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: Ghost in the Shell

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hollywood’s first big attempt at recreating a beloved anime property has hit theaters, so, let’s discuss it. This is the review of Ghost in the Shell.

To begin with, the 1995’s Ghost in the Shell movie was my introduction into the world of anime as an adult. During childhood, I would sometimes watch Dragon Ball Z after school, however, in later years, I got really into American and British films and TV series, so there wasn’t really enough time for the pop-culture of the Far East. Nowadays, as anime is becoming more and more popular and easily accessible, I’m tasting it bit by bit. What are some shows or pictures I should watch? I really loved the recent film Your Name and would have loved to review it but, sadly, I couldn’t find time to do that.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I thought that the original animated picture was really cool. I liked the visuals and the themes. It had an unexpected, interesting, and exciting ending and a unique soundtrack – nothing that I’ve ever heard before. I have yet to watch the sequels and the TV shows of this franchise or read the original manga but I’ll definitely put them on my infinite list of things to do.

IMDb summary: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

2017’s Ghost in the Shell’s script was written by Jamie Moss (known for writing Street Kings), William Wheeler (wrote Queen of Katwe and contributed to the upcoming The Lego Ninjago Movie), and Ehren Kruger (wrote the last 3 Transformers films). It was inspired by/based on various different elements from the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole rather than just the 1995 movie. The writing for a film was a mixed bag. The narrative, during the first two acts, was pretty basic: the characters were just going from point A to B to C. The story did pick up in the last act and felt way more cohesive but also way more complex and interesting. And yet, for a plot set in such a futuristic world, it had a very traditional and very basic villain – an evil businessman.

Speaking more about the characters, their development was scarce. The supporting cast was just there to serve the story and to fill in space on the screen. The main character did not fair much better either. She was introduced as an individual without the past with only fragments of memories (which turned out to be false). Only in the third act, she and the viewer find out her true background, which was super problematic in itself by being connected to the whitewashing issue.

So, if Major’s real mother was portrayed as Asian, that means that the real Motoko was also an Asian young woman. On the other hand, the shell, built by Hanka Robotics, was that of a white person. So was this the filmmakers’ way of justifying casting Scarlett Johansson? If that’s the case, then it’s a very flimsy explanation. In general, everything in the screenplay appeared as flimsy and inconsistent. It might have worked conceptual, but fell flat in execution.

For example, the picture attempted to tackle big ideas, like humanity, AI, memories, and identity, but the treatment of these ideas was so convoluted and, one again, inconsistent. At the end of the film, Major embraced her identity by saying that her memories do not define her. And yet, she was only able to embrace her identity, when she find out her true past. Practice what you preach! In addition, the fact that Major even began to question her existence came out of nowhere and way too suddenly.

Directing

Ghost in the Shell was directed by Rupert Sanders. This was his only second feature film, the debut being 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which did earn a sequel/prequel for which Sanders did not return. His work on Ghost in the Shell was of mixed quality. I didn’t think that he paced the movie that well, but he did have impeccable visuals, which were both gorgeous to glance at and interesting to analyze further. The whole mise-en-scene did look like it was ripped from animation. If I tried describing it in relation to other live-action films, I’d say it was most similar to Blade Runner’s world with some more color of The Fith Element’s world thrown in. Plus, the opening ‘creation’ sequence reminded me a lot of Westworld (the white liquid) – another great futuristic property.

And yet, while the mise-en-scene was really cool, it had a very much Asian/Japanese flavor. The soundtrack was also very much one from the Far East. Now, this was very good for a film trying to replicate an anime feel but this was not good for a movie who had a multinational cast. I didn’t think that it would take me out of the movie but it did. If they wanted to have the multinational cast, I felt that they should have brought more global elements into the setting as well. But then, the film wouldn’t be Ghost in the Shell, although I didn’t feel that it was Ghost in the Shell now either.

Acting

To discuss the cast of the movie is to get into the issue of whitewashing. I don’t feel too well versed on such a complex issue so I’m just gonna briefly state my opinion.  Since it is a Hollywood remake I didn’t really expect them to cast a Japanese actress in a lead. I also am a fan of Scarlett Johansson so I’m a biased in that I’m happy that she was the one who got the role. Then again, I do feel that the filmmakers should have stayed true the source material and focused more on the creative rather than the financial aspects of the project. Moreover, as I have already mentioned, the discrepancy between an obviously Asian/Japanese setting and a multi-national cast did take me out of the movie.

That last thing – the film’s multi-ethnic supporting cast – is another problem in itself. Was it a step forward, trying to present a multi-cultural/multi-nationalistic world? Or was it a step back and a failed opportunity to showcase Japanese or at least broadly Asian talent in a Western-made picture?

