Darke Reviews | Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

The number one question I was asked about this movie today: “What’s it about?”

My best answer: “Two soldiers in space fighting against some big evil that threatens to destroy everything. It’s by Luc Besson, the guy who did Leon the Professional, Lucy, and The Fifth Element based on a french comic from the 60s”. I like Besson’s work. I really do. He has a list of films and inspirational works that change how other works are done or are otherwise remade. From La Femme Nikita, the films mentioned above, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, and writing projects such as The Transporters, District B13, and Lockout. A lot of his films take place in his home country (duh) so the idea of him adapting a French comic for the big screen – especially one that clearly inspired as much of modern sci fi as Flash Gordon and John Carter did makes sense.

So the real question is did it work?

We’ve talked a lot about the Writer and director – Luc Besson. Credit where its due must go to Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières the original writers of the comic back in 1967. It seems that from a story and plot element that Besson took inspiration from the material but is trying to tell an original story within it. If you look at covers of the comics ( which I have not read) you can tell how much the source material inspired his own work with one cover literally showing a scene from the 5th Element with people on the edge of a building, a floating taxi and a floating semi with very specific and familiar designs. Hell, Jean-Claude Mézières was brought in while he worked on the 5th Element who asked him why he was making that and not Valerian. He has easily lifted some of the dialogue and personalities, based on some research into the history of the comic and one of its animated adaptations from 2007 (it aired in France). So why…don’t I care?

Yep. There’s the first hint how this will go.

It is absolutely evident this should have been a passion project for Besson, capitalizing on the advances in technology thanks to James Cameron to make the aliens come to life in ways we hadn’t seen; but even with that in mind the movie is hollow. I think going totally original was a mistake. There are no clear or present stakes that mean anything, the character of Valerian (yes its his name) are not serviced by the script and is generally unlikable. I figured out early on what was going on, as Besson couldn’t do subtle if a Agatha Christie wrote for him. There is no subtext with him, only text and a strong sense of visual style. There is no ticking clock, no sense of tension; just a moment to moment – event to event beat through the film that has our characters going after each other and the McGuffin with no stakes at play that you can take seriously. Death doesn’t hold any weight with others who die because you don’t know them or only know them in so little passing that it renders it emotionless.

The actors really do try their best, but cannot overcome the script or their own drawbacks as actors. Dane DeHaan tries, he really does; but his character is just shy of being an insufferably chauvinist and egotistical. Additionally you cannot buy him as a top notch high ranking special operations soldier; even though he is thirty he just doesn’t play it or carry the weight. He moves well and pulls off the action he gets to do, but he never quite sells it and the nature of his character comes across in his young 20’s not 30s. This same flaw affects Cara Delevinge (Suicide Squad’s Enchantress) either, who comes across younger, but more mature. She seems the more seasoned soldier, if less experienced, while he is the hot headed rookie but….isn’t as he out ranks her by quite a bit. It’s rather dissonant and confusing to watch and parse out. She by far is the more likable of the two.

Literally no one else is worth discussing as they have so little screen time or overall impact on the story. Aside from the McGuffin. I want one, it was adorable.

The elephant in the room here is the visuals. Dear powers that be is this movie gorgeous. It’s clear a lot of effort and a significant portion of the $180mm budget went into merging practical and visual effects. It is about the same level as what we got in James Cameron’s Avatar, including I think using the models as a base with minor adjustments to the skins to keep them different. Graphic quality is both as good and bad as the scene needs; with the one exception being the transitions in Rhianna’s highly fetishistic and male gaze rewarding dance sequence. The transformations look amazing. The aliens in this movie do look amazing. There are plenty of designs I haven’t seen before and a lot of craftsman ship in key places.

The editing is rough and I am pretty sure there’s a few scenes on the editing room floor as some jokes feel like there’s a setup missing and most of the emotional beats are missing the reminder before the not so payoff. Additionally since I know there’s a lot of chatter on this topic; yes I can see where Mass Effect influenced this movie but also where it was influenced by the material; but overall the movie gets top marks on visuals and I would bet the 3-D looks amazing.

