06 October 2017

Dangerous Days 2049

This is a big pop cultural, weekend folk! Except...is it? Today we see Blade Runner 2049 (2017) come out, a whole thirty-five years after the original, which is also property advanced thirty years into its own future. It's amazing that we're actually not quite up to the November 2019 where Blade Runner (1982) takes place, but maybe we can get another sequel with an old-ass Ryan Hosling in the year 2047 called Blade Runner 2079. That'd be sweet.

But let's talk this out, and this post could go on for a while. First, let's quickly mention the other wide releases we won't bother even pretending to get into this week: The Mountain Between Us (2017) and My Little Pony (2017). The former is quasi-Oscar bait, and adult adventure-drama that seemed to me a little contrived, but with a solid pair of actors at the helm. I'm super-vaguely interested. And I do feel like My Little Pony should be getting more hype than it is, considering its cultural cache, but to be fair, that cache is really only potent for little girls and weird grown men. This is going to be a really weird theater experience for thousands of families out there. To be fair, it feels a lot like The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017) a few weeks back (ugh, Ninjago, I have such a complicated relationship with you, now), in that it's based on a pretty well established TV Show that doesn't actually have a lot of crossover appeal. I don't see either of these doing particularly well.

You're a long way from jazz, boy.
So, on to 2049. First thing's first, this ought to at least win the weekend, considering it really just has to clear the $9 or $10 million that either IT (2017) or Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) or American Made (2017) will make. That should be doable, right? Well, we all seem to be forgetting that Blade Runner 2019 did fucking dogshit in theaters. Actually, check out this weekend. It lost to E.T. (1982) in its third week, but other films include Rocky III (1982), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), The Thing (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Conan the Barbarian (1982), and the white version of Annie (1982). What a time to be a nerd. Also, every single one of these films had a remake or sequel within the past six years, with the exception of E.T., which is kind of a miracle. It's about time we got around to Blade Runner.

Part of my point, though, is that most people really hated Blade Runner 2019. It was long, slow, pretentious, had a terrible phoned-in Harrison Ford voiceover, and more importantly, totally fucked with expectations. This was Harrison Ford hot off of two Star Wars films and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). and Ridley Scott hot off of Alien (1979). It was all wrapped up in a promising new sci-fi world of androids and corporations and eyeballs. Not to mention that it had the coolest name ever (changed from "Dangerous Days" which is okay but not nearly as sweet, and definitely a step up from the Philip K. Dick thoughtful but less sexy source material title, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"). "Blade Runner" could be the coolest title ever. What the hell is a Blade Runner? In the film it's a specialized cop who hunts down replicants, or bioengineered androids, but that title doesn't mean anything. Perhaps it's indicative of the perilous lifestyle, teetering on the edge of a blade? The disregard for safety, hence running rather than being cautious? Or is it yet another indicator of Deckard's precarious position, ready to fall on one side or another - human or replicant? Totally cool, but any meaning has to be inferred.

But getting back on track, this is a classic case of expectation vs. reality cinematic dissonance. Instead of Indiana Jones in Space featuring the most bankable actor of his generation, we got a long, boring, contemplative study of what it's like to be human surrounded by occasional flaming smoke stacks. Even in the good versions, including the (for now) definitive 2007 re-re-release, the pacing in this movie is just damned terrible. I can't imagine what 1982 audiences felt.

And that's just it - it feels like audiences have forgotten what Blade Runner actually is. It's like it's 1982 all over again. This is Ryan Gosling in Drive (2011) mode, not La La Land (2016) mode. It's Denis Villenueve who had a solid hit last year with Arrival (2016), but favors challenging audiences rather than catering to them. And dammit, this is the long, contemplative, neo noir world of Blade Runner, not The Force Awakens (2015).

At some point after its release, everyone decided that they were supposed to love Blade Runner. I constantly debate whether or not it's a good movie, but the cinematic community generally agrees it's sweet. I think they like the dark noir aspects, which present a very different sci-fi environment from most cheerful looks at the future. Yet it's not a total apocalyptic or dystopian society, either. It's more settled into its characters and a very specific problem, which almost isn't a problem at all. Keep in mind that Deckard doesn't even kill Roy Batty the big bad replicant - he just dies from his lifespan running out. You've got to hand it to Rutger Hauer for being insane and making up that Tannhauser Gate bit, and "tears in the rain" which is just brilliant and ridiculous that it was totally improvised.

This points towards a few ridiculous issues with this film. Besides it being slower than molasses, for every scene that brilliant contemplates the meaning of life and humanity there is a weirdo fucking scene of conscious toy Napoleon Bears walking around. I hate J.F. Sebastian. He's a schmuck, and that's fine, but he's also sad and creepy as hell. He'd be sad enough but then we learn that he's only 25 for some reason and has a degenerative aging disease. Why is that in this film? To make a parallel with the replicants themselves? That's something, but there's not a lot more to infer.

