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Talking Movies with Spling - Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Despicable Me 3 and Miss Sloane


Spling reviews Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Despicable Me 3 and Miss Sloane as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a fun-filled and eye-popping sci-fi comedy action adventure that recalls the quirky, comic spirit of Besson's previous sci-fi extravaganza The Fifth Element, the CGI dimension of James Cameron's Avatar and the technologically imaginative and bizarre world of David Cronenberg's existenZ. Based on the influential comic book series of the same name, we follow 28th Century special operatives, Valerian and Laureline, who must race to identify a marauding menace and safeguard the future of the universe.

While spectacular and laden with The Fifth Element potential, blending the world of real and unreal is a challenge and while the CGI and design is superb at times, it's also unwieldy. The film's wacky sense of humour gives the tone some bend, but Besson reaches breaking point on several occasions, turning the adventure from epic sci-fi odyssey to cheesy knockabout misadventure. While Besson touches on some interesting allegorical terrain relating to indigenous people and resources, much like Avatar, Valerian's undermined by its flippant attitude and rickety Who Framed Roger Rabbit? dichotomy.

This tonal imbalance and visual incoherence make Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets a visual extravaganza on a rocky road to oblivion. Dane De Haan and Cara Delevingne are two beautiful next generation stars. While easy on the eye and delivering serviceable performances, they seem miscast and out-of-their-depth. The duo's youthful verve gives the sci-fi adventure a bouncier feel as if they were recruited from Ender's Game, yet the brother-sister dynamic and De Haan's "Keanu Reeves" voice is a bit disconcerting.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

"Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."

While adding credibility and backbone to a young pair of co-leads, the supporting cast seemed severely under-utilised. It's been some time since Clive Owen graced the silver screen and makes it seem like a mirage given his dead-eyed take on the Commander. Goodman's "Jabba Jr." digital character needed a wraparound story and much more screen time, while Hawke is comically lightweight as Jolly the Pimp, making it abundantly clear that they all needed meatier roles rather than glorified cameos. Rihanna's burlesque entertainer role as "Bubble" is fascinating and enchanting, but her performance is sub-par and the connection between her and her shape-shifting alter ego is frayed and laughable next to Mystique.

Being a fan of The Fifth Element, there was much expectation surrounding the release of this film in Valerian's 50th year and despite being moderately entertaining, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is ultimately underwhelming. It's like Besson was trying to resurrect his original success story using a similar formula and inspiration. Unfortunately, casting a beautiful lead actress with a difficult-to-pronounce name, embracing a campy oddball mix of real vs. unreal, leveraging a CGI wonderland and immersing us in a futuristic world of crime and evil overlords doesn't always do the trick.

While Valerian will pass the time with its beautiful cast, spectrum of colour and wonderful visuals... it's a fairly mindless exercise. You will need to roll with it, fill in the gaps and resist the urge to look at your watch. It's a shame that Besson still hasn't been able to match the magic of his '90s heydays. More consistency, grounded co-leads, substantial returning supporting roles and weightier themes could've made all the difference to this visually compelling yet lightweight and superficial sci-fi comedy adventure.

The bottom line: Unwieldy

 
Talking Movies with Spling - The Red Turtle, War for the Planet of the Apes and The Zookeeper's Wife


Spling reviews The Red Turtle, War for the Planet of the Apes and The Zookeeper's Wife as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes


Andy Serkis is the ringmaster in the reboot series of The Planet of the Apes. A pioneer of iconic digital characters, having played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he's done it again with Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now War for the Planet of the Apes. His latest action-adventure sees Caesar, the figurehead and lead for the series, rightfully front and centre. The character has not only developed in terms of characterisation, but in terms of screen time, occupying the lead role without "help" from supporting name actors.

In fact, War for the Planet of the Apes is taken almost entirely from the ape perspective without the film-makers trying to balance things out with human actors. James Franco, Frieda Pinto and John Lithgow helped stabilise the series in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman augmented the ensemble in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while War for the Planet of the Apes almost abandons this format completely. The only noteworthy human actors are Amiah Miller, who echoes Dakota Fanning's star-making role in War of the Worlds and Mr. Dependable, Woody Harrelson.

Perhaps the notion of being overshadowed by a digital actor has made many weary to play opposite Serkis, who has carried the new series with a brooding, guarded and soulful performance. Either way, Matt Reeves, the film-maker who took over directing the series from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has done the near unthinkable by populating his film with digitally rendered motion capture performers. Toby Kebbell took on a bigger part for Dawn as Koba, a second-in-command and understudy role opposite Serkis. Now the ensemble is dominated by "ape" actors with more speaking parts emerging.

War for the Planet of the Apes

"It's too late to call shotgun!

Following a devastating blow to the apes, the herd seek a more long-term sanctuary as Caesar sets out on a quest to take revenge on those responsible. The third installment has been influenced by Biblical epics, more specifically the war film, Apocalypse Now. Set against a cold and icy winter, the migration scenes and story's impetus have correlations with the Exodus. Then, following a similar trajectory to Apocalypse Now, Caesar's epic journey to confront the his aggressor echoes the classic rivalry between Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz.

Harrelson's not as immense as Kurtz, yet conveys a darker maniacal side than we're used to seeing. He's a worthy adversary for Caesar and makes it easy for the audience to pick sides. The magic of War for the Planet of the Apes is that Reeves is able to bring us to the realisation that while good and bad exist for both species, we've got more empathy for the anthropomorphic ape kind. While the adventure is epic and the action is enthralling, he takes the time to exact some heartfelt drama as moments of innocence and mercy spring up in the snow. While the struggle is serious and the running time is long, Reeves employs some comedy to lighten the intense and brooding atmosphere.

While these bursts of levity are welcome and funny, the tonal shift isn't quite as welcome. One character drives this comic relief gimmick, adding to the entertainment value in an almost plausible manner with a style of comedy that is jarring against the big picture. Then, various story elements just don't add up and could've used more forethought and extrapolation. It's hampered by the treatment of Caesar in the third act, the consistency of communication among the herd and even a few contrivances and cliches in terms of bringing it home.

Apart from some strong performances, the real wonder of War for the Planet of the Apes is the visual effects wizardry. We're completely immersed in the story as one amazing film location is populated with digital hybrids only to segue into another. The balance of landscape and characters is quite breathtaking at times as we marvel at the fine detail of a close up of the orangutan, Maurice, only to return to Andy Serkis and his complete embodiment of Caesar. While this is the third film in the series, there's a marked maturity, greater understanding and improvement over its predecessors and not only in terms of the ape characters.

War for the Planet of the Apes has its flaws, but the majesty of the visual tapestry, the ambitious role reversal, heartrending war drama and nature of the performances makes for an entertaining and spellbinding epic. It's the best film in the trilogy, showcasing just how far Hollywood has come in terms of CGI and mocap, delivering an awe-inspiring spectacle that chalks up a big win for the evolution of live-action digital characters under the rightful command of Andy Serkis.

The bottom line: Captivating


 
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