TL:DR

While the 3-D may look amazing, no one will see it. The movie really isn’t that good. Its light, its fluffy, but it isnt good popcorn as I was bored quite often. It held no surprises and was lifeless which if nothing else disappoints me. I wanted it to be good, but didn’t have the bar raised too high. I think it may do well internationally, but within the U.S. it is going to flop harder than a Magikarp. Ok the opening scenes on Mul were amazingly beautiful, but that doesn’t save the other 2 hours of the movie.

It does succeed at one thematic component – the science fiction. It has technology and idealolgy that we are missing from a lot of sci fi; but some of the negative tropes too so there’s that. It is still good science fiction despite the flaws.

Should you see it?

No…sadly.

Will you see it again? Maybe it needs a second viewing?

Eh…I don’t think so.

Buying it?

Maybe for clips for some future video project that might happen, but out of the bargain bin if I do.

Are you going to see or review Dunkirk?

Probably not. I am not a huge fan of Nolan and find that he has an inflated sense of his own importance that too many people support. He is technically a master of his craft; but if I only wanted technical proficiency from films I would watch Kurosawa or other classics that may be dated by show the artistry of the director. I need both some form of emotional connection and some level of technical accumen for me to have interest in the film. Nolan  succeeds at one so well the other is sacrifced; where the movie I just watched didn’t nail either well beyond visual delight.

So what’s next week then?

Atomic Blonde.

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Darke Reviews | Lucy (2014)

Two films, two reviews, one night. Sleep is for the weak. Both reviews will have diametrically opposed commentary on one topic. Yet there are similarities in them as well. Let me get to a bit of color commentary on Lucy, I want to be able to get both reviews out before it gets too terribly late, even if most of you won’t read this for another 5 hours now.

Trailers. I promise one day I will get so mad at the trailers for movies I will do a Rant in the Darke. Today is not that day, but it’s oh so tempting. I would say easily 80% of the most intense scenes of Lucy are shown in the trailer. POssibly as low as 60 but thats pushing it. This annoys me. The movie offers no surprises in that regard. Hollywood fail folks. Trailers are designed to entice. Get you going “Oh I think I want to see what this is all about”, perhaps “That looks interesting, what happens in it.” It shouldn’t be after seeing the film going “I saw this why? The trailer showed so much.”

The trailer, however, did not show everything. For that I am partially thankful. I wish they had been more careful, but the question is what didn’t they show?

Luc Besson, you beautiful, sick fiend. Will you ever be satisfied? You directorial style is eternally refreshing and paced well for audiences across the globe. You waste no time in the movies 1:28 running time. The movie is absolutely as lean as it can be. Even with your oddly bizarre inserts during scenes which were jarring at first, but acceptable with the story you’re telling. When you introduced the world in 1990 to La Femme Nikita, then in 94 to Leon The Professional, and in 97 to the 5th Element you continued to push boundaries of action, women, and science fiction. Those are but some of the highlights of your directing career. They also inform your audience that not everything you see is what you get.

You also of course are a writer, with a tendency to be the sole writer upon a film. Thank you. You gave us Nikita, Leelu, and Leon. You brought Jet Li to Paris for Kiss of the Dragon and gave us Jason Statham’s driver in The Transporter. You gave us an introduction to David Belle in District B13. You gave us a man who has a special set of skills. Skills he’s honed over a long career and he does things when people are Taken. So many icons of modern action are at your hands.

The way you treat women is a fascinating study as well. They tend to be victim and powerful. They tend to, in your own habits of writing, start from the bottom and become something more. Something better. You do that with a belief in humanity that it can be more. That it can be good, even with the cynicism and pessimism of the worlds you create. For that, I thank you. You aren’t perfect and your initial treatment is…a bit uncomfortable at times, but your empowerment is to be commended.

