Electric Ladies, or, Blade Runner 2049 Again

The Blu-ray came out, so I’m allowed to write about this one again. For some more Blade Runner 2049 jaw-jacking, check out my initial piece on the film.

blade runner 2049 again

Ry-Guy taking in the finest of art.

The force of antagonism in Blade Runner 2049, embodied by Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace, is one of spiteful masculinity viciously perusing control of the means of reproduction, that inherently female power that is in many ways the film’s MacGuffin.

Wallace is the figurehead of the Wallace Corporation, which has taken over production of seemingly everything, to include the franchise’s infamous Replicants – an IP Wallace has inherited from the remains of the original 1982 film’s Tyrell Corporation.

Wallace the man is one of impossible ambitions. An opening crawl informs us that his aptitude for synthetic farming essentially saved the populous from certain doom. Before we ever meet the character we are informed that he has mastered the means to sustain life. When we are introduced to the character he immediately likens himself to God and takes to waxing poetic about his desires for expansion and it’s hindrance due to his lack of that ever-so elusive ability to create life that creates life. He has created Replicants. He has created female Replicants. But he has not replicated the ability to procreate. And boy oh boy is he upset about that.

Wallace presents a sort of masculinity that defines womanhood by, and reduces it to, what it can do that he cannot. It’s a masculinity that punishes femininity for its power, the sort of masculinity that sees a power it does not and cannot possess and seemingly out of spite reduces it to sex, to material, to an object. It’s an aggressively antagonistic masculinity that the film reminds us is far from science fiction.

Late in the film Ryan Gosling’s Agent K finds himself exploring a dilapidated metropolis adorned with the crumbling statues of smooth, sensual women, their forms contorted and controlled by hands of creators whose mindsets are not exactly difficult to ascertain. The statues are but a forerunner to the Replicant, that artificial reproduction of humanity that, as we are reminded by Wallace’s go-to Replicant Femme-Fatale, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), most definitely comes in a pleasure model. But Blade Runner 2049 also takes the pursuit of the replication of femininity further than its predecessor with another of Wallace Corporation’s products, Joi (Ana de Armas), a holographic, artificially intelligent girlfriend that can be bought like an iPhone and customized down to the ethnicity, hair style and lip color as easily as changing a ringtone.

Joi’s relationship with K is far more than that of an ol’ horn dog and a sex robot, which makes it all the more sinister. With Joi we see Wallace’s desire not just to usurp the means of reproduction from womanhood, but to replace it entirely. For K, Joi is a source of emotional intelligence, of empathy, of sympathy. Joi, the product, is advertised as “Everything You Want.” It’s a product that insists that women are defined by the masculine need they fulfill and that those needs can instead be fulfilled through artificial means.

It’s no coincidence than that we have a Replicant named Luv and an A.I. named Joi. They exist to freely provide the rewards a man might otherwise find from actually interacting with and appreciating a human female. And yet they aren’t quite “love” or “joy” are they?

Niander Wallace isn’t exactly Anton Chigurh or the shark from Jaws when it comes to cinematic villainy, but he is an effective display of a particularly potent toxic masculinity that begins with the spite for and jealousy of the inherent power of the most reductive idea of womanhood and crescendos forever in a limitless echo-chamber, ever fueled by failed attempts to replicate and usurp that power.

Much has been made of Blade Runner 2049’s representation of women. Similar to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film in which race is presented as a crucial component despite it’s disinterest in folks that aren’t white, Blade Runner 2049 takes a pretty deep dive into femininity without taking a deep dive into any female characters.

While by no means a Bechdel award-winner, Blade Runner 2049 is an interesting examination, and arguable condemnation, of the worst of masculinity.

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When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong, or, Blade Runner 2049

blade runner 2049

That flea collar though.

Look, I get Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott’s 1982 adaptation of the Philip K. Dick Novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” is cool, but I’ll be the first to offer an exaggerated eye roll every time I see it at the top of a list of the Greatest Science Fiction Films of All Time. So when it came to the prospect of a sequel thirty-five years in the making, I wasn’t sure what I wanted as an audience member.

Was Blade Runner 2049 going to be a hip and modernized blockbuster take on the world of Rick Deckard and the Replicants, with bombastic effects for the kids and winking allusions to the original film for the fans? Was it going to be a kitschy pair of nostalgia goggles dogmatically adhering to the minutia of a cult classic, unable to see the forest for the trees? Was it going to be a collection of nifty set pieces and action sequences cobbled together with just enough ambiance to justify the name?

Given my lukewarm opinion of the original I wasn’t even sure what I wanted the film to be.

