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!

City of Stars (La La Land review)

What do you mean you don’t like jazz?

It just means that when I listen to it, I don’t like it.

The most candid of responses, mixed with sweetness and optimism. That’s the kind of movie you can really get behind, you know? The kind that will propel film into the 21st century and get us out of our hum drum lives, the lives we need to escape from after the great war.

Just kidding, this movie happened in 2016, and it’s about the future.

La La Land (2016)

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, John Legend
Director: John Lee Hancock
released on blu-ray April 25, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 83%
The Guardian: *****/*****

 

I’ve written about American director Damien Chazelle before, when I decided to review Whiplash last August. So yeah, we already know that Chazelle is a musical whiz, and that he can bring music and film to life in an epic pairing. Owed to his own musical background of course. Which he fully and completely does with the construction of 2016’s La La Land.

Here is a brief overview of the plot, courtesy of Wikipedia.

 Stuck in traffic on a Los Angeles highway (“Another Day of Sun”), Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, has a moment of road rage with Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist. Her subsequent audition goes poorly, where the casting director takes a call in the middle of an emotional scene. That night, Mia’s roommates take her to a lavish party in the Hollywood Hills (“Someone in the Crowd”). She walks home after her car is towed.

During a gig at a restaurant, Sebastian slips into a passionate jazz improvisation despite warnings from the owner (J. K. Simmons) to stick to the setlist of traditional Christmas songs. Mia overhears the music as she passes by (“Mia and Sebastian’s Theme”). Moved, she enters the restaurant, but Sebastian is fired. As he storms out, Mia attempts to compliment him, but he brushes her off.

Months later, Mia runs into Sebastian at a party where he plays in a 1980s pop cover band; she teases him by requesting “I Ran (So Far Away)”, a song he considers an insult for “a serious musician”. After the gig, the two walk to their cars, lamenting each other’s company despite the chemistry between them (“A Lovely Night”).

The next day, Sebastian arrives at Mia’s work, and she shows Sebastian around the movie lot, where she works as a barista, while explaining her passion for acting. Sebastian takes Mia to a jazz club, describing his passion for jazz and desire to open his own club. They warm up to each other (“City of Stars”). Sebastian invites Mia to a screening of Rebel Without a Cause; Mia accepts, forgetting a commitment with her current boyfriend. Bored with the double date with her boyfriend, she runs to the theater, finding Sebastian as the film begins. The two conclude their evening with a romantic dance at the Griffith Observatory (“Planetarium”).

After more failed auditions, Mia decides, at Sebastian’s suggestion, to write a one-woman play. Sebastian begins to perform regularly at a jazz club (“Summer Montage”), and the two move in together. Sebastian’s former classmate Keith (John Legend) invites him to be the keyboardist in his fusion jazz band, where he will be offered a steady income. Although dismayed by the band’s pop style, Sebastian signs after overhearing Mia trying to convince her mother that Sebastian is working on his career. Mia attends one of their concerts (“Start a Fire”) but is disturbed, knowing Sebastian does not enjoy his band’s music.

During the band’s first tour, Mia and Sebastian get into an argument; she accuses him of abandoning his dreams, while he claims she liked him more when he was unsuccessful. Mia leaves, insulted and frustrated. Sebastian misses Mia’s play due to a photo shoot with the band that he had forgotten. The play is a disaster; few people attend, and Mia overhears dismissive comments. Despondent and unable to pay the theater back, she moves back home to Boulder City, Nevada.

Sebastian receives a call from a casting director who attended Mia’s play, inviting her to a film audition. Sebastian drives to Boulder City and persuades Mia to attend. The casting directors ask Mia to tell a story; she sings about her aunt who inspired her to pursue acting (“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”). Sebastian encourages her to devote herself to the opportunity. They profess they will always love each other but are uncertain of their future.

Five years later, Mia is a famous actress and happily married to another man (Tom Everett Scott), with whom she has a daughter. One night, the couple stumbles upon a jazz bar. Noticing the “Seb’s” logo she had once designed, Mia realizes Sebastian has opened his club. As Sebastian notices Mia in the crowd, he plays their love theme and the two imagine what might have been had their relationship worked perfectly (“Epilogue”). Before Mia leaves with her husband, she shares a smile with Sebastian.

What a whirlwind! I’ve seen this movie three times now, and I still can’t but smile when I think about it. Gosling and Stone have some of the best chemistry of all time, better than Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. I could go on for a while.

Point being, that while this appears to be a film about Hollywood, it’s moreso a film about love and the dangers of it, but despite those dangers, it’s far better to experience love and live a full life than to wait for life to happen.

Pros: The two leads play well off of each other, as they always do. Stone is beautiful and heartbreaking in her authenticity, and Gosling is too warm hearted to really be that rakish. The homage to the passage of time is so well done you’ll get all the feels.

Cons: There are an ever-present string of cliches to snip through as you watch, but you have to know the musicals that came before to be truly effected by it.

Runtime: 2 hours 8 minutes

Points of Interest: Emma Watson turned down this role to film the live adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Ryan Gosling learned to play piano for this role, and John Legend learned to play guitar.

