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Movie Review: ‘Valerian’ Has a Thousand Ideas, Little Personality

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou can tell that Luc Besson wrote and directed this sci-fi adventure with the way he places his efforts more on developing a fantastic galaxy of starships and aliens than most of the characters that occupy the universe of Valerian. While he does make the smart call of overloading the screen with as many visually stunning and original ideas as possible, he forgot to place some of this ingenuity into his leads.

How could I possibly relate to the special agent duo of Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) when their light romantic talk comes in the form of cold exposition of stating personality traits? The movie apparently doesn’t have time to establish Valerian as a brash, headstrong and lady-killer of a young man and would rather Laureline list these traits without a hint of emotion. If this is the way humans speak in the future, we might as well let the robots conquer our species.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Shocked at their lack of chemistry?

What the film lacks in humans that speak like humans, it makes up for with some of the most grand special effects for the most original of sci-fi tales (even if it is based on a comic book). In the future, the International Space Station expands from a scientific hub of Earth’s nationalities to a society of other galaxies and races. The station continues to expand until it’s so large that it must leave Earth and become its own city of sorts. In its current state, the station occupies thousands of different aliens that all contribute for the betterment of the galaxy.

Besson makes sure we get to see as much of this city as possible, past the typical military bridges and towering skyscrapers we’ve seen in dozens of other sci-fi pictures. There’s a robot collective that runs all the information technology and banking among towering servers that are constantly monitored and repaired. Delicate fish-like creatures develop all sorts of living cells that could cure just about anything. As utopian as that sounds, I like how Besson never makes this colony that simple or peaceful. The collective districts of this environment exist as separate nations with their own laws and economy. With the human sector suffering an economic depression, the stern Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen) seeks a means of restoring their government’s strength with some shady decisions made behind the scenes.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Interesting designs abound in ‘Valerian.’

His plan involves an alien race that is given the most stunning of introductions. The creatures, with their bald, tall and thin figures, occupy a world that thrives on magical spheres that emit energy and light up their skin. Their planet is decimated during some battle and now they’ve gone on the offensive in the shadows. Their philosophy isn’t too different from most aliens that approach their lives with a tranquil oneness with nature, but they’re presented in more detail than you usually get out of sci-fi pulp.

But, wait, where are Valerian and Laureline in all this? They’re along for the ride, but are more or less vessels in how their chemistry is lacking for a couple that hasn’t quite decided on getting married. The scenes they occupy are amazing, however, as in the opening heist on a desert commerce planet. Tourists wander around an empty space with virtual reality goggles that allow them to interact with another dimension. Valerian and Laureline are able to infiltrate this dimension with an elaborate scheme of matter-shifting boxes, floating guns, mind-hacked guards and a hover-bus.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Valerian and Laureline may be boring, but at least they do cool stuff.

Another pleasant detour occurs inside the Thousand Planet city where the duo must best a society of doltish aliens that want to eat Laureline’s brain for lunch. When the two find themselves apart, they resort to great lengths of seeking a memory-displaying jellyfish to find each other. Nothing says “I love you” like shoving your face into a jellyfish’s butt to find your lover.

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Review: “Incredibles 2” is a Fantastic and Fresh Return to Form

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Oh, how we waited so long for that sequel to Pixar’s The Incredibles, arguably their most exciting, inventive, and dynamic of animated films. Sure, they could have tossed it off to another director to deliver a film in 2009 or maybe even craft an animated series in 2012. But they didn’t. And so we watched and longed as Pixar churned out sequel after sequel to other properties; some brilliant (Toy Story 3), some mild (Finding Dory), and some confoundingly conceived (Cars 3). The good news is that patience for Brad Bird’s return to the franchise as writer/director was not in vain. He has returned to give us something fresh, bold, and intelligent out of a franchise that deserves nothing less.

While the Incredible family was last seen bonding while bashing robots, they still have some issues to solve. Socially, there’s a disconnect between working together and taking responsibility. Role-wise, there’s an unease of trust when shifting duties. And legally, superheroism is still a big no-no in their society. Naturally, the immediate problem is trying to lift the ban on superheroes, and it’s going to take careful consideration to ease the public trust. That’s where Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) comes into play, teaming up with a tycoon (Bob Odenkirk) to reshape perceptions of heroism with her body-reshaping superpowers. And since Bob Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) pulled the solo hero path last time, he takes on the more onerous task of maintaining a household. Being a stay-at-home isn’t so bad, but it’s a draining nightmare when dealing with his speedster son Dash (Huck Milner), his emotional daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), and the baby Jack-Jack that is more of a hodgepodge of powers than he was in the last film.

