L13FC: The Purpose of Science Fiction, Blade Runner 2049

Welcome back, everyone. It’s the thirteenth of the month and the Lucky 13 Film Club topic today is the purpose of Sci-Fi films. As a case study, check out this conversation I had with my 29-year-old daughter in the car on the way home from watching Blade Runner 2049 the other day. 

Vanessa: Mom, when you asked me half-way through the film if I was bored, I said “no”. But then I thought about it, and yeah, I was bored. I wondered if never having seen the first Blade Runner would affect my understanding of the sequel.  This movie was so long and loud and I didn’t understand what was going on. It was just Ryan Gosling without expression either staring vacantly at females who wanted to have sex with him or kill him. What about that lackluster chemistry between him and Harrison Ford?”

Cindy: (laughing). Yeah, well, Harrison Ford has given the same performance for decades. I don’t think Deckard was ever a replicant, though. Oddly, he conveys too many emotions. He and K-Joe were father and son. I think.

V: Was the memory-maker his sister? The most intriguing scene for me was when K-Joe shared a memory into a gadget at her bubble cell, and she told him it was real, not fabricated. What the heck was the memory that brought out the only emotion in him in the whole movie? Something more important than sex and the fear of death?”

Cindy: I can only speculate. What did you think of Jared Leto‘s character Niander Wallace? I honestly thought they could have cut out his entire role. It was a ranting philosophical weak sub-plot which set up morality questions about Artificial Intelligence raised in Spielberg’s A.I. Leto was great at being weird, and his scenes added to the overall creepiness, but then, there was plenty of weirdness going on. I admit the futuristic technology was awesome in his scenes. Little black bugs that connect into your brain so the blind can see? Cool.

V: I didn’t understand Luv, the bad replicant, played by Sylvia Hoeks. Other than she was the top angel and terminator for Wallace, her job was to find the child or she’d be a fallen angel. For a while there, I thought Luv and K-Joe were brother and sister.

Cindy: I didn’t like the final showdown between Luv and K-Joe. It was flat and I was tired of the emotionless duel between the two replicants.

V: (wearily) I have never disliked a film more.

Cindy: Really? You hated it?

V: I was so uncomfortable in that film. I was trapped for almost three hours in a gray, treeless world that screeched wave after wave of engine noise and made me want to cry or kill myself if that had been my reality. I was disturbed at how women were portrayed. Either they were giant slutty naked body parts or robotic destroyers. Other than the memory-maker, the only female character who was soft and feminine wasn’t real in the first place. She was a hologram. With a remote click, she disappeared and reappeared at Officer K’s convenience.  It was twice as scary than the horror film It. 

Cindy: That’s why Denis Velleneuve‘s film was so good. Good Science Fiction puts you in a futuristic setting that is often horrifying to remind you in the present to take care that the artist’s prediction for the future doesn’t come true. It was an apocalyptic horror film. The power of technology is frightening. Remember, just because we can create new gadgets and programs doesn’t mean we should. It’s becoming the new religion. Blind faith in technology, to me, is horrifying.

That is, except for the Deckard scenes in Las Vegas. He was stranded with a million bottles of whiskey around him and the hologram shows. If the apocalypse comes, I can’t think of a better place to hang out with me, myself, and I than at The Mirage with Elvis Presley.

V: (rolls eyes) Oh, Mother. Did you like the film?

Cindy: Oh, I loved it. Well worth the 30-odd year wait. I highly recommend it. 4.5/5 

V: I would have rather watched Wonderwoman or Thor: Ragnorak or The Justice League.

Cindy: But that’s not Science Fiction.

V: You mean it’s not Science Fiction if I’m not depressed after watching it? Must it always be so serious and thought-provoking?

Cindy: The good ones usually are.

* * * * * * *

What’s the purpose behind Science Fiction? What are the elements of it?

5 Blockbusters in 2017

I stumbled upon Looper’s “30 Movies That Are Going To Blow Everyone Away in 2017”.

