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Blade Runner 2049

BladeRunner2049

Jesus Christ on a cracker! It’s been three years since I started writing this review. Obviously, I have been derelict in my duties on my own blog. Been recording a movie podcast, working, and even writing my own scripts, so I suppose the itch was scratched in that manner. Anyway, might as well put this one out there…

Blade Runner is my favorite movie. It has many flaws, it’s not perfect, it’s still my favorite. When I heard a sequel was being made, I was nonplussed. On one hand, more Blade Runner! On the other, a studio might be making a cash grab (Joke’s on them – the original was a bomb) and ruining what made Blade Runner great for me. News continued to trickle out. Ridley Scott will not be directing. Whew. I love the guy, but he’s very hit or miss. Seems like he’s determined to keep working until the day he dies. I think someone else might have more perspective on the world of Blade Runner and he infamously made the first one a nightmare to work on. More news: Ryan Gosling cast in the lead role. Very interesting… Roger Deakins will be the director of photography. Keep it coming, news, I’m starting to get on board. Harrison Ford is coming back even though he hated, hated, HATED the first one? And Denis Villeneuve will direct? FINE, WARNER BROTHERS, I’M IN. From that point on, I watched the first trailer and two of the three short films made to flesh out the history of the movie. I wanted this movie to surprise me as much as possible.

I was surprised to find a movie as captivating as the original. Despite being given hope by all the pre-production news, I was afraid those hopes would be dashed and we’d have another Ghost in the Shell on our hands. This deserves a scene by scene analysis in the style of Roger Ebert’s Cinema Interruptus – 10 (or more)-hour long discussions of a single film with a theater full of people. I’m working mainly from memory here, but let’s get started. If any lost souls of the internet are actually reading this post, please tell me your own thoughts on the movie. (Actually, don’t. This post has been an unfinished draft so long, I’ve seen the entire internet’s opinion on the movie.)

I love this movie. After the first viewing I felt it was too reliant on typical structure and action sequences, but upon further reflection it is a movie that is as deep as it is long. One thing it excels at is asking questions that don’t bore you or pointlessly tease you. One gets the feeling that these questions have answers, you merely have to inhabit this world to divine them. It draws me into the movie’s world instead of confusing me, like many “hard” sci-fi stories do when they give you nothing.

BR2049 immediately sets itself apart from its predecessor by dodging The Big Question the first one posed: Is the main character a replicant? A casual home invasion and brutal fight scene answer it, yes. This time we are teamed up with a manufactured man, which I consider a well-deserved middle finger to non-fans of the director’s cut who view Deckard’s replicanthood with disdain and claim no good story has ever been spun about a THING, which a replicant is. First of all, nice job missing the point, dummies. We’ve got two whole films here devoted to exploring the idea that artificial humans should be considered real humans and you’re upset that Harrison Ford’s arc has more to do with self discovery than blowing away the bad guy. Second of all, that’s racist and you’re as bad as the people in this movie calling K a skinjob.

Fun fact: Another version of this scene was storyboarded for Blade Runner, but never shot. It involved Deckard tearing out the replicant’s jawbone to retrieve the serial number. I think Ridley Scott didn’t want to reveal a metallic, machine-made bone because that would prove the replicants to be nothing more than advanced machines. He wanted to blur the line between human and replicant and that’s why they aren’t called androids like in the book. Or perhaps he thought that was way too gory and would set the audience against Deckard from the start – I can’t find the interview in which he discusses that scene.

So our stoic hero, K, dispatches a protein/worm farmer (Dave Bautista) at the beginning and tears his eyeball out. Thankfully, they stay away from the gore and portray K as a simple working stiff following orders from on high. He’s also portrayed as an underdog. Even though he’s a newer model of replicant than the one he’s been ordered to retire, he’s half the size of Bautista. He’s got to rely on his speed and his wits (and his ability to be punched and stabbed a LOT) instead of sheer brawn.

While he does inhabit a particular spot on the hierarchy within the LAPD, K is not a mindless soldier. If he were – if ANY replicant were – the aforementioned critics of Deckard’s not-quite-humanity would have a point. When his boss (Robin Wright) tells him to return to HQ, he dares to tell her no as he spots a clue to hidden mysteries. And she dares to listen. The implication in their working relationship is that she sees him as more than a tool to hunt down rogue replicants. She seems to honestly value his insights like she would any fully human cop. Many other characters in this world who look down on replicants would treat him like a toaster instead.

Speaking of those people, how do they even know K is a replicant? He looks like Ryan Gosling, not like Ryan Gosling wearing a robot mask. The fellow cops I can understand, but do they have a replicant version of Megan’s Law that requires replicants to inform all their neighbors of what they are? Do they make a bunch of replicants with the same face so people can recognize them? Or is there an inherent otherness about replicants that real people can still detect? I guess if that were the case, they wouldn’t need the Voight-Kampff test.

We don’t witness a Voight-Kampff test in this film except for a replay of the one from the first film. What we get instead is the V-K on steroids – the baseline test. Where the V-K felt eerily calm and casual considering what it was trying to uncover, the baseline is aggressive, loud, and fast. What sounds like an irritated court clerk remains unseen as he barks out nonsensical questions at K. “Have you ever been in an institution? Do they keep you in a cell? When you’re not performing your duties do they keep you in a little box? What’s it like to hold the hand of someone you love? Did they teach you how to feel finger to finger? Do you long for having your heart interlinked?” It’s all a script for K to recite his half and as sensors measure his response time to the millisecond. If there is too much of a delay, well… They can always make another K. Exploring the IMDB trivia, one learns that these questions come from a Vladimir Nabokov novel, Pale Fire, which K has at his apartment. Another question: Why does he have the book? Is he trying to find meaning in the baseline test? “The Moon’s an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the Sun.” – Timon of Athen, Shakespeare. Perhaps replicants are the moon which steal their pale fire from real people. Regardless, the baseline test’s real cruelty is that it’s a constant reminder to K that he is Less Than. After every day on the job, he has to subject himself to a test that comforts his keepers with the reminder that, yes, this machine is still functioning as intended.

Enter Joi, K’s virtual girlfriend and extra layer of artificial humanity. He lives with a holographic projector which has a weightless face and body named Joi. It’s their pretend anniversary and he bought her a gift which will allow her projection to exist outside the apartment at last. Do “soulless” replicants seem like they’d be the kind to give gifts? Seems very human to me. Joi is an extension of this theme. Joi has more life and color than any other character in the movie, yet she is the most obviously fake. In this world it’s the humans who have been drained of their life force, who drink to excess, who have physical impairments, who live within regimented structures, and they’re dragging the replicants along with them. But Joi exists, like the replicants in Blade Runner, to live. She is curious, exciting, and passionate – perhaps everything K wants in himself. Advertisements later in the movie describe Joi programs as everything you want to see and hear, which presents a lot of questions about her nature. Is she simply the natural evolution of an Amazon Echo? Does she spend years catering to your every whim in order to form a perfect psychological profile of you in order to sell you products – like the projection wand K gifts her with? Every technological implication in this movie is a friggin’ rabbit hole.

The clue K found at the beginning leads to a buried skeleton at the farm. The first thing they notice about the skeleton is that it’s of a woman who gave birth via C-section before dying. The second thing they notice about it is that it’s a replicant’s skeleton – who traditionally are not permitted biologically to have children. This is the kind of civilization-shattering information that can get a lot of people killed, so the boss lady tasks K with finding the child, if it is still alive, and making sure no one ever hears about this again. When wondering where the baby went, a lab tech suggests maybe the farmer ATE IT. This can go one of two ways, or both. A) He regards replicants with the same disdain many today have for atheists, homosexuals, Muslims, liberals, abortionists, etc. B) Real meat is so hard to come by, it’s actually conceivable to eat a newborn child in a desperate time. One of the many details/throwaway lines that make this movie come to life in my opinion. The third thing the audience might know about this skeleton if they’ve seen the first movie is that this is Rachel’s body.

