Category: Articles

Recent Articles

Valerian & the 1000 Planets: Best Dumb Movie of 2017

Below is an extended version of my review from Popular Mechanics.
Though not a Pixar film, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” comes with its own accompanying short film. Technically it is just the opening credits sequence, but not even “Watchmen”‘s brilliant, tuneful introduction is as perfect. It’s like a rare mineral flung out in space for eons, finally orbiting back to us with luminescence, and explaining just how mankind might possibly save itself from extinction, all set to a David Bowie song.
It also sets up the forthcoming movies’s setting, Alpha, a hodgepodge collection of ship parts from the farthest depths of space. It’s a station where every conceivable life-form is represented and looks as if Deep Space Nine were designed like a Scrabble board after a really thorough match. But before we get there, we have to meet two of the interplanetary security agents who spend their time zooming into danger while looking too fabulous for this or any other world.
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is our young, kinda-doofy 007 and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) is his wiser, put-upon, always gorgeous right-hand woman. Their attitudes are a little bit Millennial, but definitely with a sophisticated filter. The vision comes from French director/producer Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”, “Lucy”) by way of 43 years of French comics from Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières.
At times, the dialogue does feel like it’s translated from another language, but the repartee (and, alas, the acting) is not really the selling point. What “Valerian” has in more abundance than any other movie this summer is a visual exuberance that design-friendly sci fi fans will cherish for years to come. If this movie has no other legacy, know that the goal posts for convention cosplay have drastically changed.

Apart from the ships, weapons and groovy graphic interfaces, most of Besson’s attention is heaped upon Delevingne, who comports herself well as a modern, stylized spacewoman. She is more than a pin-up, but still the focus of everyone’s gaze. Her reactions shots range from typical action-adventure athleticism to screwball comedy, oftentimes just a fraction of a second apart. There’s a bit, for example, where she’s gotta put a giant jellyfish on her so she can have some sort of mind-meld experience, and it looks ridiculous, but she somehow sells the fun and the danger and still look dazzling. This is not easy. This woman is a star.
Visual cues come from everywhere in Besson’s world: early “Star Trek” (one ship really looks like Balok’s Fesarius) to the cover of Journey’s “Frontiers” album. A tourist in the absurd pan-dimensional “Big Market” is surely an homage to octogenarian French film director Agnès Varda; another woman is the spitting image of Jessica Rabbit.
Luckily, the story that breezes us through this outstanding optic panoply has just enough of the goods to keep us interested. Just enough, nothing more. Turns out there’s a conspiracy within the crypto-military government at Alpha, and only Valerian and Laureline can stop it. And it has something to do with a cuddly little creature that excretes iridescent pearls for some reason.
The movie, though, is called “Valerian”, and it’s time to address the spacelephant in the room. Dane DeHaan is no star-hopping rogue.
What makes “good acting” is a question no one can answer. And Dane DeHaan has been terrific in the past. (Go see his performance as Lucien Freud in “Kill Your Darlings”.) But he’s a collapsed neutron star of fun in this thing. There were times where I tried to rationalize it that he was going for an early Keanu Reeves-style knucklehead, but it just didn’t come together. I feel like any other handsome young man could have done this role, and maybe even brought more out of Delevigne.
There’s another big name in the cast, or at least the marketing: Rihanna. Crew-members in the Rihanna Navy should prepare themselves: she’s in this for maybe ten minutes. And most of that is just her voice. (She plays a shapeshifter in a nightclub, as if Odo were a stripper.) When she’s up there doing her thing (mostly changing in and out of fabulous clothes) it’s terrific. Just manage those expectations.
These faults, however, are negligible. Moreover, “Valerian” screams for a rewatch, because it wisely doesn’t over-explain itself. New technology isn’t discussed, it is shown. (Oh, Valerian can just, like, bash through walls? Fantastic!) The film follows wherever Besson’s imagination wants to go, and we are lucky to join the ride.