Of the 30, only five caught my interest. Blockbusters are tricky. A good one ought to be watched on the big screen, but so few are worth watching in the first place. To each their own, here are five I want to see:

1. Ghost in the Shell 

Too bad this cool-looking Science Fiction story is surrounded in a white-washing controversy from Hollywood. Read all about it in THE VERGE .  Thirty years ago, Masamune Shirow created an anime Science Fiction story about a futuristic world with themes of globalization, the body, and consciousness. This adaptation set to release March 31 is about a cyborg policewoman, Major, chasing a computer hacker. I have missed its history and want to see the film. The colors look amazing, the issues of the near-future relevant, and I like Scarlett Johansson. It’s unfortunate an Asian woman was not cast in the starring role, for there are kick-ass Asian actors available like Ziyi Zhang, Ming-Na Wen, or Rinko Kikuchi who would do the role well. Do I boycott the film?

2. Dunkirk 

I can’t get enough of Chris Nolan. If he directs it, I will watch it. Add in a World War II storyline of the British forces evacuating Allied troops from Dunkirk, France, in 1940, and supply the talent (Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy), it becomes a July blockbuster I am hopeful will be worth the price of admission.

3. The Dark Tower

Stephen King’s series is a mashup of dark fantasy, science fantasy, horror, and the Western. This film adaptation set to release on July 28, stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. I hope it’s good since King wrote eight of them, we can presume a decade of future episodes. Have you read the series?

4. Blade Runner 2049

I’m curious and apprehensive of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece toyed with. Perfection shouldn’t be touched, remade or rebooted, in my opinion.  However, with fingers crossed, you bet on October 6, I will rush to see Ryan Gosling as Officer K and Harrison Ford as the older Deckart. Love the looks of the ensemble cast: Jared Leto, Robin Wright and Ana de Armas.  Good luck to director Denis Villeneuve. He’ll need it.

5. Star Wars VIII

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I’m curious how they will forward the story. Along with the rest of the planet, I’ll be watching in December. It’s what the blockbuster is all about. The technology will be stellar, no arguments. Please, oh please, let the script be interesting! It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for director Rian Johnson who will direct Star Wars VIII & IX. 

What blockbuster are you looking forward to? 

L13FC: Terry Gilliam’s Trilogy

CindyLucky13Banner (1)Welcome one and all as this month’s film discussion centers around writer/director Terry Gilliam and his futuristic trio spread out over thirty years. I am much obliged to share today’s event with Australian movie buff, Jordan at Epilepticmoondancer, who shared his admiration for Brazil(1985),12 Monkeys(1995), and Zero Theorem(2013) with me; the more we emailed about this set, we discovered there was a lot to discuss. Fantasy Drama? Thriller/Tech noir? Dystopian Dark Comedy? Science Fiction? However you decide to classify them, the eccentric mind of Gilliam is a fun ride. Let’s go!

Jordan’s thoughts: 

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Though a brilliant satire, darkly hilarious and filmed by the inimitable Terry Gilliam, giving the film some crazy angles and busy sets, at its core, Brazil is a love story. Poor government worker Sam Lowry is lonely, and dreams about Jill from the beginning of the movie, while the film is essentially poking fun at the government by making it impossible for Lowry to track down information on this person, burying him under paperwork and government malarkey.

twelve-monkeys-original-600x90012 Monkeys also has dreams that link the film together, but here they are much more thought out, as the dreams slightly change each time we see them. They impact the story in very different ways. Again the film focuses on a lonely protagonist, Cole, played by Bruce Willis. This film is set in a dystopian future, and to begin with it seems that love is impossible for Cole, living underground, a prisoner. But through his travels through time, and his stressed relationship with what was his psychiatrist, he finally finds someone he can bond with, someone he loves. Importantly, this love doesn’t feel forced; it is so psychologically draining it would be odd for the two to not form some sort of connection. Additionally, like Lowry, Cole doesn’t possess much in the way of showing initiative – both seem rather naive to their respective words. Both films satarise society in one way or another too, and this, added to his incredibly unique style, is what somewhat successfully links the three films.
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In my opinion, the Zero Theorem deviated from the formula- the dreams, the love story. Qoen is also a lonely protagonist, another common motif of these trilogies, and he, like Sam and Cole, is naive to the world he lives in. The Zero Theorem also pokes fun at modern society, too. What differs isn’t the lack of dream sequences (though they really were done perfectly in 12 Monkeys) but the fact that this lonely man doesn’t find love is what stilts the film. And I’m not a sentimental guy, I usually hate romance, but the love was what made those first two so special. That love isn’t present in Zero, rendering the story a little jarring and confusing.

