Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

July 23, 2017 at 10:50 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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½

Based on a set of French comics that ran from 1967 – 2010, the film focuses on a Flash Gordon-type hero named Valerian and his partner, Laureline. They do amazing things and save the good guys from the bad guys. That’s hardly a revolutionary story line, though it doesn’t need to be. We go to films like this for a lot of reasons but being surprised isn’t typically one of them. However, we do expect to be entertained. And, in a movie so full of spectacle and action, I am sorry to say that I was bored, almost from the first scene to the last. The backbone of any good film is an engaging plot; it draws the audience in, creates the context for everything we see, and defines what’s at stake for the protagonists. But, right from the start, it’s clear that the emphasis is on surface over substance. Whole scenes are unnecessarily convoluted just as an excuse to play with more visuals and the plot as a whole makes virtually no sense. Similarly, the dialogue and character development feel frankly adolescent. Valerian and Laureline are supposed to be falling in love but the actors had no chemistry. In fact, none of them appeared to be trying particularly hard. Dane DeHaan, who played Valerian, is a terrific actor; watch him in “Kill Your Darlings.” But, here, he seemed to be channeling Keanu Reeves, as though Luc Besson thought he was making his own sort of “Matrix.” Besson, who is best known for directing “The Fifth Element,” shows all the subtlety here that he did there, though at least that film was visually arresting at times. Filmed almost entirely against a blue screen (there could not have been more than 3 or 4 actual sets in this whole film) for a whopping $180M, you would think “Valerian” would at least be fun to look at. You would be wrong. The imagery was all too much too often and without a coherent whole. Visuals were created just because they looked good and not because they served a consistent vision of this universe. The film lacked an internally compelling aesthetic. Also, because the characters all lacked depth, it did not matter that the CGI was good. None of their emotions meant anything. I kept thinking about the most recent “Planet of the Apes” and the character of Caesar. He was such a real and complex character that the CGI served to bring him to life. But CGI cannot animate the lifeless. As a tool, it can add new dimensions to film and allow the director/actors/audience to explore core truths in new and compelling ways. Or it can simply be gratuitous overload; visuals for the sake of the fact that you can create them. That’s what we have here. This film is all surface with nothing below a very thin veneer of pretty. Why bother? There are so many other better films to see. I can’t give this film a ∅. I mean, it didn’t offend me. It just felt like an 137 minute waste of time.

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This is the End

June 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Posted in 2013 | 1 Comment
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◊ ◊ ½

I feel like I have to divide this post up into two separate reviews.  The first 30 minutes of the film gets 4 lozenges from me but the rest of the film ends up with one.  So, I give the overall movie a very anemic 2.5.   If nothing else, the movie is a window into the minds of the new generation of young comedians who currently reign in Hollywood, most of whom were on display here.  In a sort of never ending loop of referential humor, they all play themselves at a party at James Franco’s house when the apocalypse arrives.  Of course, not a one of them is raptured and chaos ensues.  This is a brilliant premise and, as I said, the first third of the film had me in tears.  I was particularly enamored of Michael Cera’s ruthless self-portrayal.  However, very quickly, the film whittles down to a handful of people who quickly become irritating and the premise gets old.  After that we are left watching them find new ways to be crude.  Like each generation of comics, these folks are determined to push shock-value to the next level and certainly succeed admirably enough here.  Many of the comics of this generation take a particular pleasure in playing up the repressed homo-eroticism of modern American male relationships (see the brilliant “You are so hot” YouTube videos by Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) but even this got tired and felt like an SNL skit that went on too long.  There were definitely parts throughout the movie that made me laugh, they just got fewer and fewer as it went on.  The overly saccharin ending felt disingenuous and I thought that last great laugh moment fell flat and was all a bit sad.  Too bad.  There was the making of a great skit in there; maybe I should have seen the short film it was based on,  instead.

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