A John Carter-like attempt to film an influential comic which many sci-fi movies (including Besson’s own Fifth Element) have been ripping off for decades. I’ll bet this was better in 3D. The movie seems to want to be in VR, having Valerian put on special glasses when he wants to see into other dimensions (recalling Freddy’s Dead).

The Pearls, a peaceful race of white Na’vi, live on Shell Beach with their pets who can shit dark matter, until their planet is destroyed as collateral damage in a space war led by Commander Clive Owen. Survivors have invaded the International Space Station (now a massive free-floating city of a thousand alien races) and learned all the alien techs to built themselves a supership Shell Beach simulator. Commander Clive sees all this as a threat, and sends soldiers to stop them, or something.

But first, Major Tom Valerian (Dane DeHaan: Lawless, A Cure for Wellness) is sexually harassing his coworker Laureline (Cara Delevingne: London Fields, Paper Towns). According to my Alamo Drafthouse waiter, their relationship made some kind of sense in the original comics, but human behavior isn’t Besson’s strong suit, so he’s botched it. These two are sent to interrupt a trade between Pearls and a Hutt unmistakably voiced by John Goodman, and during their escape a bulletproof rhinobeast wipes out their team.

Valerian’s boss, the General, looks like a Weasley but is actually Sam Spruell of Snow White and the Huntsman… then there are a series of higher-ups played by Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock who we barely see. Our team is eventually separated, and Laureline goes underwater with a beardy submariner named Bob (Alain Chabat of The Science of Sleep) while Valerian gets help from a shapeshifting Rihanna (after murdering her pimp Ethan Hawke), who does a dance which will be my most-watched scene on netflix once it comes out.

Some effects shots are very cartoony, not fooling anyone, and the action choreography is quite bad when viewed the day after Atomic Blonde. The very long info-dump ending is bad, the plot is mostly bad, the teaching Valerian about the meaning of love is bad, so I spaced out in the last half hour and tried to figure who Dane DeHaan reminds me of – is it Nicolas Cage? He’s fine, don’t get me wrong – all the acting and filmmaking is generally spot-on, just in service of a poor script. There is one great bit in the ending: Laureline is left alone with Commander Clive and just keeps punching him.

Such a tame world war, such bloodless sword battles
Opens with portentious voiceover
First feature film by Jenkins since her award-winning Monster

Honestly, those are the notes I took after watching this and now, a few weeks later, I have nothing to add. Gadot is pretty neat. The movie has enough cool looking scenes to put together a three-minute sizzle reel. Hope I don’t get talked into seeing Justice League.

War Machine (2017, David Michôd)

Oh no, Brad Pitt looks sad. I’m guessing all the fun light comedy from the first half turned sour when people started dying in whatever war this is. Then Rolling Stone writes a mean article about their squad, and smartass Topher Grace argues with another guy. Pitt, using a toned-down version of his Basterds accent, says goodbye to his men and flies off to be fired by the President over the article, according to a cheese voiceover, everything moving just as slow as it can. Nice closing-credits Blues Explosion song, tho. Netflix is now making their own prestige pics with major movie stars from the director of The Rover, but I still read reviews instead of just watching whatever they place in front of me, and the reviews said nah. Speaking of which…


Beasts of No Nation (2015, Cary Fukunaga)

UN blue-helmets disarm a large troop of child soldiers to slow doom-music. The rescued kids have trouble adjusting to the peaceful community, are tormented. These prestige pics, nothing really happens in the last ten minutes, it’s all boring epilogue. Time to switch to something more disreputable.


Clinical (2017, Alistair Legrand)

Another “netflix original,” this one a mystery/horror by Michel Legrand’s legrand-nephew. I don’t like to speculate on the first 90 minutes of these movies, but from the screens flying by as I fast-forwarded, it appears that 75% of this movie is conversations inside a house, then in the last quarter there’s some home invasion action. When I hit play, there’s a conversation in a house in the dark. Jane is being tormented by a disfigured, possibly incestuous torturer backstory-expositionist. Our lead kidnapped psychiatrist is Vinessa Shaw (lead prostitute of Eyes Wide Shut), who escapes and beats hell out of her captor (Kevin Rahm of the Lethal Weapon remake) then rips his face off. Between the psychiatry angle and the face removal, it looks like someone has been watching Silence of the Lambs.


