Movies


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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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.

So, I’ve been reading some of the reviews. The fans of the original movie, and the snobby end of the film reviewing community are blasting it for various reasons. Others seem taken with it. I went this weekend with the wife to see the live action Ghost in the Shell.

I’m a big fan of the 1995 anime film and the subsequent Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. I’m a bigger fan of the series Stand Alone Complex, which hits many of the same beats on the nature of intelligence and humanity, gives the secondary characters more time, but has the time to build the world and political of Masamune Shirow’s future Japan. So I had high hopes, but low expectations — films like Ghost in the Shell rarely translate well for a general Western audience. And that was precisely who the filmmakers were targeting. This was an expensive movie; they need a wider reception than anime fans.

So…how was it?

The good: Johannsen manages to do an excellent job with the muted emotional expression the Major has in the anime. Pillou is superb as Batou (my favorite character of all the iterations…), and Beat Takeshi nails it as Aramaki. The practical effects — the Shirow-esque cars, the street sets, the use of an actual robotic skeleton and muscle model for the shell sequence — are all top notch, although I though the riot of CGI rendered holographic advertising was a touch much. The other good thing, the movie takes the cybernetics of this world right down into the Uncanny Valley. The cybernetics aren’t cool, they’re creepy — from being able to see how Batou’s new eyes are inserted into his eye cavities, to other bits and bobs, to the overly stylized geisha robots, everything is off.

The “meh”: The rest of th team doesn’t get enough time. This isn’t much different from the 1995, where Saito, Pazu, Boma, and Ishikawa only get a few moments, at best. The addition of another female officer for diversity-sake cut into the material that would usually go to Ishikawa. The bad guy is your standard-issue corporate bad guy, and the bad guy who is actually a victim of the Evil Corporation™ is underwhelming. We’ve seen this before. In the movie and show, the government and their machinations are the real villains.

The homages to the excellent action pieces from the 1995 film sometimes work, sometimes don’t. The street chase into the canal, where the Major kicks a guys ass while still camouflaged works here, as well; the geisha scene is riffing — much better — on the first episode of Stand Alone Complex; and the classic Major vs. tank scene is recreated but with a lot less verve. Overall, that balanced out for me as “meh.”

The bad: Togusa, the nearly all-human cop, is the entre for the viewer in almost every version of this universe, the guy you can kind of identify with. He gets nowhere near enough time on screen (but does use a Mateba, fans!) The change of Kusinagi’s background makes her more accessible for Western and general audiences, but loses some of the point of the character. The Major is so good at what she does because, in the other iterations, she’s been a cyborg since a childhood accident…she really is more machine, at times, than human. That was the crux of her identity crisis in the other iterations. The “fake background” subplot just doesn’t work as well.

Overall, the movie is a decent adaptation of a movie that is superior in many ways, but itself suffered from some of the cultural shortcuts in storytelling that Westerns don’t use. It’s less talky than the original, but that means the philosophical elements lack some of the impact. It is stylistically good, with a real tech-porn kind of setting, and aspects of it are truly excellent, but substance-wise it lacks some of the depth of the original (and a lot if you compare it to the mind-bending sequel Innocence.)

Is it worth it? If you’re a fan, yes. You will most likely enjoy it, but it might not topple the original in your affections. If you’re a fan of the SAC, you’ll like it less, I suspect. On my scale from “Never Watch It, Even If There Is Nothing Else On” to “Rent It” to “Full Price”, this is a solid matinee, and maybe a full price.

Here’s a cool little short out of Argentina…

Killer robots? Check. Marines in trouble? Check. Game over, man! Game over! Check

’80s style music? Check. Sci-fi setting with mythological callbacks? Check. Disney-ish computer animation? Check.

It’s like watching a newer version of a Heavy Metal story:

Why the #@!! am I not watching this now?

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