Ultimately, director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is defined by the aspects of Blade Runner it holds dear, for better or worse. For my money, it is almost without exception for the better.

Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel that is a true spiritual successor to its predecessor. It doesn’t concern itself with recapturing the glory of Blade Runner’s most iconic scenes and lines. It’s too disciplined a film to get caught in the weeds of nostalgia. Blade Runner 2049 isn’t a film desperate to recreate “Tears in Rain” it’s a stylish film on the vanguard of visual effects that meanders through a neon-noir narrative, refusing to indulge the full blockbuster scope of its own implications.

Blade Runner was no blockbuster, fiscally or narratively, and though it has gained a rabid following in the decades since its release, 2049 is careful to remain a sequel to the film that came out in 1982, rather than a response to the sprawling, aggrandized reputation said film has since garnered. It stays true to the noir roots of the original, presenting a science fiction story that hints at infinite scope but never gets too far off of the street. It recreates the lauded aesthetic and art direction established in the original without smothering itself in green screens. Hans Zimmer conjures a convincing enough facsimile of the contemplative, stylish melancholy of Vangelis’ score for the original without just dripping a heaping portion of synthesizers all over the proceedings.

Blade Runner 2049’s reverence for its source material runs far deeper than its most marketable characteristics.

It’s telling then, that where Blade Runner 2049 fell short for me was in its most marketable, bankable facet: Harrison Ford.

Blade Runner 2049 does not get made without Harrison Ford attached. This I understand. And Ford turns in a solid performance. But, where the film’s reverence for its Blade Runner’s sense of style and storytelling is admirable and disciplined, its reverence for its progenitor’s protagonist feels misplaced.

Rick Deckard is not Han Solo. Rick Deckard is not Indiana Jones. Though the character’s introduction in 2049 is given the sense of gravity afforded Han Solo’s “Chewie, we’re home,” the character has never generated that sort of fanfare. Several times the film feels as though it is trying to conjure a sense of “classic Rick” that isn’t really there because Deckard’s place in pop culture is at most concerned with his humanity or artificiality rather than any given character trait.

Blade Runner 2049 is at its best following Ryan Gosling’s K down a meandering existential rabbit hole, and while it’s awesome to see Harrison Ford reprise Rick Deckard, the script allows his character to hijack a film that was doing just fine on its own, rather than enriching it. But of course, an abundance of Harrison Ford isn’t exactly the most compelling complaint in the world.

2049 not only has a respect for its predecessor that is far from a given in sequels, it has the intellect and self-control to elaborate and explore characteristics that run deeper than a marketing campaign can touch. I didn’t expect Blade Runner 2049 to be the film it turned out to be, but I suspected I would like it more than the original and I at least predicted that much accurately.

Unfortunately, much as the the movie-going public of 1982 didn’t real give a shit about Blade Runner. the movie-going public of 2017 didn’t really give a shit about Blade Runner 2049’s disciplined reverence for Blade Runner.

Having been released over a month ago (look I got a lot on my plate), in hindsight Blade Runner 2049’s less-than-stellar commercial reception was perhaps inevitable given that aforementioned adherence to the heart and soul of a film that suffered the same fate, but I suspect that same adherence makes it likely to retain a strong, steadily growing fan base in the years to come.

I for one will be eagerly awaiting Blade Runner 2084.

 

The Nice Guys, or, Old Man Noir

theniceguys

Stylish AF

Director Shane Black’s new film The Nice Guys is the best movie to come out of 2016 thus far. It’s funny, fun, charming and boasts a cinematic duo for the ages in Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.

The Nice Guys represents the refined, classy elder statesman every genre should aspire to become.

Fairly recently Steven Spielberg caused a flurry of internet activity by asserting that superhero movies were destined to go the way of the Western. I suspect the comment rubbed some fans of the genre the wrong way because it perhaps implied that it was little more than a fad destined to go extinct.

But the Western isn’t extinct. The genre is far from dead. It’s just older.

Where once Westerns drunkenly paraded through the streets every weekend arm in arm with their dime-a-dozen peers now they rear their heads far more sparingly, maybe at a holiday work function or neighborhood barbecue, with a sense of refinement curated over the decades.

Westerns are no longer an inescapable driving force in cinema like the superhero movies of today, but when a No Country For Old Men or Django Unchained pops up, cinema pays attention.

The same can be said of film noir. And what the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino have done for the Western, Shane Black has done for noir with The Nice Guys.

The Nice Guys is at once acutely aware of both the trappings and stereotypes of noir film and the tastes and temperament of the modern filmgoer. Like Drive or Inherent Vice, The Nice Guys manages to wield a self-awareness of its genre without leaning on parody or nostalgia. It’s an excellent entry in a canon of film that isn’t dead or extinct but, like the Western, just older.

