It's no secret that one of my favorite movies of all time is The Fifth Element.
And this is the 25th anniversary year, believe it or not.
I can't even imagine how many times I've seen this film. At least two dozen. And I love it more with each new viewing. It's beautiful. It's visionary. It's a really good story. And now Milla Jovovich is talking about her part in it all to Vogue...
And now I just want to watch it yet again for the millionth time.
A part of me is glad that they never made a sequel.
A bigger part of me would really have liked to have gotten one.
As anybody who has read this blog for any length of time knows... I am obsessed with Luc Besson's The Fifth Element. In some ways, it eclipses sci-fi greats like Star Wars and Star Trek for me because it was just so damn fresh when it was first released in 1997.
I've spent many days pining away for a sequel that never came.
So you can imagine my anticipation level when I learned that Besson's new film was being touted as the "spiritual successor" to The Fifth Element... even though the source material for the film actually served as the original inspiration for sci-fi films like The Fifth Element.
Thus the French comic book Valérian and Laureline becomes the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets...
And... well... it's no Fifth Element.
What Valerian is can be summed up as "visually breathtaking and sublimely imaginative." Everything about the film is beautiful to look at and exciting to behold because it's just so fully realized. You get the impression that Besson must have spent insane amounts of time figuring out even the tiniest details of the Valerian universe... and it shows.
Unfortunately... there's too much else lacking for me to fall in love with the movie.
First of all is the casting. Dane DeHaan (Valerion) is certainly doing his best to be charming and interesting amongst the lavish scenery, but he never quite pulls it off. He's supposed to be head-over-heels in love with his partner in the Space Police (or whatever), but it never feels real. Instead of the roguish charms we got with characters like Han Solo, Valerian comes across as too stiff one minute, too detached the next, and downright wooden the next. I could never get vested in him at all. Slightly better was Cara Delevingne as Laureline, but it was hard to buy into her character when the sparring with Valerian feels so forced. The whole "Oh we hate each other, but the whole time we were actually falling in love" trope falls entirely flat, even though Valerian professes his feelings from the get-go.
Where the casting most decidedly did not fall flat was when we got to Rhianna playing a shape-shifting exotic dancer called "Bubble." She gave her performance everything, and the nature of her character's abilities lit up the screen. Sadly, near the end of her screen-time, Bubble condenses into tired platitudes of love that never came across as convincing, thus sabotaging my favorite character in the movie.
As I mentioned, the CGI work is mind-bogglingly good and, if there's a reason to see this film before it leaves theaters, this would be it. The reason would most certainly not be the dialogue that Besson came up with. Encrusted with enough corny lines about the nature of love to make you cringe, it's an even heavier ham-fisted effort than we got from Leeloo in The Fifth Element... which is to say that it was horribly distracting. Too many lines fell flat either by construction or delivery ("Time flies when you're having fun!" - groan, really?).
As for the story?
I don't even know.
Decades ago a peaceful race of beautiful beach-dwelling aliens on planet Mül are wiped out during a battle between two forces above their world. The small group of aliens that managed to survive are trying to get their world back by getting their hands on an adorable alien pet known as a "Mül Converter" who can shake out duplicates of everything it eats... including "pearls," a powerful energy source needed by the aliens. What follows seems to involve the aliens taking over a growing section of the massive space station, Alpha, which causes the Space Police (or whatever) to call in two of their best operatives, Valerian and Laureline, to solve the mystery of what's happening in there... because all other soldiers sent in have disappeared.
I'd hate to say that the story then becomes boring... the wild special effects are anything but boring... but it kinda does. It's also wildly inconsistent. One minute Valerian and Laureline's sentient ship ("Alex") is essential to explaining story elements... then it is completely forgotten and ignored the next. When Valerian enters the "mystery section" of Alpha, Alex loses contact. Then she gains contact. Then she drops off the face of the earth again. These kind of "deus ex machina" interludes drive me insane. If you can't be fucking consistent with a "character," or offer a clear arc for their time on screen, then it's probably best to not have that character screwing up your screenplay with inexplicable drop-ins that are more frustrating and intrusive than anything else.
By the time things finally wrap up, I was almost relieved that I wouldn't have to suffer through it anymore. There's only so far that incredible CGI effects can take you. This isn't "Star Wars Prequels Bad," but it could have been much, much better if there was something... more... to support the visuals.
So... overall? A disappointment. This was not The Fifth Element I was looking for. That being said, I'd still recommend seeing it in theaters just to experience the jaw-dropping beauty of it all the way it was meant to be seen.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is tanking hard at the box office. As I'm writing this, it's barely cleared $60 million against a production budget of $172 million. This is a real shame, because I think there was room for some very interesting stories to be told in that universe. Given a sequel, I'm confident that Luc Besson could have taken the criticism of what didn't work, fix it, then give us something that truly delivers on everything that Valerian could have been. Alas, it's probably not going to happen.
And now I'll just be sitting over here... still pining away for my sequel to The Fifth Element... something else that, alas, will probably never happen.
Yesterday morning I woke up early. I was too uncomfortable to sleep, so I took Oxycodone to keep my kidney stone pain at bay... then decided cut my hair. In retrospect, that was a terrible decision, because my hair ended up all jacked up. Despite opiates coursing through my system, it hurt too much for me to attempt to fix it, so I just put on a Red Sox hat and let it go.
Probably would have been smarter to wait until I'm feeling better. But I've gotten pretty good at cutting my hair... and my grandfather was a barber... so experience and genetics were on my side.
Until they weren't.
I joked with friends that I look like the insane "Smoke You" neighbor of Korbin Dallas in The Fifth Element...
This morning I attempted to fix my hair. I was in surprisingly little pain, didn't have to take an Oxycodone, and felt in good enough shape to tackle my head.
