Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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In Luc Besson’s sci-fi adventure set in Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets, special operatives Valerian and Laureline must find a dark force that is threatening the city and safeguard the future of the universe. There is clearly a large amount of ambition in this film that we don’t see in many movies today, and Luc Besson had a huge vision of this universe he adapted to the big screen from a French comic book series. The CGI effects in this movie are excellent, and many shots are incredible to look at. The setting of Alpha, which has planets with many different looks, is brought to life beautifully and feels like something out of a Star Trek or Star Wars movie, and so is a magnificently looking scene towards the beginning which feels almost like something out of Avatar. However, when put together with the pratical sets and effects in the film, which are minimal, that’s when the visual appeal often comes off as messy, since it’s so easy to tell what’s real and what’s fake. The action gives some great entertainment, especially when put together with the visuals, and Besson also knows what music to use in certain scenes, including some of my favorite songs like “Space Oddity” and “Stayin’ Alive”. The part the film struggles most with is the plot. The story starts off fine and somewhat exciting, but eventually more plot points get thrown in until it gets too convoluted to enjoy. I wasn’t expecting much from the trailers but at least I was able to get some entertaining sequences. I liked Besson’s approach to the world building and visual environment of the film, but the script fails to bring anything humurous or original like it tries to be. There is a plot twist thrown in towards the end of the movie that I saw coming from miles away, and although I understood the message Besson tried to convey with what is actually happening in the film, the villain reveal was extremely predictable from the moment I saw that character on screen. The original comic books inspired the look and feel of the classic 1977 Star Wars, and this movie actually had good potential to become another great intergalactic film franchise in that same genre, but with the underwhelming writing and poor critical and box office performances, I highly doubt that will happen.

The main characters of Valerian and Laureline could have been wonderfully thought of protagonists, and I bet they are that way in the source material. Unfortunately, we are given no backstory on who these characters are and how they met, and the chemistry between the two lead actors is weak, as the romantic development between them and the development of them as the “buddy cop” duo of the film is unimaginative and hard to care for. Cara Delevingne was well-cast and delivered an amusing performance as the badass female character who has lots of heart, but Dane DeHaan is miscast and failed to deliver in the titular role. He gave the role his best, and he’s not a bad actor, but the role didn’t suit him as I didn’t feel like I could connect at all to the character with the lack of emotion he brought. Rihanna thankfully didn’t have a big role in the movie, and although her character has a fun concept and a cool scene in which she’s introduced, don’t expect this to be too big of an improvement on her awful performance in Battleship, in terms of acting. There’s also a certain well-known actor in the movie that the trailers did a good job of hiding, and although he’s more talented than all the other actors in the film, he’s completely wasted in a small and forgettable role. This movie tries to be huge, as this is both the most expensive European and independent film ever made. That may sound like this movie promises big things, but it’s ultimately crammed and although often entertaining, I did not find myself too impressed by Valerian, besides for the great CG-visuals.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has tons of great ambition and visual effects, as well as some very surprisingly entertaining scenes, but the plot and cast distract from the good this film has to offer, and make this movie an uninspired, although somewhat delightful mess that will only truly satisfy those looking for good action and terrific visual appeal.

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Wind River

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In Wind River, the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) teams with a town’s veteran game tracker (Jeremy Renner) to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation. Both the past films written by Sheridan did not fail to impress me, as both were masterfully written and very engaging.  Wind River sees Sheridan in the director’s chair and he delivers yet another excellent screenplay, this time set in a snowy reservation in Wyoming. Sheridan develops his settings and main characters very well in all three of his scripts, and here it doesn’t fail as well. Jeremy Renner delivers one of his best performances as the main character, who has a tragic past and an estranged family, and you feel for the emotion Renner provides in every scene, and his character is superbly written. As much as I love him as Hawkeye in the Marvel universe, his best roles are the ones in smaller films, those that go into emotional depth, even like in last year’s Arrival. This is definitely up there with his performances in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winner The Hurt Locker and Ben Affleck’s heist thriller The Town as one of his greatest roles. Elizabeth Olsen has a few good moments in the film, but it mostly felt like she was just reading lines off a script and barely brought much depth into her character, and it was ultimately hard to care for her role.

