The Paladin visits the City of a Thousand Planets

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is at times a visual treat, a homage to serialized funny books, and a spiritual sequel to The Fifth Element. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is also at times dull, lifeless, and untrusting of its audience.

The film opens with perhaps its beast beat. It starts of with mankind greeting each other as they connect their spacecraft together to begin to form a spacestation. Overtime those handshakes start to occur with other species and the City of a Thousand Planets is born – slowly, over-time, and with cooperation. There is a sense of hope and theme in this first section. A theme I wish the rest of the film followed and explored.

Instead we are introduced to Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), operatives for the Government. Valerian is instantly unlikable and Laureline tries to come off as strong and unaffected by his wiles, but she pushes him away to weakly – not creating space for her own character to grow, but to remain in Valerian’s shadow.

The first set piece that takes place in “The Big Market” is actually a really, fun and interesting set piece. Its intricate, alive, and clever. I expected the same from the titular City of a Thousand Planets, but was ultimately left disappointed with the small, mostly service passageways, portions of the city we saw.

The second and third act go slowly forward, occasionally doing something interesting and connecting disjointed adventures together to form something of a story. There is also an awkward dance scene with Rihanna’s character Bubble that goes on for far too long. Eventually the characters catch up to where the rest of us are and the movie ends – characters that I can’t say I love pretending to be in love with one another.

I wouldn’t say that Valerian and Laureline were miss cast. Dane DeHaan did well with the comedic beats and portraying the recklessness of the character; the charm and confidence though were sorely lacking. Cara Delevingne’s Laureline is also strong and intelligent, her side eye is on point, but as stated before her character is too tied to Valerian and again that confidence just wasn’t there. The rest of the cast just do their thing, not really given anything to work with.

I left the theater feeling alright about the film. Luc Besson knows how to direct and especially knows how to make a world fill alive and interesting. Ultimately,  the film was neither bad, nor good; it exists in that lukewarm layer of films where a few tweaks could have made this a great film. I would not recommend rushing out and seeing it right now, but if you have a free night and want to see some interesting sights, then rent Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

The Paladin searches for Okja

Okja by Bong Joon-ho, best known for Snowpiercer and The Host, is a Netflix film starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija the little girl who has spent her whole life with Okja on her grandfather’s farm in South Korea.

Okja is a genetically modified superpig, which Tilda Swinton’s Lucy Mirando hopes will rejuvenate the Mirando Corporation. As an aside, Tilda Swinton is fantastic. Twenty-six superpigs were given to regional farmers to raise traditionally over a ten year period with Okja eventually chosen as the best and brought to New York City for a big celebration. Mija of course doesn’t want to loose her friend and so begins the journey to save Okja.

Along the way we meet Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dr. Jonny Wilcox, who reminded me of Nigel Thornberry from the Nickelodeon’s The Wild Thornberrys, only a shell of his former famous self. You also meet Paul Dano’s Jay, the charismatic leader of the ALF cell trying to free Okja and Steven Yeun’s K, one of his followers. Along with the grandfather and Mirando employee Mundo Park (played wonderfully by Je-min Yun) all the characters are somewhat gray and no one is clearly black and white.

Over the course of Okja’s two hour run you go a lot of places and it moves fairly predictably, but the characters and the actors that bring them to life make the journey worthwhile. The computer generated Okja, while at time can look a little fake, also draws you in but not by being hookie, cartoony, or anthorpromoric, but by being a real animal. Bong Joon-ho obviously has a point to the story but he doesn’t force it on you or tie a bow around everything; instead you are left to digest and ponder what he showed you and perhaps decide for yourself.

Okja isn’t a classic, but it is still expertly crafted and preformed, so check it out if you have Netflix.

The Paladin vs The Iron ZZZzzzzzz

Shmee is recovering from his night with Neil Gaiman (PHRASING!) so I’ve decided to actually write my review of Netflix’s Iron Fist.

It’s OK.

Now what to talk about?

Fine, I’ll tell you more. I went into this show knowing the reviews weren’t great, but I had read a few that gave me some hope that Marvel’s Kung Fu Master would be a worthy entry in the NMU (Netflix Marvel Universe). While both Daredevil Season 2 and Powerman weren’t as good as Daredevil Season 1 or Jessica Jones, they had that certain something that made you keep watching. Iron Fist does not have that certain something.

People have wanted to blame Finn Jones’ portrayal of Danny Rand, rich white kid, turned plane crash survivor, turned child forced to learn kung-fu, turned The Living Weapon, turned rich white guy again and while his performance isn’t perfect it is the best one can do with the character as he was written.

