Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian poster

Based on a French comic book, Valerian and Laureline, this movie sees these two Special Agents trying to save the titular City of a Thousand Planets – that is, a space station peacefully hosting hundreds of different alien species – from a mysterious threat.

Reviews have been pretty scathing about Valerian, and I would have to agree with most of them: the plot is both weak and convoluted, the acting is barely adequate, and even the title is insulting, leaving out the other main character who turns out to be probably more kick-ass than her male counterpart. Pfft. And as someone said: removing the painful attempts at ‘romance’ would have made for a far superior movie – it’s borderline creepy at points, tbh.

And yet, it’s still worth the watch. In fact, despite saying all of the above, I’d still go back to see it tomorrow – because it looks gorgeous. So yes, I can put up with a so-so plot and meh characters, and sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Knowing this comes from Fifth Element director, Luc Besson, perhaps explains some of the visual marvel. I don’t think this is anywhere near as good – mind, I do love FE – but it’s definitely going to be one I leave on when it’s on the telly, purely to look at.

The one part of the movie I did think they nailed absolutely is the opening montage. Perfectly accompanied by the wondrous Space Oddity (David Bowie), we see the next 800 years of human space exploration encapsulated in a series of meet’n’greets aboard the growing ISS. It’s a hugely touching reminder than humanity can be non-jerks, at times.

The rest drifts off a little into a series of semi-random adventures for Valerian (a wooden Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne and her power eyebrows), including a subplot about a dream that feels like it’s from a different draft of the movie. Still, there are some fun alien species along the way, some well-realised (virtual) sets including a marketplace in another dimension (the future of Amazon, perhaps?), and a pretty good score to keep the feet tapping.

Go in – as I did – with low expectations, and have a little fun!

Released: 2nd August 2017
Viewed: 9th August 2017
Running time: 137 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Take one washed-up pirate, two young people who can bicker at each other until the inevitable get together, and a host of CGI nasties chasing our ‘heroes’ as they go questing for a mythical object. I’m not entirely sure which of the Pirates franchise I’m talking about, to be honest – but let’s be generous, and say this one is a nice, ‘soft reboot’ of the first movie o_O

The fifth instalment, known as either Salazar’s Revenge or Dead Men Tell No Tales, depending where you live, is getting very mixed reviews. To be honest, I’m not sure where the out-and-out hatred is coming from, because if you liked any of the previous movies then there’s very little of difference here to find so disappointing. That of course could be the disappointment, but hey – you know what you’re getting in to!

I actually quite liked Johnny Depp here. It’s a damn shame that Captain Jack is the only thing he’s been watchable as in ages, but it’s a nice return to the character – I didn’t quite think it slipped into parody of earlier performances, although some have argued this.

The new would-be couple, replacing (well…!) Orlando and Keira, are fine – nothing extraordinary (although the whole “I’m a horologist!” scene might have been a highlight of mine!), but equally not irritating (hey, I have low asks in these situations!). Predictable? Well, of course, but then so is the whole movie!

The main difference is the baddie, this time played by Javier Bardem, who is a pirate-killer tricked into a living death and now out for revenge. Some people are hailing him as the one good part of this movie, but to be honest I’ve always found the villains a little pantomime, and I’m not 100% swayed from that here. YMMV, of course. Either way, the CGI is a spectacle to behold.

Overall, this does have to lose points for being entirely unoriginal, completely predictable, and borderline hamming itself up. On the other hand, it was 2 hours of big screen nonsense done pretty well, and entirely fun for it.

I managed to miss the post-credit scene (d’oh!), but to be honest I rather do have mixed feelings about its supposed setting-up for an instalment 6. Hmm!

Released: 26th May 2017
Viewed: 30th May 2017
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Buried within an eternal storm in the middle of the Pacific ocean, Skull Island has remained hidden for centuries – until emerging satellite technology uncovers this ‘lost’ island. Desperate to discover any precious resources before the Russians cotton on, a scientific team (led by John Goodman) enlists a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a military escort (with Samuel L Jackson in charge), attract a prize-winning photo journalist (Brie Larson) – and are soon neck-deep in all the horrors of the land that time forgot.

