Star Wars

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Cor. What a title. 

The ability to build worlds within film has advanced an incredible amount, especially since the days of James Cameron’s Avatar. Luc Besson has had his hand in the Valerian pie for a long time, and recently thought that the technology was there for him to create Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Besson worked to adapt the French comic book series for the screen, but the title sticks out like a sore thumb considering the comic series is called Valerian and Laureline. I had a certain sense of apprehension for this as the last Besson film I had the ‘pleasure’ of watching was Lucy, and I absolutely loathed that film. But the trailer managed to lure me in with the visuals and the science-fiction element to the film.

Valerian (yeah, I’m just going to call it that from now on) hooked me from the opening sequence as the space station expands and welcomes other nations on-board. As it expands, alien life begins to join and the station grows exponentially into Alpha. As it reaches critical mass, it is pushed out of Earth’s orbit to travel by itself.

Besson apparently sat on this film for some time, and it’s clear to see why as world building that is undertook in Valerian is exceptional, from the market to the whistle-stop tour of the Alpha station is incredibly vibrant. Unfortunately for Besson and Valerian the enjoyment for the film slowly begins to fade when you look past the pretty visuals in the opening thirty or so minutes.

Generally speaking the scripting was just downright awful. And especially cringe worthy when agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) was trying to woo? his partner agent Laureline (Cara Delevingne) by saying the most inane things. Some of the lines had me shaking my head in disbelief that they had made the final cut. Dane and Cara themselves were good in the role, but Cara’s character does fall into the standard damsel in distress character although Laureline as a character seems to be better than that.

But I don’t think the scripting was helped by the narrative, as it seemed to be jumping all over the place as Besson tried to mash together the love story between Valerian and Laureline and this mysterious element that they have found themselves pulled into. Often it felt as though it wasn’t sure which direction the film wanted to be pulled in.

The film does stand at over two hours, but unfortunately does feel like it’s over three hours as it slogs its way between the narrative, scripting and the indulgent visuals. I don’t think this could have been helped as Besson took the time to dress the screen in the incredible visuals, which were incredible to watch unfold on the screen.

I did enjoy the pairing of Dane DaHaan and Cara Delevingne as they bounce off each other, and do seem to have an interesting chemistry on-screen. Cara was the better off the two regardless of her damsel in distress characterisation, and Dane plays the cocky, arrogant character to perfection, regardless of the script-vomit that tumbles out of his mouth.

It has to be said though, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets only has one true winner, and that lies in the visuals. Besson builds incredible worlds, from the inter-dimensional market to the Thousand City Planet of Alpha and it’s incredulous atmosphere. I mean water, a fully submerged water section on a space station. Really?

However, between the scripting and the narrative being all over the place it’s not something that makes me want to rush back to see it all over again. Aside from the dazzling visuals and Cara’s performance as Agent Laureline, there is little to enjoy about this film. Even the score pulled me out of the film, by sounding reminiscent of Star Wars. As I try to recount the film, I have come to realise that it is less-than-memorable, with only a few glimpses sticking out, including the marketplace sequence being one of better in the film.

If you find yourself going to see it, see it on the biggest screen possible, but other than that, I wouldn’t rush out to see it, which is a shame as I wanted to like Valerian more.

Advertisements

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Last year marked the rebirth of the Star Wars anthology with The Force Awakens. Disney announced the releasing of a Star Wars film every year until at least 2020. Rogue One marks the first of these standalone films in the extended Star Wars universe.

The first of these standalone films, Rogue One takes place in the chronology of order some time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The story behind Rogue One also concerns the matter of how the rebel alliance got their hands on the Death Star plans in A New Hope.


As JJ Abrams took creative control of the The Force Awakens, Gareth Edwards is at the helm of this Star Wars story, having his own creative take on the franchise. He neglects to use the traditional Star Wars opening in the form of the famous scrolling text. 

As Edwards chooses to disregard the time-honoured Star Wars opening, he chooses to display the narrative via a series of snapshots around different planets and cities to gather speed going into the film. This is of course after the all-important opening stage to set up our hero Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she watches her mother slain in cold blood and her father taken by the menace that is Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic.


As Jyn witnesses this, she is saved by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) and so begins the aforementioned snapshot around the planets fifteen years later. During this snapshot, an Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has defected to deliver a message to Saw from Jyn’s father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Jyn has also been captured by the Imperials and is being made to work in a labour camp, until Rebel Alliance members Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial robot companion K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), rescue her from her captors. 

