Stories Written Before Space Travel, But About Space Travel (Blade Runner 2049 review)

Like tears falling in the rain, so too do many movies leave a minor impact upon our hearts. Thankfully this movie doesn’t ruin a legend, but makes it more compelling.

 

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Cast: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana da Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Edward James Olmos, Carla Juri
Director: Denis Villeneuve
released on blu-ray January 16, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Audience Score 85%
The Guardian: ****/*****

In case you’re unfamiliar, Denis Villeneuve is a French Canadian film director and writer. I’ve reviewed his movies before and I generally like whatever projects he works on. Arrival was a great addition to the science fiction catalogue, and thankfully won an Academy Award, while Sicario is just beautiful to behold. Interestingly enough, I haven’t reviewed Enemy or Prisoners, yet – but I loved those movies too. Maybe there are some Watch Culture videos in the future coming for those films, because they are totally worth a watch. And even though Villeneuve doesn’t have the reigns on the Sicario sequel, I’m still excited to see it.

That’s how influential his directorial work is. Now he’s taking up the Blade Runner mantle, to excellent consequence.

Taken from Wikipedia and modified…

In 2049, K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant, works for the LAPD as a blade runner, and “retires” (kills) rogue replicants. At a protein farm, he retires rogue replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) and finds a box buried under a tree. The box contains the remains of a female replicant who died during an emergency caesarean section, demonstrating that replicants can reproduce sexually, previously thought impossible. K is asked to find and retire the replicant child by his lieutenant (Robin Wright).

K visits the Wallace Corporation headquarters (successor of replicant manufacturer Tyrell Corporation, which went out of business), where the deceased female is identified from DNA archives as Rachael (Sean Young), an experimental replicant designed by Dr. Tyrell. K learns of Rachael’s romantic ties with former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Wallace CEO Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) wants to discover the secret to replicant reproduction to expand interstellar colonization. He sends his replicant enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to steal Rachael’s remains from LAPD headquarters and follow K to Rachael’s child.

At Morton’s farm, K sees the date 6-10-21 carved into the tree trunk and recognizes it from a childhood memory of a wooden toy horse. Because replicants’ memories are artificial, K’s holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana da Armas) believes this is evidence that K was born, not created. K tracks the child to an orphanage in ruined San Diego, but discovers that the records from that year are missing. K recognizes the orphanage from his memories, and finds the toy horse where he remembers having hidden it.

Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a designer of replicant memories, confirms that his memory of the orphanage is real, and K concludes that he is Rachael’s son. At Joi’s request, K transfers Joi to a mobile emitter, an emanator. He has the toy horse analyzed, revealing traces of radiation that lead him to the ruins of Las Vegas. There he finds Deckard, who reveals that he is the father of Rachael’s child and that he scrambled the birth records to protect the child’s identity; Deckard left the child in the custody of the replicant freedom movement.

After killing Lieutenant Joshi, Luv tracks K to Deckard’s hiding place in Las Vegas. She kidnaps Deckard, destroys Joi and leaves K to die. The replicant freedom movement rescues K. Their leader Freysa (Edward James Olmos) informs him that Rachael’s child is female and he is not Rachael’s son. Freysa asks K to kill Deckard for the greater good of all replicants and to hide the freedom movement.

Luv brings Deckard to Wallace Co. headquarters to meet Niander Wallace. He offers Deckard a clone of Rachael for revealing what he knows. Deckard refuses and Luv kills the clone. As Luv is transporting Deckard to a ship to take him off-world for interrogation by torture, K intercepts and kills Luv, but is severely injured in the fight. He stages Deckard’s death to protect him from Wallace and the rogue replicants, and leads Deckard to Stelline’s office, having deduced that she is his daughter and that the memory of the toy horse is hers. K dies peacefully from his injuries while Deckard approaches Stelline.

This is a film which acknowledges a rich history of material that precedes it, and yet it manages to venture out into the void of philosophy and bring back ideas to explore. While the first film examined intimacy, gender politics, the evolution of humanity and other topics on such a scale that we felt included, this film does the opposite. Every scene is one of a barren wasteland, monotlithic buildings and open caverns force the moviegoer to examine the sheer insignificance of K. His lifespan is severely shortened, his love is with a hologram, and even his possibility at an identity is taken away from him.

And yet, he strives for a life well lived. I would argue that his relationship with Joi is far more human then any of the other characters we see on screen, and it is very sad when he loses her. And thankfully Harrison Ford’s Deckard is a beaten down shadow of what he once was too, not dominating the screen as he did in The Force Awakens, but helping to make you feel discomfort about the future of humanity.