Using a very fancy microscope that’s not unlike the ESPER machine from Blade Runner, we see that Rachel’s serial number starts with N7, as in Nexus 7. Nexus 6 was the first generation that could pass for human, but had a 4 year lifespan. Nexus 8 are the current ones with the normal lifespan. Nexus 7 is a mysterious middle generation that apparently could procreate, but we still don’t know if they had an extended lifespan since she died after childbirth. Her serial number ended in 18, implying she was “born” in 2018, one year before the first movie. She died in 2021, only 3 years after that, so it’s possible she still had the 4 year limit, but died prematurely. The answer to that question still depends on if Deckard was also a Nexus 7 or a real human, and we still won’t find out for sure. Ridley Scott has stated that Deckard is absolutely a replicant in his director’s cut, but Denis Villeneuve has cleverly not stated which version of Blade Runner this movie is a sequel to. Or maybe that’s not what the serial number means at all and I’m 100% wrong.

K heads off to the replicant manufacturing behemoth Wallace to research Rachel’s origins. The Tyrell Corp pyramids from 2019 have since been dwarfed by the new Wallace towers, which disappear into the clouds. Where do they get the materials for all that building? I imagine some of the Off World Colonies from the first movie have been sending resources back to Earth, but that’s not really important to the story. Just nerd fuel for people like me. K is assisted by Luv, another replicant, who works directly for Mr. Wallace (Jared Leto). Luv, Joi… Even if there wasn’t any other evidence of the subjugation, commercialization, and sexualization of women in 2049 in this movie – which there is – these characters’ names should lead you believe that women have been getting the short end of the stick in a big way. Marketing has possibly led to all female replicants/holograms getting branded with positive, “fun” names like theirs. They are now simply a product to improve your life in various ways. And in another twist on the expected, Luv is an ironic name for a violent “combat model” that does some sales work on the side. She is presumably the latest and greatest in replicant technology since she works for the big man himself. She often sheds tears in moments of violence, yet she commits so much of it in the course of her duties. Is it her soul reacting in horror to all the things she sees and does while her body must obey Wallace? Questions, questions…

One can’t help but notice that one of Wallace’s drone eyes is always trained on Luv while they meet. She is his right hand, the executor of his will and special enough to name, and he still doesn’t trust her. Is this merely paranoia like we see in many powerful figures or is it because Wallace knows that even his replicants really ARE capable of anything? Perhaps even just a creator admiring his most perfect work to date.

K heads back to the farm to find any other leads and he finds them in the piano. It’s a nice callback to the scene of Rachel playing the piano which was also adorned in photographs. Music, photos, and art are clearly important to replicants, it’s one of those things that make them (more human than) human. We’ve seen this before from Leon, who put himself in danger of being caught just to collect his “precious photos.” I happen to think this obsession with pictures is a replicant’s way of prioritizing his own memories over the implanted ones that are meant to subdue, castrate, and control them. When they have a handful of photos of places they’ve actually been and people they’ve really meant, it proves the authenticity of their existence.

Not to say that other natural born humans aren’t on the verge of accepting replicants for what they are, even if they remain selfish about their own needs. Madam comes to see K, ostensibly to discuss the case, but also to drink some liquor. She drunkenly says that she sometimes forgets he’s a replicant, then implies she could use him as a sex toy. Despite her presence on the “good guy” end of the spectrum in this movie, it’s hard not to equate this behavior to a slave owner taking advantage of her slave. Luckily, the movie doesn’t go down this path and we do not have to hate Madam. Instead, we feel pity for her because she must resort to getting drunk and almost molesting her employee to feel a personal connection in this dystopia.

K and Joi go hunting through old DNA records to find the child to which Rachel died giving birth. The speed reading of hundreds of DNA chains is finally something that does set replicants apart from humans. I confess, if I saw someone zipping through books at the library like Johnny Five, I might find a different chair. Two records show up, a boy and a girl, and the girl apparently died of Galatians disease – another biblical reference. Now I am not a religious person and don’t know anything about this part of the Bible, so I looked it up. The webz tells me it is a letter from Paul the Apostle to a number of Early Christian communities in Galatia. Knowing what we know about the end of the movie, perhaps the Galatians in the film are the replicant rebels in hiding who are looking for their own savior. One piece of Galatians 5 I found fitting was, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Very appropriate. Still, in the context of the film world, I wonder what Galatians disease is. Doesn’t matter really. That’s what comic book sequels and fan fiction are for.

With only the missing boy’s records to work from, K leaves to visit an orphanage in the wastes over the ocean wall. The walls are another immense construction that seems impossible to build with or without slave labor. Is all this metal coming from Off-World? Maybe they’re drilling into the molten layer of the earth’s crust and turning that into metal. We are given no clues because that’s not the story, but damn, I want to know all these details!

Something has happened to the very land itself that requires K to cross a large body of water to go from L.A. to San Diego, which is now entirely a garbage dump! Geez, why do the filmmakers hate San Diego? Furthermore, San Diego is referred to as merely as district of Los Angeles, evidence that L.A. just took over all of southern California. I’m imagining this happened across the country, each urban center becoming a megacity and swallowing up the surrounding municipalities for 100 miles in all directions. But did the Big One finally strike and sink everything between L.A. and S.D., or is that merely where the flying car freeway is located so no one crashes into buildings?

At the Bald Children Poisonous Metals Reclamation Orphanage, K stumbles onto a classic film noir clue – the book with a torn out page! The exact records that would help locate the first child born of a replicant have been taken. I always wonder about criminals trying to cover their trail like this. Why only destroy the one page? That’s too obvious! In this case, where it involved many volumes of records, maybe steal a few of the books, then totally disorganize the rest, so it’ll take longer for the sleuth to even realize the records are gone. Not exactly a complaint on the movie, I just like to think about things from the perspective of the guy trying to get away with it… On his way out, K recognizes where he is. But he’s never been here before, has he? The dream he detailed about the toy horse took place here. This is the first time we’ve seen an implanted memory play out in the real world, which begs the question – is this an implant or was this the real thing? The journey to the boiler is very long and quiet. Painful because we know where it’s heading. Knowing what it would do to K’s existence, I really wanted him to not find it. But there it is. A wooden horse toy that isn’t supposed to be real is real. And the replicant blade runner who isn’t supposed to be real…

The following scene in the dream builder’s bubble could have given everything away, but the movie plays its hand well. We heard briefly about a girl with a disease who should be dead, then we soon meet a woman with a disease who’s being kept hidden away from prying eyes. She watches K’s memory of the toy horse and sheds a tear. In the end, we know it’s because she’s watching her own memory, but in the moment we can believe an Artist like herself would be entirely empathetic just watching someone else’s. She declares it to be the real thing (her own) and he takes it to mean HE is the real boy and screams out in frustration. He knows he will be hunted to the very end, and what do you know, he wants to live. Something finally shattered his cool exterior. If a replicant can feel this way, what exactly makes them not human?

Trivia: After learning he could be an honest to goodness human, Joi starts calling K “Joe” over and over again. Josef K is the character from Franz Kafka’s The Trial who is hauled through a nightmarish justice system and found guilty without ever even being told what crime he was accused of. That’s the plight of the a replicant – seen as a villain without understanding the reason why.

Enter the weird In & Out Double-Double Animal Style strip tease. It is weird, isn’t it? It’s as though Joi wants to level up her own human qualities to meet K at his new status. She wants to be more real because he is now more real. Joi hires a replicant prostitute (Mackenzie Davis) from earlier to act as her body in order to make love. (So can these holo-girls just go out and make phone calls to whoever they want? Do they have holo-friends when Mr. Man is at the office? I thought they were sort of limited to when their user turns them on. Whatever, who cares…) What ensues is truly one of the oddest visual effects I’ve ever seen. They filmed both actresses performing the same gestures in time, then recreated them in 3D so that they would overlap and poke through each other in three dimensions. It’s so much more than simply overlaying one face on top of the other. It maintains the analog feel of two beings trying to copy each other and being a little bit off from moment to moment. It creates a sensation of the two women competing for the front position in K’s affections, which I can see as a bit sexist, but I can also see it as highlighting Joi’s perfectly programmed humanity and a counterpoint to Mariette’s hard edge we saw before. A great scene heightened by stellar VFX.

