Valerian Visually Stunning Yet Comes Up Short

Valerian 3 First off, let’s put our cards on the table. French films do NOT play well in America, and French science fiction is a tough ball of wax, especially when it’s based on a little-known (in America) comic book. Not even the powerhouse duo of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg could work their magic back in 2011 with “The Adventures of Tintin” in spite of the fact that Tintin is known all over the world but a virtual unknown in America. Additionally, the French seem to have little knowledge about making sci-fi films—they are too quirky.You can go all the way back to 1902, when Georges Melies made “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” (The Trip To The Moon). Decades later, in 1966, the Eddie Constantine movie “Alphaville” royally flopped in America.

At this point, enter Luc Besson, who in 1997 directed “The Fifth Element”. The redeeming value there was that Milla Jojovich and Bruce Willis were teamed with Gary Oldman in this French-made romp.  Here, Besson wrote and directed Valerian And The City of a Thousand Planets, and has Herbie Hancock, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, and Rihanna for flavour, but overall, this film asks the average American to process too much information.

Valerian 5 The opening starts off well, enhanced by David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in the background and a visually stunning, growing space station as we witness the different astronauts who met here in the past. The story tells us the station got too big, so much so that it became a threat to Earth and was set adrift in open space where it continues to be a roaming example of human technology and meeting place for space races.

Valerian 2 The French expect the viewer to connect all the dots on their own, so there ensues a series of unrelated adventures involving Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and his partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delavigne), a couple of government agents who travel through time and space solving cases—which is the supposed foundation for a future film series with the characters. Think James Bond 500 years in the future, and you have the general idea.

The story loosely follows the history of a planet that was destroyed 30 years before Valerian’s events, involving the giant space station Alpha, and the various aliens who have made it their home.

Valerian 1 The commander on Alpha is not all he appears to be, and eventually gets his come-uppance as a secret hinted at near the movie’s beginning becomes known. Valerian has a desire to marry Laureline, and she appears receptive to the idea, yet that aspect is merely used for comic relief. Rihanna appears as a shape-shifting dancer who also has a secret.

The most expensive independent film ever produced, at well over 100 million Euros, the visual effects and grandeur of this movie are utterly outstanding, but the script gives the impression that three (maybe more) writers actually scrabbled a series of unrelated incidents together into one movie. Yes, there IS a story here, and the nimble-minded can manage to follow it, but a sci-fi “newbie” seeing his first film with Valerian will be turned off for life with the genre. At 2 hours and 17 minutes in length, it appears to go for hours without end and is chock full of action, aliens, weapons, and special effects. Unfortunately, not even Luc Besson had the glue to make this all stick together. I have little expectation of this movie breaking even in America. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if it wound up getting pulled from theatres within weeks.

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Spider-Man Homecoming Pushes All the Right Buttons

Spider Man Homecoming 4 How does “Homecoming” tie up with the current Marvel Cinematic Universe? The film eases into it with a team working on salvaging the damage caused in Avengers Age of Ultron and briefly touching on the new building seen in upstate New York at the end of Captain America: Civil War. Michael Keaton plays Adrian Toomes, whose firm was tasked with the salvage job. He is ordered off the job by Tyne Daly, who heads Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.)’s US Department of Damage Control to recover the alien technology used in the old Avengers Tower.  Unknown to everyone, Toomes and his men have kept some of the parts and debris to build lethal weapons.

Michael Keaton As the story develops, we learn that Stark has been designing upgraded weaponry and a new costume for Peter Parker (Ton Holland) to use as Spider-Man, and his involvement in the Civil War movie was part of an “initiation process” to assess his capabilities. We see Spider-Man being relegated to minor crime fighting and helping people as he foils a bike theft and gives directions to a lady who seems lost.

Spider Man Homecoming 3 A major fly in the ointment is that Toomes is actually super criminal The Vulture, who uses highly advanced mechanical wings to get around. Here is where the action starts as Spider-Man goes one-on-one with the gang after using his friend Ned’s help to disable the suit’s tracking system so that Stark can’t see where he is. This winds up “evolving” the suit’s built-in weaponry, including a “kill protocol” that Peter keeps telling it to abort.

