Valerian Review

Today I had the chance to see Luc Besson’s new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It is an epic scifi fantasy film and I really enjoyed it. I’ve read other reviews with all kinds of criticisms and for whatever reason most of those critiques just didn’t bother me. I was thoroughly entertained while watching this film.

As you can probably tell from the trailer, the greatest strength of Valerian is the amazing visuals. Besson has created not only one beautiful world like they do in a movie like Avatar but he has created dozens of worlds and they are all beautiful. I was dazzled by the visuals in this movie. The pacing is also really strong as it clips along from one scene to another it doesn’t give you much time to focus on the problems.I particularly loved a sequence where there is a hologram market that is mixed in with a beach. The team is trying to hunt down an artifact and it switches between the hologram and regular world in very creative ways.

I wouldn’t say the story is the greatest thing ever but I found it unpredictable and fresh. Some have complained about the script but I thought it was fine. Some have complained about the acting but I thought it was fine. Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan have good chemistry and I thought they worked playing these investigators.

Rihanna has a brief but moving role as a exotic dancer/immigrant character. The visuals in her dance number were great and then she has to play off some emotion and I thought that worked.

I think what saves Valerian besides the visuals is it never takes itself too seriously. I am one of few who defended Jupiter Ascending but it definitely took itself too seriously at times. This film knows it is a light hearted lark through space and it owns that. I watched it with a big smile on my face from beginning to end.

It’s not a perfect film but none of the flaws stopped me from enjoying the film and having a great time. It’s not confusing like Warcraft or plodding like Independence Day Resurgence. It’s just a fun, scifi movie where we get to investigate a mystery in crazy places.

People love complaining about a lack of originality in Hollywood. Well, here is the chance to support something that is new, fresh and extremely creative. You might not enjoy it like I did but I think you will be glad you took a chance on something new. I am sure glad I did! I can picture this film becoming a bit of a cult classic but don’t wait for that. See it now!

Overall Grade- B+

As far as content there is a stripper scene and some mild violence but it is pretty tame.

Blindspot 2: Tron Review

So I was going to review the anime classic Ghost in the Shell for my February Blindspot pick but I started it and it had too much nudity for me to be comfortable with.  So, as a replacement I decided to watch the Disney sci-fi classic Tron.

The Blindspot project is where we watch and review a classic film we have never seen before.  I had never seen Tron before tonight but had heard how great it was from many people.  Now that I’ve seen it I can see why they like it so much.  It’s a thoroughly unique, creative, entertaining sci-fi film.

tronTron was made in 1982 and it’s pretty amazing when you think of the visuals involved.  Just as a point of comparison, Pixar made their first short, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B in 1984, and that is about a minute and a half.  This is a whole movie made 2 years earlier heaped full of visual effects both real and computerized.  It’s incredible to watch and you can’t help but wonder ‘how did they do that?’

tron3The story in Tron can be very confusing so it is perhaps better to just enjoy the visual experience, but I will try to summarize it.  Basically Jeff Bridges plays Flynn a computer programmer who designs a video game but his boss played by David Warner stole the credit and passed the coding off as his work.

In an attempt to hack into the computer system and change the coding Flynn gets sucked into the computer itself.  When he arrives in the computer world, he finds a system of subjugation where the MCP (Master Control Program) manipulates the programs and gets them to deny their belief in the Users (or humans playing the game).

As a User himself Flynn has the ability to use energy and change things for the programs.  He and a program named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and Yori (Cindy Morgan) work to destroy the MCP before it destroys all the Programs.

Through destroying the MCP, Flynn the Programs can begin to communicate with their Users, Flynn is sent back and he is given the credit for his designs.

tron4It is kind of convoluted but I didn’t care.  I was able to keep track and found it creative and different.  I see so much that feels the same that it is refreshing to watch something like Tron that is so out there.  Kind of like Blade Runner, it is nice sometimes to watch a movie that is a little hard to figure out- that makes you think.

tron6All the performances are good. I particularly liked Jeff Bridges who I thought was very attractive in the role! What a great smile! He was a great ambassador to this world and you felt like you were learning about it along with him.

I also liked Cindy Morgan, Bruce Boxleitner and David Warner.  They are all good and elevate the material.  This is not like Jupiter Ascending where the visuals apologize for terrible acting.  They all do a good job.

tron-helmet-kissThe score by electronic musician Wendy Carlos is also a real standout.  It merges synthesizer sounds with classic orchestra.  I particularly liked the final number that uses a pipe organ.  There are also 2 songs from Journey, which is kind of cool.

