Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” is a proverb that needs no introduction. As human beings, it is natural for us to admire the works of others and attempt to emulate or copy the things which inspire us before eventually coming up with something distinct and original which we can call our own. This can be also be said in the film industry, with many great films building upon their predecessors by copping various elements from them.

However, the late Oscar Wilde expanded on the renown proverb, having famously said “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness”. People end up imitating others to the point of being mere mediocre imitations with no soul or originality. Unfortunately, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one such example of that mediocrity.

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In many ways, the film seems to copy too much from many of its contemporaries. The visuals in Valerian are pleasing and by no means shabby, but one would be forgiven for mistaking the first 20 minutes of Valerian for the beautiful world of Avatar. Everything, from the looks of the Mul race to the lush landscapes look too similar to James Cameron’s masterpiece. The film also attempt to imitate the work of another famous James – in this case, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy – by copying the supposed swag of the characters, but without the swag.

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When Valerian isn’t busy trying to imitate others, it totally under-utilizes or even misuses its assets. Dane DeHaan plays the titular character and despite being a magnificent actor, his potential is only hinted at in this film. There’s not much depth in his character and even the whole playboy persona which he is supposed to have feels more like a label rather than actual trait, as nothing he does in the film shows he is one or was one.

Then, there’s Rihanna…

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for having someone big or famous being featured in films. Oftentimes, the star attraction does add a lot to a film. However, in Valerian, the only moments we see her in human form is in the form of a rather cheapskate discount pseudo-strip-ish-tease/dance thing which is largely forgettable and annoying. It’s so annoying that even the supposedly playboy-ish Valerian looks disgusted and disturbed. When Rihanna is not busy being awkward, she spends her remaining screen time as a blue blob, which doesn’t warrant her inclusion in the cast. In fact, the scenes are so unimportant that the film could have been way better if she wasn’t in it, so that the money used to pay her could be used to develop, say, a better script or story.

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There are also a lot of elements in Valerian which scream potential, but every moment the audience anticipates something, the film just kills the joy and moves on to something else. The whole part where they had to find the convertor creature thing and that whole inter-dimensional interaction scene in that part is beyond amazing, but that’s the only part of the film they explore it, when the creators could have easily cashed on it. There was so much potential with how the Muls were slowly incorporated in the middle part of the film, yet the creators had to kill things with a Star Wars-inspired alien brothel nonsense. Really, the producers seem to be better at producing teasers rather than an actual polished product.

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It’s such a pity, because Valerian has a decent cast, an amazing director, amazing graphics, and even some amazing concepts with huge potential, yet the title seems to hint at this film’s biggest problem. When you have a city of a thousand planets and so much at your disposal, the one thing you’re absolutely going to lack is focus. This film lacks the focus needed to tie things together to create something special. Instead, there’s too much focus on trying to copy to the point where it feels like a rip-off.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy Valerian is to mute the audio. After all, when you have a vast city with a thousand planets, things can get pretty noisy, and noise can ruin the fun. Plus, in the first place, sound was never meant to travel through space.

Rating: 4.5/10

 

Teacher Teacher: English Myths and Facts

This article was originally featured as part of Englishjer‘s “Teacher Teacher” column.

Hello world! In this multi-part article, we’ll be looking at fascinating aspects of the English Language which your school teacher never told you about. We’ll also cover some unusual but convenient tricks to write and speak in this language, useful for beginners and seasoned pros alike.

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For this very first entry, we’ll uncover some of the myths about English which may have stopped us from improving. We might think we know the language, but you might be surprised and realize you don’t really know it after reading the following!

#1 – Myth: English is from England. Long live the Queen! Fact: English didn’t come from England, nor did it come from America!

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One of the original languages spoken in England was actually Cornish (which isn’t corny in any way, by the way!). So, where did English come from, then? Believe it or not, English was originally a German dialect, spoken by three tribes from East Germany: the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. Ever wondered where the term “Anglo-Saxon” came from? It came from two of the three tribes which first spoke English! Whatever happened to the Jutes, nobody really knows! When the tribes invaded the land that is now known as England, they brought English with them, and the rest is history.

So what does this mean to us? Some of us may be told that English is “bad”, because it came from the UK or the US. Worry no more, because it never came for those countries! Also, this shows a unique trait of the English Language: it is not owned by any country or race anymore. Instead, it is owned by the community which uses the language. The community is then free to make English their own. That’s why we have so many different flavors of English in the world, each with their own unique quirks, embellished with different pronunciations. Speaking of varieties…

#2 – Myth: Only British are American are “standard”. You’re either a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch or Brad Pitt. Choose only one!  Fact: There is no real “standard” version of English!

