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Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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When I went to the cinema to see this film I was left deeply uncertain as to whether I had liked the film or not. I tried a couple of times to write a review back then, but I just couldn’t put into words what had bothered me about the film. When I re-watched it the other week I figured out what it was I don’t like.

I don’t like the title.

It’s a strange thing to have bothered me, but the reason is very much because the title places emphasis on Valerian, when the film itself is centred around both Valerian and Laureline. And why does the film centre on two protagonists? Because the comic book ‘Valerian and Laureline’, which the film has been adapted from, does so.

My problem stems from the fact that Laureline is likeable, whereas Valerian, while he certainly has his heart in the right place, is a bit dubious in his attitude at times. I don’t think it helps that there is no chemistry at all between these two characters; the actors didn’t make me believe that these are two people in love. In lust, on Valerian’s part certainly, but not in love. Skewing the emphasis from one character when it was really about two bugs me, especially because it is skewed towards the man, when in truth I much prefer Laureline.

That little quibble aside though, it is actually a really good film. The story slows down in places and goes off tangent from the main plot, but it does keep going, and it does get to a satisfying conclusion in the end. Generally as a writer I judge a film on the plot and the characters, and while they could have been better in this film, the film makes up for it because of another important factor that is crucial for science fiction to work properly. The storyworld.

The settings in this film from a lost paradise, to the market in another dimension to the City of a Thousand Planets which itself gave a multitude of different environments kept my attention on the screen. It is an imaginative extravaganza and I love this film for doing that.

Admittedly, saying that makes me a hypocrite. Generally I bash films for using their special effects to wow me. However, because they did have a decent and fairly original story to entice me in as well (makers of Avatar take note), it sits better with me that they used green screen to create a very different world from many I have seen on screen before. In many cases the setting was relevant to the plot as well, so it wasn’t like the filmmakers were boosting ‘look what we can do’ without reason.

The plot might slow down in places and the title is a bit deceiving in who the main character is, but this is a fun action packed science fiction film set in a very futuristic world, and in terms of utilising imagination, it definitely wins points for that. The overall message from the plot is certainly to be commended. (Slight spoiler – it is about forgiveness.)

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Film Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

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I admitted in my review of Thor Ragnarok I refused to go and see this film in the cinema. It was a decision that rested fairly well with me, though it took a couple of weeks for people who know I’m an MCU fan to realise I was being deadly serious. There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t want to go.

Firstly, and this might be a controversial opinion, but I don’t like Spider-Man as a character. I don’t know what it was about the comics or the cartoons when I was a kid, but something turned me against Spider-man and I have never liked the character since. It wasn’t like I didn’t try again when I got older.

I watched the Toby Maguire films, and I liked the first one quite a lot. Looking back though I understand now it is because of William Defoe’s turn as the Green Goblin. After the first film I never found a better villain in that trilogy, so I didn’t really see them more than once or twice at most.

I have never even seen Andrew Garfield’s films, because I felt the re-boot was just a money making scheme. Sorry everyone who was by employed by this franchise and those who loved this films. Don’t take it personally, because it isn’t personal. I am a cynical person; it is an opinion formed against a corporate decision not against the creativity involved.

But I mention this lack of enthusiasm for Spider-Man for a reason. While a lot of people were very excited by Spider-man being brought into the MCU, and even my first reaction was, ‘oh wow cool’, my second reaction was, ‘oh Marvel have enough money now to buy back everything they sold years ago, so they can now make more money.’ (I did say cynic!). So my couple of reasons so far are very much I don’t like the character, and I don’t like the cynical way he is used to make money.

However it really didn’t help that he was introduced to the MCU via Captain America: Civil War, the film that just destroyed my obsession with the MCU. I’ve got massive problems with that film being used as a launch pad for both Spider-Man and Black Panther.

One of them I could have forgiven, and if it had only been Black Panther I would have forgiven them (because quite frankly we need more diversity in the MCU and quickly). But because it was both, I was left feeling that Captain America’s story got hi-jacked, so I obtained even more biased against Spider-Man.

So I didn’t go to the cinema to see it, but at some point I don’t really remember I did concede to watch it at home.