Pros: It expands upon the story that we loved from over thirty years ago. Better yet, it manages to be impressive on it’s own. Ryan Gosling is fascinating to watch as K, while Dave Bautista, Ana da Armas, and Sylvia Hoeks all add to the allure of this fantasy world.

Cons: Jared Leto falls flat with his performance, perhaps it’s the limited screen time, or that he often appears to be rebelling against his profession. And the film is a very slow burn.

Runtime: 2 hours 44 minutes

Points of Interest: David Bowie was slated for the role of Wallace, but passed away before the film started production. The role of K was also written specifically with Ryan Gosling in mind, Villeneuve had no other actors chosen to audition. In this future, wood is incredibly rare and valuable – that Wallace has a house made entirely of wood is no accident.

I was really glad to learn that Villeneuve had originally cast David Bowie as Niander Wallace, even if he passed away before filming started. Bowie was a staple of innovation, futurism and all of the things that go into making good art. If my minor concerns with the casting of Jared Leto, and the somewhat forgettable CGI Rachael (Sean Young) could be removed, this movie would have been my number one pick for 2017, but even good simulations are always just a tad unrealistic.

theories Summarized

I hope at this point you’ve made the decision to check out this sequel, and I’ll be curious if you note the same things I did about the scale of the film, the beautiful intimacy of K and Joi’s relationship, and the poetry in a decaying Rick Deckard. Just like the original, I’ll likely have to watch this film a few times before all of the themes really sink in, and I have a theory that’ll be for my own good.

And incidentally, we have a new Watch Culture video to share with you too. It’s the original, the masterpiece, the timeless Blade Runner. This short review should give you some insights into why the 1982 classic deserves those accolades. And hopefully you enjoy it enough to like the video, leave a comment, and subscribe to both my blog and the YouTube channel!

Tim!

Peek A Boo, I See You (Ghost In The Shell (1995) review)

Deus ex machina are supposed to reveal truths of the world, not leave it covered in darkness. Which is why this film is rather prophetic, and should probably be in the queue for monthly consumption, at a minimum.

 

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Cast: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Oki, Tessho Genda
Director: Mamoru Oshii
re-released on blu-ray Sep 23, 2014
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Audience Score 89%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Mamoru Oshii is a Japanese director and screenwriter. He has directed a ton of anime films and television shows, including Urusei Yatsura, Red Spectacles, Ghost in the Shell, Avalon, and Patlabor 2: The Movie. His directorial style has often been detailed in how different it is to most films made in the United States, with visuals being the most important element to him, followed by story, and then characterizations.

The Wachowskis and James Cameron have been in awe of his work for decades, especially with Ghost in the Shell, so I thought it fitting to time my review of the original film with the release of the live-action remake. Because, well, it’s even more relevant today than it was 20+ years ago.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 2029, with the advance of cybernetic technology, the human body can be “augmented” or even completely replaced with cybernetic parts. Another significant achievement is the cyberbrain, a mechanical casing for the human brain that allows access to the Internet and other networks. An often-mentioned term is “ghost”, referring to the consciousness inhabiting the body (the “shell”).

Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka) is an assault-team leader for the Public Security Section 9 of “New Port City” in Japan. Following a request from Nakamura (Tessho Genda), chief of Section 6, she successfully assassinates a diplomat of a foreign country to prevent a programmer named Daita (Mitsuru Miyamoto) from defecting.

The Foreign Minister’s interpreter is ghost-hacked, presumably to assassinate VIPs in an upcoming meeting. Believing the perpetrator is the mysterious Puppet Master (Iemasa Kayumi), Kusanagi’s team follows the traced telephone calls that sent the virus. After a chase, they capture a garbage man and a thug. However, both are only ghost-hacked individuals with no clue about the Puppet Master. The investigation again comes to a dead end.

Megatech Body, a “shell” manufacturer with suspected close ties to the government, is hacked and assembles a cybernetic body. The body escapes but is hit by a truck. As Section 9 examines the body, they find a human “ghost” inside its computer brain. Unexpectedly, Nakamura arrives to reclaim the body. He claims that the “ghost” inside the brain is the Puppet Master himself, lured into the body by Section 6. The body reactivates itself, claims to be a sentient being and requests political asylum. After the Puppet Master initiates a brief argument about what constitutes a human, a camouflaged agent accompanying Nakamura starts a diversion and gets away with the body.

Having suspected foul play, Kusanagi’s team is prepared and immediately pursues the agent. Meanwhile, Section 9 researches “Project 2501,” mentioned earlier by the Puppet Master, and finds a connection with Daita, whom Section 6 tries to keep from defecting the country. Facing the discovered information, Daisuke Aramaki (Tamio Oki), chief of Section 9, concludes that Section 6 created the Puppet Master itself for various political purposes. This is why Section 6 is desperately trying to reclaim the body.

