Friday, May 11, 2018

Blade Runner 2049 directed by Debis Villeneuve 2017

So as not to retread things everyone has already read elsewhere, I’ll assume that by now most readers are familiar with the original movie and this sequel. 

One of the things the original Blade Runner fit had in spades was the  believability of its world building. It did so by giving you just enough information to keep you from being lost while at the same time giving you the mystery of looking into a new place where not everything is handed to you in a silver platter. The sequel does the same and I appreciated that. it did a great job of introducing new things and how they function without techno-babble. The world looks lived in and the people in it know how things work the same as we know how things work in our world. It all looks very natural and sells the idea you are in a real place. 

The scope of Blade Runner 2049 (I so wish the original had not put a date at the start of the film - it never works out well as that date comes and goes in the real world) is pretty large. Instead of taking place just in Los Angelos, it goes to a few other locations we had never seen. Sadly, we don’t get the feeling of an integrated world - the locations seem unrelated to each other in a grand sense, at least they did to me. Still, the visual beauty of all can not be over stated. It looks amazing. 

Much has been made of the run time of this movie and I’ll agree it’s long, but not boring or too slow. I liked the pace and never lost interest in what was going on, even if what was going on didn’t get me anywhere in particular. The choice to have it told from the point of view of a replicant and follow his investigation that leads him to look for a human (Harrison Ford from the first film) was a flip from what we had seen before and it worked out well. Ryan Gosling is a little too human maybe in the role but everything is the film supports and helps him keep the story progressing.  Jared Leo’s role as the eccentric creator of new breed of replicant workers which was to go to Bowie before he died was sparse and not as over the top as I was led to believe, he was pretty dialled back, but also a weak link as a character. I wasn’t sure he was really needed. 

The most interesting thing in the sequel to me was the relationship between humans and replicants and replicants with other technologies. Society has decided to « retire » the older models and replace them with less autonomous newer versions. Leo’s character seems to want to make replicants that can breed and everyone has opinions after realizing that that trick had already been done. Gosling’s blade runner is sent to find and kill the baby (which was fathered by Harrison Ford and his replicant lover Rachel after the first film ended) and begins to suspect that HE is that child. His boss (Robin Wright) wants to sleep with him (who doesn’t? it’s Ryan Gosling) and his holographic girlfriend and he seem to developing a real emotions for each other. In a way, the humans have to figure out if he is a real being and he has to figure out if his holographic sweetie is real - it’s turtles all the way down. When Gosling’s character see a giant hologram ad for the his holographic girlfriend and she says many of the same things to him - we are left as unsure as he is if her AI gave her a real conscious or if it all just part of her program. How much of him is programming - how much of us is? 

As the story progresses we discover the answers to some mysteries but not others. Wether Ford’s character is a replicant is still unknown and the film plays with us (unfairly, I think) in that regard, Gosling’s character discovers he isn’t the child he is looking for but has a memory lifted from her, leading to a really confusing reunion between her and her father which opens ups lot of plot questions that never get answered. As a story, this film is not very satisfying. It’s fascinating to watch but we don’t learn about this new version of the Blade Runner universe. Too many of characters are far too underdeveloped and too many plot points are as well. 

Overall, is it worth seeing? I would say yes. The visuals alone are worth spending almost 3 hours watching but this movie shows us, it does open conversations. Even if those same conversations were opened by the first film, we still don’t have good idea where they are going decades later. So not the classic the first one was but not a failure artistically either. Box office-wise, both were failures on release and maybe this film will find a cult audience and more meaning over time.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Aguirre the Wrath of God 1972 directed by Werner Herzog

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes is one of my favourite films of all time. I refused to buy a DVD player until it was available in that format so it could be the first film I saw on the player. Like most Herzog films, it's hypnotic and slow paced, pulling you from one scene to the other. The actual story is secondary to the feeling you get watching it, it pulls you into its world.

Based on a true story is something Herzog excels in. Not that he remains true to the facts of whatever story it is. As a director he is more concerned with the emotions the story bring over the facts and, for him, it pretty much always works. Aquirre is his 3rd feature and it strays wildly from the source material. Frankly with Klaus Kinski as a Spanish conquistador, how could it not?

