Movie review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another birthday movie review! For the past 3 years, I have spent my birthdays at the cinema, always watching a comic book movie. In 2014, it was Guardians of the Galaxy, in 2015 – Ant-Man, and just last year – Suicide Squad. Well, this year, neither DC nor Marvel are releasing films in August, so, I’m branching out and giving a chance to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – a film, based on a French comic book Valerian and Laureline, advertised by the director Luc Besson as ‘the ‘it’ European blockbuster’, that is as good as its Hollywood counterparts.

IMDb summary: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Luc Besson

The French filmmaker, known for 1990s’ classics Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element and that Scarlett Johansson Black Widow addition film – Lucy, both wrote and directed Valerian. Besson was a fan of the comic book by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières growing up but didn’t seriously consider adapting the property until Avatar showed him what can be done with CGI. I, personally, was quite interested in the film as I love the sci-fi genre as well as the previous work of the director. However, I seemed to have been the only one, as Valerian didn’t really click with the critics, nor the audiences. To be fair, even if the audiences liked the movie, no amount of the box office money could have justified the insanely huge budget. The decision to cast financially unproven leads didn’t help the film either.

Writing and Story

The writing for the film was quite a mixed bag. The story itself was actually quite interesting, however, it was way too drawn out. A lot of the plotlines truly felt like an excuse for the CGI team and the director to showcase more of the spectacular effects. If a lot of the scenes of the characters, aimlessly wandering around, would have been cut, the final product would have had a much tighter and more exciting adventure narrative. I didn’t hate the expositional scenes, though. I actually quite liked the silent opening of the film – the establishment of Alpha – and I did appreciate that the characters spelled out the plot points to the audience during the third act because the walking (or running) around scenes made me kinda lose track of the purpose of their journey.

Thematically, the two leads weren’t bad. I enjoyed the fact that the two of them represented different ideas – Valerian was all about the rules, while Laureline was more rebellious. Nevertheless, the character of Valerian bugged me because of how inconsistent he seemed. Although all the promotional booklets that I received prior to this film (one at the cinema and one during the Free Comic Book Day) introduced Valerian as super ambitious and career-driven major, in the picture, he seemed more interested in advancing his relationship with Laureline rather than getting to a higher career level. In truth, the whole romantic aspect of the movie wasn’t fully working for me and seemed a bit pushed.

Directing and Visuals

The visuals have been the most universally praised part of the film and I feel confident in seconding those praises. Valerian looked magnificent – from the character and the location designs to the scope, the CGI was both inventive and of good quality. It didn’t look photo-realistic, but it was a brilliant realization of a vision of fantasy. The sweeping shots of the market at the begging as well as the sequence of Valerian’s chasing the intruders through the Alpha station were two of my favorite parts of the film. The scene with Rihanna – her performance – was too long. Also, I wanted it to have more of the amazing transformations and fewer elements of a strip club-like dance. Lastly, the runtime (which I already mentioned) – Valerian was way way way too long. Honestly, halfway through the film, I could already feel its self-indulgence.

Acting

However unproven this cast was as the box office draws, I still mostly enjoyed them in the roles. I’ve been a fan of Cara Delevigne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) before she started acting and I always believed that she had a natural kind of charisma that shines through her acting. That might be because a lot of the characters are extensions of herself (rebellious, charming, and beautiful). Even though I think she is quite charismatic on her own, her chemistry with the co-star Dane DeHaan was not to be found. On his own, DeHaan hasn’t really blown me away as of yet and I still feel the same after Valerian. He was bearable in the role and I doubt that his career will get much of a boost. More importantly, if his box office numbers don’t improve, he might not get another chance. He might actually be better off sticking with smaller dramas than big actioners. 

The involvement of more serious, indie and niche actors, like Clive OwenEthan Hawke (Boyhood), and Sam Spruell (Sand Castle) was supposed to give this movie more gravitas, but I’m not entirely sure that that plan worked. These serious actors did seem a bit like caricatures of themselves, acting with all that green screen. Rihanna (Battleship, soon Ocean’s Eight) was fine in the brief cameo performance. (Fun fact: I saw her live at a concert almost exactly a year ago). However, her appearance in the film should have been played up way more – that might have been the only saying grace of this movie’s ad campaign. Speaking about the things that still might save this film – that’s Chinese audiences and the Chinese star Kris Wu, who has a small yet stereotypically crucial (plot-wise) role in the film. He made his Hollywood debut just earlier this year, in XXX: Return of Xander Cage

In short, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a grand and gorgeous film, with a runtime (and story) that’s even longer than the film’s name.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer:  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets trailer 

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Movie review: Suicide Squad

Movie reviews

Hi!

