Monday, July 24, 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Luc Besson revisits the wild side of sci-fi with an adaption of an old classic graphic novel to make a decent film that has some fun moments. The film begins with the development of the International Space Station growing with each country of Earth and making alien contact. The ship grows and turns into Alpha, a space station that hosts all of the cooperating species of a thousand planets. Valerian (Dane Dehaan) wakes after a disturbing dream of destruction to find Laureline (Cara Delevingne) on a beach simulation ready for the next mission. Valerian is flirtatious but forgets her birthday and the details of the mission. Together, the two agents fly down to a desert planet that serves a virtual market for shoppers in an effort to steal a converter, which is a cute little lizard that poops out replications of whatever it eats. This creature was introduced during the destruction of the planet and it is supposedly the last one left.

Valerian uses a dimension transport to rob the black market dealer in another dimension that he has to use glasses to see. This action scene was probably the best part of the film as Valerian jumps around trying to transport his hand back but the device was broken by the bite of an alien dog. The chase leads Valerian through the streets of the market until Laureline can save him. The dog chases them but they make it off planet at the expense of their whole crew. Valerian and Laureline return to Alpha to find that there is a new problem. Commander Arun Flitt (Clive Owen) informs them that a radioactive zone is growing at the center of the city and any crew that investigate it goes missing. An attack from the aliens at the beginning leads to Commander Flitt being captured.

Valerian chases after them but he crashes and is lost in the forbidden zone. Laureline has to bargain with three duck-like aliens to figure out where Valerian went. She has to go to the underwater section with Bob the Pirate (Alain Chabat) to catch a jellyfish that she then has to put over her head to see where he went. She finds Valerian and helps him but is captured by another group of species that have their own area that is restricted. Valerian goes to help her but is distracted by Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) and Bubble (Rihanna), a shape-shifting alien. Valerian wears Bubble to morph disguise at the primitive alien and save Laureline from having her brains eaten. The group escapes into the sewer but Bubble is tragically killed.

The two agents make their way through the forbidden zone to a strange colorful doorway. Valerian knows the way because he has had the essence of a princess inside of him. They encounter Emperor Haman-Limaï (Elizabeth Debicki) who explains their history and why they need the converter. Commander Flitt was responsible for destroying their planet in a war and orders robots to kill anyone trying to stop them. Valerian does most of the fighting at the end and it gets pretty boring, so much so, that I almost fell asleep. The action is alright but the ending is pretty disappointing and way too predictable. 

Luc Besson has proven that he can make a wild sci-fi that I enjoy and Valerian starts with a ton of potential. While it keeps its crazy visuals throughout, it falters with the story at the end and drags. Dehaan and Delevingne seem to lose interest and their chemistry is most awkward and not an even partnership that might have been more welcome in such a progressive movie. The film certainly has its cool parts and is interesting enough but does require a theater viewing and doesn't benefit that much from a 3-D presentation. I wanted to like this film as Besson is responsible for one of my favorite sci-fi films ever but in the end, it felt disappointing. 

Movie Review: The Fifth Element

Luc Besson created a wild futuristic universe two decades ago that was fun with a solid good vs. evil story. When a hidden weapon is found amidst the pyramids before the start of the World Wars, an alien race flies down to retrieve it and starts an order of priesthoods that would pass the knowledge down of a holy weapon to fight evil. In the very colorful future, Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) drives a taxi having given up his life as a fighter pilot. Absolute evil takes the form of a growing black ball that destroys military spaceships. As the priest, Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) awaits of the fifth element with President Lindberg (Tommy Lister), Jean-Baptist Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman)  sends shape-shifting aliens called Mangalores to shoot down the ship and retrieve the four elemental stones. The only survivor of the crash is recreated in a Neurolab into Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) and she breaks out. Her escape sends her crashing down into Corbin's taxi that leads to a wild flying car chase that holds well with special effects these twenty years later.