And again, why is Deckard even hired for this job? Basically just because replicants are outlawed due to either a fear of technology or a fear of losing what it means to be human. The replicants don't really cause any trouble, except for when they're either threatened, or in Tyrell's case, because he doomed them to that early four-year lifespan. They're simultaneously manipulative and emotionally underdeveloped, which is a rough combination, but a death sentence is a little harsh right? Are they human or property? These are the questions that make Blade Runner resonate and even as I'm trashing it, emerge and make me reconsider.

1982 Deckard was a grump - this will
be Grumpy Harrison UNLEASHED!
Still, my point is that if you just wait, this problem will solve itself, although who knows what other lives would be caught in their anarchy. It's super fucked up that Deckard only kills the two females (Sean Young's Rachel kills Leon and Roy just...dies). Also this whole thing is pretty inexcusable, even if it was the 80s. There's also that completely out of place scene where Harrison Ford affects and effeminate voice to disguise himself to the stripper Zhora for some reason, like he's trying to be funny but is totally out of character and fairly offensive. I also don't really buy the Deckard is a replicant thing, but hell, even Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford disagree. One of the things about this sequel that worries me the most is how they'll deal with this essential question, and enduring thirty-year mystery full of debate, subtle clues, and unicorns.

That has probably played some part in Blade Runner's longevity, but above all else, this film has sustained itself despite a solid amount of sloppy acting and plotting because of its visuals. The production design is unparalleled and the cinematography is magnificent. Everyone always talks about Blade Runner's influence, but it's a viable point. Every post-1982 future urban noir resembles this film. Why stop there - movies ranging from The Fifth Element (1997) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) look like they could take place in this world. It's so bad that I also fear that 2049 will look like it's ripping off thirty years of other science fiction in its iconography, but it's really just more Blade Running. It helps that the only advanced technology was flying cars and the replicants themselves, although that is the most intense zoom and enhance scene in movie history.

Despite the cinematic influence, or perhaps because of it, Blade Runner is one franchise that was never really much more than its solitary film. There were certainly no previous sequels, but not really any children's animated TV show or mainstream comic books, despite it being pretty popular amongst nerds. We got two issues back in '82, a video game in '97 that was well-received, but not really influential, a Canadian mini-series that combined it with concepts from Total Recall (1990) for some reason, and a series of sequel books in the mid-90s. I'm curious how many of these you guys have heard of or read or seen or played. I'm a fan and this is all new to me.

Then there's this blind chode
There's a lot to like about what's going on here. Ridley Scott tends to either make huge awesomely great films or massive massive disasters, and although popular consensus is that Blade Runner leans towards the former, I don't think it's the sci-fi masterpiece it's been accepted as over the past twenty years. Denis Villenueve, though, is an up and coming relentless filmmaker, and if this flick trends more towards its roots in integrity and auspicious filmmaking, then I'd be really excited. If it's another shitty cash grab franchise-starter, well, then fuck that. The rest of the cast includes the great Robin Wright, a Dave Bautista that is either a nerd or a badass, and the always insane Jared Leto, whose schtick I've been sick of since Lord of War (2005).

There's actually a lot of other interesting cast bits. Mackenzie Davis hot off of "San Junipero" from Black Mirror. Ana de Armas, who I only really know from being super hot in Knock Knock (2015), but has been in better shit since. I mostly just love how she paired with Keanu again in Exposed (2016) playing a totally different relationship. Anyway, we also got Edward James Olmos, just because this cast was getting far too beautiful with Armas, Leto, and Gosling in the mix. Keep in mind that EJO was 35 during the first Blade Runner. He's 70 now. Gross!

What do you think about 2049? Stupid? Going to keep waiting until 2079? Are all our lives meaningless and designed by some higher power who cares not if we live or die? Watch Blade Runner and find out!

29 September 2017

Tommy C Tries Again...Other People DIE!

Let's keep this September rolling, which has already become one of the most-posted Septembers in like six years around here. We'll go quick this weekend, since there's three major releases that no one should really care about, but the one important thing is that they do exist, so that's worth talking about. One is a cheesy-looking star vehicle, another is a more fun-looking version of a droll 90s film, and the other is a black thriller that no one in White America has heard of. Let's start with that and work our way up to Nina Dobrev.

