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Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

“It’s Our Mission That Doesn’t Make Sense, Sir…”

With French filmmaker Luc Besson not succeeding in making a decent movie since the 1990’s when it comes to directing, the array of fingers which he has managed to stick into a wide range of cinematic pies including The Transporter and Taken series, means that particular film companies still feel the need to finance certain projects which stem from the mind of a man who continues to live off the success of his earlier and much more impressive bodies of work, of which Nikita and Léon still remain the standout features. With his latest release of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this week, aside from having arguably the most arduous and stupidest film title in recent memory, Besson’s return to science fiction brings with it a relative amount of caution, particularly when the finished product could either be the silly, blockbuster fun of The Fifth Element or the idiotic, laziness of a film such as Lucy, and whilst there is no doubting that Valerian is filled to the rafters with a mountain of issues and quandaries, Besson’s latest is the type of movie which you begin to hate from the outset but then slowly edge through acceptance, excitement and enjoyment as the film reaches its’ long-awaited conclusion. Valerian is stupid, nonsensical and completely bonkers, but boy, I didn’t half enjoy it.

Although the screenplay is primarily based upon the French science fiction comic series, Valérian and Laureline, there is no doubting the visual splendour of the film takes cues from a wide variety of movies from fantasy cinematic history, and whilst it comes across as lazy to simply paint Valerian as a Star Wars rip-off, the sandy plains of the opening act and the introduction of characters that so clearly resemble famous faces from a galaxy far, far away is strikingly undeniable, even when the film effectively manages to be designed in such a superbly crafted fashion it’s impossible to not applaud the creative process behind it. With the visuals so flashy and impressively detailed, the cheddar-cheese dialogue and questionable acting does manage to be somewhat overlooked, even when Cara Delevingne manages to act almost everyone off the screen including leading co-star Dane DeHaan whose montone affinity results in him coming across as a next-generation Keanu Reeves cast-off, and with a narrative as bonkers and fundamentally confusing as the one at the centre of it, Valerian is that rare case of a movie being so wrong it’s right, and whilst I may be in the minority when the dust eventually settles, Besson’s latest isn’t a masterpiece by any measure, it’s just ridiculous, braindead fun.

Overall Score: 6/10

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Film Review: The Magnificent Seven

“I Seek Righteousness. But I’ll Take Revenge…”

As with the release of Ben-Hur only recently, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven can easily be regarded simply as a 21st century take on the 1960 classic, itself a re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa’s epic Seven Samurai, with Fuqua’s latest perhaps only having a sole purpose of making a quick buck rather than attempting to do something interesting and ultimately different than its’ 1960 counterpart. Swapping the likes of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson for the current crop of A-List stars such as Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt, The Magnificent Seven ultimately does not live up to its’ titular superlative, arriving at an all-too familiar plot, one with a rafter of genre cliches and a lesser developed crop of characters than its’ predecessor, albeit being a movie which indeed features some good all-round direction, particularly in its’ final explosive act which saves the film from ultimately being just another dull Hollywood conveyor belt of a movie.

Replacing the distinctive figure of Yul Brynner from the original, we now have Denzel Washington in the leading role, one again teaming up with Fuqua after Training Day and The Equalizer, with the former of course giving Washington his second Oscar win, and whilst the pairing have tasted success in the past, it is almost certain that their latest venture will indeed hit the box office for a time being and then simply fade into nonexistence like many previous cinematic attempts to reinvent classic Hollywood pictures. With the famous theme playing out during the end credits, The Magnificent Seven plays out no attempt at all to indifferent itself from the 1960 version aside from a few minor character changes in the titular band of killers, and whilst the touches of nostalgia are cute, it simply reminds you how much you actually might as well have been watching the original. For the newly converted however, Fuqua’s latest may indeed be a successful action thriller, yet for those with previous knowledge of the story, The Magnificent Seven is yet another taste of remake mediocrity. The blowing up stuff scenes are pretty cool though.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Predestination

A Man Walks Into A Bar…

Time-travel movies always seem to have a fundamental, and crucial, element of attempting to  prevent the audience from asking too many questions in regards to the sciencey-wiency, timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly (Yes, Doctor Who is amazing) stuff that happens during the course of the film. Thankfully in the case of Predestination, such a crucial element is adhered to, with it being a rather enjoyable, and slightly confusing, 90 minutes of science fiction which gripped me from start to finish.

Ethan Hawke, fresh from his role in the wonderful Boyhood, plays an un-named time agent who seeks to bring down the one target that has eluded him throughout his life, the Fizzle Bomber, yet during his undercover operation in the 1970’s, he comes across the transgender John, who begins to tell the tale of his life and, most importantly, the one man that has eluded him, prompting Hawke’s character to make the most of his time-travelling capabilities and help John understand the nature of his mysterious saboteur. The film has echoes of previous sci-fi films such as Looper and Jumper, yet Predestination stands strongly on its own two feet by having a brilliant script, albeit one that asks a range of questions, particularly in regards to paradoxes and fundamental time-travel problems, and some solid acting, particularly from Australian actress Sarah Snook, whose portrayal as the transgender Jane/John being a particular highlight.

Although Predestination may have slightly sunk under the UK film radar, it is definitely worth seeking out and watching, with it being the on par with the other stand out sci-fi film so far this year; Ex Machina. It is also good to hear that Sarah Snook has been recognised for her role in the film, with her winning “Best Actress” at this years’ AACTA Awards and it is her performance, and the film’s rather strange script that makes Predestination a reel sci-fi winner.

Overall Score: 8/10

87th Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor

Oscars 2015: Best Supporting Actor

We are now on to the penultimate blog regarding this years Oscars ceremony, the focus of which is  on the “Best Supporting Actor” category, featuring Hulk, Hamlet, J. Jonah Jameson, Tom Hagen and, oddly, Hulk again. In terms of bookies favourite, J. K. Simmons is the best bet to win the gong, and for the second time running, I completely agree with them. His performance as the ferocious Terrence Fletcher in Whiplash, transformed a film with a rather simple and, dare I say it, boring plot, into the most gripping cinematic experience I have witnessed in a long while. Hats off to him. As an added extra, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Edward Norton or Ethan Hawke, pick up the award instead, for their roles in Birdman and Boyhood respectively, highlighting the strength of the nominations in this particular category this year. In terms of overlooked, James Gandolfini for The Drop, and, i’m calling it, Dave Bautista for Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s right. Drax the Destroyer. Instead, we have:

Robert Duvall – The Judge

Ethan Hawke – Boyhood

Edward Norton – Birdman

Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher

J. K. Simmons – Whiplash

Next… Best Supporting Actress