Monday, 14 August 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Besson and the Cries of a Thousand Critics

So Valerian is the latest film from French director Luc Besson. It's set in one of those enormous science-fantasy worlds with many aliens, technology, and bright colors, similar to that of Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, or even Besson's 90s cult hit, The Fifth Element. We follow two government agents, Valerian and Laureline, as they try to solve a mystery in the heart of an intergalactic space station inhabited by hundreds of species and cultures.

   As you've probably heard already, Valerian looks great. I wouldn't say stunning, I never saw a shot and thought wow, I could frame that; Besson gives us a cool aesthetic but as directing angles and cinematography goes, nothing stood out for me. When I say it looks good, I mean the literal things on screen, the bright colors, the alien designs, the City of Alpha itself, all visually interesting. I could pause the film at any moment and look around to see interesting details that are there, just having a small snippet of extensively-thought out cultures and worlds.

   Another thing that was great to see was some original sci-fi concepts I had never seen before. I haven't read the comic so obviously, I don't know how much was taken but there were ideas brought out in Valerian that I thought were really cool and engaging. One particular one that comes to mind is in the first act where our characters must visit a market, and the way they go about this fascinated me and the sorts of things they were doing I really loved watching.

   Valerian is played by Dane DeHaan and Laureline is played by Cara Delevingene. I have to say that Cara's performance was the strongest out of the two, she seemed like a real person in this world and I enjoyed her onscreen. Now Dane Dehaan, who's acting I really like and have enjoyed his weird, villainess characters in both Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2; but here, he tries to be some sort of charismatic, best-agent-in-the-company, womanizer and it really doesn't work. It's like getting Michael Cera as James Bond; so as much as I love DeHaan, I feel he was incredibly miss-cast in this. He and Cara had pretty much no chemistry what-so-ever. The rest of the cast were fine and serviceable but nothing outstanding on an acting front. Rihanna was in it however and she did just fine, I've never had complaints about Rihanna's acting and her character itself was really interesting in terms of her abilities but the personality bordered on annoying sometimes for me.

   Now as for the story itself, unfortunately, Valerian's narrative is all over the place. I mean, there is a story, you can follow the basic plot I mentioned at the beginning but there are so many tangents and entire scenes and sequences where I'm just thinking, why is this here? Lines of dialogue that make no sense and in the end when you really think about the end result, it was hardly anything major for the Universe or the City of Alpha itself. The premise had us believe our two agents would stop a world-destroying threat and they would have to save the Galaxy but it turns out it was like watching an unused script for a Star Trek episode; you know, entertaining enough, but nothing consequential.
 
  In the end, for me, the high-concept visuals don't quite make up for the all-over-the-place narrative and uninspiring plot.

6/10

Thursday, 27 July 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Dunkirk

In Nolan we trust?

So Dunkirk is the great Christopher Nolan's first film based on a true story, the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II. No dreams, no memories, no sci-fi; and yet completely Nolan. 
  The first thing I have to mention is, of course, the directing. If you've seen Nolan's films and enjoy his aesthetic, his style and direction then Dunkirk hits all the right beats in that regard and more. I really felt like I was in this film. I felt like I was on the windy overcast beach, I felt like I was aboard the little English boat, I felt like I was clinging to the wing of a Spitfire. There was no Hollywood fluff, research had been done; things looked and sounded like it is. So like what I said about Interstellar, this film was more like an experience than a movie. Helping this, of course, is yet another amazing score by Hans Zimmer, using a constant ticking throughout and tense musical tones build up a perfect atmosphere.
   Acting wise, Dunkirk has a stellar cast with Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy, alongside newcomers like Barry Keoghan,  Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles of all people. But one of the interesting choices Christopher Nolan has made with Dunkirk is that there isn't a great deal of dialogue; there are conversations and lines obviously but mostly you have to engage with the film through visuals alone and that's where the actors do really well with their literal acting in expressions, how they carry themselves and reactions to things; all hard to do but I felt they all did a really great job.
  Now, something I have to say about Dunkirk is that it has a very unorthodox narrative. There isn't really a beginning, middle, and end; neither is there really a main character. I felt that this sometimes worked but other times I felt a little lost into where and when we were in the film. So although the film looked and sounded great, the experimental style choices Nolan makes with the story didn't always work for me. I admit I wasn't particularly riveted during a lot of what is a true-story WWII battle. The two best parts for me was the opening, which I really loved; you're straight into the situation and I just really liked first act in general. Then my attention was refocused during the last act which I enjoyed and the very last few scenes were really well done. Don't get me wrong, there were moments and scenes during the main bulk which I enjoyed a lot but as a whole, the unusual nature of the plot and restrained dialogue didn't grab me.
   In the end, I'm very glad I've seen Dunkirk because it is a very unique film. It doesn't feel like a move, it feels like an experience, like a segment of life, literally an event, which this was. I've thought a lot about a rating and to be honest I feel like you can't fit this sort of film into any sort of rating system really but for the sake of habit, I will give it one. Anway, if you're a fan of Christopher Nolan or World War II, or cinema then you'll get a lot out of Dunkirk; if not, then I'd be really interested in what you think of the film as it proves to be quite controversial.

