Playing Catch Up With The Films of 2017: Valerian and the City Of A Thousand Planets (dir by Luc Besson)


Valerian and the City Of A Thousand Planets is another film, much like The Dark Tower and this year’s Transformers movie, that I watched in a state of total and thorough confusion.

More than once, I asked myself, “What the Hell’s going on?  Who are those people?  Why are they blowing stuff up?  Why are they shooting at each other?  Who’s fighting who?  Wait, is he a good guy or a bad guy?  Is Valerian human or alien?  WHAT’S GOING ON!?”

But I have to admit that it really didn’t bother me that Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets is an almost totally incoherent movie.  After all, Valerian is a Luc Besson film and Besson has always been a supreme stylist above all else.  That’s not to say that there’s nothing going on underneath the glossy visuals of a Besson film.  It’s just to say that Besson is one of the rare directors where the subtext is usually less interesting than what’s happening on the surface.

Take Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  It takes place in the far future, on Alpha.  Alpha used to be the International Space Station but now it’s become a floating city where the inhabitants of a thousand different planets mix and socialize.  It’s a very cosmopolitan city, one where the only disturbance comes from obnoxious human tourists who are all either extremely British or extremely American.  Now, you could argue that Besson is making the argument that Alpha is meant to represent France but, if you spend too much time doing that, you’re going to miss just how amazingly Alpha has been visualized.  It’s not just that everyone in the movie says that Alpha is home to a million different creatures.  It’s that when the film travels to Alpha, you take one look at the screen and you believe it.

The film’s plot … well, this is where it gets difficult. It gets off to a truly brilliant beginning, with an intergalactic summit that takes place while David Bowie’s Space Oddity plays in the background.  After that, the film’s visuals were so amazing that I have to admit that I was usually too busy taking it all in to pay much attention to what was actually going on.  Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are members of the special police force that has been created to protect Alpha and apparently the rest of the universe as well.  Valerian has strange dreams about a primitive race of people who live on a beach.  Laureline frets about Valerian’s recent proposal of marriage.  They’ve both been assigned to track down a creature, the last of its species, that is currently being sold in a black market.  It all links back to some secrets concerning their superior (Clive Owen) and a plot involving intergalactic refugees.

And, obviously, if you’re someone who insists on finding political subtext in every movie that you watch, there’s a lot to be found in Valerian‘s story about space refugees and government cover-ups.  But, honestly, none of that is as interesting as the effort that Besson has put into making his flamboyant universe come to life.  Valerian may be narratively incoherent but visually, it come close to proving Lucio Fulci’s theory of “absolute film.”  The plot is less important than the film’s visuals and how you, as the viewer, reacts to those visuals.  Even Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne seem to have been cast less for any acting ability they may have and more because the boyishly rugged DeHaan and the achingly pretty Delevingne both compliment the film’s visual scheme.  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is cinematic pop art.

Back to School Part II #50: Paper Towns (dir by Jake Schreier)


(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of Monday, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horror month!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

paper-towns

Looking at the film poster above, you could be forgiven for immediately thinking of The Fault In Our Stars.  Of course, some of that is because it says, “From the author of The Fault In Our Stars” and because it features half of Nat Wolff’s face.  (Wolff had a key supporting role in Fault.)  Beyond that, though, the poster feels as if it could have just as easily been used for The Fault In Our Stars.  Check out the intensity of the stares.  Though we may only see half of their faces, both of the pictured characters appear to be daring the viewer to dismiss their concerns as being mere “teen drama.”

When Paper Towns was released in 2015, it was repeatedly advertised as being the next Fault In Our Stars.  Paper Towns does share Fault‘s unapologetic earnestness and, in a few scenes, its sense of inescapable melancholy.  (As people get older, they tend to sentimentalize the years that came before and, as a result, they often forget how coming-of-age and intense regret often go hand-in-hand.)  But ultimately, though they’re both based on novels by John Green and feature Nat Wolff, Paper Towns tells a very different story from The Fault In Our Stars.