Joi has a major character moment next – in my opinion THE moment that makes Joi a real character and not just a program. K is leaving to continue his search and Joi wants to go with, insisting that she transfers to his holostick completely. If she was left behind in the home station, she could be made to inform Wallace where K has gone. She decides to remove her own safety net to help K. After all the previous scenes of her becoming closer to human by degrees, K breaks the backup and she is suddenly made mortal. If anything happens to the device in K’s pocket, she dies. She knows it and she makes the decision anyway. There’s been a lot of analysis about Joi’s motivations here and I simply think it continues Blade Runner’s tradition of showing greater empathy, understanding, and self-sacrifice in the “artificial” lifeforms. She’s not just a program trying to please her owner anymore, she has become a person, if not flesh and blood, making choices about her own life.

Another great scene (this movie is full of them!) is when Luv shows up at Madam’s office looking for K. Madam’s shock and horror at Luv’s deception and violence is palpable. In a way, it’s the final nail in Madam’s prejudices. She knows in this moment that replicants can be just as bad as people and then she tries to protect K with her life. Sylvia Hoeks’ performance is riveting as she proves that everyone’s beliefs about replicants to be a comforting lie. “You’re so sure. Because he told you. Because we never lie,” she coos as she crushes Madam’s hand over a shattered glass. She even feels the need to tell a story to Wallace about why she killed a policewoman. It’s like she enjoys acting out in ways she never can at home with dad watching over her.

K utilizes the very cyberpunk invention of the skid row-dwelling nuclear scientist who sells his services out of a tent to discover that the wooden horse came from an area with a particular radiation signature – Vegas baby! The following sequence may be the most well known of the entire movie because of its iconic red fog look based on Australian sandstorms. You only need one look at the Las Vegas desert like this to understand that civilization doesn’t exist here. K narrows down his search by looking for signs of life – any life should stick out like a sort thumb. What he finds is a bee colony, an interesting choice. Bees are a drone insect, slaves to the queen, kinda like replicants are expected to be. He sticks his hand into the hive and brings it out covered with bees – and apparently not stung as I expected it to be. Perhaps they recognize a fellow traveler.

The set design of the casino interior is really great. They didn’t overdo the wretchedness of the abandoned place like JF Sebastian’s arguably was in the previous film. (Seriously, why would a person who lives in that apartment let it get THAT funky? There are considerations to be made for representing the “kipple” from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.) The stack of empty whiskey bottles is funny without being too on the nose. As great as this part of the movie is, the fist fight in the Elvis concert room is a low point for me. It’s pointless old man action that goes nowhere. Punch Ryan Gosling in the face, Ryan Gosling tries to stop him, repeat. Not sure what the point of all the conflict is if he’s just going to give up and drink whiskey with the stranger anyway.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Harrison Ford in this movie. I was afraid he’d be in one scene, then unceremoniously killed off or something due to the fact that all promotional material showed him in the same grey T-shirt. I fully expected his contract to have a line regarding a maximum of one costume change per week. He’s in the stage of his career where people will do it his way or he won’t do the movie. He can live off of Star Wars money forever, no skin off his nose. So I was surprised and thrilled by his role in the movie. It’s pivotal, not a cameo for a paycheck. And despite whatever misgivings he may have about making the first one, he shows up with the same attention to character detail he had in 1982. This isn’t Ford showing up in Anchorman 2 because holy shit it’s so funny that he would do a movie like this, this is Ford bringing real emotion to a role like I haven’t seen him do in decades, frankly. The conversations he and K have are of that old, slow Blade Runner cloth, but the content runs deep and never bores. “Sometimes to love someone, you’ve got to be a stranger.” This is all masterfully written to lead the audience down the “K is Deckard’s Son” path, but when you rewatch it, it’s a man – a father – struggling to justify his actions and his current lonely existence. He did the right thing, but for whom? Also regarding the dog: “Is it real?” “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?” is a clever nod to the fans who have longed for the answer of Deckard’s humanity while also fitting the film’s themes of identity. In the end, what’s the difference?

Luv and some goons track K out to Vegas and the first meaningful death of the movie occurs – Luv squashes Joi’s holostick underfoot as she is about say she loves K. A truly devastating death since we’ve seen Joi’s evolution over the last 2 hours. The death of Sapper in the opening is affecting in its brutality, but we didn’t get to know him. The deaths of the humans are mostly used to illustrate Luv’s strength and invincibility. This is the first person (yes, a person!) we really care about to suffer this fate. The goons capture Deckard despite K’s best efforts. Exit. Alarum.

One of the weaker scenes in the movie, frankly, is when K is rescued by a group of replicant rebels. Many of them bear a scarred eye socket, so they cannot be identified as replicants. (Wouldn’t missing a friggin’ EYE become the thing the blade runners are looking for then? That can’t be the ONLY way they’re identified, right? But it’s the one the movie has setup for us, so this is OK in the name of efficient screenwriting and staying away from sci-fi bullshit better explored in very thick novels.) They tell him he is not the One, as he though, but they all thought they were at one point. Because who doesn’t want to matter in the world? Their goal is to protect the child. The girl. Deckard knows about her – the dream maker trapped in a snow globe – so he must not be allowed to reveal anything to Wallace. They want K to kill Deckard.

Deckard is taken to one of the coolest villain lairs in recent memory – a wide open room filled a foot high with water and only little wooden steps leading to a center platform. The lights bounces off the rippling surface in another echo/one-up of Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corp. conference room (which didn’t even have visible water, it was just a lighting effect). Two things we’ve already learned are extremely rare in this world are wood and water and Wallace has more than his share of both. This is probably the room where Wallace does his heavy thinking, but now it is an interrogation room. Deckard knows something about the replicant’s child and Wallace will not be denied. He asks if perhaps Deckard was DESIGNED to fall for Rachel 30 years ago, suggesting he is also a replicant and together they were the Adam and Eve of the independent replicant race. The can of worms remains as deep as ever as we do not get a solid answer either way. The fans can still debate, hooray! With his line of questioning not getting anywhere, Wallace brings out the big guns. I actually gasped in the theater when her silhouette took shape. Rachel Tyrell, in all her 2019 glory, not having aged a day, emerges from the shadows to tug at Deckard’s innermost desires. This is yet another example of stunning visual effects not being used merely to impress the audience, but to emotionally engage them. Every fan of Blade Runner was no doubt speechless during this scene. At the time, this was THE BEST youngified person I’d ever seen. There were a few aspects of Rachel’s face that felt rubbery or too slick. Despite the technically perfect recreation of Sean Young’s face and the photoreal texture of the skin and the way the light passes into it, it was still animated. But it was definitely on the far side of the uncanny valley. Since then, we’ve seen strides forward in deep fakes, and it’s enough to make traditional 3D artists worry. Why make it 3D when you could use an actor’s own face from 30 years ago to de-age them now? I suspect a lot of studios may start creating catalogs of their top stars’ faces from decades past in as high a resolution as possible so that they may be reused in the future. If I was an unethical producer who had no ability to find new stars, that’s what I’d be doing anyway…

Regardless of how “real” Rachel appears to Deckard, he knows it’s a fake. The way she pleads with him too desperately feels like that’s how all the Joi companions (another product of Wallace Corp.) get their start too. She was designed to be whatever Deckard wanted, but he wanted the real Rachel who died almost 30 years ago. And they got the eye color wrong. Allegedly. There’s some confusion on the eye color if you’re looking at Sean Young vs. the Voight-Kampff test videos vs. this Replicant. Wallace’s plan to do this the easy way has failed. He signals Luv, who shoots New Rachel right in the head. Just another obsolete toaster oven to throw away now.