Cindy’s impressions: 

I’m a fan of contrasts, and Terry Gilliam delivers oxymorons in abundance to my delight. Through Gilliam’s imagination, the ludicrousness of governmental control is the vessel for all three films: inefficient bureaucrats, Homeland Security(?), preservation of the aesthetically insipid, and worshipping technological advancements, made by humans, cripple them.

For all the invasive warnings in Brazil; the topsy-turvy future where animals rule and humans are caged in 12 Monkeys; and the complete loss of the cognizant individual to the simulated state of being in Zero Theorem, Terry Gilliam has been warning us for decades about the devolution of man. With this heavy message, he delivers his ultimate contrast: give the bad news with a healthy dose of laughs. His perverted sense of humor has had me in stitches since I was a teen. His garish sets in Brazil and Zero Theorem, the vaudevillian sound effects punctuating conversations, the askew camera angles and frenetic conversations such as Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys (his best performance) or Robert DeNiro and Bob Hoskins in Brazil, or Tilda Swinton as Dr. Think-Rom in Zero Theorem come immediately to mind. You are scared because you’re in a bad-acid nightmare at the carnival and laughing with the clowns glaring in your face. Brilliant.

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Need more contrasts? How about the artistic images that have you morbidly curious? The baby face, the flying man in glitter, that red techno-suit, the youth-obsessed, cheek-pull of Mom, and the zoo animals running amuck the city? The infinity sets and industrialization displayed like evil traps of the mind and body? Oh, I love that wicked mind of yours, Terry Gilliam. Thanks for the laughs.

Matt Damon never looked better in Zero Theorem.
Matt Damon never looked better in Zero Theorem.

Which dark message resonates with you? Which lonely character at odds with his world do you like best?

L13FC: Two Sci-Fi Heavyweights

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Pete says:

I’m afraid you had to be there at the time, to imagine how amazing it looked to a teenager in 1968. Orbiting satellites, strange shapes, and the passing through the Star Gate sequence, very like the psychedelic experiences being experimented by many young people during the late 1960s. The use of both classical and modern music was suitably injected to reflect the mood in certain scenes, and I recall being captivated by the use of “The Blue Danube” during a particular episode in the film.

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Watching it years later, I was understandably less impressed. There is little dialogue in much of the film, which often leaves the viewer making up their own minds about what is happening. The best parts are undoubtedly those involving the computer H.A.L., and his interaction with the astronauts. Someone I know who doesn’t like the film told me that they found it to be ‘Pretentious and overblown, often dull and dragging.’ That wasn’t how I saw it, forty-eight years ago.

Fast forward to 1982. I am now thirty years old, and heading into a cinema to see another science fiction film. Based on a short story by Philip  K. Dick, Blade Runner was directed by Ridley Scott, who was fast becoming one of my favourite film-makers. Five years earlier, I had watched his first feature, The Duelists, and been blown away. Two years after that, he directed Alien in 1979. This new film had been hyped to the limit, and also starred some actors that I knew and respected, including Rutger Hauer, and Harrison Ford. I left the cinema that evening completely believing that I had just seen one of the best and most complete films ever made. I have seen it many times since in almost every version. I still feel the same way about it today.

I have to say that it is a far better film than 2001. Why do I think that?

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This takes a familiar genre, Film noir, and gives it a mix of traditional gumshoe detective films, a femme fatale, and adds a wonderful mix of memorable characters in the smaller roles. At times it feels like a western, at others, a sinister, futuristic warning. It is all things to all viewers, they take from it what they like best, and discard the rest. Somber lighting reflects the mood of the scenes, and the constant rain provides a relentless backdrop to the miserable existence of people in an America of the near future. Most buildings are dilapidated and unloved, even new apartments feel small and cramped. There is a nod to the possible make-up of future populations, with some cast members talking in a language that is a strange mixture of oriental dialects and English. The off-world life in space is referenced, but the action takes place on sets that are brilliantly conceived and executed. In a story set around the creation of incredible human-like robots, known as Replicants, we still have retro devices, and conventional clothing. Next to cars that can fly as well as drive on the road, there are old buses, airships, and umbrellas. It is familiar, yet strange, and that is the secret that makes it so captivating.