In a nutshell, a Spanish expedition to find the lost city of Eldorado is doomed to failure by the foolish audacity and ambitions of the explorers and the unrelenting jungle that surrounds and eventually envelopes them within itself. They are doomed from the start when we see hundreds of them walking along narrow mountain pathways to the very end where Aguirre is the last left alive, raving at monkeys and telling his dead daughter they are going to start a new world as his raft slowly disappears around a river corner. In real life, Aguirre was brought back home and executed, apparently mocking the marksmanship of the firing squad as he died.

I would say this film has really only two characters. Kinski and the Amazonian jungle. Klaus's interactions with everything around him are what makes this movie work. His intense face says more than his words ever could and as his madness grows, the jungle seems more determined to absorb it and make it it's own.

The film is both a straight forward narrative and a dreamlike voyage. You never get explanations for things the characters don't get explanations for - so we know no more than they do about what is going on at any given time and Kinski's performance is unsettling and crazy while being understated and calm. He not exactly a sympathetic persona, but it is impossible to take your eyes off him.

Herzog's direction and the cinematography as stellar. After seeing this film for years in revival houses with damaged, dusty copies, the DVD release was a revelation of how beautiful this movie looked. I would LOVE to get a Blu-ray but my finances forbid me from re-buying films I already have these days. Pretty much every frame, every shot is intriguing and painterly. The music is perfect and all the performances add to the overall feel of the production. It's easy to see why this film developed a cult following.

Instead of going into the plot details and relevant scenes of the film I would rather encourage everyone who loves film to see it, multiple times. I have quite honestly put it on repeat in the DVD player and watched it on and off for an entire day and it never got tired of it.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Dramatic Readings: Save the Earth!

Another one! This is based on the theme to Godzilla VS the Smog Monster because - why not? Oddly the message, such as it is, is still relevant today... more so even. Plus it's totally weird, 60's and silly.

Thanks as always to Mike Luce for the voice work!

Friday, April 13, 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 directed by Stanley Kubrick

2001 is one of the most influential films ever made and will soon get a re-release in 4k for it's 50th anniversary.  It's visuals are striking and 50 years later they still hold up despite being done at time long before digital effects existed. It's non traditional story telling keeps people guessing as to the "true meaning" of certain elements  of the film and the soundtrack, though pretty much all classical music,  has become symbolic of the future we have in outer space. It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1991.

The story, though told unconventionally, isn't all that complicated in essence. Extraterrestrials have been promoting human evolution and development since they roamed the plains as primitive apes - prodding them to use use tools ( for violence at first) and take the first steps towards intelligence. This is done trough a totally black and smooth monolith which appears out of nowhere. Jumping thousands of of years later in one of the most iconic jump cuts in film history, a group of scientists on the moon have discovered another monolith, deliberately buried there which emits a signal toward Jupiter. A ship is sent to Jupiter where it discovers another monolith near the planet which opens a star gate, apparently taking the astronaut to wherever the aliens are and returning him... or some version of him maybe back to Earth int he form a "star child" who might represent the next stage in human evolution.

Fair to say, the actual plot of the film is secondary to the effect it has on the viewer and how it changed sci-fi and cinema after it's release. Never before had so much care been taken to realistically show the future in space. Some might say no one has ever put that much car into it again. The effort pays off and everything from the way we see travel to the space station, the moon and beyond is still not only believable but pretty accurate for a movie made before man had even set foot on the moon.

The realistic presentation of technology made a huge impact. Spaceships and alien encounters aside, the character of HAL, a super computer that proves to have  mind of it's own, has become the poster child for tech and artificial intelligence gone wrong. This is unfair to HAL, I would argue, as his actions though severe (I think killing almost the entire crew as they sleep counts as severe) are not totally beyond comprehension. HAL has become emotionally unbalanced because he was told to keep information from the crew, something that leads him to think the crew can not be trusted with such an important mission. The sequel 2010 goes into this in more detail, but the seeds are planted here. When HAL tell the last living crew member "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I am not able to do that", it's terrifying.

To be sure, the film goes into complete mind-fuck mode by the end as the sole survivor disconnects HAL and leave the ship to meet up with the monolith. A mind blowing psychedelic display later, he seems to go through the rest of his life in minutes, and solitude, only to be transformed into the star child which heads back to earth. How someone reacts to all this is dependent on each person's personality and beliefs - and possibly what drugs they took before entering the theatre.

