Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Capsule Review

Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets is a fantastical science fiction tale, brought to you by Luc Besson, who has made such films as The Fifth Element, Lucy, and The Professional. Valerian, as I will call it henceforth, is an adaptation of a French comic series, Valerian and Laureline, which ran from 1967 to 2010. I’m unfamiliar with the original material, and this was probably intended to be the start of a new movie series, but despite the amazing visuals and strong base story, it will probably exist alone.

Stone-faced acting and a near total lack of chemistry between the two leads lessens the excitement of the film. It’s sad because this could have been a greater movie.

Standard Review (with minor plot spoilers)

The City of a Thousand Planets came to be when nations of Earth cooperated and created an international space station that everyone contributed to. As time went on, other worlds and species contributed to its growth over time.  This story takes place several hundred years beyond that,  and our story picks up from there.

Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are government agents. They’re tasked with confiscating a contraband device that’s being purchased by less-than-legal citizens.  This turn of events has major repercussions throughout known space, and causes a load of trouble for the City.

Stunning visuals abound, and are not part of this story. Repeated viewings will provide more detail on that front, but it makes for a lush movie experience. So many possibilities there. It’s a good story, regardless of what comes next in this review.

Valerian and Laureline work as a team, and it’s clear from the start that Valerian wants more. Laureline rebuffs him, but he doesn’t give up that easily. Here is the main problem with the film – these two just don’t work together, as a couple. I’m not convinced of the spark, and it’s as if they interact not because they want to, but because they must. Neither actor is very expressive in a way that tells me they like each other. While Cara Delevingne has very expressive eyes and eyebrows, it stops there. She’s like a joyless Christina Ricci, but without the intensity. Dane DeHaan is no better. I almost feel like someone shot their faces up with Botox before shooting the film, and their atonal acting just ruins it.  Yes, they say their lines about their attraction, but I’m not convinced. Not. One. Bit. More than anything else, it ruined my enjoyment of the movie. Rihanna is a scene stealer, but I won’t say more about her role.

As much as it pains me, I cannot recommend the film. If you really want to satisfy your curiosity, by all means, do so, but whatever medium you choose, definitely watch a high definition recording. It’s a very pretty movie.

Dunkirk (2017)

Capsule Review

Dunkirk is a retelling of the incidents surrounding the Allied evacuation of France at Dunkirk in World War II. It is an intense war drama that is less graphic than the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, but just as compelling. There is wartime violence, and it’s rather intimate, and great in its way.

Strongly recommended if you like movies of this type.

Standard Review (with some minor spoilers):

Without going into too much detail, Dunkirk focuses on several soldiers, mostly, all  part of the forces trying to escape France. The Axis powers have encircled them on the land, and there’s no escape, except via the English Channel. You’d think it’d be straightforward, but it’s not such a simple task when there’re several hundred thousand of you!

It’s a bit confusing, at first, but it mostly focuses on several individuals. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) is the naval officer in charge of the evacuation. Cillian Murphy plays a soldier who is rescued at sea. Civilians with boats were asked to surrender their boats, but Mr Brown (Mark Rylance) just leaves England with his boat, and two shipmates to help him. He and his crew more or less form the core of the film. There are a lot of characters to remember, but you don’t really need to, in order to follow the story.

This is a film that’s told Rashomon style, covering some of the same events from different perspectives. It really seems authentic, and there are some nuances that many war films of this type get horribly wrong. The plot’s a bit confusing until you get into the rhythm of the film. You should eventually catch on, though. In an interesting twist, the Axis power soldiers at all. The primary focus is on the British.

I have to comment on how powerful this movie is. It winds you up and practically never gives you a release. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack drives the movie’s tension, which intensifies throughout the movie. It’s a vital component to this excellent war drama. I noticed a couple of people in the audience who were literally on the edge of their seats throughout. After the credits started, I even overheard several guys mansplaining the events around the evacuation of France to their partners and friends. Be prepared for that.

This film is one of the great war films that will probably stand the test of time. I’m probably overstating that, but right now, it’s what I’m feeling.

Spider-man: Homecoming (2017)

Capsule Summary:

Spider-man: Homecoming is yet another restart of the Spider-man movie franchise. It picks up the story of Spider-man from what we saw of him in Captain America: Civil War, and continues from there. What happens next, is, well…interesting.