Nat Wolff stars as Quintin, who is better known as Q.  Quintin is a student at Jefferson Park High School in Orlando.  He’s the epitome of a good kid.  He’s shy, he’s polite, and, somewhat inevitably when you consider what is currently valued in American society, he’s not particularly popular at school.  He spends most of his time hanging out with his friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith).  And when he’s not hanging out with them, he’s pining for the most popular girl in school, Margo (Cara Delivingne).

Margo and Quintin have been neighbors since they were children.  When Margo’s family first moved in, she and Quintin became close friends but that friendship ended after they came across the body of a man who had committed suicide.  Traumatized, Margo drifted away from Quintin.  Now, nine years later, they are both seniors in high school.  Quintin silently loves Margo.  Margo rarely acknowledges his existence…

Or, that is, she doesn’t until the night that she suddenly climbs through Quintin’s bedroom window.  She explains that her boyfriend has been cheating on her.  She wants revenge on him and all of her friends, none of whom bothered to tell her what was going on.  A night of gleeful vandalism follows, ending with a romantic dance.

The next morning, Margo is gone.  She’s vanished and no one knows where she has gone.  However, Quintin is determined to find her and he is also convinced that she has left him a trail of clues that will lead him to her.  When he concludes that she’s gone to upstate New York, he recruits his friends (and one of Margo’s former friends) to go on a road trip with him.  Quintin is convinced that Margo will be waiting for him but, as always, the truth is a bit more complex…

While the plot description might make Paper Towns sound like a YA version of Gone Girl, it’s actually an achingly sincere and incredibly likable little film.  The entire cast has a good chemistry and their dialogue is clever without sounding artificial.  The best thing about Paper Towns is that it serves as a wonderful showcase for Nat Wolff, who is one of the best and most underrated young actors working today.  If you watch this film directly after watching Wolff convincingly play a self-destructive sociopath in Palo Alto, you’ll get a hint of Wolff’s range.

Paper Towns won’t make you cry like The Fault In Our Stars did but it’s still a pretty decent film.

Suicide Squad Drops By the MTV Movie Awards


Suicide Squad

Let’s get this out of the way and just say that Warner Bros. executives and major shareholders are none too pleased by the reception from both critics and the general audience when it comes to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not a very good start to their planned DC Extended Universe. While fanboys from both DC and Marvel have been going at it for weeks now, there’s at least some bright spot ahead for DC in their summer tentpole release Suicide Squad.

Even with rumors of extended reshoots to add more levity and fun to balance out public’s perception that the DC films are too dour and dark (grimdark even), Suicide Squad still remains one of the more anticipated films of the summer.

During this year’s MTV Movie Awards, DC and Warner Brothers released the newest trailer for what they’re hoping will sell the DCEU to the audience what Batman v. Superman could not and that’s a fun comic book film that understands dark and serious doesn’t have to mean not fun.

Suicide Squad is set for an August 5, 2016 release date.

Comic-Con’s First Look At The Suicide Squad


SuicideSquad

“If anything goes wrong we blame them. We have built-in deniability.” — Amanda Waller

When will studios finally realize that showing any video reel, trailer or teaser at Comic-Con’s Hall H will inevitably be leaked if no official release has been made. It’s the nature of the internet and has become a sort of ritual each summer when Comic-Con rolls around. Some studios have been better with whetting the appetite of fans by giving those who can’t make Hall H with something to see. Others seem intent on trying to control what comes out of Hall H. It’s almost as if they’re saying “sucks to be you” if one couldn’t attend Comic-Con and get a seat in Hall H.

This year it seems Warner Brothers is that studio that’s trying to stamp out all the leaked footage shown at this year’s Hall H during their industry panel. It was a panel that was seen as the best thing about the Hall H gatherings. They did the right thing about releasing the latest trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to the public and not just keeping it for the Hall H crowd. Yet, they whiffed big time by not doing the same for the Suicide Squad trailer (or first look as some call it).

Inevitably some in Hall H were kind enough to turn on their smartphones and video a rough and grainy look at the trailer which was then uploaded onto the internet. This was the first look a majority of comic-book and film fans got of Suicide Squad. Not a good look, but fans were playing this leaked footage nonstop. So, taking a page out of Marvel Studios PR playbook after the first Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer leaked in a very non-HD version, Warner Bros. has finally surrendered and released an HD-version of the Suicide Squad trailer.

All is right with the world.