Tron won’t be for everyone.  I am sure there are people who will think it is boring.   It is kind of confusing but just go with it, just enjoy it.  Some of the visuals look a little dated but it all works within the world of the movie and is consistent in its approach so that did not bother me.  I really thought it was a cool sci-fi film and something different and unique.

Overall Grade- A-


Blindspot 1: Blade Runner Review

blade runnerToday I got to see the first in my Blindspot series where each month I will review a well regarded film I’ve never seen before.  To see the full list click here.  This month’s selection is the 1982 Ridley Scott science fiction classic Blade Runner.

With this film I had the special opportunity to see it on the big screen as part of the Cinemark Classic Series (good timing!), and I ended up having a unique experience.

First of all, the movie is extremely immersive.  Set in a dystopian Los Angeles Ridley Scott creates a rainy city landscape that is textured and layered unlike I have seen in many other movies.  It was beautiful and almost overwhelming to take it all in.

bladerunnerThe plot is based on a Phillip K.  Dick story and it stars Harrison Ford as Deckard, a cop (or blade runner) who is assigned to hunt down creatures called ‘replicants’.

Blade RunnerThere are  4 on earth and a giant corporation called Tyrell has set them up to only live for 4 years.  The movie is basically a cat and mouse chase between the humans and the replicants but it is so much more than that.

blade runner2I’ll be honest with you guys about 30 minutes into Blade Runner I was feeling extremely frustrated.  I had no idea what was going on and didn’t understand who was hunting who and what all the characters were doing.  It was so much new and different I found it overwhelming and confusing.

Finally in frustration I did something unorthodox.  I went into the hallway and read the Wikipedia synopsis.  This helped me have some kind of framework to understand all the characters and world being thrown at me.  I know most people would bristle at reading a plot synopsis giving away the ending and other details but for me it helped to enjoy the film much more.

And like I said there is so much going on that knowing the basic framework really doesn’t spoil much in Blade Runner, so I’m glad I did it.  It might be unconventional but it worked for me!

blade runner5The acting is all fine in Blade Runner.  The characters and performances take a back seat to the story and setting but they work with what they’ve got. In major roles we see Edward James Olmos, M Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, Joanna Cassidy and more.

I particularly liked Sean Young as Rachael, an ‘experimental replicant’ who becomes entangled with Deckard. William Sanderson is also good as JF Sebastian, a strange man who collects replicants and robots.

blade runner3Daryl Hannah is very good as Pris, one of the 4 replicants.

blade runner4Harrison Ford is a little bit bland here compared to his charisma in films like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark but it works. Contrary to some popular opinion not every character in a movie has to be dynamic- especially in a world and plot so dazzlingly complex as this one!

blade runner7Once I wasn’t confused any more I started to pick up on the main message of Blade Runner (all good scifi should have a metaphor IMO).

The theme I took from it was the replicants know they have a limited time period to live and they want life so much.  They will even go to violent methods to preserve it and lengthen it.  On the other hand, the humans who have a plethora of days are kind of faceless and bland, without any passion.

St_bladerunner_fThis robotic human existence is exemplified by the billboards we see projected onto the cityscape of women mindlessly taking pills.   The emotional climax of the film for me at least was when Rachel and Deckard admit they love each other. It’s like both realize the value of time and decide to stop wasting it.

It might sound strange but in many ways it is a similar theme we see in Wall-e.  If you think of Wall-e as a replicant and not a robot doesn’t he teach the humans to value their time instead of mindlessly absorbing entertainment?  Wall-e’s time is limited by his battery power, where the humans just need to wake up and live a full life.

Even with a plot synopsis not everyone is going to like this movie.  It’s just too out there and different to appeal to everyone.  Plus, it can be deliberately paced, confusing, and rather drab.

However, I am certainly glad I saw it and will look forward to seeing it more times and gaining further insight into the story and characters.  At the very least, it was a good reminder to me that sometimes I have to make the moviegoing experience work for ME, even if that means stepping out into the hallway and reading a synopsis!  If it helps me enjoy the movie more than isn’t that a good thing?

It’s at least worth seeing for the amazing visuals and world building.  The music by Vangelis is a little heavy on the saxophone at times but I did really like it.  The whole film is very well crafted and a wonderful sci-fi dystopian movie.

What do you think of Blade Runner?  Too weird for you or a favorite?

As far as content goes there is some sensuality and violence especially a scene where a characters eyes are stabbed.  The over all feel can also be dark and depressing like most dystopian settings.