Further complications ensue when during a confrontation on the Staten Island Ferry, the ferry is nearly destroyed by the Vulture and his men, but is saved by Iron Man, who winds up reclaiming the Spider Suit. Peter is romantically (in his mind) involved with a girl who winds up being Toomes’ daughter. Peter decides to tackle the Vulture

Spider Man Homecoming 1 on his own with his old homemade suit and winds up beating him. This leads Stark to reconnect with Peter through his agent Happy (former Marvel movie director Jon Favreau). Stark is impressed by this feat and returns the suit to Peter, setting the scene for the sequel in 2018.

Look for Stan Lee’s cameo near the beginning of the movie, and note that the “Vulture” name is never used in the movie—we fans just know who he was. In the comics, Happy and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) were an item, Pepper leaving Tony for Happy in the stories. Also appearing is Flash, who in the comics was a Parker antagonist who wound up being a friend. The casting of fetching Marisa Tomei as Aunt May got much initial bad press, but she fits into the story very well.

Spider Man Homecoming Poster Spider-Man Homecoming is fairly long at 133 minutes, but there is little in wasted moments as the entire story flows smoothly along, dropping hints about Peter’s origin while deftly setting up new scenarios. I might add that I saw the 3D version of this film, the first 3D movie I’ve seen in over 36 years. It was a wonderful experience, since 3D has matured much in the last few decades.

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47 Metres Down is a One-Trick Pony

47 Metres Dowm 1   In this era of “female empowerment” movies when everything ever done is being recast with women (think Wonder Woman and Ghostbusters), it was only a matter of time before someone got a hold of Jaws and made it female-centric. This is that movie.

Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are two sisters who are secretly in competition with each other.  Lisa’s boyfriend has dumped her, and she thinks going on a vacation with Kate will make everything OK. Lisa is secretly envious of Kate’s rapport with guys and she hopes vacationing in Mexico (here being portrayed by the Dominican Republic) and taking pictures to show her ex will make him jealous and willing to come back to her.

47 Metres Down 4  The fly in the ointment is that the girls meet up with a couple of local Lotharios who convince them that cage diving among sharks is just the ticket.  Lisa almost chickens out twice but finally gets roped into trying the stunt, which they both later regret. They go through a quick “crash course” about their equipment and are lowered into the drink in a cage.

47 Metres Down 3  Soon enough a large shark begins circling the cage while Lisa panics and asks to be raised up and out, which is when the fun begins. The steel wire holding the cage is frayed and weak. It snaps, sending the cage the titular 47 metres down, and the remainder of the film involves the girls’ attempts to reach the surface without becoming fish food. There are several good, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, but you quickly realise that you’ve seen all of this before in films from Jaws to Deep Blue Sea, and it begins to get monotonous.

47 Metres Down 2  The direction is relatively lackluster, and the ending is highly unsatisfactory.  You may usually come out after the movies talking about the film, but you’re more likely to leave 47 Metres Down thinking “what the hell did I just watch?”

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 A   If you’re looking for non-stop, edge-of-your-seat action with a twist, then this is your movie. All the original characters from the first film are back, along with a few “new” ones to enhance the experience. The movie opens in Missouri in 1980, as a young Kurt Russell is romancing a pretty young blonde. He turns out to be the father of Peter Quill, who came to be Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). This is a major reveal as we finally get to meet this previously mysterious figure. There are, however, a few wicked twists to this story.

Fast forward to the present, where Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereign race, has hired the Guardians to protect some valuable batteries from a trans dimensional monster, agreeing to turn Nebula (Karen Gillan) over to Gamora (Zoe Saldana), her sister. Nebula was apprehended for attempting to steal the batteries herself.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 D The dimensional monster is defeated in a scenario both extremely violent and hilarious. Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) manages to steal a few of the batteries, which leads to the Sovereign race sending a fleet of drones to stop them. In the fight that ensues, we see that the Sovereign are a highly technical race who handle the drones like so many video games, yet they lose when a mystery ship helps out. The ship belongs to Ego, who is Quill’s real dad.

