“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
“Your Mum Was Tough At First. And Then We Had Our First Kiss, And I Understood…”
Whilst not the most delightful of subject matters, the notion of cannibalism has been rife within horror cinema ever since the exploitation days of the mid-to-late 20th century when films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust highlighted the cinematic pleasure of watching controversial subject matter erupt on the big screen and blow raspberries at many who believed such stories simply could not be classed as any form of legitimate entertainment. Whilst the days of video nasties have thankfully been and gone, the idea of cannibalism still remains to this day, and with the release of Raw, a French-Belgian production directed by Julia Ducournau, cannibalism has never been presented so ripe or ridiculously enjoyable, with the movie blending seamlessly elements of comedy, romance and shock-tastic body horror, culminating in an experience which is not only effective in its’ sheer willingness to exploit the squeamish nature of its’ audience but one which lives long in the memory or quite possibly, your nightmares.
Dropped off by her parents in order to start her education at veterinary school, dedicated vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) is swiftly integrated into the dedicated rituals of the school’s “elders”, of which her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already an integral part of. After being forced to surrender her will and consume a raw rabbit kidney as part of the school’s initiation, Justine begins to experience a dramatic change in both body and mind, resulting in a realisation regarding not only herself but others around her. Whilst the shock-tactic set pieces within the movie are the elements which are bound to either disgust or delight the movie’s audience, the underlying black comedy within the both the narrative and direction place Raw in completely its’ own category, and whilst the film obviously owes a debt to the jet-black seriousness of We Are What We Are and its’ subsequent American remake, traits of the likes of The Neon Demon, Let the Right One In and even Black Swan are all visible in the movie’s genetic makeup even when it is undoubtedly an original release in its’ own right.
In the leading role, Garance Marillier is absolutely superb in attempting to portray a conflicted youth struggling to contain her inevitable and violent change, and with the aid of some juicy and flawless practical effects and brilliant sound design, particular set pieces including a nightmarish desire for scratching and a shaving incident gone terribly wrong, are as wonderful in their sheer execution as they are joyously terrible to observe. Not for a long time has a film been so outlandish in its’ sense of exploitation greatness that I have resorted to covering my eyes in fear of scaring my mind and although some may even regard such sequences as overtly stupid and seemingly searching for the cheapest of thrills, my response to such was one of utmost bliss even when admiring it through partially closed fingers. If exploitation horror is simply what you want from a particular movie, Raw is a much bigger and better beast than simply just that, and when contemplating the likes of The Handmaiden and Elle, Ducournau’s big-screen debut continues to prove that foreign language exploits are sometimes leagues above the likes of their English-speaking counterparts, particularly when it comes to horror.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I’m Lost. I Can’t Tell Whether Or Not I’m Going Crazy…”
Whilst many will link the complex aura of Kristen Stewart almost automatically to the Twilight franchise, her reputation as one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors has increased delightfully over the course of the past few years, with her desire to work primarily away from the heavy headlines of big budgeted productions ultimately resulting in a change of perception from the moody teen vampire star to a truly remarkable and reliable screen presence. Continuing on from 2014’s critically acclaimed Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart reunites with director Olivier Assayas this week in Personal Shopper, a bone-chillingly creepy ghost story which although is undeniably original in execution, provides enough classic gothic horror motifs to appreciate the cine-literate nature of Assaya’s direction which harks back to everything from The Haunting to a Mulholland Drive-esque air of ambiguity throughout its’ more than appreciative runtime of 105 minutes. If it’s cheap jump scares you’re after, go watch Paranormal Activity, Personal Shopper is a marvellous platform for Stewart to work her unappreciated magic in a manner which is calculated with an utmost efficiency from its’ impressive director.
After the tragic loss of her twin brother, Kristen Stewart’s Maureen, a self-proclaimed medium, capable of sensing and communicating with the afterlife, attempts to reconnect with her recently deceased twin in an attempt to seek closure and continue with her life in Paris where working as a personal shopper for Nora von Waldstätten’s high-profile yet entirely egotistic fashion model, Kyra, is a financial necessity rather than a enjoyable pastime. After embracing the existence of an unknown spirit in her lost brother’s previous home, Maureen becomes transfixed with the thrill of the unknown, resulting in a supposed game of cat and mouse between her world and the spirit world, concluding with dire and unexpected consequences. Featuring perhaps two of the most unnerving, bone-tingling scenes of recent years, Personal Shopper is a wildly subversive thriller which leaves the audience to fill in the blanks in a manner which totally understands and respects its’ intended admirers. With Stewart in the leading role, her performance is both utterly mesmerising and entirely convincing, creating an air of tension in certain scenes which in the hands of others would have been completely lifeless and forgettable, particularly a long drawn-out scene in which our leading heroine communicates with her unknown admirer via smartphone. Between herself and director Assayas, Personal Shopper is another winning formula for the duo and is indeed one of the more interesting movies of the year so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Both Of Us, It’s Sickening. It’s Perverse. I Was In Denial But Now It’s All Very Clear…”
To say Paul Verhoeven is a man whose career is somewhat contrary in terms of both critical and financial success is on a similar vein when stating the current leader of the US of A isn’t exactly held in the highest esteem, and whilst the infamous Dutch director is best known for the likes of cult favourites such as RoboCop, Starship Troopers and the excellent Phillip K. Dick influenced, Schwarzenegger starring, Total Recall, other cinematic ventures including Hollow Man and the hotly panned, Razzie-winning Showgirls, show that excellence isn’t exactly the result every time the great Dane decides to release a new film. With Elle however, the highly publicised Oscar nomination for the film’s leading star Isabelle Huppert follows in the footsteps of a large amount of hype, a reputation which we all are well aware of doesn’t always result in an overly positive movie-going experience come release day. Thankfully for Verhoeven however, Elle is a gripping and wholly twisted depiction of sexual violence and subversive desires, whilst the portrayal of the most dysfunctional family in the past few years of so gives an air of black comedy to the film’s wide range of elements which all in all make it a riveting success.
Helmed together by a simply majestic performance from leading star Isabelle Huppert, who throughout the movie is effortless in portraying a rape victim who cautiously and calmly finds her way to exact revenge on the person who wronged her, Elle features quite extensively a narrative which reasserts Verhoeven’s knack for the genre-bending uncanny, taking all the sliminess and rough-toughness of previous movies such as Basic Instinct and Showgirls and forming them around a leading character who is both subversive in makeup yet undeniably interesting from start to finish. Whilst Elle is categorically not a film for the majority of audiences, the one-two duo of Verhoeven and Huppert have created a movie which stands head and shoulders above the limited amounts of erotic-based thrillers released in previous years (looking at you Fifty Shades) with its’ quirky jet black sensibility propelling the finished article into a existential thriller which verges on the edge of total B-Movie splatter come the final act but ultimately one which is cautiously enjoyable nonetheless.