Spectral (2016, Nic Mathieu)

Ah good, an action movie with a dingy blue-brown color palette for a change. Guns with thick cables attached making a whiny powering-up sound, it seems we are in sci-fi action territory… ah yup there are spectral aliens in clone-pods. This looks like a Starship Troopers sequel with ghosts. Pretty cool effects – a good guy set off a superbomb that accidentally freed all the spectres, then another guy pulled their power cord leaving them all suspended and slo-mo evaporating. “They’re not alive… they’re not dead.” Science-hating dude who I’m going to assume is Jimmy Dale of World War Z discovers some brain/nerve experiments controlling the spectres and murders them all. Writer George Nolfi directed The Adjustment Bureau and wrote Oceans Twelve.


Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)

Everyone in the city is frozen except Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch. BC flies into space, protecting himself from a galaxy-god in a time-loop with a magic shield – speaking of which, how come everyone on the internet is so conflicted about Patty Jenkins directing this week’s superhero movie when they gave this thing to the director of Hellraiser: Inferno? “Pain’s an old friend,” says a frankly unconvincing BC, trying to channel Hellraiser. He tricks the god into sparing Earth, then some underlit Infinity Stone sequel-setup mumbo, and I skipped to the awkward cutscene with Thor.


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny (2016, Yuen Woo-Ping)

Hero-style, it looks like a soldier did something great in order to get close enough to slay the king. Outside, all hell breaks loose, Michelle Yeoh and her team versus an army, with some really nice wall-stepping, float-jumping, sword-thwacking action. “Now you will join your beloved, Li Mu Bai” – this looks like a killer movie, but this rebels-vs-kingdom stuff seems out of charaacter with the romantic original. Also, like an idiot I changed the language to Chinese then changed it back when I realized the movie was shot in English. Anyway Donnie Yen defeats Lord Whoever, and our heroes return to the mountain Zhang Ziyi jumps from in the original.


Hyena Road (2015, Paul Gross)

How can I pass up the Canadian war movie that was the subject of Guy Maddin’s Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton? Looks like some shit is going down, and the Taliban is fighting back hard. Whoa, a soldier got his legs blown off then crawled away. Music and camerawork all seem like the usual mediocrity. Then the lead guy authorizes his men to blow him up in order to take out the bad guys, after some military types shout numbers and codes at each other very emotionally (“three! niner alpha!!”). In the end we see that the Canadians died for a noble cause, that the good guys are good indeed, and war is necessary. I failed to spot Maddin playing a dead body. Writer/director Gross was a lead actor in Slings & Arrows.


Special Correspondents (2016, Ricky Gervais)

Forgot about this until it showed up on a favorite critic’s “worst of the century” list. So it’s a fake-kidnapping-turned-real-kidnapping comedy-turned-drama, with Gervais and that Hulk guy Eric Bana. I think Gervais is on drugs, singlehandedly shoots his way out of Ecuador to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. Hey, it’s America Ferrera and Kevin Pollak, then the movie peters out. “This is like the end of a movie.” “A low-budget movie, maybe.” Remake of a French film with Omar Sy, which is hard to picture.


Zootopia (2016, Disney)

We watched the first 15 of this once and it was insufferable so we quit, then it won an oscar. So let’s check out the last 15 – maybe that’s where all the better-than-Kubo stuff is hiding. Good bootleg-Disney-movies joke… then we’re in a meth lab on a train, odd. “Doug is the opposite of friendly… he’s UNfriendly.” Uh oh, the sheep mayor is the bad guy, with a speech about teaming up to defeat the predators, which doesn’t sound so bad really, then she turns our fox hero evil with drugs, sort of, then a final speech about how we have to understand each other and improve the world. I forget that award voters translate “best animated film” into “cutest message-movie for kids”.

I forgot lots of important things and characters from the first movie (Michael Rooker and his whistle-controlled flying spear, Gamora’s psychotically evil sister Nebula), but they came back gradually. Also forgot that these are really good movies – funny and stylish, with exciting (and comprehensible) action. Chris Pratt discovers that his real father is a god-planet which takes the form of Kurt Russell, impregnating planets and women across the galaxy, and when he finally locates a son who carries some of his powers, he uses Star-Lord (like Magneto uses Rogue in X-Men 1) to amplify his energy and attempt to make all planets into parts of himself. Fortunately there’s the wiseass raccoon, the big loud warrior, the swordswoman, the baby cartoon tree, and now Rooker and Nebula and an empath named Mantis to stop him. No Benicio Del Toro, sadly, but we get cameos by Michelle Yeoh and Ving Rhames.