In 2014, on my birthday, I went to the Guardians of the Galaxy premiere. A year later, I celebrated my entry into adulthood (18th birthday) with Ant-Man. Well, today, I’m continuing this tradition and watching a comic book movie – Suicide Squad – on/around my birthday.

The majority of my knowledge about the actual Task Force X comes from the TV series Arrow. I was really disappointed when WB stop allowing Suicide Squad characters to be featured in the Arrowverse because they were making a movie, so all of these iconic characters were killed off like Red Shirts. If you want something to watch to prepare yourself for the film, I suggest Batman: Assault on Arkham animated movie and the Mad Love episode of the Batman TV series. Also, Gotham TV show has a few nice moments involving these characters. Lastly, I’ve read a few issues of the Suicide Squad comics but definitely would love to read some more, so leave your suggestions in the comments.

IMDb summary: A secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency.

The reviews, that have been coming in, have been pretty terrible and made me actually terrified to see the film because I desperately wanted it to be good. Sadly, I think we have another BvS situation on our hands. I didn’t hate Batman v Superman when I first saw it but had a lot of problems with it. Since I loved the concept of that film so much I didn’t want to give up on it, so I watched the Ultimate Edition and absolutely loved it. Suicide Squad feels like a BvS theatrical version – it is missing a ton of stuff that has been cut, including a lot of scenes showed in the trailers, so we will probably see another version of this film released in a near future.

David Ayer

David Ayer has only directed 5 feature-length pictures before he undertook the Suicide Squad project. For the most part, his films have been both critically and commercially successful, except the flop of Sabotage. Nevertheless, Ayer has shown that he can create intense action sequences in limited spaces (Fury and End of Watch). He has also demonstrated his writing skills – just listen to the Training Day’s dialogue – it’s snappy, funny and has a message. Until now, Ayer has made small-scale, more intimate, character-driven films (e.g. Fury – a group of soldiers stuck in a tank, End of Watch – 2 police officers in a car). Suicide Squad is his biggest film to date both cast-wise, story-wise, and budget-wise.

Sadly, I really think that David Ayer should have brought in an additional screenwriter or a co-director because I believe that he bit off more than he could chew. The actual writing on the film was fine but its execution and presentation on screen lacked quality. Moreover, the editing was all over the place again, like with the Batman v Superman.

SPOILER ALERT

The characters

The picture had way too many characters and didn’t give all of them enough of backstory or if it did give the characters some development, it did it in a rushed and really tacked-on way. Deadshot and Harley received the majority of development – Waller just basically told the viewer about them and there were also a few montages of flashbacks. The same happened with Rick Flag and June Moone, the only difference was that they received even less of any actual development. Captain’s Boomerang’s and Killer Croc’s backstories were mostly skipped. Slipknot was only there to be killed off, so no one even bothered to introduce him in any interesting way. Katana felt like an after-thought and didn’t have anything significant to do either, but at least she wasn’t an actual member of the squad, so at least that allowed her to stand out. The only character, whose development seemed to be organic and came out of the story, was El Diablo – he had an emotional monolog in the middle of the story.  I was also surprised by how quickly the Squad became friends or maybe they were just acting that way?

We also had two cameos: Batman appeared in Deadshot’s and Harley’s backstories, while The Flash – in Captain Boomerang’s. The Joker was also in a film – I really liked him as an updated modern gangsta, with a great fashion sense and a lot of sex appeal – and felt that he had a place in Harley’s backstory. However, his appearance in the present day was so-so. He showed up, did some stuff and went away again. And then popped up at the end, again. Didn’t make much sense.

I think that the main character of the Suicide Squad film was probably Amanda Waller – she had the most scenes and an actual place in the plot. The picture also had another soldier character, played by a sort-of well-known actor, but, given that that character’s part in the narrative was minimal, I think the role could have been played by anyone.