I think I made things worse.
Apparently touch-ups are a more complicated matter than cutting your hair correctly the first time...
I haven't decided if I'm going to give it another go this weekend. I'm pretty sure I can fix it if I wet my head first next time. And, hey, I always have the option of buzz-cutting it, or coming up with something totally different, so there's that...
I should probably also look into making better life choices.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do a couple lines of cocaine and work on the electrical wiring in my bathroom.
TAKE MY MONEY!
Funko is going to release a series of POP! figures from The Fifth Element. Needless to say, I am beside myself with happiness...
"LEELOO DALLAS MULTIPASS!!!"
"The Diva Plavalaguna!"
"You're a monster, Zorg..."
"We need to find the leader, Mangalores won't fight without the leader."
Now... for the question of the day... WHERE IN THE HELL IS RUBY RHOD?!?
Ruby is easily one of the most memorable things about The Fifth Element, and it is criminal that he doesn't get a Funko POP! figure! It would have also been nice if Father Vito Cornelius would get one, but Ruby? Essential.
UPDATE: Apparently there IS going to be a Ruby Rhod POP!... they just must be having trouble with the sculpt, because a rendering has been posted (see an image in the comments).
Don't be alarmed by what transpires below... because a Very Special PORTLANDIA edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Outage. I awoke at 4:30am to get some work done, only to have the power go out a half-hour later. Turns out that twenty square blocks lost power in Downtown Portland, and though they said they would have it on at 10:30am, it never happened. Sure it made taking a shower and using the toilet a challenge because there was no light... but I made it out alive, so I guess it's all good.
• Brunch. I am amazed at how many tiny restaurants there are in this city... and they all seem incapable of serving bad food. Vahid and Sarah took me to a frickin' TEA HOUSE where I had some of the best falafel ever... perfectly seasoned and flawlessly cooked. Kudos to Tea Zone for a quality that many much bigger restaurants can't touch. I also had Black Monkey Tea, which is pretty darn fine tea, despite not tasting anything like a monkey. Thanks to Vahid and Sarah for taking time out of your busy Sunday to hang out... and buy me donuts!
• Outage. Back to the hotel and still no power. Luckily, they got the back-up generator running so there are hall-lights and elevators and hot water... but still no light in the rooms, which makes peeing in darkness a bit hazardous. So, turning to The Fifth Element as inspiration, I used a clever arrangement of mirrors to reflect light from the window into the bathroom so that I no longer have to pee in complete darkness. "AZIZ, LIGHT!"*
• Engage! The main reason I detoured through Portland on the way home was so I could stop in at the wedding celebration for The Spirit of Saint Lewis and Blair's Corner... two long-time friends from my earliest days of blogging. They've been together for sixteen years and, thanks to Washington's surprisingly progressive views on marriage equality, can now... at long last... make honest men out of each other!
Seriously two of my favorite people! Thanks so much for letting me share in your celebration!
• Tri-Met. For the first time in my life, I wrote a letter (via email) to a public transportation company. Portland's Tri-Met has long been one of my favorites but, on my bus-ride back downtown, the driver we had went above and beyond when he assisted a woman in a wheelchair who had some difficulties communicating. He was exceedingly patient, kind, and respectful while assisting her, and it's rare to see this kind of caring now-a-days. I thought Tri-Met should know how much it's appreciated. Not only by the people their employees help out... but the people they inspire to do likewise.
• Powell's. I went to the amazing Powell's City of Books so I could buy the latest Jasper Fforde novel... only to find out he didn't release a new novel in 2013! What cheek! So I ended up buying Leviathan Wakes, which is the first book in a sci-fi space opera known as "The Expanse" novels. This was originally meant to be a trilogy, but now I've learned that not only are Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (a.k.a. "James S. A. Corey") writing new "Expanse" books... they have also agreed to have it brought to television! I've heard good things about the series, so I want to get in on it before everything explodes...
So far, I'm kinda digging it. I just wish I had more time to read.
• Houses. Vahid mentioned that The Benson hotel puts out a gingerbread house display every year, so I stopped by to see it on my way back from Powell's...
Pretty impressive! They say that it took 500 hours of work to create.
• Restored. Power finally came back on while I was goofing around at Powell's. My room was toasty warm when I returned, and I was able to get all my various electronic devices fully charged for my trip home tomorrow. Thanks, PGE!
• Flaming. Years ago I got a little lost heading back to my hotel from Powell's, and ended up running across a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant called "Santeria." The music was thrashin' punk rock played at high volume, and I was served up a massively delicious, very spicy vegetarian burrito the size of your head. As if that weren't enough, their restroom is shared with the strip club next door, so going to the toilet comes with a side-order of naked ladies. Add it all up and, needless to say, I immediately fell in love with the place. After screaming with my server for a bit, I found out that the restaurant had been open less than a year. Which led me to think that a place this "unique" probably wouldn't last another six months. That was back in 2010. This being Portland where "unique" little places like this tend to thrive, it turns out I was (happily) dead-wrong, and Santeria is still around today. And since it is just a couple blocks from my hotel, I decided to pay a visit for dinner. This time I had the enchiladas, which were (as expected) very spicy-hot and delicious...
Just for fun, I tried a little bit of their "hot hot" sauce, which had delicious flavor... but makes you feel like your face is melting off. It also makes you worry that if you fart, the seat of your jeans is going to catch fire and blow out. But in a good way. So... if you're looking for excellent Mexican food with a little heat and a lot of noise while visiting Portland, this is the place.
And now, time for a long winter's nap in my warm hotel bed on a cold Portland night.
*Just to be clear, there is no young Egyptian boy named Aziz here watching me pee... I was just quoting a relevant passage from the film.**
**LEELOO DALLAS MULTI-PASS!