Sunday 18 March 2018

Movie reviews: Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne)
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne)

A budget just shy of €200m makes Luc Besson's latest sci-fi one of the most expensive French productions in history. And with Besson's financially strained EuropaCorp studio footing most of the bill, brows must be sweating following a poor opening weekend in the US.

There are certainly glaring issues with Valerian, but like so many of Besson's catalogue (from Leon to Lucy), we must accept that the Paris filmmaker paints himself into a corner. It won't have helped that the source comic book is largely unknown outside France, but had Besson been even just a little more disciplined in the basics and struck a balance between spectacle and narrative, things could have been better.

Spectacle, for sure, seems to be the word of the day and Valerian does deliver on that front. A wonderful Bowie-scored intro details man's gradual acquainting with a variety of alien civilisations as space technology progresses. Cut to the 28th century, where special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are called to the intergalactic multi-species city of Alpha to investigate a dangerous radiation leak that may have something to do with a mysterious and powerful item of black-market contraband.

The opening 45 minutes of inventive sci-fi action extravaganza, creature-feature hoots and old-school rat-tat-tat between Delevingne and DeHaan is enjoyable enough. It's the other 90 of exhausting detours, addled side-plots, a bizarre Rihanna cameo and dialogue clunkers that do the damage.

Besson is almost a byword for self-indulgence. It just usually doesn't work out so costly. ★★★ Hilary A White

The Emoji Movie

Cert: G; Now showing

When future cultural historians look back at the annals of early 21st-century cinema history, there will be much cause for reverence. Equally, however, there will surely be time devoted to a handful of incidents where Hollywood types decided that digital or gaming interfaces would surely have no trouble crossing over into cinemas.

For anyone over a certain age, emojis are the small smiley faces and characters used in phone text messaging to do the job language once did. They have been deemed sufficiently "now" to justify throwing millions of dollars and a bevy of talent at a film adaptation because that's surely what the world needs right now. Behind this thinking is the very same lack of regard for consequence and taste that elects reality TV stars to government or ejects nations from financial markets. It's been signed-off on - what now?

Here's what: A cinema release perhaps without equal this year in terms of how shockingly dreadful it is.

A series of crimes are committed, from the conceptual (the drearily dull premise of a "magical" world of product-placed apps within your smartphone) to the executional (a dispiriting lack of effort in the comedy writing, and cringefully obvious characterisations).

Then there's the bleating, babbling inanity of the dialogue and core voicing cast that features TJ Miller and James Corden, along with Patrick Stewart as, in what you can only hope is an example of pure irony, a talking turd. ★★ Hilary A White


Cert: 15A; Now showing

Danish history in World War II is regarded as an honourable one. Location meant they were almost inevitably going to be drawn in and indeed they were invaded and occupied by the Germans from April 1940. As part of the Atlantic Wall that was built to protect against Allied invasion, and stretched from Norway to the Atlantic South of France, some two million landmines were laid on the Danish coast in the Skallingen Peninsula.

Maudie (Sally Hawkins) lives with severe arthritis under the care of her aunt in small-town Nova Scotia. Tired of being treated like an invalid, she answers an ad placed by a surly local fish peddler seeking a housekeeper. She and Everett (Ethan Hawke) get off to a rocky start, her employer is socially dysfunctional and a bully.

Life is very hard in the small ramshackle cottage on the outskirts of town. But slowly, as the years advance, the savage beast is brought to heel and a relationship develops between the two, one partly born out of Maudie's love of painting. This starts bringing extra revenue into the household, particularly with the patronage of a wealthy New York blow-in (Kari Matchett).

Everett and Maudie wed but unfinished business from Maudie's turbulent younger years catches up with her and causes trouble.

Dubliner Aisling Walsh's biopic of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis is a handsome, sensitive drama, laced with tragedy and discord. Hawkins and Hawke duet well in what are physically demanding lead roles. ★★★★ Hilary A White

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