Steven Spielberg is right, obviously. I mean, of course he’s right. That’s what happens to genres. It’s a life cycle. Marvel and DC can plan their films well into 2050, but they aren’t really the ones in charge. One day, with any luck, after an inevitable, embarrassing midlife crisis, the superhero film genre will age with dignity, let its hair grey a little, spend a decade finding itself, and turn out a few quiet, dignified, post-bubble films as good as The Nice Guys.

“Biggest, Shortest, My Hat is Like a CDO,” or, The Big Short

bigshort

$$$!!!

The Big Short, director Adam McKay’s film based on author Michael Lewis’ book chronicling several outlying investors who were able to predict the 2007 financial crisis and profit from it, is truly next level. The screenplay, the directing, the acting, the editing, everything in the film fires on all cylinders. I had no intention of enjoying a movie that for all intents and purposes appears to be about a bunch of rich white guys shuffling money to and fro, but when a film is this well made you really don’t have a say in the matter

The Big Short is at varying points a gut-wrenching drama, a side-splitting comedy, something of a documentary and just a straight up economics lecture. It morphs seamlessly in and out of fiction and in and out of comedy due in no small part to the often breakneck editing that keeps the film moving forward at a brisk pace.

Further smoothing out what could have been an extremely disjointed movie are the performances. Ryan Gosling in particular is able to move from narrator to character to lecturer with ease. The standout performance, however, is Steve Carell, who serves as the film’s beating heart buried deep inside the sterile, artificial organs of finance. He’s the closest thing to an audience stand-in there is in a world packed full of jargon and doublespeak. Even when it’s difficult to understand the specifics of what is happening Carell’s acting is able to communicate the necessary information.

But even Carell, bleeding heart and all, is no hero. The Big Short is a movie about dudes making money off of an economic collapse brought on by greedy, ignorant people selling empty promises to folks who didn’t know any better.

There are no heroes in The Big Short. Arguably, there’s nothing but varying degrees of antagonism. And worse still, as you may know from being alive in the world, there is no resolution. No retribution or justice. In that sense The Big Short is something of a two act story: the set up of the inciting incident, the execution of the inciting indigent and that’s it.

There’s a question mark shaped hole where a protagonist should be, and that isn’t creative license.

The Big Short is hilarious and poignant and smart but above all else it is utterly disillusioning. It’ll make you feel hopeless and small and angry. But it’ll also help you understand the most devastating economic event of our time and, most importantly, it might just inspire you to look at the shit show of financial and economic authority with a healthy and well-earned distrust.

A Movie Review in Three Acts, or, Only God Forgives

Expectations can make or break a movie. You could wind up hating a decent movie because you thought it was going to be the next Dark Knight. You could wind up loving a god awful movie because you expected it to be the next any movie with Kathryn Heigl.

Ryan Gosling is The Notebook

Ryan Gosling is The Notebook

When I first saw the poster for Only God Forgives, an image of a viciously bruised and beaten Ryan Gosling, my expectations were through the roof. Only God Forgives is something of a spiritual successor to Drive, as it reunites director Nicolas Winding Refn and delicious heartthrob Ryan Gosling.

I love Drive. A lot. Ergo I absolutely could not wait to check out Only God Forgives.

Fortunately or unfortunately – that has yet to be seen – for me, Only God Forgives’ opening weekend must have been a busy one for me because I didn’t get around to seeing it. I did, however, get around to checking out the reviews.

Does anyone like the movie Only God Forgives? Because they’re doing a pretty good job of hiding.

I didn’t end up seeing Only God Forgives in theaters. But I don’t take critics’ word for anything and in the months following the film’s release I couldn’t help but think to myself “what if they just don’t get it and I would get it?”

Also, again, the movie’s poster is really cool.

Now Only God Forgives is on Netflix. Cool poster and all. As of this writing I haven’t seen it yet. But I’m about to hit play. As much as I want to be excited for Only God Forgives, it’s impossible for me to forget about the terrible reception the movie received and how even the less popular movies I’m a fan of aren’t as completely loathed as Only God Forgives. And yet it’s impossible for me not to have a hint of excitement because despite all of the terrible reviews when I hear Refn and Gosling I think Drive.

I haven’t watched Only God Forgives yet, but I’m going to right now. I’m expecting violence, maybe a hint of pretension, quiet Ryan Gosling and probably a pretty cool soundtrack. I’ll get back to you in a paragraph.