As you’re probably reading this, you’re thinking that is a humungous amount to digest, and you would be correct, as this happens within the opening fifteen to twenty minutes. Unfortunately, this makes the film falter in parts as it feels heavy and begins to drag over the 120+ minute run time, which has become a standard for Star Wars films.

As the film continues, it becomes a quest to discover what message the defected Imperial pilot has from Galen and whether it can help bring down the super weapon the Empire have been building. As they close in on the pilot’s location on Jedha, we can begin to see the familiar gorgeous expanse landscape that can be soaked up by the audience.


Rogue One quickly becomes a quest against time as the super weapon is used on Jedha, making the city erupt into a beautiful oncoming mass of dust and smoke. The message delivered by Rook is only seen by Jyn before the message is engulfed in a blaze of glory. Jyn learns there is a weakness to the new super weapon, which can cause a chain reaction to destroy the newly named Death Star. (Sounds a bit familiar all this, doesn’t it?)

I shall not reveal any more information, through fear I have divulged too much already. As a standalone Star Wars film, Gareth Edwards has created a solid filmmaking piece, which is enjoyable. However, it doesn’t come without some flaws, such as the pacing of the first two acts, which weighs the film down. Act three was the act that kept my eyes glued to the screen and wanting more.

As Edwards had creative control over this project, it must be said he has continued the beautiful expanses that I have really enjoyed in Star Wars films, including the almost-tropical landscape of Scarif, and the also the Tatooine-looking Jedha. The clear cut winner was the casting throughout this film though as Felicity Jones becomes a character you are invested in, which marks the second consecutive Star Wars film with a strong heroine. She is backed up by a strong following of  Luna and Tudyk, but I would’ve enjoyed to see more of Whittaker’s and Mikkelsen’s character as they seem all to brief. 


As the film does stand are plus two hours, it does become laborious in parts, until the third act, which steals the show and of course links perfectly into A New Hope. In my opinion the film could stand to lose around a half hour of runtime and still have been just as good as it flows into the third act. 

It has to be said though that act three of Rogue One included some of the best Star Wars scenes in memory, which was gloriously played out. As a standalone Star Wars film, this is the perfect dosage with the inclusion of certain characters like Moff Tarkin, the Red and Gold Leader fighers and of course the cameo of R2 and C3PO. Edwards has made an admirable effort for Rogue One and I’ll be interested to see what comes with the second standalone film in the Star Wars universe. 


Spoilers are ahead. 

These are not the spoilers you are looking for.

I warned you.

 

There seems to be a darker undertone throughout Rogue One that hasn’t been seen in the franchise before. Gareth Edwards deployed this dark tone perfectly by an abundance of considerable amount of deaths throughout the film, instead of one or two that is the usual choice in Star Wars. Not only this, Edwards had the questioning of intentions throughout the from and regardless of who is following orders how can they constitute what is good and evil if the objective is the killing of someone. This device was cleverly done and played out excellently by Luna and Jones.

Edwards take on this darker undertone made the film interesting with its themes, but the pacing still remains an issue for me. That being said, there is a certain beauty in this film as they discover the vast expanses of the differing planets, which continues to be one of my favourite things about the Star Wars universe.

End of spoilers.

Room (2016)

There are potential spoilers in this review, however, I thoroughly recommend seeing this film before reading any reviews (and trying to watch any clips from it)

Over the last twelve months at the cinema I have seen the most entertaining piece of cinema in Mad Max: Fury Road, a nostalgic trip back to a galaxy far, far away and probably my favourite film of the past twelve months in Ex Machina. Now onto Room. Which instantly goes up there in being the most intense film I have ever seen.

The simple premise is daunting enough for any filmmaker to take on, but Lenny Abrahamson took the premise head on and created an intense but surprisingly uplifting and spirited triumph of the human character. Ma and Jack (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, respectively) live in Room, a confined space including a bed, wardrobe, a bath and a small kitchen.

Lenny Abrahamson during the filming of Room maintained a claustrophobic feel but found ways to view Room making to seem bigger than it is. This claustrophobic feeling is washed away when you watch Ma and Jack’s relationship unfold on screen in the flurry of emotions they convey. Ma is pushed to the edge at times in the confined space when Jack goes through the motions of a spoilt child that can’t get his own way.

Initially I avoided everything about this film to try and keep in the dark as it were, in case of spoilers, and I thought it was great way to approach the film due to the story. I later learned that this film was adapted from a book and initially thought this film was going to be confined to Room, however to my surprise they do escape and there are events after Room. I think instead of focusing on their confinement to Room and Ma’s abductor, they focus on the relationships throughout the film and believed this was very effective throughout the film.