Speaking of the actual actors in this role, Scarlett Johansson was good but I did not think that she made the role totally her own and proved us that she was the only one, who could have played Major. Needless to say, I much prefer her as Black Widow or Lucy. The prominent Japanse actor Takeshi Kitano, who was supposed to be the saving grace of this film, did not have much to do and was basically wasted in the role. Michael Pitt played the most interesting character: I actually wish that the movie would have focused on him. Game of Thrones’s Pilou Asbæk was good and I did like his character’s look, but once again, there wasn’t much for him to do. Lastly, Juliette Binoche – a French art-cinema actress – was also underused in her role.

In short, Ghost in the Shell was an okay movie. If felt uneven, inconsistent, and convoluted. The whitewashing of the main character and the majority of supporting cast did actually ruin a lot of other elements of the film.

Rate: 2,5/5

Trailer: Ghost in the Shell trailer

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Movie review: Interstellar

Movie reviews

Hello!

On Monday, I went to see Interstellar – the newest film by the genius Christopher Nolan and this is going to be my review. Sorry that it comes out 4 days later than it should have – my PC crashed once again. SPOILERS AHEAD.

IMDb Summary: A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to find a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity.

First of all, let’s begin by saying that I knew almost absolutely nothing about the film before going to see it. I have watched the trailer but deliberately didn’t read any of the reviews or articles about it. Only piece of information I had was that this was a Nolan movie and that was enough for me to get excited. Moreover, I enjoyed last year’s Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (you cannot not talk about Gravity when talking about Interstellar; everybody will compare them because they came out so close to each other).  I also wanted to see if McConaissance is continuing and was curious, whether this was Anne Hathaway‘s role that will finally stop all the hate she is getting.

Directing

As I have previously said and you have already probably known if you live on this Earth and go on the Internet regularly, this movie is directed by Christopher Nolan. I called him genius in my introduction because I really admire his work, The Dark Knight is a peak of superhero movies and simply a masterpiece, Inception is a psychological mystical thriller that questions reality and Interstellar is a bit of both.  It has the ability to question people’s existence like Inception and also an emotional impact of The Dark Knight. I really want to watch other, older Nolan movies, like Memento, Following, and Insomnia. He is probably the only director that big studious trust with huge amounts of money (Interstellar has cost $165 million) and a lot of creative freedom. This movie is an original idea in a reboot, sequel and spin-off world. I hope that this Warner Bros-Nolan relationship will continue because it has been working great so far.

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Acting

Matthew McConaughey was amazing in his role as Cooper. The McConaissance continues. I hope he will receive at least an Oscar nomination. While I might think that the whole movie won’t get a Best Picture nomination (more about that later) he definitely deserves another Best Actor nomination and/ or another win (however, the competition is really strong this year – actually, it is getting stronger every year). The reason why I believe he should be nominated is that he sold the emotional connection between the father and daughter. You were really rooting for him to come back to his family. His scenes in space while piloting a ship or crashing one were also really well acted and believable.

Anne Hathaway’s character Brand wasn’t my favorite in the film and you know why? Because she just reminded me so much of Sandra Bullock. They both even look kind of the same. And I didn’t really understand some of her decisions when they were in space, they seemed a bit stupid. Although, her character was right in the end: They should have gone to the third planet because that one was survivable. I love Anne as an actress (even did a whole post about her), but they could have casted someone else instead of her.

INTERSTELLAR

Mackenzie Foy, who you might remember as Renesmee from Twilight saga, was really good in her role as young Murph. She sold the other part of the father- daughter relationship and I believe that she will go far as an actress. Jessica Chaistan who played the adult Murph was also really good; I could believe that Foy could grow up looking someone like Chaistan, so good casting of that role. I wasn’t familiar with Chaistan’s work before but I really want to know more about her and to watch more of her work – she got me hooked.

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Michael Caine wasn’t a particularly likeable character and I didn’t really connect with him much. He wasn’t used enough as in his other recent film – Stonehearst Asylum (review).

TARS voiced by Bill Irwin was such a likeable robot, I loved his humor.

Wes Bentley was quite good in his role as well but, when SPOILER they killed him off,  I wasn’t really surprised. They definitely weren’t planning to kill off Oscar winners or fan boy favorites in the first hour of a 3 hour film.

Murph’s science partner/ love interest (?) was also a so-so character; he kind of appeared out of nowhere two hours into the film. He was played by Topher Grace and, after googling him, I had found out that he was Murph’s husband,.

