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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

BLADE RUNNER 2049

** SPOILERS **

In the grey, polluted skies above Los Angeles circa 2049, and in the filthy streets below hunts the lonely Replicant. He knows what he is. Everyone around him knows what he is. He is a Blade Runner; a cop who hunts down and 'retires' other robots of his kind. How he feels about this - how he feels about anything - he keeps to himself. "This one doesn't even smile," a pleasure model Replicant (Mackenzie Davis) says to him. He does, sometimes. In the spare moments of his life he finds Joi (Ana de Armas). 

K (Ryan Gosling), the Replicant in question, finds the meaning of his entire artificial life challenged in Blade Runner 2049. A sequel that should never have been made. A sequel that should never be, but is - a magnificent, immersive, visually impeccable, wondrous tour de force by director Denis Villeneuve and producer Sir Ridley Scott, the father of the original Blade Runner. Villeneuve achieved the impossible and crafted a follow up to one of the most acclaimed science fiction films ever made that honors everything that has endured for 35 years while going further, deeper, and grander. In 1989, Tim Burton's Batman was hailed as "The Movie of the Decade" as a marketing tool. Blade Runner 2049 is The Movie of the Decade. 

Villeneuve's Los Angeles, 30 years more stark, bleak, apocalyptic, and exceedingly beautiful than Scott's vision of 2019, is lonely, brutish and cold, populated by haggard life, both 'real' and artificial. It's a world where a man-made machine falls in love with a man-made hologram, but that love is as real and quantifiable as anything else, even if human beings scoff that both machines lack 'a soul.' Though women are hyper-sexualized in holographic advertisements and in the public statues of a desolate, abandoned Las Vegas, it's the men who are utterly broken inside.

Every important male in the movie, from K, to Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) the poor Nexus 8 model Replicant he retires to kick off the film, to Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the blind, prophesying billionaire tyrant who manufactures Replicants but yearns to profit from them being able to create themselves, is a pitiable creature in their own right. The women of this world, real and artificial, are made of stronger stuff, from K's one true love, the sprightly hologram Joi, to his stern but fair LAPD Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) to the Replicant revolutionary Freysa (Hiam Abbass) to the bright and isolated programmer of Replicant memories Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) to the villain of the piece, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). It takes a special kind of Replicant to inherit the torch of Best Blade Runner Baddie from Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) in the original, but Luv is a revelation as Wallace's stunning yet brutal enforcer, desperate to be seen and loved by her creator. When Luv overwhelms K in their climactic fight, she announces with glee "I'm the best one!" and she is. From Wallace with Luv.

The world of Blade Runner 2049 is on the cusp of a revolution K unwittingly finds himself at the center of when he finds a literal box of bones. The mysteries tie to the disappearance of the main characters from the original film, Rachael (Sean Young, who reappears as she looked in the 1982 original thanks to computer-generated magic) and Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the original titular Blade Runner. K wishing that what he finds about himself is true is the deeply moving through line upon which all of his actions hang, and his investigations leads to violence, more questions, and ultimately to Deckard himself. The fight, they drink, they bond, they are ripped apart violently. In the end, most (but not all) questions are answered and Deckard is given the gift of family he was forced to abandon for 30 years. Ford has revived his most beloved and iconic 80's film roles like Indiana Jones and Han Solo in the last decade, but his performance as Deckard is his best, most gripping, emotional, and resonant. "Who am I to you?" Deckard asks K in the final moments of the film. K smiles, unable to find the words. The final moment of Blade Runner 2049 is Deckard facing his daughter, separated by a wall of glass, the weary and sad old model facing the bright and hopeful future, while K lies in the snow, ready to retire, having lived and shown us things we people wouldn't believe.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

IT (2017)

IT (2017)

** SPOILERS **

The following movie review is from someone who never read "IT," never saw the TV miniseries "IT," and didn't know anything about "IT," except that there was some sort of clown in "IT."

