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.

What verve, what style! Super-paranoid triple-agent action spy thriller starring all the best people, every scene awesome. Sure, a couple of dialogue clunkers and an overall feeling that, despite the constant life-or-death struggle, nothing really consequential is happening, but this movie is good, and I watched it at a good theater, sitting right up close.

Huge centerpiece showing in a single take how Charlize got beat to hell protecting Eddie Marsan. Poor Marsan – when you see him in a movie you just know things won’t turn out alright for him. John Goodman is CIA, Toby Jones is MI6, so who really was James McAvoy? Not a double agent, just a spy who got caught up in his own power? As Charlize runs into a movie theater playing Tarkovsky’s Stalker to hide from assassins, I lost track of the double-dealings and reveled in the self-conscious coolness.

The director is the Wachowskis’ stunt coordinator and did second-unit stuff on Jurassic World and the Ninja Turtles movies. It’s not the most promising looking resume, but damn. More evidence to check out John Wick, which Leitch codirected.

As many pop songs as Baby Driver, but used for different purposes, slinky mood music to fit the visual tone. The songs are vintage but their performances might not be – that wasn’t Ministry playing Stigmata, and some sounded like updated remixes.

Fun, twisty thriller. I probably never want to watch it again, and I probably still don’t want to watch the shaky-cam action prequel, but I didn’t regret renting this.

Mary E. Winstead (Ramona Flowers, the girl with hair like this) is in a car crash and wakes up chained to John Goodman’s basement. But wait, Goodman is a nice guy who rescued her on his way to his massive emergency shelter and outside the world has gone to hell. But wait, she hears a car overhead and there’s a person outside and Goodman denies this is possible. But wait, that outside person is crazy and wounded and is trying to get into the shelter, proving Goodman’s point. Goodman’s neighbor John Gallagher (Short Term 12) is also in the bunker and says Goodman’s on the level and John isn’t a creepy sex fiend and he talks like a normal sad guy about his daughter. But wait, Gallagher says the girl in the photo isn’t Goodman’s daughter. But wait, Mary suspects Goodman is the one who caused her car crash in the first place. But wait, before she confronts him about this, Goodman sheepishly admits that he crashed into her in his haste to get to the shelter.

All this back-and-forth is resolved in the best possible way: Goodman is right about the extinction-level event outside AND he’s dangerously crazy, so Mary has to fight her way out of the bunker then fight Cloverfield aliens, which I assumed would be more Godzilla-like, not floating spaceships with Hellraiser tentacles.

Obvs produced by JJ Abrams, but directed by Trachtenberg, whose previous film was a fan-film short for the video game Portal (he was also key grip on Phantasm OblIVion). Written by a Narnia editor, a G.I. Joe associate producer and Whiplash director Damien Chazelle. That is a fucked-up lineage but man the actors are so good in this.

M. D’Angelo:

What if you got trapped in an elevator with your abusive ex-boyfriend and you’re a hemophiliac and OMG your ex-boyfriend is a vampire! Come on.

The most inventive “live-action cartoon” movie?

The bright, color-manipulated sets ensure that we don’t take the action seriously for even a second – which is good, since the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the horrendous Speed Racer series, in which the mysterious Racer X is actually Speed’s brother. The movie’s main contribution (besides toning down the part of Chim-Chim) is a twist: Racer X turns out not to be Speed’s brother! But wait, another twist: Racer X is really Speed’s brother!

Not toned-down: Spritle

Evil racers with dollars in their eyes:

Speed is Emile Hirsch, having a big year with this between Into the Wild and Milk, with Christina Ricci as Trixie. His overqualified parents: Susan Sarandon and John Goodman (dressed like Super Mario). Rain (I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK) is a friend/enemy/informant/fall guy, Royalton (Al Gore-looking Roger Allam of The Angels’ Share and V for Vendetta) is the corporate baddie, and Matthew Fox (TV’s Lost) is Racer X, who is emphatically not Speed’s brother (yes he is!)!!!

Oscar Isaac (Carey Mulligan’s loser husband in Drive) is a folk singer who gets by on his earnest music and pity over the suicide of his ex-partner, not on his abilities to make or keep friends or smoothly adapt to change. He sleeps at fellow folkies Jean & Jim’s place (cutie couple Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) or arts patrons The Gorfeins. Llewyn may have gotten Jean pregnant, and he accidentally receives (then loses) the Gorfeins’ cat. He’s running out of career options and hastily plans a last-ditch trip to Chicago in the company of sullen actor Garrett Hedlund and grotesque blues man John Goodman, to (unsuccessfully) audition at a major club.

R. Brody: “The symbolic aspect of this sidebar is clear. The jazzman is a hardened cynic with a wound, a habit—and a career; the young actor is a self-deluding purist trapped in humiliating servitude; and for Davis, both options appear unbearable.”

Interesting how the end of Llewyn Davis is similar/opposite to the end of The Grandmaster. In Grandmaster, Ip Man has suffered and ended up alone, but we see a young guy who is obviously Bruce Lee, and the movie is telling us that Ip’s legacy and teachings will live on gloriously. In the Coen movie, Llewyn has suffered and ended up alone getting his ass kicked in an alley, but we see a young guy who is obviously Bob Dylan, and the movie is telling us Llewyn has run out of time, than his whole genre is about to be transformed and move on without him.

