Han Solo Weeps

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets  M Valerian 2017

Theaters:  July 2017

Streaming:  November 2017

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  137 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Fantasy – Science Fiction – Space Opera

els:  5.0/10

IMDB:  6.5/10

Amazon:  3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 5.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  51/100

Metacritic User Score:  6.4/10

Awards:  NA

Directed by:  Luc Besson

Written by:  Luc Besson (screenplay), Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières (comic book)

Music by:  Alexandre Desplat

Cast:  Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke,                 Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

Film Locations:  Studios de Paris, La Cité du Cinéma, Saint-Denis, Seine-Saint-Denis, France

Budget:  $209,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $215,116,000

For centuries the International Space Station has acquired additional modules at a consistent rate and by the 28th century its mass is too much for its low Earth orbit. Consequently the decision is made to move it out of the solar system, into the wild cosmos of open space, acquiring a new name in the process; Alpha. As it travels the galaxy it continues to  grow, both in size and population. Millions of life forms from all corners of the galaxy now inhabit the station necessitating a special police force to maintain peace not only on the station but throughout the galaxy. The two protagonists: Major Valerian (DeHaan) and his side kick Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne) are members of this police force.

Flash back 30 years,  Commander Arün Filitt (Owen) is in a space battle with another space faring species above the planet Mul. In order to win a decisive victory the Commander must destroy the idyllic planet, killing most of the peaceful sentient beings that occupy the surface and their priceless energy pearl replicator.  Flash forward 30 years; one replicator did survive the destruction of the planet, becoming the most sought after object in the Galaxy. Valerian and Laureline are tasked with retrieving the object, initiating a grand adventure through fantastic planets and the mysterious bowels of the quirky Alpha.

The movie is based on the 1967-2010 French comic book series; Valerian and Laureline, created by Pierre Christin (story), Jean-Claude Mézières (art).  The best-selling comic focuses on the pair as they traverse space and time for adventure and good.

Luc Besson, director of imaginative and idiosyncratic films, including the 2014 Lucy and the 1997 The Fifth Element, has created another highly original movie replete with a story containing unique concepts, great cinematography, exceptional special effects, and mostly superb acting. And it all fails to gel into a coherent whole.  The parts are greater than their sum, great scenes producing an indifferent movie.

The movie fails because of the 2 main characters: Valerian and Laureline. Neither one has a screen presence, just reciting lines without bringing the audience along. Harrison Ford would have had you cheering and believing. DeHaan has you wondering when will he start shaving. Delevingne’s “oh please” attitude throughout the movie reminds one of a pretty high school football cheerleader being pursued by the awkward school geek. These two eventually deliver you to a mental stage of not bothering to care what they do. Unfortunately for the movie you reach that stage with these two very early on.  On the flip side, Rihanna and Ethan Hawke are the movies tour de force along with the 3 goofy trumpet nosed, fuzz balls. Without their talents the whole movie would have cratered into a mess of special effects without any pretense of art or style.

I saw this in 2D so the story and acting had to carry the movie where as the 3D version likely overwhelmed the audience with inner-ear confusion and visual exhilaration. Besson personally crowd sourced and financed this big-budget extravaganza. On paper it appears to have grossed a bit more than it cost to make but with all things “Hollywood” it likely lost money. Talk of a sequel is in the air but finding the money may prove insurmountable, especially if they keep DeHaan and Delevingne in the lead roles.  This is a mediocre movie at best. You will be able to carry on with your life if you miss this one.

A Waste in Time

A Wrinkle in Time   M Wrinkle 2018

Rated:  PG

Runtime:  109 minutes

Genre:  Adventure – Family – Fantasy – Science Fiction

Theaters:  February/March 2018

Streaming:  NA

els:  1.5/10

IMDB:  4.1/10

Amazon:  NA/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  2.5/5

Metacritic Metascore:  52/100

Metacritic User Score:  2.9/10

Awards: NA

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Written by:  Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell (screenplay), Madeleine L’Engle (book)

Music by:  Ramin Djawadi

Cast: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Chris Pine

Film Locations:  Eureka, Los Angeles, Santi Clarita – California – US;  Hunter Valley, Wanaka – Otaga – New Zealand

Budget: $103,000,000

Worldwide Take: $39,000,000 (Opening Weekend)

Dr. Murray (Pine), an astrophysicist, referred to as Mr. Murray for reasons not stated, tells an audience of his peers that he can transverse 93 billion light years in the wink of an eye using a concept called tessering.  He is laughed off the stage. Later he disappears without a trace leaving his wife and two children adrift in the world without him. Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), youngest sibling of the two Dr. Murrays and a child prodigy, discovers the three Ws: Mrs. Which (Oprah), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling); shape shifting, time travelers who are in search of a hero to save the universe. Charles Wallace introduces his socially inept sister, Meg (Storm Reid) to the Ws and they all convince her to be that hero; to search for her father and save the universe before the evil thing, It, destroys all that is light and good.