In IT, director Andy Muschietti's well-made and effective Jump Scare-pallooza adaptation of Stephen King's seminal horror bestseller, seven children wrestle with the eternal question of youth: how do you fight a CGI clown? The clown's name, he says, is Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) and he is a very evil clown who lives in the sewers beneath the haunted town of Derry, Maine. According to the movie's wobbly and undercooked mythology, Pennywise has been in Derry since the town was founded, killing children (and adults sometimes?) and feeding on their fear every 27 years. Then he takes a long clown nap and comes back. Why? Why anything? Let's get to the jump scares.

It's the summer of 1989 and seven children from Derry are so haunted by a killer clown and others also trying to kill them, they had no time whatsoever to go to their local bijou and watch Batman and Lethal Weapon 2. Imagine, seven kids who didn't see Batman in the summer of '89! It boggles the mind. How is that even possible? Well, these kids get a pass, I guess, because they're preoccupied by different a killer clown than the one Batman fights, and other lethal concerns.

These nerdy kids dub themselves the Losers Club, and they are, by order of being memorable, Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) the stutterer and ersatz leader who lost his baby brother to the clown in the film's iconic opening sequence, Richie (Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things) the one who swears a lot, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) the fat new kid on the block, Mike (Chosen Jacobs) the token black kid who looks like a young Muhammad Ali, and the rest. Into their midst enters the best character in the whole shebang, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), who is a g-g-girl, but the kind of cool, courageous girl with a standard icky home life any boy would count themselves lucky to know. The Losers stick together, mostly, against any and all assailants, and the clown is just one of them. There are also juvenile delinquents in Derry who are so shockingly malevolent and homicidal, it's way more jarring than the sewer clown.

Each child is haunted by the clown throughout IT, which leads them to come together and ultimately fight It. The Losers Club becomes a Scooby Gang, trying to uncover the secrets of the clown as best they can. Each minor revelation they reach begs more questions: it seems like the clown has been around for centuries, but seems to have no rules. The clown can manifest into all of their homes or where ever they are, in daytime or night, and attack them at will. When the Losers realize the clown lives in The Obvious Haunted House in the middle of town, they enter with no plan or weapons and barely survive. Later, when Beverly is captured by the clown but not immediately murdered for some reason, the Losers return to the Haunted House armed with whatever they have. Again, the question is how do seven tweens fight a CGI clown? Turns out hitting it enough times with whatever's handy does the trick. 

Still, IT is held together by some strong, endearing performances from the kids and some terrific atmosphere, making the small town of Derry nice and sinister. Every adult in Derry is some kind of repulsive creep, and the local bullies are said to be 15 or 16 but look 25 compared to the tween cast. There are obvious odes to Stand By Me and Carrie, which, along with The Shining, are on the upper tier of Stephen King adaptations. IT falls somewhere below that level but is still a 🎈🎈🎈 good time horror tome. IT sticks the landing, bonding the Losers Club with their promise to return as adults in 27 years (or 2019) for the already greenlit IT: Chapter 2. But there's just something heartwarming about seven kids, now friends forever, bonded by self-inflicted stigmata. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Marvel's Inhumans

MARVEL'S INHUMANS

** SPOILERS **

From the studio that brought you The Defenders, welcome to Marvel's first cosplay meetup fan film shot in IMAX. Imagine, if you will, a city on the moon. What would such a wonderland look like? If you guessed anything other than a Soviet era concrete missile silo with the interiors of last season's IKEA showroom, you sure don't know Marvel. In this shangri-la, called Attilan, live Marvel's Inhumans. We're used to cool techno-knights like Iron Man, heroic super soldiers like Captain America, and virile alien gods like Thor when we think of Marvel. These aren't those guys. 