Like most Kubrick films , this one had some people loving it while others hated it with a burning passion. It did quite well on release and became not just a cult classic, but a true classic of modern film. It won an Oscar for best special effects but lost to Planet of the Apes for make-up, leading many to think that it was overlooked in the category because the apes in Kubrick's film were so real, academy members thought they were. The techniques uses in the film are revolutionary. On example is the use of font projection over matte work. This meant that instead of tracing an element and adding it to another piece of film (leading to that black line seen in many effects shot of the period) it used a giant super reflective screen that had an image projected on to it so the camera could film both the foreground action and the affects backdrops at the same time with seamless realism. In fact, even the outdoor shots on the African plains were all done in doors. The designs of everything form the ships to the clothing to the zero gravity toilet hold up to this day. Even though we have now been to the moon, have a space station or two and have sent probes to the other planets - none of that seems as real as some of the stuff we see in this movie.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Movie Wrench is now covering music as well!

Mike Luce has expanded his Movie Wrench blog to cover music too, so is basically just the Wrench now. Check it out, comment sand tell him wha you think!

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Exorcist 1973 directed by William Friedkin

Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, the Exorcist is the story of famous actress whose young daughter is possessed by a demon and calls in the aid of a Catholic exorcist to expell the evil force. The story was inspired by a "real" 1949 exorcism story of a young boy that shared some details with Blatty's book and then the film that followed.

The film was a huge success and changed not only horror films but introduced the public to the idea of the blockbuster. It was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture and it scared the living crap out of most of the people who saw it.  Just hearing the theme "tubular bells" was enough to set people on edge after seeing it.

I had read the book before seeing the film and the movie version very closely follows the base material, so I wasn't as unprepared as many to see some of the more shocking moments in the film. Still, some shots to this day are very shocking and unsettling and while some like the infamous pea soup vomit scene have been reproduced in other films and in parody, there remain a few scenes that I've never seen anyone have the nerve to copy.

The film is slowly paced, but keeps the tension up from start to finish. It uses almost but not quite subliminal imagery superimposed over background elements to add to the nightmare quality of what is happening. The make effects stand the test of time, even the head turning 360 degrees scenes hold up and the soundscape of the film is really haunting. I have to say while the movie is known for it's shocking violence and gore, it's the more subtle, quieter moments that stay with you. They compliment the more over the top moments and make this a more psychological horror piece than a gore film. All the technical aspects are enhanced by the case, everyone  - Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller and Max von Sydow - give performances that draw you into the supernatural story in a way lesser actors never could.

The version I just saw was the "version you've never seen" DVD and it had several added scenes including the bloody version of the "spider walk" scene which you would think would  look like comic relief in a movie made this long ago... but it's pretty damn bizarre and scary even today.

It's hard to remember that before this movie practically no one had ever heard of an exorcism. After it was released, there were exorcisms galore, not just in other films but in real life. Suddenly demon possession was in all the papers and the Catholic church had it's hands full with all the new cases being brought before them.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Dramatic Readings: Leave Britney Alone!

Based on the Chris Crocker's dramatic internet rant. Another in the Charles Webster Billingsworth the 3rd series of dramatic performances.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Twin Peaks - the Return 2017 by David Lynch

It's hard to criticize the work of David Lynch under the best of circumstances. His mix of genres, notable film noir and surrealism is unique in the creative world. He takes chances and for that at least, the new season of Twin Peaks, 25 years after the last one, is something to watch, appreciate but not really to understand.

In many ways this is a followup to his film "Fire Come Walk with Me" over the TV show as he seems to be following the ideas presented in that film. He doesn't forget the TV show, not by a long shot and there is plenty (maybe too much) fan service in this Showtime special event series. He is David Lynch and could have avoided following up on our favourites from the past, but instead goes full in and because of that his affection for the material shows through and his desire to include the fates of actors who died in real life over the preceding ¼ century is truly touching.

The story of this new series explore the identities of doppelgäners, the most notable is that of agent Dale Cooper who is trying to return to the corporale world while his evil twin is loose and causing violence and havoc. There is a third version of Copper, Dougie Jones who we spend the most time with, who has the real Cooper trapped inside him. This show has entire episodes of just flat out bizarre imagery and odd story lines and goes in and out of colour and black and white, traversing dimensions and timelines. It does this without any exposition to explain any of it. You are truly on your own but Lynch has enough "real" plot to keep you going if you just get completely lost in the more out there segments.

