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: The Magnificent Seven

Movie reviews

Hello!

After reviewing a contemporary Western last week (Hell or High Water), today, I turn my attention to the one set in the past – 19th century’s Wild West, to be specific. Let’s discuss The Magnificent Seven.

IMDb summary: Seven gunmen in the old west gradually come together to help a poor  village against savage thieves.

Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, in terms of both the name and the plot, reminds me of a different recent Western from another accomplished director – of course, I’m talking about Tarantino’s The Hateful EightSadly, that awful Adam Sandler movie The Ridiculous Six also sneaks into my mind. What is up with these names, Hollywood?

2016’s The Magnificient Seven is a remake of the 1960s movie with the same (which, in turn, was a remake of a 1954 Japanese picture Seven Samurai – haven’t seen either of them but plan on watching both). Weirdly, it is not getting almost any hate in comparison to the recent Ben-Hur movie, which was also a remake of the 60s classic. Maybe who is involved in front and behind the camera has something to do with it – Seven has a lot more big name talent attached to it than Ben-Hur.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing: story and character development

The Magnificent Seven’s screenplay was written by an interesting duo: Nic Pizzolatto – the creator of True Detective – and Richard Wenk – writer of such mediocre-ish films like The Expendables 2 and The Mechanic and some better flicks, like his previous collaboration with FuquaThe Equalizer (he is writing that film’s sequel as well). Wenk has also penned Jack Reacher: Never Go Back script – that picture is coming out next month.

I quite enjoyed the story they created for this movie. The narrative was a bit by-the-numbers and predictable – Westerns all tend to have a similar plot – but it was executed quite well. The set-up was clear and efficient and the unfolding resolution worked as well. The movie was a bit uneven in that it had some filler material in between the action pieces. Some of that material was interesting, other – less so, but it was worth to sit through because the action sequences were amazing. I also liked the fact that the story had real consequences and not everyone lived happily ever after when it was all said and done.

The character development was also sufficient. I feared that due to a big number of characters, The Magnificent Seven would suffer from the same thing that undercut Suicide Squad’s success, however, I felt that Pizzolatto and Wenk provided all the characters with a lot more moments of personal development than Ayer did for DC anti-heroes. Some characters could have been developed more – there is always room for improvement – but I felt that the things we did get worked better than I expected them too. In general, all the main heroes of the film were not good people but the screenwriters did make them likable and did made believe that these 7 people could bond in a fairly short amount of time.

Denzel Washington’s and Chris Pratt’s characters received the most scenes. Denzel’s character was nicely set-up as the leader and his personal agenda was quite a neat surprise at the end. Pratt’s character’s role as the prankster of the group was cool – his jokes and comic relief helped to ease the tension. The two characters that were the most compelling to me were played by Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee – I liked their comradeship and backstory and I also felt that they had the best dialogues. Hawke’s character’s paranoia and war guilt was really fascinating part of the film, although, his actions at the end (leaving and coming back) were quite predictable, but I guess this type of character arc (fighting one’s inner guilt) has to end in that particular way.  Vincent D’Onofrio’sManuel Garcia-Rulfo’s and Martin Sensmeier’s characters were a bit one-dimensional (the weird outcast, the Mexican, and the Native American) but they did serve their purpose and nicely rounded up the group.

The writing for the main villain of the film was good too – I liked the fact that he was a corrupt businessman, who took the ideas of capitalism a bit too close to heart. The main (and only, really) female character also had a nice story of revenge/righteousness and I especially liked the detail that she was an active member of the fight, not just a damsel in distress.