As Deckard is confronted with a recreation of his lost love, so is K in the form of a giant Joi advertisement. Who calls him “a good Joe.” And the lines are blurred again. Are all Jois programmed to like the name Joe? Does that make K less unique as a result? He looks down at his gun and decides he must protect the child, though we don’t yet know if he intends to do that by way of killing Deckard. We also don’t know his train of thought regarding Joi. Does he realize he was just another victim of Wallace Corp products and Joi was just an electric sheep to keep him company? Or does he realize in the face of the pink monstrosity with solid black eyes that his love for Joi was real even if she technically was not?

The climactic end to the film works in some ways, but not at all. It involves some brief flying car dogfighting followed by a race against a rising tide as the spinner Deckard is restrained in is dragged out to the ocean. Luv stabs K a bunch and he doesn’t seem to mind. He perseveres (somehow) and drowns her. As she thrashes around and finally expires, we can see, if we look hard enough, that she is also as human as anyone in this story. She doesn’t want to live merely to execute her master’s commands, she just WANTS TO LIVE. Like Roy Batty, Leon, and Pris, or anyone really.

So K is bleeding badly, but still pretty much OK. He gets Deckard out and they fly to his daughter in the snow. (Is it snowing because they’re so high up? It was just raining like crazy when they were playing in the ocean.) I do like this snowscape as a contrast to the rest of the city. It may be pretty dreary and gray up here, but it is also peaceful and quiet. It’s slow. The snowflakes haven’t joined the chaos below as rain. Deckard goes inside to see his child for the first time since she was born. K stays on the steps to enjoy the snow falling on his face. In the end, he wasn’t the One, but he mattered all the same.

Blade Runner 2049 gets 10 holographic Elvises out of 10. Thanks for reading, whoever you are. I really had to get all that rambling off my chest.

Rings (2017)

RingsI’m going to lead with the rating on this post instead of building the suspense for several paragraphs because I noticed I’ve reviewed a lot of movies here 4/10, now including Rings’ 4 mysterious wells out of 10.

ringsrating

Does this mean I have a penchant for watching below average movies? I think it means I am often disappointed by a lot of movies that should have been better and maybe that’s a personal problem. I do try to have zero expectations when watching any movie – I rarely watch trailers anymore and only listen to coworkers discuss plots that I know I’ll not waste my time with. But a sequel whose predecessors I have already seen is another matter. I love The Ring, I hate The Ring Two. I don’t even really remember The Ring Two outside of the fact that I hate it. Regardless, I couldn’t help but be hopeful this would be as good as the first. It’s not.

The first movie (and of course the original Japanese Ringu) used an unexpected vehicle for a haunting – a VHS videotape that will kill you seven days after you watch it. That is, not the tape itself, but you know what I mean. It was an interesting premise in the last days of the VHS, like a piece of the past coming back for revenge. Naturally, that’s exactly what the story was about – a restless spirit from another time looking for peace and/or payback. So now The Ring is locked into pop culture and everyone is familiar with the girl crawling out of the TV. Like I said, I don’t remember The Ring Two, but the ghost girl from the tape ain’t finished yet.

Here in installment three, we have a college professor (of theoretical biology? Did I hear that right? Is that a real field of study? They teach classes for that? News to me.) in possession of the killer video and he has stupidly made a bunch of digital copies to share with his students because he wants to kill them all. No, not really, it’s for an experiment that is intended to prove the existence of the afterlife. I guess it’s pretty clear when seeing the effects of the video that something paranormal is at play, but the exact procedures of the experiment are never laid out. All we know is the teacher has several students watch the tape so he can put them on a countdown and record the weird happenings over the next seven days – with the promise that he’ll find someone else to watch each person’s copy of the video so it will pass onto them. How he expects this experiment to EVER END is not addressed. He’s doing fake science, dammit, don’t bother with those details!

So of course the first person on the countdown is killed because the Prof waited until the last second to find someone else to watch their video, thereby passing the curse off to them. Our main characters are Julia, a college girl (I assume, though we never see her at school or meet any of her friends or family), and her boyfriend who signed up for the professor’s experiment. He’s got 12 hours left before his 7 days are up, so what do they do? They go to fucking sleep. Personally, sleep wouldn’t be possible if I had a tortured ghost after me who can make calls on the AT&T network. But whatevs, the girlfriend watches the video to save her boyfriend and buy some time. Things go wrong immediately.

Samara, the drowned ghost girl, has chosen Julia for a special task. We never learn why. She gets a special video with new shots to clue her in to what to do next. Finally, a plot! And we’re 35-40 minutes deep in the movie. So much of this movie is exposition, setup, and rehashing the first movie just to reach this point. I was honestly sick of how much they reminded the audience of the rules of the curse and what happened in the first movie (they too forgot about the second). This turn in the story, where Julia is singled out as the Chosen One, should have come about 20 minutes earlier. Removing a pointless opening scene on an airplane would have done a lot to fix this. Removing every aggressive stranger Julia comes into contact with would have done even more. Whether it’s her boyfriend’s college friends or the operator of a shitty B&B in Samara’s hometown, it seems that everyone would rather Julia just fuck off and die. Geez, lady, if you want these snoopy kids out of your face DON’T RENT THEM THE ROOM.

From this point on it’s really just remaking the first movie. Our heroes do a little detective work, psychic visions are seen (these parts almost make this a Nightmare on Elm Street movie), the truth about the past is dug up, they meet a creepy old dude who knows more than he lets on, and they save the little girl’s spirit from her eternal torment.

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And then she proves what an asshole she is by not staying dead. The end.

Just what in the world does this girl WANT? These movies have seen her remains laid to rest at least TWICE and all the people who directly did her harm are dead. Apparently the leads of all three movies have consistently made the wrong choice by trying to put her to bed, spiritually speaking. Like Don Henley said, all she wants to is dance. And by dance, I mean kill a whole bunch of people for no great reason. She’s just an evil little turd? That’s it? All of the revelations about the past suffer from diminishing returns once Samara is shown in the first film to be unreliable.

Cage #5: The Cotton Club (1984)

cottonclubAnother supporting role for Cage in another Francis Ford Coppola film, yet I will soldier on. I will watch any number of Richard Gere movies if it means finishing my mission. Diane Lane’s presence should sweeten the pot – I seem to have watched an awful lot of Diane Lane lately. Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous StainsStreets of FireRumble FishJudge Dredd… Oh wait, she was nominated for a Razzie in this movie. Fuck. Well, it seems to have done fairly well critically and got nominated for some other ACTUAL awards. Here we go.

We get a few plots to follow, which would be engaging if any of them shared anything thematically with each other. Richard Gere plays Dixie Dwyer, a musician who unwittingly saves the life of a gangster, Dutch Schultz. Dutch gets Dwyer to work for him out of gratitude and subsequently Dwyer falls for one of his girls, Cicero. Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage as Dwyer’s brother rides his coattails into a life of crime. So Gere and Lane are in a forbidden love affair while the gangsters fight over territory in Harlem. And behind all that, Gregory Hines and his brother are vying for stardom as dancers at the club where most of the action takes place – The Cotton Club.

Sounds pretty epic! It might have been if it it didn’t play like a big budget TV movie. The natural performances deserve praise and some of the cinematography too. I am saddened to say, however, that this is one of the bad Francis Ford Coppola movies. When the credit comes up that the film was inspired by a “pictorial history” of the real Cotton Club, my spidey sense went off. What we get is another pictorial history. The stories are held together with a paste of period dance numbers, elaborate sets (for the time), and fancy costumes. The movie bombed hard – $28 million earned against a $58 million budget, yet still garnered some critical acclaim including an Academy nomination for Production Design.

