Monday, July 24, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ~ I have been waiting for this flick since my brother-in-law hipped me to it several months back.  We're both, as are millions of others, fans of another Luc Bessom film, The Fifth Element, a movie which thematically and visually Valerian resembles.  Based on that, we were psyched, as well we should have been.  This is a stunning film, with two major problems that spoiled it for me.  Still, by all means, you should see this movie.  It's a popcorn blockbuster and a treat for the eyes, and yes, 3-D is recommended if available, I don't say this often, but it’s worth it.

Based on the French/Belgian comic series Valerian and Laureline, and therein lies one of my problems with this flick.  There are two lead protagonists in this film, and yet only the male one gets title billing.  Laureline is just as much a lead and a hero, in some cases a better hero than Valerian, and yet, where is her name in the title?  Besson, and whoever else might be responsible, should have kept to the source material on this one point. 

What aggravates this seemingly small point is that this is Luc Besson, a man who in previous films like Lucy, The Messenger, La Femme Nikita, The Professional, Kiss of the Dragon, and especially The Fifth Element, has presented strong female protagonists in empowered roles. Laureline is still a strong female protagonist, yet relegated to a back seat and no billing in the movie version of the comic in which she at least gets second. Disappointing.

The other problem I have with Valerian is the actor in the titular lead role of this flick, Dane DeHaan.  He is at best a Reggie in a movie that requires an Archie.  And anyone who has seen him in Chronicle or the painful The Amazing Spider-Man 2, knows that his mischievous eyes and sneering grin are far more applicable to villainous roles than heroic.  Often here he comes off as disingenuous or hiding something.  It's just in his face and his manner - I was never able to fully trust him as the hero.  Couple this with the character's less than stellar romantic streak, and he's definitely not your usual white hat. 

And while DeHaan tries earnestly to be the hero he was cast as, Cara Delevingne pulls it off easily as Laureline, despite her previous roles.  She was in the critically acclaimed Paper Towns, and also recently and more notably played the creepy Enchantress from Suicide Squad - or was she just Junie Moon, I forget, either way, both roles were creepy.  And yet, I believe her more as the hero that DeHaan should have been. Also in the mix are Herbie Hancock, Ethan Hawke, and Rihanna shining as a shapeshifting pole dancer.

Don't get me wrong and bunch me in with the other critics who inexplicably didn't like this flick, because I loved it despite the problems I had with it. Valerian is fast-paced, exciting, fun, and visually stunning. The aliens are a spectacular special effects triumph blending Besson's Fifth Element sensibilities with Avatar caliber realism. The story of two federal agents in the future uncovering the mystery of a lost civilization in the future is as refreshing as it is simplistic, and highly watchable.

I had problems, yes, but they didn't affect the wonder and amazement I felt watching this movie. This is top of the line science fiction adventure, and if I'm being honest, I wish recent Star Wars flicks had a bit more of this and were less powered by nostalgia. Valerian is a great flick, recommended.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Mist

Of late, the work of Stephen King has had a size problem.  The Dark Tower, much anticipated and based on a multi-book series of thousands of pages is being squeezed into a 95-minute film next month.  As bad as that sounds, I'll be the first to admit that it looks very cool and very promising.  And then there's The Mist, one of King's shortest novels or longest short stories (depending on the format in which you originally read it), now a ten-hour mini-series.

"The Mist" premiered on Spike several weeks back, vaguely based on King's novella, if only in concept.  The town is still Bridgeton, there's still a mysterious mist with monstrous creatures within, a mall fills in for the supermarket, and there are still two military suicides from Arrowhead, and a religious zealot old lady doomsayer.  The rest is different. 

New characters, new situations, new interactions, same paranoia, but with an updated sensibility.  The original story is nearly forty years old after all.  The new situations are very CW and pedestrian when all you really want are the monsters in the mist.  I suppose the soap is needed to stretch it into ten hours though. 

Frances Conroy, best known for "Six Feet Under" and "American Horror Story," is the stand out here as the old hippie whose belief in God is shattered by the mist.  Alyssa Sutherland, the supermodel who played one of my favorite characters in "Vikings," Princess Aslaug, sadly proves to be an acting black hole in this contemporary suburban environment. 

The quality and suspense varies from episode to episode.  Now at the mid-point, it has slowed to a crawl.  It does have its moments though.  This series might be better viewed as a binge with your finger on the fast forward button.  Or just read the story and skip the series. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

RIP Chester Bennington

I had just come out of a movie with my phone off. It's amazing how much one can miss in a mere two hours. I'm not pardoning people who use their cellphones in movies, no way, I think those folks should be jailed, but I'm just saying that sometimes it is stunning how the world can change in two hours. In the two hours today, the news broke that Chester Bennington, lead vocalist of Linkin Park, had taken his own life. As I sat in the car, having just turned my phone on, I was devastated.

I had only just been listening to the band a day or so ago. Linkin Park is one of those acts who may fade from one's memory, but all it takes is a few seconds of any song, and one remembers and realizes what an amazing construct they are. I had heard just a clip of "In the End" the other day, and was soon listening to Hybrid Theory on my laptop on continuous for a bit. They were amazing.

I am old, waaay old, but the emergence of Linkin Park reenergized me in a way that is hard to describe. I've mentioned it here before, but in high school I was the kid who always carried a radio around with me, I was always on top of what was new and 'cool' in music. I had made a promise to myself way back when, that if I got old, I would never lose that. Ah, to be young and naïve.

Sometime in the 1990s however, I did get old, and my interest in new music waned. I figured, oh well, it came with the thinning hair and the crow's feet, just deal with it. Then came a music channel called MTVX. I immediately gravitated toward it, and in its heavy hard rock rotation I found new bands that I connected with - like Papa Roach, Limp Bizkit, Korn, System of a Down, Disturbed, and Linkin Park.

