Slapped this together in an hour or two yesterday. It shows. But it’s short and kinda funny.
“Just because something is meaningless to you doesn’t mean it is meaningless to everyone else.” This is my #1 rule for *NOT* being a jackass online or IRL.
This whole “I don’t like X, so X is useless, and nobody needs it” is a pretty serious freshman error when you’re figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. The next biggest error is “I don’t like X, so X is useless, and I can make fun of it, and/or the people who like it.” The first error is simply a little self-centered. The second is mean.
What X actually *is* doesn’t matter. It could be God, or Pokemon, or a crappy, dog-eared S.E. Hinton novel, or the 6th episode of My Mother The Car (That’s the one with Bill Daly guest starring). The point is not that it’s good or bad or indifferent, just that it is very important to someone, generally for some not-insignificant reason, and if you bag on it, you’re just a mean jackass and there’s no two ways about it.
Look, if some sad-eyed lady tells me that the face of the Virgin Mary appeared to me in a buttroast and told her she was going straight to heaven, and that she should really try the Mongolian Beef at that Chinese place at the intersection of 85 and 140 in Norcross because it is just AMAZING, I am *NOT* going to tell her she’s wrong.
I mean, I’ll think it’s pretty stupid (Apart from the Mongolian beef, because that place was great), but I’m certainly not going to tell her that, because, for whatever reason, she *needs* to believe the Virgin Mary is looking out for her.
If some middle-aged guy is strangely obsessed about Pokemon, and think Ash’s Pikachu is awesome, it doesn’t mean that he’s some sort of freak or moron, it just means that he needs some stupid adorable little kid thing in his life.
Why? Maybe his kid died, and his kid liked Pikachu, and he’s devastated by the loss, and having that crap around is the only thing holding him together. Maybe the Buttroast woman is dealing with a *LOT* of existential terror, and if you take her delusions of heavenly visions away from her, she’ll realize that life is meaningless, and fall into a suicidal depression. You don’t know. It’s not really any of your business. Just don’t do it.
I’m not blameless. I’ve done it. When I was younger and angrier I did it deliberately on occasion. I’ve done it accidentally on occasion now that I’m old and sad. It’s going to happen. When it does, however, and you realize it, don’t defend yourself. Don’t tell them to just get over it. Apologize quickly and sincerely, and ask them what you can do to make it right.
The world does not revolve around *your* world view. Or mine. When someone has a core belief that disagrees with yours, don’t just slam it or mock them, because the odds are they really need it to stay functional. Life is really really damn hard, and you have no idea what people are going through, and attacking their survival mechanisms doesn’t just make you self centered or mean, it makes you an utterly, utterly horrible person.
So just be kind, ok?
It’s completely unfair to compare one movie to another in order to judge it, rather than letting it stand on its own merits, or lack thereof. In this instance, however, it’s impossible not to: Both this film, and The Fifth Element (1997) were written and directed by Luc Besson. While both films are very different, they also couldn’t be more similar. In essence, “Valerian,” serves as an example of how easy it would have been for “The Fifth Element” to go horribly, horribly, horribly wrong.
Yeah, yeah, I know that’s unfair. It’s also true. Moving on:
The film tells the story of Valerian and Laureline, an impossibly young couple of badass special ops/secret agent types for the government of the galaxy in the 28th century. They get called in to recover the last living example of an animal, and in the process get swept up in a great big conspiracy on an impossibly huge space station to….[sigh]…you know, there’s not really very much plot here. The conspiracy is primarily an excuse for running and jumping and shooting and ruminations on the salvific power of love, and also a small role for Rhianna. Not much else matters here, but it’s actually not dissimilar to Titan A.E. (2000), a crappy movie written by Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund. You’d think woulda been a slam dunk, but, nope. Likewise, you’d figure Besson revisiting the same general parameters of The Fifth Element would have been a slam dunk or at least a dunk, or, you know, at least a basket, but, nope, you’d be wrong about that, too.