Zorg is angry when he finds the case empty without any stones and tricks the aliens into blowing themselves up with some crazy rifle. Corbin brings Leeloo to Cornelius who helps decipher Leeloo's language that the stones are hidden with an opera singer on a paradise cruise off the planet. Zorg summons Cornelius to find out where the stones are but his bargaining does not go as planned. The evil blob calls Zorg ordering him to find the stones. Corbin finds out he is fired as he finds out he is being recruited for a mission to go to Fhloston Paradise. Unfortunately, Cornelius and Leeloo show up and then the police. The police capture his neighbor but the aliens steal the captive neighbor. Cornelius knocks Corbin over the head stealing the cruise ticket. Corbin accepts the mission and meets David (Charlie Creed-Miles) and Leeloo there, getting aboard.

On the ship, the eccentric radio host Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) detains Dallas and forces him to interact with his audience. Cornelius follows Corbin on the ship as Leeloo learns English from the internet. Leeloo hopes to meet the Diva Plavalaguna (Maïwenn) and receive the stones after her opera performance. Ruby continues to urge Corbin to speak to his audience though the taxi driver is uncooperative. During the performance, Leeloo takes out some of the Mangalores while others attack the opera shooting the Diva. Corbin finds the stones within the Diva as Zorg attacks Leeloo in the Diva's suite. Corbin fights the Mangalores shooting and blowing them up in spectacular fashion while Ruby screams alongside him. Zorg sets a bomb to blow the ship up but has to return when he finds the box he took doesn't have the stones again.

Leeloo is disturbed by the violence she sees but Corbin helps her escape the ship with Cornelius and Ruby. They fly to the pyramids where David is waiting for them. They line the stones up but aren't sure what to do when David discovers that adding the element that each stone represents, fire, water, wind, and earth, activates the stone. Leeloo still has to be convinced that life is worth saving to fight against evil and Corbin professes his love to her. She ignites and destroys the ball of evil right before it impacts the planet, making a new moon. Corbin and Leeloo are free to love each other in the Neurolab pod as the world is saved.

The Fifth Element captured my imagination when I first saw it and was one of my favorite movies ever. Bruce Willis has always been a fun actor that does great action with witty one-liners. Milla Jovovich is great as Leeloo delivering humor and her unique sci-fi edge. Gary Oldman is extraordinary and nearly unrecognizable as the villain Zorg. Besson made a fun film full of wonder, excitement, and action that I can watch multiple times and still enjoy. I am glad I had a reason to review this film again on my blog as it was a film that I have enjoyed for twenty years and holds up well. When I was young, I like it so much, I even read the novelization where Zorg survives. The Fifth Element is a great film and I hope Besson continues to make more science fiction. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan depicts the great effort to evacuate British soldiers during the early part of World War II in his latest film. With Dunkirk surrounded, the soldiers try to flee on battleships but planes continue to drop bombs and sink them. The story plays out in three parts and three timelines, the first story "The Mole" plays out over a week on the beach, the second "The Sea" in one day, and "The Air" in one hour. The soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) tries to escape the beach any way he can from carrying the sick to hiding in an abandoned craft. He teams up with a silent soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) to carry a wounded man aboard a destroyer but then they are both ordered off the ship so hide below the dock. They hear Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Colonel Winnant (James D'Arcy) discuss the situation on the beach. On a dock back in England, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) see the Royal Navy commandeering boats so they decide to set sail themselves to help the truth bringing along young George (Barry Keoghan).

In the air, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) fly towards the beach. Their greatest worry beyond the enemy planes is fuel, especially when Farrier's gauge breaks. The two pilots take down enemy planes with stunning scenes of air battle, probably the best part about watching the film in theaters. Back on the beach, Timothy and Gibson escape a sinking ship and help soldiers out of the water. They venture to another ship where they allowed on board and given tea and toast. Gibson does not go below deck but Timothy goes with Alex (Harry Styles) to eat the food. When a torpedo hits that ship, the men scramble to swim above the surface and Gibson saves their lives by opening the door so they can swim out. Mr. Dawson picks up a soldier (Cillian Murphy) shivering on a sunken U-Boat. The soldier desperately wants to not go back to the beach at Dunkirk having seen what happened.