For someone like me who had always liked the hard rock aspects of some rap, Linkin Park's blending of metal with hip hop was a dream come true. I became a big fan. Chester Bennington's melodic howls and lead vocals contrasted with Mike Shinoda's crisp casual raps over a metal tapestry of sound. Yeah, I dug these guys. "Faint," "In the End," and "Bleed It Out" remain my all-time favorites.

Over the years Chester has also worked on side projects such as fronting Dead by Sunrise, and attempting to fill the late Scott Weiland's shoes in Stone Temple Pilots for a couple years, and left shortly before Weiland himself passed. Chester apparently died by his own hand, hanging himself, but details are still forthcoming. He was only 41.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Spellbound ~ This one is a failing for me in many areas of my film watching and commentary career.  First and foremost, I've never seen Spellbound.  I know, for shame, a Hitchcock flick I've never seen, especially with the reputation this one has, and that legendary dream sequence designed by the great Salvador Dali.  To make matters worse, I've also never seen Mel Brooks' High Anxiety, mostly because I wanted to see Spellbound first. 

Wait, did you catch that vibe? If you know your Hitch, you definitely did. The above is the original opening I wrote for this review two years back, when I thought Spellbound was Vertigo - yeah, I know, I'm an idiot. I was confused, thought this movie was Vertigo not Spellbound, and therefore multiplied my disappointment. I know now, Vertigo is brilliant, Spellbound not so much. Back to my original review…

Hopefully, seeing Spellbound in a big beautiful old fashioned movie palace like the Walt Disney Theatre on the TCM Classic Cruise will make up for the long wait in viewing this one.  Seriously, it's the only way to see any film, classic or not.  And as I settled in to watch on an early Wednesday morning on board, the theater was packed, and a live introduction by the late Robert Osborne didn't hurt either. 

The story revolves around psychoanalysis, which at the time was new, but now is a bit old hat, if now completely outdated. That's where my suspension of disbelief fails. I just didn't buy the premise, and while the story doesn't hold together, and the performances are less than stellar, I did respect the direction and cinematography. Hitch has mad skills even in his least work.

All that said, obviously I didn't really dig the flick.  I realize it's a product of its time, but the sexism and clinical aspects of psychotherapy really angered and simultaneously bored me.  Besides that, I also didn't think this was Ingrid Bergman at her best, and this very young Gregory Peck didn't seem to have his chops yet.  Bill Goodwin (best known from Burns and Allen) as the hotel detective was one of the few bright spots for me.  Things livened up when he was on screen. 

And then there was that dream sequence.  I would have dug more of that but producer David Zanuck cut it from twenty-two minutes to two with narrative.  Knowing that before seeing it, and also knowing the full cut wasn't included, was a bit of a letdown within a film that was already a bit of a letdown.

Perhaps someday I sit down and try to watch this one again, give it a second chance. I just couldn't really get into it, and if I couldn't get into it in the best of all circumstances to see such a film, I don't hold out for much hope. I guess I just didn't like it. Your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The New Doctor

The announcement has been made, the shots have been fired, and finally after two days, one might hope the smoke has cleared. The new Doctor, who we will not see officially until Christmas evening, several months away, will be a woman. The new Doctor Who (if that is, indeed, his/her name, hmmm, I wonder if The Doctor will need to choose new pronouns…) will be played by Jodie Whittaker.

Now, first things first, the fact that The Doctor will be a woman doesn't bother me one bit. It's been known in fandom circles for decades that Time Lords/Ladies can change gender, race, even species, when they regenerate. Such a gender switch was verified as canon on the television series itself in the episode "Hell Bent" as a white male Time Lord regenerated into a black female Time Lady. Since then, we have seen, and loved, Michelle Gomez as missy, the female regeneration of The Master. It happens, it's canon, and that's how it's going to be.

If anything, my disappointment in the choice of new Doctor was more about it not being Hayley Atwill ("Agent Carter") or Kris Marshall (Love, Actually) than it being a woman. My only doubt is in the fact I have never seen Jodie Whittaker's work, so I'm not even sure what kind of Doctor she'll be - but then again, finding out is half the fun with any new Doctor. I just hope she'll have good stories. Bad stories can ruin even the best Doctors, as in the cases of both Sylvester McCoy and Peter Capaldi, in my opinion.

And now a word about fandom, and this is where it will get ugly. There have been a few distinct factions at war on social media regarding the announcement of the new "Doctor Who" as a woman. There are those true fans of the show who know it is canon, and know it has been hinted at and telegraphed over the span of seasons that eventually The Doctor would regenerate into a woman, and they were cool with it - granted, hesitant as they would be with any new Doctor, but not over gender.

Then there were those who were only casual fans or who only knew the show by reputation and had no idea how regeneration works, let alone what it is. Typically these folks probably voted for Brexit or Trump and wouldn't know a TARDIS from a police box. They were outraged that another male icon was being stolen from them. They were also typically the same folks who spell it 'Dr. Who' as opposed to 'Doctor Who.' For the record, this is Dr. Who, and this is Doctor Who, get it right. Not true Whovians and not worth my time.

Also not worth my time are the folks who have never seen the program and yet still have an opinion. You know what you can do with your opinion. If you don't watch, you don't get one. Just my opinion. And this includes all those folks trying to use the idea of an iconic male role becoming female for your own agendas. You don't get to do that if you know nothing about the mythos.

I welcome Jodie Whittaker to the Who family, and cannot wait for her adventures to begin. I think she's going to rock.