This is a love affair fully realized, passing through seasons, time and space, and ending on a high note. No, it is not a happily ever after scenario, but La La Land doesn’t need to be in order to showcase the starry idealism of today’s youth. Talented and romantic, these kids are paying homage to what has proceeded them, without falling into the tropes of the musical genre. Admittedly, I struggled with the very first sequence of the film, but I think like any good musical, Chazelle is capable of drawing you into this world and getting you to settle into it’s rules.

theories Summarized

There are musical numbers throughout this love story, but what I find most interesting of all is the love story that Chazelle has with this city. La La Land is so happy and sweet in it’s outpouring of emotion, that you have to wonder what Los Angeles did right to have this director fall so hard for her. I have a few theories, but I don’t kiss and tell.

Tim!

Explicit Content (The Nice Guys review)

Pornography isn’t supposed to be intellectually stimulating, it’s supposed to arouse your sexual organs and get your mind on the topic of sexual intercourse. It generally exploits the sexual act, but sometimes there is a story to help the viewer get into a theme and turn them on.

But what if you throw politics into your pornographic video? Doesn’t it lose it’s lustre? Well, this week’s movie review explores exactly that, with some gratuitous results.

 

 

 

The Nice Guys (2016)

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Kim Basinger
Director: Shane Black
released on blu-ray August 23, 2016
********* 9/10

nice_guys_ver2_xlg

IMDB: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, Audience Score 80%
The Guardian: ****/*****

 

Shane Black is an American writer, director, producer, and sometimes actor.

With a very interesting history in film, he has written the first two Lethal Weapon movies, The Monster Squad, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, and disaster The Long Kiss Goodnight before venturing into the realm of director a decade later in a great career recovery. As a writer/director he has been responsible for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3 (which Chris loves to remind me is basically the same movie as KKBB) and now The Nice Guys. It should also be noted that he has The Predator sequel, The Destroyer, and Doc Savage on his plate to release in the next few years.

Are you get a theme here folks? Black is excellently prepared to create action based movie, especially those which fit inside of noir universes. So where does The Nice Guys fit into this mix, you ask?

Well, it’s kind of an amazing story about two second-rate PIs that initially start out at odds but end up working together to investigate what is supposed to be the suicide of a Los Angeles porn star in the 1970s. One of the men, Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is hired by the victims aunt to find Misty, as the aunt believes Misty is still alive. March is somewhat skeptical, but takes the job. He then finds out that a missing girl named Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley) is involved. Amelia hires enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to keep March off her trail. But after he is jumped by two thugs looking for Amelia, Healy realizes they are part of something larger, and involves March so they can work together to solve the Misty Mountain suicide. March’s teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) tags along as well, as she doesn’t think March will follow through.

The two PIs and Holly eventually unravel a much larger plot that involves an experimental porn/documentary which Misty Mountains starred in, and which Amelia helped create. The video exposes how Detroit automakers are working with the government to prevent a mandatory inclusion of catalytic converters into new vehicles. Amelia’s mother Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger) is an important official in the US Department of Justice, but it turns out she is part of the conspiracy as well, and has been working with the thugs to confuse March and Healy.

Ultimately, March and Healy are able to get a copy of the film to the police after it is shown at an auto show as part of a secret protest by the projectionist Misty and Amelia worked with. Judith goes to jail, but the Detroit automakers are immune from charges. Healy and March decide to continue to work together, and name their agency, The Nice Guys.

It is an excellent story wrapped about a buddy cop comedy, and featuring a healthy amount of self-aware violence and dark humour. The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is undeniable, but Angourie Rice is excellent as the bright-eyed, yet sharp, Holly. Her inclusion manages to elevate a form of filmmaking that has seen better years.

Pros: It’s oddly refreshing given that the premise of the story is about clean air and dirty pictures. The contrasting styles of it’s two male leads, and the absurdist situations they get themselves into well keep you engaged. And the conscious efforts of young Holly March provide a ground.

Cons: The story felt a little pressured to follow through in places, it might have been nice (intentional pun) to see some breathability between scenes and set changes.

Runtime1 hour 56 minutes

Points of Interest: As the movies starts, and Holland March is monologuing, a porno theatre is playing a movie called Bang Bang Kiss Kiss. Shane Black films typically feature Christmas in them, this one has a scene towards the ends that takes place at Christmas.

This film features incredibly common action tropes of people being thrown through windows, traditional explosions, and shootouts. But the action is never the centre of the story, rather it reminds you how odd sex and death are, and makes your head shake as work through the plot of the film. The Nice Guys is a buddy cop comedy for this generation, a little more sophisticated, but not completely removed from it’s history.

 

 

 

The Nice Guys doesn’t get too hung up on the pornography itself or even the industry as it’s story progresses along, but it does find an avenue to engage it’s audience in a rather intense way. This has a lot to do with Black’s familiarity with the action and comedy genres, and his ability to use both in interesting ways. The Nice Guys aren’t really that nice, but they get the job done.

