The Giver is a mediocre science-fiction tale about a future society that has eliminated crime, war, civil strife, and poverty by also eliminating emotion, free enterprise, most personal freedom, and all memories of human history. It's a wrap-around society in which utopia meets dystopia. The sole exception is The Receiver, a special person chosen to receive all the memories and experiences of the past in order to offer occasional advice to the political leaders. Despite adequate performances by Meryl Streep (the Chief Elder), Jeff Bridges (the aging Receiver), and Brenton Thwaites (the next-generation Receiver), this movie goes downhill fast after the young man discovers his society's secrets. Huge plot holes start appearing, and the climax veers from science fiction into sheer fantasy. Similar films (The Village, 2004) have suffered similar fates; the classic in this genre is Logan's Run (1976).
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Boyhood is a movie unlike any other. Writer/director Richard Linklater (Fast Food Nation, School of Rock, Dazed & Confused) spent 12 years filming the story of a boy growing up to adulthood. No makeup tricks needed here. In 166 minutes, we see the cast of children and adults genuinely grow older before our eyes. Although some documentaries have achieved similar feats, Boyhood is a feature film that required its actors to rendezvous every year to play a few scenes. And it's not just a gimmickthe screenwriting is exceptional, too. Ellar Coltrane stars as the young boy who begins the film at age 7. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are brilliant as his star-crossed parents. The supporting cast, including many child actors, is equal to the challenge. The 12-year story arc dramatizes the difficulties of growing up, of parenting, and of maintaining relationships. It mixes documentary realism with fictional storytelling so successfully that it's almost a new film genre.
Lucy starts with the dubious premise that humans use only 10% of their brains and soon becomes even more dubious as a young woman gradually increases her utilization far beyond that amount. Scarlett Johansson stars as Lucy, the innocent girlfriend of a stupid drug courier. When she accidentally gets involved with Taiwanese drug dealers and overdoses on a freaky new substance, her brain goes hyperactive and develops unbelievable new abilities. Most of them defy any extrapolation of existing abilitiesbut hey, this is a summer action flick, not a science documentary, despite some scenes in which Morgan Freeman plays a brain expert delivering a college lecture. Some people interpret this film as an allegory of female empowerment. But it would serve that role better if Lucy used her new mental skills to outthink her foes instead of overwhelming them with brute-force telekinesis. Nevertheless, it's entertaining if you don't mind the fantasy and some gory violence.
Magic in the Moonlight is an entertaining "Woody Allen movie," which means it's a light romantic comedy that sometimes veers philosophical. Actually, this one is more philosophical than most. It explores the conflict between reason and faith, and it pits the stagecraft of illusionist magic against hopeful belief in the supernatural. Colin Firth plays a famous English magician recruited to debunk a young, attractive psychic (Emma Stone in an equally fine performance). There's some intrigue, and some surprises, but the overall tone is carefully reserved, in keeping with the refined upper-class characters and historical setting (south of France, 1928). As with nearly all Woody Allen movies, this is a skillfully made actor's film that will please his fans.
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