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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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Featuring all the 25-35 year old actor/comedians you love.

I have a weird relationship with comedies. The SNL-alumni stuff is usually hit or miss for me. I also don’t think Apatow really knows what he’s doing anymore. But Apatow’s heirs apparent are probably Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I have loved every movie they’ve written with the exception of The Green Hornet and their brand of comedy is one that really works for me. Part of this is the self-aware, tonally agile style of their movies. Part of it is Seth Rogen himself, as a lead actor in movies that frequently blend traditional broad comedy with occasional forays into other genres. The biggest part, though, is probably the themes that unite all their films. Every one of them is about friendship between men, running the gamut from the endearing and sweet (and homoerotic) to the kinds of drama men have (but is frequently unrepresented in TV and movies) and always, always hilarious. Every one of their movies has a warm, friendly core and an affable reality that grounds all the laughs in something that feels authentic, if not realistic.

This is what lets them get away with something like This is the End, which is a movie that probably shouldn’t work. Self-reference/parody is tricky to pull off with grace. It’s also one of the common measures taken by public figures who start to get stale or over-exposed. Rogen has experimented with roles that have been “against type” and probably will keep doing that. He probably doesn’t think of it in those terms and good for him if so. Here, however, he shows that he is totally aware of the potential tiredness of his “schtick” and the fickle nature of audiences who complain about a performer always seeming to come off as “the same guy” and yet line up to see it over and over. Rogen is not quite at the point where he hates us all (as Adam Sandler undoubtedly does), and This is the End suggests that he may never get there. Good, I say. I like the guy, I like his brand, and I never get tired of it.

In spite of its bottle-episode structure, This is the End functions well as a survival/apocalypse story even as it spends most of its energy on the character-derived comedy all these guys are so fucking gifted at. By the last twenty minutes, This is the End has morphed into an epic which is both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. You trust these guys to pull something like that off, but you’re still amazed when they do it. Read the rest of this entry »

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