A subplot plays out the fact that Yondu (Michael Rooker), who initially captured Peter on Earth when he was just a boy, broke the code of the Ravagers by doing that and is confronted by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), leader of the Ravagers, who exiles Yondu.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 B

The story returns to the Guardians, who crashed on a nearby planet after the drone fight.  Ego takes Quill, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista)  to his world so he can explain everything to Peter. With Ego is the female Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who is an empath alien and “pet” to Ego. She explains that she can know people’s feelings and emotions by touching them.

Turns out that Ego has a few interesting skeletons in his closet that become known as he interacts with his “guests”, and Peter is more of a pawn than a “son”, which leads to a final battle between father and son even more intense than what Star Wars had. In the end, one character dies (I won’t tell you which, but several possibilities manifest themselves). Marvel head honcho Stan Lee makes his “required” cameo in a brief scene with characters known as Watchers, one of the few surprises in this film, which introduce some characters from other Marvel stories and some of the original comic book Guardians.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 C

After the closing credits (which are themselves filled with small funny pictures and “I am Groot” logos which chameleon themselves into credits) there are various short vignettes that set up some angles for the upcoming third installment. Be ready for an 80s TV icon to make an appearance near the end (and it’s NOT Stallone).

Overall, “Guardians Vol. 2” doesn’t disappoint and maintains a hectic pace from beginning to end with crisp action and fight scenes and clever banter between the characters. Rocket, Drax, and Gamora are well “fleshed out” as we find out some little-known things about their feelings for each other.

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Life Is A Gripping Ride

“Life” is a bit of a misnomer because while it does follow life, somewhat, it’s actually a thrilling, even scary ride that doesn’t let up once you’re strapped in. The film opens up on a view of space and a space probe returning from Mars while carrying a sample of Life poster 2

the planet’s soil. What’s especially scary about this s that within the next year, we are actually sending a probe to the Red Planet to do just that. The probe is damaged by small meteorites, so the crew of the International Space Station is tasked with retrieving the probe by using a large mechanical arm, then taking the soil sample in to study it for life signs. It doesn’t go quite as planned but the task is accomplished and the soil sample gets scrutinised. British biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) Finds one microscopic organism in the soil, but an atmospheric accident in the lab causes the organism, named Calvin by school children, to become dormant. Hugh tries to make it

Life pic 2 active again by giving it mild electrical shocks. This has the unwanted effect of rendering Calvin violent, and it crushes Hugh’s hand and escapes into the lab, where it attaches itself to and consumes a lab rat, getting bigger in the process. Engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) enters the lab to retrieve Hugh, bur is himself attacked and killed by Calvin.

Life pic 1

From this point on, “Life” is essentially a remake of “The Blob” in space, but remains  a solid, edge of your seat sci-fi horror film as the ship’s crew gets to become Calvin’s “blue plate special”. It becomes critical when only two members are left—Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the space station’s orbit deteriorates as the two debate the possibility that the reentry may not kill Calvin. Jordan decides that Miranda must use one of the two escape modules and return to Earth as he enters the other module, traps Calvin inside, and directs himself into deep space, saving Earth. All I’ll say is it doesn’t quite turn out as planned in what turns out to be a final shocker in the end.

As I said earlier, considering the timeliness of our exploration of Mars, this becomes an even more frightening film.

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84 Years Later, Kong is Still King

Kong Skull Island 1

In 1933, Merian C. Cooper astounded the world by bringing a fantastic version of Beauty and the Beast to the silver screen. It was the story of a giant ape revered as a God on a remote island where evolution paused millions of years ago and dinosaurs still roamed. It was hailed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, and was brought to life by master technician Willis O’Brien, with help from Marcel Delgado and a young Ray Harryhausen, that last being uncredited, but he used the experience in 1948 to create Mighty Joe Young. But enough history, let’s dissect this story.

William Randa (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) wrangle a senator to fund a mission for his Monarch Corporation, a nebulous entity shrouded in secrecy which is hunting for “large, living monsters”. The mission gets piggybacked with a geologic trip to the area, but not before Randa secures a military escort in the person of Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Col. Preston Packard and his Sky Devils helicopter assault team.

