Life Unconstructed


When I first heard they were doing a sequel to Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies, I was appalled. I saw the original theatrical release on opening day, and once the director’s cut came out — correcting the damage done by the producers with the original — I was even more enthralled. There’s a “final cut”, as well, which is essentially a cleaned up version of Ridley Scott’s original workprint (and a gigantic f@#$ you to say producers…)

Did we really need a sequel? NO!!! Then I heard the original writer, Hampton Fancher, was back. The director was the excellent Denis Villeneuve of SicarioPrisoners, and The Arrival fame. Intrigued, I still wasn’t going to see it. Clips and trailers followed….so yeah, I went and saw it.

Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the first movie, and other than the connection to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard character, is it’s own story and stands on its own without viewing the original. The essential plot points: a “blade runner”, police assassins who “retire” replicants — genetically engineered suprahumans — stumbled onto a box of bones at the site of an execution retirement of a replicant played by Dave Bautista (who steals the scene handily from Ryan Gosling.) The bones suggest that it was a woman who died in childbirth…and that she was a replicant, something supposedly impossible. His police captain (Robin Wright continuing to build her resume of tough female leaders) sets him loose, looking for the child she gave birth to.

There’s a lot more intriguing exploration of what intelligence and humanity is in this latest movie, and it handles it much more deftly than the original film — partly because science fiction has matured dramatically in the last 35 years. There’s a hologram girlfriend that may or may not be sentient…or it that just a really smart expert system giving you what you want to hear? K, the lead character, played with a nice hollowness by Gosling (whom I never particularly liked, but after The Nice Guys, I think he’s improving) is a replicant, his responses bounded by regular checks of his personality and emotional matrices, but he starts to identify with the child he’s hunting. The villain is Luv, right hand “angel” to Niander Wallace — the man behind the latest iterations of replicants who wants the secret to replicants breeding; he simply cannot make them fast enough to continue humanity’s exploration of the galaxy. Sylvia Hoeks plays her, and she’s fantastic. In fact all the female players in this movie are at the top of their games.

Harrison Ford is back. Deckard is old and tired, and has been hiding out in the ruins of Las Vegas. Ford is obviously enjoying himself in this picture and it shows. There’s a nice bit of the is he or isn’t he a replicant?, but they don’t spoil it with an answer.

There’s a lot going on in the movie, and it contains a better plotted detective story and more big-set action pieces than the original. This leads to a long run time of 2:44, but I didn’t notice it at all. I suspect, however, on repeat viewings this will be more apparent.

The visuals are stunning, and a nice extrapolation from the original picture. It feels like the same world, just more run down. Villeneuve used a lot of practical sets and effects, with CGI to enhance — something a lot of the new filmmakers have been doing. There is a lot going in the background, as there was in Scott’s movie, and nicely the film makers decided not to try and “correct” the world for today — it is an alternate world where the Soviet Union is apparently still around, where the mega-buildings of the original film extend to a gaudy Las Vegas that looks like the ruins of the city from Artificial Intelligence, with massive female statues in suggestive positions. And apparently, Peugeot eventually builds aircars and is back in the US market.

The sound is loud, and the Hans Zimmer seems to be on a mission to create the most ear-splitting musical noise he can. However, he weaves nearly all of the musical motifs from Vangelis’ excellent Blade Runner score throughout the movie, and this creates an emotional and narrative throughline with the new film.

So is it worth it? Yes! Not kinda yes, but a resounding one. I think this movie takes all the ideas from the first one, does it better and with more emotional core, and it has a more compelling story. On my rent to full price scale, I’d give this a “go see it in IMAX, if you can.”

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Our friend Runeslinger has done a review of the Ubiquity version of our sourcebook to 1930s Shanghai The Queen of the South. Check it out!

The Ubiquity proofs are in and it looks great! So without further ado, The Queen of the Orient, a sourcebook for 1930s Shanghai, is now live as an ebook and (for Ubiquity) print on demand book from DriveThruRPG! The physical book is $19.99 and includes the ebook and accompanying map downloads; the ebook and map are $9.99.

The Fate proofs should be here tomorrow, and unless there is a serious issue, we should see the Fate version up for print tomorrow night.

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A note on the map — there’s no print version right now because the size of the thing is not supported by DriveThruRPG’s POD service — it’s a whopping 86×55″! You could possibly find a local shop that could print the thing as a poster.

The Queen of the Orient features information on the history of the city and the three municipal entities — the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the native City Government of Greater Shanghai. There is information on the infamous Green Gang (Qing Bang) that ran much of the crime in “the most dangerous city in the world”, as well as their opponents: the yakuza, the Triads, and  the Shanghai Municipal Police.

Crime is a close cousin of espionage, and Shanghai was a hot-bed of that. Chinese communists and Soviet allies, the Nationalist government of the Republic of China, British intelligence, the Japanese kempaitai were all active in the city. Everything you need to create a living, breathing Shanghai for your 1903 pulp game is here.