While Incredibles 2 both mimics and restructures the focus on family dynamics, it’s amplified more than enough to be its own thing rather than a retread. Elastigirl’s crime-stopping crusade pits her against the hypnotizing villain Screenslaver, a masked and technological terrorist that may be a pawn in a bigger conspiracy. Bob’s new mission of raising the kids on his own is not a mere mess of parenting malaise, but as much of a hilarious and visual feat as Elastigirl’s cityscape adventure. There are relatable challenges of Dash’s homework and Violet’s troubled love life at school, but how many dads have to stop their infant from fighting raccoons outside with laser eyes?

Everything in the film has been expanded to the degree where this world is more open, dwarfing the previous film’s scope. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) returns and has far more to do than chill between acts. The same is true for the world of superheroes that blows up to include Owl-men, lava-lurchers, and interdimensional portal weavers in the film’s explosive climax. We see more of the cities and their striking 60s deco design of wonderment, from old-fashioned TV studios to state-of-the-art trains of the future. The film even goes deep into Bird’s love and inspiration of Jonny Quest with a multitude of Easter eggs, including literally playing Jonny Quest on nearby television sets.

There’s a unique balance of adult themes and engaging storytelling where the superheroes feel as though their perspective has been warped by misplaced perceptions, political bureaucracy, and a fear of the new manifesting in cultural roles. If this all seems a little heavy for the kids, worry not. The standout attraction is the adorable Jack-Jack, showcasing what appears to be an endless series of superpowers. Among his many attributes, he can set himself aflame, transform into a demon, hop through dimensions, and duplicate himself. This makes him troublesome, but all funnier for his adorable nature. Even the usually snooty hero-fashion designer Edna (Brad Bird) can’t resist the little scamp that she’s willing to be called an auntie.

For the basest of thrills, Incredibles 2 doesn’t let down in the animation department, boasting plenty of gorgeous action sequences that involve everything from splitting motorbikes to missile-launching cars to runaway hydrofoils. But what makes Incredibles 2 just as strong for the second go is that it never loses the charm and smarts with the themes of struggling parents in every aspect of their lives. So strong is this writing that the heftier abundance of fights and feats never feel like filler for such a rich story. It seems fitting that the Incredibles would return amid the recent surge in superhero films, where an animated film fit for the family would be aptly timed. True, but, as with Marvel’s most box office shattering pictures, it returns with a purpose and precision that aims to give fans and families more than capes and cowls. Edna hates capes, after all.


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Ocean’s 8 Snatches Box Office Top Slot

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Box Office Report June 8-10, 2018

Ocean’s 8, the all-female remake of the heist picture Ocean’s 8, made a strong debut for its first weekend. The film starring the likes of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Hathaway brought in $41.5 million. Considering the budget of $70 million, the movie still has a few weeks to go before breaking even.

Summer tentpoles are still lingering and are certainly not going to be leaving the top 10 any weekend soon. Solo: A Star Wars Story, despite a surprisingly low debut gross, remains at #2 with a weekend gross of $15.1 million, bringing its total to $176 million. Not bad for your average summer film, but significantly disappointing for a Star Wars movie that usually brings in a hefty sum. Just beneath it in the rankings is Deadpool 2, the superhero satire starring Ryan Reynolds, making $13.6 million for a total so far of $278 million. And Avengers: Infinity War continues to stay in the top 10 with another $6.8 million, adding to its already epic total amount of $654 million. It may be well on its way to toppling 2018’s other superhero blockbuster, Black Panther, which as it happens is just one million away from making $700 million domestic. Infinity War is, however, only $2 million away from reaching $2 billion worldwide.

The two other new films this weekend were lost in the dust, though they may gain a small following. Hereditary, a surprising new horror form studio A24, debuted in under 3,000 theaters but came in at #4 for the weekend with a $13 million gross. Considering the good word of mouth the film has been getting, and an electrified ad campaign of being the “scariest movie ever”, it may be sticking around in the top 10 for quite some time. Also debuting much lower is the sci-fi noir picture, Hotel Artemis, coming in at #8 with a small $3.1 million take.