The film keeps up a sense of tension almost entirely through these scenes of soldiers defying death with a powerful soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. Collins's plane is hit and he pilots it into the water as Farrier continues on to provide protection for the British Destroyers. As the men on the beach watch the bodies float in with the tide, they seek a new way off the beach and find a trawler that is stuck on the shore. As they wait for the tide to come in, they must risk the fire from the enemy and Alex's accusals of Gibson as a German spy. As bullet holes fill the hull, the water rushes in but any soldier that tries to plug it gets shot. The soldier aboard Mr. Dawson's boat grows angry as their course stays set towards Dunkirk. He fights Mr. Dawson for the wheel but knocks George below deck. George hits his head and goes blind as Peter tries to help him. 

Collins is unable to open his cockpit to get out of his sinking plane and the water steadily rises. Mr. Dawson has seen the plane go down and heads towards it, suspecting that the pilot may still be alive. Timothy and the other soldiers find themselves floating on a sinking ship and abandon it only to swim towards a destroyer that is hit by bombs. Farrier takes down another plane but his fuel reserves finally give out, sending him coasting through the air. The sea water is covered in oil as Mr. Dawson and Peter load men aboard their ship, trying to fit as many as possible. Timothy dives underwater to try and flee the fire. All three stories converge as Peter rescues Timothy from the water and Farrier manages one last turn to take out a German bomber. The film ends with the empowering words of Winston Churchill about never surrendering.

Dunkirk offers a look at the massive scale of the military evacuation during the advance of German troops, a possible turning point in World War II. From the great shots of the soldiers lined up on the beach to the sinking destroyers and the swooping planes, Christopher Nolan makes a film that is grand in size and epic despite the very close nature of the story. While only depicting one event and for one part only an hour, a sense of the war can be taken that is both horrifying and inspiring. The will to survive is strong in humans and when all the odds are against them, they will still struggle to find a way and even help each other during a sense of great danger. I enjoyed the film and appreciate Nolan's filmmaking with all of the great topics he takes on.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Movie Review: Interstellar

Christopher Nolan takes on space travel in a scientific thriller. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a scientist and former pilot haunted by his past accidents. He lives with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and his grandfather Donald (John Lithgow). Murph is convinced that a ghost is in her room but Cooper tells her to use the scientific method. Crops are dying and people are assigned to their careers as resources are being consolidated. When Cooper finds a signal coming from Murph's room, Murph deciphers a binary code from the bookshelf. He follows the coordinates to a military base when he learns about a mission to space. The NASA scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway) takes Cooper to a meeting with her father (Michael Caine) and others including a robot.

The mission hopes to search for a new habitable world and they invite Cooper to come along with his engineering and piloting skills. Despite a message from the bookshelf to stay, Cooper goes on the mission rocketing into space with Brand, Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Romilly (David Gyasi). Their search for habitable planets takes them through a black hole to a solar system with three potential planets. The biggest complication is gravity and relativity cause for a huge time jump that will change every hour into seven years back on Earth. The first planet is a water planet that has giant tidal waves heading towards their spaceship. Doyle is wiped out by the wave but Brand is saved by the robot. They are stuck on the planet for longer than they had hoped because the engines are waterlogged.

They are following a message from interdimensional beings that can treat time as another dimension. They make it off the planet to find Romilly having waited for twenty-three years. Cooper listens to the messages watching Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Casey Affleck) grow up. They debate which of the two planets to try next but Cooper votes to against what Brand wants because she loves a scientist on one of the planets. They head to the planet where Mann (Matt Damon) has survived by putting himself in hibernation. The world is cold and harsh. The situation on Earth has grown dire with dust clouds and humans steadily going sick. When Professor Brand dies, it is revealed that he never hoped to save humans on Earth. Getty (Topher Grace) works with Murph to help Tom's family but they are sick. Tom fight with Getty when he claims they have to leave the farm.