Kusanagi follows the car carrying the body to an abandoned building. It is protected by a large walking tank. Anxious to face the Puppet Master’s ghost, Kusanagi engages the tank without backup and is nearly killed. Her partner Batou (Akio Otsuka) arrives in time to save her, and helps connect her brain to the Puppet Master’s.

The Puppet Master explains to Kusanagi that he was created by Section 6. While wandering various networks, he became sentient and began to contemplate his existence. Deciding the essence of humanity is reproduction and mortality, he wants to exist within a physical brain that will eventually die. As he could not escape section 6’s network, he had to download himself into a cybernetic body. Having interacted with Kusanagi (without her knowledge), he believes she is also questioning her humanity, and they have a lot in common. He proposed merging their ghosts, in return, Kusanagi would gain all of his capabilities. Kusanagi agrees to the merge.

Snipers from Section 6 approach the building, intending to destroy the Puppet Master’s and Kusanagi’s brains to cover up Project 2501. The Puppet Master’s shell is destroyed, but Batou shields Kusanagi’s head in time to save her brain. As Section 9 closes in on the site, the snipers retreat.

“Kusanagi” wakes up in a new cyborg child body in Batou’s safehouse. She tells Batou that the entity within her body is neither Kusanagi nor the Puppet Master, but a combination of both. She promises Batou they will meet again, leaves the house and wonders where to go next.

For me, it’s tough not to watch this movie and be reminded of The Matrix. I had the unfortunate experience of watching that movie a great many years before this classic, and the repeated viewings of The Matrix trilogy over the years haven’t helped either. And so, the story is a familiar one, exploring self-identity as we relate to machines in a time when humans and machines have become interchangeable. God praise the internet, amirite? And the timeline is not that far away either, in both the film and reality.

Consciousness, humanity, autonomy, empathy, and mortality are all explored in a relatively short hour and twenty-some minutes. In a time when international corporations have basically done away with national identity too.The ghost in the shell is literally a play on the wandering consciousness that inhabits the meaty husk, and it wants to know if we hear it’s voice.

Pros: Visually compelling and with a message which has allowed it to age far better then films like Blade Runner or Total Recall, Ghost in the Shell is violent, emotional, and poetic to experience.

Cons: The individual characters are difficult to warm up to, but it might just be all of the robot parts they have imbedded.

Runtime: 1 hour 23 minutes

Points of Interest: Motoko’s eye are intentionally animated to not blink very often, giving her a feel of a doll, rather then a human. The title of the manga which inspired the film is written as an homage to the Arthur Koestler work, The Ghost in the Machine.

theories Summarized

So is the 2017 film better than the 1995 one? I’d like to think not, and not for the obvious whitewashing allusions that have been to popular on the internet over the past year or so. In fact, Mamoru Oshii has gone on record to state that the Major may or may not be Japanese, but regardless of her current appearance, her name and body have changed numerous times, and so it is in fact acceptable to have Scarlett Johansson in that role.

But I think the problem is that the anime far better depicts the story at hand, and that the visuals are far more compelling with their mix of traditional drawing and CGI. The Matrix will never be the same for me. And that’s no theory.

And speaking of things that The Matrix tried to wreak… Andre and I have a new Watch Culture video up for your viewing pleasure. Please tell us if you agree that Equilibrium is worth a watch, and if not, your comments are appreciated.

Tim!

Reading Is Hard (Hemingway to Orwell)

Reading is cathartic, or so I’ve heard. You get a psychological release because your mind is allowed to focus on something other than whatever it is that you had decided to be afraid of in life.

To be true to yourself, you have to uncover yourself from all that you thought you should be and finally become that which you truly are. To be courageous and graceful, under pressure. Never fearing death, but living for moments of love and greatness.

Clean and simple prose, that’s what I learned from Ernest Hemingway. He was a declarative writer and one that could turn a phrase without risk of excess.

I’m not sure if you read the first post in The Reading List series, but about a month ago I decided to meta-read The Sun Also Rises, and I learned a thing or two about Ernest Hemingway along the way.

The first thing I learned was that he had a very direct style of writing, and that style had a name – That his Iceberg Theory of writing is a beautiful metaphor for omission. If you know something, and are a strong writer, you can admit parts of a story and be assured that the reader will pick upon what you omitted because the story elements are implicit. To put it another way, icebergs only show a small portion of themselves on the surface of the water, which allows us to understand the whole of them all the better. Unless we are ignorant.

The second thing I learned is that a life half lived is not much of a life at all. Whatever Hemingway’s critics and fans would have us believe about his adventures in journalism, tragedies of war, foray’s into other countries, and personal struggles, Hemingway stood grounded in whatever activities held his attention throughout his life – And writing was the cement that held his house together. This further demonstrates the importance of focus, as an artist, but also enrichment as a human being.

