Welcome back to MOVIE DIARY 2018, the only thing I write now. Kind of a light week for movies this time around for me, but this’ll be about a couple of good ones, I swear.
Did kids’ movies always have these moments of overly maudlin heartbreak, or do I just notice it more now that I’m an adult who’s developed empathy? Anyway, I loved those Paddington books when I was a kid, but to be honest all I really remembered was that he was a cute bear in a raincoat who loved marmalade and lived with humans. I remember that I liked it and I thought it was cute. I liked the bear’s coat and hat, his whole vibe, but I 100% did not remember that Paddington is about REFUGEES.
Holy shit, man, this movie opens with this talking bear family fucking pumped about visiting an old friend in London and then their home is destroyed in an earthquake which ends up killing Paddington’s Uncle Pastuzo! Then Paddington’s Aunt Lucy stows him away on a freighter to London right after she tells him she can’t come with him because she’s too old to travel that far and she needs to live in a retirement home because there’s nothing left for them back there! Fuck! This is emotional terrorism! Are kids equipped to handle this kind of thing, or are they just like, registering that this this is a sad thing, and we’ll get to the funny bear stuff once this blows over? Like… how are kids watching this movie? Do they see Uncle Pastuzo and Aunt Lucy and think about everything their parents have sacrificed for them? Do they hear Aunt Lucy talking about checking herself into an old bears’ home and think about how maybe one day they’ll have to make some tough decisions about their aging parents? Do they look at Paddington alone in a busy train station trying unsuccessfully to get anyone to acknowledge his very existence and think about how scared and excited their parents must have been when they moved to America, not knowing ANYONE? I’m no alienist, but I feel like maybe this registers on an internal level, and these things manifest more clearly later on in the child’s life like when they’re writing a blog post about movies for friends and strangers on the internet. Or something.
I used to think that sly, double entendre was the main thing to keep the parents entertained while they sit through a movie for children, but it’s occurred to me now that these emotional hooks probably serve to do a similar thing as well. Except, since the hooks here are an emotional appeal with a progressive political message as opposed to, say, finding a kid-friendly way to make a dick joke, adults are allowed to believe they are maintaining their dignity as they insist that this movie for kids about a charming child-bear can actually also be for adults. That being said by the end of the movie I did find myself proclaiming, “I WOULD DIE FOR PADDINGTON BECAUSE PADDINGTON BELIEVES IN THE BEST OF US.”
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
I’ll count myself as part of that group of nerds that openly wonders why this movie didn’t get more love, but I’ve come to realize that wondering why people prefer dumb bullshit like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) instead of dumb bullshit like this is less about the inner workings of sci-fi/action storytelling and more about unseen capitalistic forces and deeply ingrained brand loyalty/visibility, and life is too short for wondering about that.
It’s got flaws, obviously, but what Luc Besson movie is without flaws? Selective oversight is the price of admission, baby! Look, you’re basically just going to have to accept at the beginning of this movie that you’ll be spending a lot of time with Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne. It’s fine, it actually goes a little better than you’d expect. Dane DeHaan is doing this sort of Keanu Reeves impression the entire time and Cara Delevigne… uh… she… wears a big silly hat!
Say what you will about ol’ Luc Besson, but the man is constantly going for it. Valerian is visually ambitious, its sexual politics are weirdly European, it’s filled with a bunch of wacky characters (like Ethan Hawke as a space pimp and Rihanna as someone who got bored with acting and decided to do the rest in ADR), plus that whole sequence with the interdimensional Big Market was really inventive and exciting! It’s probably really pedestrian to point out stylistic parallels to The Fifth Element (1997) because duh, but who cares, I loved that movie, so, yeah sure, I’ll see a little remix of it, why not?
I’ll always admire any attempt at making anything so large, so grand, and having it turn into a big belly flop so long as I get the feeling the intention is pure. Your Luc Bessons, your Guillermo Del Toros, they tell these stories because they really do believe in them, and while most of the time they end up falling just short for me, I can’t help but admire their pure enthusiasm around something that seems so dumb. It’s infectious. (Sorry everyone who thinks The Shape of Water (2017) should win this year’s Best Picture, but this is true and I won’t back down.)
But is the movie good? It can’t be overstated: I don’t know! I’ve found I’m willing to put up with a lot more dumb bullshit of a certain type than some people are, but maybe that’s true of everyone. We’re all willing to put up with dumb bullshit, but it has to be our preferred type of dumb bullshit. For instance, watching this movie again I did a little entertained scoff at the obvious use of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” needle drop like I did in the theaters, and then I found myself tearing up at the accompanying montage of the history of the construction of the massive space station city of a thousand planets — humans of all nations coming aboard, shaking hands, then giving way to humans welcoming aboard aliens from all over space, each with their own way of shaking hands. It’s such a pure distillation of the intention of this movie as something massive and altruistic and inspiring — something that, with the way things are going right now, seems completely out of reach, but *clenching a fist while openly weeping* damn it all, isn’t that what movies are for, to show us our dreams writ large, and carried out by hot people on the screen??