I think my only previous experience with King Kong was the 2005 Peter Jackson version, which disappointed me bitterly. My main issue with that one was the lack of fun – it was so reverential, so po-faced – and so dull. Seriously: this is a movie about a giant monkey, how can you be boring!??

Skull Island, however, seems to have learned from this – and goes in entirely the other direction. This is a monster movie, pure and simple: lots of things trying to kill all the interlopers, in various spectacular and/or gory ways. No one is safe on an island ruled by a building-sized gorilla – and really, you have to ask yourself how big the other fauna is… o_O

Much to my surprise, I ended up really enjoying this. It is so daft that it’s quite easy to just enjoy the spectacle, and try not to think too hard about the whole hollow earth theory, or man’s arrogant stupidity, or pretty much anything, really.

The cast are a mixed bunch, as are the performances. SLJ is always great value, and he goes for a more silent, eyeball-terrorising rage than often shown, which works well. Tom Hiddleston seems rather miscast to me, he just didn’t fit well. And I was more amused by seeing Toby Kebbell in human form given his previous turn as a (Planet of the) ape(s) than his role really merited.

The special effects go the same way: mixed. Largely good, but I’m sure there were a few moments that I would generously suggest were homages to Harryhausen’s classic claymation versions. Ahem.

Overall: manages to be my favourite version of Kong. The bar, however, was pretty dang low 😉

Released: 9th March 2017
Viewed: 10th March 2017
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Batman might be a dab hand at rounding up the bad guys, but he’s still battling that crippling loneliness. It doesn’t help that he’s too afraid of (more) loss to let anyone close – or, quite frankly, that he’s a mega-arrogant douche 😉 Thankfully, the Lego Movie series is here to help us poke fun at a rich, weird loner who likes to dress in black, and a whole pile of superhero memes along the way.

Plot-wise, the Joker is upset when Batman refuses to acknowledge him as his ‘main adversary’ (“I like to fight around”), and sets out to be, urm, more appreciated. This might involve a group of cross-movie super villains being rather superbly spoofed, but I’m not giving anything away 😉 Meanwhile, the unfortunately named orphan Dick Grayson is out to get himself adopted, while Bruce Wayne is a little distracted by the new police commissioner…

There’s not a great deal of substance to this movie, really, but it serves to be ridiculous and does so pretty well. The bulk of the humour actually comes from a host of rather throw-away moments and lines, such as referring to Daleks as “British robots – ask your nerd friends”, or the characters all saying “Pew! Pew!” as they fire their guns (that slayed me. Don’t ask!). There’s also some great lampooning of Batman’s history-on-screen, as well as the character in general.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the ‘real’ meaning of the movie, which is all about family and working with others and *yawn*. Not awful, but y’know – pew! pew!! 😉

Released: 10th February 2017
Viewed: 8th March 2017
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: U (UK)

My rating: 6/10

Trolls (2016)

I had zero interest in seeing this movie when it came out. The troll doll things that I remember from my childhood (and indeed, several generations seem to remember from their childhoods! o_O) had no appeal for me then or now, so a movie about them wasn’t even on my radar.

Until, that is, one of my friends adopted this as her go-to happy movie: by the wonders of a cinema pass, she must have seen it about a dozen times to combat rubbish days at work. And when the next opportunity arose, I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is everything you’d expect a troll to be – urm, that is to say, one of the happy ‘good luck’ trolls, not in the sense of under-the-bridge… oh, you know what I mean! Poppy is all about singing, dancing, parties, and hugs. She’s so resolutely upbeat that it’s a wonder she doesn’t squeee herself to death.

However, when things go a little wrong at the 20th anniversary party of the trolls’ escape from the evil, joyless Bergen – who think their only chance for happiness lies in eating trolls – Poppy finds that her talent for scrapbooking may not be the best skill for a rescue mission o_O

While the story line is pretty average – rescue mission, learning to find the happiness inside yourself, etc etc – I ended up really liking some of the animation style here. There are scenes made to look like they’ve been crafted out of felt, or knitted, and just look gorgeous. Even the spiders – urgh! – are done to look super-cute.

As an adult (yes, despite some of my viewing choices!) it’s the little moments that are going to make or break a movie like this for me, and indeed they are done well. Little touches of humour and cynicism for the grown ups cut through the saccharine just about enough.