Overall Grade- A-

Ex-Machina Review

exmachina11Like some scifi?  Then Ex-Machina is the movie for you! Normally I stay away from movies that look scary but the more I read about Ex-Machina the more I saw it is actually more a movie like Kubrick/Spielberg’s  AI than a horror robot movie.  In fact, it’s better than AI.

exmachina8It’s about this guy named Caleb who works for a popular search engine and wins a prize to visit the company’s reclusive founder named Nathan.   He has a compound only accessible by helicopter (and not even that. You have to then hike by a river to get to the house).

ex-machinaEvidently Ex-Machina was shot at a hotel in Norway.  I want to go to that hotel.  It was amazing! The exteriors were lush and green.  The interiors were cold concrete with frosted glass but with a lighting that reminded me of those happy sun lights you can buy for depression.  It was different than anything I have seen in these types of movies.

exmachina9Once Caleb gets to the compound he meets Nathan who creeped me out because he looks a lot like my older brother (who is also a CEO of a hipster company with a shaved head and long beard! Even some of his way of speaking reminded me of my brother.  Creepy!).  Oscar Isaac is great as Nathan who is brilliant, arrogant, drunk, stupid, charming, psychopathic and naive.  It makes me excited that both he and Domhall Gleeson, who plays Caleb, are going to be in the new Star Wars movie!

exmachina3It turns out Nathan has brought Caleb there to test out his robot called Ava to see if she is a viable AI.  We then get a series of experiments over Caleb’s 6 day visit.  Caleb begins to bond with Ava and we see more into the mind of Nathan.

exmachina10I don’t want to be accused of spoilers so I will leave the plot at that.  The ending for me was a bit of a letdown  but overall it is a very satisfying movie.  It is shot very well.  The characters are complex and it looks gorgeous.  The lighting in every shot was as good as I’ve seen in a movie in years.

exmachina7I know comparison is silly but I couldn’t help but think about another recent Kubrickesque picture Interstellar which also has a robot albeit of a more vintage style.  They are very different films but I think I still prefer Interstellar because it had me more emotionally engaged.  I really was drawn into Murphy’s journey in a way I never was with Caleb.  Interstellar had a wider scope of emotions and I didn’t know what was going to come next.  Ex-Machina is pretty predictable.

As a sci-fi movie should, it tries to ask bigger questions about reality of being, sensuality, evil, creation etc and it does that pretty well.  I might have pondered those questions more if I was more emotionally invested in the characters but it definitely made me think.

All the performances are good and Alicia Vikander is haunting as Ava. I also liked the design of the robots with the clear fronts and sparkly heads.

exmachina5That said as a sci-fi thriller it was very well done.  It’s creepy, weird without cheap jump scares or unnecessary gore. You might know what is going to happen but it is a very entertaining journey to get there and again it looks so beautiful. The pacing might also be a little bit slow for some less seasoned film-goers but I was engrossed

exmachina6As far as content there is some cussing but I didn’t find it excessive.  Some people will be offended by the nudity but because it is robots and not sensual it felt more like Greek statues to me than actual human nudity. There is a scene where a character slices their arm open which is tough to watch.  I’d say it is a strong R and adults only but I wasn’t offended by it. I strongly recommend checking out before seeing it to know if it is the type of content you are comfortable with.

Overall, I think Ex-Machina is a very good movie.  It’s cinematography, visual style, set design, and the design of the robots are outstanding.  The performances are good especially Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander.  The story is classic sci-fi even if it is a bit predictable especially the ending.  I wish I was a little more invested emotionally in the characters but it is still a movie worth seeing and enjoying.

Overall Grade- B+   Content Grade- C-

Any of you seen it? What did you think?

Interstellar Review

interstellar-poster-3I just finally got back from seeing Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi space movie Interstellar and my response is WOW! In a way my experience with this movie was kind of unique when compared with other bloggers and reviews you might see.  Most people were extremely excited for this movie and then when it was different and more challenging than they expected they were disappointed (at least most people I know).  I on the other hand because I had waited had the opposite situation.  I was expecting to be bored and was totally engrossed.  So perhaps chalk it up to low expectations but I thought it was great!   I am also not a Christopher Nolan fangirl.  I love Inception but his other very popular movies I am more mixed on because I do not like scary or violent movies.

interstellar3I also am a huge fan of 2013’s Gravity and I wondered if I could tolerate another space movie since that one was done so well.  Well in my opinion Interstellar is an entirely different experience from Gravity.   It is like a combination of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Wrinkle in Time (wrap your brain around that).  Gravity is more of a thriller in space where this is a sci-fi drama.

