Tagged: Cara Delevingne

Box Office Democracy: Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a stunning chasm between the quality of the visuals of a movie and the dreadful script tying it together.  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a gorgeous film with ambitious action sequences that can keep a frenetic pass without looking choppy or rushed.  It’s also got a plodding, boring script completely devoid of narrative or emotional nuance.  At its peak Valerian is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before— and in its valleys is like a Mad Libs version of Avatar and The Matrix.

The big action sequences in Valerian are stunning feats of direction.  There’s an action sequence where many of the characters involved are in multiple dimensions at once affecting what they can and can’t interact with.  There’s a suspense beat, a chase, and then several bits leading to another chase all in this multi-leveled reality bending circumstance.  Some characters integral to the operation don’t ever see or interact with the actual sequence.  It’s dizzying in all the best ways.  There’s also a chase scene that goes through all the different parts of this elaborate space station with dozens of alien races and their unique habitats that would have been the best sequence in every science fiction movie I loved as a child.  Luc Besson does an outstanding job framing these sequences and the effects team really outdoes themselves.  I don’t know how many of these alien races or habitats come from the source material, but it all looks tremendous.

It’s a struggle to praise the directing in Valerian when the acting is so terrible.  Dane DeHaan performs like he’s doing an impression of mid-90s Keanu Reeves and not a terribly flattering one.  He has the same flat delivery no matter what he’s trying to say.  He starts the movie with a declaration of love and it sounds like he’s barely awake trying to figure out what toppings he would like on a pizza.  I’ve never DeHaan impress me in a role and I’m starting to wonder what the casting directors of the world see in him that I don’t.  No one else in the cast is doing good work either.  Clive Owen is wooden, Rihanna was better in Home, and Cara Delevigne is acting like she can never remember the emotional tone of the last thing she said and has to guess for the next line at random.  It’s like everyone involved in the production was so invested in the effects they couldn’t be bothered to care about the people.

The script is also quite bad.  The story takes forever to get going and it always feels like key pieces of information are kept out of the characters hands not because it makes sense in the universe but because otherwise the whole thing would take 30 minutes to resolve.  The love story seems tacked on and only moves forward because they have Valerian and Laureline tell us it does and not because we see them do anything to move closer together.  I suppose I could accept that they’re going through a lot but this is their job, they must be in harrowing situations all the time.  There’s also a healthy dose of the kind of noble savage bullshit that I’m sure was all the rage in France in the 60s when this comic started publication but feels terribly tone deaf in 2017.  Even beside that the dialogue is 80% dry exposition delivered with the cadence of someone bored of being there.  Every time someone talks in Valerian the experience gets worse and worse.

It would be amazing to find out something like Valerian syncs up perfectly with a famous album or something because it would be nice to watch the movie again without having to listen to any of these characters talk.  I want people to see this film, it’s so fun to watch when it’s on top of its game.  Unfortunately it’s just as terrible when it isn’t.  Valerian is a film that should be watched in a theater, on a big screen, but only by people who paid to see another film and have sneaked in with good headphones and a podcast on or something.  This movie is a technical demo for what good effects people and cinematographers should do, and a cautionary tale for writers and actors.  Study hard, film students and drama majors— or else you could end up making a film like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and be trapped forever in pretty nonsense.

John Ostrander Reviews the Suicide Squad!

suicide Squad world premiere

Warning! Danger! Spoilers! I saw the movie, I’m going to talk about the movie, there may be some plot spillage. Yadda yadda yadda.

John Ostrander DivaAs we start, I think you should know my biases. I think you should know any critics’ bias. Myself, I use them mostly as consumer reporters. If I find a critic whose tastes largely coincide with mine, I tend to trust them more. The late great Roger Ebert was one. Knowing who is giving you their opinion is important; what does their opinion matter if you don’t trust them?

Regarding the Suicide Squad movie, well, I’m biased. I’m prejudiced. I have a vested interest in its success. I want it to succeed. However, if I didn’t like it, I’d be more likely just to keep my trap shut.

My trap is open.

I really liked the film. Not perfect by a long shot, but a really good time in the movie theater. And for me a lot of it was just amazing. The look, the detail, the feel of the film is not something I’ve seen in superhero movies before.

Chief for me were the performances, starting with Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. All the other characters in the Squad, both the comic and the movie, were created by others. In the comic especially I would re-define and expand on them but they were established characters. Amanda Waller was my creation and Viola Davis embodied her to perfection. I was happy when she was cast, I was delighted when I saw her in the trailers, and I was ecstatic when I saw her in the film. Davis has Amanda’s voice, her look, and her attitude. I was delighted at the after-party when I got a chance to see her face-to-face and tell her how much I enjoyed her performance.