Mann tries to kill Cooper because he faked the data and doesn't want to be alone. He wanted to be saved so the two men fight in their spaceships on an icy mountain of the frozen planet. Cooper's mask cracks but Brand flies out to save him. Romilly discovers that the data is wrong but the habitat explodes. Mann steals a craft and heads up to the spaceship but blows the airlock. Cooper and Rand have to match the spin of the out of control ship to board. Their new plan is for Cooper to fly towards the black hole to send a message back to the humans on Earth while Brand checks out the other planet. Somehow the black hole transports Cooper back in time to allow him to communicate with Murph through the bookshelf because gravity can cross the dimensions through time. This part always felt a bit odd and a strange solution to an interesting movie. Cooper survives and wakes up on a space station with a thriving human society. Murph (Ellen Burstyn) arrives at the space station to see her father again. Brand has also started a colony on the third planet in the system. There is plenty of hope for the future at the end.

Interstellar was a bit of a disappoint for me when I first saw it. I liked the science and the depiction of relativity but plenty of parts seemed boring and the ending was a bit ridiculous. McConaughey and Hathaway were good with Christopher Nolan's directing showing his same skill but a confusing story hurts many parts of this film. The pace plods along but then there are intense scenes that are fun but are also hurt from Nolan's difficulty with filming action scenes. The movie was better on the second viewing and I understand why people enjoyed it so much. I've had fun revisiting the great director's work progressing from a simple black and white film to an epic space journey and look forward to seeing his latest in theaters tomorrow. 

Movie Review: Inception

Christopher Nolan headed to the dream world for his next project after the box office smash success of The Dark Knight. Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) is a thief of ideas using an advanced technology to journey into the minds of wealthy individuals while they dream. With his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), they try to steal business secrets from Saito (Ken Watanabe), but another thief gives them up. Cobb has trouble building dream worlds because the memory of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) still haunts him. Saito offers him a chance to return to the United States if he pulls off a complicated job called inception, planting an idea in someone's mind. He heads to Paris where his father Miles (Michael Caine) helps him recruit a new student Ariadne (Ellen Page) to help him build dreams. In a spectacular sequence, Ariadne explores the physics of the dream world but is attacked by Mal as a part of Cobb's self-conscious. The dream explorers need a totem, an object that only they know so that they can assure themselves that they are in reality and not in someone else's dream.

Cobb recruits Eames (Tom Hardy) to help him forge identities. Cobb is pursued by another corporation known as Cobol that nearly captures him until Saito helps him escape. Eames introduces Cobb and Saito to Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist who has mixed a powerful sedative that can keep people in dreaming sleep for extended periods of time. The job requires Cobb and his group to trick Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to break up his company and prevent it from being a competitor to Saito. They develop the plan like a heist explaining how they'll drop down into three levels of dreams causing a massive difference in time and moving into the depths of the subconscious. Saito buys the airline the Robert will take and the plan is set though Ariadne worries about Cobb's ability to keep it together in the dream world. 

In the dream, the group captures Robert but Cobb's memories cause a train to smash through a busy street of traffic and Robert's conscious is militarized to attack intruders. Saito is shot but if he dies in the dream world, they'll fall into Limbo, a place where they'll lose their minds in infinity. Eames disguises himself as Robert's employee Browning (Tom Berenger) to figure out a special combination. Cobb reveals his past with Mal to Ariadne while explaining how people can survive in Limbo. The subconscious attacks again and during a car chase, the group drops down to the next level leaving Yusuf to drive. In the second layer, Cobb approaches Fischer in an attempt to turn him against his own subconscious and Browning. Gravity shifts during the car chase as the van flips making for a cool action scene in the hotel as the subconscious agents attack Arthur and he fights them across the floor, walls, and ceiling.  

