In Theaters: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

PG-13, 137 minutes, Sci-fi

StarringDane DeHaanCara DelevingneClive OwenSam Spruell

I’ve been looking forward to this movie all year. I don’t even remember when the trailer came out for it, but I had been saving my pennies ever since. My eyes practically bulged out of my head. Science fiction! Fantastic worlds! Luc Besson! W-w-wait–LuC BEssON is MAkIng aNoTHer ScI-FI mOVie????1 I’VE GOT TO SEE THIS!!! After the utterly awe-inspiring impact that The Fifth Element has left upon my soul, I just HAD to see Valerian on the big screen before it was too late.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is not only a crack-filling mouthful of a title, but it adds just enough curiosity to this movie to make you run out into the streets and yell, “WHAT?” The story follows agents Valerian and Laureline as they enter the city of Alpha in order to investigate an uninhabitable zone that threatens the stability of all life on the interplanetary vessel. The only thing standing in their way is the entire galaxy. No big deal.

I hadn’t even heard of the source material before: a French comic series that ran for over forty years. Apparently, I need to read more French comics (I’m looking at you, Snowpiercer). But the two real reasons my very soul cried out for my eyes and ears to digest this film were sci-fi and Besson. I couldn’t help myself. I mean–THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

I sprung for 3-D. I admit it, I’m a hypocrite as I absolutely HATE the 3-D trend. But just look at that trailer! Can you really blame me? Can any sci-fi fan REALLY put fault upon me? Was it worth it? The extra cost and the mind-numbing disorientation that the 3-D movie scarfully (that’s a word! …now) inflicted upon my brain jelly? Well… no. Don’t get me wrong: I did enjoy the movie, but it was just an okay movie. And despite the epic scenery, the movie was not shot in a manner that accentuated the screen popping effects.

The film itself was unfortunately dark. Despite a scene shot in a bright desert, the movie as a whole is set in the darkness of space, the alleys of a major city, and the underworld. Perhaps it was just my eyes, but this really screwed up the 3-D experience as I felt more like I was watching a high definition VHS tape with tracking issues. I’m not going to fault the movie for this, but I am going to seriously warn you away from the extra cost. This movie in 3-D simply isn’t worth your money.

What I did like was the sense that a vast array of cultures existed inside of Alpha. After forty years of comics, there’d darn well better be some depth to the setting. Unfortunately, despite all the visual set-up, only a couple of these cultures were touched upon. I got the feeling that everyone involved behind the scenes felt obligated to pay homage to the source material. Notable, but not entirely practical to the confines of a single movie.

The defining moment to this story has to be the struggle of the alien race that starts off the whole conflict. They’re unique and peaceful and seeing tragedy befall them really pulled my heartstrings. The open sequence involving these people really made me happy to be watching this movie. Sadly, it was the highlight of the story as I began to notice some… shockingly familiar storyline.

LUC, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? Look, I’m not calling this a stinker, but there comes a time when you write a story and you realize it’s the same friggin’ thing you wrote twenty years ago. Luc, I’m looking at you. You know what you’ve done! This is The Fifth Element. You know, that movie you did about space stuff? If you had paid homage to it by putting a Mangalore or a Zorg logo in the background, I would have publicly guffawed. But there are just too many parallels to ignore: the world ending, the military police, everything that looks like New York in 2263, the blue diva, the kissing sequence at the end–ARGH! I mean, how do you have forty years of comics and you set out to remake your own movie? Oh, no. Wait a second here, was Valerian and Laureline the inspiration for The Fifth Element? DON’T DO THIS ME, LUC!

The one things I really wanted from this movie was the characters. I’m sorry, folks, but since I had such high expectations for this film simply because I am a massive Fifth Element fan, I have to compare the two. In The Fifth Element everyone fulfills their quirky and memorable role to a T–right down to the friggin’ cat! But a lot of the characters in Valerian were basically just cardboard cutouts. And Bubble was uselessly unique–just watch and you’re find out what I mean. I found her to be the most frustrating character of all.

I will confess that I could not stop myself–for days–from laughing at Laureline’s changing scene. She is held prisoner by a barbaric race that insists she dress up. Stubbornly, she refuses, but her caretaker cannot be dissuaded. Hilariously, she encourages Laureline to continue. If you don’t laugh at this scene, I daresay you haven’t got a funny bone in your entire body. So as far as memorable characters go, at least I got one.

