Movie Review: ‘Her Smell’ Puts Elisabeth Moss Through Hell as She Fights Her Way Back to Punk Rock Redemption

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CREDIT: Gunpowder & Sky

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Dan Stevens, Eric Stoltz, Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, Amber Heard, Virginia Madsen, Eka Darville, Lindsay Burdge, Keith Poulson, Alexis Krauss, Craig Butta, Hannah Gross, Daisy Pugh-Weiss

Director: Alex Ross Perry

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for The Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle at Its Most Rock-Bottom

Release Date: April 12, 2019 (New York)/April 19, 2019 (Los Angeles)

Her Smell is not about riot grrrl punk rock so much as it just takes place in the riot grrrl milieu. Although I suppose it would be fair to say that a person like Becky Something, lead singer of Something She, would be most likely to have the breakdown that she has in this particular setting. Hers is a story as old as show business: she grew up with a profound inner sense of emptiness and sought to fill it with the stage, but she also turned to drinking, drugs, and suspect shamanism. Elisabeth Moss is fully, almost painfully committed to a performance of Becky as a shell of a person who cannot cover up the destructive whirlwind she has become. This is The Elisabeth Moss Show, with Becky’s bandmates, ex, daughter, manager, and mom left to simply react in horror.

Writer/director Alex Ross Perry conveys Becky’s unraveling and possible redemption over the course of a couple of long nights and one afternoon, favoring long takes that will not allow us to escape the bowels of hell. The camera tracks around backstage hallways without ever finding the exits, keeping us stuck in a claustrophobic nightmare. The music is surprising, but effective. While Something She plays the expected Sleater-Kinney-style bangers, the score resembles that of a mystical sci-fi flick set in rural England. It contributes to the sense of how otherworldly this whole situation feels. Punk rock, and indeed all rock music, has long had a reputation of being the devil’s music. Her Smell does not believe that at all, and in fact all of Becky’s loved ones are fully supportive of her rocking endeavors. But if demonic possession is something that exists, she appears to be suffering from it, and this film makes absolutely clear which vices are  really the ones causing that destruction.

Her Smell is Recommended If You Like: A rock star biopic infused with a horror vibe

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Spin Magazine Covers

This Is a Movie Review: Tulip Fever

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At the end of Tulip Fever, I thought, “Oh, that’s what that was all about.” It ultimately becomes clear that there is an incredible amount of kindness inherent to the main characters. They struggle because they find themselves in situations that are far from ideal and beyond their control, but they ultimately find a way out. That is a fine bit of satisfaction. But for the first 95%, the floral mania is totally confounding and there is little in the way of enjoyability beyond the (not-that-out-of-place) comedic relief from Zach Galifianakis and Christoph Waltz’s nicknames for his penis.

I give Tulip Fever 1 Bulb Just Barely in Bloom.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ is Confident and Visionary in a Way All Films Should Aspire To

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© 2016 VALERIAN SAS Ð TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, Sam Spruell, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke

Director: Luc Besson

Running Time: 137 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Lasers, Gunplay, and the Accompanying Alien Splatter

Release Date: July 21, 2017

My quick pitch for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is “Star Wars but more European and colorful.” Now, don’t take that mean it is overly derivative. Most great modern stories are just variations on the classics, space fantasies especially so, Star Wars more than any other. Even if a movie finds inspiration from the tales of the Jedi, there is a genuinely strong chance it has a fair degree of originality. Valerian’s source material predates Star Wars, as it is based on the long-running French comic series Valérian et Laureline, which was first published in 1967 and, in the vein of John Carter, was by all accounts an influence on George Lucas. I cannot speak to how closely the film hews to the original, but I can say without hesitation that the result is the delightfully unfiltered vision of Luc Besson.

After I first watched the trailer for Valerian, my take on its prospects for success was that while it looked spectacularly unique, there was no way it could be a box office hit. It would be too lavish, too weird, too alien. But here’s the thing: that’s a bunch of baloney. If people who like movies want to be entertained, they need to go see Valerian. It is such a crowd-pleaser. Yes, it is a little more out-there than your average blockbuster, but it is not as impenetrable as something like Jupiter Ascending. The plot is straightforward and weighty enough to be neither confusing nor laughable, and if folks cannot appreciate the beautiful production design, fleet-on-its-feet action, and overall good vibes, then I don’t know what’s what.

The opening montage set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” could be overly on the nose but is instead an ode to the human (or human/alien/all sentient beings) spirit. Over the course of decades on a satellite orbiting Earth, a trio of astronauts keeps welcoming a new trio of astronauts from all corners of the globe. After a century or so, the new entrants start to become extraterrestrial. Eventually, the station becomes so popular that it must break away from Earth’s gravitational pull and become an intergalactic hub: Alpha, the titular city of a thousand planets. The international/interplanetary cooperation is inspiring. This is not quite a utopia, but the effort of all involved to make it as close to one as possible is palpable.

The central conflict is a classic of the genre: an entire planet has been wiped out, and its surviving residents seek a new home. A device exists with enough energy to create a facsimile version, but its power makes it life-threateningly dangerous, and it may very well be in the wrong hands, so government operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are on the case. Often in this type of story, the destruction or conquest of another planet would be at stake, but the displaced here are a profoundly peaceful collective; in keeping with the utopian spirit, their goal fits this future’s high ideals.

There is a love story between the two leads that could have easily felt shoehorned in, but instead it is part and parcel of getting Besson’s message across. Despite a long list of past conquests, Valerian proposes to Laureline within the first ten minutes, desiring to prove that he is noble enough to turn their professional partnership into a life one. Their flirtation is playfully teasing, though their chemistry is never quite steaming. Still, their loyalty to each other ultimately demonstrates a high-minded connection of the variety that has united the peoples of Alpha.

In their travels to restore the balance of the universe, Valerian and Laureline come across a number of instantly lovable characters, both CGI and humans playing dress-up (or in some cases, both). There is an implied foundation of tolerance insofar as every interaction feels so lived-in and in how every outfit plus every style of skin (or whatever the alien equivalent of skin is) is matter-of-factly accepted. Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, and Ethan Hawke each play some degree of against type, but the biggest delight is Rihanna as a shapeshifting alien dancer named Bubble who aids Valerian and Laureline in a crucial escape mission. For those who have been waiting for the Barbadian singer to have an iconic cinematic moment, your time has come. She is the best part of the film, with her malleable nature fully inhabiting the theme that you can be and do whatever you want as long as you are fighting for what is right.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is Recommended If You Like: Star Wars, The Fifth Element, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Art and Vocation of Filmmaking

Grade: 4 out of 5 Handshakes