75. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
…At least it wasn’t in the bottom ten?
Honestly, I do have a bit of a soft spot for these sort of pulpy adventure fantasy/sci-fi movie that everyone else shits on. Or at least I do in theory. In practise, it’s more like I secretly root for them throughout their marketing campaigns, keep secretly rooting for them up to their release, then watch the movies and think ‘Yeah, actually, that was kinda shite, I get why people hated it.’ I felt the same way about stuff like Jupiter Ascending, Terminator Genysis and suspect the same will apply to Pacific Rim Uprising and Battle Angel Alita in all its uncanny valley glory. But this year was just about Valerian and it was… not good.
A large part of that, unfortunately enough, was down to its two leads, who had absolutely zero chemistry whatsoever. Which would be problem enough if the movie itself didn’t make such a big deal about trying to show they have chemistry. I get trying to play on the history of the original Valerian comic and making it seem like these two characters have a long history, but I’ve seen acting in a school play with more passion and chemistry than these two. Also Dane Dehaan was baaadly miscast. The guy can play greasy and weasely pretty damn good, but him playing a pulpy sci-fi action hero is a little bit like Miles Teller playing James Bond. Not really a great fit. But at least Clive Owen was kinda hammy.
As for the story itself, it started off kinda fun with the inventive Big Market buuuuut also really kinda peaked with said sequence. Because every else afterwards is just kinda bland and confusing and goes on for just far too long. This movie really did not need to be 2 hours and 20 minutes long and after a while, towards the climax, I just more or less switched off. The characters were uncompelling, I didn’t really give that much of a crap about the Na’vi ripoffs, the plot was muddled and confusing, there was a big unnecessary side plot involving those cannibal aliens kidnapping Laureline and even the nice visuals got a bit tiresome. It just wasn’t very good.
I will say, I did like the opening stuff, the Big Market sequence and some of the visuals, so it’s not an entire waste, but overall this just wasn’t that good.
74. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Speaking of pulpy movies that I wanted to be good, but ultimately kinda sucked…
You know, it’s always struck me as rather odd that, despite there being dozens of amazing stories about King Arthur and his Round Table out there, there’s never really been a truly iconic cinematic movie about the legend. Certainly, there have been plenty of movies made about King Arthur, some of which are even fairly good, like Camelot or Excalibur. But ultimately, the most well-known Arthurian movie in the public eye is the one with coconuts and a killer rabbit.
That said, Guy Ritchie was probably not the right sort of guy to fix that.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Guy Ritchie‘s movies. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are both two of my favourite movies and his Sherlock Holmes wasn’t too bad either. Plus I haven’t bothered watching any of his films people tell me are bad, so I hasn’t been despoiled that way. But the thing with Ritchie is that he has a very distinct style. Which in some cases works and in other cases… Well, let’s just say that in this case it’s less ‘Style of Substance’ and more ‘Style over Story Coherency’.
See, if you’re familiar with Ritchie’s previous works, both good and bad, his sort of style is very obvious. Lots of montages with quick cuts and Cockney stylings. Personally, for me, I’ve always loved that style, but it’s taken up to 11 in this movie and really not for the better. The movie is chock full of fast-paced moments and montages covering even the most nothing of scenes and never gives you slow moment or scene to catch your breath. As a result, rather than keep you engaged, it just makes you exhausted and it’s a struggle to stay invested to the very end.
It doesn’t help that the story is all over the place. I’d call Game of Thrones an apt comparison, not because this movie has deep characters and interesting political/fantasy intrigue like that show does, but because said movie feels like it tries to jam an entire TV series worth of story into its run time. We skip from episodic subplot to episodic subplot with clumsy transition and little set-up and the story never gives each subplot time to breathe or be properly explored. One character is revealed to have a major grudge against another, one that was never mentioned before, only introduced when it became relevant, never properly explained and then completely forgotten about once the scene is over.
This also works against a lot of the characters, because we never really get the time to properly know them. Arthur, for example, had a great montage at the beginning establishing how he grew up and what drove him and doing a lot of solid foundation work laying his character. But once the movie itself starts, he’s just thrown from crisis to crisis and we never really get to see his character shine or show why he’s so worthy to be king. Sure, he ‘theoretically’ has an emotional arc, but it’s incredibly muddled and nonsensical and it’s hard to tell which bits are actually important.