I’m not gonna waste a lot of time on the plot. To be fair, The Fifth Element didn’t have a lot of plot either (Evil force wants to destroy earth for some reason. Cool guy and unbelievably gorgeous badass girl stop it, with help from a priest, hinderance from a Cajun billionaire, and random histrionics from Chris Tucker), but there it works and here it doesn’t. Why?
A large part of that is charisma. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne are no Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. I can’t stress that enough: Bruce Willis was at the peak of his Bruce Willisness at the time, which has, sadly, receeded with time. Milla, though never the greatest actress, has always oozed magnetism far in excess of her looks (And her looks are pretty great on their own). He had a tired-but-still-cockshure swagger, and she had a mix of vulnerable badassitude and innocent sexyness that you can’t help but like. And they seemed to like each other.
Dane and Cara, by contrast, exude no sparks whatsoever, and the film works best when they’re not sharing the screen. Cara is very pretty, and an a very successful model, edging into acting, pretty much just like Milla was twenty years ago, and a lot of her scenes aren’t bad, but somehow, she lacks the utterly va-va-voom quality. Dane is more of a cardboard standie than he is a character. His dialog sounds like he has no idea what his lines mean, and his delivery brings to mind an early, extra-stoned Keanu Reeves. He’s not nearly so handsome, though. His first scene involves him and Cara rolling over each other in a relative state of undress that is supposed to be sexy, but is somehow more chaste than a nun doing long division. Go figure. Besson generally has a good eye for casting, but here he’s completely off his game.
Apart from Rhianna – who is awesome – there are no side-characters of note to really pick up any of the slack. I can’t say enough good things about Rhianna, though. The closest Fifth Element analogue would be the Diva, but she’s much different, much expanded, and honestly the best thing about the movie, despite only being in it for about ten minutes. When she showed up, the energy level ramped up considerably, and I thought, “Oh, FINALLY, two thirds of the way through the movie finally found its feet,” but, nope. As soon as she’s gone, it falters again.
Another part of the problem is special effects. There are a ton of ’em here. I don’t think there’s a single FX-free shot in the entire movie, and it’s plenty-high quality, easily as good or better than Avatar. The character designs are much better than Avatar, and yet, somehow, it’s all so sugarless and bland. The CGI is rather gloomily-lit, which seems the convention of the day, though I’ve never understood why, and it’s hard to get worked up about the stuff we’re seeing, despite how expansive and expensive it is. Just as Cara arguably has a better body than Milla, and yet somehow lacks that certain special something that draws you to her, this movie has unquestionably better special effects that just kinda don’t leave much impression. “Yeah, they’re beautiful. Whatever. Next?” Just out of curiosity, I showed my mom – who has no interest in, nor understanding of Science Fiction – the trailers for The Fifth Element and Valerian, then asked her which seemed better to her. She immediabely picked Fifth Element because it was so much brighter, both visually and in tone. I can’t argue with that.
There’s a trend towards increasingly practical effects and sets thanks, mostly, to Disney’s new crop of Star Wars films, but it’d been going on for a while before that. Despite being 37 years old, The Empire Strikes Back, with its oldschool spectacle still looks pretty good, if dated. The far more recent prequels look like cutscenes from video games, and in another decade they’ll look like a trip to toontown. Seriously: Remember 25 years ago when Babyon 5 blew us all away visually? Have you seen it recently? Yikes! Painful. Likewise, Fifth Element has aged well, whereas this film, for all its cutting edge splendor, looks like, well, a Lucas film. That’s not a compliment.
The soundtrack is also disappointing. Eric Serra’s Fifth Element soundtrack is – if you can find a bootleg of it – still very good listening. Combining ethnic music, opera, hip hop, house beats, orchestral stuff, electronic stuff, and kitchen sinks, it was fairly experimental, but still melodic and reassuring enoguh to really drive the story. Even without the movie, it’s memorable. Alexandre Desplat’s Valerian score is a generic orchestral fare that continues the inexplicable current trend of soundtracks deliberately not drawing attention to themselves.