At a time when movies are dominated by comics, Bryan Singer’s got a franchise all to himself. He directed parts 1 and 2, cowrote and produced part 4, directed parts 5 and 6… and had nothing to do with part 3. “At least we can all agree: the third one‘s always the worst,” says Jean Grey leaving a Return of the Jedi screening, establishing our mid-1980’s setting while letting us know Singer’s thoughts on the Brett Ratner entry. Soon after, Quicksilver tells someone that Magneto is his father, and I can’t tell if we’re still making Star Wars references.

Quicksilver:

Quicksilver and Nightcrawler in the same movie is a dream come true – every time they warp through time and space it’s thrilling. The Professor X vs. Magneto thing is old hat by now, nobody cares about Agent Rose Byrne, Beast is okay and Mystique is blah. Oscar Isaac appears as his unconscious self for ten seconds before becoming Apocalypse and ceasing to be Oscar Isaac completely – it’s either an immersive performance or a total waste of a promising young actor in a role that could’ve been played by a CG-enhanced mannequin. As always, the ending hinges on whether Magneto is truly evil or can be convinced to compromise.

Apocalypse and his Horsemen: Storm, Angel, and this lightsaber girl, the fourth horseman being Magneto, who becomes evil again out of rage when his perfect wife and kid are murdered by some doomed motherfuckers in Poland where he’s hiding out after whatever happened in part four.

Since I don’t rewatch the movies and the first one was nearly two decades ago, it’s hard to keep track of all the characters and timelines and paradoxes, but I assume the writers have this stuff taken care of, and the fact that Angel dies in 1984 but is back in part three (?) makes sense to someone. Also, I keep seeing Jubilee in the credits for X-Men movies – who the hell is Jubilee?

Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) is Young Jean Grey, seen here with Young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan of Mud) and Beast:

I notice Days of Future Past and this movie bringing back Stryker (Brian Cox’s character in part two) as a minor baddie, and I assume he’s the tie-in to the solo Wolverine films, none of which I’ve seen. And coincidentally, the week after watching this movie I saw a trailer for the third one of those, Logan, which looks awful.

Some uncomfortable politics as usual, bringing up Auschwitz yet again, and having a middle-eastern villain watching American news footage of 1980’s decadence and decrying our false idols and weak leaders. Also Professor X’s chamber where he can spy on the thoughts of anyone in the world hasn’t aged so well. Better to focus on the series’ overall focus on acceptance of difference, but even that has taken a back seat to the action scenes since part two.

I’ve been enjoying some HD rewatches of movies I’d previously seen many years ago on crappy video – classics like Close-up, Koyaanisqatsi, Paths of Glory… and Darkman. This is the perfect connection between his Evil Dead trilogy and his Spider-Man trilogy, and was probably an answer to Tim Burton’s Batman. It proved Raimi could maintain the tone of his filmmaking, shooting a fundamentally ridiculous story, filling in details both comic and horrific, without (arguably!) toppling into camp.

Really good ratty bandages and scar tissue in this movie:

Matt Singer:

It’s eerily like a Taken movie when you watch it now: Liam Neeson’s life gets wrecked and he swears revenge using (in this case literally) superhuman fighting skills. It also includes the phrases “The Rangeveritz Technique” and “The Bellasarious Memorandum.”

Double-Durant:

Liam Neeson is perfecting his formula for liquid skin, about to propose to Frances McDormand, when bad guys melt his face and hands and blow up his lab, so he seeks revenge while wearing a series of limited-time false faces. Hallmarks of 1990 include the evil property developer plot (still being used in 2016, actually), the bad hair and bad cars, and one guy in every gang having to wield nunchucks. I’d forgotten the part where Neeson is rescued post-explosion and doctors fix up his nerves so he feels no pain and incidentally has superhuman strength and rage issues.

You can tell he’s evil from the lighting:

Ted Raimi plays one of the baddest bad guys, shooting Neeson’s lab assistant to death. The evil property developer, also McDormand’s boss, is Colin Friels, also in Dark City, which I bought at the same time as this movie. Great Bruce Campbell cameo as Neeson’s getaway disguise face at the end. Dialogue is kinda clunky, but what do you want from a movie called Darkman.

