The Films of Luc Besson
Le Dernier Combat
The Big Blue
The Fifth Element (March 10/13)
Loud, long, and overwhelming, The Fifth Element follows futuristic cab driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) as he reluctantly agrees to help protect a mysterious woman (Milla Jovovich's Leeloo) from a wide variety of nefarious forces - including a larger-than-life arms dealer named Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman). Filmmaker Luc Besson has infused The Fifth Element with an unabashedly larger-than-life sensibility that is, at the outset, quite difficult to resist, with the pervasively broad atmosphere perpetuated by the movie's myriad of over-the-top attributes (ie everything, from the set design to the performances to the score, is almost comically broad in its execution). There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which Besson's relentlessly excessive modus operandi becomes exhausting, and it's clear, to an increasingly problematic degree, that very little within Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's screenplay actually works (or is even remotely entertaining/engaging). The Fifth Element's oppressively uninvolving vibe grows more and more palpable as time progresses, with the movie reaching an apex of obnoxiousness in its final stretch - which, in addition to containing a seriously grating performance by Chris Tucker, has been suffused with meaningless wall-to-wall action that ultimately comes off as nothing more than noise. The end result is an unpleasantly overcranked blockbuster that's rarely as fun as Besson has clearly intended, and it's ultimately rather difficult to discern just why the movie has attained any kind of following in the years since its theatrical release.
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
Angel-A (June 5/07)
Beautifully shot and superbly acted, Angel-A overcomes its ruefully uneven first half to eventually become one of the most unusual and flat-out affecting romances to hit theaters in quite some time. The spare storyline - which revolves around the relationship that forms between shifty schlub Andre (Jamel Debbouze) and a leggy blonde (Rie Rasmussen's Angela) - is initially just a little too light-hearted for its own good, as writer/director Luc Besson plays up the comedic exploits of the central characters (ie their efforts to pay off several loan sharks). But there comes a point at which Besson essentially drops the breezy tone - following a fairly substantial mid-movie plot twist - and instead places the emphasis on a surprisingly contemplative and melancholic vibe, with Debbouze's character forced to re-evaluate his shady lifestyle as he starts to fall for Angela. It's during this portion of the film that things really get interesting, and Andre finally becomes the compelling figure that Besson has undoubtedly meant him to be since the outset. Besson's increasingly inventive directorial choices, coupled with Thierry Arbogast's beautiful black-and-white cinematography, infuses Angel-A with a dreamy quality that ultimately proves impossible to resist, while the uplifting conclusion leaves the proceedings on an almost overwhelmingly positive note.
Arthur and the Invisibles
Arthur and the Invisibles purportedly marks filmmaker Luc Besson's final directorial effort, and there's little doubt that the movie is far from the crowning achievement that one might've hoped for. The film mixes live-action and computer-animated footage, and follows precocious adolescent Arthur (Freddie Highmore) as he travels into the magical world of the Minimoys - where he must find his grandfather's hidden treasure in order to save his home from imminent destruction. Though Arthur and the Invisibles' early scenes hold some promise - Besson does a nice job of envisioning Arthur's off-kilter real-life world - the film goes downhill in a hurry once the action shifts to the Minimoys' mystical landscape. Crudely animated and infused with juvenile bits of humor, there's no overlooking the tediousness of this aspect of the movie - which, as it turns out, forms the bulk of the too-long running time. It's cute enough, certainly, and there's little doubt that children will thrill to the Minimoys' colorful antics - yet there's exceedingly little here to hold the interest of even the most patient adult.
Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard
It's clear virtually from the outset that Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard is going to fare about as well as its underwhelming predecessor, as the movie, which admittedly does possess its share of compelling elements, is ultimately undone by its similarly uneven atmosphere and emphasis on juvenile shenanigans. The storyline follows Freddie Highmore's Arthur as he once again journeys into the land of the Minimoys after receiving what he thinks is a distress call, although, as he soon discovers, the message was not sent by his friends down under but rather the feared Maltazard (Lou Reed) - as the evil emperor has hatched a plan to bring his unique brand of villainy to our world. As was the case with Arthur and the Invisibles, Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard fares best in its live action sequences - as filmmaker Luc Besson has infused such moments with an over-the-top panache that compensates for the movie's excessively kid-oriented sensibilities. The watchable vibe persists right up until Arthur is miniaturized and sent to the Minimoys' domain, after which point it does become harder and harder to work up any real interest or enthusiasm in the character's exploits - with the almost unreasonably low-rent computer animation exacerbating the movie's progressively less-than-involving feel. And although some of the character designs and voice performances are admittedly rather striking, Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard peters out significantly as it limps towards its unabashedly open conclusion - as Besson spends far too much time on events of a decidedly insignificant nature (ie Selenia, Arthur's love interest, prepares for the return of her beloved). It is, in the final analysis, impossible not to wonder what continues to draw Besson to this flawed premise, and the series seems highly unlikely to improve in its third (and hopefully final) installment.