 For pacing’s sake take this time to imagine me sitting in an arm chair with a glass of triple distilled scotch, staring at a television screen. If you know what I look like, you’re welcome. If not, just pretend you do. Now pretend I’m making, like, a laughing face. Now a sad face. Now a scared face. Now, like, a reluctant combination of relief and affection like “oh Ryan.” Maybe an angry face too. Finally, pretend I’m exhaling with great exaggeration, you know, like, “wow, oh boy, yikes.”

And we’re back

HAWT

Going into Only God Forgives my primary concern was that it was going to be filled to the brim with gratuitous violence and make me upset and uncomfortable. A secondary concern of mine was that the movie would just be abrasive and stupid for abrasive stupidity’s sake.

But I never worried that when I finally watched Only God Forgives I would get straight up bored.

Whoops.

Only God Forgives is a gorgeous movie shot at a very deliberate, Kubrick pace. Great care is taken to frame every shot and the camera and actors often linger in a meditative silence long before and after anything actually happens.

It doesn’t rely on cat people and unobtanium, but make no mistake Only God Forgives is a visual masterpiece.

But twenty minutes into the movie even a perfect shot of Ryan Gosling standing in a doorway is just kind of, you know, Ryan Gosling standing in a doorway.

The movie is just as rich in visuals as it is in vague theme, metaphor and symbolism, which more often than not seem like little more than suggestions.

A mysterious, older man appears throughout the streets of Bangkok to pass judgment on those who cross his path, wielding a samurai sword with which he gracefully enforces his verdicts. He’s an Old Testament God walking about a New Testament world turned to rot, corruption and degradation. His word is passed down from on high at karaoke clubs as policemen listen to him intently. He is master of his domain and he tends to it like a garden with equal parts violence and justice.

He also feels more like a symbol than a character.

Check out this fella.

Check out this fella.

Ryan Gosling plays Julian, a somewhat more traditional role, but only in contrast to the aforementioned walking God. He’s a criminal who has spent his life being overshadowed by an older brother whose murder serves as the impetus for the one or two other things that happen in the film. There’s a strong implication that Julian was sexually abused by his mother, played by Kristen Scott Thomas, and much of the movie finds Julian poorly attempting to stomach that abuse by violently lashing out at the world around him then quickly retreating deep within himself, as pretty people are want to do.

Violence is a force of nature in Only God Forgives. It comes for everyone in one way or another, unstoppable as it is brutal. But by the time the credits role it’s clear that violence is pretty much the only plot device the movie offers. It sneaks about the shadows of every shot, waiting to pounce on each character in the form of a rabid outburst or a brutal murder.

If spending an hour and a half patiently waiting for Old Testament ferocity to reach out to the cast of this movie one by one sounds interesting to you, there may yet be hope for Only God Forgives. But keep in mind that that is all the story the movie has to offer.

That and Ryan Gosling beautifully standing in so, so many beautiful doorways.

But wait.

Again, for the sake of pacing, take this time to imagine me going about my day to day life over the course of the week. Sitting at my desk at work, loosening my tie at the end of a day, sitting in traffic, fighting crime, always a little distracted, always slightly preoccupied. Pretend I’ve been sitting in my armchair through sleepless nights, a carousel of nagging thoughts whirling through my head as the quadruple distilled scotch I drink pumps through my veins.

And we’re back.

Cozy.

I watched Only God Forgives just about a week ago.

And I can’t stop thinking about it.

Over the next few days I have no doubt that I’m going to watch the film again. I feel compelled to. I’ll probably show it to my family on Christmas.

Do I remember the groans I uttered when I realized I was only 19 minutes into the movie? Yeah. Do I remember the tears I shed when I later realized I was only 40 minutes through the movie? Most assuredly.

But I also remember, and can’t shake, the notion of an emotionally bruised and battered man hopelessly lashing out at a cruel world and a crueler God.

The world is violent. Whether you live it or read about it there’s no denying that there are hells on Earth. When I dare wander onto a news site or flip to it on my television I am inevitably confronted with the deplorable and the heinous. People suffer at the hands of the cruel every day and hearing about it twists my stomach in knots until a sinister inclination towards violence creeps into my head.

There are some crimes for which jail doesn’t seem enough. There are some crimes for which death doesn’t seem enough.

Only God Forgives may be boring and slow, but it is a perfect communication of the desire for justice through the inconceivable suffering of the cruel and hatred for a world that never seems quite just enough.

In conclusion, I still can’t even tell if I like Only God Forgives or not. But if nothing else I can confidently say that the film itself is far more thought-provoking than anything you’re going to read or hear about it.

If you’re enough of a masochist to want to hear me babble on about Only God Forgives even more, you can check out Episode 4 of the Pillow Talk Podcast, which airs on Sunday, December 29th.