I was kinda worried that the movie wouldn’t be able to handle all of its characters, but really hoped that it would find a way to do it, but, sadly, my worries came true. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Harley’s and Joker’s scenes, I loved Rick’s and June’s scenes, I liked seeing Deadshot with his daughter – all of these elements were brilliant separately, but their organization and the way they were put together was just off. The whole first act felt like a big rushed montage, consisting of non-related 10 seconds long scenes, that was just cramming information left and right, without having any cohesion or flow.

So, let’s talk more about those character moments I liked:

Firstly, Joker’s and Harley’s relationship – I loved how it was changed during its transition from the comics to the big screen. Yes, their relationship was still abusive, obsessive and just plain crazy. But, it was not longer one sided – Joker actually seemed to care about Harley, as he should, since he was the one who made her crazy. I loved their moment in the helicopter but, unfortunately, it was cut short. The subtle hints at a possible Harley’s, Joker’s and Deadshot’s love triangle were also there. I would actually love to see this idea portrayed on the big screen. I usually hate love triangles in films because they tend to be extremely cliche, however, when the people involved in the love triangle are a nutjob, a crazy former psychiatrist and a criminal who can’t miss – I’m on board.

Secondly, June Moone’s and Rick Flag’s relationship was nice and I also liked the fact that, when June turned into Enchantress, who became the big bad of the film, at least one member of the squad had personal reasons to go after her/the villain. This made the final fight more emotional. However, Enchantress’s brother seemed like a weird addition. I don’t really know how I feel about him. He did look very cool visually (Enchantress also looked magnificent) but he kinda appeared out of nowhere. Is he a character from the comic books or an original creation?

Thirdly, I loved the back and forth between Deadshot and Rick Flag. Their inside competition and moments of one-liners were extremely entertaining. Captain Boomerang was also a nice addition because his comic relief was on-point.

Finally, I loved that almost all the characters’ reason to fight was their loved ones: Harley had Joker, Deadshot – his daughter, Rick – June, Katana – her husband, and El Diablo – his dead family

The narrative

The actual ‘quest’ of the movie or the mission that the Suicide Squad had to complete was fine. It wasn’t the most inventive but it did kinda work. However, I didn’t understand while the villain had to use a beam of light to destroy the world AGAIN. I just complained about this in my Ghostbusters review.

The visuals and the action

The action of the picture was fine – there were some nice sequences in the 2nd act and the final fight was cool looking, but there wasn’t anything special. I don’t feel like I have to go see the film again just because that one part was amazing. Also, in addition to investigating the editing choices and their negative effects on the story, I question some of the editing arrangements purely from a visual perspective. The slow-motion to fast-motion thing was fine in a few scenes, but got boring real quick. The color filter was also an interesting choice that didn’t necessarily work .

The character costumes were nice. I loved the look of Enchantress, as I’ve said. Her transition shot with the hand as well as that mirror shot were amazing.  The ‘money shot’ where the whole Squad was walking in the street at the end of the second act was also cool. The bar scene was nice and emotional, although it was missing a few intro shots that we’ve seen in the trailer. The darker tone also worked for the benefit of the film because it was paired with humor.

Lastly, I saw the movie in 3D – it was the first film I saw in 3D in a long time – and didn’t think that it added anything. I never was a fan of 3D, always felt that it was a financial gimmick. Are any of you fans of 3D? Can you recommend me a film that has to be watched with 3D because this effect makes it better?

The music

Suicide Squad’s soundtrack was created by Steven Price (Fury, Gravity). All of the song choices were nice but I don’t think that, on the whole, this collection of songs worked as a soundtrack. In some scenes, the music really added something special, in others – it was just distracting. I feel like they tried to make the soundtrack of the film  a character in its own right, similarly to what Guardians of the Galaxy did. However, I think that the music in Guardians was used more subtly and it at least fit the theme, while Suicide Squad’s songs were from all over the place.

The mid-credits scene

Suicide Squad had one mid-credits scene that involved Bruce Wayne, obtaining information from Waller. This was a nice Justice League set-up: now we know how Batman will able to find other meta-humans. We can see him doing just that in the first trailer for the feature, released during comic-con.