And that is all I have to share on Hemingway for the moment.

Now, I turn back to the reading list for another book to read and another artist to consider. In case you forget, my goal is to read one book a month from 5 particular groupings. The 5 L’s of Language.

  • LIFE – Biographies/Art/Music
  • LOVE – Classic Fiction/Non-Fiction/Graphic Novels
  • LEARN – Business/Leadership/Self-Help
  • LABEL – Philosophy/Sociology/Psychology
  • LEET -The Internet

The author I’m going after this time around is George Orwell, and the novel is 1984. I was born in 1985, and have been influenced greatly by post-modern ideologies and post-apocalyptic stories for as long as I can remember, so I’ve decided to read a story by someone best known for a novel of dystopian life.

His influence on film is of particular note, with Orwellian ideas being explored to varying degrees in several critically acclaimed movies. Fahrenheit 451, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, THX 1138, A Clockwork Orange, Soylent Green, Blade Runner, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brazil, They Live, The Matrix, Minority Report, V for Vendetta, Children of Men, and Land of the Blind are all excellent examples.

Whatever you opinion of George Orwell, I’ll spend some time with him so see what I can glean and then share with you, dear readers. After all, reading is cathartic and exercise for the mind.

 

Regardless, I STILL think it’s a pretty neat way to keep myself accountable. But what do you think? I’m out of theories for today, but I hope this wisdom finds you well. Please share, subscribe and comment. Facebook and Twitter are good starting points. Otherwise, I’ll see you tomorrow with something timely.

Tim!

Tales To Astonish (Dream Theater, The Astonishing review)

I am the first in my own social network to admit that I know almost next to nothing about the intricacies of the metal genre of music. Between that and the country genre, I feel the most out of place listening and sharing my thoughts on that subject.

But life is supposed to be about stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing that which makes you the most afraid, or else you would live in fear and never see anything of the world than what you already know.

 

 

 

Dream Theater – The Astonishing
released January 29, 2016
******* 7/10

dreamtheatercoverjpg

Dream Theater is an American progressive metal band which has been active since 1985, by founding members John Petrucci, John Myung and Mike Portnoy.

They are well known in the metal community for their technical ability and ability to put together well crafted records – And that is why I’m glad I picked up Dream Theater’s The Astonishing.

Who would have thought that metal music could be so intricate and willing to explore concepts that we rarely see in other realms of the industry.

Well, if you asked my girlfriend, my Cross Talk co-host, or anybody who has been listening to the genre since it’s inception in the early 1970s, then they would say, duh obviously timotheories.

Dream Theater’s thirteenth studio release is lauded by other critics as an excellent portrayal of how music can represent characters and the development of a story. This might be naive on my part, but all the while listening to the record, I couldn’t help but think of stories like Peter and the Wolf, Star Wars, Dune, and Game of Thrones.

And after spending more time than I can count listening to Star Wars The Force Awakens theories recent;y, I’ve come to accept the King Arthur influencetial elements in both The Astonishing and The Force Awakens.

I’m going to borrow this snippet of how the concept album reads from another review I read because it’s just so darn apt, and I don’t want to rewrite what is already so eloquent –

Guitarist John Petrucci has written a double-disc sci-fi rock opera, set in a dystopian future in an invented country (the package contains maps). In it, music created and/or performed by humans has been outlawed by the state. Only government-sanctioned and programmed machines are entrusted with those functions. A small band of rebels cling to and fight for the vision (and redemption) of human music.

This kind of story is something that a self-proclaimed geek can get behind, and it helps to digest the prog-metal, pro-rock, and operatic elements of the album.

It’s difficult for me to speak about the evolution of the band, but if you compare these two clips, the first from their earlier days, and the second from this album, you can pretty obviously tell that Dream Theater has made a conscious effort to try something new here, and it’s pretty damn cool two-and-a-half hour ride.

I’ve already linked to it above, but The Gift of Music was particularly fun to listen to. Also check out Ravenskill, A Tempting Offer, and Astonishing.

 

 

 

I’ve said it before, but if sophistication and obsession over craft are hallmarks of good music then Dream Theater has it in spades, now unfortunately this isn’t exactly my cup of tea, so it’s somewhat difficult to gauge how this album fares against its brethren.

Regardless, I stepped out of my comfort zone and sampled a band that has reminded me just how refreshing a rock opera can be.

At the end of the day, its up to you to decide whether to buy this album, but I suggest  you give it a listen at the very least.

And that’s it for today’s Melodic Monday entry! I’ll see you dear readers tomorrow with a movie review!

Tim!