On an off note: the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline struck me as… odd. From early on, Valerian proposes the idea of marriage to Laureline, but she dodges around his advances. That itself wasn’t odd, but the proposal was. What is wrong with me? Since when should the idea of marriage strike me as out of the ordinary. You know what? Screw you, modern society. Quit raping normal values already.

With the decade-long surge in the popularity of comic book films it was inevitable that all kinds of stories would make it to the big screen. But whereas Marvel is succeeding, other companies struggle. The French market appears no different. While this wasn’t a bad movie, it did have its share of flaws. I can tell you right now that this probably would have been success if it had premiered as a quirky streaming series, but unfortunately the box office outlook is nothing short of grim.

Rating: Watch it.

Watch: Visually stunning, offbeat, and full of potential. That changing scene is hilarious.
Don’t watch: Flawed story, too dark, and overly condensed material. Rihanna needs to stop acting. Period.


Sully (2016)

PG-13, 96 minutes, Drama

StarringTom HanksAaron EckhartMike O’MalleyAnna GunnLaura Linney

Back in 2009, life sucked. It still isn’t all peaches and cream, but that year was special to me as it became the first year I spent without bringing in any income. Like none. The year before I had lost my job of six years and my next employer, Mervyn’s, took a dump into the seas of murky non-existence. Great. What a time to be alive. The War on Drugs and Terrorism, a president who didn’t deliver, H1N1, Tom Hanks gets his big boat hijacked, THE KING OF POP HIMSELF DIES–all of it sucks. It made a plane taking a bath in the questionable waters of New York seem trivial.

But that’s how we got Sully. Tom Hanks plays Cap’n Sully (because the man is slowly becoming a personification of modern history on film). Sully is the pilot who managed to make a water landing of a passenger jet on the Hudson River without losing a single life–IN WINTER. This movie explores the event via testimonies and flashbacks as the aftermath of the incident begins to eat away at Sully’s reputation.

Sully 2
Funny, this was exactly how I looked in 2009, too.

Considering that this movie is both short and not action-based, it really does have some intense moments. I mean, it is about a plane crash, but they present it in pieces and from different perspectives, so the overall feeling of emergency is visited and revisited. The trauma Captain Phil–erm, Sullenberger faces makes the viewer question which crash is the real one, so there’s an added layer of thrilling suspense to top it off.

Something I feel required to point out is that this film is largely centered around dialogue and drama. It’s almost exactly the same movie as Thirteen Days, which I panned so thoroughly. The story, of course, is different, but the concept of everyone just sitting around gabbing and debating with spits of action make both Days and Sully close cousins. Except Sully is good. Likely this has to do with my personal thoughts on Hanks being the greatest actor there is, but perhaps it could also relate to an incident I actually know. That’s probably why older people like Days and who knows–maybe a child born in 2025 won’t give two turds about Sully when they’re older. It’s a bit sobering.

Sully 3
Bathing a plane usually involves the entire community. Planes are big animals after all.

It wasn’t all glitter and rainbows for me though as I did have a bit of an issue with the existence of the film even being made. Sully, while well presented, really does feel like a giant ego stroke for the real-life man. Don’t get me wrong: it was impressive. Even knowing how to start a plane engine is impressive to me, so landing one on WATER and not killing anyone gets a round of Charles Foster Kane applause from me. If something like this had happened to me, you know I would tell the world, too. But being an outsider looking in, gloating about it doesn’t exactly feel heroic to me.

This movie was based on Sullenberger’s book about the incident, so that tells me it’s completely from his prospective. Then there’s the sequence at the end where the man himself walks on camera to applause with an air about him as though he’s silently saying, “You all owe me.” It spoiled it for me and I’m not sure how I would react if I met the man in person. Would I tell him to get lost or would I let him defend himself even though the possibility him gloating further would continue to spoil my opinion of him? ARGH!

It is a good movie and it was an impressive feat of skill and luck, so please don’t completely discount this movie. It’s a quick ride back several years that will likely give you the full details of a story you probably forgot about once the initial sensationalism of it all wore off.

Rating: Watch it once.

Watch: Tom Hanks, duh.
Don’t watch: The credit sequence. Seriously, folks.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

PG, 87 minutes, Adventure

Starring: Louis C.K.Eric StonestreetKevin HartJenny Slate

I own four cats. Three of them came as a package deal: three dirty, mewling kittens abandoned by their mother and condemned to die if the construction worker who found them couldn’t find a home. At the pet store, my wife came across the guy and his aural box of peach fuzz. He begged her to take them. The kittens screamed with hunger. She relented and I don’t blame her for being softhearted. The cashier at the pet store gave us the number of a woman who takes in strays, but she was away for the week. Well… a week was too late as raising newborn kittens got us firmly attached. Now I chuck the cat toys they don’t play with at them as they fight over a cardboard box that sits next to their expensive and unused cat tree. Don’t blame me for being a complete and utter sucker.

