A John Carter-like attempt to film an influential comic which many sci-fi movies (including Besson’s own Fifth Element) have been ripping off for decades. I’ll bet this was better in 3D. The movie seems to want to be in VR, having Valerian put on special glasses when he wants to see into other dimensions (recalling Freddy’s Dead).

The Pearls, a peaceful race of white Na’vi, live on Shell Beach with their pets who can shit dark matter, until their planet is destroyed as collateral damage in a space war led by Commander Clive Owen. Survivors have invaded the International Space Station (now a massive free-floating city of a thousand alien races) and learned all the alien techs to built themselves a supership Shell Beach simulator. Commander Clive sees all this as a threat, and sends soldiers to stop them, or something.

But first, Major Tom Valerian (Dane DeHaan: Lawless, A Cure for Wellness) is sexually harassing his coworker Laureline (Cara Delevingne: London Fields, Paper Towns). According to my Alamo Drafthouse waiter, their relationship made some kind of sense in the original comics, but human behavior isn’t Besson’s strong suit, so he’s botched it. These two are sent to interrupt a trade between Pearls and a Hutt unmistakably voiced by John Goodman, and during their escape a bulletproof rhinobeast wipes out their team.

Valerian’s boss, the General, looks like a Weasley but is actually Sam Spruell of Snow White and the Huntsman… then there are a series of higher-ups played by Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock who we barely see. Our team is eventually separated, and Laureline goes underwater with a beardy submariner named Bob (Alain Chabat of The Science of Sleep) while Valerian gets help from a shapeshifting Rihanna (after murdering her pimp Ethan Hawke), who does a dance which will be my most-watched scene on netflix once it comes out.

Some effects shots are very cartoony, not fooling anyone, and the action choreography is quite bad when viewed the day after Atomic Blonde. The very long info-dump ending is bad, the plot is mostly bad, the teaching Valerian about the meaning of love is bad, so I spaced out in the last half hour and tried to figure who Dane DeHaan reminds me of – is it Nicolas Cage? He’s fine, don’t get me wrong – all the acting and filmmaking is generally spot-on, just in service of a poor script. There is one great bit in the ending: Laureline is left alone with Commander Clive and just keeps punching him.

Eight underwater documentaries by Jean Painlevé, with soundtrack by Yo La Tengo recorded live in 2005. This is probably the avant-garde shorts collection I’ve watched the most times, but I’ve never bothered to take notes on the whole thing before, though I noted watching a couple of these with Katy here, and a bunch at Eyedrum with their original soundtracks here. The original films had their own music with wry voiceover, which is preserved here via subtitles. Geneviève Hamon is credited as codirector on half of these.


Hyas and Stenorhynchus (1927)

Crabby creatures that camouflage themselves with bits of algae and sponge, with a side focus on those worms that live inside long tubes and bloom out like kinetic flowers.

The VO calls this pose “a Japanese warrior”


Sea Urchins (1954)

Turns out sea urchins, and everything else in the ocean, are super weird and interesting. Below is a close-up on some of their feeler-protrusions. This is the first film in the series where Painlevé constructed the title and “fin” endcards with a stop-motion arrangement of the title creatures.


How Some Jellyfish Are Born (1960)

Set in Finistère in Brittany in NW France, close to the island of Ouessant where Epstein’s Finis Terrae was filmed thirty years earlier. The topic here is very tiny, crawling jellyfish that cling to algae, full of poisonous structures, and how they’re born is less exciting than the seahorses and octopi, sprouting out of pods like sci-fi space creatures.

Some jellyfish:


Liquid Crystals (1978)

A major change from the other films both in subject (no animals here) and musical accompaniment (loud!), just some ass-kicking micro-photography of crystal formation.


The Seahorse (1933)

I’m not sure Painlevé deserves the “surrealist” tag applied to him, even though the surrealists supposedly loved his films. But he’s definitely playful, with the informative but humorous voiceover, and here when he overlays silhouettes of sea horses with a terrestrial horse race.

This one mostly focuses on the way sea horses give birth. Basically the males get pregnant, with a pouch full of eggs implanted by the females, then he carries the eggs until it’s time to convulsively shoot baby sea horses everywhere.


The Love Life of an Octopus (1967)

Octopuses (this is actually more correct than “octopi”) are absolutely horrific creatures. The way they move in water and on land, and the way they fight and eat and mate will all give you nightmares. It even gives octopuses nightmares – the film shows a couple mating, the male keeping “a prurient distance” while “pallid with fear”. However, the way the females produce giant strings of a half-million eggs, and stay in the nest slowly stirring them to keep them clean with fresh water, the eggs finally exploding into thousands of tiny octopodes, is quite beautiful.


Shrimp Stories (1964)

Maybe the only scientific undersea documentary to ever include a Groucho Marx impersonation. On second thought, maybe we can call Painlevé a surrealist after all. Shrimpies are such cuties, and I started to see how horrible it is that we eat them ten at a time, and thought this was going to be troubling. But then the film shows how they shed their hard skin as they grow (“like a ghost emerging from its diaphanous cloak”) and while defenseless before a new shell is formed they’re often devoured by their fellow shrimp, then they didn’t seem so cute anymore.


Acera or the Witches’ Dance (1972)

The most unfamiliar creature of the series, walrus-molluscs that swim in a blobby mushroom-dance when they’re not having perverse multi-partner sex. Love how the film has flash cuts to a woman dancing in a flowing dress as visual metaphor.

Here are three that’ve been hanging about for the last couple months because I haven’t felt like watching any more awful movies lately.

Seven Pounds (2008, Gabriele Muccino)
After flashing-back to the time he killed his wife and six other people because he wouldn’t stop looking at his cellphone, Will Smith lowers himself into a bathtub full of ice and jellyfish. I think he died and donated his heart to Rosario Dawson, because she wakes up seeming all sad then goes and hugs Woody Harrelson in the park. Seeing all these people cry makes me wanna cry. The director made The Pursuit of Happyness which would probably also make me wanna cry, and the writer once did an episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

Blindness (2008, Fernando Meirelles)
I wasn’t expecting this jaunty Thomas Newman-sounding music (it’s not by him), nor this confused, fuzzy montage-looking filmmaking – hmmm, it’s from the guy who made City of God, so maybe I should’ve. This movie would seem to call for more straightforward direction, like Seven Pounds, which looked totally reasonable, but maybe Meirelles doesn’t know how to be straightforward. Anyway, Julianne Moore leads everyone to her house, Danny Glover has an eyepatch and tells some girl he loves her, and then Yusuke Iseya (who ruled as the white clan leader in Sukiyaki Western Django) can see again and everyone is glad. Just like the book, but blurrier.

Swing Vote (2008, Josh Stern)
Montage: two cute girls (Costner’s girlfriend[?] Paula Patton of Mirrors, and daughter Madeline Carroll of Resident Evil: Extinction) are reading mail to scruffy Kevin Costner in front of a whiteboard while media types are gathered outside his trailer. Arianna Huffington has some awkward dialogue, then there’s a Texas debate between Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper staged just for Costner, but then why is Costner doing all the talking? Why, it’s a big patriotic speech to America, in which he declares himself an enemy of America for being a crappy citizen all his life. Hopper didn’t get to say a single word, and we don’t see who Costner votes for – booo! Director Stern previously wrote an Amityville sequel and directed an absolutely star-studded fantasy movie I’ve never heard of called Neverwas.