Directing: visuals and action

Antoine Fuqua is an accomplished director in Hollywood, though he hasn’t made than many films. The Magnificent Seven is his 11th feature film (though other prominent Hollywood directors have made even less – Tarantino have only released 8, while Nolan – 9 pictures, so I guess quality and talent are way more important than quantity when it comes to directing). My favorite Fuqua’s films are King Arthur and Southpaw, while The Magnificent Seven is taking the 3rd spot. I really liked all the action – both the shoot-outs on the ground and on the horses (really want to ride a horse after watching the picture). I admire all the beautiful locations, the wild nature, and the empty valleys. The camera work (cinematography by Mauro Fiore) was excellent too: the close-ups really helped with the suspense, while the long tracking shots of people riding through frames (in color or in the shadow) were neatly used for transition. In addition, I enjoyed how the final stand-off of the film happened in the same place where everything had started – the church and its yard. The religious symbolism was also fitting, especially for the setting of 19th century US. Lastly, the instrumental score (music by James Horner and Simon Franglen) was excellent, while the credits rounded up the film beautifully.

Acting

  • Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm was quite good. This wasn’t his best performance, but he worked well in the role. I liked how his character was introduced – we saw his guns before we saw his face. After working with Fuqua on 3 films already, Washington will re-team with the director for The Equalizer’s sequel – filming is supposed to start next year.
  • Chris Pratt as Josh Farraday was also great – he was really charismatic and pulled off the jokes and the teases nicely. This was his follow-up to the uber successful Jurassic World and he did not disappoint me. I cannot wait for his upcoming films as well – Passengers just debuted its trailer and will be released during Christmas, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will roll into theaters next summer.
  • Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux was amazing too. I liked seeing Hawke, together with Denzel, in a Fuqua movie – reminded me of the Training Day days. Goodnight was kinda the voice of reason/rationality in the group – and Hawke just really knows how to nail this type of role. I’ve seen a lot of his films but my favorite still remains the Before trilogy. He will star in Luc Besson’s Valerian next year.
  • Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne was interesting and weird. The harsh outside look of his character really came into contrast with his inner softness and that squeaky-ish voice. I needed some time to get used to the voice, actually. I enjoyed seeing D’Onofrio in big Hollywood picture and I also think that he deserves to get a lot more prominent roles in mainstream films because he is a very good actor – if you need proof, watch Daredevil.
  • Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez were also great. I liked how one was very calm and collected and the other kinda a hot-head. I am not really familiar with their previous work but would love to see more of them. 
  • Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest was my favorite supporting character/actor. I loved his look and the fact that he had a traditional bow in a gunfight. I would really like to see some more films about/involving Native Americans, any suggestions?
  • Peter Sarsgaard played Bartholomew Bogue – the villain of the film. I liked how both menacing and cowardly he was. The actor also did a very good job of showing his character’s fear with his eyes. Recently, Sarsgaard had roles in films like Blue Jasmine, Pawn Sacrifice, and Black Mass. He will also be in the awards’ contender Jackie later this year.
  • Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen was also really good. I have only seen her in Hardcore Henry, where she didn’t have much to do, so I was pleasantly surprised by her performance in this film. She pulled off her action scenes and the emotional sequences really well and will also star in The Girl on The Train in a few weeks.
  • Matt Bomer (Magic Mike, The Nice Guys) and Luke Grimes (American Sniper, Fifty Shades) also had small roles and did a fine job. In was nice to see Bomer in another flick – don’t know why he doesn’t get more role as he is really good at what he does. Grimes has two Fifty Shades movies coming up but I don’t think that hs character will get much to do in them.

In short, The Magnificent Seven was a well-made and nicely-acted typical Western. It was entertaining and intense and had an amazing and diverse cast. However, the narrative did lack originality.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Magnificent Seven trailer

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Movie review: Southpaw

Movie reviews

Good morning!

I’ve promised to post a review for Southpaw 2 days ago, but I am only posting it now for some reason. Better late than ever, right ? Anyway, let’s start talking about a film already.

Southpaw is the latest Antoine Fuqua’s film, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, and Rachel McAdams. It’s a sports drama distributed by The Weinstein Company. The chairmen of this company – Harvey Weinstein – is known for running very successful Oscar campaigns for the films his company distributes, so Southpaw is expected to get a few nominations as well. And it definitely deserves it! The only thing that might stop this film is its release date. Oscar season usually doesn’t start in summer, but Southpaw is trying to change the game. I hope it succeeds.

IMDb summary: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.