I have never heard of 'Til Death Do Us Part (2017) until this weekend. It's another in a bizarrely long and under-observed line of Black Domestic Thrillers that has so many more entries in its strangely specific genre than you'd think. This seemed really familiar until I remembered When the Bough Breaks (2016) came out last year as the exact same movie. I was trying to think of others and all I came up with was that Beyonce flick Obsessed (2009), but beyond that, yes this is an entire genre.

These kinds of flicks are cheap, quick, and can make a buck. They're totally non-distinctive and easily consumable with no real original plot or story. In a year of great black films this isn't really adding anything to our culture, unless it features someone kneeling instead of cheating on their spouse. It ought to make enough money to justify its existence, but then no one will ever mention it again. Isn't that kind of weird? Think about how much time, effort, and money went into this. Literally, on September 30th, 2017 no one will bother to recollect any of it. Moving on.

I picture this as whatever eventually became of Top Gun.
Tom Cruise is trying really really hard to stay relevant. He already led one of the biggest conceptual misfires of the year in The Mummy (2017), but now he's relying on pure charisma in American Made (2017), a super-vague title that could refer to anything, but in this case, a CIA drug runner or something. It's basically that one episode of Archer: Vice.

There's nothing really notable here other than a tried and true test of a waning star's ability to fill seats based on name alone and not high concept or franchise. That's a tough test. Hell, the most notable thing is probably the fact that this film more than any other in his filmography highlights Tom Cruise's terrible age gap between him and romantic leads, coming in 22 years older than his supposed wife here. It's kind of insane that 55-year old Cruise keeps trying to pretend he's still 30, and hell, most of the stunts he does pulls off that illusion, but it's also an insanely delusional middle finger towards aging gracefully and taking respected acting roles.

But who cares because Tom often offers a pretty engaging and rewarding cinematic experience. That's why he's a megastar. He seems perfectly content to ignore the actual acting work he did in the 90s in favor of a non-stop barrage of action. Like a young Liam Neeson. Critically this movie seems to be doing alright, mostly praising Cruise's fun performance, but that's really all it offers and we can all move on.

Last we have Flatliners (2017). Maybe this is supposed to be kind of spooky, bringing people back from the dead and all, but it seems more Hollow Man (2000)-ish. The irony there of course, is that Kevin Bacon appeared in the original Flatliners (1990), which is a terrible fucking movie. Really it's the perfect kind of flick to remake. The high concept is cool and unique, the original isn't really loved or too precious to fuck with, and there's plenty of room to spin it and update it.

We're looking at the next Julia Roberts, people!
To be clear, the only thing the original has going for it is its somehow legendary cast of pre-fame actors. It's like the Wet Hot American Summer (2001) of shitty thrillers. Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, one of the Baldwin brothers, and the aforementioned Kevin Bacon star as med students who experiment with the afterlife by killing themselves and then bringing themselves back to life. For some reason that's never the thrilling point, instead it's all about weird ghost and kids they killed by throwing rocks at them while in trees. It's so damn stupid.

The 2017 version brings Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, and a bunch of somehow less-famous people into the fore for what looks like a rad flick. It's at least got a little spirit, by indication of the marketing. I'm quite certain it will be junk, but also Nina Dobrev, who just played a terrible role as both the smartest and hottest girl in the world in xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017), but is more solid when she only plays the hottest girl in the world in something like The Final Girls (2015). Ellen Page has done surprisingly little of significance since great turns in Inception (2010) and Super (2010), which is getting to be like seven years ago. Kind of rough to be headlining Flatliners as a comeback vehicle of sorts, but that's where we are.

We're truly in an age where every possible 90s property is being mined for its potential. Flatliners doesn't deserve to be a fucking franchise, people. I'm curious to see what happens when we run out and in five years have to start mining 2000s films. I guarantee a Minority Report (2002) sequel. Maybe we can revisit Memento (2000)? See, all the 2000s films were already franchised, most pretty finite or hell, still going. Hollywood's trending towards super bankrupt of ideas. I mean, they already are, but at least they're making films out of bad ideas now, not no ideas. That age is coming. Or we'll just get like, more Robocop or something, who cares.

So that's your preview. September is rough! Who's into Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which I just feel is going to suck despite all the hype!

23 September 2017

First Impressions: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Okay, okay, okay. I know. Listen, I actually did see this film in the theater. I had four beers and even less sleep the night before and I'll be honest, I'm actually a little fuzzy on the ending. I remember getting really really bored about two-thirds of the way through. There were still a few giggle-worthy moments that I enjoyed in my delirium, but let's start these impressions with my whole journey:

This is becoming a rough trend that started with me watching Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) two months ago, when I showed up twenty minutes late and basically just picked the worst the theater had to offer because it was something to do. Last night I literally just picked the shortest film they had in the cinema. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) was nearly two and a half hours! What the hell is that? LEGO Ninjago (2017) beat that by forty minutes. Sold.

