unease.
And as you appease and squeeze them for all they are worth you get ahead of the pack and establish your turf.
Yet it hurts, this work, you’re relentless and ruthless, you were always taught it pays not be toothless.
Maybe it’s time you chilled out and listened to some smooth hits? Mellow you out, yeah that’ll work.
But before long you start to go beserk, goddammit you hate to shirk work. Let’s face it though you’re no Captain Kirk, you ain’t no hero.
For the most part you’re nothing but a zero, a flunkey, a worker bee, if someone has to suffer you’re the one that bleeds, you’re the one that takes a hit for the team.
Yet push on you must, it’s a disease that breeds in you like a virus. Maybe it’s something that we all have inside of us?
Most kick up a fuss when asked to go the extra mile but you dial it up, there’s something about work that gets you in the gut.
It’s tough but you’re a worker bee and the thought of that pollen is just too sweet.
To your fellow bees you probably look mean but at the end of the day who doesn’t want to be the one to protect the queen?

Lucy: does Luc Besson need reining in?

I saw Lucy recently – the latest offering from writer-director-producer Luc Besson – in a completely packed cinema. (It was the opening weekend.) What a full cinema indicates at this point is nothing in itself, but I’ll explain more shortly.

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Now I’ve been looking forward to this film for quite some time. I like Besson. Leon is a fantastic film which launched Natalie Portman’s career, The Fifth Element is a lot of fun and gave us the wonderful character Leeloo, Taken reinvigorated Liam Neeson’s career as an aging (and unlikely) action hero, The Transporter franchise turned Jason Statham into an action hero, and so on.

So… Besson has a good track record. In actual fact he’s pretty prolific as a filmmaker: as a writer (56 credits), producer (116 credits) and director (21 credits). That’s some output for a guy in his mid 50s. He’s known for a visually rich style and Wikipedia goes so far as to provide a quote which says Besson is the ‘John Hughes of action movies’. Now for those not in the know, John Hughes pretty much invented the coming-of-age teen movie in the 80s – so this is high praise.

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Having said that, action is an easily criticised genre of film, often said to opt for style over substance. Besson in particular gets this comment directed at him by critics. Some might say he’s the French Michael Bay, but maybe that’s going too far. Either way, this brings me full circle to his latest offering, Lucy. Some of Besson’s best work has focused on strong female characters (and actresses) and, in Scarlett Johansson, he may have found his best muse yet.

The film starts with her character Lucy, a bit of an airhead bimbo, living in Taipei. She gets duped into delivering a briefcase into the hands of a gangster, who then forces her to act as a drug mule by sewing said drugs into her stomach. They find their way into her system slowly unlocking the full capacity of her brain. From there things go awry in the typical way you might expect from an action movie.

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Yet… this feels slightly different.

Rather than the usual action fare where our protagonist’s motives are fairly standard (revenge, redemption, saving loved ones etc), this aims to ask some big questions about the nature of our existence and evolution. Indeed, the film is book-ended by Lucy saying that we were given the gift of life thousands of years ago, and what have we done with it?

Have we really evolved all that much? Are we still animals at heart? What would happen if we could unlock our brain’s true potential? The catalyst, in this case, are the drugs that Lucy ingests, pushing her brain – and the film – into uncharted territory, from action to sci-fi, as her abilities begin to develop to superhero (or superhuman?) levels.

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The more Lucy taps into these abilities the less human she becomes. Her humanity leaves her as she becomes cold, calculating and clear in the path she must take. In this respect Scarlett was the perfect choice for Lucy. She’s had a number of roles throughout her career that explore a sense of loneliness, disconnection and what it means to be human (think Lost in Translation and, more recently, Her and Under the Skin). And she can look almost alien at times; that delicate, doll-like face piercing you with an intelligent and searching gaze, one which demands an immediate response.

But despite her compelling performance and despite Besson aiming to ask some big questions, a lot of what you’ll find in this film is nothing new. It borrows heavily from countless other films. For example, as Lucy’s mental capacity increases from the standard 10% that most of us access, the film is divided into chapters to mark where she is on her journey: 20%, 40% and so on. This put me in mind of Tarantino, the master of the chapter format. Yes Besson makes it work here and it’s a nice touch, but it almost took me out the film because this method, arguably, is so closely linked to Tarantino.

