It’s been an odd summer here at FRC headquarters. Between vacations, school, work and family, a few movies inevitably fell through the cracks of our collective attention. But fret not, because your pals here at Front Row Central have you covered! Here are just a few of the movies the gang has caught up on recently.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
If there’s one thing at which writer/director Luc Besson excels, it’s crafting wildly inventive universes for his characters to explore. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets continues that trend with a planet-sized space station populated by fascinating alien races, oddball comic relief creatures and all sorts of clever gadgetry. The downside is that its titular hero is a wet blanket (played by real life wet blanket Dane DeHaan) who spends more time trying to salvage his relationship with his partner (Cara Delevingne) than unraveling the political conspiracy at the heart of the story. That story involves space genocide, space pearls, and space Clive Owen in a robot suit, which you would think Besson would find more compelling. But nope.
When Valerian works, it’s thanks to its unique character designs and visual details. This is a universe that evokes the look and feel of Star Wars (the prequels in particular), which itself clearly borrowed elements from the original Valerian & Laureline comics. It creates a strange feedback loop the more you think about it, so let’s just agree that Luc Besson did his homework from a visual standpoint. Still, that doesn’t rescue the film from having a boring, self-centered hero who never seems to think through any of his actions. There’s one sequence where Valerian puts on a suit of armor to run off chasing after a McGuffin, and starts crashing through walls with reckless abandon. It’s a fun sequence, but it makes absolutely zero narrative or logistical sense. Valerian at least offers a strange, propulsive journey through Besson’s personal brand of CGI madness, so if that’s all you’re looking for then you’ll definite get your money’s worth. Everyone else beware. – Joseph Wade
Girls Trip combines a note-perfect cast of comediennes with a production team that brought us blackish, Barbershop 3: The Next Cut, and The Best Man series. Without prime-time TV and PG-13 movie rules, the team-up brings us a party movie that is both raunchier and warmer than the vast majority of its counterparts. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and scene-stealing Tiffany Haddish play a group of former college besties reunited for a trip to New Orleans for the Essence conference, furnished by Hall’s character Ryan Pierce, described early on as “the second coming of Oprah.” While many movies of this genre tend to use the storyline as an excuse to get from gag to gag, Girls Trip sets up a major ongoing crisis for the girls early on and threads it throughout the party, giving a natural sense of ups and downs.
As a result, the movie does seem to spin its wheels in places, and some scenes go on longer than necessary, especially as the movie doubles as a Bad Boy Records reunion concert film. These issues aside, the film absolutely soars when its leads are given time to stretch their comedic chops. Fortunately, this is often. The absolute standout here is Haddish, going off on several sexually-charged, probably ad-libbed rants, all of which absolutely slay. An extended drug-tripping scene with all four leads and assistance from character actress Kate Walsh is worth the ticket price alone. The film strikes a good balance of hijinks and heartfelt moments, culminating in Regina Hall admirably pulling off a Jimmy-Stewart-like impassioned speech of empowerment. Overall, Girls Trip is a good time with a few missteps that are hard to care about in the moment, due to all the laughter. The filthy, filthy, laughter. – Martin R. Schneider
Atomic Blonde exists in that same critical space as Kong: Skull Island. It’s a Cold War-era period piece that uses the genre trappings and iconography of the time to tell a largely unrelated story. And once again, I’m not entirely sure what they’re trying to say by making this movie in 2017. I appreciate the fact that they did, though. Its incongruity is part of its charm.
Charlize Theron plays the titular blonde, Lorraine, an MI6 agent sent to Berlin to keep sensitive government secrets from falling into Russian hands. The story takes place in 1989, days before the Berlin Wall comes down, and features an insanely stacked 80s soundtrack (including but not limited to Depeche Mode, Nena, Public Enemy and New Order). The crosses and double-crosses bleed into each other and stop making sense after a point, and the plot suffers from a convoluted flashback structure, but the action scenes (from John Wick director David Leitch) are bone-crunchingly brutal. The film was made on a lower budget ($30 million counts as “lower” these days), and with all the money they clearly blew on licensing music, the seams definitely show in some of the effects work. Atomic Blonde boasts one hell of a visual palette, though, and is worth the price of admission for Theron’s icy, go-for-broke swagger alone. – JW
Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky refreshingly doesn’t feel the need to hold its audience’s hand, never communicating via dialogue what it can convey via visual cue. This is the result of a slick combination of Soderbergh’s solid directing and the screenplay of first time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, who Soderbergh has stated is a real, separate person and not a pseudonym, despite rumors. Blunt’s screenplay is witty, charming, subtle, and upbeat, incorporating difficult topics in a sensitive way. The performers seal the deal quite admirably here, with Daniel Craig’s demolitions expert proving equal parts pragmatic and kooky. The film finds its core in human relationships in all their variations, keeping it grounded amongst the gags. Logan Lucky is a funny movie, an exciting movie, but above all, a kind movie, embracing the gentle humanity of mundane life with hijinks sprinkled throughout. – Ash HeraldLiked This? Share It!