Next up is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She is sexy, innocent, funny, lethal, crazy and dangerous. And she’s a thief – she steals just about every scene she’s in.

Let’s look at Will Smith as Deadshot. Some folks have objected that he’s not my Deadshot. No, he isn’t and that’s just fine by me. My Deadshot was not the character as he had been created or portrayed prior to my appropriating him for the Squad. Gail Simone’s version was not exactly my version either. You don’t expect two actors who play the same character in different versions to be identical so why expect those versions in different stories to be identical? Smith did a great job – intense, cynical, with a weak spot for his daughter (although I thought their last scene together had a disturbing element). Smith is a fine actor and one of the world’s biggest stars; he sure as hell wasn’t slumming here and he made Deadshot his own – which is exactly what he was supposed to do.

Last paragraph, I talked about you wouldn’t expect two actors playing the same character in different stories to give identical performances. That really applies to Jared Leto as the Joker. He crafted an entirely new version of the character from the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal in The Dark Knight. That’s absolutely necessary and it’s a different look. Like Pygmalion, he creates a woman that he can love; in this case, it’s Harley Quinn. If we accept his love for her (and her love for him) as genuine, does that make him less of a sociopath? Ledger’s Joker loved no one except, perhaps, Batman. He’s no less strange or deadly but his entire plotline revolves around being re-united with Harley.

Jay Hernandez has a significant role as Diablo and I would have liked to see more of the character. He has a terrific and horrifying back-story but this is a character who is trying to do good even as (I think) he believes he is beyond redemption.

Likewise, I would have liked to see more of Jai Courtney as Boomerang. As Christopher Walken says of cowbell, you can never have too much Boomerang. He’s very much as I wrote him in the Squad – he knows what he is and he likes it. In that respect, Boomerang is very well adjusted. Which is scary.

There’s a surprising theme running through the movie; there is a lot about love. Joker and Harley’s love, yes; Deadshot’s love for his daughter; Diablo’s love (and guilt and remorse) for his family; Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman)’s love for June Moone (Cara Delevingne) while June’s alter ego, the Enchantress, appears to love her brother. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) loves her dead husband and carries his soul in her blade (OK, a lot of the relationships are not the healthiest in this film). Even with Amanda there’s a brief phone call and there’s tenderness and love for whoever she’s speaking with. Love shapes and forms a lot of the characters and they, in turn, mold the story.

Are their problems with the film? Sure. The antagonist(s) are not well defined and, to my mind, you need a good antagonist to help define the protagonist(s). It’s the antagonist who usually sets the plot in motion and it is defined by what they want. The story is a little more generic “we have to save the world” than I usually did; I always liked having one foot squarely in reality.

I also liked having a political and/or social edge in my Squad stories. That would also give a greater feel of reality and I don’t see that here.

That said, my artistic DNA is all over the place. This is The Dirty Dozen with supervillains and that’s my concept. They did that and did it well.

I know some of the critics, both in print and online, do not like the movie. That’s okay; everyone has a right to their own opinion even when it’s wrong. My problem is that, at least with some of the media reviews, is that the critic is also tired of superhero and “tentpole” films and, overtly or covertly, would like to see their end. Look, I get it – they have to see all the films out there and they must be tired of all the blockbusters.

If every superhero film is not The Dark Knight, they’ll bitch. I think that’s going on here to a certain degree. Just as I came prepared to love the movie, they came prepared to hate it.

My late wife, Kim Yale, was a movie critic for a while for a small suburban newspaper in the Chicago area and I went with her to some of the movie screenings. Don’t tell me that some of the critics didn’t come with pre-conceived attitudes to some films. I know better. I saw and heard it.

As for some of the online haters – if a film doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion, it is wrong. Female Ghostbusters, a black Deadshot, Ben Affleck as Batman (Affleck, by the way, does cameos as both Batman and Bruce Wayne in Suicide Squad and is terrific) – these are all sins and must be decried.

Give me a fucking break.

Look, you can be the most important critic on Suicide Squad. In this case, your voice is your money. You decide if you want to see the movie and then go. If you like it, tell others. I guess you could also tell them if you didn’t like it but you don’t have to. I won’t mind.

If the film is financially successful (and, from what I’ve seen as this review is being written, it’s on track for a pretty good opening weekend), then Warners will be encouraged to do a sequel. And I hope they do. They made a good film this time and I believe they’ll do it even better next time around.

It’s your call.Suicide Squad Times Square