Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Posted on August 1, 2017 at 4:55 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/action violence, guns, chases, characters injured and killed including genocide
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 21, 2017
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2017

Copyright 2017 STX Films
Yes, the visuals and special effects in Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets” are next-level, dazzling, stunning, and themselves worth the price of a ticket (3D please). But let’s be honest. The best special effect in the movie is the lovely real face of Rihanna as Bubble, a shape-shifting alien our hero meets in an inter-galactic strip club.

That hero would be Valerian (Dane DeHaan), who has gone to the strip club in search of the disguise he needs to infiltrate an alien compound and rescue the woman he loves, his space partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne). She was captured as the two of them were on a mission to…oh, who cares what the mission was? It’s your basic save the universe stuff. You know and I know and they know you are not there for the subtleties of the space city that incorporates, “Zootopia”-style, every possible creature and culture, a veritable Pepperland of comity and the exchange of learning. In the opening scenes, we see the history of the place, as human astronauts welcome aboard an increasing variety of visitors with a warm handshake, first from other countries, and then from other planets and galaxies, still with something as close to a handshake as possible.

This is the movie Luc Besson has wanted to make since he was a teenager, base on a French comic book series from the 1960’s with a visionary aesthetic that inspired Besson’s own “5th Element” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars.” He had to wait decades until the technology made it possible to do the ravishing visuals justice. That is the good news and the bad news. The good news is that the visuals are indeed ravishing, worth a couple of viewings on the biggest screen you can find and then a couple more when you can watch it at home and hit “pause” to see every detail. The bad news is that the storyline has not held up as well over the years as the settings, in part because much of it has also been appropriated, too, over the years, partly because times have changed, and partly because it wasn’t that great to begin with. Valerian and Laureline banter back and forth about whether he can make a commitment to her as they try to save the world. It is supposed to be part of the fun of the story that they are cool and casual. Valerian even wears a Hawaiian shirt at one point instead of his spiffy spacesuit (they are undercover as tourists). But their characters are so bland, especially by contrast with the wildly imaginative world they are racing through, that it drags on the storyline. That’s disappointing because it distracts from some promising flickers of substance.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive sci-fi peril, action, and violence with many guns and blasters, characters injured and killed, sad deaths, references to genocide, corruption, brief strong language, provocative dance and references to prostitution.

Family discussion: Why do Valerian and Laureline disagree about the converter? How do you know when to break the rules?

If you like this, try: “Avatar” and “The Fifth Element”

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Trailer: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets from Luc Besson

Posted on November 10, 2016 at 11:14 am

Get ready to have your socks knocked off — I saw some concept art and unfinished footage from Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” at Comic-Con last summer and it is going to be AWESOME. And yep, that’s Riri.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Lucy

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures
Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

I always enjoy Luc Besson’s stylish car chases and shootouts. I like his use of locations, his strong female characters, and unexpected flashes of sentiment in the midst of mayhem.  While I found much to like in this story about a young woman who gains superpowers through a new drug, it was a mistake to have her show less emotion as she becomes physically and emotionally stronger.  Instead of sentiment, this time Besson inserts some preachy ruminations on the meaning of life.  I’m not opposed to existential ponderings in the middle of a crashes and explosions film.  But they need to be a little less silly and a lot less intrusive.

For a moment, I thought we were back on the Planet of the Apes or perhaps picking up some deleted scenes from “Tree of Life” as we returned to the dawn of time with the earliest hominids.  But no, this is just some sort of context for what is to come.  Our heroine, you see, shares a name with the skeleton of the oldest human remains, thought of as the first woman.

We then meet our present-day Lucy, standing on the sidewalk, arguing with her boyfriend of a week, who is trying to persuade her to deliver a briefcase for him.  She may not be very focused, but she is sharp enough to know that he and the deal he is proposing are both very sketchy.  But she is not smart enough to walk away before he can handcuff her to the case and shove her toward the door.  She has no choice.  She walks into the building.  The boyfriend gets shot.  And she is hustled upstairs but a lot of very scary-looking guys in black suits.