I will try and tell you the plot but I actually don’t think the plot matters that much.  It’s about the experience of characters more than the intricacies of black holes and tesseracts. It’s kind of like in Star Wars we didn’t need to know all the  mumbo jumbo about midi-chlorians  and how the force works.  We just need to see that it is working.  We didn’t need to know about trade alliances and intergalactic treaties.  We just needed to know these are the good guys, this is the obstacle and these are the bad guys.  That’s the difference between the prequels which fail and the originals that succeed (and terrible acting, special effects and writing…)

With Interstellar I do not need one more minutia explained to me.  I just need to see it happen and how the characters react as they face challenges.  That’s it and it does it very well with stunning imagery and relationships that feel genuine and sincere.  Some have said it is boring.  I honestly did not feel that way.  I was engrossed the whole way.  To me Interstellar checks every box of a great sci-fi film.  It has characters I like, cool setting, action, mounting tension and strong allegorical or teaching plot elements.  Again, I do not need to know anything about the science. It could be complete hokum and it wouldn’t matter because within the world of the movie it works.  A lot of people hate the ending but I found it emotionally moving and again right what I wanted in a good sci-fi movie.

interestellar5The heart of the movie is a man named Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey.  He is an engineer/farmer who lives in Texas with his 2 children and father in-law (Mackenzie Foy, Timothee Chalamet and John Lithgow respectively).  It feels like a real family and the movie does a good job building up their relationships in the early sections.

interstellar6They are living in a dust-bowl world where crops are dying and the human race is in danger.  It is unclear what the timeframe for the world’s destruction is but again that doesn’t matter.  All that matters is we have an ending and a reason to go into space. Cooper had been a skilled pilot and through various means he and his daughter named Murphy meet a man named Prof Brand played by Michael Cain and his daughter Dr Amelia Brand played by Anne Hathaway.   They have been operating NASA under secret with a plan to dive into a wormhole to find 3 potentially habitable planets.  The hope is they can move the human race to these planets as earth is dying.

interstellar4Cooper is recruited to lead the mission but he knows going into the wormhole will likely mean his family will age ahead of him because of the theory of relativity.  His daughter Murphy tries to get him to stay but he goes and she is very bitter for some time.  Eventually she grows up to be both Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burystyn who actually all look a lot like little Mackenzie Foy so it works.  Casey Affleck plays the son Tom as an adult. He stays hopeful longer but eventually is forced to give up on his father but he stays in the old home running the farm.

interstellar7Amelia, Cooper, 2 other astronauts and 2 robots (who I loved. They have different comedy and truth telling settings. I kept waiting for them to be creepy robots but they weren’t)  are on the mission. Fairly quickly they get through the wormhole and must decide what planet to try and visit first (astronauts had been sent to all the planets previously).  They end up meeting up with another astronaut played by Matt Damon and have one challenge and adventure after another.  Their relationships are tested and they have to make difficult decisions to save themselves, their family and the human race.  Now that is drama!  I don’t want to give much more away about the plot.  But again I really thought the ending worked for this kind of story and movie.

The robots
The robots

It hopefully goes without saying that the special effects are astonishing and they feel palatable and real not like a green screen world.  There is humor mixed in with tense scenes where I honestly did not know what was going to happen.  That’s a real accomplishment in 2014 to make a sci-fi movie that surprises people.  There are very few character tropes and contrivances needed.  Just a story about relationships, family and exploration in space!  It’s like the Lewis and Clark of space movies.

intestellar2Most movie fans that I know look back at 1969 Oscars and wonder ‘how the heck did 2001: A Space Odyssey not get nominated for Best Picture?”.  I mean it might not be everyone’s cup of tea but to not even get nominated is ridiculous.  After all, how many people are still talking about Oliver! these days!  I have a funny feeling we will have the same experience in 2061 with Interstellar.  We will wonder what the heck were they thinking nominating a forgettable movie like The Theory of Everything over Interstellar? It’s kind of sad actually.  I only wish I had waited to do my best of 2014 because this and several other recent views would certainly have made the list.

The only problem I had with the movie was I did not care for the score.  Hanz Zimmer is great but I found the  music to be overbearing, too loud and at times distracting.  I would have gone with a more soft, subtle score like they had in Gravity which had long stretches with no music at all.

But that is a very small complaint.  I loved it! A great sci-fi movie.

As far as content there isn’t much to offend.  It does have tension and maybe one swear that I noticed but it’s pretty clean.  Kids might find it hard to follow but it just depends on the kid.  If they like sci-fi movies than they may love it. It’s certainly always good for kids to see movies that challenge them and make them think in new ways.  Interstellar will totally do that.

Overall Grade- A+  Content Grade- A