The New Anti-Heroes On The Block (The Big Short review)

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was no laughing matter. A lot of people lost their jobs, homes, and hope because of the short-sided greed of those in much higher positions of wealth.

It threatened the potential collapse of the largest financial banks, which some feared would send us into a new dark ages, and was eventually prevented by monetary aid of national governments.

In brief, it was fucked up.

The aftermath was that we experienced a global recession for four years, and even now businesses are hesitant to share wealth and distribute resources as readily as they were before. This Theatrical Tuesday entry looks at the “heroes” who saw it coming, and how they dealt with it.

 

 

 

The Big Short (2015)

Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Director: Adam McKay
released on blu-ray March 15, 2016
********* 9/10

The-Big-Short-600x936

IMDB: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, Audience Score 88%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Adam McKay is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. Known for his comedic chops, he has directed both Anchorman movies, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys, which are were all lead by his creative partner, Will Ferrell.

The Big Short is the first film McKay has directed which doesn’t star Will Ferrell, and while it is considered a more dramatic story, it has a lot of his typical satire elements, which fit nicely in the McKay fabric.

Taken from Wikipedia and edited,

In 2005, eccentric hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovers that the U.S. housing market is extremely unstable, being based on subprime loans that are high risk and providing fewer and fewer returns. Predicting that the market will collapse sometime in the second quarter of 2007, he realizes that he can profit from this situation by creating a credit default swapmarket, allowing him to bet against the housing market. He visits several major banks and investment dealers with this idea; these firms, believing that the housing market is secure, accept his proposal. This earns the ire of Burry’s clients who believe that he is wasting their money and demand that he stop his activities, but he refuses. As the predicted time of the collapse approaches, his investors lose their confidence and consider pulling their money out, but Burry places limitations on withdrawals, much to his investors’ anger. However, the market collapses just as he predicted and he produces 489% profits from the plan.

Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) hears of Burry’s actions from one of the bankers Burry dealt with, and soon realizes that Burry’s predictions are likely true. He decides to put his own stake in the credit default swap market. A misplaced phone call alerts hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) to his plans, and Baum is convinced to join Vennett. The two discover that the impending market collapse is being further perpetuated by the sale of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), groups of poor loans that are packaged together and given fraudulent AAA ratings due to the conflict of interest and dishonesty of the rating agencies.

When Baum attends the American Securitization Forum in Las Vegas, he interviews CDO manager Mr. Chau (Byron Mann), who has created synthetic CDOs, making what is described as a chain of increasingly large bets on the faulty loans. Baum realizes, much to his horror, that the scale of the fraud will cause a complete collapse of the economy. Baum’s business partners convince him to go through with the credit default swaps, profiting from the situation at the banks’ expense.

Eager young investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) accidentally discover a prospect by Vennett and also decide to become involved in the credit default swaps. Since they are below the capital threshold for an ISDA Master Agreement needed to pull off the trades necessary to profit from the situation, they enlist the aid of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). The three visit the Mortgage Securities Forum in Las Vegas, where they manage to successfully make the deals. Shipley and Geller are initially ecstatic, but Rickert is disgusted by their essentially celebrating an impending economic collapse and soon-to-be-lost lives. The two are horrified, and take a much more emotional stake in the collapse by trying to tip off the press and their families about the upcoming disaster. Ultimately, they profit immensely, but are left with their faith in the system broken.

How this movie manages to be both detail oriented and funny, while approaching a still raw subject, is kind of amazing, and what is more impressive is the fact that it does this while featuring an ensemble cast.

Pros: Steve Carell has a fantastic turn as neurotic and disenfranchised hedge fund manager Mark Baum. Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt do okay too. Also the Margot Robbie bit, that kind of pokes fun at The Wolf of Wall Street was hilarious.

Cons: The movie runs a little long, and the slow start featuring fourth-wall breaking pieces feels strange at first, but then the movie tosses that out, speeds up really quick, and crams a lot in towards the end.

Runtime: 130 minutes

Points of Interest: No special effects were used for Michael Burry’s glass eye. That is all Christian Bale, and kinda mesmerizing. The character Mark Baum is based on real-life money manager Steve Eisman. This is the second Michael Lewis book that Brad Pitt has helped produce and acted in. The first was Moneyball.

This is both entertaining and engaging, with the heroes of the story being flawed and real, because they are based on real people and adaptations of real people who were involved in the housing crisis of 2008. The fact that The Other Guys is a McKay movie makes a lot of sense, as that movie features the same types of villains as this one.

The fact that The Big Short depicts it’s leads as heroes is a bit ridiculous if you ask me. It assumes that these men actually did something for the greater good. Yes, they dealt with danger, adversity, and their personal reputations to expose and react to the impending housing crisis, but most of them profited from it.

Michael Burry and Mark Baum “kind of” walked away, but they made a lot of money in the process. And even Brad Pitt’s financial guru pariah got something out of it.

I read a review that said you’ll leave the movie feeling angry, and that is true, but I get a sick feeling in my stomach when I think that we get excited about people making money in a situation when so many lost out. Something to chew on.

No more theories today, friends. Come back on Wednesday for some Wisdom.

Tim!