B. Ebiri:

The film fades to black, and the Dylan song, victorious, plays over the end credits. Somewhere along the way, you figure Dylan has been on his own, significantly luckier trajectory – maybe like the Incredible Journey that Ulysses the cat must have been on. But we didn’t see that journey. We saw the other journey — the one with some loser named Llewyn and a nameless, wounded cat. In many ways, that’s the journey the rest of us are also on.

M. Koresky:

It ought to be rather clear by now that the Coens’ body of work constitutes the closest we have to a consistent existential American cinema. This helps explain that sense of detachment in their films, often misread as condescension. Theirs is admittedly not an open-arms type of filmmaking, but no one could accuse Inside Llewyn Davis, at once their warmest and most fragile film, of treating its complicated, imperfect protagonist with disdain. From its opening shot, the camera caresses Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), who enters from frame right to meet a microphone in wait.

Habitual thief marries cop, they steal baby, then every other character in the movie (his boss, his prison buddies, the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse) try to steal him back.

Some similarities to the later Wild at Heart: Nic Cage, wide-open Western locations, amour fou, people exploding. Is it just me, or is there an Evil Dead reference in the low, traveling camera move when Mrs. Arizona discovers her missing son? And the movie has a similar ending (hazy dream of a child-filled future) to 25th Hour.

Haven’t seen Holly Hunter since The Incredibles (and haven’t seen her since O Brother). Her last movie before starring in this was Swing Shift. Tex Cobb (Police Academy 4) is the Lone Biker, a bounty hunter seemingly summoned by Cage’s nightmares. Sam McMurray (a cop in C.H.U.D.) is Cage’s boss who gets punched (and thus fires Cage) for suggesting a wife-swap, then schemes to steal the stolen tyke for wife Frances McDormand. John Goodman and William Forsythe (of the Steve Gutterberg version of The Man Who Wasn’t There) are brothers who break out of prison (then in the epilogue, back into prison) assuming Cage will join them on some heists. And Trey Wilson (a baddie in Twins who died soon after) is Nathan Arizona, father of the quints, who proves to be a decent fellow at the end.

A fair pick to win all the oscars: a based-on-true-story thriller about a daring Hollywood-assisted hostage rescue with a happy ending. Affleck casts himself as a world-weary CIA hostage expert working for Malcolm’s Dad, who teams up with movie producers Alan Arkin and John Goodman to rescue U.S. embassy workers in newly Ayatollah Khomeini-run Iran hiding out at the Victor Garber-led Canadian embassy.

Comic book legend Jack Kirby did storyboards for the fake movie that the CIA pretended to be shooting while collecting hostages. Shot full of 1970’s grain by Rodrigo Prieto (25th Hour, Frida, Broken Embraces) and edited by William Goldenberg, who was double-nominated for Zero Dark Thirty (and won for this).

Leisurely-paced, straightforward story of silent film star George Valentin and early talkie star Peppy Miller. He’s struck by her early on, helps her career get started, and they stay acquaintances, but he’s more focused on his career. He sinks his savings into a big film, written produced and starring himself, which comes out and flops the day after the stock market crash and the same day as Peppy’s massive hit Beauty Spot. After she becomes famous she stalks him, buying up his pawned and auctioned belongings, and putting him up in her mansion when he’s hospitalized after burning up all his films and nearly himself. Another suicide attempt, with a gun this time (punchline provided by George’s dog) before Peppy manages to find him a worthwhile job as a film dancer.

Good supporting cast. John Goodman is the film producer, James Cromwell is Valentin’s extremely loyal chauffeur/assistant, Penelope Ann Miller (who played Edna Purviance in Chaplin) is Valentin’s wife (then ex-wife), and a weird little appearance by Malcolm McDowell, who must’ve been spotted near the set that day and hastily recruited. Writer/director Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo made the OSS 117 spy comedies before this.

UPDATE:
It’s been commonly reported that The Artist is the first silent film since the first academy awards in 1928 to win best picture. But it’s also the first novelty film since 1929’s weak (but with sound! and in color!) Broadway Melody to win the award.

Watched this alongside The Ward, a double-feature of horror movies by formerly-favorite filmmakers which I expected to thoroughly disappoint. But The Ward surprised by being bland but not terrible (I heard it was terrible), and Red State surprised by being fully terrific. Starts out as a grim, bloody horror movie, three kids suckered by an internet ad promising group sex, kidnapped by a Christian cult to be executed for their immorality. Turns into a cops-vs.-crazies hostage-standoff thriller. But really the whole thing is a black comedy, gaining shock value from its willingness to kill major characters at unexpected times. It steals the tone and final scene directly from the Coens’ Burn After Reading, arguably improving it.

Kevin Smith’s best filmmaking has great comic timing but little else to recommend it, and I was worried when this started as an anonymous-looking movie about teens in peril. But then along came Stephen Root as a closeted small-town sheriff up against a house full of well-armed ragingly homophobic religious nuts, and things got immediately better. Happier still, Root calls John Goodman, who leads an FBI assault against the place with sidekick Kevin Pollack (killed almost immediately). Meanwhile inside the compound, one girl (Kerry Bishe) is slightly more enlightened than her mother (Melissa Leo) and their nutjob leader (Tarantino regular Michael Parks), tries to help the survivor of the initial three boys (Ronnie Connell, star of Signals) escape to the safety (heh) of the police. I wasn’t sure if Smith was serious about ending the movie by interrupting the standoff with blasts from heavenly trumpets signaling the coming of the apocalypse – turns out he wasn’t, but it would’ve worked fine for me either way. Distracting bonus appearance by the guy from the Mulholland Dr. diner.