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You might have heard people arguing that we “must” study British English because it is supposedly the standard. You might have also heard people saying we should use American English because the media is dominated by American news and entertainment. Which one should we use? Come to think of it, what kind of English is being used in Malaysia?

In reality, we aren’t even studying British English AT ALL in Malaysia (I may write an entire article about this at a later time!). It’s actually Malaysian Standard English (MSE, not to be confused with Manglish, which is basically Bahasa Rojak!), and it uses pronunciation which is neither British nor American – it’s Malaysian! MSE is a version of English with words only used in Malaysia – you would never find terms such as “K.I.V.” or “medical certificate” used outside our region! We do, however, adopt British spelling. That, along with the fact we were once colonized by the Brits, is the only thing that is remotely British about our English.

What makes it fun is that our English is truly unique. It’s so unique, linguists (basically, experts who study language for a living) worldwide actually consider Malaysian Standard English as a distinct variety of English. How about pronunciation, then? As long as we don’t make a glaring mistake such as pronouncing the “k”, “g” and “h” in the word “knight”, we’re fine! And to those with thick accents from states such as Kedah, Kelantan or Sabah, don’t be afraid to flaunt your accent and add a unique flavor to your English – it’s perfectly fine to have a local accent when pronouncing words! Try saying “close the door” the Kelantanese way! Hmmm, so if accents don’t really matter, then what’s important?

#3 Myth: Grammar is important! Grammar police, arrest the offenders! Fact: Grammar is not THAT important!

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Whoa, wait a minute that sounds like total blasphemy! Imagine the pain, the embarrassment, the shame, all your life… Everything that we feel when we made that mistake in tenses or subject-verb-agreement…

AND NOW YOU’RE TELLING US GRAMMAR IS NOT THAT IMPORTANT?!?

Relax. Inhale. Exhale.

Linguists have long found that knowing grammar simply means you know the grammar of a language. Nothing more. It does not reflect your actual intelligence or thinking capability. It is actually common for people to have perfect grammar and still talk complete rubbish. To illustrate this, let’s look at the following sentence:

“Our laptop is pregnant.”

Grammatically, it’s superb. Subject-verb agreement, check! But meaning-wise, it’s absolute rubbish. While it would be awesome for laptops to be pregnant one day so that we no longer need to buy new laptops when they’re old and obsolete, in reality, the sentence just doesn’t make sense. And that’s what’s important about any language – a sense of what is acceptable and what is not. Why do we say “Siapa nama kamu?” in Malay and “What is his name?” in English instead of “Who is his name? (which is a direct translation of the Malay question)? It’s because we just have that sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. And we can only obtain that “sense” of the language by regularly using the language. Just relax, English jer!

Hopefully these facts inspire you to discover more about the English language! There really is a lot to know about language, and that just makes things even more fun. In the next installment, we’ll be looking at even more fun facts, and we’ll learn ways to get better at English without needing to do endless grammar exercises. Until next time!

 

 

5 Things That Make Spider-Man: Homecoming AMAZING

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The announcement that Spider-Man would join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) delighted fans of the webbed wonder all over the web. It was every fan’s dream come true to see their favorite neighborhood-friendly Spider-Man alongside the rest of Marvel’s superheroes. The latest iteration of Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland, stole the show in Captain America: Civil War despite his brief appearance, so when a new solo film was announced as part of the MCU, expectations were understandably high.

After being recently released a few weeks ago, Spider-Man: Homecoming proved to be a hit and could possibly be the best version of Spider-Man the world has seen on screen. Doing so was no easy feat, especially given that Sony had already done two different versions of Spider-Man across the span of multiple films. However, Marvel did many things to make Spider-Man: Homecoming stand tall among the rest of the MCU, and there are 5 things which make the film amazing.

5. A Worthy Villain

In the MCU, the major villains (aside from Loki and Zemo) either lack charisma or are poorly developed. When Vulture was announced as the main villain of Homecoming, I had my doubts and thought this film would be plagued with the same problem that plagued the majority of the films in the MCU. I mean, just look at the original Vulture in the comics – he doesn’t even look like he’s a worthy villain.

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Enter Michael Keaton, who brought the character to new heights. Never before have we seen a villain so well-developed and charismatic in an MCU film. His performance is stellar and defined many key moments in Homecoming. Some would stay he stole the show, while some would even say he’s the best villain in the MCU thus far. What made everyone connect with Vulture in Homecoming is the fact that he’s also so human and relatable. If Vulture is a sign of what MCU villains will be like, we can rest assured that we’re in for a treat in the next phase of the MCU. Speaking of treats…

4. A Twisted Plot Twist

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Enter Michael Keaton yet again, who is part of the most shocking plot twist in any Spider-Man or MCU film ever. Usually, plot twists are not only predictable, they are expected. However, Homecoming does it right by introducing a plot twist that is actually twisted. The moment when Adrian Toomes opened the door and said he was Liz’s father to an already-aghast Peter Parker was mind-blowing because nobody saw it coming. The plot twist works so well that it gave the “homecoming” part of the film a whole new meaning. The scene is just as powerful as the now-famous scene of Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII. It really is that good.