Acting

The whoel cast did a good job portraying their characters. Viola Davis (The Help) slay-ed the role of Amanda Waller. Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness, Focus, Concussion) was Deadshot – a badass with a heart of gold underneath the mask of a villain. Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Focus, Legend of Tarzan) was Harley Quinn – the crazy, funny but intelligent psychatrist/psychopath. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club, Requiem for a Dream, Mr. Nobody) was a great Joker. It took me a second to get used to him, but now I really want to see more of him as the character. There probably isn’t another actor like Leto. He just completely loses himself in the role and tranfroms both physically and psychologically or at least performs in that way.

Joel Kinnaman (Child 44) was also great as Rick Flag. I didn’t know anything about the actor before, so didn’t really know what to expect, but he blew me away. Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, upcoming Valerian) also worked as Enchantress. While she isn’t the most experienced actress, I can see why they cast her for this role – Enchantress’s had to be portrayed through bodily movements and eyes and that’s what models do every day in their field of work. Jai Courtney (Divergent, Terminator Genisys) as Captain Boomerang was amazing. This is the best work I’ve seen from Courtney. Jay Hernandez (upcoming Bad Moms) as El Diablo and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Trumbo) as Killer Croc were both really good too. I liked Hernandez’s performance in that emotional scene and Akinnuoye-Agbaje did a fine job acting through all that makeup and face paint. Scott Eastwood (Fury, The Longest Ride, upcoming Snowden and Fast 8) was also fine in the pictue – he didn’t have much to do but did okay with what he was given.

In short, I was a bit disappointed by Suicide Squad. Maybe it is my fault – I had too high expectations. I wanted to love this picture completely but couldn’t not notice its flaws. I did love the characters, I liked the story, I appreciated the action and some of the music. However, the way that this whole movie was put together a.k.a edited flabbergasted me – it was missing a lot of connective tissue and a few montages definitely could have been changed into more organic storytelling methods.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Suicide Squad trailer

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Anna Karenina: the book + the movie

Movie reviews

Good morning!

Welcome to my first ever book v. movie comparison!

Yesterday I’ve finally finished Anna Karenina by XIX century Russian author Leo Tolstoy. This famous novel has been on my radar for a very long time but only last week I actually found time to read it. (My spring break was last week – the week before Easter). As a fan of classical novels and as a history lover, I’ve really enjoyed the book. Prior to reading it, I had no experience with any Russian authors and was kinda bias towards them but Tolstoy’s work completely changed my point of view. Also, despite the fact that I’ve been studying Russian language for quite some time now, I’m still rubbish at it, so I chose to read the book in English instead, though I prefer reading books in their original languages.

The same night, I’ve finished the book, I’ve watched the movie adaptation of it – I chose the newest version – Joe Wright’s 2012 adaptation with Keira Knightley, Jude Law , Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen, Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson. I believe that the film did justice to Leo Tolstoy’s story and I’m going to explain why I think that.

The director took an interesting approach on the setting of the film. Wright’s choice to portray the story as a theater production was innovative and modern but, at the same time, maintained the feeling of the original material: the posh-ness, the splendor, and the artsy-ness. To my mind, Tolstoy’s characters were very dramatic and sensitive, sometimes even too sensitive. By turning these characters into theater production’s actors, director allowed them to be over-the-top, permitted them to over-react to anything and overanalyze everything. Also, the novel Anna Karenina is extremely long, so I applaud Wright’s ability to tell this complex and lengthy story in 2 hours.  Plus, because all the scenes were set in a theater, they were all shortened but remained true at their core. Moreover, by shortening all of them, the director did not need to cut something out and I always appreciate when book-to-movie adaptations include as much details as they can . (However, in the film one character didn’t attempt suicide as he did in the book and they really compressed the second part of the book into the last 30 minutes of the motion picture). Lastly, the transitions from scene to scene were splendid and flawless.

The visual appeal of the film is unbelievable: the costumes, the hair and the make-up were amazing, the sets – breathtaking and both magical and realistic at the same time. I loved the musical score too! All the actors were perfect in their roles. The dialogue was also really witty and smart. I liked that they cut out all the political discussions: they are interesting to read but not as fun to listen to. (Also, in order to understand some arguments, I usually had to reread those political discussions a few times and you can’t do that in the film).

A few of my favorite scenes:

Both in the book and in the film: Kitty and Levin playing with blocks (if I remember correctly, they used chalk in the book – either way, I loved both versions).

In the book: the first meeting of Anna and Vronsky and the accidental encounter at the train station.