Seen through the eyes of five year-old Jack, he struggles to grasp the concept of what’s real and what he considers ‘magic’, amplified when he believes Old Nick gets the Sunday treats through magic like the tv. Naturally the story is heartbreakingly daunting, but the spirited acting from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay and Abrahamson’s superb direction keeps the film at a great pace and the viewer clinging on to the relationships on the screen.

Although Ma and Jack’s relationship dominates the film, Jack as a character grows as he becomes exposed to the outside world, his character becomes an intriguing watch. Also Ma’s increasing frustration with Jack as he won’t connect with the toys or other people, which causes tensions within the household, makes the film at times a increasingly difficult watch as they both try to adapt to life in the outside world.

Throughout the film, I genuinely seemed to care for these characters and their situation, and I’ve never felt so uplifted and genuinely happy for characters in a film unlike when Ma is reunited with the incredibly brave Jack. This is helped by the genuine connection that Ma and Jack have and it resonates through the screen.

Truthfully, this film, simply put, is a character driven film but the way Abrahamson kept it ‘fresh’ and kept myself engrossed in the story over the two hours running time was truly outstanding. Of course, the daunting subject of the story is always going to be focus going into the film, but not the focus leaving the film. Abrahamson handled the matter fantastically and certainly after his last film Frank I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on his work in the forthcoming years.

I thought Brie Larson is deserved for his Oscar nomination and of course the Oscar nomination for best film is truly deserved. As I’ve mentioned countless times this films true triumph is the characters in the film. But the story and some lasting great shots really makes the film fantastic.

9/10

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

That moment the Lucasfilm logo appear on the screen I was already beaming from ear to ear. Immediately I was transported to a galaxy far, far away and the nostalgic memories of watching the original trilogy on VHS all those years ago rushed back.

Of course, the moment the release date was edging closer there was a collective effort worldwide to keep everywhere spoiler free and it was fantastic, everyone was simply excited about this film and it was on everyone’s lips. And it has to said it was so worth it. 

When JJ Abrams was attached to the project I had every confidence in him to not repeat the prequels (albeit The Phantom Menace had the best lightsaber duel). I was massively impressed with Abrams and his work in the Star Trek universe and this was the main reason I felt comfortable with him taking charge.

A big criticism I heard of this film after seeing it was the treading of familiar ground, however, upon watching this, I felt it was necessary to launch the new characters of Rey and Finn into the Star Wars universe.

Rey and Finn are at the centre of this film, set thirty years after the events in Return of the Jedi, with Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) as a scavenger on Jakku and Finn (John Boyega) playing a stormtrooper with a conscience. Their stories become intertwined as Finn defects from the First Order (the aftermath of the Empire) and crash lands on Jakku. Over the next two hours or so, they are helped with a mix of new and old characters to take down the latest dark side enforcer, Kylo Ren and the dark side’s latest destruction path.

The casting was absolutely superb as well, with a great but not overpowering mix of new and old characters. Of course Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver – fantastic casting choice in my opinion) were the characters leading the charge, helped with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and of course Han Solo, Chewie and Leia. The teasing of new characters who didn’t have much screen time in this film, like Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) who I thought held their own and intrigued me as not much was revealed about them.

With beautiful landspaces, The Force Awakens explores new territory like Jakku (Rey’s home  planet) and a shady cantina in the depths of Takodana, and not forgetting the Starkiller Base, aptly named as it draws it’s power from the suns of the solar system.

The action sequences throughout the film are excellent as they’re not overpowering to the story, with the right mix of the blaster fights and aerial pursuits. Paced well enough to keep you entertained, topped off by the finale battle that’s always to be expected in Star Wars.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-4

As I mentioned the story does step on the toes of A New Hope, that being said, JJ Abrams did mix it up with a few twists, some foreseeable, some not. For me, however, this was all washed away when you’re watching these characters and the story unfold on screen. And keeping John Williams on board and in charge of the sound, is always a strong choice with the familiar tune reworked, much like Michael Giacchino did with Jurassic World. 

It’s a fantastic nostalgic trip back to a galaxy far, far away. The treading of old ground makes the story wear thin, but the reworking to make the new characters shine I thought JJ Abrams has done an excellent job. The superb casting and the fantastic landscapes that have been created, this is an absolute beauty to watch on the silver screen.

8/10