For some reason she’s more freaked out by the lookalike than the dead man:

In the commentary, cinematographer Bill Pope says Sam and the Coens might still be doing secret revisions of each other’s scripts. Darkman Legacy: the late Larry Drake was always happy to return as Durant, including in the TV series pilot (with UK TV’s Christopher Bowen as Darkman) and two straight to video sequels The Return of Durant and Die Darkman Die (with Mummy Returns star Arnold Vosloo as Darkman, and a hilarious scene with a rocket launcher in a tunnel).

Wing Commander (1999, Chris Roberts)

I played the first Wing Commander video game a fair amount, the second one a ton, and I think my computer was underpowered for the third (1994) so that one not so much. When the movie came out too-many-years later and I saw its posters splashed all over Barcelona, I ignored it. Looks like that was the right choice. Euro-accented spaceship crew is yelling the standard space-movie stuff about shields, then there’s a solo-flying Freddie Prinz Jr. with a cool monocole. I’ve got nothing against Freddie, didn’t see any of his poorly-received movies of the era and he was alright on The Brak Show. This movie is so full of jargon and effects, I doubt anyone knows or cares what is happening. Cool to see David Warner as the admiral, anyway. I don’t approve of the Kilrathi being slow-motion underwater green-tinted puppets speaking in subtitled death-metal voices. Appearance at the end by Saffron Burrows of Klimt. Why is Mark Hamill credited as “?” when he appears in all the games?


Star Trek 7: Generations (1994, David Carson)

I went back further than ten minutes because I didn’t want to miss Kirk dying. He and Picard fight Malcolm McDowell in the desert trying to get some magic remote control that makes a missile turn invisible. Doesn’t seem like a plot worth dying for, but Kirk gets crushed under a metal bridge, freeing up Shatner to do more important work, like that amazing Se7en parody in 1996. Epilogue: Data has emotions and a pet cat, Picard has a monologue about time being a flat circle and Frakes makes a sly joke about living forever (he will). Director Carson went on to make Unstoppable (the Wesley Snipes one, not the Denzel Washington one).


Congo (1995, Frank Marshall)

I don’t remember the novel, other than I hated it but it was the only book I had while stuck in a Costa Rica airport for six hours… or maybe that was Sphere… anyway, why are army people machine-gunning monkeys, and why is one monkey speaking English while wearing a nintendo power glove? Good to see Ernie Hudson, and weird to see Laura Linney blasting monkeys with lasers and oh now a volcano is erupting and burning all the monkeys. Do NOT watch this movie if you love monkeys. Joe Don Baker!! After all the digital motion-capture shit of recent years it’s nice to see one monkey played by an actor wearing a furry suit. Director Marshall went on to make a Paul Walker sled dog movie and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley was slumming between an oscar win for Moonstruck and a nomination for Doubt.


The Relic (1997, Peter Hyams)

I guess this is the one that wasn’t Species or Mimic. Apparently it stars Penelope Ann Miller (Big Top Pee-Wee) and Tom Sizemore (Dreamcatcher), but I can’t see a damned thing. Looks like figures running through a dark chemical plant. When we finally see the Relic and its gross long tongue, it looks like some Alien/Predator/Pumpkinhead/Krang mashup for the ten seconds before Penelope uses confusing editing to set it on fire, then she spits some weak Hellraiser catchphrase and it blows up. Was this movie about anything? Hyams made a Sean Connery movie called Outland 16 years earlier which I apparently watched (I gave it a 6). He also made Timecop and End of Days, which I would totally watch the last ten minutes of either of those if available, so get your shit together netflix.


Deep Impact (1998, Mimi Leder)

This was the asteroid movie that wasn’t Armageddon but came out at the same time. Sure enough, the asteroid hits the Earth and kills everyone. It kills the loving couple on the beach. It kills New York City. It kills everything. Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski escape, chuckling at the devastation. Meanwhile some crying astronauts led by Robert Duvall are saying goodbye and it gets real weepy before they crash into a second asteroid and blow it to bits then President Morgan Freeman gives a boring speech. This looks like it was a boring movie. Mimi Leder went on to make the movie that shook my faith in movies, Pay It Forward.