B Wrinkle 1962The movie is based on the Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book A Wrinkle in Time, a children’s book that was rejected 26 times before eventually finding a publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The book has been  in continuous print ever since.  The book, as with the movie, deals openly with evil while simultaneously equating Jesus with Buddha and other notable humans.  Publishers felt these topics too heavy for children and too anti-Christian for adults.  Later L’Engle hinted, because the hero was female, that misogyny also contributed to its multiple rejections. Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Scott Finch, Dorothy Gale, Anna Karenina, Joe March, Lady Macbeth, and Natasha Rostova could not be reached for comment.

The director, Ava DuVernay, opened the movie with a brief comment on making the film and thanking the viewers for watching, almost begging them to like it.  This was a tact that I have never experienced before, at least that I can remember (maybe Walt Disney did the same with his movies).  At some level, I suspect, she was warning us that what was to follow was an absolute rotter.  She has managed to make a movie where not one single thing clicks.  It’s all strung together scenes with no audience connection, no avenues provided to bring the viewers into the movie. She gives us no reason to like this movie, just reasons to hope it ends soon.  DuVernay along with the writers Lee and Stockwell seem to have a lot of ideas to make great movies but using them all in one film is probably not wise.  The long drudgery of scene on the planet Uriel comes across as an excuse to film in 3D and imitate the 2009 film Avatar. Sorry, but James Cameron did it better.  For a children’s movie the writing was childish. The Ws tell Meg that her faults are her strengths.  Later Meg tries telling her brother that she is uncoordinated and we are supposed to believe that this is a strength that will conquer the big bad evil thing, It.

This is the first movie that a female director was given a $100 million for a budget.  I’m sure it’s not the last big budget for a woman but hopefully its the last for DuVernay.  As for Jennifer Lee it appears animation is where her talents are best utilized.

There is very little good to say about the acting. Oprah is thoroughly wooden throughout the movie and never quite figures out where to look when using the green screen.  Mindy Kaling reads her lines with no delivery —  sad. Meg has no ability beyond deer in the headlights wonder. Witherspoon was charming and excellent but not enough to cancel out the bad acting going on all around her.  Zach Galifianakis, playing the Happy Medium, was also fun and he had the only line in the movie that made me laugh.  He is lecturing Meg and she tells him he sounds like her mother.  Galifianakis responds in all seriousness, “Why is she a baritone?”.

My family watched this movie together at a theater, which we very seldom do anymore; streaming at home is so much easier.  With my wife and I were our 26 year-old daughter, 15 year-old son, and 3 year-old granddaughter. Not one of us 5 liked the movie.  Not the kid, not the teenager, not the young adult, not us slightly older folks.

The granddaughter didn’t exactly say the movie was bad, she just didn’t watch it.  While the movie was playing she found a better use of her time; passing out popcorn to the rest of us one kernel at a time.  In the end I’m not sure who Disney made this movie for or why they wasted everyone’s time with it.  Save your time and cherish your time, see something else with your precious time.  I haven’t seen a movie this bad in long time.

Dying Young

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Theaters – December 2008; Streaming – May 2009) M Button 2008Rated: PG  —  Runtime: 166 minutes

Genre: Drama – Fantasy – Mystery – Romance – Suspense

els – 7.5/10

IMDB – 7.8/10

Amazon – 4.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore – 70/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.3/10

Awards:  3 Academy Awards – Nominated for 13

Director:  David Fincher

Written by:  Eric Roth (story and screenplay), Robin Swicord (story), F. Scott Fitzgerald (story)

Music by:  Alexandre Desplat

Cast:  Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond

Film Locations:  Cambodia; Montreal, Canada; India; Burbank, Los Angeles, California – Donaldsonville, Laplace, Mandeville, Morgan City, New Orleans, Louisiana, US; St. Thomas, US Virgin Island