7.5/10

Monday, 24 July 2017

OJ's Movie Review - War For the Planet of the Apes

Apes together, strong.

Well, here we are, a conclusion of sorts. I absolutely loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes; it's a film unlike anything I had seen before.  Dawn was one of the most intense, edge-of-your-seat experiences I'd ever had in a cinema, and now is the third part of Ceaser's personal trilogy. How did it go?
  I'll start off by just saying how much the apes look like actual real animals. Seriously, the CGI improves with every film. There are moments where if you told me that was an advanced animatronic head on screen, I would believe you. There's one particular shot of Maurice the orangutan where I swear it was like watching a close-up in an Attenborough documentary, they are that real. So that in itself blows me away. Of course, along with the expert VFX team, you have Andy Serkis and others doing their performance-capture work as the apes; the emotion and acting they manage to portray is incredible and a thrill to watch.
   Moving onto the story now, I have to say, the plot is what lets it down for me. For a film that contains the phrase "War for the Planet", the story is a very contained and inconsequential narrative that has no real bearing on the world as a whole. Sure, it has major points in Ceaser's life and the life of his tribe and what they have to face, and as a story there, it was a suspenseful, brutal, incredibly well-scored and acted film. But in terms of what I feel I had been led to expect, it dropped the ball for me. If I accept what the film is about though, and look directly at the what the plot was, even then, although it's not a bad film, it's completely unoriginal. What transpires from the second act onwards is everything we've seen before in films where a group of characters must escape somewhere; it hits all the beats of that genre and the only change it offers is the fact that it's with apes; which, to be fair, is a fascinating visual and I will never grow tired of seeing how the apes are depicted in this franchise but because Rise and Dawn were so different from anything I'd seen before I was not expecting this film to be so familiar.
  I mean there are more aspects about this film I liked a lot, including Steve Zahn's character, some of the little easter-eggs and callbacks to the 1968 film and Michael Giacchino's score, which were all great, and I'm not saying this is a bad film, it's just very unoriginal and falls into some cliches every now and again.
   In the end, War For the Planet of the Apes is an incredible step-up in film-making itself with the directing, acting and what VFX is capable of but for me personally the story was a let-down and I very much hope there is a next entry after this as I feel there is more to tell.

7/10

Thursday, 13 July 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Spider-Man: Homecoming

A Spider-Man film produced by Marvel Studios; a homecoming of sorts.

So here we are, the third reboot of Spider-Man, the sixth modern Spider-Man film, the sixteenth entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What can I say? It's actually really great! I enjoyed Spider-Man: Homecoming a lot, right from the opening all the way to literally the end of the credits.
   We saw Tom Holland's Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War and there I wasn't too sure on him, he was very different from the film Spider-Men I was used to in Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield but here in Homecoming I really enjoyed him. And it's his difference which is what I now enjoy about him, he really felt like a kid in school and even though we don't see his origin, he's still really new to this. Although I like the previous two adaptations, to different levels, it seemed only after a brief montage did Spider-Man suddenly become very skilled and professional, but here in Homecoming, you can see he's an amateur through the whole film, he makes mistakes, he bumbles about and I really enjoyed seeing that; so for me, Tom Holland is great in the role. Another cast member who was absolutely fantastic was Michael Keaton; his portrayal as Adrian Toomes was so intimidating, never mind as the Vulture, that he is up there with the better Marvel villains, which of course is a common criticism of these films. He really had a lot of great scenes and some very suspenseful ones. The supporting cast was entertaining enough, Peters friends at school were some familiar archetypes but enjoyable ones and Zendaya delivered some lines that made me laugh. Robert Downey Jr. didn't appear as much as many feared and his number of appearances felt just right for a film about Spider-Man.
   Story-wise, I enjoyed a lot; the Vulture had really logical reasons for his actions and Peters arc was well-done with some quite dramatic and emotional scenes. The humor wasn't forced and I'd say the majority of the jokes landed for me. There were plenty of easter eggs and references and actually some of the nods to previous events really felt like you were part of large Universe and it was nice to see how the general public, as it were, viewed the Avengers, similar to how Ant-Man was a smaller-scale story and the villain wasn't looking to take over the world, it's the same here, a nice normalised perspective on an enormous Universe.
   If I had to pick faults with the movie, I'd say one or two bits of dialogue were very expositional in the way of not really needing to be said, and also Spider-Mans suit was a bit Iron Man-like which makes sense in the context of the film but I'd be happy if they did away with the JARVIS-type AI and the heads-up display.
   In the end, you probably can tell I really enjoyed Spider-Man: Homecoming and it's up there with the best of the MCU franchise.

8.5/10

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Transformers: The Last Knight

So apparently this is the last Transformers film directed by Michael Bay, but then again the boy did cry wolf.