Danny Rand or the Iron Fist seem to change from episode to episode or even from scene to scene. There are moments were he is a standout character, like at the beginning when he’s shoeless and just wanting to talk to the Meachum’s. Then he’s the conflicted The Living Weapon. Now he’s in an insane asylum. Now he’s Buddhist. Now he’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. The character is far too scattered to make any sense.

The writers in wanting to not stray too far from the mold tried to shoehorn comic book ideas into a more gritty and broken NMU character and it neither makes him interesting or different from the other three. Iron Fist had the potential to be the more wild and free one, the CW’s Flash to the CW’s Arrow if you will.

Of course character and plot could have been ignored if the Kung-Fu had been excellent. I’m talking about Danny just walking down the street and getting jumped by a gang for no reason in the middle of the episode; just to have a fight scene. Iron Fist should have reveled in the Kung-Fu origin of the character and just had him fighting all the time, in all sorts of place. Danny’s eating soup at the soup kitchen? BAM! Fighting off the local toughs because they’re taking food from an old man. Iron Fist listening to his iPod in central park? BAM! Ninjas! The fights would be wild, constant, and at the end of it Danny would shrug his shoulders and move on.

Instead we got only a few fight scenes, usually very slow and not very interesting.

The rest of the cast do a great job though, so its worth watching it for them for the most part. Their characters also don’t seem to know who they are, except Clair Temple, she’s knows what’s up. But Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphrey, David Wenham, and Carrie Ann Moss all do their best with what they have.

About five episodes in I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the show, but my wife actually enjoyed it and kept turning it on as soon as the kids were in bed. I’m glad I finished it, but I’m not sure I want more adventures with the Iron Snoozefest by himself. Hopefully he and all the others come together in an epic adventure in The Defenders.

The Paladin rides with The Magnificent Seven

Mrs. The Paladin and I got a to go on a surprise date Saturday, so we had a romantic dinner at the French restaurant Costco, bought expensive candies at the Dollar Tree, and used movie vouchers from Christmas to go see Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven.

the-magnificent-seven

After 2 hours and 12 minutes we both left the theatre having enjoyed ourselves – The Magnificent Seven is an enjoyable movie. Is it better or at the same level as the original John Sturgis film or even Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai? No. It lacks the mentality of the time that allowed for sweeping pans, lingering shots, and stoic monologuing. Instead it has a diverse cast, that largely is ignored in a time period were racism was still very much alive, a lot of laughs, and a high body count.

Peter Sarsgaard’s bad guy spared no expense hiring his army, although I had to wonder why as the astute businessman that he was that he didn’t just choose to write the whole thing off after the first wave got murdered/slaughtered/curb stomped. Peter Sarsgaard is a fine actor, but I feel like he always plays the same bad guy, intellectual but moody. This bad guy called for more of a Proto-Rockefeller; stoic, controlled, and menacing with hate and contempt just at the surface. I would have liked to have seen Kevin Coster or Ed Harris chew up the velvet drapes and sagebrush of the old west.

The Seven of the Magnificent Seven were all excellent. You would just start to really like one and then another would capture your attention – I felt like the belle of the ball. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horner with his squeaky voice and crazy eyes and Ethan Hawke’s conflicted and dashing Goodnight Robicheaux were two that stood out as memorable. Denzel Washington is of course fantastic and Chris Pratt’s Josh Farady is a fantastic second-in-command.

The Magnificent Seven is probably the best modern Western I’ve seen since Kevin Costner’s Open Range but its still not the classics. However, if you find yourself on a surprise date with your significant other and you have free movie vouchers go see The Magnificent Seven you should… it was… MAGNIFICENT.

The Paladin thinks The Finest Hours are fine

Alone one night I had the hankering for a good, sweeping rescue movie so I started up The Finest Hours on Netflix.

finesthours

The film stars Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, Eric Bana, and a host of other familiar faces. Chris Pine’s Bernie Webber is a Chief in the Coast Guard who failed to rescue the crew of a ship and that haunts him a little. At least Pine plays it that way and dialog tries to tell us that’s the case, but since this happens before the film I had no way to relate. He also starts a relationship with Holliday Grainger’s Miriam who is strong and independent, but fearful of the career Bernie has chosen. The film focus on this relationship at the beginning, before showing us the tragedy aboard the S.S. Pendleton that has shorn in half, trapping 32 members of the crew.

Eventually Bernie’s CO orders him to take small ship across the bar, which everyone knows is impossible, but I don’t because you haven’t shown me yet. Still it is an exciting scene and is fairly exciting. The rest of the rescue is fairly paint-by-the-numbers and then it ends, snatching a lot of the emotion from the part of the story.

The Finest Hours got me interested in the real story it is based on, but the film itself  failed to capture the excitement, uncertainty, and character of such a daring rescue. While flat, the film it isn’t terrible, so the Finest Hour is something I suggest you watch when you’ve got nothing else to watch.