Did you nail it again with Lucy?

Well. Yes, yes you did. The movie runs sickeningly lean. Too lean I think. There are scenes that could have used more meat to them. More depth, but I don’t think it what was what you were intending. The pacing is amazingly quick and yet easy to follow at the same time. Your casting is certainly not white washed and again I blame your brilliant european sensibilities for that. It wasn’t as xenophobic as I thought. It just was.

I think thats the secret to Lucy. It is. If you will pardon a bit of sacrilege, I am that I am. Not far off the mark. Everyone is who they are without apology or explanation. Bad guys are bad. Good guys are good. Scientists are scientists (that actually seem to want to do science). Lucy is Lucy.

What about that cast though is there anything to it? Well Scarlett Johansson actually carries the film. Her reaction to the events and how she passes through the world helps a lot. Is it a bit emotionless? Yes. Thats to her credit. If you watch her other films, even Widow has emotion as she does her thing. There’s something minimalist here that needs to be appreciated. Especially within the context of the story. The rest of the cast is good in what they do, but really the weight falls on Johansson and she doesn’t let it hold her down.

She did what I hoped and became a strong female character that carried a film on her own.

The movie does one other successful thing. If you remember my Transcendence review, it annoyed me to the point of rage on how it treated the advancement of the mind. This one? Not only embraces the possibility of that kind of enhancement. It takes that possibility on a date, gets drunk with it, and lets itself be taken advantage of by the possibilities it offers. I think they are in a deeply committed relationship now; or just committed. Hard to say.

TL;DR?

If you were interested in Lucy at all? SEE it. Please.
If you weren’t but now are curious – sound off below AFTER you see it with your thoughts for a chance to win tickets to another film.
If you like the game Mage the Ascension – SEE IT. You’ll be saying “‘fraking ‘genitors” the entire time.

If you don’t dig good sci fi or sci fi in general. Give it a pass.
If you don’t like or can’t accept quasi science in your sci fi – pass.
If your kids want to see it…I am …uncertain. Maybe 13+.

Lucy, much like Snowpiercer is the kind of movie we need. Yes, it needs more meat to its story, but it took risks. Good ones. They paid off for me.

I really enjoyed this and the thoughts the movie left me with. It had a message and a good one at that. Whats the message?

See it and find out. You tell me! I know what I got from it.

Darke Reviews | Brick Mansions (2014)

I get to do an Old vs New on this movie! I haven’t done one of these in a few months and its about due. I could tell from the trailers on this one that it was nearly a shot for shot remake of 2004 french film District 13. Now when I say shot for shot, I mean quite literally I recognized plot, scenes, lines of dialogue and entire shots from the original. All to the point where I didn’t expect to see anything new in the film.

Was I wrong?

Well, yes. To a point. Camille Delamarre, the director, took Luc Besson’s (5th Element, La Femme Nikita, Leon The Professional) and Bibi Naceri’s original script from D13 and decided to americanize it. If the world is a good place Delamarre will never direct another movie. I know the world is not a good place. This movie proves it. Every-Single-Good decision from D13 is undone. The parts that they keep from the original are barely tolerable and the parts they deviate from are so abysmally bad I would consider watching Die Hard 5 or World War Z again.

I said consider. I didn’t say I would do it.

Lets talk story, the world is a godawful place. So bad they cordoned off a section of a major city and left it to rot, burn, and eventually die. The original is of course in Paris. The new one is set in Detroit. It felt like what Robocopy should have been.  Inside this district gangs rule their respective blocks or buildings. One is kept (relatively) clean by its leader Lino (BM)/Lieto(D13) who is trying to keep his part of the city free from drugs and safe for his people. This of course puts him at odds with Tremaine(BM)/Taha(D13). Things of course fail to go his way and he ends up in a worse spot than he was in. Meanwhile outside the district supercop Damien (in both) is given a mission of the utmost secrecy and importance that will determine the fate of both the district and the city at large. Lino/Lieto is in it for love and trying to save Lola (girlfriend in BM/sister in D13) and Damien is in it because he believes in the system. Together they might both get what they want.