Wind River has a Coen brothers vibe to it, as it feels like it drew great inspiration from Fargo, not just the development of the cold, isolated setting but also the way tension is built so well through small scenes. For those looking for a thrilling and interesting mystery thriller to watch, you’ll definitely be entertained, although I never felt like it brought anything new to the genre. The overall structure is entertaining but also feels very familiar and it didn’t offer much that was new or ground-breaking. Although the script is overall great, I was sometimes concerned by the directing before watching the movie, as this is Sheridan’s first time directing a film. I was mostly impressed by the directing, especially for a debut, but the use of handheld cam is often too shaky and sometimes distracting. Some shots are captured very well, but during the smaller, more conversational scenes, the camerawork could have used some improvement. There wasn’t the energy to it that Sicario and Hell or High Water had, as those films had more richness in their cinematography and directing, part of what made them both better films. This film could have used some more interesting and longer shots, as well as less noticeable handheld camera to make some scenes even stronger, but I overall was very pleased by what Sheridan was able to do as a director for the first time. He didn’t offer the incredible style brought by the directors of his previous scripts, but his work is still solid and appreciable, and I was still able to really enjoy the film. I hope to see Sheridan write and direct many more films in the future.

Wind River is a violent, engaging, and smart thriller with a great script and lead performance, and although the story is still somewhat familiar and the directing isn’t perfect, this is the type of film cinema should have more of to offer, and I’d definitely recommend this as a film to go watch when it’s released this August.

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Dunkirk

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Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to Interstellar is a WWII epic focusing on the week-long evacuation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers off the beach of Dunkirk, France. The movie focuses on the battle from three different perspectives – the land, the sea, and the air. The cast includes Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, and Harry Styles (you know your film is good when you get a good performance out of a pop star). With non-stop intensity, violence, and loud sound effects, Nolan once again proves that he’s arguably one of, if not the best modern filmmaker working in Hollywood today. With his previous films, including The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, Nolan has been able to execute incredible action sequences with minimal CGI. His use of practical effects here is no less breathtaking. The scenes of planes shooting at each other, soldiers swimming away from sinking ships that are being bombed from above, and soldiers fighting for their lives are beautifully shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, who returns from having shot Nolan’s previous film with some more Oscar-worthy work that is majestic and engaging. The 70mm format makes the quality of the picture extraordinary and different. Hans Zimmer once again composes a magnificent score, and I sure hope he never stops composing for Nolan films, or for films in general. His score is thrilling and never stops playing throughout the film. No sound or shot failed to impress me and keep my eyes glued to the screen. As the loud noises of firing, explosions, and screaming encompass your ears and the auditorium, you feel immersed in the terror and fear experienced by the soldiers. The practicality of this movie is one of the most impressive parts of the film, as none of the sequences seemed unrealistic in any way. The movie doesn’t feel too carried by dialogue or character development, as each actor is treated as a bigger part of an ensemble cast. Don’t expect there to be one star of the movie you’ll be cheering for, because everyone in this movie is terrific. Like most movies of his, as I’ve said before, Nolan is the true star of this film. He brings so much realism and tension to each moment in this exciting and potent war epic that may just be one of the best war films since Spielberg’s masterpiece Saving Private Ryan. Most of this movie doesn’t quite feel like an action war film like most war movies, this one is more of a survival story, one that is masterfully put to screen and unbelievably masterful work of film that should not be missed.

Whenever Nolan settles on a topic to make a film out of, you know he’ll give it his all, because here you can feel all the passion Nolan had in this topic and how specifically he wanted everything edited and put together. The expensive $150 million budget is well worth it in this ambitious and nearly flawless summer blockbuster that is still able to feel like an Oscar contender type of film. This intense non-stop ride never has a dull moment and will always keep your heart pounding and push you to the very edge of your seat. One minor problem is that the film is about to end on a beautiful final shot but then briefly cuts to another shot and then ends there, but this may not bother me in future watches of this movie. I don’t see any of the characters or performances becoming some of my favorites anytime soon, but this film is truly about what each soldier experienced and how the battle played out. Christopher Nolan is one of the most dedicated and ambitious filmmakers of our time, and every film of his, from his low-budget thriller Memento to his Batman superhero blockbusters, demonstrates his love of cinema and his passion of everything he puts his heart into, and I sure hope we don’t have to wait much longer to see his next film.