And I did watch it to the end of the film, even though I was given permission to skip out if I wasn’t enjoying it. But I didn’t for a very simple reason.

Tom Holland is brilliant as Spider-man.

I thought he was a bit annoying in Civil War, but in his own film (and irritating Happy which is just hilarious) I will hold up my hands and admit that as cynical as I am about Spider-man and why he has been added to the MCU, it does work really well.

And it does because someone who is believable as a teenager boy has finally been cast in the role. The fact Marvel decided to skip the origins story in the belief we might actually know it was an added bonus. They just allude to it briefly via Ned, who reacts exactly like a teenager boy would react to finding out his best friend is a superhero. As if it is the coolest thing in the world, and how can I help?

The other thing that makes the film work is the villain, who for once wasn’t disposed of at the end, and wasn’t some mega-maniac motivated by wanting to rule the world (Loki I am looking at you).

Michael Keaton’s character is just an ordinary family man who changed because the world changed after the events of the Avengers Assemble. He did so in order to provide for his family and became the Vulture as a result. While for the majority of the film he isn’t a very nice man, by the end he admits like I do that Tom Holland’s Spider-man is a decent young boy with his heart in the right place.

So yes, I am cynical, and I have explained why I am, but as much as I had reservations about Spider-Man Homecoming, it is a good film, and is better than the most recent films for better established characters like Captain America and Thor.

I even enjoyed watching it. I mean I didn’t have the mind-blowing experience I can remember feeling as a more enthusiastic fan of the MCU, but it is great. I might even be more open to going and seeing the next one at the cinema. (Dear beloved husband of mine: please note use of the word ‘might’!)

Film Review: The Final Year

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The Final Year, the HBO Documentary about Obama’s Foreign Policy team during the final year he was in office, has been on my radar to go and see ever since I had first heard the film had been made. I’m not someone whose entire life revolves around politics and what is happening, but I do keep my ear to the ground and I am interested in the processes of how political actions are carried out.

Last year I watched a BBC documentary about the House of Commons (UK Government) and found how out domestic politics operates and it was fascinating. I am someone more inclined to domestic policy than foreign policy, but I knew that I was going to find the inner workings of Obama’s Foreign Policy team just as intriguing.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

It was certainly interesting to hear from Ben Rhodes and John Kerry, and as always it was great to hear Obama’s opinion on anything, because it is always well thought through. At one point, he is talking to young leaders, and he gives them some great advice. To be a great leader you need to understand what motivates people. He says at first that you might assume that is money or power, but he’d learnt over time that you need to listen to their stories, and it is their experience that motivates them.

Let’s just say as an introvert who believes listening is one of the world’s most important (and feels as if it is the most ignored) skills, it was fantastic hearing someone like Barack Obama say that, and it was a great nugget of advice to take away from this film.

However, the focus of the film was on Samantha Power who acted as the UN Ambassador. I don’t know very much about her, but seeing a composed, professional woman carrying about her business was brilliant, and very inspiring as a young woman. It has certainly made me more interested in Foreign Policy and how organisations like the UN operate. Seeing where she travels to, and the issues she is still dealing with that the media stopped focusing on years ago is eye-opening.

The content of the film is certainly interesting, but what makes it an important film is that it shows that politics isn’t some flash in the pan action that resolves problems quickly. It is a long term dedication, and this film inspired me, and what I hope it does is inspire the next generation of leaders and diplomats to get involved.

TV Review – Blackadder

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I absolutely adore Blackadder. I’ve seen the odd episode here or there over the years, but I’ve never really sat and deliberately watched the series from start to finish.

Well not quite the start. I did watch Series One years ago and I hated it, to the point I’m not willing to try it again.

However, don’t judge Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third or Blackadder Goes Forth by the first series, as series two to four are very different, and most importantly they are absolutely hilarious.

My husband keeps asking me which is my favourite episode, and I honestly can’t pick one, as there isn’t a dud among them to help make the rest stand out as better and therefore a favourite.