Cindy’s thoughts: 

The reason these two films have been frequently paired as the best examples of Science Fiction is because they have influenced all subsequent attempts. Before CGI, these two films had believable worlds that blew your mind away. How Kubrick filmed 2001: A Space Odyssey is as interesting as what he had to say. (Has anyone figured it out?) Predicting the future always interests me. I remember when January 1, 1980 clicked to a reality, I wondered what 1990 would be like. 2001 seemed far away and November 2017 too far past my imagination. The future that was, is now the present. We have tablets and Skype. HAL is close and A.I. probably within the next 20 years.  Thank you, Pete, for co-hosting this month’s Lucky 13 Film Club. Make sure you stop by his excellent blog found  HERE

Which film is better? What is it about Science Fiction that appeals to you?

 

 

Lucky 13 Film Club: March Topic

A special thank you to my buddy Ruth at FLIXCHATTER and all of you (thanks Robin) who contributed your opinions on February 13 as we discussed 1930s British Female Protagonists. Moving forward to March, we will explore Science Fiction. The March 13th co-host is Pete from Beetley, England. We’ve been tossing around ideas about Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

With a fresh pair of eyes, pledge to revisit one or both films. If either film is your blind-spot, here is your chance to round out your viewing experience. Why are these two Science Fiction classics highly revered? How did Kubrick’s filming cement his reputation as an outstanding director? Are they better than the recent outpouring of Science Fiction films? How so?

Join Pete and I on March 13 and join the discussion.

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The Running Man

This contribution is for my movie buff friend, Rob, who is hosting the MOVIE ROB’S OCTOBER STEPHEN KING BLOGATHON. I selected not a horror film but a 1982 science fiction novel penned by Richard Bachman, the alias of King. According to Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, it took him a week to write The Running Man. Like several of his film adaptations, the transfer from book to film is difficult. You really need a magical director to pull off the magic of King’s words. Is The Running Man as good as The Shining, Misery, or Carrie? No, not even close. Should you watch The Running Man (1987)? 

A good dystopian story contains satire, and The Running Man film reeks of it, and that’s the challenge with appreciating it. The story-line has a superior message which the inner intellectual embraces, while the film surrounds the viewer with all the crass elements about the 1980s I’d just assume forget. The film could have been a Blade Runner or a Mad Max with its themes developed, but as The Running Man tries to illustrate the ludicrousness of society, that is, a populace addicted to reality television and individual freedoms stolen by a corrupt government, the emphasis of the film shifts away from the warning and stresses the absurdity of the stalkers and the deliverance of those silly one-liners we all associate with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, it lacks the clever special effects admired in Total Recall (1990). 

Richard Dawson as Damon Killian
Richard Dawson as Damon Killian

Does it sound like I disliked the film? No, it is fun if you don’t take it too seriously. After all, you have to admire the cast for they are living examples of the parody and know it. Richard Dawson as the superficial television game host (remember Family Feud?) gives the mob what they want–violence and death in a gladiator-style television show with all the noise and lights and Jane Fonda leotards on dancers who came straight from the MTV set of a Paula Abdul video. How about Jim Brown, the football fullback worshiped for his prowess as a stadium athlete, or Captain Freedom played by Jesse Ventura, the quintessential wrestler famous for his staging in the ring? Or Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac, a performer from another circus ring, the rock star? All this parodying of the entertainer and their fickle fans, grandmothers, and average Joes who are duped by the media makes me cringe especially since the story is set in the future of 2017.

I like watching old science fiction just to see if their predictions came true. Have we devolved? I think humans have always loved the diversion of entertainment. One can easily see the parallels from 1987 to today; we do live in a dystopian of sorts where violence and technology reign supreme. Where that thin line between appearance and reality is distorted for ratings and sales and the wow-factor. The fizz of the entertainment industry. The assault on the senses. A police-state merging with the entertainment industry to brainwash its society. Taken in this vein, the film from the past contains varying shades of our today. When I first watched it thirty years ago, it did feel like science fiction. Who better illustrates this past-present correlation than Arnold Schwarzenegger who has spent a lifetime in front of a camera as body-builder, actor, politician, and returning today as an actor, a nebulous icon of our world?

If you like good old-fashioned kick-ass films with sarcastic tough-guys bludgeoning their way from point A to B, you’d like this one a lot.  I did love the pod-slalom scenes when runners are transported from the studio set to the outside arena. 3.5 out of 5. 

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