Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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In the face of the fabulous new your thought is to kill it?  Los Angeles 2049. K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner for Wallace, the new incarnation of the Tyrell Corporation led by blind Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) whose right hand woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is enchanted by K’s story that a replicant may have had a child. He is ordered by LAPD (in the guise of Robin Wright) to get rid of any evidence that a replicant could have given birth in order to see off a war between replicants and humans. He returns to the site of a dead tree and finds something that makes him think he can remember something from his own childhood and it leads him into a spiral of discovery that involves tracking down his predecessor before Prohibition and the Blackout, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who appears to have something to do with the rebel replicants underground …. Where to start? This hybridised metafictive spawn of one of the greatest achievements in cinema is no easy ride. The way it looks for one. It’s horrible. Mostly greys with occasional harking back to the navy and neon and a sour yellow, a nod to the burnished autumnal shadings of the original. The Orientalised appearances are now more subtly rendered but are even more prevalent as though mixed into a Caucasian blender. Then there are the women. Luv is clearly meant to remind us of Rachael (Sean Young) while the reference to Nabokov’s Pale Fire is intended to tell us that there are two fictional characters sparring with one another here – but the question is, which two, and of them, who’s real and who’s a replicant? The quasi-Oedipal story steers right into a quagmire of identities and dreams and purported flashbacks. Other quotes – Kafka, Treasure Island, and even the songs that play as holograms in a burned-out Vegas – also serve to get us to look one way, instead of another. The idea of relationships as a figment of your imagination – literally, a hologram – is conceptually brilliant and well executed (in every sense) but takes too long as a narrative device to be told and then unravel. The ending is enormously clever and draws on facets of Philip K. Dick’s own backstory: it’s literally a tidal wash of action and memories. But are they real? Are they implants? Hampton Fancher is back but with co-writer Michael Green this time instead of David Webb Peoples. You can see the spliced DNA with Harlan Ellison (an insistence on procreation) as well as PKD  (what is humanity? what is reality?) and the literary turns which have some good jokes. There are some nice lines too and even if they’re on the nose they actually future proof it somewhat:  You’ve never seen a miracle.  Or, I know it’s real. Or, Dying for the right cause is the most human thing you can do. They actually conceal what is paid off by misdirecting us.  It gets away with its visual tributes to the original cast with the prostitute who looks like Darryl Hannah and Hoeks who clearly resembles Sean Young even in ill-fitting costume.  Directed by Denis Villeneuve who is one of the most audacious mainstream directors at the present time with Ridley Scott producing,  I appreciate what they’re doing here but it’s a pale twenty-first century facsimile, more replicant than human.  Ford enters the fray so late and Gosling is not my favourite actor albeit he acquits himself well as someone who starts to feel things he shouldn’t given his somewhat obscure origins as a police functionary. But I have feelings too. Nothing can compare with the sensory overload that is Blade Runner, the daddy of the species. Notwithstanding the foregoing, as all the best legal minds argue, the ending is brilliant. Oh! The humanity.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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As a Gen Xr I’m a confirmed Star Wars kid. My favourite guy in the world (okay, the galaxy) is Chewbacca (strong, mostly silent) and all I want for Christmas is a Millennium Falcon. So in theory this should be my cup of tea. Series-wise it fits into the narrative gap between Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope but it’s a standalone outing in a new Anthology. The omens were not good, starting with a terrible, unlikeable cast – Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, the sibilant-averse spittle-spewers Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn, and the orthodontically-challenged Felicity Jones; plus a vaguely Asian rebel ensemble created by a PC/marketing combo of a diversity focus group and the Chinese market. The director Gareth (Godzilla) Edwards allegedly lost the plot early on and writer/director Tony Gilroy came in (cost:  $5 milllion US) to do a massive reshoot. He rewrote Chris Weitz’ screenplay which was based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, from George Lucas’ characters. These were just observations and rumours. That’s the business of movies. Having seen it? It looks horrible. It starts with a scenario not unfamiliar from the original trilogy with a girl, Jyn Erso (Jones) joining the rebellion against Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn) who killed her mother and kidnapped her father, engineer Galen (Mikkelsen). He winds up working as head bod on the Death Star against his will and he knows how to take it down. Darth Vader makes a return. There is the frankly questionable and weird decision to bring back the great and very dead (22 years now and counting) Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. It made me queasy. The film only gets into gear in the second hour when the rebels go after the Death Star plans against the Alliance and climaxes with what look like hyperreal WW2 antics on a beach archipelago not unlike the Palm resort in Dubai.  It all ends up in a pretty mushroom cloud which makes the Death Star very much the nuclear offender and brings us up to 1945 in real world atomic analogies. It only became my kind of Star Wars at the very, very end when John Williams’ score made a most welcome return, along with a very familiar face which is where we all came in, in 1977 or thereabouts …  There’s precisely one good line of dialogue in the entire 134 minutes and this is it:  There’s a problem on the horizon. There is no horizon. Turns out it’s not my cup of tea at all, it’s quite ghastly and I don’t care if I never see it again in a galaxy far far away or even this one. I want Chewie. Boo! Hiss!