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Besson also cuts the film, particularly in the opening scenes and a montage near the end, with animal procreation and birth scenes which felt, quite frankly, odd and rather jarring. Had the film reel got mixed up with a David Attenborough documentary? Or perhaps with Aronofsky’s take on the theory of creation in his recent film Noah? Either way, he laid the evolution angle on thick.

It’s said by some critics that a good barometer of a film is often audience reaction and, on an opening weekend in a packed cinema sitting near the back, this was fairly easy for me to judge. There were precious little laughs, no gasps, starts, or even much movement. Mostly, from what I could see at any rate, people were sitting there focusing. Taking the tale in, processing it, following the plot. Not immersed, not disinterested. Perhaps more curious than anything else. This could have been the response Besson was going for: as Lucy loses her humanity she looks at the world in a curious way. In this respect he may have wanted the audience to observe the film in the same manner.

Film Title: Lucy

A hugely safe bet as to what cinemagoers said leaving the cinema, in my mind, would have been, ‘Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting.’ Now whether you’re familiar with Besson’s work or not, you’ll have no doubt seen the trailer and expect to see Scarlett Johansson acquire some powers and kick ass. She does do this to a degree, but not in the way you might expect and perhaps not in the way you might like either.

Tonally too, the film is rather odd in places. The reactions that Besson has aimed to elicit from his actors just seemed confusing at times, as if they were unsure on his direction. Or maybe Besson kept using takes that were intended for the cutting room floor?

Perhaps, referring to the title of this blog finally, Besson has got to the point where, a bit like some of his American counterparts, he is simply too powerful. He writes his own films, directs them, produces them, and pretty much does what he wants.

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That’s not to say Lucy is a turkey by any means. There’s good stuff there. It’s a great premise with some smart dialogue in places, Scarlett was brilliantly cast and there were some solid action scenes. Yet, as an entire film, something doesn’t ring true. It doesn’t hang right. It’s uneven in tone and felt rushed in places where Besson should have taken his time and overindulged in areas that could have been skimmed over.

I suspect, though, that this will be a bit of a marmite film. Ultimately, you’ll have to judge it for yourself. It will no doubt make a lot of money – there’s rumour Universal have already approached Besson to do a sequel – yet, critically and from a story and character point of view, it probably doesn’t warrant one.

But go see for yourself. I might have to have a second viewing myself. It seems the kind of film that needs another one to let your mind fully settle on the story.

The evolution of Scarlett Johansson

don-jon-scarlett-johansson-jgl-interview-1085920-TwoByOneIs Scarlett Johansson in danger of becoming the female Johnny Depp? I mean this in a good way. In terms of picking her roles she’s moving away from blockbusters; or at least moving towards slightly more leftfield choices that seem to push her boundaries. Perhaps actively seeking to distance her glamorous image as one of Hollywood’s most attractive actors? (Incidentally, this is something Depp has been doing for years.)

Looking back, Lost In Translation was the film that got me hooked on all things Johansson. Loneliness, connection in a big foreign city. Her performance emphatically spoke to me. There was a beautiful vulnerability and purity to her; something which, I’d argue, she’s managed to hang onto throughout her career.

She’s smart in her choice of directors too, having worked with some of the best out there: Woody Allen three times (Match Point, Scoop and Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Brian de Palma (The Black Dahlia) and Christopher Nolan (The Prestige).

3178940502434e3eadc79f5a87ffAnd she’s mixed things up with up-and-coming indie types, auteurs and wildcard mavericks too: Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation ), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), Spike Jonze (Her) and Jonathan Glazer (Under The Skin, this one out soon, see the trailer below).

The final film I mentioned could represent a real shift in the way in which people view her as an actress. She’s still got the big blockbusters ticking along, but this sort of film could really open the door for her to get stuck into some meaty roles.

Much in the way Matthew McConaughey was typecast as the sexy – and often somewhat shallow – lead for years. Until he had had enough and his McRenaissance began. Will Under The Skin be the same turning point for Johansson? Time will tell.

What I do know is that a fairly leftfield film turned me onto her in the first place so, for me, this type of role is where she should be… And I haven’t even seen it yet.