Blade Runner 2049

October 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

In 1982, Ridley Scott brought us “Blade Runner”, an intriguing, cerebral sci-fi flick set in the future, adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story entitled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. Make your own assessment of which had the better title; but I know what my answer’d be. The film wasn’t a success at the box office, despite having the star power of Harrison Ford, and some young talent like Sean Young. It was too slow, too dark, and miserable, in a year with “E.T.” and “Poltergeist”; even “Star Trek” gave audiences something to get excited about, in the world of science fiction. But “Blade Runner” was trying to be something different–a throwback to film noir, complete with hard boiled narration (that Harrison Ford reportedly hated). It was visually captivating, but little else.

Then, it gained a following in years to come. Now, it’s regarded as a classic, a golden standard of “thinking sci-fi”. Films like “Dark City” and “Gattaca” would come over a decade later, and were a little better received thanks to the groundbreaking “Blade Runner”. For me personally, “Blade Runner” never quite connected. I think because it had so much “stuff” in it, it kind of weighed itself down. The characters weren’t exactly very endearing, and the plot seemed to move in slow motion. The set design, the effects, were all magnificent. I still like to “look” at the film. But as a narrative, it just left me cold. Certainly I could appreciate what Scott was trying to do, and what message the film was saying about morality and humanity, and what it means to be human. What we take for granted, what we take with us, could be “tears in the rain”.

Now, 35 years later, we have a sequel. I was certainly interested, because I felt that with Scott again involved, maybe he could further develop the world he created back in 1982. Of course now, we are far into the future, with it being 2049. I’m sure this won’t spoil a thing–but Deckard is back, although his presence is couched in favor of our new Blade Runner, K (Ryan Gosling). K is part of a code that he is named after. He’s assigned to a case to “retire” a replicant on a farm. Replicants, if you’re familiar with “Blade Runner” lore, are robots designed after humans to resemble us completely, except for one trait: they lack empathy and are synthetic. They were mostly created as slaves, but some are “retired” (destroyed) if unwanted. If you’re not familiar, all of this explained in the opening sequence in text, so you aren’t completely lost.

Once K meets with the farmer (played by Dave Bautista), a fight ensues, with K being the victor and discovering something: replicant remains. And, the kicker–she was pregnant. This is unprecedented in replicant evolution, and there’s a race to destroy all remains of the all of it, including the child–who is alive. K is pursued by an employee of the Wallace corporation (who took over for the Tyrell Corporation following the first film), led by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), she’s a replicant as well and replicants can have some superhuman powers. You don’t really want to be Blade Runned by a replicant.

K has somewhat of a normal existence: he works for the LAPD, and though being a replicant himself, he is obedient in his job, and good at it. His boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) seems to like him and his ethic, and even somewhat protects him once it gets out that the remains of the pregnant replicant have been taken. K also has a “girlfriend”, an entity that works like a holographic Amazon Echo, and who can love you unconditionally, with only the push of a button. Named Joi (Ana de Armas), after the product, she believes there’s something special in K, even though he thinks he’s just your average…Joe.

But when one of his implanted memories turns out to be seen as “genuine”, something impossible for replicants as they have no living memory, he starts to believe her, and–in himself.

But this sort of self journey only serves as background noise to an otherwise noisy, and would-be thought provoking film. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours long, you’d think director Denis Villenueve would utilize the run time to explore K’s existence more than just a few flashbacks, and link his to Deckard’s and other replicants. But this is an insulated film, and Gosling is always tough to read. So again, there’s an emotional hole that could’ve been filled with the kind of story this is telling–which has to do with literal creation. It doesn’t seem to drown in cliches of religious symbolism, thankfully, but it spends an awful lot of time on lingering shots of the world–colorful at that–that this film exists in. Yes, it’s gorgeous at times; sometimes, ugly. I think there’s a metaphor in there, something that can be divined from all the rainy, claustrophobic city sequences; then, contrasted with quiet beauty of a sprawling desert, or even inside an office building. There’s a lot of empty space, and that rings true for the film’s narrative. Just like in the first film, it seems to suffer from taking a short story subject and putting it into full length feature film mode. “Blade Runner” was only 2 hours though; this is almost 3. With that extra hour, we really don’t get much more juice that had already been squeezed from the original. We get very similar themes of self-worth, what it means to be human–and what the importance of one’s existence can be.

Harrison Ford looks tired in just about everything he does lately, and even though it’s nice to see him again, it feels a bit sad too. His character is alone, and has really nothing to look forward to. Spending more time with him, rather than leaving him for the third act as another MacGuffin, would have really strengthened the film.