She is soon knocked out, and awakens to find that a pouch of a powerful new drug has been sewn into her abdomen.  She is one of four mules to be sent to cities across Europe to deliver the drug.  But before she leaves, a thug kicks her in the belly, the pouch opens, and the drug, a synthetic version of a chemical essential in fetal development, goes into her bloodstream and she is suddenly super-smart, super-powerful, and super-mad.  Also, she can time-travel, sweeping eras to the side like Tinder rejects.

Meanwhile, all of that brain power has not led her to the obvious conclusion that wiping out all of the bad guys who are in charge of distribution of the new drug is not going to solve very much if there are still people out there manufacturing it.

For a while it is fun to see her think, kick, punch, stab, and, yes, levitate the bad guys.  But there are too many returns to Morgan Freeman lecturing a group of students about what would happen if we used more than ten percent of our brains (by the way, that old myth has no more basis in reality than this movie does) and the decision to make Lucy increasingly robotic in demeanor as she gets more cerebrally enhanced lessens the narrative propulsion and emotional heft to the storyline. She also loses a lot of our sympathy when she engages in needless murders of innocent parties. I like Luc Besson. But I think he was using less than ten percent of his brain when he wrote this one.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive action-style violence with many characters injured and killed, lots of guns, knives, surgery, car chases and crashes, fights, threat of sexual assault with some grabbing, explicit scenes of animal and brief human sex and childbirth, sexual references, brief strong language, theme of drug dealing and effects of illegal drugs

Family discussion: If you could access more of your brain capacity, what would you use it for? Why did Lucy become less emotional as she got smarter?

If you like this, try: “The Transporter” and “Limitless”

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Action/Adventure Fantasy

3 Days to Kill

Posted on February 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm

3DaysToKill-PosterKevin Costner is back, big time, with five scheduled releases this year. It’s only February, and this is his second big spies-and-shoot-outs action film of 2014, following Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  This one, from writer Luc Besson and director McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) seems inspired by Liam Neeson’s annual series of middle-aged action films (“Taken,” “Taken 2,” next week’s “Non-Stop”).  This will not go down as an especially memorable entry in the filmography of Costner or Besson, but it is a big improvement over Besson’s previous middle-aged star action film, From Paris With Love, with John Travolta, also set in Paris.  Costner reminds us why he is a movie star with ease and likability that is a perfect on-screen match for Besson’s trademark mash-up of intense action, gooey sentiment, and goofy comedy.

Costner plays Ethan Renner, a long-time CIA operative.  He is not a spy.  He is an assassin.  He is sent in to kill people, presumably bad guys, and he is very good at it.  But when we meet him chasing after a bad guy known as “the albino” and clearly not feeling well.  It turns out he has cancer.  A doctor tells him to get his affairs in order and crisply thanks him for his service to the CIA.

Ethan returns to his apartment, where a large family of sweet-natured squatters from Africa have moved in and repainted his bedroom.  Under the law, squatters cannot be evicted until spring, plus one of them is a young pregnant woman, so he lets them stay.  Ethan contacts his estranged-but-n0t-divorced wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen) and his teenaged daughter, Zoey (Halliee Steinfeld) to spend time with them while he can.  And then Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA operative who dresses like Lady Gaga, makes him an offer he can’t refuse.  If Ethan will take one last job, she will give him an experimental drug that could cure his cancer and give him more time.

Ethan races around Paris, alternately torturing the director of a high-end limo service to get information about the whereabouts of The Albino’s accountant and asking him for parenting tips, giving his daughter lessons in bike-riding and, with the help of that accountant, a recipe for spaghetti sauce, hallucinating due to the effects of the experimental drug and swigging vodka as an antidote, and doing some very bad things to some very bad guys.  A lot of it makes no sense, but let’s face it, that’s not why we’re here.

Parents should know that this film has extensive spy-style action peril and violence. A character is an assassin and many other characters are injured and killed with guns, chases, explosions, fights, some disturbing images, mortal illness, drinking, smoking, drugs, some nudity and suggestive dancing, non-explicit childbirth scene, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Is Ethan a good dad? How did the theme of fatherhood come up in different ways throughout this film?

If you like this, try: “The Professional” and “The Transporter”

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