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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cindy Prascik's Triple-Play Reviews: Free Fire, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Dunkirk

Dearest Blog: Yesterday it was off to Marquee Cinemas for Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets and Dunkirk, after long-awaited home screening of Free Fire.
Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers or a history book.
First up: Free Fire.
In the late 1970s, a weapons deal goes awry in an abandoned Boston warehouse.
I had high hopes for Free Fire, likely due to the presence of two of my favorite actors, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley...not to mention Armie Hammer, who generally can do no wrong in my eyes. It is perhaps due to an unreasonably high bar that I found the movie something of a disappointment, though it's not without a fair few merits.
Chief among Free Fire's positives is its cast. In addition to my aforementioned favorites, the picture features great turns from Oscar winner Brie Larson, Michael Smiley, and Sam Riley. The botched gun sale happens in real(ish) time, which is often a bore onscreen, but the movie is smart enough not to wear out its welcome. As you might have guessed from the whole "weapons deal goes awry" thing, violence is not in short supply here, though it seems these gangs of gun-runners can't even shoot well enough to join the Stormtroopers. One of Free Fire's really great moments features an Edgar Wright-ish use of an old John Denver tune, and--while it's hardly a hardly a character study--there is some backstory underneath all the gunfire. Unfortunately, aside from rooting for more screen time for my faves, I never much cared what happened to anyone, I just found the proceedings rather dull. Without divulging how the chips fall in the end, I will say for a brief moment I was hopeful the picture was cruising towards a finish that might have made amends for some of its shortcomings, but ultimately it goes a half-step too far for even that.
Free Fire clocks in at 90 minutes and is rated R for "strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references, and drug use."
While I didn't love Free Fire nearly as much as I'd hoped, it's a smart enough picture that I was left thinking, to paraphrase George Costanza: "It's not you, Free Fire, it's me." 
Of a possible nine Weasleys, Free Fire gets six.
Next on Saturday's agenda was my first Pirate-less trip to the cinema in nearly two months, which kicked off with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
A long time from now, in a galaxy far, far away, Agents Valerian and Laureline are on a mission to save the future.
Dear reader(s): I gotta be straight with ya, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. From the first trailer, something seemed off, a good enough idea that started going wrong even a two-minute preview, but I held out hope the film might surprise me. I didn't need Valerian to be Oscar-worthy; rather--like King Arthur and the Legend of the Sword--I just needed it to be watchable. Sadly, it isn't. As I'm frequently on the flip side of popular opinion, for reference I'll note that paying customers walked out on my screening, and the exit chatter from those who stuck around was positively grim. You might think a sci-fi epic such as this would have wonderful effects, but Valerian's are pretty pedestrian. It's lovely at times, but there's nothing all that interesting, nevermind ground-breaking. The plodding, convoluted story is propelled by awkward dialogue and attempts to force sexual tension between two characters who have about as much spark as a wet match. Oh...and was I supposed to be rooting for someone here? Valerian (the usually reliable Dane DeHaan) is a boorish lout; Laureline (Cara "Please Stop Treating This Person Like an Actor" Delevingne), a petulant child. The hippie aliens the movie hopes to make its most sympathetic characters are annoying with a capital A-N-N-O-Y-I-N-G, and the female who kept pinwheeling around like the highest person at an intergalactic Grateful Dead show made me want to throw something at the screen. There's a bit of saving grace in Bubble--portrayed with surprising skill by Rihanna--but her appearance is so brief it can't come close to salvaging this two-plus-hour mess.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets runs a painful 137 minutes and is rated PG13 for "sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material, and brief language."
While I'd never discourage anyone from getting out to the cinema, I shall beg everyone not to waste a penny on this dreadful movie. Go see Baby Driver instead. (Fine, then. See it again.)
Of a possible nine Weasleys, I can't, in good faith, give Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets even one.
Finally, my closer for yesterday's movie-thon was Christopher Nolan's World War II epic, Dunkirk.
A desperate attempt is made to evacuate Allied soldiers, surrounded by the enemy, from a beach in France.
It goes without saying a big war epic plays to writer/director Christopher Nolan's strengths, and I am pleased to report that the best director I've ever worked with** does not disappoint. Since excessive length is one of my common complaints, I'll start by noting that Nolan has exercised great restraint in trimming Dunkirk to an efficient runtime of under two hours; however, he so masterfully immerses viewers in the terrifying sights and sounds of war, the tension makes some scenes seem very long indeed. In an age of increasingly bad behavior at the movies, my room sat in rapt silence for the duration of Dunkirk. Spellbinding performances from Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Cillian Murphy effectively depict the horrors of war, of being unable to save everyone, of having to make impossible choices for the greater good. Visually, Dunkirk is colored in shades of grey, accenting the seemingly hopeless situation, but majestic shots of the beach and sea are still breathtaking. Hans Zimmer's glorious score sets the perfect tone, and the movie builds to a finish that strikes all the right emotional chords without feeling contrived. 
Dunkirk clocks in at 106 minutes and is rated PG13 for "intense war experience and some language."
Dunkirk is equal parts summer blockbuster and potential awards bait, a deserving box-office hit that hopefully will be remembered when the industry starts considering its year-end accolades. Of a possible nine Weasleys, Dunkirk gets eight.
Until next time...
**I was an extra in The Dark Knight Rises. I never spoke directly to Mr. Nolan, but IT COUNTS, DAMMIT!

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