The look of the film is exhilarating, and a lot of the film does actually work fine. But the bloated run time, including pretty much all scenes with Wallace, really bog the film down. Leto is a great actor, but his character has really no importance to the overall plot. And his musings are rather dull, instead of being ominous or foreboding. He does have a singular function, of basically being the puppet master of his creations. But Luv, his henchwoman, basically has a mind of her own and makes a fine villain on her own. She certainly doesn’t seem the type who needs to “obey”.

There is also another subplot of an uprising of replicants. I would imagine this would serve as a centerpiece for another sequel–but the film doesn’t work enough for me to want to invest myself in another “Blade Runner” film. As it stands, it falls flat, and only becomes relevant for K’s journey that I think he would’ve figured out eventually anyway. The resolution for Deckard is a little more uplifting and satisfying, but by the time we get there, I was ready to bolt out of my seat.

If you want a thinking sci-fi film, put more thought into it. That should be obvious–but also, make the plot interesting. Make it complete. This came off as a bit fractured, and it really hampered the full enjoyment I think a person could have with it.

If this were a replicant, I wouldn’t have a problem with it being “retired”.

My rating: :?

La La Land

January 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

“La La Land” is a musical that begins like any other musical does, but doesn’t end like many I’ve seen. It’s written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who made 2014’s “Whiplash” and co-wrote “10 Cloverfield Lane”. “La La Land” has moments of the delirium of a typical musical, mixed with some realism and cynicism that is usually saved for another genre. It is an interesting concept, and for the most part, it works quite well.

It begins with a musical number that you’d think would set the tone for a very upbeat, silly, and theatrical experience. We’re introduced to our two leads: Mia (Emma Stone), on her way to an audition; and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who’s driving around learning music. Both are stuck in an endless traffic jam that sets off the song “Another Day of Sun”, boisterous and toe-tapping, but not necessarily memorable musically.

From there, we see that Mia works on the Warner Bros. lot as a barista, one of thousands of hopeful actresses who is always either on her way to work, a party, or an audition. Sebastian is a jazz pianist who is stuck playing simple Christmas tunes at a bar, working for tips and a little money. The two first meet inauspiciously on the highway, with Sebastian and Mia exchanging annoyed glances due to the traffic jam. When she finds herself in the bar that he’s playing, she witnesses him break from his script and start playing a jazz riff that winds up getting him fired. But she’s taken by the moment, even though it’s not shared by him. When they meet again, we’re treated to a much nicer song (“A Lovely Night”), after they run into each other at a party in which Sebastian is now with an 80’s cover pop band.

Of course, they fall in love, each encouraging each other to follow their dreams. Sebastian wants to open his own jazz bar, and Mia finds that she’s at her best if she creates her own role and is prompted by Sebastian to write a one woman show for herself. In Los Angeles, the city of angels, it’s also the city of dreams. While the pair try to make it through together, moving in with each other, some opportunities arise. Sebastian is offered by an old friend (John Legend) to play in his band. They’re more modern, and pop influenced, but still considered “jazz” enough for Sebastian to join. They also pay extremely well. The only other drawback, besides going against Sebastian’s purity roots, is that they’re always on tour or recording a record. For Mia, she stays at home and works on her play, setting up a premiere night that doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped. To make things worse, Sebastian misses it due to an engagement in photo shoots and a music video production.

The strain of the relationship, on top of the pressures of trying to “make it”, cause the two to drift. The third act of the film is predictable, with them going their own way–but the ending is a bit of a surprise, for a musical. This was what I liked most about it. Some of the structure reminded me of the 1981 film “Pennies from Heaven” with Steve Martin, especially how the film concludes.

While the film is a love story, it’s more about the pursuit of one’s goals rather than the pursuit of happiness with another person. After all, that’s Hollywood. Much of your life in tinseltown is spent sacrificing, compromising. Falling in love, but not staying in love. But can Mia and Sebastian break those chains, and make it together? It’s certainly something we want to see happen.

The film’s strength is in its little doses of humor and Gostling and Stone’s performances. The musical numbers are, for the most part, very average. There are a few exceptions–“City of Stars”, the film’s key song, and the catalyst to drawing me in completely; and, “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme”, which is sprinkled throughout the film. Some of the jazz numbers are very well done as well. It has a few stagnant sequences, and can be a bit laborious at a little over two hours of running time; but it’s most enjoyable watching these two actors enjoy their screen time together, singing and dancing (Stone better at the singing and Gosling better at the dancing).

In a time of over saturation with remakes, reboots, sequels, and countless adaptations, it’s also refreshing to see a wholly original work, even if it is sometimes a cliche’d musical. It’s a nice break from the grind of moviegoing these days, and there are definitely moments in the film where you’d like to stay there just a little longer. After all, it is la la land.

My rating: :-)