The Secret Life of Pets takes a look at the animals suckers like my wife and I adopt as our new overlords. Max (C.K.–c’mon, man! I love you, but initials for a last name?) finds his perfect life shattered when his owner brings home a stray dog named Duke (Stonestreet). The two get into one conflict after another until their carelessness ends up getting them both lost. Now Max and Duke need to survive cat gangs, a terrorist bunny, and the streets of New York itself in order to make it back home.

Secret Life of Pets 2
This is the exact face I make when dealing with people on the bus.

So I love my cats, but they drive me nuts. Whenever we’re not looking, they get on counters and throw up all over the place and every once in a while something gets chewed to bits… which tends to lead to more throwing up… Half the time we don’t know what they’re doing. And why should they tell us? It’s their house now after all. Ugh… But we always wonder what it would be like to have a camera trained on them all the time. This is movie is basically like that… but with adventure!

Aside from a simple, cute story, that’s the real hallmark of this movie: animal behavior. It takes all the weird quirks from a half dozen species and presents them humorously, because goodness knows animals are at least worth a smile. Having owned cats, dogs, fish, a hamster, and a turtle I couldn’t help but throw my hands up in a whaddayado shrug at the characters’ quirks. The pug that insanely defends his home from an evil squirrel; the unhappy cat that suddenly becomes destructively obsessed with the laser pointer; the escaped guinea pig that has no idea where he is–these are all extremely unimportant tangents to the plot, but they create a detailed backdrop this movie required in order to have some uniqueness.

Secret Life of Pets 3
Psycho never looked so cute!

Speaking of uniqueness, Hart’s performance as the psychotic rabbit Snowball just about stole the show. His frenzied manner and hatred towards humans not only keeps the plot going, but he adds humorous insanity to what should be an otherwise passive–skittish even–animal. But what do I know? I’ve never owned a rabbit. I just see the wild ones at night that run from owls and jump four feet into the air for literally no reason other than to tap their heals together. So maybe Snowball has a right to be insane by birth…

In all this is a pretty decent little flick. It’s cute, it’s simple, but nothing really Earth-shattering happens, which makes it an easily digestible kids movie. It has potential for future stories since there’s no shortage of characters to choose from, but we all know the stereotype about sequels. They focused so much on quirky animal behavior here that another entry might not carry the same charm. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Prediction: In the sequel the owner gets a live-in boyfriend with a bizarre pet of his own. Oh noes!

Rating: Watch it.

Watch: It’s harmless and cute.
Don’t watch: If you need complexity in your life.

In Theaters: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Superhero, 133 minutes, PG-13

StarringTom HollandMichael KeatonRobert Downey, Jr.Jacob BatalonMarisa Tomei

Imagine the smile on my face when poor-boy me gets a movie ticket to see something that just got released. A big thanks to my friend Mike for hooking me up with the ticket! Dear reader, you may not know this, but I don’t go to the movies very often and it almost never happens that I see something first-run… much less this close to the release date. I just had to do a review.

So Spider-Man finally had his legs unshackled from the confines of Sony, (even though the digits in handcuffs are still collecting checks) to take a romp through the MCU. Old news, considering Civil War, but this was a much needed addition to the universe. And, like always, it’s a good one.

Peter finally skips the whole origin story nonsense and gets to work as awkward superhero Spider-Man. But we all knew that, right? What we don’t know is the Vulture’s plan and how it ties back to the events of the Chitauri invasion from the first Avengers movie. Explosions? Yes, please!

By now the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be blending into a giant smudge of coy references somewhere in the back of your mind… providing you’ve kept up with it for the past decade. This movie, while no different (I saw you Triskelion construction sign!), acts as a slight refresher, quickly running on a nearly parallel line to the events already gone by in previous films until it reaches the present. Thus we skip that played out origin and are given the shortest of passing conversations about the whole ordeal. Thumbs up to the MCU.

Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, so of course I like this movie. But by the end of it, I realized that I didn’t see it for him. I came for Vulture. And I hate Vulture. Some boring old man in tights that robs banks? Get that trash out of here. No, wait. Woah. Who is the guy in the mecha suit? THIS Vulture put a sinister sneer on my face. I loved THIS Vulture and I very badly want to see him again.