Overall this is a worthy successor to Lynch's maybe best known work and Showtime should be commended  for (eventually) giving him free reign over it. It's not without its flaws though. I don't buy the relationship between Cooper and Diane who we finally meet in the flesh and some of the returning characters don't add much to the new story. Some of those nostalgic bits are the most heartwarming so it's difficult to argue they shouldn't be included. Dale Cooper is not the same person we saw in the original which makes sense, but he is a sombre much less fun version of himself. All those quirks about the Dali lama and his free form investigating techniques are gone which is a shame. This lacks much of the humour that helped us through the horror of the shows first 2 seasons.

The series ends in a way which I'm sure is exactly at Lynch intended, but as an audience member, it falls short of satisfying. Maybe after 25 years of suffering, I feel the residents of Twin Peaks merited something a little more upbeat. I was happy to see this on air and happier to see it was done without compromise but I doubt I'll got back to it like I do the first 2 seasons.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wonder Woman 2017 directed by Patty Jenkins

I know this film has been out awhile and a lot has been said about it but I'll put in my 2 cents anyway.
(Spoilers will follow.)

In a nutshell, it's a pretty awesome super hero film and Patty Jenkins' direction has a lot to do with it, Gal Gaddot is so good you might almost forget Linda Carter in the role. Almost.  A woman superhero, a woman at the helm, two things Hollywood has been pretty stupid about over the years, stating no one will buy women in those roles. Screw you, Hollywood this film made a mint and Warner's more male oriented super heroes outings can't hold a candle to this film in any way.

I have seen it twice, second time in French and I liked it better for some reason in French. Go figure.  More likely I was able to see more of what was good in it. My first viewing, I really hated the ending... another giant battle between what amounts to gods on earth. Like every almost super hero film it before it. I still think it was the low point of a great movie but not bad.

Wonder Woman has some amazing scenes. The island scenes introducing us to the world work really well and the scene where Wonder Woman steps into no man's land, as only a woman can, takes the film from 5 to 100 in terms of emotional impact. Action packed, yes, but Gaddot takes us from uncertain fish out of water Diana Prince to saviour of an entire town and has us cheering for her. The problem I had with the ending is I wanted more of this sort of action... Wonder Woman in WW1, taking on the bad guys bringing them to justice. They could have have kept the poison gas plot, Steve Trevor's death, basically everything but the gods fighting part and had a movie that really showed the horrors of war and found a way to challenge our heroine without the typical evil also having to be a super being trope - it could have been her against a much more real version of evil. It's not bad, as I said but disappointing because this movie deserved better.  It could have been just as fantastic and action packed, but the stakes would have meant more.

You can't really understate how good Gaddot is in this role. Her presence is capable and seems very real. I'd see just about anything else she does after this.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Daimajin, Return of Daimajin, and Wrath of Daimajin 1966 by Daiei Film

The Daimajin Trilogy is an odd little side step in the world of giant monster movies. All three were released the same year and all three have pretty similar plots. Daimajin is a giant statue possessed by a spirit owlet's say... justice.  He is usually called into action by the members of the deposed family or a religious figure, though not always and once his wrath is set in motion, he will not stop until peace has returned to the region. 

In the first film he is called to rid the people an evil warlord who sends his men to destroy the statue, but when they hammer a giant spike into its forehead, it bleeds, comes to life and returns the spike to the terrible warlord by impaling him with it. Revenge was not enough it seems and the monster continues destroying everything in site until the hero, a woman named Kozasa, cries on it's feet - causing the spirit to leave the statues which crumbles into rubble.

The second film is much the same, but Daimajin nows live sin the middle of a lake. Another evil warlord, who takes no chances this time and blows the statue to bits, has taken over the peaceful land.  Despite this, the spirit is summoned and rids the kingdom of the warlords forces and the warlord himself.

In the third outing, the statue is now on top on a mountain instead of the side of one. This time the common people call on his aid and he once again destroys the evil warlord and anyone associated with him. He also becomes a sort of "friend of the children" AKA Gamera the giant turtle series which was also done by Daiei Film.