Now how was this movie nominated for a Best Editing Oscar? The whole movie feels like a rough cut. Perhaps it was a token nomination to recognize the challenge of overlapping dialogue and ever-present musical tracks. But seriously, an early moment where someone suddenly gets stabbed to death strikes such a false note, I was convinced my copy of the movie had skipped a few seconds. I wasn’t astonished by the action, I was confused by the nearly unrelated images playing before me. An edit should never be confusing unless you’re David Lynch – and even then it would have a point. This is a straightforward scene that got bungled. I have a feeling something else is at play here – maybe the stabbing was too graphic even for an R-rated movie in this era and the MPAA demanded some cuts. Still, instead of making the scene work somehow some way, they cut to a close up of Fred Gywnne being shocked and called it a day. Very slapdash work. Near the end they try to do some crosscutting between assassinations and tap dancing, which is just like the end of The Godfather, but with tap dancing. In other words, a shameful repetition of one of Coppola’s finest moments that signifies nothing in this film. And a couple spinning newspaper montages to cover some time are almost expected in this genre, not deserving of an award. Christ, a pivotal close up is OUT OF FOCUS! It’s the editor’s job to pick a take that ISN’T OUT OF FOCUS! And the camera op’s job to keep that stuff in focus, but I digress…

Considering Coppola was also nominated for a Golden Globe for direction, I think the awards season accolades were the industry kissing his butt. Probably in an effort to keep the running time under 3 hours, there are always seem to be two conversations happening at once. It can be done in a way that makes it all make sense, but not here. I do not get the feeling of a vibrant time that was full of energy, I get the feeling that there are definitely more interesting conversations happening in other parts of the room. Maybe more importantly, the various dance performances are not improved by the editing. It would have been better to stay back and watch the master tap dancers do their thing. If you can make it boring to watch Gregory Hines dance, you fucked up.

This is essentially a gangster love story and Coppola seems like a natural choice for the material. He made sure the sets and dance numbers were suggestive of the period, then stopped. The movie feels phoned in, and in a way it may have been. Producer Robert Evans was supposed to direct it, but got cold feet and convinced Coppola to take over so pre-production wasn’t a total waste. Francis Ford Coppola will live forever as an innovator in film, so why didn’t he do any innovating in The Cotton Club? This is as dry a treatment of the subject matter as I’ve ever seen. The three threads of the movie sound like they might be interesting on their own, but when they have to sacrifice screen time to each other, they become nothing more than surface level replicas of a bygone era. Instead of being affected by human stories, we’re held back by the film’s aspirations of being epic. Before we can get deeply involved, we’re off to the next plot line. Oddly, the “A” story between Dixie and Cicero is the least satisfying. The hoodlum stuff is at the least the most entertaining, with Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne playing a pair of lovable Odd Couple gangsters. A little scene between them concerning a watch was genuinely heartwarming! The machinations of the bosses are fairly rote for the audience though. Some mafiosos want more territory so they bump off the competition, no big deal, we’ve seen it plenty. The rivalry between the tap dancing brothers and the experience of the inherent racism of the time really should be its own movie. This story seems forced into The Cotton Club and never gets its proper spotlight. And the ending… It’s like they ran out of money. We end with an 8 1/2 style fantasy mashup of all the storylines and it feels unnecessary, ineffective, and just plain weird. I didn’t leave this one feeling satisfied. There have been significantly better gangster movies, romance movies, and showbiz movies before and after this one. Coppola succeeded merely at recreating the Cotton Club. If only something worthwhile was happening within it.

I give The Cotton Club four blood-stained Diane Lanes out of ten, if only to acknowledge the performers’ talent and the director’s attention to detail throughout the movie. I wish there were some standout dance numbers, but nothing impresses the way it should.

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Bonus: An early performance from Mario Van Peebles, perhaps his first in a theatrical feature film since Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song when he was just 14. He just does some interpretive dance, but I thought it was notable.

Jason Bourne (2016)

jasonbourneI liked the first one, I REALLY liked the second one, and got lost on the third one. Didn’t even watch the fourth one, which was a really cheap attempt at world building ala Marvel. (Side note: Why do they always go to Jeremy Renner when trying to expand an existing franchise? I’m honestly surprised they didn’t throw him into Fantastic Beasts…) This fifth one gave me hope because Matt Damon was coming back – until I saw the trailer. It sparked memories of Rambo III and not in a good way, if that’s even possible.

The movie starts out with a quick recap of the previous films. It’s been 9 years since we saw Damon in the role and the important plot points need some refreshing: Jason Bourne, Treadstone program superman, is shot on a mission, is rescued, but has amnesia, and must rediscover who he was. The first three movies cover that whole arc. At the end of the third movie he states plainly, “I remember everything.” Cue Moby’s “Extreme Ways!”

So now he remembers everything, but it turns out there’s more to learn all the same. Sadly, this involves his father, following a disappointing trend in recent films of unnecessarily involving the main character’s parents as part of their tragic origins. Lookin’ at you Amazing Spider-Man, you fuck. But I’m jumping ahead. Rambo III. J.B. is working out in the Albanian/Greek desert (They have deserts? TIL.) as a pit fighter. One would think a guy this capable could make money in any number of ways, but the implication is that he can’t get away from his violent tendencies. He has flashbacks to his scandalous past (the aforementioned recap) and feels guilty for the lives he has taken. Instead of becoming a volunteer librarian in the Netherlands, he fights other meaty dudes for money. Or not, you never see him get paid. Maybe he’s a volunteer pit fighter. Sometimes he takes out his opponents with his first blow, other times he takes a lot of punishment before finishing things. Strange way to pay penance. Anyway, the underground fighting is just the first of a whole slew of cliches that this movie serves up.

Enter Julia Stiles as ex-CIA employee Nicky Parsons, currently badass hacker. She shows up to a dark warehouse full of computer equipment to hack into the CIA’s database. Apparently hackers don’t turn on the lights. Within minutes we are confronted with images of folders lamely labeled BLACK OPS, slow download progress bars (oh, the tension!), CIA agents on the other side of that download furiously typing to counter-hack Parsons, and someone ordering, “Enhance!” on a blurry image which miraculously becomes crystal clear. Later on, the CIA successfully deletes files from a laptop via a smartphone situated in the same room. Not directly connected with special software, it’s just sitting on the kitchen counter over there. You’d think between Bourne and the expert hacker in the room, they would know not to view stolen government secrets while connected to the fucking wifi. This is like an episode of 24. This is the stuff of PARODY. This is what shows me that the filmmakers haven’t grown with the times, they are still trying to make a CIA thriller for 2004, story points about online privacy notwithstanding.

A hallmark of this series has been Bourne’s almost entirely accidental involvement in secret government conspiracies. He just wanted to know who the fuck he was, and he found that out. And the government didn’t collapse. I am not understanding why everyone in the CIA has it in for this guy. He’s been off the radar for years, no problem. Maybe he’s just a big catch that would guarantee a promotion or something. I think because Jason Bourne has become a bit of a boogeyman within the halls of U.S. intelligence agencies, this is really a take on the Frankenstein story. EVERYBODY on the U.S. side of things seems to shudder when they hear his name. Hell, even one guy who spied on him almost 20 years ago remembers him. He is the horrible mistake they collectively made that needs to be corrected. Of course, they think he’s working with/in charge of Nicky Parsons who just stole a bunch of dirty secrets. Regardless, he has absolutely no stake in revealing them to the world. Why can’t he just say so when they manage to get him on the phone? People just don’t talk through their problems… Doesn’t matter in this case because Bourne has to find out who killed his daddy. Jason Bourne might as well be subtitled This Time It’s Personal (That’s Why We Used His Full Name). The retconned plot about his dad having something to do with Treadstone doesn’t go anywhere, but we do get a Bondesque French Anti-Bourne known only as The Asset who has a personal vendetta against Bourne for inadvertently getting a bunch of spies captured, tortured, or killed through his actions in previous films. I’ll give you three guesses who killed Papa Bourne.