Budget:  $167,000,000

Worldwide Take:  $379,000,000

Mr. Gateau, the best clockmaker in all of the southern US, is commissioned to build a clock for a new train station set to open in 1918. When the clock is unveiled, it is running backwards. Mr. Gateau, who lost a son to the recent war, affirms that it is running as designed; to  grant those lost to the war a way back to life and the living.  On 11 November 1918, Armistice Day, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born, wrinkled and worn, losing his mother to his birth and his father, abandoning him on the porch of an orphanage. Benjamin is a consistent contradiction, experiencing life in a counter-clockwise direction.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button took 20 years, 7 potential directors prior to Fincher, 3 lead actors before Pitt, 3 different possible producers, and 2 production companies to finally deliver a product for the viewing public to consume. David Fincher brings his visual effect expertise to the forefront, as he usually does, with this enchanted story of love and time. He balances the CGI with a spellbinding collage of romance and courage that moves beyond the flesh. The visual effects are absolutely stunning, keeping this fantasy real and believable.  Fincher was likely the only director that could make this movie and keep the audience interested.

Brad Pitt contributes a somewhat predictable performance, detached but lovable, low-key and restrained, letting his body language provide the message, more so than his dialogue. It works and adds to the mystic of the film but it’s Cate Blanchett’s Daisy that draws you into this movie.  Daisy is a very complex character and Blanchett handles it with grace, charm, and a natural style that holds you in a delightful, enamored state of wonder throughout the film. Sad that she wasn’t even nominated for her more than deserving efforts by the Academy or the Golden Globes.

Benjamin Button is beautifully made, telling a story of true love that outstrips the concepts of time.


Beyond Comic

Beyond Skyline (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 105-106 minutes

Genre:  Action-Adventure-Drama-Fantasy-Horror-Science Fiction-ThrillerM Skyline 2017

els – 4.5/10

IMDb – 5.4/10

Amazon – 3.3/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.2/5

Metacritic Metascore – 46/100

Metacritic User Score – 5.6/10

Directed by:  Liam O’Donnell

Written by:  Liam O’Donnell

Music by:  Nathan Whitehead

Cast:  Frank Grillo, Bojana Novakovic, Jonny Weston

Film Locations:   Toronto, Canada; Batam and Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Los Angeles and Marina Del Rey, US

Budget:   ~$15,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  ~$1,000,000

Mark (Grillo), a washed up LA cop picks up his troublesome and busted son from the police department and is taking him back home when the aliens, or is it alien, attack the city and suck everyone up into their spaceship via a blue light beaming down, and vacuuming up, from the crowded streets below.  The LA folks who are pulled into the spaceship have their brains removed, inserted into cyborg-like machines, and are reprogrammed to do the bidding of the alien(s), all with a blue twinkle in their eyes.  Mark and his son are eventually captured and brought into the craft but he escapes the brain transference process while his son doesn’t. Mark befriends another cyborg that doesn’t like the alien(s) and together they cause the spacecraft to crash into the drug infested jungles of Laos, actually Indonesia, where they seem to have been totally forgotten by the rest of humanity. At this point Mark joins forces with Laotian drug smugglers and they proceed to battle the alien(s) and cyborgs Kung Fu style, setting the stage for Skyline 3.

Beyond Skyline is an ambitious special effects movie hamstrung with a lousy script and even worse direction; both supplied by Liam O’Donnell. This is O’Donnell’s first shot at directing with the only positive being that he has to improve in his next movie, if there is one. The acting and the special effects are all serviceable but the story just loses all control of reality and veers off into an action soaked craze masquerading as a plot. Each scene seems designed to end the confusion from the previous scene, but fails, and you are left with just witnessing some fairly decent action but not really knowing why. In the end you would be forgiven to think that this flick was a comedy, non-stop slapstick if you will, except it wasn’t funny. Blue lights bad, red lights good.  Red light bombs turn blue lights red. In Skyline 3 we will likely to be informed what green lights are all about. Brains for cyborgs, tots for toys; good grief.  Keep your popcorn in the kernel and move along; nothing to see here.