If you want a powerful, marvelous, engaging, and thrilling movie to watch on the big screen, then Dunkirk is one that you’ll love. Definitely one of the best movies of the year and another excellent feature film that’s fantastic to look at on the big screen. A war film about humanity, survival, and resilience, this movie definitely won’t disappoint anyone seeking another profound and jaw-dropping Nolan movie, or an exciting and brilliant war movie like no other.

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War for the Planet of the Apes

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After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. This conclusion to the reboot trilogy that began with Rise and became even more comeplling in 2014’s Dawn, so I was extremely looking forward to see what would happen next in War. Matt Reeves returns from the previous installment after receiving lots of praise and doing a terrific job, and here he carries enough of the emotion and brilliant visuals and action sequences that kept me so engaged in Dawn over to this one. Andy Serkis is one of the most dedicated and talented motion capture artists working today, if not the best in our time. He’s delivered some of the most impressive motion-capture performances in recent years, including Gollum in the Middle-Earth movies, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 film, and Supreme Leader Snoke in the new Star Wars movies. His performance in this trilgoy as Ceasar is at the top, with the depth and presence Serkis is able to deliver only through a motion capture suit is unbelieavble. The visual effects, like its predecessors, are some of the best in recent years, with the CGI used in the three films to turn actors wearing suits into apes being some of the best motion capture and visual effects work recently. In both the previous movies, there are main human characters being developed, with lots of the last films being told from the perspectives of the humans, most notably the leads James Franco or Jason Clarke. However, the humans are a much smaller emotional focus this time and the apes are the sole core of the film. Despite the humans playing a big role in the plot, only one human character is developed, and that is a ruthless army colonel played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson’s menacing and terrific performance poses an excellent threat against Caesar, and we understand the Colonel’s motivation and fear, as well Caesar’s hate against him. Harrelson was a perfect casting choice and really impressed me in one of the best villanous performances this year.

If, like me, you were impressed by how much the previous installment surpassed your expectations with its incredible directing, storytelling, characters, and themes, then War will have more than enough to amuse you.  Matt Reeves once again delivers great themes about what we do when we act out of fear, and the relationship between mankind and nature. The editing is never too quick, and the action is stirkingly shot. Most of the scenes that provide intensity were very good at achieving their goal to the audience in the way that they did. The way Caesar’s emotional conflict is explored is  smart and carries the film very well, as well as the development of every other ape character in the film. The trailers hardly reveal anything about the overall plot of the film, other than the obvious fact that the humans and apes are at war.It was interesting to learn what would drive the characters throughout the movie and where the conflict was going. Some exposition is slightly confusing at first but eventually effective once you get it, and a few supporting characters that I wans’t too sold on, including a human character named Preacher who could have used a tad more development and an ape named Bad Ape who didn’t do much for me. However, War was what it needed to be and will definitely satisfy those looking for a strong conclusion to this epic trilogy. Many are calling this the best in the trilogy, but I personally feel that it is the weakest of the three. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time with it and or wans’t impressed or satisfied by the end, but I just believe that Rise and Dawn were stronger installments. At the end of the first two, it feels like a lot has changed from the beginning, and this one has less of that feeling of change by the time the climax has ended. Also, this definitely did not feel like the 2-hour and 20-minute movie, but the pacing is good for whatt he runtime felt like. War for the Planet of the Apes is as good as I hoped for it to be, with terrific visual work and directing, as well as thrilling action sequences and dialogue. Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson did not let me down, and although Dawn is still my favorite of the trilogy, I was by the end amused by what I had watched and this is a very admirable and recommended sequel.

Caesar, with a shotgun and Nova behind his back, Maurice, and Luca on horses face a human army and turncoat apes with the film's logo and "Witness the End July 14" at the bottom.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

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After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker returns to New York and, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens, New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man as a new threat, the Vulture, emerges.

After 6 films and 3 franchises, Spider-Man has finally gotten the big-screen treatment he and fans deserved, in the hands of Marvel Studios. Spidey is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as he also appeared last year in Civil War, and Tom Holland easily portrays the best incarnation of him yet. This time, Parker is 15 and still in high school, and his youth  and sense of adventure and humor brings so much fun to the film. I’m not a big fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and the Amazing Spider-Man films left us all wanting more, but Homecoming is the perfect big screen treatment for the character. It’s got all the spirit, humor, and entertainment you would expect from a film like this. Every scene in this movie is tons of fun to watch and the action is very exciting as well. The cast, which includes Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., and many other familiar faces, is really well balanced and every cast member gives it their all. Downey’s presence is delightful, and thankfully doesn’t overstay his welcome yet still has some memorable moments. Keaton gives a good performance like always, and was a great choice to play the villain of the Vulture, but his character’s writing and presence are weak, which is disappointing because he is the main villain of the film. However, his character has a few good moments fighting Spider-Man.