The music is also a major factor here, and it’s resolutely upbeat and bouncy – I can see why this was my buddy’s go-to happy film. And yes, I came out with a smile on my face – can’t say fairer than that, really!

Released: 21st October 2016
Viewed: 11th February 2017
Running time: 92 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 6.5/10

Moana (2016)

Many many years ago, the demi-god Maui stole the heart of the Mother Island, Ti Fiti, starting a plague of death and decay. Legends say that one day a hero will travel beyond the lagoon, find Maui, and force him to return the heart, thus breaking the curse and saving mankind.

Moana grows up hearing such stories from her grandmother (the self-proclaimed “village crazy lady” :)) and it leaves her with an urge to explore the giant, unknowable blue beyond their paradise island lagoon’s safe barrier. Unfortunately, not crossing that barrier is the one rule of the island – and given that Moana is being primed to take over from her father as the island’s chief, breaking the rules isn’t really an option.

Faced with a choice between her head and her heart, what can Moana choose?

I always go into animated movies with slight trepidation: even if the reviews are good, are they kid-movie good, or movie-movie good? I’m pleased to report that Moana was the latter, and I got exactly what I was looking for: some light-hearted fun, lots of giggles, and minimal saccharine.

First off, I really loved that we’re getting a legend from a different culture rather than yet another European Grimm rehash. Moana is very much in the ‘new’ Disney princess mold: strong, opinionated, and not the size of a twig. And Polynesian.

I also really liked the humour. Maui is voiced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who does a wonderful job of sending himself up by making the character ridiculously full of himself. And then there’s the chicken. Seriously. Loved that chicken! 🙂

The story doesn’t stray too far from what you’d expected, with themes of finding your inner strength, self-belief, etc, but all done nicely with next to no saccharine. I’d very happily watch this again – and there is no higher praise for an animated movie, I think!

Released: 2nd December 2016
Viewed: 17th January 2017
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Rogue One (2016)

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens, in a popcorn-tastic kind of a way, it was easy to see why the die-hard fans were rather disappointed: there was nothing really ‘new’ for those who’d followed the story and wanted to see a different part of the sprawling universe of Star Wars.

Rogue One, I suspect, is the film they were looking for. Rather than the stand-alone piece I was expecting, this is instead a direct prequel to the original movie (A New Hope, or episode 4, or however we refer to it!) filling in events that happen just before 1977, as mentioned in that famous text scrolling up the screen. And boy, what events! This is what people hoped for from a Star Wars prequel – not the politics of Naboo, but the running and shooting and bleeding of a rebellion making a come back.

We follow Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who, after a bit of a traumatic childhood, wants nothing to do with either side of the rebellion. But with a new ‘star killer’ weapon being spoken about in hushed tones, it seems that the rebellion might not be done with her – not when she’s the daughter of the Empire’s most noted weapons developer…

While I thoroughly enjoyed Rogue One, I would suggest that it is primarily a film for the fans – not in a bad way, but to be honest I was a tad disappointed with how much reference there was to the original film, given I remember so little of it. Enough to see that there was a lot of ‘clever’ tying in, but with that level of frustration that I just wasn’t appreciating enough of it all. I’d really like a clear ‘this is the story of it all, in one place, go read it’ kind of a thing – otherwise this is a universe that really pays to have that fanaticism about, or risk being left just a little in the cold. ymmv, of course.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy anyway. The movie is just gorgeous to look at, the action is fantastic, and the characters are all very non-annoying (a lesson that apparently took some learning through the six seven previous instalments ;)). I particularly loved new robot, K2, who has just all the best lines – the whole audience was laughing at/with him. On the other side, there are a few familiar faces, and a few ‘hmm’ uses of technology to make some of those tie-ins to the original. Plus, the whole tone is – rather unavoidably – rather dark.

Recommended? Yes, for fans and not-so-fantaticals alike. But be prepared to want to go watch eps. 4-6 (again), if only to ‘get’ some of the tie-ins and a sense of the darkness here only preceding that ‘new hope’.

Released: 15th December 2016
Viewed: 16th December 2016
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10 – it was good, but I slightly resent the push to go be a bigger fan! 😉