Story

The script for Southpaw has been written by Kurt Sutter. Sutter has worked as a writer, producer, and director on various TV shows (Sons of Anarchy being one of them), but this is his first time writing a screenplay for a motion picture. Southpaw is a story about a down-on-his-luck boxer Billy Hope, who, due to circumstances and his own hot temper and anger, loses everything he has, even, excuse the pun, hope to get back on his feet and onto a right path. I have never been a huge fan of boxing, I’ve never really understood the appeal of this sport, or of any martial arts and combat sport. As a result, I haven’t seen a lot of boxing movies, so Southpaw for me was an interesting, exciting and quite a fresh film. However, since I’m an athlete myself, I have seen a lot of movies about sport and all of them, including Southpaw, have the same cliches, like: finding a new coach who used to train one’s unbeatable opponent, getting the necessary motivation because of some random kid’s story, training not only for the title but to provide for one’s family and so forth. Having said that, even though the film is predictable and the biggest twist is spoiled in the trailer, Southpaw is still a great, but depressing story about a man’s fight for his existence, both in the ring and in the actual ‘real’ life.

Values

Southpaw underlines the importance of family a lot; it especially highlights the father-daughter relationship, which is always a winning theme for me, since my dad is my best friend. Furthermore, friendship and fake friends are also a theme that is touched upon in this movie. In addition, the corporate and commercial side of the sport is also discussed. Lastly, a theme, which is very important to all martial arts movies and real life boxers, of mixing the ring with real life is at the core of Southpaw. Interestingly, while a lot of people (including myself) might think that anger is the driving force in all combat sports, this movie tries to show how the actual technique of fighting, speed, and fast thinking are the skills that help one win the fight. Anger can only get you or others close to you killed or at least badly hurt, both in the ring and in day-to-day life.

This movie also has an interesting structure. The thing that sends Billy Hope’s life into a downwards spiral happens in the first 15 minutes and then the audience is asked to sit through 1.5 hours of slow, almost action-less redemption ark, which isn’t very redeeming at first, and only in the last 15 minutes Billy is actually able to get his life back on track. However, there are things and people that he is not able to get back and that will leave a mark on him for the rest of his life. Some consequences are permanent and that’s the sad true that all people have to deal with.

Directing

Southpaw is directed by Antoine Fuqua, who is probably best known to mainstream audiences for directing 2001’s Training Day, starring Denzel Washington and last year’s The Equalizer, also starring Denzel. I’ve seen both of these films but never have been a big fan of them. Personally, I was introduced to Fuqua in 2004 with the film King Arthur. That movie was one of my favorites during childhood and it still is now. The fight scene over a frozen lake is one of my favorite scenes in movies ever and also, that scene, together with Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers final battle scene, are the things that made me want to try my hand at archery! And now, almost 10 years later, it’s still my hobby. Anyway, sorry for going off track, we are here to talk about Southpaw. The fight scenes in that film are shot brilliantly, you feel like you are in the ring with the boxers and that you are actually the one fighting, The dark, brownish and grayish color palette also represent the mood of the film perfectly.

The next Fuqua’s film – the remake of 1960s Western – The Magnificent Seven – will be released next year and it will have a very esteemed cast. Denzel Washington once again will work with Fuqua after taking a 1-year break, fan favorite Chris Pratt and Boyhood’s Ethan Hawke will provide their services and even KingpinVincent D’Onofrio – will stop by.

Acting

Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope. Gyllenhaal deserves much more credit and attention than he gets. He is an extremely versatile actor, both with his emotions and his body. Do you remember how he looked last year in Nightcrawler and how he looks now in Southpaw? I still don’t know why he didn’t get an Academy Awards nomination last year and I will be extremely pissed off if he doesn’t get one this year. I enjoyed Nightcrawler a lot – never has a film or a character in the film made me feel so uncomfortable. I also liked Jake’s performance in movies like 2007’s Zodiac and 2010’s comedy Love and Other Drugs. I really want to check out his earlier work – Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain – as well.