Let me do a little explaining on that point, because Michael Keaton is behind that role and his performance is certainly noteworthy. Keaton’s Batman is very well known, even though it was on the campy side, but his Bruce Wayne marred that film. Then there’s Birdman, where Keaton plays a disgruntled actor that may or may not be a superhero, and it was just… weird. Both of these roles were superhero-related, but they just didn’t seem to fit him.

However, there’s something different going on in this newest Spider-Man film. I feel like Keaton had had enough practice and was now fully ready to take on the role of a supervillain. The predatory darkness that Keaton brings to the role while keeping from being over the top makes the movie. And I feel that character was well written, too. He’s a bad guy, but not a boo-hoo-feel-for-me bad guy. Vulture is a strategic survivalist with enough brute force to back up his threats. His wings, a beefy mechanized powerhouse beyond anything Norman Osborn cooked up in the 2002 film, have a screen presence all their own. Plus he’s a salvager, so the name and the role completely fit like two perfect puzzle pieces.

Don’t get me wrong, Spidey is also great, but by the end of it, the movie didn’t really feel like it was about him. Perhaps my focus was too narrow. Of course Peter has plenty going on with him, but his own unfocused attitude might have reflected in the movie’s watchability. What is a stand-out feature of the film is that both Spider-Man and Vulture have stories that revolve around responsibility and the task of facing it when you screw up. I found that the interplay worked well.

I know I’m in a minority here, but I am actually a fan of both the McGuire and Garfield Spider-Man movies. So… all of them. This movie is just another serving of the same, except we’re finally allowed to talk about other superheros without upsetting someone’s bank account. One of the great things this movie has done is giving Spider-Man a chance to shine among his peers. Better yet, we get a chance to rediscover a whole slew of baddies that are still waiting for their own time in the spotlight.

Rating: Own it… eventually–along with the inevitable $1,000 special edition box set of everything MCU (in stores sometime around the year 2035 when they finally stop making these movies or whenever the sun gives out–you know, whichever happens first).

Watch: The Vulture (who I hate in the comics) is amazing on film.
Don’t watch: Because you’re not a nerd and you haven’t seen that stupid Captain Iron Hulk movie anyway.

Flop Friday: Thirteen Days (2000)

PG-13, 145 minutes, Drama

StarringKevin CostnerBruce GreenwoodSteven Culp

I remember the excitement my mother felt when she heard about a JFK movie starring Kevin Costner. The Bay of Pigs and politics and… and… talking. My mother was all thrills. And then, for some reason, they never went to go see it. Time went on and eventually my parents passed a VHS copy of the movie sitting on a shelf in a now closed Blockbuster. Suddenly the excitement came back. Back then they watched it. I didn’t.

Over time I’ve come to think of JFK as one of the worst Presidents we’ve had in the U.S. I didn’t grow up in that generation and his legacy is quite frankly shoddy–a rockstar leader whose claim to fame was instituting a retirement system that can no longer stand by itself and surviving a notable era of worldwide turmoil… Oh wait, he didn’t. Nevertheless my mother-in-law got ahold of the same movie and went into a tizzy over it.

Thirteen Days 2
“If I cross my arms, will I, er, uh, look less stupid, Jack?”

So this stupid movie is about stupid politicians stopping stupid bad guys from being stupid. Was that descriptive enough for you? No? Well then just think of the worst episode of J.A.G. imaginable and instead of Harmon Rabb, you have Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons playing Kevin Costner’s accent. That is Thirteen Days. If I haven’t lost you yet: it’s just a drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

And I hate it. Couldn’t you tell?

Apparently this movie is based on a book that I’ll never read. There are no less than three types of filming going on here: black and white, color, and… historical? Cuban? I’m not sure… They decided to pack this film with all kinds of historical data, right down to recreating recorded closed-door dialogues. So we’re given all kinds of historical accuracy here and really, that’s just about the best thing going on. Oh, and those black and white sequences? I read somewhere that they’re “chapter breaks” to introduce new sections of the story, but really they’re just disorienting.

Thirteen Days 3
“Boy, er, Jack, you are right there. I did look, uh, stupid.”

So can we talk about the bad accents? Or the underwhelmingly, er, “dramatic” forums? The chaotic pacing? The level of boring compared to the lengthy runtime? Look, this movie can hardly be considered good. As far as I can tell there is a swarm of zeitgeist surrounding it that the older generation seems to appreciate more than I. You’re better off watching J.A.G. because this movie sucks and reality isn’t exactly exciting.

Rating: Destroy on sight.

Watch: Don’t.
Don’t watch: *high five*