So this is the fifth, that's right, fifth, film in the Bayformers franchise; and this is supposed to be the beginning; they got a special writers room with all these screenwriters and story guys to build an enormous cinematic universe with an epic story arc. So let's see what they came up with...
   I'll start with things I like. This film had some interesting visuals for sure. The sight of Transformers in the world of the medieval knights was certainly something I'd never thought I'd see and I enjoyed the aesthetic if nothing else. In fact, the first act of this film I did sort of enjoy; but I'm afraid my enjoyment didn't last.
   This movie is so convoluted, stupid and non-sensical that I cannot believe how far it has come since 2007. Transformers: The Last Knight reaches a new low by having even more pointless characters that don't factor into the plot at all, introductions where the name of the Transformer appears on the screen in a freezeframe, Optimus Prime has at least 20 mins of screentime, and it ignores it's own continuity over and over again, even from things it set up in the previous film! The dialogue was either exposition or unfunny humor, and I use the term "humor" loosely as it seems getting sophisticated British actors Sir Anthony Hopkins and  Jim Carter to say modern slang and profanity counts as funny.
   Even if you enjoy the craziness of what this franchise has become, and you like the humor and aren't bothered with the plot, the actual filmmaking itself is terrible, from the constant change in aspect ratio to the very strange flashing end credits that appear while the film is still going!
   In the end, I did not enjoy Transformers: The Last Knight. It's still cool to see giant alien robots transform into vehicles, and it was cool to see Josh Duhamel return and be a connection to the first three films but there are so many factors that let it down for me that I have to give it...

5.5/10

Saturday, 10 June 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Wonder Woman

She can save the world, but can she save the DCEU?

So here we are, back in the DC Cinematic Universe that, so far, hasn't been greatly received but maybe that's all about to change. Wonder Woman stars Gal Gadot as the titular character and also boasts the cast of Chris Pine, Danny Huston, Connie Nielson, and Robin Wright. These all do great in the film but by far, Gal and Chris steal the show, their chemistry, interactions, and characters are a real joy to watch. Gal Gadot's Diana is such an interesting character as this powerful, but nieve Amazon woman experiencing early 20th century Europe. She conveys strength, humor, and emotion really well and looks great in the action scenes. Chris Pine is classic Chris Pine which is a bonus to any movie whether it's a science-fiction space franchise or a Lindsy Lohan chick flick, and so here in Wonder Woman, he delivers another entertaining character in Steve Trevor.
   The other cast include Steve's group of merry men he must team up with and I have to say I enjoyed them quite a bit, they each had a distinct personality and even their own little personal battles to deal with. On the villain front, I can't say much because of spoilers but I really enjoyed Danny Huston and Elana Anaya's evil duo, they reminded me a lot of classic 60s villains for some reason. And this movie does that a few times, it gives you the sense of classic movies, whether it's the nods to 1970s Superman or just the slowed down nature of the plot, Wonder Woman just felt familiar and comfortable.
  Plot-wise, as I say, had quieter moments and they didn't pack it full of action which made a nice change to the usual format; it really mad us feel for these characters and care when things happen. The beginning had a bit of an unsteady pace and the climax was a bit generic CGI battle but because the characters were so investing I didn't mind as much. And just seeing the aesthetic of ancient Greek culture mixing with World War I was an interesting visual in itself.
  In the end, I feel Wonder Woman is a real step-up for DC, whether it was the director, Patty Jenkins, the writers or a mix of a few things. The film isn't perfect but I'd be lying if I said I did not enjoy it.

8/10

Friday, 5 May 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I am Groot.

Guardians of the Galaxy was a break-out hit for Marvel in 2014 and has since become quite a pop cultural icon. Well, three years later and we return to this crazy space extravaganza seeing the likes of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot and more once again. And it's these cast of characters that are one of the great things about these films.
   Chris Pratt always seems like such a nice guy and his Peter Quill character is thus an enjoyable one to watch again. I enjoy Zoe Saldana and even though a notable number of her recent roles have been in very similar settings I find Gamora to be the most interesting. But for me, the best Guardian in this film was Drax the Destroyer; he had the best lines and got the hardest laughs from me. The other returning cast did great as well, I can't pick a problem with any of Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan or Sean Gunn's work here; they did just as well as they did in the previous movies with perhaps one or two having to stretch their characters emotionally and succeeding. Newcomers included Kurt Russell which was great to see and he played Quill's father really well, I can believe that the two are related. Pom Klementieff was surprisingly entertaining portraying the childlike gullibility of Mantis and am looking forward to how she'll be used in the future.
   Story wise, Vol. 2 is very different from the first which was great as I don't like repetitive franchises but the plot wasn't as structured. It felt like half the story was focused on Peter and his dad and all that involved but then the writers had to come up with something for the other Guardians to do so paired them off with various characters and had them either sit around or have things happen to them for which they had to deal with. The final third was where it all came together though, as it would, and the climax was, although familiar in parts, visually unique and quite stunning thus making up for any narrative problems. And the Guardians films do have a lot of great visuals which is one of the reasons why I enjoy watching them.
   In the end Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wasn't as good as the first but I'm definitely not saying it wasn't good. I laughed out loud, it was surprisingly emotional, and having five post-credit scenes isn't as bad as it sounds.

8/10