Rachel McAdams as Maureen Hope. Usually, when an actress creates an iconic role, it’s hard for said actress to break out of that preconceived notion and stereotype. But Rachel McAdams never had this problem. In 2004, she starred in not one, but two cult classics – Mean Girls and The Notebook. Sadly, she hasn’t been able to recreate that year’s success with a wide variety of films – dramas, comedies and action flicks, but 2015 might be the year. Although her role is small and she isn’t on screen much, she kills it. I loved her character because Maureen Hope was the boss of the family and a strong female character that all movies are trying to create nowadays, but only a few of them actually succeed at doing so.

Oona Laurence as Leila Hope was amazing. Definitely, a young talent to watch. She is already pretty well know in a theater circuit for originating the role of Matilda Wormwood in Matilda on Broadway and for being nominated for a Grammy with the cast of Matilda for a soundtrack of that musical. Moreover, Oona has 7 movies (both short and feature-length) coming out this year and she is only 13 years old! Do you feel like you haven’t done anything with your life? Because I certainly am.

Forest Whitaker as Titus Wills was also a great addition to the cast. His character was believable and realistic as well as a great mentor for Billy Hope. The look of the character was also interesting and unique. I am not really familiar with Whitaker’s other films, although I enjoyed his performance in The Butler.

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Jordan Mains was also surprisingly good. I always expect singers-turned-actors to be quite terrible, but Jackson has quite a broad film career, in addition to being a rapper. His look was also on point – those suits were amazing.

Miguel Gomez as Miguel “Magic” Escobar played the opponent of Billy Hope and was okay. His character was the only one, who, at times, seemed like a cartoon version of himself, meaning he was too over the top.

Rita Ora as Maria Escobar. Ora had a small cameo in the film and was really good in it. Previously, she had a small cameo in Furious 6: Rita met Vin Diesel at some event and they just came up with a role for her on a spot. Since then, Ora has been trying to get into Hollywood, but I don’t think she chose a great franchise as a starting point. I, of course, mean the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey, where she plays Grey’s sister. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, what comes out of it.

To sum up, I enjoyed Southpaw immensely and I have never been a fan of boxing. The movie’s plot was full of sport’s movie’s cliches, but amazing directing from Fuqua and strong performances from the whole cast, especially Jake Gyllenhaal, made up for it. I highly advise you to see this film, because I believe it will resurface when the Awards season kicks in.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Southpaw trailer

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Movie review: Boyhood

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since it is officially an Oscar season, let’s review one of the most definite contenders – Boyhood.

Boyhood is a coming of age drama directed and written by Richard Linklater. The movie follows one boy’s life through period of 12 years (from 6 to 18) and it actually took 12 years to make this movie because the director didn’t want to cast different actors for the same character in different ages. So, he enlisted Ellar Coltrane to play the main character Mason Jr., Ethan Hawke to play his father Mason Sr., Patricia Arquette to play his mother Olivia and his own daughter Lorelei Linklater to play the sister of Mason Jr. – Samantha – and followed them for more than a decade.

I really enjoyed Ethan Hawke’s performance, he portrayed a divorced parent perfectly and not just in a bad way. He showed that divorced dads are usually doing the best they can even if it doesn’t work out.

The mother’s character was super annoying to me; I have no idea why she wanted kids in a first place. I guess to give her some higher purpose? Also, she has a terrible taste in man, just saying.

The sister’s character was okay, she didn’t stick out much for me. I also believe that Ellar Coltrane who played the main character could have done a better job. I didn’t like his performance until he was about 12 years old, since that age his acting got much better.

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The movie pretty much dealt with only family issues but there were a lot of them: divorce, abuse in a family, parent’s alcoholism, and child/parent relationship.

It is an amazing experience to see a movie that took such a long time to make; it is a truly unique piece of art. There hasn’t been anything like this before, this was an original experiment and I have to say – a lucky one.  I also loved how they included all the pop culture references and political stuff too.

All in all, the movie was kinda slow, nothing really happened and it was super long (like 3 hours) but I enjoyed seeing this kid grow up before my eyes and as a teenager myself I could relate to some stuff.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys-mbHXyWX4

Rate 3.5/5

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Photos: Google Images