21 July 2017

White Guys, Black Chicks, and White People in Space

That's a solid description of Dunkirk (2017), Girls Night (2017), and Valerian and the City of The Two-Long Title (2017), right? So damn accurate.

We've got three big films coming out this weekend, and like every other damn weekend of the year for all eternity, it's time to discuss the cultural, commercial, and critical potential of each. Let's start with the film that I know next to nothing about, since in the above description, I fit most closely in the "White People in Space" category.

I didn't even know Queen Latifah was still alive
Girls Trip is such an insignificant film that you didn't even notice that I called it Girls Night two paragraphs earlier. That's also because it also totally feels like the black version of Rough Night (2017), which did piddly-shits a few weeks ago. The cast of Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Regina Hall sounds really awesome in 2003, but apparently the big star turn here is Tiffany Haddish, whose career up until now has been so ratchet that her IMDB picture has an ImageCollect watermark all over it.

This is all talking a lot of trash, but it's already actually gotten some decent critical reviews, and although a female black comedy is as rare as an albino Eskimo, like any comedy, if it's got the goods, it can do well. So far this year has been anathema to funny films at the box office, with The House (2017), Baywatch (2017), Snatched (2017), and the aforementioned Rough Night all being complete trash. That's not even to mention CHiPs (2017) and Fist Fight (2017). Comedy is comedy, and apparently a bit of Girls Trip works, although I imagine the all black female cast would be a hurdle towards getting the white bro crowd to the cinema.

Still, when was the last big film focused on African Americans that wasn't also a slavery film that made most of its money off white guilt? You got me. There's underrated potential here although I'm totally not the demographic. My guess is that culturally it falls into that big Think Like a Man Too (2014) / The Best Man Holiday (2013) / Baggage Claim (2013) pile of erudite black comedies. See, you hadn't even heard of that last one. But like anything else, if it's genuinely good, it'll find its niche.

Meh, I bet Venom's hardly even in this movie
Moving on to focus on a bunch of white guys with white guy problems we have the highly anticipated Chris Nolan film, Dunkirk, about a huge British loss in World War II the film is apparently painting as "heroic" now. I was honestly disinterested in this as well beyond the fact that Nolan generally makes pretty great films. That's not to say they aren't without their problems, but that's almost always thematically, not technically. At the very least he's good for a Top 10 spot on End of Year lists. We haven't had a war film on the scale or prestige level as Dunkirk in some time, hell, the World War II genre hasn't had a really notable entry since, what, Inglorious Basterds (2009)? If that even counts? Sure we got Hacksaw Ridge (2016) last year, but that was very focused on one soldier's story (also in the Pacific Theater). I suppose we had Fury (2014), but that's more often brought up as a defense of David Ayer's competent filmmaking when talking about what a disaster Suicide Squad (2016) was. So, it's been a while.

What you can be most excited for is that for some reason Chris Nolan has positioned himself as one of the only Hollywood directors capable, willing, and able to make original movie content that's actually shot on film. It's amazing that that's where our standards are in 2017, but there you go. I'd consider this really only his third large scale original film since he got free reign to do whatever he wants after The Dark Knight (2008). Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) certainly have their detractors, and some of that is valid, but they're both gorgeous looking films that more importantly were cultural landmarks in their years. It's fine to make a bad film, but really awful to make a forgettable film. Quick - remember King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)? That was like two months ago. We're still wading through Inception memes. Nolan is really good at canonizing what he makes and finding ways to stick in the popular consciousness, regardless if his work tends to be self-serious and grandiose at best, and crippled by pragmatism over creativity at worst.

Dunkirk also follows an incredibly unique time structure, which is no real secret, but if you're a purist, I suppose SPOILER for this paragraph. It follows a week on land, a day on sea, and an hour in the air for various groups involved in the evacuation. Apparently it executes this mechanic with such aplomb that it's a sight to behold. Will there be a van falling off a bridge in slow motion, though? We can only hope.

Nolan fans tend to go to the cinema no matter what he's churning out, although there is certainly a different kind of barrier here. Lots of comic book fans who Nolan converted during his run at Batman were also sci-fi fans who gladly supported Inception and Interstellar. The War genre is a different kind of animal, perhaps more attractive to all our dads. My guess is it does well, especially after War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) wasn't really a juggernaut and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) has faded a little faster than I thought it might. Still, I don't think it'll reach the heights of his other flicks.

Lastly we have Luc Besson's Valerian and A Bunch of Weird Monsters and an Indescribable Plot, which is both the most expensive non-US film of all time and the most expensive indie of all time. Apparently Besson doesn't give a shit about any of that, which makes him the even better version of all that shit I said above about Chris Nolan. It's actually a way more manageable risk, since he's not betting any studio money on this thing. And yeah, unfortunately, unless it clears a ton of cash, due its budget, it will almost certainly feel like a failure.

It turns out Tatooine is just one long beach
That's the thing though - when you think internationally, as the French Besson surely does, clearing $400 or $500 million worldwide isn't a crazy hurdle. Lucy (2014) hit about that without nearly the same amount of sheer spectacle that's tailor-made for non-English audiences, and adjusted for inflation his other big space opus The Fifth Element (1997) about hit that, too. Sure, the biggest star her is probably Cara "Enchantress" Delevingne (although apparently Rihanna is somewhere in that mess), which is a few notches below Scarlett Johansson or Bruce Willis, but it's about time we put that celebrity-selling movies thing to the test.

Look, of course, Valerian looks insane and all over the place. It's a mish-mash of everything you could possibly think of and I'm sure the effects will detract and distract more than enhance and service the story, but isn't this bonkers, crazy $180 million passion project exactly what we've always wanted? Or is it another Jupiter Ascending (2015)? As long as it isn't incredibly stupid it ought to avoid that distinction.

I fear, though, that that's all Valerian is - a soulless spectacle. There is no hint of story or stakes in any of the marketing material. All we've got is a lot of bright lights and insanity. That's fine, but you're gonna have a tough time convincing Joe America to fork over eight hard-earned bucks to sit through this nonsense. Then again, Valerian feels more like it was made for that kid in Swaziland or the bloke in Australia, or some random Japanese anime fan more than for American audiences.

Thus, we have the clincher - Valerian could prove to not only be a really new and unique filmmaking model on how to acquire funding for your insane mega-blockbuster that doesn't involve Superheroes or Frankenstein, but also a distribution method that truly accepts the Global Audience rather than pandering to them. I'm very curious to see how Valerian does and if it can truly be the modern 2017 movie I think it is trying to be. Or it could suck and we never speak of it again.

Lots of options this week, and damn if the summer doesn't start drying up soon. We got Atomic Blonde (2017) and The Dark Tower and that's pretty much it, folks. What are you seeing this weekend?

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