Commentaries

Friday, July 21, 2017

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS



SO MUCH POTENTIAL

Film Review by Fiore 



VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, heretofore referred to as simply VALERIAN, is a bit of a letdown, considering all the expectations it contained.  First, Director and Writer Luc Besson is returning to space.  He is responsible for one of the most iconic sci-fi films with THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  VALERIAN was compared to THE FIFTH ELEMENT in the film’s pre-release publicity.  VALERIAN boasted an enormous budget and top-notch SFX and camera techs.

In these aspects, VALERIAN does not disappoint.  As a member of the press corps, I saw the film in 3D.  It is spectacular in its visual presentation.  Production Designer Hugues Tissandier and cameraman extraordinaire Thierry Arbogast combine to create an amazing array of aliens, ships and extraterrestrial locales and dimensions.  Visually, VALERIAN is a smorgasbord of lights, colors and sights.

What submarines the film is the script.  While it is based on a popular graphic novel (series of comic books), it moves too slow.  Without the visual effects, VALERIAN could cause drowsiness in its plodding unveiling of plot.  The story, too, offers nothing new.  It is a cookie-cutter template of old fashioned sci-fi tales.  The plot, subplots and plot points are all standard.  The underlying propaganda is anti-military and anti-human.  While these topics are typical for the genre, something a bit more creative should be revealed, especially with this type of budget, which was reported as 197,000,000 Euros.  There are even a few scenes, like the bar scene and the trash heap scene, that are purloined directly from STAR WARS.  

The lead characters are also problematic. Dane DeHaan as the title character and Cara Delevingne as Sergeant Laureline are non-descript. Their acting performances are flat and mundane.  As presented, they both offer performances worthy of a high school production, making none of their dialogue vivacious. 


Let’s take a look at the report card for VALERIAN:

1.1   ACTING = D

1.2   CINEMATOGRAPHY = A

1.3   SOUND/MUSIC = B

1.4   EDITING = C

1.5   LIGHTING = C

1.6   SCRIPT = F

1.7   SFX = A

1.8   ACTION = B


Major Valerian and his partner Sgt. Laureline are not only partners for the federation police, they are also star-crossed lovers.  During a procurement assignment of stolen property, they stumble upon a massive conspiracy involving the military and the genocide of a peaceful planet.  In an effort to prevent war and further genocide, the couple must fight odds to reveal the conspiracy.  
 
Starring with DeHaan and Delevingne are: Clive Owen as Commander Arun Filjitt, the antagonist; Rihanna, who is delicious as the shape-shifting Bubble; and Ethan Hawke, who also shines in a cameo as Jolly the Pimp; Herbie Hancock, seen only on a video screen as the Defense Minister; and Rutger Hauer, who merely delivers a speech as the President of the World State Federation. 

1.9      KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      RETREVAL OF THE CONVERTER
2.      RIHANNA’S SONG AND DANCE


If you enjoy visual extravaganzas, VALERIAN will meet and surpass expectations.  If you’re looking for the visuals to compliment a good story and solid characters, VALERIAN will leave you wanting.  Editor Julien Rey leaves an unnecessary forty minutes in the movie, making the disconnect even more harmful.   

When stars with cameos upstage the main actors, there is a significant problem, and Rihanna, Hawke and Owen all do just that. 

VALERIAN’s conclusion is stale.  After a crescendo of two hours, the climax is predictable and covered with lame sauce.  Besson may have realized his dream of making a celluloid version of his favorite comic, and was bestowed with a nice budget, but this effort isn’t worthy of the anticipation.





Wednesday, July 19, 2017

DUNKIRK



NOLAN BACK IN TOP FORM

Film Review by Fiore 




After INCEPTION, Director and Writer Christopher Nolan spiraled in his filmmaking endeavors.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was only a shadow of THE DARK KNIGHT, and INTERSTELLAR was a non-medical cure for insomnia.  After two missteps, Nolan announced his next project would be DUNKIRK, a WWII story detailing one of the worst Allied defeats.  Eyebrows were raised, both in the artistic and studio realms.  The skeptics now have egg on their faces, as Nolan is back in top form.  DUNKIRK easily surpasses Brad Pitt’s FURY, and is one of the better war films of the last decade.



There is no misstep in DUNKIRK.  While some of Nolan’s steady band of co-conspirators grace the screen, the cast is comprised mainly of newcomers.  His penchant for non-linear story telling is in prime force and the creative cinematography he presented in INCEPTION is present here in the form of aerial dogfights between the British and Nazi pilots.

The battle of DUNKIRK is all but over.  The Germans have a decisive victory and have pushed the British and French armies to the edge of the sea.  The story unfolds as the British are trying desperately to retreat home to England.  As the soldiers wait for boats on the beaches, the Nazis systematically perform scathing runs, slaughtering the defeated.  Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead and Gibson, played by Aneurin Barnard, form a trio with a French soldier, played by Damien Bonnard.  Their main concern is to maneuver their way to an escape boat by any means possible.

The British soldiers are hoping for destroyers and the Royal Air Force for help, but with the fall of DUNKIRK, the British homeland is averse to expending the resources.  The next battle will be on British soil, as Hitler advances and Churchill does not want to risk leaving the homeland with less than full resources.  Instead, what the soldiers receive are a mere three planes for aerial support and an armada of private vessels commissioned by the Royal Navy from private citizens.

Viewers are treated to the exploits of the three pilots, including Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden, and the crew of one of the citizen boats, featuring Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance and Tom Glynn-Carney.  The stories are compelling and reenacted with assurance.

1.1        KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.       GLIDING IN THE PLANE
2.      THE BOMBING OF THE BOAT
3.      TARGET PRACTICE

While Nolan specializes in non-linear storytelling, this time he adds the dimension of perspective.  Often, the same scene is shown, at different times in the movie, from the perspective of a different character.  For example:  When a boat is bombed, we see the event from the perspective of those on the boat, the pilots, and those waiting for rescue.

I joked, going into the press screening, how Nolan would incorporate worlds folding on top of one another into a WWII movie.  He did, quite cleverly, using point-of-view shots from the perspective of the British pilots. Cant camera movements reign supreme, thanks to the work of Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema.  Visual Effects Supervisor Andrew Jackson and SFX Scott Fisher combine their talents for realism and authenticity.  The overall visual construct is exceptionally impressive.  For this reason, DUNKIRK should be seen on the big screen.

Let’s take a look at the report card for DUNKIRK:

1.2   ACTING = A

1.3   CINEMATOGRAPHY = A

1.4   SOUND/MUSIC = B

1.5   EDITING = A

1.6   LIGHTING = B

1.7   SCRIPT = A

1.8   SFX = A

1.9   ACTION = A


DUNKIRK rocks from the opening reel to its conclusion.  The film is filled with tension and action.  While Nolan’s script is noteworthy, certainly the editing expertise of Lee Smith should also be noted.  The film is held to under two hours, with each minute packed with adventure.

DUNKIRK is more than just a good war flick, it’s a good movie.  This is filmmaking at its finest.  Nolan has reclaimed his spot atop the Director-Writer heap in Tinseltown.  Don’t miss this one.  It is worth the price of admission, and numerous awards at year’s end.