I will say, on a positive note, the acting is pretty solid all around. Charlie Hunnam may be a bit ‘generic white lead protagonist’ but he pulls his weight. Jude Law makes a decent antagonist and it’s always nice to see Djimon Houson in more roles. Aidan Gillian, is even there, playing Goosefat Bill (who is totally not Littlefinger, guys. Really, he has a different name and everything).
Also, on the positive, assuming you haven’t been exhausting by the constant fast-paced montages, the action is also fairly solid. There’s a neat action scene at the very beginning involving giant elephants (who totally aren’t the giant elephants from Lord of the Rings, guys) and every time Arthur gets to let loose with the full power of Excalibur, it’s always fun to watch.
Ultimately, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, is sadly not a very good movie. The story is muddled, the characters are flat and it’s exhausting to watch in all the wrong ways. However, if you’re a big fan of Guy Ritchie, you might well find something to enjoy. There are a few good sequences and action scenes in there (like the aforementioned ‘Arthur growing up’ montage). But it’s still really not a very good movie.
73. Atomic Blonde
Okay, to get this out of the way quickly, yes I do think the stairway fight scene is this movie is absolutely fantastic. Genuinely brilliant stuff. It’s not especially flashy but it captures the drawn out, brutal, sluggish, blow by blow combat is fantastic tension and detail. I have nothing but praise for it. If I was judging the film on this fight scene alone, it would be right up there with all of my other favourites of the year.
With that said, the rest of this movie was just awful. Really awful
For me, this is more or less just a movie that was so in love with its own cleverness that it failed to pay attention to the basics or even just making the story even the slightest bit comprehensible to its audience. It’s a spy thriller where I had no idea what almost any of the characters were doing, nor why they were doing it, nor even really what was going on. Half the time I had no idea whose side anyone was on and I don’t mean that in a ‘I don’t know who to trust’ way, I mean that in an ‘the movie fails to set up most of these characters way’.
As for the acting, Charlize Theron makes a cool, silent badass, but her performance is diminished by the fact that her character is as flat as a board, with a more developed and interesting wardrobe than actual characterisation. James McAvoy only largely avoids this same fate by hamming it up like a mofo, but the movie is so obsessed with trying to make it ambiguous as to whether he’s a good guy or bad that his character suffers for it.
To put it bluntly, this movie was more interesting in shocking ‘Gotcha’ twists than actually telling a coherent story with interesting characters. And, quite frankly, all the amazing hallway scenes in the all the world aren’t enough to fix that.
72. Loving Vincent
Okay, to get this also out of the way quickly, yes this movie has an absolutely amazing and unique art style that is genuinely deserving of praise. With each frame being hand-painted by hundreds of artists of a long period of time, it’s entirely understandable why so many people are eager to credit their hard work.
That said, the rest of the movie is really kind of a slog?
Ostensibly, it’s a thriller about solving the mystery about Vincent Van Gogh’s death and working out who was really behind it. The problem is that the filmmakers were clearly not willing to go the full hog into conspiracy theory territory so all this big mystery is leading up to is an answer of ’No, it more or less happened the way everyone thought to begin with.’ And even then it’s not a particularly good mystery or thriller. It mostly just consists of Douglas Booth walking from place to place talking to people again and again. Often the same people. And usually without that much of a reason as to why he cares so much. There’s nothing exciting to really break up the monotony, it’s just talking and walking. Even the fantastic art design starts to wear thin after a while, especially is it’s clearly rotoscoped.
A small part of me can’t help but wonder whether said art design almost hindered the film in some ways. After all, if each frame is handpainted, then that likely doesn’t leave much room for reshoots or script rewrites. Thus a story that might’ve seemed fine on paper ended up being dull as sin on frame and with little room for improvements to be made. But that’s all speculation on my part. Overall though, while this movie certainly is worth a look for its art style, I wouldn’t go in expecting to be amazingly entertained.
71. You Were Never Really Here
Okay, I’m probably really not the best judge for this sort of movie, since it’s very clearly an arthouse sort of movie and I am really not an arthouse sorta guy. That said, I found this dull, dreary and unfocused. I mean, sure, I won’t deny it has its definite style to it and there are scenes and moments that I thought were pretty nice, but unless you’re a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix staring solemnly at stuff, there’s really not much for your average filmgoer here. I’m sure this style and movie will definitely work for some people, but it’s definitely not for me.
That said, it was short. So that’s a positive?