Each series is set in a different period of British History. Blackadder II is set in Elizabethan England with Miranda Richardson doing a fabulously macabre turn as Elizabeth I. Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson also establish their roles as Blackadder and Baldrick wonderfully.

Whoever thought to team Richard Curtis and Ben Elton together to write Blackadder, it was a good plan, a cunning one even, because what they established in series two, they built upon in Blackadder the Third.

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The third series Blackadder is the man servant for Prince George, the Prince Regent during the reign of Mad Kind George III. The power dynamic has shifted for Blackadder, but that only makes his wit more sharp, and his intolerant of fools even more comical.

And Hugh Laurie, well what can I say; most people know him because of House. British folks knew him as a comedy actor first though (mainly working with Stephen Fry). His portrayal of the Prince Regent is one of the reasons why Britain already loved him before he became one of America’s sweethearts. He is a lovable fool in this series.

And he carries that on in Blackadder Goes Forth, with Stephen Fry and Tim Mcinnerny re-joining the cast from series two. Series four is a completely different set up, because rather than being set in a place of power, it is set in the trenches of World War One.

And somehow the show creators and actors made one of the most horrific periods of history side-splittingly funny.

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I said above that I can’t pick a favourite episode, but I do have a favourite series, and if you don’t see any of the others, Blackadder Goes Forth is a must-see. They refer back to jokes and characters from previous series, but you don’t need to know them to find them funny.

And if you are looking for something seasonal, at Christmas you can watch Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, which is their twist on A Christmas Carol. On New Year’s Eve there is Blackadder Back and Forth, which was a special created for the new millennium.

If you call yourself a fan of comedy and you’ve never seen the genius that is Blackadder, then are you really a fan of comedy? Try it!

Film Review: The Post

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There was quite a bit of hype surrounding this film; the times we live in and the need we have for making our governments accountable; the times we live in when women have stopped tolerating being seen as unequal; the performances by the actors, especially Meryl Streep, are being nominated for awards. The hype of it being a Steven Spielberg film with a John Williams soundtrack. There is nothing small about the expectations people have of this film.

And it delivers.

The other film which has a lot of hype at the moment is ‘Darkest Hour‘. I heavily criticised it for being a film depicting historical events and not having any tension, which just made it boring to watch. ‘The Post’ is a similar premise; it is a film that depicts historical events, except what Spielberg did was make an entertaining film, as well as a film about real-life people and the remarkable things they did.

I have no idea how historically accurate ‘The Post’ is, as while I am familiar with the events in the film, I’ve never studied post-WW2 American History in any sort of depth. However, like I said in my review of ‘Darkest Hour’, some creative license does need to be wielded when making historical films. If if isn’t accurate, and that annoys you, then please remember that the events in the film are just as relevant today and because it is an entertaining film, making people aware of it and be inspired by it is just as important as accuracy.

And it is vastly better than ‘Darkest Hour’. The plot moved forward, and each scene made you want to see the next one until you reached the conclusion. The main characters were fleshed out enough to suit the purpose of the film, and not a single speaking role was superfluous. The cinematography was understated but it suited the film, and personally I loved seeing how pages of a newspaper were constructed using moveable type. It showed just how laborious putting a newspaper together really was before digital technology made it easier.

The thing I loved the most about the film though is when Sarah Paulson’s character, Tony Bradlee, is talking about Katherine Graham making the decision to publish. I can’t find the exact quote, but it is something along the lines of ‘if people keep telling you that you have no value, then you do eventually start to believe them.’ It was one woman defending another woman at a time when women were deemed unsuitable to have and wield power. Hopefully it will surface on the internet in full at some point, but it was by far my favourite scene.

I highly recommend this film. You don’t need to know anything about the history of the events to understand the importance of the messages within it; governments need to be accountable and women have the right to be equal.

Film Review: Darkest Hour

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There were a few reasons I wanted to see this film. The Crown has made me more interested in this period of history and how it is portrayed on screen. And on that account I did enjoy the film; my review from here though doesn’t get much more positive. Which is a shame because based on the trailer it seemed like it was going to be a good film.

