Scarlett Johansson kicks ass as the toughest, smartest woman on earth in sci-fi thriller.

French director Luc Besson loves strong women. He’s made a career of female action figures: “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element”, among them. “Lucy” is his most fierce creation to date. And Scarlett Johansson is the perfect choice to play her.

Lucy (we never learn her last name) is a student in Taipei having a 2 week old romance with a shady character when she becomes an unwilling drug mule, carrying a synthetic substance that gives her superhuman powers, expanding her brainpower til it literally blows her mind..

Morgan Freeman is the only academician in the world who fully understands what’s happening to her.

What a fun kick-ass movie! It’s not just what Lucy does with her brain-kicking butt as she pursues the kingpin who did this to her, it’s a visually stylish film. Yeah- there are some holes in the plot- like why does Lucy need to ramp up her brain power to 100% when she can keep the bad Chinese gangsters away with just a wave of her arm??? But that would blow the whole premise of the movie- which is what would happen if we could use 100% of our brains, when we now use just 3 to 5%.

Unlike the 2 hour plus thrillers of the summer, “Lucy” gets it all done in just under 90 minutes , withouit those pesky 3-D glasses !! You don’t even need to use even 1% of your brain power to love “Lucy”.

3 stars

“A Most Wanted Man”

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the anti-007 in his last finished film -a fantastic spy thriller.

It’s a mostly low-key performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a starring role as a German old school spy , based on the 2008 book by 50-year spy-master John Le Carre’.

Poignantly, the Oscar-winning Hoffman gives one of his finest performances in this, his last finished film. It’s a haunting performance, echoing his last days , but the excesses here are work and booze.

At the heart of the story is a tortured half- Chechen, half-Russian who slips into Hamburg to claim his late dad’s fortune. Is he an oppressed victim or a dangerous terrorist? Le Carre keeps us guessing til the end. Like Le Carre’s other films, this is the thinking person’s spy movie, with almost no action til the final, explosive, heartbreaking climax . By the way, look for the author in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it barroom scene.

While the pacing of the 2-hour film may be slow for some, Hoffman’s performance is spellbinding. He totally embodies the German spy at war with other spy agencies. A distractingly black-haired Robin Wright plays a CIA agent. Like Hoffman, Rachel McAdams masters a German accent as a naïve lawyer fighting for asylum for the Chechen-Russian (who is played by A Russian actor who does it all with his eyes). Willem Dafoe, for once not the bad dude, is the German banker who has to decide if the i.d.-less young man can truly claim the massive inheritance.

This post- 911 spy thriller is totally believable , raising important prescient questions. It’s a smart, gritty, tense and ultimately emotional film. It’s one of my favorites of the year.

4 stars

“Magic In The Moonlight”

Woody Allen’s latest is set in the roaring 20’s in the Riviera.

Colin Firth does his Mr. Darcy thing, playing a renowned Chinese illusionist who in real life is a stuffy, smug , condescending Brit named Stanley who, as a sideline, exposes the entertaining frauds of the roaring 20’s: psychics who claim to communicate with the dead. He’s set on exposing a beautiful, young American psychic who has been living with an incredibly wealthy family in the French Riviera.

A luminous Emma Stone is Sophie . She’s bathed in so much light, she practically sparkles . Rather than exposing her, Stanley is mesmerized by her gift and her charms. This being a Woody Allen movie, the issue of their 28 year age difference is never mentioned by either one , much less the observers around them.

In a very small role, Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden plays the momager, not that they called it that back in the 20’s. Fellow Oscar winner Jacki Weaver is the American matriarch who hires Sophie for séances. 80 year old Dame Eileen Atkins plays Stanley’s beloved Aunt Vanessa, who raised him and still gently guides him.

You know from the beginning how this one ends but it’s so much fun to watch. This movie is all Colin Firth. He’s completely unlikeable and sharp-as-a-razor funny. The film is positively gorgeous. From the scenery to the clothes, all washed in a golden light. It’s not be one of Woody Allen’s most important films, like last year’s Oscar-winning “Blue Jasmine” . And it’s no “Annie Hall”. Then again, will there ever be another “Annie Hall”??? But if you’re a Woody Allen fan, you’ll find few complaints with his latest once a year offering. It’s fluff but highly entertaining fluff.

3 stars