Tag Archives: B-



There’s more than a hint of Stanley Donen’s “Charade” in “Lucia, Lucia.” It’s not merely that the plot focuses on a woman who suddenly discovers that her husband was involved in shady dealings of which she had no inkling–though in the present case the realization comes about as a result of his being kidnapped rather than killed. It’s the teasing tone, shifting perceptions with a wink of the cinematic eye, that links the two pictures so closely. But while the earlier film was clearly designed to end up with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in one another’s arms, despite what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles, this one is far more modern in being essentially a feminist fable in which the woman is destined to find her independence through her experience, even though she’s aided and pursued by a love-struck Adonis who’s very much her junior. (The script makes its point much too baldly, in fact, by having the protagonist graduate from writing children’s stories at the beginning to penning a novel at the close. Oh, the symbols that artists choose to show maturity!)

Unhappily, the fact that Lucia (Cecilia Roth) is a writer also encourages writer-director Antonio Serrano, working from Rosa Montero’s novel “The Cannibal’s Daughter,” to structure a good deal of his film through her narration–a crutch that young filmmakers are falling back on with alarming frequency. So it’s not enough that we’re shown Lucia (Cecilia Roth) becoming frantic after her husband’s sudden disappearance in an airport; she tells us about her reactions at length, too–and it’s a procedure that recurs throughout the picture. As it turns out, though, the narration is part of the script’s misdirection, since Lucia admits that she’s an inveterate liar, and pauses occasionally to correct or alter her account. In effect she’s refashioning herself as the tale moves on, changing from a dependent, rather mousy individual to a confident, liberated person. Of course, her slippery concern for the truth calls the entire narrative into question, suggesting that it might be nothing more than an imaginative concoction, the equivalent of one of her works of fiction. That’s either part of the enjoyment of the picture or its fundamental frustration, depending on your point of view. (It’s the same issue at the center of “Swimming Pool.”)

What Lucia relates, in any event, is that her search for her husband she was fortunate to attract the assistance of two strangers: Felix (Carlos Allvarez Novoa), a genteel elderly neighbor with–as it turns out–a radical past and some dark connections, and Adrian (Kuno Becker), an almost impossibly handsome young man who will variously be presented as an impulsive white knight, a smitten suitor, and–in the tradition of “Charade,” again–possibly untrustworthy. The police also become involved after a ransom demand is received, in the person of an inspector (Javier Diaz Duenas) whose actions make him equally suspect; the kidnappers, moreover, claim revolutionary political goals–a fact which leads to further complications and convolutions.

If you analyze it logically, “Lucia, Lucia” doesn’t make much sense, but if you buy into its zany obfuscation, it can be fun. To add to the pizzazz, Serrano uses a wide variety of technical tricks–quick cuts that seamlessly transfer characters ahead in time without apparent edits, swooning pan shots, elaborate split-screens, and the like. There often seems little purpose behind all this visual legerdemain beyond showing off, but it adds to the enjoyment anyway. The performances are extraordinarily helpful, too. Roth makes Lucia a rich figure, and Novoa a charmingly sweet, unpredictable old codger without getting insufferable about it, while Becker is an engaging foil, even if he is far prettier than the woman he romances. The technical credits are uniformly strong.

For the record, the title of Montero’s novel derives from the fact that Lucia’s father, a minor actor, has the nickname of “The Cannibal.” Happily, the decision was made to alter the title, which in its original form would surely have led people to believe this is some sort of weird sequel to “Hannnibal.” Nothing could be further from the truth, thank heaven. “Lucia, Lucia” is a light, glitzy conundrum of a movie with some feminist overtones–a piece of ephemera, to be sure, but a mostly tasty one.


Grade: B-

Some of the first music by John Williams that occurs in “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” in a scene set in a futuristic hospital, is vaguely reminiscent, in its use of jarring strings, of one of the pieces by Gyorgy Ligeti that was used so memorably in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But the sound that Steven Spielberg’s favorite composer has devised is far less dissonant and chilly than that which Stanley Kubrick selected for his 1968 masterpiece: it’s like Ligeti Lite, far safer and less challenging, more listener-friendly. That small fact is characteristic of the entire new enterprise. Kubrick may have optioned the short story on which the picture is based and labored over a script inspired by it for years, and he may have brought the younger director into the project intending to produce it himself, but the sensibility that infuses the finished project is predominantly Spielberg’s: “A.I.” resembles “E.T.” far more than it does “2001” or any other Kubrick film. Simply put, the late director, with his characteristically dark, cerebral, unsentimental vision, could never have made this film. Perhaps it was this realization–Kubrick was, after all, an extremely clear-sighted, pragmatic man as well as a genius–that led him essentially to turn it over to his colleague; after so many years of planning, he may have been reluctant to abandon it but conscious that he wasn’t the right man to attempt it. Because for all its polish and passing nods to the Kubrickian style, “A.I.” is basically a sappy picture, something of which the late master was completely incapable but is a trademark of Spielberg, particularly in his second-rate efforts. Of course, second-rate Spielberg is still better than the best that can be achieved by most directors: a good deal of “A.I.” is striking and memorable, but it’s a distinctly uneven picture whose reach exceeds its grasp.