There was another reason I wanted to see it though; I’d heard good things about Gary Oldman’s performance and given I want Timothée Chalamet to win awards, I wanted to make a comparison. I don’t normally go and see a film purely because it is awards season, but I have invested a lot emotionally in Call me by your Name. I wanted to prepare myself properly for why he isn’t winning, because for a better performance I will accept him losing.

And apparently Gary Oldman is winning all these awards for mimicking someone who was real in a lacklustre film, while Chalamet did something a great deal more difficult. He brought to life a character that had only existed before in Aciman’s book, and did so in a film that matched his brilliance overall. There is no denying Oldman’s performance is very good, but the rest of the film is lacking the same sort of excellency. Of recent portrayals of Winston Churchill I’m going to say that I preferred John Lithgow’s performance in The Crown because of the simple truth; I wasn’t bored watching him.

Churchill came to power the first time during one of the most interesting times in British history, when we were facing the odds and potentially facing annihilation, and the film they decided to make about it contained absolutely no tension what so ever. It is a film about political manoeuvring and it doesn’t work. I’m reminded of what many people say about Titanic; well you know it’s going to sink at the end so what’s the point in seeing the film. Cameron though made it about the characters and with ‘will they won’t they’ tension. Darkest Hour though just felt like a waste of my time because I knew how it was going to end.

There are certainly some very good scenes; the one near the end of the film when Churchill is conversing with some people on the Underground is by far the very best in the entire film, but there were moments when my mind was wandering because I just wasn’t gripped enough to pay attention. Kristen Scott Thomas is certainly to be commended for putting up with portraying a character that brought nothing to the plot, and existed only because Clementine Spencer-Churchill did exist in real life, but she was completely unnecessary for the film.

I always try and give constructive criticism; I always try and say how I think it could have been done better, but in this case the problem is entirely to do with the fact they decided to tell the wrong story. I am very much with Viscount Halifax by the end; Churchill mobilised the English Language, without having yet achieved anything to justify the support he is demanding. There were no stakes, because Dunkirk was a success and I knew it was going to be, and annoyingly the film ended before it succeeded, meaning all the praise Churchill is getting at the end is purely based on his ability as an orator.

Even more annoyingly several prominent characters in the film just suddenly decide to support him without any development as to why they change their minds, when they had been pretty vocal beforehand as to why they were so against him. Chamberlain to an extend was there for the ‘We will fight on the beaches’ speech in parliament, but why did King George suddenly change his mind?

All I can suggest is that they needed more tension, and they needed better character development then it might have worked better. I know that it is based on real life events, but some creative license would have made it a better film. And it is the historian within me saying that, not the writer, because as a historian I have to defend myself against the ‘history is boring’ argument a lot, and boring historical films don’t help.

And this is all disappointing really, because I had been looking forward to seeing this film and unless I’ve missed something, I just don’t understand the hype. All I can hope is that Chalamet gets the chance in the future to win awards, because in my opinion he deserves one this year, but I’m thinking it is less and less likely he’s going to get one for portraying Elio. *sighs*

Film Review- Molly’s Game

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I am a massive fan of Aaron Sorkin, at least as the creator of West Wing and Newsroom. I’m not a big fan of The Social Network, even though it is technically a great film with a wonderful script.

I wanted to see Molly’s Game though not just because Sorkin penned it, but because the protagonist was a strong female who navigated in very powerful male circles. She also fought to keep her integrity intact, even though she was the first to admit she was not squeaky clean.

Jessica Chastain is just brilliant as Molly Bloom, and did real justice in portraying the real Molly. And Idris Elba, as always, was wonderful as her lawyer, giving a very impassioned speech near the end in her defense.

I absolutely loved the film. Admittedly at first I wasn’t all that keen on the heavy use of voiceover, but Sorkin always has a lot of story to tell. While at times I struggled to see the relevance of what was being said, it does all become relevant in the end.

You have to concentrate to keep up though as the speech is fast paced, and very typical of Sorkin. However thankfully but you don’t need to understand poker to enjoy it and all the characters have a satisfying resolution at the end, so even though you have to absorb a lot of information it is worth it as there are no loose ends.

Highly recommended if you are a Sorkin fan, or just looking for a smart film to watch.