One thing that I have noticed in recent superhero films, most notably Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is that, unlike most superhero films, that film wasn’t just driven by its action sequences and visual effects. That movie was driven by its characters and the script, as well as the emotion, development. and interactions between the characters. Marvel also gave me this sense with Logan, and here, it’s pretty clear that was the main focus as well. There is plenty of terrific action here, but the core of the film is the friendship between Peter and his best friend Ned, the mentorship he receives from Tony Stark, his crush for a girl named Liz, and his connection with his Aunt May. We see Peter’s internal conflicts as he’s facing issues every high school student goes through, but also his dedication to protecting New York and those he cares about. This film feels more human and fresh than the rest of the Spider-Man movies, and that’s why I was able to enjoy it so much. There’s also tons of Marvel references and easter eggs for fans of Spidey and the MCU, as well as some cameos from familiar faces, and these appearances include more than just Stan Lee. Spider-Man: Homecoming somewhat still follows the established MCU formula, but as I was watching it, I wasn’t reminded about the formula too much, and remember that this is not an origin story, allowing the plot to move more freely and feel less restrained. Michael Giacchino’s score is surprisingly fun and has some nods to other Spider-Man incarnations, but wasn’t anything out of the ordinary or extremely memorable. Director Jon Watts has never directed anything beyond a very low-budget indie, and he was able to handle the transition to an incredibly expensive and anticipated superhero blockbuster well. He was able to direct action, character interactions, and conflict very well, and I had an absolute blast watching another awesome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is anything but disappointing. The cast, writing, directing, and characters are very enjoyable and superbly executed. The action, humor, and story will definitely entertain audiences of all ages, especially fans of the source material. This is definitely the perfect Spidey film to be made today and released to this generation, and a great way to kick off the month.

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Despicable Me 3

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Gru (Steve Carell) meets his long-lost twin brother Dru, and they set out to get back a diamond stolen by villain Balthazar Bratt.

The first Despicable Me film brought a new and original concept to the animated film genre, but by the time Minions came out it was clear the series was out of ideas. Despicable Me 3 had literally no potential and no good payoff in the end. Steve Carell gives it his all as Gru and Dru, but nobody else does. The animation is lifeless and the story brings nothing new to the table. Gru is developed well, but his brother, wife, children, or even the minions aren’t. The villlain Balthazar Bratt is at first entertaining but quickly becomes very annoying and horribly written. His motive and presence are weak, and his character barely poses a threat against the protagonists. The theme of brotherhood is depicted well but Gru’s brother Dru’s presence is annoying as well and his character wasn’t very interesting. The Minions make for the best comedic moments of the film, but they’re barely in the film and I was never able to laugh when they weren’t on screen. Besides an opening scene that makes great use of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and a scene featuring the Minions in prison, no scenes managed to catch my eye at all. The writers aren’t able to carry even a short 90-minute runtime well, with many subplots that had no effect on the plot and were extremely boring to watch. The first two films had good themes and vivid animation to bring the audiences in, but all this one has is uninspired comedy and predictable writing and characters. Instead of improving on the letdown of Minions, this one is almost as bad. This movie isn’t even a disappointment because I didn’t expect anything good out of it. The Despicable Me series used to be fun and engaging, but now it’s just a source of merchandising and money for Universal Pictures. Your young kids may be able to have fun with this movie, but even so I would recommend Cars 3 as a family film much more than this one. And if you’re looking for a good or funny film in general, you should just watch Baby Driver.

Despicable Me 3 may entertain your young ones or make you laugh a few times, but other than that this film falls completely flat and is not worth paying for. You won’t get anything new or even worth sitting through unless you’re with your family, and even if you are, you should just see Cars 3, which you’ll all be sure to enjoy. There are so many better films out right now than this unnecessary, uninspired, and unimaginative sequel.

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