CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the films of the moment
THIS week’s FilmSpace informs you as much about what to avoid as what to see, while a crazy fantasy world shows more common humanity than our current political epoch.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – ★★★☆☆
Deciding to leave the European Union is not so much independence to do what we want as it is independence to shoot ourselves in the face. With that decision, society has taken the form of Youtube comments, forgetting that coming together in the post-war period and working arm in arm produced modern miracles.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets begins with the coming together of a union across space and across species. This culminates in the creation of Alpha, where everyone is welcome and has a place. When that is threatened, Valerian and Laureline set out to fix it. It’s director Luc Besson’s love letter to the love and respect between people.
So while it isn’t always as exciting as something this full of stuff ought to be, its heart is always front and centre. A particularly lengthy detour to visit a pimp Ethan Hawke and a shapeshifting Rihanna is so fun because Besson’s having fun showing you around his imagination. It’s entirely irrelevant, but Besson wants to show you around anyway. He’s made another passion project that is completely bonkers, loud, and quite unlike anything else.
So while it isn’t always as exciting as something this full of stuff ought to be, its heart is always front and centre.
Dane DeHaan is no Han Solo, but the film’s quirkiness fits his oddities. Cara Delevingne will have an uphill struggle convincing people of her acting chops, but she fits this exuberant role well enough, throwing herself at tacky costumes and strange dialogue. As bizarre as she and DeHaan are as leads, it’s no less kooky than the rest of this expansive and thriving universe.
The villain isn’t any tentacled menace, but the evils in the heart of man. Warfare and collateral damage are one thing when dictated from a control room, safe and away from the action. What happens when those who orchestrate death are confronted by the consequences?
Valerian deals with this question in the most colourful way, like a sandbox videogame, completely unrestrained for better or worse. It wants us to fight for better and to remember what we can achieve together, and it wants us to have fun doing so.
The Emoji Movie – ★☆☆☆☆
Innovation in language is such that emojis can be groundbreaking. Andy Murray published an emoji-only tweet describing his wedding day, and it made complete sense.
Yet everything in The Emoji Movie is a copy of a copy of a copy. Conceptually it rips off Inside Out. Without Candy Crush it wouldn’t have an obligatory obstacle course scene. The world of Just Dance is visually alluring, especially when it appears to collapse on itself, but it’s just Blade Runner crossed with Inception.
These aren’t just movie tropes; they’re branded and commercial products. The Lego Movie was a Lego advert insofar that it made everyone want to play with Lego again. The Emoji Movie is an advert for games (Candy Crush, Just Dance), streaming services (Spotify), and social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) by having them colour in the outline of tropes.
It’s cynical capitalism packaged for kids, celebrating decreasing attention span and sensory overloads.
It’s cynical capitalism packaged for kids, celebrating decreasing attention span and sensory overloads. It’s an ode to spending and addiction and spending addiction.
Underneath all this is a bog-standard plot about the “meh” emoji causing a stir after he fails to pull the right face at the right time. Believing he is more than just one emotion, he sets off on a quest of discovery aided by Jailbreak and the “high five” emoji. Outside of the phone is its owner, Alex, struggling to talk to the girl he likes, hampered by a phone that seems to have a life of its own.
The Emoji Movie didn’t have to be bad. With its inclusive message and its zeitgeist stars it was prime placed to do something – anything – truly of the now.
Maybe the problem is that it does exactly that by using the most harmful and insidious parts of the 21st century. Instead of celebrating innovative communication and the ability for shy kids to find a voice, it excitedly sells sells sells in the way candy shops love your children’s teeth. Not just bad, but distastefully complicit.
England is Mine – ★★☆☆☆
Torturous, miserable dreariness is front and centre in England is Mine, a film about Morrissey before he was frontman of The Smiths and he was just Steven. Steven is cut off from the world by his own superiority complex, compounded by a kind of self-destructive nihilism.
That superiority is confirmed by brief adoration and success after a live show, but that disappears just as fast, and so too does Morrissey. Too good for a working class job and too introverted to make something of himself, he becomes bedridden longing for a purpose while considering himself above it all.
Morrissey doesn’t care if anyone likes him, and it’s a good thing too because England is Mine lays it on thick. He’s active in his belief that he is simply better than everyone else. He’s assertively snarky to those who make an effort with him.
He’s surrounded by key figures that shape his future. He’s presented as somewhat asexual, from an unhappy home, and with only one person he deems worthy of his time – the artist Linder Sterling. For fans, the film is littered with visual references to lyrics he’s yet to write.
Morrissey doesn’t care if anyone likes him, and it’s a good thing too because England is Mine lays it on thick.
Morrissey is a deeply unpleasant individual, and England is Mine takes that and amplifies it until it’s cinema-screen-sized. Jack Lowden (who’s all over summer’s cinema with starring roles in Tommy’s Honour and Dunkirk) presents him as an underdog, a lonely person who turns to art with an abundance of undiscovered talent. We love these people, in film and in real life. It’s in these fleeting moments the film finds a human hook, where the non-adoring crowd are able to connect with this mythical and secluded figure.
But Lowden also presents him as cold, disinterested, insufferable, pretentious, and a complete prat. It’s unforgiving in making Morrissey terrible company, so why bother suffering a long 90 minutes with him.
It’s the antithesis of every positive life offers. There are no smiles, there is no warmth. As success begins, it’s bittersweet. It means more people have to put up with this absolute poop emoji.