Besson’s obligatory ruminations on the God-like powers of love are present, but they’re hamstrung here, again, by the limp toast nature of our ostensible stars. Besson’s a good director. He even made me care a little bit about the couple in Angel-A (2006), which had about the least likely paring in film history, and not much story beyond “Believe in yourself,” and a semi-fallen angel who lures guys into the bathroom with promises of sex, then chastely beats them up and mugs them. How can he pull that off? How can he pull off a dorky concept like “Subway,” (1986, which I saw in the theaters back then, and which was my introduction to him) and somehow blow this? I dunno.
There are odd sutures in the screenplay that suggest it was re-written several times in a hurry, possibly on the fly while making the film. What are we to make of the scene where Valerian is given title to an entire kingdom/species, which has no payoff whatsoever? Or an extended introduction to the machine part of the space station, which we then never visit, and which has no relevance in the story? Those have got to be periscopes. There’s just oodles of exposition, too. Valerian rattles off his whole life in the lengthiest, clunkiest monologue in recent memory, but it’s supposed to sound conversational. The ships’ computer does the same thing about The City. It just keeps happening.
The film is not without its good bits. The opening montage, showing the evolution of The City from 1975 to the 24th century was every bit as effortlessly clever and effective as Besson is on a good day. Rhianna, as I said, was really good. The gag with the had made me laugh my ass off. There’s a chase sequence that consists almost entirely of a tracking shot behind a guy as he runs through a series of walls that’s the best set piece in the film. Some people really like the Big Market sequence, though I found it a little distracting and confusing. The point is that there’s some good stuff here, there’s just not really a movie to tie them together.
I realize that this hasn’t been a fair review, and that all my complaints basically revolve around this not being “The Sixth Element.” It’s true that I did expect it to be the same, yet better. What I didn’t expect was, “The Fourth Element:” The same, yet worse. Devoid of everything that made the original a hoot.
I’ve had enough of your compulsive lies.
It’s not that they’re malicious,
They’re just boring.
I’ve had enough of your sexed-up sighs
You think they’re erotic
But they leave me snoring
I’ve had enough of your savior faire
You’re not the biggest hat
In the hat parade
I’ve had enough je ne sais quoi
your tedious perfection
Could use a downgrade
It was a heart-shaped frisbee of love
You were my heart-shaped frisbee of love
I got pegged in the head
And now I’m dead
From a heart-shaped frisbee of love
Couldn’t believe you were such a shrew
When I thought you cared
Before my heart turned to ice
Couldn’t get enough of any part of you
Back in the forgotten days
When you used to be nice
It was a heart-shaped frisbee of love
You were my heart-shaped frisbee of love
I got pegged in the head
And now I’m dead
From a heart-shaped frisbee of love
How do we define religion?
It’s a tricky question. The most common definition is a belief in God or gods. Of course hipster doofuses are quick to point out that Buddhism has no gods, and could constitute an atheist religion. Typically, hipster doofuses are full of ignorant bullshit, because Buddhism is overflowing with gods (And hells), they’re just not integral to the process of human attainment of Nirvana. Just ask literally any non-white Buddhist and they’ll set you straight on that. Or even just look at the little shrines in any Thai restaurant.
Just the same, assuming they were right, can you have a religion without God/gods, but just some metaphysical hoobajoobery like reincarnation?
Taking that further, can you have a religion without any metaphysical beliefs whatsoever?
If we define religion as “A series of unverifiable metaphysical beliefs that affect the way one lives their life,” which seems a reasonable definition to me, then Atheism could be considered a religion, or at the very least a quasi-religion. The obvious argument there is, “They don’t believe anything metaphysical,” but it doesn’t take any sophistry to realize that believing something doesn’t exist without proof is really no different than believing something does exist without proof. They’re both faith-based assertions, and in these cases they really do affect the way people live their lives.
This is not a new argument, nor an especially clever one, I’m just putting it out there to show how vague the definition really is. Myself, I think I lean towards the Michael Chrichton camp on the subject: That we’re all wired to believe in something bigger than ourselves as a basic survival trait. The default is God/The Supernatural, however if you get rid of that, then something else will instantly take the place, be it Communism, Environmentalism, Social Justice Warriordom, Conspiracy Theories, Bernie Sanders, Alien Abductions, Ayn Rand, Unbridled Capitalism, or whatever. These things become defacto religions, the only thing separating them is that they don’t have a metaphysical aspect.