I’m ignorant of the real world CIA staff, so maybe it’s totally normal for a bunch of foreign people to be working for the CIA in every corner of the globe. Alicia Vikander as an up-and-coming Cyber Security analyst is Swedish, Vincent Cassel: Super Assassin is French, and a whole bunch of heavies that appear to be locals in whatever country all take orders from the CIA. When a Frenchman carrying out assassinations for Uncle Sam calls Bourne a traitor, I can’t help but chuckle. I think Francois Hollande would like a word with you, sir. Furthermore, I need to point out that these government agents totally suck at blending in. They have giant earpieces you can spot across the street (except for the important ones who don’t). They are all conspicuously looking for their target or locked on like a T-800. And they’re not so subtly shouting things into their shoulders like, “Bravo team, eyes on target!” It’s like a bunch of bodybuilders are doing a flash mob at random locations throughout Europe. I would call the cops on people doing what they do in this movie. It is a strange dichotomy between these buffoons and the nigh-omnipotent government power they work for – the people who are casually ordering hits across the globe and tracking every cell phone in the world somehow. I’m unclear on the thugs’ backgrounds though. Are these ALL graduates of the Treadstone program? Shit, I hope not. What a waste of time and money. Total amateur hour.

Greengrass missed an opportunity to make a comment on how the world has changed since Bourne last surfaced and how he has too. Remember the classic image of a bus driving in front of Bourne and then he’s disappeared when the bus moves on? I think they do it in all the previous movies. They have that shot set up and I’m ready for it. Practically salivating for some of that good old Bourne stuff. Bourne walks away from camera. The bus drives across screen and… Oh, he’s still just walking away from camera. I thought it was supposed to be clever or funny or something about how he’s too old to pull that disappearing act anymore. I was wrong on all counts. His advancing age is never an issue in the story and it was obviously not a joke. Obvious because the movie has no sense of humor. These are fairly serious films, sure, but Franka Potente’s disbelief at Bourne’s abilities in the first one was a bit of precious relief from all that seriousness. This movie has none of that what-the-fuck perspective. Everybody is an insider, no “normal” people are a part of this anymore, and nothing is amazing as a result. It’s expected. Almost run-of-the-mill. The blurry shakycam 1.5sec long fist fights are back and distracting as ever. The car chase of the finale is exciting, but it is not interesting in the slightest. And let’s forget about the nonsensical way it’s put together, with no clear lines of action to be found. It’s more that the actual bad guy of the story has been dealt with by then and the only thing left is wanton destruction. Not a thing is at stake. They smash through blocks and blocks of Las Vegas traffic, probably killing more people than Bourne has in his whole assassin career, all in the name of pointless revenge, which is not what Bourne is supposed to be about as a character, and there’s not even a goddamn Ocean’s 11 reference.

Look, I don’t need a Bourne movie to occupy the same space as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or the campier James Bond movies. All I want is the people in Bourne movies to react to situations like human beings instead of exposition vending machines. The best we get is Tommy Lee Jones, who at least has something to play besides, ‘There’s Bourne! Shoot him!’ He gets to be a mean old Washington man who is having his career threatened by a young, ambitious, forward-thinking *gulp* woman! Maybe it’s not a villain that will be remembered for years to come, but literally every other character is stoic to the point of boredom. Paul Greengrass directed and co-wrote this movie. He has made some incredible films and I think he will again. It seems that he was so focused on remaking The Bourne Ultimatum that he forgot to make a movie about people. We got a movie about easily hacked computers and indestructible cars instead.

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Jason Bourne earns four fatal car wrecks on the Vegas strip out of a possible ten. Now I’ve got “Extreme Ways” stuck in my head. Damn, you Moby!

Cage #4: Racing with the Moon (1984)

RWTMThis is the first movie of Nicolas Cage’s career that I can honestly say isn’t worth watching. That means it’s basically harmless and forgettable. Even bad movies, really bad movies, can be worth a watch (see “The Best of Times”). Racing With the Moon isn’t bad, it’s just sorta…there. Which is bad enough, I suppose. It begins, some stuff happens of varying import, then it’s over.

What we got here is your totally standard coming of age story set in a realm of magical nostalgia. Think Stand By Me, but with more abortions. I’m choosing to ignore the fact that Stand By Me came out two years after this picture. There’s even a race against a train like in Stand By Me, though the roles in the contest are reversed.

Sean Penn (“Hopper”) and Nicolas Cage (“Nicky”… Man, I hate when characters have the same name as the actor portraying them.) are best buds in a small California town in 1942. They’ve got a couple months before they are shipped off to fight in WW2, so they decide to make the best of the time they have left. To Hopper, this includes trying to make the rich girl at school his girlfriend.

Notable is the presence of Crispin Glover as “Gatsby Boy,” a rich brat at the bowling alley. Notable because they were both in “The Best of Times,” both of their acting debuts. Are they still in touch, you think? Does anybody know anybody who knows either of these gentlemen? I need to get them in the same room again.

Well, anyway, the rich girl it turns out ain’t so rich. She lives in a rich family’s house – in the servant’s quarters more or less because her mom is the maid. Yadda yadda yadda, Nicky’s girlfriend needs an abortion – meaning Nicky is the one who REALLY needs the abortion – but those cost money. Hopper asks his “rich” lady friend for the necessary funds and the whole thing falls apart. She thinks he only wanted her because she was rich.

Who the hell is this movie for? People who fondly remember the days of soda jerks, secret abortions, and manually operated bowling alleys? I don’t know which of those is worse… I bet it’s good for teenagers because they are a self-important crowd and here are two teenagers preparing to go to war, that most selfless and heroic of acts, and their minuscule problems that feel so large to kids. These guys aren’t heroes, though, they’re just a couple of dumb asses who enjoy resenting their lot in life.

It’s a sitcom structure in the end. Some physical humor linking together a story of boy meets girl. Personal bonds are tested and broken, but everybody sees the error of their ways and gets back together just in time to go fight a war. It’s about as deep as the holes in a bowling ball. If I had to get ten back alley abortions, I’d only get four of them with Hopper and Nicky.

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Poltergeist (2015)

Poltergeist2015The original Poltergeist is one of America’s horror classics and I’m not afraid to say it. The announcement of its remake/reboot/reimagining/whatever fucking studios are calling them now brought mixed emotions. On the one hand, YAY someone out there appreciates Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece (yes, better than Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and wants to bring it to modern audiences who might never bother with the original, on the other hand, BOO they’re just going to make an Indisious clone and slap the Poltergeist title on there. Let us forget for the moment that Insidious is just a ripoff of Poltergeist in the first place. Actually, scratch that – let us NEVER forget that Insidious is a blatant ripoff of Poltergeist no matter how many dumb sequels they make. I’m a big fan of Sam Rockwell, the trailer creeped the hell out of me, and Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures was producing, so I decided to keep my hopes up for Poltergeist ’15. Was I right to do that? Let’s find out.

Did I mention I’m also a fan of the director Gil Kenan? His Monster House was great and I even liked City of Ember to a certain extent. The fact that he hasn’t directed something in 6-7 years was worrisome, but I felt that Poltergeist would be a good fit since Monster House, another haunted house story, went over so well. With me. Did other people like it? IMDB says…6.7. Well, fuck the rest of you, I thought it was inventive and just scary enough and hilarious. Hope Status: Still high.

My fears of seeing a classic turned into an Insidious clone did not come to pass exactly, but it is rather paint-by-numbers. Especially if you’ve seen the Hooper version. The modern stylings of the genre have ensured that this remake will almost certainly be forgotten. It’s a slickly filmed, jump scare-laden movie starring pretty people going through some hard times. Honestly, not much different here from The Conjuring except that Conjuring was scarier. There is nothing left that sticks out about this film. Like that film, this is about a family dealing with the various inconveniences of living in a haunted house. Unlike that film, this one seems to pull its punches. That one was R, this one is PG-13, so it’s not like it doesn’t make sense. This is the “family” horror film of the year. It’s heroes and victims are the children. The kids are the ones who understand what’s happening while the adults alternately freak out and refuse to listen. I understand that maybe a movie geared towards kids maybe doesn’t want to show a guy tearing his own face off like in the original (rated PG!), but I don’t know why a film must coddle its audience. Of course, I can’t put myself in an 8-year old’s shoes and tell you how scary it is, but I wonder if the movie would even hold an 8-year old’s attention.

