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They just can’t quite carry it.

So I was very in for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. There’s a bunch of reasons, but foremost among them is that I fucking love this kind of whiz bang, go for broke science fiction. Throw me all the weird tech and weirder aliens. I am down for the French comic book sensibilities, especially the ridiculous fashion, and I’ll even put up with the clunkiest dialogue this side of a Syfy Original. This is my kind of movie and if there’s any kind of nested audience for the Valerians of the world, it’s me.

However, this is no Jupiter Ascending situation. It’s safe to say that if you didn’t like that movie, you will loathe this one. In most ways, they are dissimilar, but it’s hard to not be reminded of the slightly more serious but also more coherent and well-plotted Wachowski Sisters’ foray into manic space opera. The same genre DNA gave birth to both films, though Valerian is a direct adaptation of a seminal French comic while for Jupiter, the comic Valerian and Laureline was just one of many influences it wore on its sleeve. Many might also compare this one to the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but I’d caution against that since kicking this movie while its down (it really bombed) to that extent just seems cruel.

If you like imaginative space opera and come for just the visuals, world-building, and literally hundreds of weird and wonderful aliens, you may be able to put aside this movie’s narrative problems and enjoy it. I mostly did. Valerian is dizzyingly ambitious, so it’s tempting to brush aside that it doesn’t really work. And while the story is nothing special, it plays out in an offbeat way and is packed to the brim with worthwhile diversion. There’s hardly a frame in the first half of this movie that won’t light a scifi fan’s mind up. It has that same special quality Jupiter Ascending had where every five minutes, there’s a new idea that you could make a whole movie out of. For example, the concepts and mechanics of Big Market, a virtual bazaar in another dimension, are just a set-piece here, but the whole of the upcoming Ready Player One will deal with somewhat similar ideas. Valerian has imagination to spare but suffers from an overindulgence in its own poorly executed dramatic core, which aggressively sucks, and also fails to trust its own plot enough to avoid a third act recap sequence that, frankly, was where the movie really fell apart for me. I love Luc Besson, even when he makes a bad movie (Lucy) and while I might summarize Valerian as “The 5th Element for kids” and while that might sound good… it’s only really two thirds good. That said, the opening ten minutes are straight up wonderful and honestly worth the whole movie. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ryan Gosling doesn’t star in this movie, he haunts it.

I actually saw The Place Beyond the Pines before the last two movies I reviewed (Evil Dead and Oblivion) but it’s taken me a lot longer to conjure a review. This is partly because I wanted to like this one more than I did. It’s also because, whether it works for you or not, The Place Beyond the Pines is one you have to sit with for a while. It’s thematically dense and takes itself very seriously. It mostly succeeds in expressing its themes effectively and leaving the audience with the semi-melancholy feeling that pervades it. That said, the structure undermines the movie and it seems like they should have presented it for what it is rather than hiding its generational scope behind the promise of its leads doing impressive dramatic work, which they do.

Overall, The Place Beyond the Pines is hampered by the conceits that don’t work. On a deeper level, though, it’s a movie that should connect strongly on the strength of its essential theme: what sons inherit from their fathers, good and bad. I think that The Place Beyond the Pines is probably a more enjoyable experience if you know about the plot and a pretty major character death before actually seeing it. Without this knowledge, the feeling is that Pines is trying to be surprising and it ends up feeling frustrating instead. Because of this, I won’t caution you to avoid spoilers on this movie unless you are just fundamentally against them on principle. With this opening scrawl, I’ve respected that as usual but I will be including spoilers in the main text of the review. Read the rest of this entry »

Look carefully now.

Chronicle is the best-executed superhero origin story yet depicted on film. While some of that is an incidental result of not being hampered by an entrenched fanbase and their expectations, or the demands of a long-established mythology, most of it comes down to plain execution. Not that Chronicle reinvents the wheel. Josh Trank, who makes a serious mark with this film, wisely puts adherence to the found footage gimmick second behind the heavily character-based storytelling. I doubt Chronicle will be remembered as the “found footage superhero flick” and it really shouldn’t be. Some critics are complaining that there are lapses in the use of the device which erode suspension of disbelief but I disagree that this is the case and I also disagree that it even matters. Either way, Chronicle is more the live-action version of Akira that it renders completely unnecessary than it is Cloverfield with flying people. Almost like Trank and screenwriter Max Landis looked at the premise being bandied about for that project and thought, “hey we can do this better without the baggage” and then they went out and did it. I’ll get to the parallels with Akira later, though. Read the rest of this entry »

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