3. No Repetition of Previously Established “Norms”

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“Nooooooooo!!!”

When a film is remade more than once, the one thing nobody wants to see is the same thing all over again, even if minor variations are made. Fortunately, Homecoming avoids this completely. No repetition of Uncle Ben dying, as that is now common knowledge. And most surprisingly (in a good way), no Oscorp, Norman Osborn and Harry Osborn. These characters were pretty much done to death in the last two versions of Spider-Man, so it’s a breath of fresh air to see Homecoming choosing to a completely different path in terms of establishing Spider-Man’s story.

2. Iron Man Doesn’t Dominate the Film

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Captain America: Civil War almost felt like a 4th Iron Man film, with how much screen time and presence Tony Stark had in the film, so when the character was slated to feature in Homecoming, it raised some concern. Fortunately, Iron Man’s appearance in Homecoming is minimal and he gives space to Peter Parker to really grow. Tom Holland’s performance really shines throughout the film, but what’s most interesting is that even in scenes together with Robert Downey Jr and Michael Keaton, both charismatic actors in their own right, Tom Holland really manages to hold his own.

  1. No Annoying Love Obsession

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Tobey Maguire’s version of Spider-Man seemed like a lovesick puppy who was heads-over-heels for MJ who wasn’t even an interesting character in the original trilogy, while Andrew Garfield made Peter Parker seem like an obsessive, troubled lover in his relationship with Gwen Stacy. However, Tom Holland really knows how to keep things cool and not make infatuation becoming annoying. Unlike the previous two iterations where it’s hard to relate to why Peter Parker likes MJ or Gwen Stacy, in Homecoming, we can totally get why he likes Liz, and we can totally understand why he later becomes so conflicted after the revelation that Liz’s father is Adrian Toomes/Vulture. Most importantly, it doesn’t feel cringey or annoying, at all. And that’s good, because that makes us love Spider-Man even more.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of those few films that is just really good. The film sets a high standard for the MCU, and if Marvel were to keep up with these standards or go beyond that, the MCU is bound to dominate. After all, the webs which have been laid have already set things in place.

3 Things Which Will Make 2018’s Black Panther Awesome

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Marvel’s move of bringing more of their lesser known characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has worked very well so far. The obscure Guardians of the Galaxy took the galaxy by surprise and won the hearts of many with its quirky brand of humor, while Ant-Man proved that you literally don’t need to be big to succeed. However, Black Panther’s introduction into the MCU had a shaky start. Here, we have a character who has all the potential, especially with the “cool” factor and enigma he’s supposed to have. Yet, he gets almost completely drowned out and overshadowed by the diverse superhero ensemble in Civil War. Thus, Marvel’s decision to make a solo Black Panther movie is quite a surprise. In the entire MCU, Black Widow and The Hulk stand out way more and yet they do not get their own solo films. This is quite a big leap of faith and huge risk on Marvel’s part. The studio hasn’t had a major flop in a while since The Incredible Hulk, so could this be Marvel’s first flop after a string of success?

After much mystery shrouding the production of the upcoming Black Panther film, a teaser trailer was released earlier this month. The trailer hints at the potential to be awesome as much as it hints at the potential to flop. If Black Panther flops, this could change a lot of other things in the MCU, especially with Infinity War currently being in production. There are 3 things which Marvel needs to focus on in order to prevent Black Panther from being another The Incredible Hulk.

More Character Development

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Black Panther features Andy Serkis as the main villain, Ulysses Klaw. Having played roles as diverse as Gollum (Lord of the Rings), King Kong (2005’s King Kong), Caesar (Planet of the Apes) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), this is a guy who knows how to bring life to enigmatic antagonists. Quite simply, anything that Andy Serkis touches turns into precious gold. While he is definitely good, this may pose a problem because in Civil War, Black Panther’s character simply didn’t stand out and drowned among a sea of characters. Andy Serkis is an actor who stands out without even having to stand (as evident in the teaser trailer). Chadwick Boseman really needs to up the ante and give it his all to make the upcoming Black Panther film work, or else we’ll have another villain in the MCU who shines more than the main hero.

It would be a blast if Marvel focused on T’Challa struggling with multiple different challenges at the same time – being the new King of Wakanda, coping with his father’s death, bearing the responsibility of being the Black Panther, and handling emotional conflicts with characters such as Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo (whom he “rescued” in Civil War). Perhaps acceptance issues among the people of Wakanda and guilt over what happened in Civil War would do well in the mix, as well. This would bring out more of the human aspect of the character, because so far, Black Panther feels like a very cold and ruthless character who is only hell-bent on revenge and nothing else.

