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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!


Acclaimed auteur Christopher Nolan directs this World War II thriller about the evacuation of Allied troops from the French city of Dunkirk before Nazi forces can take hold. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance co-star, with longtime Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer providing the score. ~ Daniel Gelb, Rovi

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, James D'Arcy

Release Date: Jul 21, 2017

Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language

Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama


Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is an impressive achievement, a sprawling war epic taken from multiple viewpoints.  After Interstellar, a rare misstep from Nolan, it’s good to see the director try something new.  What he delivers an interesting and engaging non liner story told from different viewpoints and perspectives.  As such it gives you a well rounded viewpoint, from the ground, air and sea, of the events as they unfold.  The characters are fairly simplistic but they serve the story well with Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and Fionn Whitehead all deliver strong performances even though their scenes are about as bare bones as they come.  Nolan’s film is more about the event than the actual people so they’re not really a huge emphasis on unearned dramatics.  It’s a big sweeping film which shows off Nolan’s technical prowess throughout.  Is it the greatest war film ever made, probably not, it’s probably not Nolan’s best film, The Prestige still holds that honor, but it’s a impressive none the less.


Sunday, July 16, 2017


Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both of their species and the future of the planet.

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Gabriel Chavarria, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer

Rated PG-13 rating is for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images

Release Date: Jul 14, 2017

Genres: Action/Adventure


Matt Reeves War for Planet of the Apes is a strong finish to the rebooted prequel.  The story is deeply layered, borrowing from multiple sources including The Searchers, Apocalypse Now and the book of Exodus.  Needless to say, there is a lot going on in the script, it’s dense emotionally and touching.  It’s a rare summer blockbuster that puts the spectacle on the back burner for smaller quieter moments focused on character development and story arches.  The story is so strong that you can start to overlook the level of digital wizardry on display with the ape characters.  They are totally convincing throughout the film and this entry in particular puts them front and center with the human characters taking a backseat.  Andy Serkis once again proves that’s he’s the most underappreciated actor working now by delivering another impressive motion capture performance.  He’s the heart and soul of the film and it is impossible to not get emotionally invested in his characters journey.  Steve Zahn joins him as Bad Ape who provides some much needed comic relief here and there.  Zahn proves to be just as capable as Serkis because he does provide some depth to the character that could have been easily one dimensional.  Woody Harrelson is the primary human villain and he’s used sparing as the Coronel Kurtz knock off.  It’s probably for the best since he’s chewing scenery at impressive pace.  There are a few pacing issues in spots where the film seems to lag a bit.  Additionally, some of the biblical allegory is a tad heavy handed for my taste.  A bit more subtleness would have helped the film.  That being said, Matt Reeves closed out his trilogy on a strong note and brings the characters story to a satisfying ending.


Sunday, July 9, 2017


Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns home to live with his Aunt May. Under the watchful eye of mentor Tony Stark, Parker starts to embrace his newfound identity as Spider-Man. He also tries to return to his normal daily routine -- distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just a friendly neighborhood superhero. Peter must soon put his powers to the test when the evil Vulture emerges to threaten everything that he holds dear.

Director: Jon Watts 

Cast: Tom Holland, Marisa Tomei, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey, Jr., Donald Glover

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments

Release Date: Jul 07, 2017

Genres: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy


Spider-Man: Homecoming was going to have an uphill battle being the  3rd iteration of the character in so many years.  Thankfully Tom Holland is a great fit for the role, really taking the character back into the high school world in earnest.  Holland has a great gee whiz charisma that fits the film and this take on the character.  The story itself is a solid coming of age tale that feels familiar without becoming burdensome.  It’s a fun story which makes good use of Robert Downey Jr. in the mentor role which seems like a logical fit being Marvel’s first hero.  Michael Keaton makes for a solid villain, a rarity in the Marvel movies, with his motivations making more sense than your usual bad guy.  Keaton uses his low key intensity to great effect here even though the film could have used some focus in terms of conflict.  At times it almost feels like Keaton’s villain is secondary to other plot lines in the film.  It’s a shame because it’s a decent character that could have made a larger impact if the film had allowed him to.  A few quibbles aside, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun film that avoids the entire “origins” trope by basically sidestepping it entirely and doing it’s own thing.

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