That core story remains the same between the two. As there are no writing credits beyond the original screenplay all blame for change must ride with the director. Unless of course there is a writer out there who knows how bad this adaptation was and took their name off of it. Not even an Alan Smithee credit to be found. Sad that. With a Smithee I could understand why everyone had their IQs drop. I could understand why there was a completely and totally unnecessary girl fight. I could understand why the script was bordering on offensive on so many levels. I could understand why it was so pathetically derivative that it had to explain the subplot in the first five minutes with Snidely Whiplash cackling on screen. Ok Whiplash didn’t quite make it , but might as well. They literally made everything in the movie DUMBER and even potentially more stereotypical and offensive to make it for us.

Yay American cinema. Someone shoot me.

Is it all bad? No.

David Belle, who was in the original (and its sequel) reprises his role as Lieto in Lino. For those not familiar with Belle he FOUNDED Parkour. Founded. Every bit of a free running you see in movies now you can thank him. He is one of the most amazing men I have ever had the pleasure to witness on film. His physicality and agility are the stuff of legends. In D13 we are able to truly embrace and enjoy it with long shots of his free running through the district – over, around, up and down every surface he can touch. In Brick Mansions, we are…treated…to quick cuts, snap shots and a hint of shaky cam that prevents us from truly enjoying his ability to move.  He is still amazing, but you can’t enjoy it. Of course his counterpart in this is is also important.

District 13 gives us the hyper athletic Cyril Raffaelli as Damien. If you saw the Jet Li movie Kiss of the Dragon you saw this man fight Li and it was impressive. Not only can he fight, he is capable of acting and even a small bit of comedic timing. The physicality though is what lets you believe he can keep up with someone like Belle when they are on screen together. Paul Walker, not so much. He is very much the modern american action star. Brute force, some speed, no grace. It’s near impossible to compare the two men as Raffaelli just shines in such a physically demanding role. Walker is his usual self , which is slightly charming but as much real personality as Keanu Reeves. Though Reeves is mocked more for the same type of performance. Yes, I am sorry Walker is gone, but he doesn’t have a lot of range.

The bad guy, Taha, played by writer Bibi Naceri in D13 comes across pretty solid through and through in D13. He’s the king of a kingdom of ashes. Little else. His power is in his men and his ruthlessness. RZA (man with the Iron Fists) is your type-A1 standard urban lord with Tremaine. He has faux class, power through his men and a perceived intelligence higher than he should have. Tremaine as the bad guy serves the story as well as to be expected for the type of villain he is. In traditional fashion for us they make him as important as the heroes of the story and necessitate him through the end.

From a technical standpoint, nothing succeeds in Brick Mansions. Nothing. The unnecessary girl fight with two girls effectively in fetishwear fighting with fetish weapons. Just what we need. Shaky cam, quick cuts. Because more of that is good. Two leads who aren’t even in the same hemisphere physically? Brilliant choice.

Alright, TL;DR?

DO NOT SEE THIS GARBAGE. Save your $9 bucks. Get Netflix account for a month and watch the original. The subtitles don’t hurt, I promise. Seriously, DO NOT SEE THIS.

I can’t stress it enough. I was offended at many of the things they did from a film standpoint. Someone got hit in the head and you could HEAR THE LOONEY TOONS TWEETY BIRD SOUND! WHO DOES THAT?!

Yes I am raging because this film was a waste of celluloid that they released just to capitalize on walkers death. I can’t even recommend this one for MsT3K style commentary and viewing. It’s too dumb. It thinks WE are too dumb. I don’t have a high opinion of humanity, but I think mine is higher than this.

Gah, just don’t see Brick Mansions. Don’t let your friends see it. Let it burn in the pits of Tartarus.