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: 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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