It’s Magic-Fantasy Will Set You Free

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them  (Theaters-2016; Streaming-2017)  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 133 minutesM Beasts 2016

Genre: Action-Adventure-Family-Fantasy

els – 7.0/10

IMDb – 7.4/10

Amazon – 4.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.9/5

Metacritic Metascore – 66/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.3/10

Directed by:  David Yates

Written by:  J.K. Rowling

Produced by:  David Heyman, Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling, Lionel Wigram

Music by:  James Newton Howard

Cast:  Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler

B Beasts 2001.jpgJ.K. Rowling, in 2001, wrote and published a Hogwarts textbook, under the pseudonym of Newt Scamander, on the magical world of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; a slim encyclopedic volume of fictional animals that made up the enchanted universe of Harry Potter and his bewitched school chums.  The book, though imaginative, generally did not interest anyone much past age of 12, being just a compendium of beasts without any pretense of a story or plot, but it did spin-off this wonderful film, a charming tale of magic and adventure, 70 years before Harry Potter, in the streets of New York.

The movie opens with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in New York for a brief stopover before continuing onto Arizona to further his research into “Fantastic Beasts” but almost immediately has an itinerary change due to one of his creatures escaping from his improbably bottomless briefcase. Promptly the escaped beast goes on a hunt for anything shiny: usually solid gold, resulting in a hilarious wizard and beast chase through the streets and banks of New York.  Compounding Newt’s creature capturing problems is an anti-magical society trying to expose and eliminate all witches and wizards along with a controlling magical political hierarchy attempting to keep everything secret and under wraps, including the threat posed by impending arrival of arch-villain and dark wizard, Gellert Grindlewald (Johnny Depp).

David Yates, the director, and Rowling have put together a lively romp of fun through the magical world of New York, enhanced with exemplary acting by just about all involved.  J.K. Rowling continues to surprise her fans, including me, with the depth of her talent, by adroitly changing roles from an accomplished author to a novice, but never-the-less, a master producer and screenplay writer for this movie. I found this movie heads and lizard tails above the Harry Potter movies, mainly because Harry Potter’s sub-par acting was absent. Make time to see this entertaining film for itself, and ultimately, to keep you abreast of the likely sequels.


Elephants, Magicians, and Zombies: Oh My

The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein B Fantasies Heinlein

Written by:  Robert A. Heinlein

Published by:  Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright:  © 1999

Robert A. Heinlein, the dean of science fiction writers during his lifetime, the first among equals, the first among the 20th century big three: Asimov, Clark, and Heinlein; began his writing and publishing career with short stories and novellas. He first appeared in print with a 1939 short story titled Life Line, published in the pulp fiction magazine, Astounding Science Fiction. He published 29 short stories and novellas before publishing his first novel in 1947, Rocket Ship Galileo.  (Heinlein did write a novel in 1939, For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, but it remained unpublished until 2003, 15 years after his death.)

The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein is a collection of 8 short stories and novellas written between 1940 and 1959, illustrating why he was selected as the first Grand Master, in 1974, by The Science Fiction Writers of America.  The line between fantasy and sci-fi is a fine one: the majority of these stories have one foot in each realm with the scales tipping towards the fantastic. I had read all these stories individually many years ago, and I enjoyed them then, but they are still fresh and fun to read today, maybe more so, since they are all packaged together, chronologically, allowing the reader to assess Heinlein’s progression as a writer and story-teller through the years. Below are the short stories and novellas contained in this compilation.

Magic, Inc., © 1940, with an alternate title of The Devil Makes the Law. Magic, Inc. makes the rules until Amanda and Archie take charge.

–And He Built a Crooked House, © 1940. You may run out of time when building your house or maybe your house will run into time.  The title to story was a spoof on the English nursery rhyme:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

They–, © 1941.  Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean your mentally ill.

Waldo, © 1942, written under the pseudonym of Anson MacDonald. Anson was Heinlein’s middle name. Magic makes the world go around.

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, © 1942. Artistic endeavors usually need some touch up paint.

Our Fair City, © 1948.  It’s hard to dance with a whirlwind when you have crooked feet.

The Man who Traveled in Elephants, © 1957.  A good life, a few good friends, great beginnings. Heinlein considered this his best story.

“–All You Zombies–“, © 1959. Punctuation-wise, word-wise, a strange title; you need to read a few words short of the end to figure it out.  While you are reading, Ella Fitzgerald may be appropriate background music; spring, …time, can really hang you up the most.

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