Or do they? Ayn Rand and Communism are quite adamant about how there’s no God or anything beyond life. Both of them have meetings and are organized, and have a core set of scripture-in-all-but-name writings. One has engaged in an actual crusade (Anticrusade?) against people with differing religious views, and the other probably would if it could get away with it.
A girl I know recently asked me which of my books was the best, so I recommended my most recent one. She bought a copy and started reading it. As I had time to kill at the Flea Market, I opened one of my own copies and started rereading it. Knowing her as I do, I tried to read it from her perspective, and quickly realized that she’d utterly hate the first three stories, and probably be bored by a couple others. This prompted a crisis in faith of my creative abilities.
This was ameliorated somewhat by three stories in the book that are genuinely really good, and one of which that isn’t great, but is a fun read. So I can get lucky at least some of the time, but that just puts me on the cusp of suck/not suck, it doesn’t resolve the issue. As to my friend? I’m more interested to know if she actually finishes the book than whether she likes it or not at this point, since I’m pretty sure she won’t. Basically, if she’s irritated or bored by the first couple stories, she won’t.
Or I have another friend that I gave several of my books to once. He’s not bothered to read ’em yet. This was years and years ago, back when I still only had three. He’ll never finish ’em. I don’t really blame him because he’s got a lot of crap going down in his life, but the bottom line is that if you’re interested in something, you dive right in as soon as you’ve made a little time, and if you don’t have interest, you backburner it. This is more a question of whether I’m interesting or not rather than it is of whether I suck or not, but it still feeds into the same issue. Not being interesting is part and parcel of sucking.
All of you have read fanfic at some point. You know what I mean. “How did the Trill get their spots?” and the endless Mary Sues…ugh. I don’t write that stuff. I only do originals. Still, you get what I mean, right?
I’ve always written about what interests me, and as I’m an effortlessly interesting person (An arrogant thing to say, but I’ve been repeatedly told that by strangers over the years), I just naturally assumed my stories would be as well. In the past, when this issue has come up, I’ve blown it off and just said, “I’m writing because of the joy of writing, and if anyone reads it, that’s just gravy. It’d be nice to make some money, but I don’t care much.” That’s always been 50% a lie, but it’s a lie I tell myself, and as long as I can concentrate on it, I can keep going.
This latest ill-advised bit of introspection is a little different, though. It’s been about two years since I’ve written anything, my longest break since I started self-publishing. I’ve got a friend’s book to finish for him (He died) and I can’t motivate myself to do it. I have a lot of unfinished stories I can’t quite get ’round to. I have friends who’ve tried to cowrite with me, and I can’t get my shit together to do it. I’m 90,000 words into a novel and too intimidated by the task to finish it. I’m not blocked, mind you, I have lots of ideas, and my writing flows when I do it. I’m just really anxious about doing it. Overthinking it. And now, on top of that, there’s the crisis of faith of whether or not it’s genuinely any good, or if I just think it’s good, and the people who’ve agreed are either just being polite, or just don’t know the difference between good stuff and drek.
And then there’s my music, which I take less seriously than my writing, but I’m still invested in. As no one ever listens to it (My latest original song has 17 views. It’s less than three minutes long. My most popular song has 360 views, and only ‘cuz it’s a Blondie cover that people discover by mistake) that’s disappointing, too. Again, a couple years ago I’d blow it off as “I don’t care,” but I do. Not as much as with the writing, but I do.
Basically I think it’s the timing. I’m 50 now. 2/3rds of my life are past. My health ain’t great. I work at a flea market, my first job in 11 years, and honestly I’m lucky to get it. The one thing that’s really distinguished me in the last 6 or 8 years is that, despite my lack of a significant audience, I’m good at what I do. But now I’ve managed to shake myself to the point where I’m questioning that notion, and I’m just wondering if it’s worth it.
What’s the point?
I’m fishing for encouragement more than compliments here, though compliments are not unwelcome. And if you think I do suck, critiques would be welcome as well.