Cooper’s son played by “the other Affleck” (Casey Affleck) was also an undeveloped character. It seemed that his father forgot all about him or even didn’t care much in the first place.

Matt Damon as Doctor Mann was really good in his role but his intention were unclear to me.

Addressing the longevity of the film, it didn’t seem too long for me because I was really engaged in the story. However, I do believe that the first two hours felt quite disconnected from the final act.

Story

The film tried to connect 2 different plotlines: family drama and astronomy/end of the world crisis. I believe that they really succeed for the bigger part of the film. At first, they started with a family story that quite coincidentally turned into a space odyssey. Then they moved to a science fiction part of the film and exposed the viewers to a tremendous amount of real scientific facts about the universe. But then, the movie kind of lost it for me because it ventured into mystical and supernatural territory. Everybody, who has seen the movie, knows which part I am talking about. While I do love physics and astronomy and believe that people will be able to understand dimensions and space-time as physical elements and will reach huge scientific heights someday, I couldn’t wrap my head around it at that very moment. I had the same problems with Luc Besson’s Lucy with Scarlet Johansson. Do you remember the scene where she is transferring her brain, which is working 100 percent, into a computer? And that computer turns into…. I don’t even know how to describe it. But in both cases, I felt that the ending was too detached, too unrealistic and too unimaginable for a human mind and even a bit illogical. And the concluding idea that love is the most powerful and, moreover, a quantifiable element tried to turn movie back to a family drama storyline but didn’t succeed. It sounds like I am nitpicking the movie but I actually really liked it and I am only thinking how Nolan could have made it even better. I had the same problem with another Nolan movie The Prestige
– the mivie was so grounded and the ending was completely out of the ordinary. Still, it’s a great film that messed my mind up (in a good way.)

I don’t have a favorite scene of the film because there were just so many great ones both visually and story wise; I do have a favorite scientific part of the motion picture – relativity theory. The running of time and different speeds of it fascinate me. I like to imagine that people will learn how to manipulate time and that we will learn how to live forever by travelling to places were time runs slower.

Visuals

The visuals of the space were breathtaking and that flying thought the wormhole scene was one of the most beautiful shot scenes I have ever seen. They also did an amazing job with Earth’s scenes and really established it as a horrible place to live.

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Music

I loved the musical score of the film by Hans Zimmer. It was even more memorable for me than Inception’s dunnnnn (Inception sound effect).

All in all, I had a great time watching this film, though some people didn’t like it as much (it has the lowest score of all Nolan movies on Rotten Tomatoes and critics aren’t super nice – that’s why I think it won’t get a Best Picture nomination). Personally, it appealed to me with the portrayal of unbreakable bond between father and daughter because I have a strong relationship with my dad. It satisfied the nerd side of me with the whole scientific stuff and once again made me believe in humanity and showed that we can go far as a species if we just work hard. I had issues with a few actors but the great performances of McConaughey and Chaistan as well as Foy made up for all the problems. Lastly, while the conclusion of the story was unbelievable and a bit insane, I really do hope that we will find a way to achieve inter-dimensional communication one day.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Interstellar trailer

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Movie review: Lucy

Movie reviews

Hello!

This is yet another Friday movie review and this time it’s a science-fiction thriller Lucy,

Summary: A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

I was extremely happy to finally see a movie about a powerful woman because there was a huge lack of strong female characters on the big screen this summer (except maybe Maleficent with Angelina Jolie who was supposed to play the main character in Lucy as well but dropped out prior filming). And who better to play a super smart, intelligent and powerful woman than Scarlet Johansson a.k.a one of my favorite actresses. Other notable actor in the movie was Morgan Freeman, he was good as always.

I liked the idea of the movie, the interesting plot, the thought behind it. I loved that they have tackled the serious issue of drug abuse and drug smuggling because these problems are very common in today’s world. What is more, I liked the whole effect of these drugs that they enhanced our minds and power – I love scientific stuff like that.

From cinematography point, I loved wide shots of Scarlet’s eyes and all the different pupils as well as shots from inside her body; I enjoyed seeing how the drug works biologically. Plus, that driving scene looked super crazy but really fun too. Also, metaphorical scenes of wild animals and wild life flowed really amazingly with the main story of the movie.

All in all, I would rate the movie 4.5/5. I didn’t give it a solid 5 because the ending was sort of strange to me. That whole travelling through time and space ability kinda reminded me of Doctor Who. However, I liked the fact that the first Lucy and this super Lucy met at the end. 

So remember, knowledge is power which you have to pass on to future generations. Have a great weekend! Bye

Trailer: Lucy trailer

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