There is little new material in the plot to interest fans of the original. When I called this paint-by-numbers, I meant it. All the very same beats are struck, all very mechanically. Things have been swapped out, sure, but the feeling is gone. Instead of the stacking chairs (also ripped off by the cabinets in The Sixth Sense), we get CG stacking comic books. Instead of the magic spot that slides stuff across the kitchen floor, the kids discover their hair sticks up when touching a doorknob. The big child-eating tree is replaced with a CG monster-armed tree that can reach into the inner recesses of the house. Even the dialogue is ripped out of the old movie and placed in new characters’ mouths. Is this homage or lack of creativity? Honestly, the thing that they get right is that clown doll. Jesus, that thing and all the other smaller clowns are terrifying. In the one case where I couldn’t tell if it was CG or a physical prop, the many clown dolls populating a kid’s room are seen moving juuuust out of the light before freezing ala Toy Story. They don’t make movies that are just plain creepy anymore, but this scene worked well for me. However, since it is a remake of a superior original, what they get wrong in this version? Back in the 80s they didn’t have much in the way of CGI. They just used puppets. So while this movie makes the most out of an army of clown dolls getting closer and closer to our protagonist while he’s not looking, the original made the most out of a clown doll…just sitting there. So which is better? You can probably guess my choice, but it really is up to you and your tastes.

Let me ask another question. Why is it that paranormal researchers in movies have all these cool gadgets to find and study ghosts, and they all work, and people still treat them like crackpots? I’m not picking on Poltergeist here, but all movies from the last 20 years where these characters are portrayed as frustrated loons. In Ghostbusters, the characters became quite famous for inventing the technology to detect and trap ghosts, as you might expect. Nobel prizes would be handed out to these people. And again, in the original Poltergeist, the scientists that show up to help haven’t been through this before. They are as astounded as anyone else at what they’re seeing. And one could imagine that they go and try to tell others what has happened, but no one believes them. This modern invention of the ghost and/or monster hunter who has seen it all (twice) is a lazy screenwriting trick to provide an ending to the story. This remake also fails to rise above in this respect and introduces a reality TV star who really totally CAN communicate with the spirits. By yelling at them. Why he’s just got a reality show instead of James Randi knocking down his door, I don’t know. To be fair, the psychic played by Zelda Rubinstein in the first one also just yelled a lot at the evil spirits. But at least she showed up and appeared to learn about the situation instead of showing up fully loaded and ready to kick some poltergeist ass.

Okay, look, by now you know I vastly prefer the 1982 version of Poltergeist. And you should too. If you don’t, you’re not as good a person as you could be. I have strong opinions not just about movies, but about HOW they make movies today. I don’t generally like the polished, color-graded, gritty, sexy, violent state of movies today. I like horror movies from the Hooper/Carpenter/Craven era. Poltergeist was a victim to a cookie-cutter genre film industry. Instead of reveling in the things that made Poltergeist different and fun, they cut it down to fit in with the rest of the other horror movies today and managed to suck most of the life out of it. Aside from a few good changes, such as getting to see the “other side” through the lens of an RC drone, this is mostly a bland homage to a way better movie. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it at all. The jump scares, while cheap, were still effective. It was, despite my feelings about Poltergeist  ’82, a nice little paranormal adventure movie. A little light on the drama, but good. Perhaps I’m being too forgiving. If this is your introduction to Poltergeist, I envy you because the best is yet to come.

I give this shallow, but acceptable remake 5 headstones out of 10. The other 5 have been relocated to another cemetery. I think.

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Cage #3: Rumble Fish (1983)

Rumble_PosterI can’t say I sympathize very much with Rumble Fish’s Rusty James. (Always Rusty+James, never Rusty or, heaven forbid, Rust. Rusty James.) He’s basically a punk who struggles throughout the film to be the Ultimate Punk and fails. See, his older brother Motorcycle Boy (again, always by that moniker as if it were on his birth certificate) actually was the Ultimate Punk until he left for reasons mysterious to his friends. In the neighborhood punk power vacuum, Rusty James has stepped up his game. Now he’s getting into gang fights like in the video for “Bad”, gets kicked out of school, and he’s messing around on his woman because he thinks he’s the king. But now Motorcycle Boy has returned, and a good thing too, for he saves Rusty James’ skin time and time again.

Rusty James wants to fight even if he’s always second best. He’s got a family name to uphold. (What is the family name? James? Boy?) His dad is another drunk played by Dennis Hopper. Maybe he was always best known for playing characters under the influence of some drug or another, but he was good at it, I’ll give him that. So Rusty James could either look to a degenerate or a thug for a male role model in his life. He went with the thug.

Upon the thug’s return it is clear he’s a changed man. Sort of. Mickey Rourke described the character as “an actor who no longer finds his work interesting.” Despite his insistence that he’s no longer in the gang life, he keeps. on. doing. gang shit. In his first appearance he runs over another dude with his goddamn motorcycle. Later on he antagonizes the police and commits a B&E. Nice move, partner. In a lot of ways, I wish the movie was about Motorcycle Boy realizing the error of his ways and finding a more peaceful existence. Too bad that happens before the movie even starts. Also too bad that Rourke was more interested in doing an impersonation of Brando. It’s a strange, mumbling performance that somewhat upholds everyone’s suspicions that Motorcycle Boy is crazy, but does little to convince us he’s a gangland Gandhi. I’m pretty sure anyone who tries to “rescue” animals from pet stores en masse really is a bit cuckoo.

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Some interesting techniques are used by Francis Ford Coppola to illustrate Rumble Fish’s world. Most obviously a color trick used in an otherwise black and white film. It draws parallels between the Siamese fighting fish in the pet store and Rusty James – at different points they are the only things to take on any color, red and blue in both cases.

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Motorcycle Boy has a rather on the nose explanation of the fighting fishes’ behavior, so I’ll not get into it here. (If you watch the movie and don’t get it, let me know. I’ll swing by sometime and hit you in the head with a cartoon mallet.) In an early scene of a gang fight, Coppola brings in a manic energy that is sorely lacking throughout the rest of the movie. As the two gang leaders draw close for their battle, trains race through the background, perhaps out of control on a collision course. Smoke lines the streets of this small podunk town, giving it an apocalyptic, war-torn vibe.

And something I initially dismissed as pretentiously showy is how the sky rolls by above Rusty James and his gang. The clouds form and disintegrate in timelapse photography while Rusty James makes his plans and has his fights.

Youth is wasted on the young, they say. Time is slipping past at an incredible rate and Rusty James fails to notice. He could easily spend the rest of his life trying to be on top of his little violent world and then end up just like his dad – drunk, washed up, wishing the past could have worked out a little better.

This story has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, uneven direction from Coppola that seems to focus more on tricks than straightforward drama and an oddball performance from Mickey Rourke hold me back. Maybe I should read the book. I give this one five Siamese fighting fish (they’re not called “rumble fish” Motorcycle Boy! There’s probably a tag on the shelf that says it right in front of you!) out of ten.

Rumble_Rating

And oh yeah, Nicolas Cage plays Rusty James’ semi-loyal second in command. And for once, Cage might be the only sane voice in the whole picture. Surely something that is not repeated often in his oeuvre.

Cage #2: Valley Girl (1983)

Valley_GirlValley Girl, the story of a popular hot girl who trades down to be with a social misfit who has bad teeth. I can’t imagine that this is the movie that spawned a thousand imitations of the cheesy high school romance culminating at the prom. It cannot be true, for that would be giving it some credit. It’s got to be something from the silent era with Harold Lloyd which holds that honor. Tell me where this cliche structure came from. I have to know. Wikipedia tells us that this was a very low budget film that shocked its financial backers when it turned out to be somewhat watchable. They just wanted to see some tits, then they got an actual releasable movie. So that’s where we’re starting from, plot-wise.

