I now understand why Valerian bombed

How could Valerian fail? Luc Besson, $200 million budget, the stills and clips I saw beforehand were visually spectacular. And then I watched it last night. I would have fallen asleep if the flashing colors hadn’t made my eyes hurt. Besson made a movie with fantastic visuals, but he forgot to include little details like a sensible plot and relatable characters and some motivation for wanting the characters to succeed; it’s like being given the job of making a cake, not bothering with substance, and building an elaborate confection out of nothing but marzipan and lots and lots of food coloring.

It starts out interestingly enough, with a series of scenes starting with a contemporary ship docking with a space station, and visitors and residents shaking hands. Then, over time, the station gets bigger, more ships come, more handshakes, and eventually aliens show up, and we see a succession of weird aliens. Well, not so weird. My first disappointment is that all of the aliens are still all two-eyed bipeds with hands that can be shaken — for all the enthusiasm for Besson’s imagination, it has flopped down and died in the first 10 minutes. One of the tedious things about the visual effects in this movie is that he’s just ramped up the garishness that we saw in The Fifth Element — there are many scenes that are just incoherent, full of loud flashing colors and random design elements. It’s a lot like a Michael Bay movie without the violence.

The second disappointment is simple innumeracy. The space station has grown so much it has to be moved out of Earth orbit…to the Magellanic clouds? That’s quite a move, all the way out of our galaxy. But then later we learn that it was moved 700 million miles, which is just a small fraction of a light year. Scale and scope are completely confusing in this movie.

Then we cut to a distant alien planet called Mül, although in my head it was actually the Planet of the Androgynous Supermodels on a Beach Shoot. We’re introduced to the McGuffin of the movie, a magical rat thing (it looks a bit like Skrat, from the Ice Age cartoons, with warts) that, when fed these blue marbles, poops out buckets full of duplicate blue marbles that are tremendous power sources with ten times the energy needed to power an interstellar starship, but which the supermodels use to wash their face with in the morning. Suddenly, the planet is destroyed. Supermodels look weepy and horrified.

Fast cut to our Heroes, Valerian and Laureline. Valerian is a cocky frat boy. Laureline is aloof. They’re in love, I guess. We need to be told that, because you sure aren’t going to see it in their chemistry. The whole movie is then about these two young people scurrying about to reunite the Supermodels with Magical Rat Thing and a Blue Marble, although they don’t have a clue what they’re doing themselves. Neither do we. There’s some irrelevant nonsense about a growing danger to the space station and bad robots and misunderstandings and nefarious conspiracies that don’t really matter, and then it ends with some treacle about the power of love.

That’s it. That’s the whole movie. Two hundred million dollars worth of marzipan and food coloring. Skip it. Watch the psychedelic wormhole sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey again, it’s about as flashy and will leave you no less confused.

Which makes me think…maybe Valerian would have been more entertaining if I’d been high on ‘shrooms while watching it.

They do like their monumental statues in South Dakota

I’m not a fan of the big heads carved into a mountain farther west, but this one looks good.

That’s Dignity, a new monument that was unveiled in Chamberlain, South Dakota recently.

The Dignity sculpture is a stunning combination of art and history. Located on a bluff between exits 263 and 265 on Interstate 90 near Chamberlain, the stainless steel, 50-foot-tall statue was specifically designed by sculptor Dale Lamphere to honor the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people. That’s why he used three Native American models ages 14, 29 and 55 to perfect the face of Dignity.

“Dignity represents the courage, perseverance and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota,” Lamphere said. “My hope is that the sculpture might serve as a symbol of respect and promise for the future.”

Representing the rich Native American culture of South Dakota, the 50-foot Native woman gracefully wears a dress patterned after a two-hide Native dress of the 1850s. She holds outstretched a quilt featuring 128 stainless steel blue diamond shapes designed to flutter in the wind. During the day, her star quilt – a representation of respect, honor and admiration in Native American culture – glitters in the sun with color-changing pieces that move with the wind. At night, LED lights cause the diamond shapes to glow in the night sky, casting a peaceful presence easily visible from the Interstate.

False advertising

An organization called Mythicist Milwaukee is putting on a one day skeptic/atheist conference called Mythcon, a “mythinformation conference”. I think they’re living up to the name. They’ve posted this announcement:

Mythicist Milwaukee’s upcoming conference is a place to share ideas. Yet, white supremacy, racism and sexism are not among them.
We vehemently stand against bigotry of any kind. Instead, we are focused on promoting dialogue about culture, religion and freedom of thought at our upcomoming Mythinformation Conference.
Our speakers and attendees celebrate a wide diversity of opinion. However; those who engage in hate and violence under the guise of “free speech” or “protest” are not welcome.

Fine sentiments. One problem: three of their four speakers are Sargon of Akkad, Armoured Skeptic, and ShoeOnHead, people who have no reputation as skeptics, and are known only for their anti-feminist and anti-social-justice rants on YouTube. Nothing more. Any reputation they have is of the negative sort — they’re part of that cohort of gamergate/alt-right screechers that have monetized their presence on YouTube and Patreon and make money off strident bullshit against Anita Sarkeesian.

They’re free to do that. Mythicist Milwaukee is free to invite a cluster of neo-fascists to speak at a conference. However, what is appalling is that they’re advertising this as skepticism, and piously declaring that they oppose white supremacy, racism and sexism while hosting a trio of alt-right feminist-hating dorks to headline their event. I know if I attended a meeting that declared that they stand against bigotry of any kind, and first thing I saw was frikken’ Sargon of Akkad taking the stage, I’d walk out and leave because they’d lured me in under false pretenses.

It’s also chickenshit. You want to preach racism and misogyny, you get to do that; but why are you so cowardly that you hide your position with a dishonest disclaimer? Are you ashamed of your views? You should be.

If you want to know more about why these three are terrible choices for speakers, here’s a thorough rundown.

In the year of my birth…

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has a feature that allows you to look up by year the time words were first published. One curious thing I noticed is that there are huge numbers of words introduced in the 40s on, most of them technical and scientific words, but in more recent years the number of novel words is drying up. Why? I don’t know.

I did look up what words were introduced in the year I was born, and there were lots of them. But this series caught my attention.

I think it means that emotionally I am far more childish than my advanced years would imply.

Why I love Seattle, part eleventy-million

Alex Jones visited downtown Seattle to record himself ranting on street corners about immigrants and evil antifa, and posted the video. Sadly, he later took it down because, I suspect, the response of the locals wasn’t very encouraging.

…former Seattle City Council candidate Michael Maddux approached Jones. Jones, in turn, asked him to talk. Maddux responded, “I don’t talk to racist fucks.”

Only a candidate? He needs to make this the centerpiece of his next campaign.

But my favorite part was this:

While ranting, Jones was confronted by BlöödHag singer Jake Stratton, who called out that Jones was “trash.” When Jones confronted him, Stratton threw coffee on him and taunted Jones before telling him he was going back to work, “where they have more coffee.”

We have reached peak Seattle: racists fucks getting doused with coffee by the lead singer of a two-umlaut band. I’ve got to get back and visit sometime.

SO MUCH WINNING

Just today, there has been a mass resignation from the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities and the Department of Commerce’s Digital Economy Board of Advisors. The American Red Cross, the Cleveland Clinic, and the American Cancer Society will no longer hold fundraisers at Mar-A-Lago. The director of the Office of Public Liaison George Sifaki has been fired.

And of course Steve Bannon is out.

It was a good day.