Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets- Movie Review

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one of the craziest, and mostly wildly creative and original science fiction films of the past decade. It’s not without it’s flaws of course; there’s more than enough heavy handed exposition, some awkward Bush-era political commentary, and slightly stilted performances from the two leads. However, for it’s script issues, there’s an incredible amount of imagination in the film, and for better or worse, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

In the future, thousands of alien civilizations share their cultures in a massive urban complex known as Alpha. When a mysterious threat threatens to destroy the entire system, Agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delivigne) are dispatched to navigate the complex structure and eliminate the threat. DeHaan and Delivigne are serviceable, if slightly bland, but they’re secondary to the incredible spectacle; each scene explores something new and creative, and Luc Besson commits to creating a gorgeously weird world space opera.

The film’s slightly too long, and although a majority of the world building and side plots are interesting, there are some that eel unnecessary. Absolutely, a stronger screenplay would’ve benefited the film, as would more fleshed out characters. It’s imperfect, but Valerian is a crazy action spectacle that’s both insanely self confident, yet entirely unpretentious, and it’s a ride worth taking. Grade: B

 

A Ghost Story- Movie Review

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A Ghost Story is a beautiful mediation on love, loss, and time, using creative storytelling and beautifully simplistic visuals to craft a unique and gorgeous film. The film follows a woman (Rooney Mara) who’s life is seen through the eyes of her late husband (Casey Affleck), who wanders the Earth as a ghost seeking meaning. Mara and Affleck are excellent here, but it’s the overarching story that takes precedent here; director David Lowery tells his story with long, lingering intimacy, as well as enigmatic montages that tell beautiful stories through visual imagery.

It’s absolutely a personal film, and the film offers little answers to life’s greatest questions at the end, and for many, the intimacy could be seen as plain or even dull. However, it’s these qualities that make A Ghost Story a special film; it’s a look at a greater understanding of the essence of time, told through a specific vessel of one family’s story. With stunning long shots and an absolutely gorgeous score, A Ghost Story is a beautifully simple story that’s both thought provoking and personally enthralling. Grade: B+

Dunkirk- Movie Review

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Dunkirk is phenomenal, a gripping war epic from Christopher Nolan that is both thrilling in a untraditional sense and throughly emotional, despite not connecting to any one particular character. Nolan’s film isn’t about characters, but the event itself, and the film’s multiple storylines combine together to create a masterful combination of suspense and triumph. The film tells the true story of the evacuation of Dunkirk during the height of World War II, where civilian boats helped to rescue nearly 30,000 British soldiers from France.

There are moments of raw emotion, for sure, such as a PTSD stricken soldier’s fear of returning to conflict, a British General’s convicted respect towards his French allies, or the triumph of seeing civilian ships on the shores of Dunkirk. The film’s stellar cast are all here to be part of this epic tale, and while there are some strong characters, particularly Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, it never turns into a heroic journey for one person. This is the film’s message; war is consisted of countless stories, both tragic and triumphant, and sometimes, survival is the best victory.

Dunkirk is both a window into the horrors of World War II and a thoroughly entrancing depiction of an event with intimate detail. Few films are able to demand attention from beginning to end, and Nolan’s film keeps the audience on the edge of their seat for every frame, and ends with a gorgeous montage wrapping up the lives of its characters. Dunkirk is thrilling, thought provoking, and absolutely one of the best films of the year. Grade: A+

To the Bone- Movie Review

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To the Bone is a competent film that does a good job at portraying the struggles that come with eating disorders, even if the characters struggle to establish themselves outside of the importance of the issue. The film follows a girl named Ellen (Lily Collins) who struggles with anorexia, and joins a group led by a non-traditional doctor (Keanu Reeves) who aims to help the group work together to overcome their hardships. Collins is excellent here; she’s likable, and conveys the severity of the issue, and Reeves is similarly strong, although massively underused.

The film has more than a few touching moments, and is surprisingly emotional for a film with relatively thin characters. Tonally, the film works well to include moments that are genuinely depressing with those that are uplifting, and even if its a tad overlong, it doesn’t over stay its welcome. To the Bone does a good job at finding a dramatic story to tell regarding a real life crisis, yet its characters, while adequate, could’ve used more development. Grade: B

Wish Upon- Movie Review

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To call Wish Upon “dumb” is a disservice to the countless other stupid films I’ve reviewed that at least have some resemblance of plot, character, or logic, as this film has none. The moronic story follows a young girl (Joey King) that discovers a magical box that grants wishes, while taking the lives of others. What follows is a 90 minute combination of high school and horror movie cliches, stupid decisions made for no other reason than to advance the plot, and ridiculous montages that only waste screen time.

It’s not just that Wish Upon is bad, it’s that its bad in nearly every way; characters have menial, ridiculous dialogue, the scares are laughable at best, and the characters are not only unlikeable, but shockingly incompetent. There’s no scares to be found here, nor is there much of anything else, as at 90 minutes, the film seems to drag on forever with unneeded subplots. Wish Upon is horror at its worst: lazy, stupid, and utterly unwatchable. Grade: F

War for the Planet of the Apes- Movie Review

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War for the Planet of the Apes is masterful, proving not to be a worthy action film in the post- Mad Max: Fury Road era, but perhaps one of the bleakest summer blockbusters ever made. The film relates to classic sci-fi themes of power, man’s nature, and the nature of evolution, blended with characters that are complex and compelling. It’s a visual masterwork, combining some of the most photorealistic CGI ever put to screen with gorgeous cinematography, crafting a stirring epic where each frame feels meticulously crafted.