The third layer is a snowy mountain top complex protected by subconscious agents on snowmobiles. Saito and Fischer make their way to a safe but Saito is still injured from his bullet wound from two layers ago. Mal intervenes and shoots Fischer, sending him down into Limbo. Eames and Cobb about to give up when Ariadne claims they can go down and save him. They need a kick, a sense of falling, to wake them and each layer is prepared. As the van falls in the first layer, Arthur prepares a kick with an elevator in the second and Eames holds off the white clad subconscious soldiers in the third. Ariadne and Cobb venture into Cobb's old world full of crumbling buildings. Mal tries to convince Cobb to stay as he confesses to Ariadne how he planted the idea in Mal's mind that her world wasn't real, his first experience with inception. As the team rides the kick back up the layers, Cobb stays behind to find Saito who is an old man. Encountering Cobb causes Saito to remember and they all wake up. Saito makes a call allowing Cobb to enter the United States. He is reunited with his family and the final shot shows the top still spinning.

Inception is a wild movie, one that is not easily understood on the first viewing. It has a lot of exposition that slows down the pace somewhat but is mixed in with several creative action scenes. Christopher Nolan does not always film the action in the most comprehensible manner but the benefits of a crazy story propel the movie forward. A mix of solid blockbuster acting combines with stunning set pieces to engage viewers in the dream world and all the potential of this advanced technology. It was one of my favorite films at the time and is still very fun to revisit on occasion.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: The Prestige

After the success of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan took on magicians for his fourth original film. Two magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) compete for the greatest illusion. The stage manager Cutter (Michael Caine) accuses Alfred of attempting to steal Angier's trick but murdering him instead and sends him to jail in the furthest forward storyline. The film operates on multiple storylines, one that follows Robert searching for the great inventor Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis) in Colorado, and another storyline that tells the history of Angier and Borden as young magicians. These stories come from diaries that the men read of each other. Alfred meets Sarah (Rebecca Hall) at a magic show and falls for her quickly.  

In the past, Borden tries a special knot that ends up killing Julia (Piper Perabo), Angier's lover. As Borden starts a solo career, Angier confronts him during a bullet catch trick and shoots his finger off. Having had his revenge, Angier reignites his career with a new name as the Great Danton and a new assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson). With the help of Cutter, he performs new tricks with special gadgets but Borden shows up to bust the birdcage and injure a participant. Desperate for a new trick and out of a show, Angier meets with Alley and finally is allowed to meet with Tesla in his hideout. This story parallels the real rivalry between Tesla and Edison over the conducting of electricity. 

Angier is more of a showman but Borden has a trick that astounds Robert so much that Angier seeks out a body double. His new trick copies Borden but results in him missing the ovation. He is so upset that he asks Olivia to work for Borden, even though they have formed a relationship. Olivia betrays Angier for Borden which allows Alfred to one-up Robert and injure him at the Great Danton's show. Angier obsesses over how to steal Borden's trick but can't decipher his diary. Angier captures Borden's partner Fallon and buries him to force the answer. Borden leads Angier to Tesla. Cutter feels too old and after being shot during the kidnapping, cannot continue working with Angier. 

Borden's erratic behavior and relentless coveting of secrets wear on his wife Sarah. Angier discovers that Tesla can duplicate objects, including hats and black cats. Tesla is run off by Edison but leaves behind a box that allows Angier to duplicate himself. Both men leave the final passage addressed to the other, taunting each other, even though Angier should be dead. Distressed by Borden's changes, Sarah commits suicide, hanging herself in Borden's lab. Angier finds funding by stunning an investor with his newest trick. Borden desperately seeks the solution to the trick. The film catches up the storylines joining them together where the film began with Borden watching Angier die. Borden is sentenced to death and Angier shows up at the prison to taunt him. Cutter confronts Angier about his lies and the conviction of Borden. As Angier disposes of the Tesla tool and stands amongst his dead clones, Borden reveals that he was also Fallon switching back and forth and shoots Angier. 

Christopher Nolan tells a great story in this film with a twist that caught me totally off guard the first time I saw it. The story mixes fantasy with a real trick that is all the more stunning for pulling it off right before the viewers' eyes. The movie is fun to watch a second time because one can see all the clever storytelling tricks used throughout the scenes and understand more of the plot developments as they happen. Bale and Jackman play well off of each other assisted well by Johansson, Caine, and Hall. As far as twist endings go, it is one of Nolan's best and worth the watch. 

