Tagged: Dane DeHaan

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.

Box Office Democracy: Life After Beth

Horror movies need to have a metaphor.  Slasher movies are historically about our attitudes about sex, Nightmare on Elm Street is about the fear we have of not being able to protect our children, even Shaun of the Dead was about the dangers of complacency.  I bring this up because Life After Beth has a terrible time conveying its metaphor.  Sometimes it seems to want to be about dealing with grief, other times it seems to be about moving on after a break up, it sometimes even feels like it’s trying to draw an equivocation between those two feelings.  Unfortunately, it never picks exactly what its about and it makes the film feel directionless and kind of boring.

Aubrey Plaza is a delight to watch in this movie.  Overlaying a kind of flighty 21 year-old girl with a person slowly turning into a zombie is a stellar idea and Plaza delivers a performance with stunning depth.  The slow build with that character as she pushes her extremes incrementally until she becomes first an erratic lunatic and, finally, a flesh-eating beast.  She shares the screen most often with Dane DeHaan who seems to be a little out of his depth and gets through the film just by doing different variations on sad and surprised.  Not even a clean surprised though it’s a sad frowny surprised.

Much like having better action scenes could have saved The Expendables 3, being funnier could have saved Life After BethLife After Beth is one of those indie comedy movies that often feels like it’s too good to have jokes in it.  There are a couple of laughs early and a few more later on but the middle section of this film is only funny when Matthew Gray Gubler is on screen and those moments are few and far between.  Even the sublime John C. Reilly is left in the unfortunate position of alternating between delivering flat pieces of exposition and being very serious.  It’s a waste of talent and it’s a shame to see.  Even Molly Shannon, who I am not comfortable with seeing move to mom roles, gets more laugh lines.  It’s a shame with all this talent they couldn’t make me laugh more.