Kong Skull Island 2

It should be noted that this story unfolds shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, and Packard and most of his men are eager for “one more tour of duty” in this adventure, which is laced with 1970s classic rock tunes the audience of a certain age will fondly remember. The target, “Skull Island” is continuously surrounded by violent storms that have kept it hidden for a long time, and has just recently been identified by satellite imagery.

As the helicopters break through the clouds, they disperse and release “helicopter bombs” to assess the geological makeup of the island. This act brings out a titanic gorilla which attacks the helicopters and knocks them all out of the sky. Among the ragtag crew is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an aspiring photojournalist and peace activist looking for that one picture that will make her famous. The soldiers and civilians get separated and try to get back together again. As they roam around they encounter a huge mutant water buffalo. Conrad is a former member of the British Special Forces in Vietnam and a jungle expert, so he’s a natural leader for his group, which winds up at some ancient ruins where they encounter fierce-appearing natives and Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Riley), who has been living on the island since crashing there during World War II. Marlow gives them the lowdown on the native life forms on the island, which include giant spiders and ants (although we never see the ants) and a large snakelike animal with front arms and a bony head which he refers to as “skull crawlers”, a word he just made up because it “sounds scary”.

Kong Skull Island 3

Also present is a species of large cephalopod, which makes a brief appearance as a giant, active sushi bar for Kong. The skull crawlers are definitely the main threat as they are fast and ferocious, and manage to decimate the troops a bit as they amble around. Just as nasty are “ugly birds” of some mutant variety which are actually some sort of pterosaur that account for a few more deaths. Preston wants Kong dead, but Marlow is against the idea because he points out that Kong is basically the only means of protection against the skull crawlers, especially one “big one”. One of the scientists adds to the argument by pointing out that in nature, when one species is wiped out, another steps up to fill in the void.

Kong_Skull_Island_poster  This is NOT your grandfather’s Kong, and parents should be made aware that the scenes of gore and monster violence are very intense, so you may want to consider leaving the kiddies home for this one. The ending of this film is slightly upbeat, but I must confess I didn’t stick around for all the end credits to see how they were going to tie this one up with the Godzilla legend in 2020, so I may have missed a big point. The lush jungle scenery of Hawaii, Vietnam, and Australia give this film a “travelogue” look—at least until the monsters show up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beauty and the Beast Goes Gay

disneys-lefou  Disney will be treating the world to yet another new version of “Beauty and the Beast” shortly but it’s already drawn some unwanted press. In this version, Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad–see photo above), turns out to be gay. Maybe they figured they could push it past parents because it’s a Disney film, but it’s already gotten some backlash. One theatre in Alabama said they will not run this movie because having a gay character in it is an “act against God”.

I’m not sure where they beauty_and_the_beast_2017_poster got this from, but I’m pretty sure this theatre has previously shown movies that were equally or more “offensive” than merely having a gay character in it. The film has a powerful cast that includes Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Kline, and Stanley Tucci. The one scene in question is fleeting as best, as LeFou, who has often thought about being Gaston, wonders if it would be better to kiss him. Surely, this could have been palmed off as a form of “hero worship”, and I’m sure Disney will handle it with applomb and consideration for the kiddies’ sensitivities.

By this time, there is hardly a child who can follow this movie and does NOT have some idea about gays. Maybe  now that the movie industry is out of its seasonal kid movie cycle, and it’s about to bombard us with more adult themes and monsters,with “Kong Skull Island”, “CHiPs”, “Baywatch”, “Life”, and “Alien Covenant”, there will be precious little for thedisneys-lefou-2 kids to see apart from this Disney production, since “Power Rangers” and “Wonder Woman” may fall short of being exactly kid friendly. We could have done much worse than a gay character, and we know Hollywood CAN be funny with homosexuality since we’ve seen “Zorro, the Gay Blade” years ago. This is Disney, for heaven’s sake, but people are always finding hidden sexual innuendos about these films. Remember the clouds “forming the word SEX” in “Lion King”, or the “phallic symbol” on the “Little Mermaid” poster? Now they won’t have to look as hard. Come on, people! Get a life—this is 2017! I think it’s much more important to point out that the character’s name, LeFou, in French, means “the crazy one”. Is Disney trying to subtly pass the idea that to be gay, you must be crazy? I think THAT is the truly serious issue here.

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