It’s a fun movie to watch, and has a good story.  I saw it in 2-D, and didn’t miss anything not being 3-D. Definitely recommended.

There is both a mid-credits scene, and a post-credits scene.

Standard Review (contains some spoilers):

Following the events of the first Avengers movie, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) got the job to clean up New York after the Chitauri invasion. Given all the alien technology left behind, he stands to make a lot of money. Just as he starts, the government steps in and kicks him off the job. He realizes that he can still profit, just not legally.

Meanwhile, it’s a few years later, and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has just finished up the superhero fight from Captain America: Civil War. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gave him an upgraded Spider-man suit, and Tony implies that the Avengers will need him soon enough. Peter’s attending a special high school for gifted technology students, and keeps bowing out of his after school obligations, in case Tony calls.

Spider-man stumbles onto a sale of stolen alien technology, has a fight, and later tries to alert Tony that something’s going down. Tony faffs him off, telling him to leave the big deals to the big boys, but Peter is determined. He gets himself right into the middle of it.

They play up Peter’s naivete properly. He wants to do well, and possibly get the invitation to join the Avengers if he succeeds. It’s played for laughs, but that’s not how he sees it. They treat him like the teenager he appears to be, not as someone who could get to the bottom of things.

There’s a lot of action in the movie. It’s ironic that they cast Michael Keaton as the villain, considering he was Batman, and also Birdman in several other movies. He’s played enough comedic roles to know timing, and he has his character down pat. Definite kudos to him.

There’s also a lot of comedy. Peter is still the clumsy and socially awkward teen, and that plays out well. They have some fun at the expense of Captain America (Chris Evans), too.

It’s well worth seeing, and will probably be on my favorite film list of 2017.  Highly recommended!


The Big Sick (2017)

Capsule Summary (basic plot spoilers):

In The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjani stars as himself in a semi-autobiographical story about finding love in Chicago. Zoe Kazan plays Emily, his potential love interest. Problem is that she’s not from Pakistan, but from the U.S.A., which his family would refuse to accept.

It’s not your traditional rom-com, but I will say that yes, there is romance, and that there is comedy, given that Kumail is a standup comedian and he starts dating someone. Where it goes, I won’t say in this section, though the title is a bit of a spoiler.

The Big Sick is an independent film, and that works in its favor. One of the better stories I’ve seen on screen in a while, probably because it’s based on a real one. Definitely recommended!

You may find the trailer here.

Standard Review (contains some spoilers):

Kumail is a standup comedian, hoping to break into the big time. His circle of friends, Mary (Aidy Bryant), CJ (Bo Burnham), and roomate Chris (Kurn Braunohler) are cohorts who are all struggling together, hoping to be booked for bigger and better gigs. To sustain his career, he drives for Uber in the off-hours.

One performance, Kumail is heckled by Emily, a grad student. He flirts with her after the show, and they hook up. They are so serious about not dating that they stay together for a while, but it comes time to meet the parents, and Kumail backs off, because his parents would never approve, and hasn’t even mentioned Emily to them. In fact, his parents Azmat and Sharmeen (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) have been trying to arrange a marriage for him the whole time. Emily rightfully kicks him to the curb.

That would have been the end of that, but Emily gets the flu. Her friends are all studying for finals, so they call Kumail because someone needs to go. Things get worse quickly, and he is forced to call in her out-of-state parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). Emily’s in an induced coma by the time of their arrival, and Beth is well aware of Kumail’s relationship ender. They don’t mesh well.

This is a good look inside familial relationships, and honestly, I can’t recall seeing the inner workings of a Pakistani/Muslim family as much as was shown. As I am a WASP, I will not start raving about how wonderful it was to see the ‘inner sanctum’ of Muslim family life or anything like that, but given that Kumail and his wife wrote the screenplay, I’m going to lean towards saying it’s  what you’d expect about any family, steeped with its own traditions and quirks. One “we’re not so different, you and I” speech promptly avoided.

One of the best parts of the film is the acting. It did not seem like they were reading from a script, so everything felt more natural and fluid, as if it were actually playing out on the screen instead of “being a movie”. The less said about that, the better.

I rather enjoyed it, and I do recommend it very strongly. This may be one of my favourite movies of the year.