With the war between humans and apes raging, Caesar (Andy Serkis) seeks vengeance against a ruthless human known as “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson) following a tragic assault on his family. Serkis has once again brought an Oscar worthy performance to the character of Caesar, bringing an emotional weight rarely seen in any film, blockbuster or otherwise, to the role. Harrelson is chilling as a neo-Nazi inspired leader, who’s antics might feel out of place if they weren’t so raw and genuine.

It’s hard to put War for the Planet of the Apes in the category of a traditional franchise film; there’s nothing safe about the series, and the amount of dedication and depth brought to a film shows the best of what science fiction can be- a mirror to our own world. It’s emotional, beautifully shot, and wraps up a great series with a shocking, stirring, and ultimately fulfilling final chapter. Grade: A

The Beguiled- Movie Review

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The Beguiled is a strange film; it has the look and feel of a straight laced period piece, yet the story and execution of complete schlock. Set during the Civil War, a Union solider named John McBurney (Collin Farrell) is wounded in conflict and taken in by an all girls boarding school, led by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). With McBurney healing, tension and competition begins between the girls at the school, forcing conflict and lies to spread in a supposedly peaceful place.

The film has some interesting ideas about gender and sexuality, but for all the film’s technically pleasing marvels, it’s a rather straight forward, schlocky ride. Farrell is by far the standout, giving a charismatic performance who shifts between devious and genuine, and elevates each scene where he interacts with the larger cast. It’s enjoyable at parts and mostly well acted, but for a well shot film by a renowned director, it’s rather dull. Grade: B-

Spider-Man: Homecoming- Movie Review

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Spider-Man: Homecoming is brilliant, a fantastic portrayal of the character of Peter Parker that brings the heart and humor that make the signature web slinger so iconic. Yes, the film has some fantastic visuals and almost nonstop humor, but it’s the tone that makes the film work so well; director Jon Watts understands that it’s the coming of age, high school story that makes Spider-Man so relatable. The film is genuinely gripping on a character level; as an audience, we want Peter to get the girl, prove himself, and save the world, and the film’s white knuckled action sequences work because of this.

After being recruited by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is stuck on a ground level trying to prevent small crimes as the crimefighting Spider-Man. When a thief (Michael Keaton) begins to steal a series of dangerous technology, Peter acts against Stark’s wishes and attempts to thwart the villains, and prove himself as a worthy addition to The Avengers. The ties to the Marvel universe don’t burden the film, but enhance it; the film feels like it actually fits into the world of superheroes, with Captain America popping up in school videos and teenage girls crushing on Thor.

The high school environment works wonderfully, with Peter’s struggles with classes, family, and girls feeling just as gripping as his superhero adventures, and the two are perfectly balanced by the film’s tour de force performance by Tom Holland. Holland is beyond charismatic; his Peter Parker is the perfect awkward, nerdy high school science whiz, and his Spider-Man is quick witted, intelligent, and most importantly, human. Holland’s interpretation is perhaps the best cinematic Spider-Man ever put to screen, and he’s up against the perfect villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Keaton brings a blue collar, utterly relatable nature to his character, who’s blatant humanity makes him one of the most terrifying, and best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I was genuinely taken aback by how good Spider-Man: Homecoming was. Although seeing Spider-Man in the larger Marvel universe is exciting enough, the film understands why the character is beloved, and tells a story that perfectly fits said character. It’s shockingly funny, with more than a few gut busting moments, but it’s the humanity that makes the film so special. Rivaling Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 as the best of the series, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a heartwarming, beautiful delight. Grade: A

Okja- Movie Review

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Okja is a remarkable modern fairy tale, a beautiful mix of American and Korean filmmaking by the masterful director Bong Joon-ho. While there’s some familiar beats when it comes to the themes of corporate greed, and the film’s tone ranges from biting satire to genuinely heartfelt, what Bong Joon-ho has created visually is nothing short of miraculous, and the simple story of a girl and her pet is completely touching. There are many elements of Okja that feel preachy, but the film remains watchable when it focuses on it’s smaller, character driven story.

In the not too distant future, the Miranda Corporation have genetically engineered massive, pig like creatures too hopefully resupply the world’s food. However, for the young girl Mija (Ahn Joon-ho), the massive creature known as Okja is her best friend, and when the company’s ruthless CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) and the company’s spokesperson Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) attempt to use Okja for profit, Mija teams up with an animal-rights activist named Jay (Paul Dano) to save the creature. Ahn Joon-ho gives a remarkably vulnerable performance for such a young performer, but it’s Gyllenhaal’s ridiculous and despicable villain that steals the film.

There are many points where Okja is terrifying, showing the cruelty of corporate America, yet there’s also moments that are sweet and full of adventure, evoking memories of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial or The Goonies. Despite some heavy handed thematic elements, the film is relatively straight forward and keeps things concise and entertaining. It’s not a perfect film, nor is it a future classic, but it’s an ambitious, and mostly entertaining film that shows Bong Joon-ho’s talent as a creative mind. Grade: B

Mindhorn- Movie Review

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Mindhorn is a delightfully quirky British comedy, featuring a brilliant performance by Julian Barratt and some biting satire of ’80s television. The film tells the story of Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), a washed up actor best known for his role as Detective Mindcroft. When Mindcroft’s biggest fan (Russell Tovey) is accused of murder, Thorncroft is brought into reprise his iconic role, this time for real.

While there are some familiar beats, most notably when it comes to the crime elements of the film, it’s Barratt’s self obsessed, self loathing lead performance that makes the film so charming. The character’s despicable, yet charismatic nature is completely endearing, and the film’s references to pop culture and classic television are tactful and witty. It’s a broad, often hilarious film with some surprising heart, and it’s one of the best comedies of the year. Grade: B