Here are the links for the Fate version and the Ubiquity version.

 

 

The Fate version of The Queen of the Orient has been approved and a proof copy is on route. After I confirm there are no glaring errors, it should be ready for sale.

We hit a few snags in the last week on the print version of The Queen of the Orient — there were some issues with getting the cover set up to Lightning Source’s liking, then yours truly biffed it setting up the spine size…I took the wrong page count (remember to add the Roman numeral pages, kiddies!) so it got rejected and bounced back. The proper page count was adopted, the new templates received, fixed, and sent in…so now it’s with the printers again. Fingers crossed, we should have QOTO live as a print on demand book in Ubiquity and Fate within the next week.

 

Our latest release, The Queen of the Orient, is now available for the Ubiquity and Fate role playing systems as an ebook on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow! It comes with a period-accurate map of Shanghai (in PDF).

cover small.png

The Queen of the Orient features information on the history of the city and the three municipal entities — the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the native City Government of Greater Shanghai. There is information on the infamous Green Gang (Qing Bang) that ran much of the crime in “the most dangerous city in the world”, as well as their opponents: the yakuza, the Triads, and  the Shanghai Municipal Police.

Crime is a close cousin of espionage, and Shanghai was a hot-bd of that. Chinese communists and Soviet allies, the Nationalist government of the Republic of China, British intelligence, the Japanese kempaitai were all active in the city. Everything you need to create a living, breathing Shanghai for your 1903 pulp game is here.

The ebook/map is $9.99, the print version (which will include the ebook and map) should drop next week at $19.99.

Here are the links for the Fate version and the Ubiquity version.

A note on the map — there’s no print version right now because the size of the thing is not supported by DriveThruRPG’s POD service — it’s a whopping 86×55″! You could possibly find a local shop that could print the thing as a poster.

This movie rolled up on Amazon Prime last night. Since I had just watched once of my not-so-guilty pleasures the night before (Streets of Fire) by the director, Walter Hill, and I’ve liked Michelle Rodrigue since her premier in Girlfight (excellent film!) I figured it would be Hill’s signature pulpy tough-guy movie schtick.

Hill is one of those directors that can make a bad movie so cool, it’s good (The Warriors, 48 Hours, Red Heat, Streets of Fire (Come on! SLEDGEHAMMER fight!), Last Man Standing), or take a total dump (Supernova, Another 48 Hours, Brewster’s Millions, or on screenplay duty for the execrable Alien 3.) The Assignment is stuck somewhere between.

The social justice warrior and transgender crowds, every ready to take offense, will immediately go apoplectic over the very premise. A cold blooded hit man (Rodriguez) kills the worthless but beloved brother of psychotic doctor Rachel Kay, who has him picked up by some of her underworld buddies and in a combination of revenge and social experiment about whether gender and identity are tied for physical expression performs a sex change operation.

Frank Kitchen (said sex change recipient) wakes to find himself a herself and proceeds to follow the revenge play tropes through the rest of the movie. High art? Nope. As exploitative as Pedro Alvodómar’s The Skin I Live In? Certainly not, although that is from a respected “important” director. It’s also obviously suffering from a low budget (it’s a Saban production, after all…) and Hill is working with what he’s got. There’s a lot of dark street scenes with neon lighting, shootouts in grimy rooms, and cartoonish thugs working for the “Doctor.” As such, it’s missing that cool style Hill usually brings to films like this.

Other than a few shots to establish Rodriguez’s character as a man (with full frontal prosthetic), then as a woman, and to highlight the discomfort with his new form, there’s little titillation to the movie. This is a straight tough guy revenge film, with Rodriguez doing sterling tough guy (but now as a woman) stuff: talking tough, blasting people with .45s, and generally acting passably well through it. Is Hill making any statements on gender issues or transgender roles? Nope. This is simply the hook for the not-so-good guy to do his…her stuff. Kitchen doesn’t want to be a woman, but too bad! Kay wanted him to suffer, but also to see if he would embrace his “opportunity” to be something different.

 

Weaver is incarcerated throughout the movie, and we swap between Kitchen’s story and hers. It’s an awkward construction, but the scenes between her blood-chilling “Doctor” and her psychiatrist (played by Tony Shaloub) are fun and played with the mirth a story like this require. It’s a lurid pulp novel story as the use of comic art transitions informs us: a bit stupid, but in the end mindlessly(ish) entertaining.

So is it worth it? On my scale of “Don’t even borrow it” to “Go full price and 3D/IMAX”, it’s a firm rent. If you like Hill’s pulp movies, like Last Man Standing or 48 Hours, you will probably enjoy it, even if it’s not good. If Hill had brought his style A-game, like he did to Streets of Fire or Last Man Standing, it would have definitely be a good matinee movie.

If you’re offended by anything gender-related, avoid it.

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