Weekend Movie Review with Matt Atchity

Matt Atchity reviews this weekend's movies:

Dunkirk

Early in World War II, British and French armies were surrounded by German forces at the coastal town of Dunkirk, desperately hoping for rescue instead of capture.  Director Christopher Nolan captures the soldiers’ dread and despair as they wait seemingly hopelessly for rescue.  This film has an almost experimental feel to it, in that the dialogue is so sparse we hardly ever get to know anything about any of the characters, but the suspense is so palpable that knowing the characters isn’t the point; it’s enough that they’re desperate to survive, to protect, or to rescue.  There are some seasoned performers here putting in reliable turns, and Harry Styles (of One Direction) puts in a solid performance. This is an extremely well-executed and affective film, but sometimes the mystery of the characters makes it hard to celebrate any of their victories.  My score: 9/10

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Full disclosure - I’m a big fan of Besson’s work, especially when he’s written an action screenplay.  Sure, they don’t work all that often, but he’s clearly having fun writing them.  So a loopy buddy cop mystery disguised as a sweeping sci-fi epic is par for the course of Besson, and something I was really looking forward to.  And this film almost fulfills my long-awaited desire for a follow up to the Fifth Element.  Based on the long-running French comic book series, this film finds new ways to be visually stunning, showings us idyllic tropical worlds, a pan-dimensional bazaar, and the titular “city of a thousand worlds.”  This detective story meanders through different encounters in a fairly episodic way, but it’s light enough that you don’t mind.  The biggest frustration is that the two leads don’t seem to have all that much chemistry, and since the script calls for some pretty specific sexual tension between Valerian and Laureline, that lack of a spark between them just felt off.  But the rest of the cast is having a good time, and Rihanna’s dance scene is one of the most memorable parts of a film that gives you plenty of spectacle to gawk at.  In the end, I have a soft spot for Besson’s work, and his joy of filmmaking helps me overlook my mild frustration with the leads.  My score: 6.5/10

Girls Trip

Remember the name Tiffany Haddish, because she steals this movie and almost never gives it back.  She plays Dina, the rowdiest of four long-time friends who reunite after years apart to attend the Essence Festival in New Orleans.  Ostensibly this is a story about Ryan (Hall) who is mentioned as the “second coming of Oprah” on the eve of a major TV show and endorsement deal for her and her husband.  Ryan has invited her best friends, gossip journalist Sasha (Latifah), single mother (Pinkett-Smith) and the still-rowdy and unstoppable Dina to join her in New Orleand, where they all discover that Ryan’s perfect marriage and life isn’t all that perfect.  So we see that Ryan needs to reconnect with her friends while facing the reality of her life, and that’s exactly what we get.  Is the story a little predictable?  Maybe, but Lee’s direction and a smart script from Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver make for a movie that transcends what could be a by-the-numbers exercise from lesser filmmakers.  This film embraces these women that own their sexuality and we can genuinely laugh about it with them, but there’s also real emotion in the ups and downs of the friendships between them.  But this movie’s secret weapon is Tiffany Haddish.  Her Dina is this whirlwind of fun, booze, sex, swearing, and more fun, and although she leaves chaos and wreckage in her wake, Haddish gives her a sort of gleeful innocence.  I can’t wait to see more from her.  My score: 7.5/10

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