In the film: the ball, the dancing and especially Vronsky/Anna dance.

Both the book and the film explored the themes of society and its judgement if you break certain rules. It also touched on the differences between men’s and women’s rights. In addition, Anna Karenina focuses a lot on the question of adultery and the differences between genders in that aspect. It seems that women are usually the victims: Dolly was the true victim, Betsy – not so much – she could fool around and get away with it while Anna was a completely different story – her circumstances worked against her. Speaking about the men of the book: Stiva was playing with fire and remained unburnt while Vronsky got an unhappy ending. What I’m trying to stay is that, although at first glance it looks like the woman is always the victim, that is not the case sometimes.

Love is another themes explored in this story. To my mind, the story has this nice contrast between its characters: Kitty and Levin were complete opposite of Anna and Vronsky. While one symbolizes the pureness and sensuality of love, the other portrays the passion and the desires. And I, personally, cannot pick one or the other…There is no reason for love…one cannot explain the causes of it…one can just feel it. Additionally, love and jealousy are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exists without the other. This kind of portrayal of love was humane and, though I love fairy-tales (proof), a realistic approach to love is also pleasing and refreshing.

To sum up, despite the fact that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters on any level both in the book and in the movie, I was still mesmerized and completely taken by them. The book broke my heart but the movie just shattered it to pieces completely. From now, both the film and the movie are on my favorite lists and this doomed from the start love story – always on my mind. I only wish that they would make another movie and would focus more on Kitty and Levin this time.

Rate: 5/5 – both the book and the film

Trailer: Anna Karenina (2012)

Next on my reading list – The Perks of being a Wallflower.      

Collection: Magazines

Beauty&Fashion

Hi!

I have previously shared my nail polish collection and posters/quotes collections with you. This time, I will show you my magazine collection and boy; I do have a lot of magazines.

My collection consist of 71+ magazines, most of them are fashion and art journals, but there are also a few lifestyle ones. If you look closely, you might find couple of political magazines as well.

Lithuanian magazines:

Cosmopolitan Lithuanian version – I usually buy these if a celebrity I like is on the cover.

L’OFFICIEL – a Lithuanian version of a popular French fashion magazine – I get them cheaply at a book fair in spring. Of course, they are a couple of months old, but I get all the latest fashion news from other sources, so it’s nice to flip through them even if they are out of date.

MADA (Fashion) magazine – well, these magazines should belong in a museum, because they are from 2007-2009. They were the predecessors of L’OFFICIEL magazine in my country. My old school’s library actually gifted them to me for volunteering there.

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American magazines:

Teen Vogue – about two years ago, my aunt gifted me the subscription of this magazine and I have been a loyal subscribed for 2 whole years and I am currently waiting for the first issue of my third year as a subscriber.

Seventeen – the same story as with Teen Vogue. However, I grew out of this magazine (and I only turned 17 like two months ago); it repeats a lot of the same themes and features the same stars on the cover.

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  1. British magazines:

VOGUE UK – the first issue of Vogue was actually a gift from my friends for my 15th birthday because, back then, my biggest dream was to work in that magazine and one day I wished to become the editor-in-chief of it. Good old days when I knew what I wanted to do.

ELLE UK and Harper’s Bazaar UK and InStyle UK– I buy them if I am interested in the life and work of the celebrity who is on the cover. As you can see, I love Jennifer Lawrence, Amanda Seyfried, Candice Swanepoel and Emilia Clarke.

Glamour UK – I pick this one the same way I pick Elle or InStyle. However, I really enjoy the articles which they publish and how you can always relate to the problems which are discussed.

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  1. Miscellaneous magazines: I haven’t taken a photo of them because they are just so random.

Between them, you might find a STAR magazine from 2005 (found it at a flea market and picked it as a joke), special collector’s issue of People’s magazine featuring One Direction (a friend brought this magazine from South Korea). The last interesting item is Citizen Today magazine about politics, economics and health care – don’t even ask me where I got it.

I hope you liked this little glimpse in one of few of my obsessions. Teen Vogue is definitely my favorite fashion magazine because it’s the most age appropriate for me.  When I need fashion advice, I always open it and find an inspiration to dress the way I like. For a quick life cheat – Glamour gives the best solutions and brings a smile to my face. Have a great week! Bye!