Strictly C-list, the Inhumans are a group of genetically enhanced weirdos who were supposed to get their own movie once but got demoted to TV. What do the Inhumans do up there on the moon, one wonders? They exist. That's it. Every once in a while, they make one of the lower caste of their society sniff the mists of Terrigen. If they transform, cool, they're Inhumans too, and they sprout wings or hooves or something that's somehow 'useful' to their society. If not, they are banished to the moon mines to dig for moon rocks for the rest of their lives. What do the Inhumans do with all those moon rocks they dig for? Who knows. If the moon were made of green cheese, at least they could eat the cheese.

The Inhumans maintain a rigid society ruled by a Royal Family. Their king is a mute named Black Bolt (Anson Mount). Black Bolt's superpower seems to be making every face a family would carve in their Jack O'Lanterns, but his real power is his voice is so destructive that if he utters even the slightest sound, he could demolish whatever's in front of him. To demonstrate, in a flashback, a teenage Black Bolt slightly huffs and blows both of his parents straight into a concrete wall (every wall in Attilan is made of concrete), and it is hilarious. Black Bolt is married to Medusa (Serinda Swan), who is his personal translator and sex buddy, but her official title is Queen of the Inhumans. Medusa's power is her red hair that moves on its own, like Dr. Octopus' robot arms, but it's hair and of Playstation 1 quality CGI. Before the first hour of Inhumans is even up, the CGI budget for making the hair move proves too costly for the production and they snatch Medusa bald. There, budget issues solved. The producers must have patted themselves extra hard on the back for that fix.

In this monochrome Eden lives a snake named Maximus (Iwan Rheon, the hated Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones). Maximus is Black Bolt's younger brother but he is human. However, this means his superpower is he's the only Inhuman with a semblance of a personality and comes off as reasonably interesting. Maximus has schemes; he aims to kick his brother off the Concrete Throne and also nail his wife, whom he has the serious hots for and they may have done the nasty in the past-y. "Do you ever regret choosing him over me?" the skeevy Maximus asks Medusa. "No, of course not, he's the king," the power-hungry Medusa replies by choking him with her prehensile hair. Maximus gets the hint, so he goes ahead and engineers a coup. 

While the rest of the Royal Family sit around having dinner, Maximus skips the salad and breadsticks and overthrows society. Soon, he banishes most of the Royals to a terrible, horrible, infernal hell... "The Island of Oahu, Hawaii" according to the title card, which keeps reappearing even though we know it's Hawaii. While to us lowly humans, being kicked off the fucking moon and being sent to Honolulu seems like a fantastic upgrade, it's the worst thing that has ever happened to Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak (Ken Leung), who is the Black Bolt's Debbie Downer royal adviser, and Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), the captain of the royal guard. 

Gorgon ends up hanging ten with some local surfers who save him from drowning. They've heard of Inhumans but they don't give a shit, just like us. Karnak gets lost in the jungle, which is hilarious since Ken Leung has been there before when he was a castmember on Lost. Medusa ends up on a bus tour group; devoid of her super hair, she somehow pulls a switchblade on the Inhuman soldier Maximus sends to kill her. That's right, the Queen of the Inhumans cuts a bitch. Meanwhile, Black Bolt has the most exciting adventure of all: he shoplifts a suit from a haberdashery. In response, the Hawaii Five-0 sends four police cruisers after him! Shoplifting must be the number one crime in Oahu for a police response that severe. Black Bolt ends up getting booked by the po-po and spends the night in the clink, but he seems totally at home surrounded by four walls of concrete so he's not as sad as you'd think.

Then the story is over, because this is just "The First Chapter" of eight episodes, 75 minutes filmed with IMAX cameras for some reason. Will the Inhumans Royal Family ever reunite? Can they make it back to the moon and regain their status as the rulers of the moon's biggest secret silo? Will the humans on Earth discover the existence of the Inhumans and not call the Avengers because the Avengers have way more important business to attend to? Six more episodes on ABC starting on September 29th may answer those questions and others no one cares to ask. Also, there's a teenage princess named Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) who shoots fire and a giant bulldog named Lockjaw who can teleport, but they end up stuck in Attilan under house arrest. Still, it beats mining moon rocks.

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