A volcano that erupts sharks!
The ticket counter dude was incredulous. He actually tried to talk me into seeing Kingsman or IT (2017) instead. Now, I'm sure either of those would have been a much better movie, but that's not what we're about here. We're all about the EXPERIENCE, especially when that experience is bizarre and awful. I've always had a passion for terrible movies, especially terrible commercial movies without any real redeeming factors. I'm always curious how we can live in a world where this shit is actually made. I mean, of course it's about the cash, but is it? No one was in this fucking theater! It's such a misguided trainwreck that's beautiful and amazing to watch. SPOILERS probably, but who cares, you aren't going to see thi smovie.

For the record, as I said, I don't know what fucking Ninjago is. I have no idea if this is true to the existing LEGO sets or the show, which has existed for a whopping seven seasons, but little of that matters to me. This is the freshest I could possibly get going into a film and it did a nice job establishing everyone and their little quirks. Let's talk about that cast first, then we can go into...whatever the hell else there is.

The voice cast was phenomenal, especially Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, and especially Justin Theroux who relished his role as the inexplicably evil Lord Garmadon with relish. Kumail pulls off his role as a nervous yet passive aggressive twerp really well and Jacobson is almost a parody of other cool action chicks like The LEGO Movie (2014)'s Wyldstyle, to an awesome extent. Zach Woods playing the worst fake robot ever is spectacular. I expected more out of Fred Armisen and Michael Peña, who round out the core Ninja cast, but their characters weren't that distinctive.

Finally we have Dave Franco as the main Green Ninja, Lloyd Garmadon, who is routinely verbally abused for his relationship to megalomaniac Lord Garmadon, who ironically, barely registers that Lloyd exists. The development of this relationship forms the core of the film, which makes it really feel like a boy's club as well as something that's been done a lot. Still, it did partly feel like a cool inverse of a Luke Skywalker / Darth Vader thing except one where Luke and Darth were stuck in the jungle fighting a giant cat and bonding. Franco is just fine.

What's really nice is seeing (and hearing) Jackie Chan, who seems like has been a way for a while. Then again, the dude's 63. Still, his character is the exact same as Morgan Freeman in The LEGO Movie, down to his funny idiosyncrasies that put a lampshade on wise master types. On that note - Black LEGOs exist, right? I mean, Vitruvius was black. I was a little put off by Michael Strahan making an appearance as himself....as an ostensibly "white" LEGO (sure, they're all yellow, but this film was weirdly homogeneous). Same with the relatively diverse cast that was all whitewashed into...being white. It was kind of bizarre.

So, the film plays out like a better version of Power Rangers (2017) that totally realizes and gives into how stupid it is. Very literally, there are ninja teenagers who jump into big mechas, "Zords" if you will, and battle an egomaniac mystical villain (who was bitten by a snake who was bitten by a spider, thus growing an extra pair of arms). It's in creative bits like that where Ninjago really shines, even if it's incredibly derivative of The LEGO Movie, down to the "Ultimate Weapon" (code for: Ancient Relic - a real life laser pointer that attracts a life-sized cat [a huge weapons of mass destruction, "Meowthra" to this universe]). Some of these gags worked really really well, and it's definitely an enjoyable experience.

Carmelo Anthony just traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder -
Go Knicks! New York Forever!
Still, there's no real hook or deeper experience that would make this film something to cherish for years to come. Its unfortunate, but inevitable to continuously compare to The LEGO Movie, but part of the reason that worked so well is that it had so many pop culture references, idiotic non sequitors, and outrageous bits of animation that flowed through a brilliantly philosophically sophisticated meta-storyline that also served as an advertisement breaking down the very means of playing with LEGOs itself. It's a really high bar to clear. Ninjago just kind of feels like a normal churned out story - one that could have been done with any kind of animation, not necessarily LEGOs, and that's where it becomes a little fruitless.

I also noticed how the characters didn't really live in an all-LEGO world like The LEGO Movie. I weirdly got pissed off when I saw REAL fire, smoke, and water, even some land and trees! Fuck that shit. It may be something that no one else would ever notice, but it bothered the hell out of me.

It's hard to knock a film that has robot dragons fighting shark-themed mechs that shoot sharks out of its hands, but that's where we are. Gags galore are solid as hell, but structurally the film doesn't hold up that well. Or it at least doesn't really innovate. Kids may like it or something, who cares, but as a drunken adult it was a solid giggle fest without much depth. Maybe that's just fine, and is probably what I should have expected, but I just want my LEGO to transcend the boundaries of time and space, dammit.

Have you see this thing, yet? Leave your thoughts below!
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