From the narrative standpoint it’s also a very old-fashioned piece, set in a future where population has to be rigidly controlled because of declining resources and robots have therefore proliferated. A genius inventor, Dr. Hobby (William Hurt) announces his intention to construct a child android which will actually have the ability to love, for placement in households where it’s needed–the right to have children being stringently limited. (This premise, which probably seemed plausible when the original story was written in the 1960s, strikes one as hopelessly outdated today. Surely the drive now would be to use genetic engineering or cloning rather than machines to meet such needs. But one can imagine why Kubrick might have been attracted by the concept, since the young protagonist is a kind of mixture of HAL-9000 and the Star Child of “2001.”) Cut to twenty months later and we find the prototype, David (Joel Haley Osment), introduced into the family of Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards), whose own son is comatose and not expected to recover. The wife initially resists, but eventually succumbs to the tyke’s strange charms, and things seem to be going well until the couple’s son Martin (Jake Thomas) recovers and returns home. This spurs something very like sibling rivalry (and also discloses a societal anti-robot bias), which eventually leads Monica to abandon the inconsolable David to his own devices. The almost-kid then begins a quest to become a real boy, an adventure which links him up with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a male prostitute robot on the run from the law, sees him fall into the clutches of Lord Johnson-Johnson (Brendan Gleeson), a robot-hating bounty hunter with an anti-machine obsession, and eventually brings him to a nearly-submerged New York City, where he hopes to find the “Blue Fairy” that can magically fulfill his wish.

The last point is, of course, is a reference to “Pinocchio,” which is the admitted inspiration for the story (though the third act has a lot of “The Wizard of Oz” in it, too). In any event, without revealing too much about the outcome, we can say that Dr. Hobby and Mother Monica re-enter the plot, and there’s an eventual twist which recalls “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and involves the voice of none other than Ben Kingsley (sounding a lot like Anthony Hopkins), who also narrates the picture.

Spielberg tells this rather manipulative story in his own style but with lots of nods in Kubrick’s direction, too. There are verbal references to the latter’s work (a sign for a place called “Strangelove’s” at one point, for example) and even aural ones (a brief splash of music from “Der Rosenkavalier” is surely a wink at the “Also Sprach Zarathustra” opening of “2001”). But Spielberg also tries to emulate Kubrick’s visual palette in the design of the sets (many of them based on the late director’s own pre-production drawings), and his rhythms in some sequences, especially in the first and second thirds of the picture. Much of this effort, though, seems strained: while the deliberation favored by Kubrick, particularly in the late films, had a coiled intensity that gave the pacing a feeling of inevitability and even a threatening quality, here parts of the picture come across as merely slow. That’s especially true in the third act, which gets increasingly pokey and weepy (and also a trifle creepy in the youngster’s obsessive love for his “mother”). I’d wager that it’s the denouement that Kubrick could never crack, and Spielberg, who wrote the final script himself, hasn’t done so either. The sense of unconvincing uplift that “A.I.” finishes up with isn’t far removed from the similarly bathetic ending to Robert Zemeckis’ piously silly “Contact.”

The result in this instance isn’t nearly as devastating, however, because there are elements in “A.I.” that work extremely well. Spielberg manages some real Kubrickian touches in the first third of the picture, which depicts a home life almost as strange as that in “The Shining,” and in the “Clockwork Orange” passages of part two. And he has in Osment a youngster who’s actually accomplished enough to carry a picture on his own: many of his mechanistic reactions are on the same level that Jeff Bridges achieved in John Carpenter’s “Starman.” Law is good, too, as a character vaguely reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex Delarge. The other performers are disappointing, though. O’Connor is a pallid figure as Monica and Robards no better as her husband, while Gleeson huffs and puffs generically in a poorly-written role and Hurt maintains his customary somnolent mien. Young Jake Thomas is nicely odd as the envious, malicious (but also strangely protective) Martin, but not much is made of his presence. Indeed, next to Osment and Law the “performer” whom most of the audience will remember is a beautifully-realized animated teddy bear who accompanies David on his adventures. As voiced by Jack Angel in a soothing monotone reminiscent of Douglas Rains, he’s a character more engaging than the vast majority of humans on display. (That’s doubtlessly a nod to “2001,” too, where HAL seemed more human than the astronauts he served, as is young David’s name–the same as Keir Dullea’s character, after all). Of course the acting in Kubrick’s films isn’t usually the most memorable thing about them either, but that’s because it was so carefully integrated into the whole, rather than standing out from it, that its excellence wasn’t readily apparent. The same magic doesn’t happen here.

So take “A.I.” as a generous homage of one great filmmaker to another and as a picture which at least, in this summer of empty action flicks and brainless comedies, addresses an interesting if rather obvious question about human nature in a sporadically impressive way. But Stanley Kubrick’s true swansong was the brilliantly dreamlike “Eyes Wide Shut.”