A Worthy Partner/Sidekick/Love Interest

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Black Panther seems to have this lone-ranger/”I work alone” thing going on, and this persona has already been established in Civil War. Having a partner/sidekick to contrast this personality would work wonders to make the film an enjoyable experience. However, this needs to be done well – achieving the perfect balance is an art that Marvel itself is still struggling with. In films such as The Winter Soldier and Civil War, the whole Captain America/Bucky Barnes thing feels like a badly-written forced bromance fan-fiction. In Ant-Man, well, Michael Pena is Michael Pena, and his personality works well with how Paul Rudd plays Ant-Man. It would be interesting to see who would play the perfect sidekick to Black Panther.

However, what’s more interesting to think about is the potential love interest for Black Panther. In the comics, Black Panther gets married to Storm (yes, that Storm from the X-Men). However, due to licensing issues and Fox owning the rights to the character, there won’t be any chance of that happening anytime soon. It’s a wonder who would be the potential candidate for Queen of Wakanda, or if there would be any love interest for T’Challa in the first place. If Marvel does this properly and balances Black Panther with an amazing supporting character, it would flesh out Black Panther’s character and help us appreciate him from a different perspective.

A World That is Different, Yet Relatable

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One unique thing about Black Panther is its setting – while the majority of the MCU films and series are set somewhere in New York or for the most part the east coast of the United States, this one takes place in the fictional country of Wakanda. What makes Wakanda interesting that it is both high-tech as it is colorful culturally. It would be a treat if we were exposed to the culture, rituals and lifestyle in Wakanda rather than just focus solely on the story. However, as with many films which have cultures or tribes which do not exist, if the setting isn’t relatable to what exists today, it would probably be harder to digest. The reason Lord of the Rings works so well is because despite how out of this Earth the story is, it alludes to many things in real life (trivia: many of the things which occur in Lord of the Rings are in fact analogies and allusions to Tolkien’s account of the World War). Without relatability, Black Panther might end up becoming like the recent Warcraft film – colorful and full of otherworldly beings which makes the audience feel lost and disconnected.

Having said all that, we never know what Marvel is up to – perhaps the next trailer will reveal more of what’s to come? Marvel seems keen to tell the tale of a superhero from a third-world country. Let’s just hope that the delivery isn’t third class.

 

 

Movie Review – Gifted

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Whether it’s dealing with alternate universes, new galaxies or impossibly illogical action scenes, today’s films offer a glimpse of what it would be like to escape reality. Gifted, however, is one such film that goes against the grain, being a drama which sternly reminds us about reality. While it certainly is a breath of fresh air, a plot revolving around the battle for custody over a child prodigy doesn’t exactly sound exciting, so is Gifted a gift waiting to be unwrapped?

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Movie Review – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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The original Guardians of the Galaxy film was one that nobody saw coming. Based on one of Marvel’s more obscure comics, the film was a cosmic gamble that ultimately guarded Marvel’s premiere position in an increasingly vast galaxy of superhero films. Star-Lord and co had an appeal which many superheroes lacked. Despite not being on Earth, they feel more human and down-to-Earth than any other superhero to have ever graced the silver screen. With such success across the galaxy, will the Guardians prevail again in Vol 2?

Traveling throughout the galaxy can have adverse effects on the body and mind, and ultimately, it seems to have affected the guardians, as well.

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Movie Review – The Fate of the Furious (Fast and Furious 8)

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Coming up with a sequel is no easy feat, let alone coming up with an entire franchise. There are cases where sequels are much anticipated and add a lot to the overall story in a franchise (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Logan come to mind). However, there are also sequels which totally ruin things, with films such as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 leaving us feel mocked for having waited for the final film in the series.

Then, there’s the Fast and Furious franchise, which has now reached its 8th installment. The franchise began to explode after the 5th film. With each new sequel in the franchise, new characters have been added, each adding their own piece to the puzzle, but it is ultimately the strong chemistry between Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker which glues everything together. However, before the completion of Furious 7, actor Paul Walker tragically passed away in an accident, leaving the fate of future installments in doubt. The newly released 8th film, aptly-titled The Fate of the Furious, is the first to not feature Paul Walker (who passed away right before the 7th film was completed). Furious 7 managed to pay tribute to the fallen actor and utilize every last bit of Paul Walker’s character (which was respectfully ended in that film), so can the 8th film capture the magic without him?

Well, fate cannot be changed, but Vin Diesel and crew are still furious. While that may make some happy, it may leave others equally, if not more furious.

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