Read the full top 10 below:
Ocean’s 8 ($41,500,000)
Solo: A Star Wars Story ($15,154,000)
Deadpool 2 ($13,650,000)
Hereditary ($13,037,336)
Avengers: Infinity War ($6,836,000)
Adrift ($5,050,000)
Book Club ($4,200,000)
Hotel Artemis ($3,151,118)
Upgrade ($2,220,000)
Life of the Party ($2,105,000)

Next weekend’s new films will include Pixar’s long-awaited superhero sequel The Incredibles 2, the based-on-a-true-story comedy Tag, and the modern remake of blaxploitation classic Superfly. Considering the wealth of fans for The Incredibles, the 4,200 theaters it will be debuting in, and the projected massive take, it’s clear as crystal who will be next weekend’s winner of the top slot.


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Review: An All-Star Cast Makes “Hotel Artemis” Worth Checking In

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We don’t know too much about the chaotic future of Los Angeles in Hotel Artemis. We know there is a water conglomerate, a city-wide shutdown of water services, and violent riots in the streets. That’s about all Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) knows and all she wants to know. She resides at the titular hotel on the top floor as the nurse for her secret hospital for criminals. It’s dangerous work and she finds herself overbooked on the night of the city’s most massive riot, where several unsavory people converge for hushed healthcare. It’s a recipe for disaster, but for Nurse Thomas, it’s just another Wednesday.

Sofia Boutella and Charlie Day in HOTEL ARTEMIS.
Photo credit: Matt Kennedy / Distributor: Global Road Entertainment

The rustic hotel becomes a stew of colorfully conspiring characters that will feud and toy with each other, despite the hospital rules of not killing the other patients. Sterling K. Brown plays a robber that needs some help for his brother (Brian Tyree Henry) after a botched robbery. Sofia Boutella plays a femme fatale assassin that always seems to be on the clock in her fancy dress, skilled with using coffee cups as deadly weapons. Charlie Day is a rich snob that can’t wait to get out of the city and look on the lowlifes rather than receiving the same bedside manner. And even more guests will show up including a cop (Jenny Slate), a ruthless mob boss (Jeff Goldblum), and the boss’ eager-to-kill son (Zachary Quinto). If it weren’t for the muscle-bound assistance of Everest (Dave Bautista), the Artemis wouldn’t last long with its failing power, rickety elevators, and blood-stained sheets.

Thomas is overworked and crippled with guilt and anxiety, but brushes off those questioning her with her standard response: “Busy night at the Artemis.” That’s an understatement. There is so much going on in this ensemble-filled enclosure that the various arcs wobble and topple all over each other. The trailers made the plot seem so simple with Sterling accidentally stealing a pen that contains million-dollar diamonds, belonging to Goldblum’s character that is quite strict with his punishments for pilfering. And yet that’s not the reason Goldblum stops by, as he has need of medical services and becomes intertwined in the many messy affairs. Some of the characters have contracts to kill from within the hotel, some have guilt they’re trying to get over, and some have past relationships that rekindle. The film can’t seem to settle on a central story with the same indecisiveness of the allegiances of the occupying scum.

Sterling K. Brown in HOTEL ARTEMIS.
Photo credit: Matt Kennedy / Distributor: Global Road Entertainment

There’s an all-star cast on parade for this fast and frenetic futuristic crime tale, and they become the glowing center of this decadent ride. Jodie Foster is adorable as the slick-talking nurse. She has enough experience with lawbreakers to not only enforce her domain but do so with a knowing smirk and biting commentary. In any other film, she’d be present for a few minutes before stepping aside for lukewarm heroes, but Foster is a full-timer here, hobbling between rooms in her comfy nurse outfit and continuously checking her tablet to keep tabs on patients. Brown makes for a charming robber with his straight talk and ease of swagger. Bautista is as likable as always even when he’s not showcasing his tattooed muscles. Armed with a slick and to-the-point script, all of the actors have a genuine nature to them, even for the understated performances of Jenny Slate and Jeff Goldblum.

Hotel Artemis has a bafflingly crowded assembly with too many plot irons are in the fire, an unfilled relationship between the remaining players, and an ending that I suspect may have been retooled with reshoots. But it’s firmly glued with a stellar cast in top form, dashes of dazzling sci-fi tech (including a brilliantly brutal misuse of a 3D printer), and an intoxicating atmosphere amplified by golden synth from Cliff Martinez. All of this makes the film an exhilarating original film that you certainly don’t see every Wednesday.


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