3: The War of Two Worlds
A mild improvement over its two predecessors, Arthur 3: The War of Two Worlds follows the title character as he prepares for Maltazard's (Lou Reed) impending invasion in the real world - with the film detailing both the buildup to the battle and, eventually, the battle itself. There's no denying that Arthur 3: The War of Two Worlds, for the most part, comes off as a far more watchable endeavor than both Arthur and the Invisibles and Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard, with filmmaker Luc Besson's decision to limit the action to the above-ground exploits of the various characters playing an instrumental role in the movie's extremely mild success (ie it's hard to downplay the ineffectiveness of the stretches set within the Minimoys' poorly-animated and visually-overwhelming domain within the first two movies). Besson, along with cowriter Céline Garcia, does a nice job of peppering the proceedings with a handful of unapologetically broad vignettes, with the sequence in which a now lifesized Maltazard attempts to pass himself off as a human being standing as one of the more overtly entertaining interludes in the film. The almost impressively over-the-top final half hour - devoted to Maltazard's invasion of Arthur's small town - certainly fits the bill in terms of spectacle, yet, like most other aspects of the movie, there's just nothing terribly (or wholeheartedly) involving about all of this. It is, as such, not surprising to note that Arthur 3: The War of Two Worlds is ultimately unlikely to change the viewer's perception of this middling series, which is a shame, really, as the film does possess a fairly decent number of stirring sequences (ie Arthur engages in a sword fight with a villain aboard a toy train).
The Family (November 7/13)
The Family follows mafia-figure-turned-informant Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) as he and his brood (Michelle Pfeiffer's Maggie, Dianna Agron's Belle, and John D'Leo's Warren) are relocated to the French countryside, with the movie detailing the various characters' less-than-subtle efforts at blending into their new surroundings. It's a decent setup that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by filmmaker Luc Besson, as the director, working from a script cowritten with Michael Caleo, has infused the proceedings with an excessively deliberate pace that's nothing short of disastrous - with the lack of momentum paving the way for a palpably stagnant midsection. The Family's middling atmosphere is exacerbated by an emphasis on segments and sequences of a less-than-engrossing variety, with, for example, Giovanni's ongoing faulty-pipes battle and Belle's wooing of a local boy perpetuating the movie's rough-cut feel (ie it's impossible to wholeheartedly care about any of this). (Not helping matters is Besson and Caleo's decision to stress decidedly lackluster comedic elements, including, most notably, a monumentally stupid scene wherein De Niro's character watches Goodfellas.) And although the film does improve slightly in its action-heavy final stretch (ie it's finally about something), The Family has long-since established itself as a misguided comedy that ultimately stretches its one-note premise to a punishing 111 minutes.
Luc Besson's best movie in almost 10 years, Lucy follows Scarlett Johansson's title character, a young American visiting Taiwan, as she's forced to smuggle a very dangerous drug out of the country by a group of nefarious criminals (led by Min-sik Choi's Mr. Jang) - with the plot kicking into gear after said drug, which has been secreted into Lucy's intestine, leaks and imbues Lucy with extraordinary mind powers. Filmmaker Besson does a superb job of immediately capturing the viewer's interest and attention, as the movie opens with an impressively tense stretch detailing Lucy's initial, very reluctant encounter with the aforementioned criminals - with the film, past that point, morphing into a relentless actioner that's been suffused with memorable and thoroughly engrossing set pieces. Besson's periodic reliance on avant-garde visuals - ie he'll cut to seemingly random nature footage during a high-octane sequence - go a long way towards heightening Lucy's appealingly off-kilter vibe, although it's clear that it's the director's superb handling of the various action beats that ultimately sets the film apart from virtually all of its contemporary genre brethren (ie there is, refreshingly, absolutely no shaky-cam here). Johansson's compelling performance plays a key role in confirming the movie's success, certainly, as the actress steps into the shoes of her increasingly emotionless character to a degree that's nothing short of mesmerizing. By the time the almost insanely unpredictable third act rolls around, Lucy has established itself as an art-house thriller disguised as a mainstream summer blockbuster - which is, to put it mildly, no small feat in this comic-book, superhero-suffused landscape.