The Sons of Aperaham

It isn’t Jewish subtext on the screen in “War For The Planet Of The Apes.” It’s just text.
Read my piece about Semitic simians at Times of Israel.

Bar Bahar (In Between)

A substantial motion picture is coming to these shores in November, Maysaloun Hammond’s “In Between.” I saw a sneak peek at the Museum of the Moving Image. You can read about it at Times of Israel.

Journey Through French Cinema

I reviewed Bertrand Tavernier’s 3+ hr journey through French cinema called “My Journey Through French Cinema.”
It’s niche stuff, but you might the kind of person who is interested. If so, click this link.

Hoffman on Wonder Woman: The Lasso of Truth

Wonder Woman is and will remain the pop culture sensation of 2017. Unless BB-8 gets married and has kids or something in The Last Jedi.
I explain just what it is that sets Patty Jenkins’ superhero sensation apart in a piece for Thrillst.
Additionally, I did not ignore just what Gal Gadot’s new stardom means for people of the Hebraic faith, and you can read about that in the Times of Israel.

Cannes Film Festival, 2017

I was at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and saw a lot of great movies. In fact, I saw 35 movies. (There were 90 or so that showed.) Of that 35 I picked my top 20, and you can read that article over at Thrillist.
Also at Thrillist, I drilled a little deeper on two movies I really enjoyed: Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time.
At Vanity Fair I reviewed three films. Two were good. They are Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and Michel Hazanavicius’ Le Redoubtable. The not-so-good one was Based on a True Story by Roman Polanski.

Over at The Guardian lies the review for my favorite movie of the Fest, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Also, the fabulous new one from Agnès Varda (and JR) called Faces Places.
I also dug Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal and Eugene Jarecki’s Promised Land. I was less enthusiastic about a South Korean crime movie the title of which I can barely remember. (The Merciless.)
Finally, I did as I always do: answered the question “Was this year’s festival Good for the Jews?” at Times of Israel.

A Chat with Terry Zwigoff

It took a little arm-twisting, but I was able to interview Terry Zwigoff for Vanity Fair. This is a director I’ve been somewhat obsessed with for nearly two decades, perhaps because he doesn’t work all that often. Mr. Zwigoff is as he seems: a brilliant but not very laid back individual. Check out the article.

The Memory of Justice

Marcel Ophuls’ “The Memory of Justice” is currently streaming on HBO Go. (I’m told it will be there indefinitely.)
It’s unlike anything you’ve seen.
I was lucky enough to see it projected, but even at home on your couch it ought it pack a punch.
I attempted to get my head around this movie in a piece for Times of Israel. Quite frankly, I don’t think I nailed it. Or, at the least, it’s tip of the iceberg stuff. Even though I worked on it longer than I’ve worked on anything in months. (I’m really not supposed to admit to any of this stuff, but there it is.)
Anyway, click over and see what it’s all about.

Why post-credits scenes are slowly ruining blockbusters

“Despite the large soda you slurped down during the blockbuster (Hollywood spectacle forms an adhesive bond with the mind while marinating in sugar water, dontchaknow) you must hold it for a few more moments once the movie has ended. Because it hasn’t ended. Years ago, only borderline-savant cinema-goers and the parents of fourth-listed visual effects computer jockeys would stay through to watch all the credits. Now it is a prerequisite.”
Read the rest of my drunken man’s screed at The Guardian.

Sandy Wexler review

“With the artistic freedom given to him by his eight-picture Netflix deal, Adam Sandler has made his All That Jazz.”
Read the rest of my review of the not that terrible “Sandy Wexler” at The Guardian.

Free Fire review

“I forgot whose side I’m on!” one of the pistol-packing players cries out during “Free Fire.” If he can’t keep up, what chance do the rest of us have?
You can read the rest of my review of “Free Fire” at the New York Daily News.

Loading

Welcome


Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.

He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.

Categories

Archives