Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Colin Firth
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Lucy”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken,” “The Professional”)

These days, original sci-fi at the movies requires a pretty big buy-in. The stuff with less fantastical elements, like “The Martian” or “Edge of Tomorrow,” tends to satisfy adult audiences with gritty, somewhat-based-in-a-possible-reality plotting, while the more “out there” stuff—think “Jupiter Ascending” or “John Carter”—lands with a thud. That any major studio is still giving money to directors to chase these wild geese into non-profitability is, I suppose, something to applaud, and even though these filmmakers have amazing visions, the fact is that the movies are either achingly bad and/or no one seems to give a shit about them.

As a master of Eurotrash action, Luc Besson is no stranger to ambitious sci-fi. From the delightfully weird “The Fifth Element” from 20 years ago or the godawful “Lucy” from 2014, his movies are at least unique if not always, well, any good. His latest film, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” is clearly a passion project, based on a French-Belgian comic you’ve never heard of called “Valerian et Laureline.” Besson has put together a visually amazing, inventive world—too bad his characters can’t carry the load.

After a prologue featuring the evolution of the International Space Station into an orbiting monstrosity known as Alpha set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” “Valerian” diverts into a dreamy, sun-soaked day-in-the-life of a race of beach-dwelling aliens, who look like albino Na’vi from “Avatar,” wash their faces with pearls, and keep as pets colorful little creatures who eat and reproduce those same pearls. When destruction comes for their world in an intergalactic war they aren’t part of, one of the aliens sends a psychic signal out through the universe, rousing our hero Valerian (a sleepy, Keanu Reeves-sounding Dane DeHaan) from a slumber and some ill-defined almost-sex with his gorgeous partner, Laureline (bland, store-brand Emma Stone substitute Cara Delevingne). They’re both some sort of intergalactic special agents, tasked with stealing some artifacts from a Jabba the Hutt-ish crime lord in an interdimensional flea market and protecting the Commander (Colin Firth) as he tries to figure out just what the heck is going on with a surge of radiation in the core of Alpha.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a wonder of production design and fairly wondrous set pieces—nearly undone entirely by a pair of low-wattage leads and too-frequent diversions into goofy Looney Tunes-style cul de sacs.  The aforementioned heist in the market that spans dimensions—shoppers wander around an empty desert lot wearing goggles and transporter boxes on their hands so they can see and interact with vendors in a parallel dimension—is an amazingly batshit idea that makes me smile just thinking about it, and Besson (as usual) peppers it with weirdo military agents and obnoxious American tourists. But then, at some point, we have to get back to DeHaan and Delevingne and listen to them flatly spar about potentially getting married, despite no clear evidence of chemistry between the two. Later diversions include singer Rihanna as a shape-shifting stripper who helps Valerian rescue Laureline from what might as well be a giant stewpot in a sequence that climaxes with a cartoony eye-cross-only missing tweeting birds—none of which has fuck-all to do with the plot (that feels lifted from “Serenity” anyway). Luc Besson, you madman. If you could focus (and cast better) you’d be a modern-day cinema hero.

Ep. 95 – Logan (spoilers start at 53:52), The Great Wall, A Cure For Wellness, and why can’t WB nail down The Batman?

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody, Jerrod and special guest critic James Roberts review “Logan” (spoilers for the movie start at 53:52, so be wary!), “The Great Wall” and “A Cure For Wellness.” They also wonder just what the hell is going on with Warner Bros. losing yet another director for “The Batman.”

[00:00-14:09] Intro

[14:09-38:56] News: Director Matt Reeves might be walking away from “The Batman,” leaving the movie in disarray

[38:56-1:02:50] Review: “Logan” (spoilers run 53:52-1:02:16)

[1:02:50-1:14:31] “The Great Wall”

[1:14:31-1:24:56] “A Cure For Wellness”

[1:24:56-1:36:07] No Ticket Required: “Manchester by the Sea”

[1:36:07-1:43:41] Wrap up/tease
Click here to download the episode!

Kill Your Darlings

November 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall
Directed by: John Krokidas (debut)
Written by: John Krokidas (debut) and Austin Bunn (debut)

As Beat Generation icon Allen Ginsberg, actor Daniel Radcliffe (“Woman in Black”) continues his pursuit to shed the skin of another iconic character, Harry Potter, who he played on the big screen in eight movies from 2001-2012. While the trendy bifocals don’t help his cause, this is the closest Radcliffe has gotten to helping audiences realize that he, like his fellow “Potter” cast mate Emma Watson (sorry Rupert Grint), can definitely have a flourishing career post-“Potter.” In “Kill Your Darlings,” his portrayal of Ginsberg is effective and the overall film is much more interesting than what James Franco did with the character in the unfocused 2010 niche drama “Howl.” The counter-culture story, however, becomes disarrayed as the picture moves further and further into a true-to-life tale of murder.

Where first-time director and co-writer John Krokidas gets it right is introducing audiences to Ginsberg as he starts out at Columbia University. Scenes where Ginsberg meets the likes of fellow writers including Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) are compelling as we watch what would become the start of the Beat Generation (they call their group “The New Vision”) begins to mold into something substantial. If audiences don’t know much about the era, these specific scenes give you a Hollywoodized version of the story, but each of them build on one another well enough to understand why these young men leaned on each other for support and show what they were trying to accomplish from a literary standpoint during the 1950s.

Where the film begins to lose momentum, however, is during the explanation of the relationship between Carr and the older an infatuated David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), who Carr would ultimately kill in 1944 after Kammerer makes an unwanted sexual advance toward him in Riverside Park in Manhattan. While the murder itself would make a profound impact on all the lives of these groundbreaking writers, everything that leads up to this climax is sloppily tied into the more thought-provoking coming-of-age narrative we still haven’t really had the chance to fully see in anything Beat Generation-related that has recently been made (“Howl,” “On the Road”).

“Kill Your Darlings” makes the best attempt at defining these young men, but there’s no denying that Krokidas and co-writer Austin Bunn’s storytelling is motivated by murder. Sure, it’s the easiest angle to sell, but there’s so much more to the story that comes before that only gets footnote treatment. From a cultural perspective, it is not nearly enough to keep audiences intrigued.