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They just can’t quite carry it.

So I was very in for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. There’s a bunch of reasons, but foremost among them is that I fucking love this kind of whiz bang, go for broke science fiction. Throw me all the weird tech and weirder aliens. I am down for the French comic book sensibilities, especially the ridiculous fashion, and I’ll even put up with the clunkiest dialogue this side of a Syfy Original. This is my kind of movie and if there’s any kind of nested audience for the Valerians of the world, it’s me.

However, this is no Jupiter Ascending situation. It’s safe to say that if you didn’t like that movie, you will loathe this one. In most ways, they are dissimilar, but it’s hard to not be reminded of the slightly more serious but also more coherent and well-plotted Wachowski Sisters’ foray into manic space opera. The same genre DNA gave birth to both films, though Valerian is a direct adaptation of a seminal French comic while for Jupiter, the comic Valerian and Laureline was just one of many influences it wore on its sleeve. Many might also compare this one to the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but I’d caution against that since kicking this movie while its down (it really bombed) to that extent just seems cruel.

If you like imaginative space opera and come for just the visuals, world-building, and literally hundreds of weird and wonderful aliens, you may be able to put aside this movie’s narrative problems and enjoy it. I mostly did. Valerian is dizzyingly ambitious, so it’s tempting to brush aside that it doesn’t really work. And while the story is nothing special, it plays out in an offbeat way and is packed to the brim with worthwhile diversion. There’s hardly a frame in the first half of this movie that won’t light a scifi fan’s mind up. It has that same special quality Jupiter Ascending had where every five minutes, there’s a new idea that you could make a whole movie out of. For example, the concepts and mechanics of Big Market, a virtual bazaar in another dimension, are just a set-piece here, but the whole of the upcoming Ready Player One will deal with somewhat similar ideas. Valerian has imagination to spare but suffers from an overindulgence in its own poorly executed dramatic core, which aggressively sucks, and also fails to trust its own plot enough to avoid a third act recap sequence that, frankly, was where the movie really fell apart for me. I love Luc Besson, even when he makes a bad movie (Lucy) and while I might summarize Valerian as “The 5th Element for kids” and while that might sound good… it’s only really two thirds good. That said, the opening ten minutes are straight up wonderful and honestly worth the whole movie. Read the rest of this entry »

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Norman likes zombies. It won’t last.

ParaNorman is one of the great animated films during this animated film renaissance we’re having. Every year for the last pile I can remember has had at least one or two that make even people who think animated films are just trifles for kids think twice. With this one and Brave leading the way, 2012 is shaping up well for the genre. Sooner or later I’m going to have to stop separating animated films into their own broad genre. It’s more accurate that ParaNorman is a proper horror movie, though a lighter one and definitely family oriented, than “an animated film” as if it has more in common with Brave than with Hocus Pocus (it doesn’t).

As to why ParaNorman is so good, it mostly comes from a simple story about being tolerance. The movie is never preachy, always witty and full of heart, and gets across a familiar theme: some people are different and how we treat them matters, but so does how they treat us. ParaNorman is wonderfully even-handed about it. The theme and its adjuncts are easy to view through the frame of bullying, a hot topic in North America, and I can’t imagine this is unintentional. It might be worthwhile, then, to summarize ParaNorman as the best kids’ movie about bullying that I can remember.

But it is also more than that. Read the rest of this entry »

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