Nicolas Cage at his goofiest looking plays Randy, a punk rocker from Hollywood who catches the Valley Girl’s eye at the beach. The beach? Punk rockers spend a lot of time at the beach, do they? Fine. Anyway, the timing works out well for Loryn (with a Y!), said Valley Girl, who has just dumped her boyfriend for basically being a dick to everybody all the time. Why his other friends don’t dump him too is a question worth asking. Randy shows up at a party and hits it off with Loryn only to get kicked out by Mr. Jealous Ex-Boyfriend. But he goes back because “Nobody is gonna tell me who I can score with!” I think Randy isn’t exactly a poet at heart.

As Loryn succumbs to the filthy cesspool that was Hollywood (as opposed to the glamorous cesspool it is today), her friends begin to worry for her safety and that of her social status. On the verge of becoming an outcast, she ditches Randy immediately and gets back with the dickhead. Because I guess if they stayed together, the story wouldn’t end with your typical physical confrontation over the girl. The worst thing I can say about Valley Girl is that it’s all very average and expected, right down to the slumber party scene with most of the female cast dancing around in their skivvies. Boy meets girl, gets girl, loses girl, defeats other boy, takes girl to hotel for ceremonial post-prom deflowering. Pretty simple stuff. Along the way it’s not particularly funny, not sufficiently dramatic, and not all that interesting beyond its use as a time capsule of the era. I think the soundtrack is better than the rest of the movie. Valley Girl earns four toothy Nic Cages out of ten. Remember, just because it isn’t the worst example of the genre doesn’t mean it is worth watching.

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Check out the trailer, if only for the final line:

Cage #1: The Best of Times (1981)

Nicolas Cage’s very first credit on IMDB is a little-seen TV special called “Best of Times.” This was made as a pilot to an ABC series that thankfully never came together. I can’t speak to why exactly that is, but I suspect it has something to do with how incredibly shitty it is.

The Best of Times is about a bunch of teenagers in southern California who struggle with the usual run of teenage problems. Except school. The main message I took away from this show was kids never went to school in the early 80s. Okay, they did visit the school occasionally to hang out on the front steps and walk together on the lush green lawn, but classes were not really a problem. That’s not what the writers want you to remember. They open and close the show by equating teenagers to a trodden upon class of citizenry, perpetually nagged by parents AND teachers alike, oh my. Poor sons of bitches. They should have a march. Crispin Glover serves as our puffy-haired, only slightly whiny, everyman host named…Crispin.

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I guess this was one of those instances where using the cast’s real names was just going to make things easier on everybody. Nicolas Coppola plays Nick! Julie Piekarski plays Julie! Etc, etc. All except for Jackie Mason, who plays shopkeeper Mr. O’Reilly. Call me crazy, but Jackie Mason doesn’t strike me as a member of the O’Reilly clan. Luckily, not much is made of his name in the show, so I’m just nitpicking.

What brings this particular group of friends together is a mystery. Crispin is your average Joe, Nick is a hyperconfident douche nozzle who hangs out at Muscle Beach, and we also have the biggest nerd in the school, the most virginated of virgins in the school, the head cheerleader, the tomboy, and the “fat” girl who totally isn’t fat, but they show her eating a cruller or something at one point. Do they all live on the same cul-de-sac? These people don’t seem to have any similar interests beyond sudden outbursts of dance and song (I’ll get to that shortly.) Even when Crispin introduces Nick to us, who is performing 1-armed pushups on the beach, he implies that he feels physically threatened by Nick, therefore he has befriended him in an effort to not get beaten up. Or something? I know, I know, it’s a late disco-era attempt at a teen variety show, so just what in the fuck am I expecting in terms of character depth? Even in Saved By the Bell we had this problem of jocks inexplicably hanging out with nerds. At least there it could be argued that Screech was allowed into the group just to make the others look better by comparison. Even if he was stalking Lisa. I’d like to think that the youth of America used to be a kinder, gentler group of people, more prone to socializing outside of their caste, and by the time I reached high school the structure had disintegrated so we were all left to scrounge and scrape for friends wherever we could find them. I know this is incorrect, though, because I have seen Revenge of the Nerds. At least the girls manage to find some common ground: makeup, clothes, and boys, duh. Ah, it was a simpler time.

There is a musical element to the show and I don’t know if that’s because musical TV was hot shit at the time or if some ABC development executive thought it would bring in a more eclectic crowd. Maybe I should ask my parents if this was a common format for TV back then. Regardless, I will illustrate the quality of these musical numbers with a GIF.

Come on, that’s all you really came for, isn’t it? While that particular part includes no singing, just a Stomp-like flash mob in Jackie “O’Reilly” Mason’s convenience store, other scenes have the gang dancing like maniacs and performing cover versions of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” at a car wash and Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” while Crispin Glover tries on pants and gets publicly groped by all of his close female friends. These sequences do not have anything to do with a story or any character’s dramatic arc. They come out of nowhere with the flimsiest of setups. ‘I remember working at a car wash once, NOW WE’RE AT A CAR WASH!’ ‘I hate chores, LET’S SING ABOUT CHORES AND THEN PLAY FRISBEE!’

To take a break from the musical chicanery, we get the occasional monologue delivered directly to the camera, showing us that not only our host Crispin has this ability. Subjects of these speeches include:

  • Crispin: Adults think my music sucks and I’m on pot!
  • Nick: I don’t want to be sent to war in El Salvador!
  • Jill: I’m lonely and jeans are too expensive!

If the actual goal of the show was to convince grown ups that teenagers are well-rounded humans with thoughts and desires that are more than just skin deep and therefore deserve some modicum of respect, they could have done a better job here. The jeans speech especially leaves me dry. Jill claims that teenagers started wearing jeans because they needed their own identity. I could be wrong, as history has never been my strong suit, but I think teenagers started wearing jeans because they were cheap and The Man didn’t like them. If those designer brands are too expensive for you, kid, pick up some Wranglers instead. Solid jeans, those. And The Man still hates them.

The only value this has is as a curiosity piece to Nicolas Cage or Crispin Glover fans. Given the opportunity, I would extract any information regarding The Best of Times I could out of them. I want someone to make a goddamn documentary about this pilot. Again, not because it’s any good, just because it’s where Crispin and Nic started out. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and we all know what a huge star he became, but I think it’s clear that Cage had “it” even this early. He behaves like such a buffoon that it’s clear he has no internal limitations. He was only limited by experience. Every moment he is on screen he is 100% committed to his role, no matter how retarded he looks. This will be the defining trait of his entire career. Despite the early signs of his future greatness, I have to give The Best of Times a single big-headed Crispin Glover out of a possible ten.

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Since you are without a doubt eager for more pain, you may view Best of Times in all its majesty here:

The Nicolas Cage Project

Last year I put a little too much time into this video. (Embedding disabled due to TONS of copyrighted material.)

Why, yes, that IS 20 minutes of Mr. Cage laughing in various films across his entire career. It’s also 20 minutes of your life that is likely better spent on other more productive activities. I can’t stress this enough: I worked on assembling these clips together for about four months. Any time you spend watching it now is a further detriment to society. I could have learned to play the guitar in that span of time. I could have become fluent in German. You only need to understand that this video clip now exists. (For whose pleasure? Nobody knows.)

Lately I’ve had a lot of free time. Unemployment will do that. So I figured I should get back to writing on this long-ignored blog. And what better movies to write about than the entirety of Nicolas Cage’s filmography? No, seriously, someone let me know because I’m about to throw even more of my limited time on this spinning rock into something Nic Cage-related. Haven’t I done enough?!

In the coming days, weeks, and months I will reveal to the world what I think of each of Cage’s movies, up to and including 2014’s Rage, which I know is something the world desperately needs from me. I haven’t seen the Left Behind reboot or anything after that yet. Shit, I should check the Redbox at the 7-11 down the road…

You can wish me luck, but I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I got it.