Movie Review: Insomnia

Christopher Nolan takes on a noir detective story with a unique location. Detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) arrives in Alaska, tired but ready to work. He and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are greeted by local policewoman Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). The Los Angeles detectives are investigating the murder of a young high school girl Kay Connell (Crystal Low) but Dormer is disoriented by the daylight in the middle of the night. They stay at a hotel run by Rachel Clement (Maura Tierney). Hap is being investigated by Internal Affairs and is thinking of confessing which would incriminate Will. The next morning on little sleep, Will and Hap head to the high school to interrogate Kay's boyfriend Randy Stetz (Jonathan Jackson) who is uncooperative during the questioning. He does admit that Kay was seeing someone else but he doesn't know who it is. 

Will treats Ellie as a protege schooling her on the procedure and the little things of an investigation. When Kay's bookbag is found in a cabin, it provides clues and a trap for Will to devise. Dormer continues to threat over the IA investigation, doubting his own tactics. When the amateur Alaskan police botch the stakeout alerting the suspect, a foot chase ensues through the cabin and fog. A policeman is shot but Will Dormer pursues the suspect across slick rocks and fires into the mist possibly shooting and killing his partner Hap. Overcome with grief, Will is unable to sleep and keeps reflecting back on his previous shortcuts he took to nab awful criminals. He works to cover up the possibility that he shot his partner as he becomes increasingly dazed. Noises disturb him and he hallucinates his partner giving him accusatory looks. The killer calls him up on the phone and reveals that he knows of Will's guilt in killing his partner. Ellie suspects that something isn't quite right with Will's account of his partner's shooting. Will confront Tanya Francke (Katharine Isabelle) taking her to the dump where Kay's body was dumped after spooking her by playing chicken with a truck. Tanya mentions Kay's secret lover who promised the young victim all sorts of things. The killer calls him again at the station taunting him about what he knows and Will offers to meet him. He deciphers the clues and heads to the house of Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a mystery novel author.

Will chases Walter, pursuing him across floating logs but Will trips and slips under the logs, scrambling to surface and catch a breath. Walter escapes and arranges a meeting with Will when Will returns to Walter's house. Ellie also discovers the trail of the mysterious author with whom Kay was infatuated. Will meets Walter on a ferry and bargains with him to stay silent about his partner to help him avoid the investigation. Walter records the whole conversation as something to hold over Will. In a phone call, Walter confesses to the murder and Will grills him hard in the interrogation but Walter gives the local police enough to search Randy's house. Will hurries to Randy's house to search for the murder weapon before the police can find it because he doesn't want Watler to get away but can't find it.

The police find the gun and arrest Randy. Exhausted from six nights of no sleep, Will confronts Walter again, destroying his recording of the conversation on the ferry. Walter knows Will can't turn him in or risk advancing the investigation by Internal Affairs. Ellie investigates the shooting of Detective Eckhart finding a bullet from Dormer's backup weapon. Will confesses his crime to Rachel and asks her what she would. He decides to take down Walter, driving out to Walter's lake house just as Ellie heads there too. Will can barely drive he's so tired and Walter hits Ellie over the head when she comes in his house. Will breaks in to help Ellie, and they start a shootout with Walter. Eventually, Will is shot but kills Walter in the process. Ellie attempts to destroy the evidence but Will stops her not wanting her to take the same path he did. 

Insomnia is a great film and shows how Christopher Nolan can just tell a simple, yet exciting, story. Al Pacino does a great job slowly losing his mind from lack of sleep. Robin Williams is menacing turning from comedy to thriller in a brilliant performance. Hilary Swank holds her own amongst these veterans and helps tie the mystery together. For a detective thriller, I think this is one of my favorite. Christopher Nolan also adds another dimension making the viewer feel the effect of not sleeping. I actually saw this film earlier this year but had no problem sitting through it again.