The Phantom (1996, Simon Wincer)

In today’s superhero-fueled world, it’s quaint to visit the superhero movies of yesteryear, which were medium-budget and starred Billy Zane. Billy is a fine actor as long as he never has to speak, so he’s always cast in major roles and given tons of dialogue. Some bad guy picks up a crystal skull and says “at last!” and someone else is accused of kiling Phantom’s father. All movies are basically the same, aren’t they? Phantom has a pathetic, sub-lightsaber effects-duel with the baddie, whoever he was, then everything explodes. Where is Catherine Zeta-Jones? Holy shit, Patrick McGoohan cameo as Phantom’s dad. Phantom’s girlfriend is Kristy Swanson, the lead in Mannequin 2: On The Move. This has kind of a Rocketeer / Sky Captain / Indiana Jones throwback look which I appreciate. It was director Wincer’s follow-up to Operation Dumbo Drop, and he’d go on to make Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.

After each of these movies, netflix assumed next I’d want to watch their new Adam Sandler flick. That is either persistent self-marketing or a sadly accurate attempt to predict the tastes of people watching Congo on a thursday night in 2016.

One of the better Disney/Marvel superhero movies (not counting the X-Men, which are almost all better than the infinity-stone saga, or whatever we’ll ultimately call these things). After a few civilian deaths are caused while saving the entire planet from certain destruction, everyone is angry at the superheroes and propose they be commanded by the UN instead of by an absent Sam Jackson (maybe he’s dead – someone mentioned the collapse of SHIELD?). While this is happening, Captain America’s old buddy The Winter Soldier (I missed the last movie, but he seems to be a Manchurian Candidate version of the Captain with an iron arm instead of a magic shield) is framed for killing an African king. The Captain wants to check in with his friend before antiterror squads kill him, but Iron Man says no, we have to let the UN tell us when/where to intervene, and an Avengers-rift is formed – a loud, punchy rift! These guys solve all of their problems through punching. Also it’s a three-hour movie with few interestingly-shot action scenes and no memorable images (no wonder it opened with a Bourne sequel trailer).

So, let’s see, UN Iron Man is joined by his buddy War Machine, Black Widow, Vision, the dead king’s son Black Panther, and a newly-recruited teenage Spider-Man

And the Captain is joined by his buddy Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Falcon and Ant-Man. So it’s six on six. No Thor or Hulk or Loki or Gwyneth Paltrow this time.

I guess the Captain’s team wins – it’s his movie, after all, and Black Widow defects at the last minute, War Machine is badly hurt, and Black Panther is pretty cool about accepting the truth that Winter Soldier didn’t really kill his dad, but in a weird twist, Iron Man is angry when it turns out Winter Soldier actually killed HIS dad. All this mayhem was somehow orchestrated by an anti-superhero crusader called Zemo, who despite his supervillain name is just a regular guy.

These Russo brothers made the last Capt. America and I guess are making the next two Avengers. Before all this happened, they were best known for You, Me and Dupree. I would’ve already covered most of these heroes in my Avengers 2 writeup but I apparently chose to make a point about how forgettable a movie it was instead. New (to me): Winter Soldier is Sebastian Stan (The Martian), Black Panther is Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in 42), Spider-Man is Tom Holland (The Lost City of Z, Broadway’s Billy Elliot) and the evil Zemo is Daniel Bruhl (the nazi war hero/actor in Inglorious Basterds).

Jen Chaney:

[Civil War] doesn’t contain a moment that enables the audience to emotionally relate to the characters the way Spider-Man 2 did. It entertains, but it doesn’t transport to the degree that, say, The Dark Knight or even Superman: The Movie did … it’s a sign that the bigger the mob of infighting superheroes gets, the more difficult it becomes to leave a space in the crowd and let the audience in, too.

Nick Pinkerton, quoted by Nathan Silver last week:

Re-watching [A Nos Amours] gives the frustrating awareness of how comparatively petty many of the experiences I have — and have had — with movies are, how a diet of mediocrity accustoms me to betraying a natural expectation that art can expand its frame into the world I’m living in; the sad truth is that most films evaporate the moment we emerge from the theater, vanquished by the more engaging muddle of life.

Movies vanquished by the muddle of life this month include Love, The Wolfpack, Actress, and Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.