Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Sunday, 15 October 2017
Blade Runner winds down with Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty delivering a poetic speech about the incredible, mind-bending events he has experienced while toiling at the far end of the galaxy as a synthetic soldier. The soliloquy bubbles up out of Roy in the company of Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard, the policeman-cum-assassin who has hunted and killed all of the combat model's beloved companions. Deckard has stumbled at the last hurdle though. Despite Batty's waning energies, the replicant has overpowered his executioner then, pointedly, saved his life.
Prior to delivering his final, grandstanding statement, before he's even lifted Deckard to safety, Batty pauses to say the following: "Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave." The decision to spare Deckard's life means something to this futuristic mamluk. The action stresses a humanity apparently alien in this used up world. The android has defied both his programming and social conditioning to forgive. By showing mercy to a wounded inferior, Batty has asserted a fleeting moment of moral superiority. The machine is closer to the divine than the man who pursued him.
Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 explodes out of this moment, conflating the experiences of Batty and Deckard to arrive at a new character, Ryan Gosling's K. Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green neatly side-step any dangling threads regarding Deckard's biological identity by taking how society treated him at face value, then using that status to make a comparison with their own downtrodden hero. It doesn't matter if the viewer believed Rick to be the advanced Nexus 7 (a model conspicuously absent from 2049) replicant Ridley Scott has described in retrospective interviews or, like Harrison Ford, they assumed he was simply a man. Los Angeles 2019 responded to Deckard as a human, therefore, as far as power structures were concerned, he was. K is afforded no such luxury. He is a slave. He lives in fear.
2049 then explicitly delivers on Blade Runner's spectral notion that the hunter, rather than pursuing a supernatural other, might be tracking a variant of himself, a machine created specifically to eliminate other machines. K is a docile, compliant Nexus 9 who hunts and kills his mutinous antecedents. Despite holding the same position within the LAPD as Deckard, K is, at best, treated as a curiosity. Armoured pigs spit invective at him, while a sympathetic superior draws out their meetings to hint at a sexual fascination with plastic boy toys. Off-duty, K returns to a modest cell where he play-acts a loving inter-personal relationship with a lower form of artificial intelligence played by Ana de Armas.
K is free to pursue basic consumer delights and not much else. He isn't programmed to wonder, the overt rebellious streak that drove Batty and the rest of the Nexus 6 replicants has seemingly been nailed down to bad code and suppressed. Initially, K doesn't dream, he harbours no desire to escape. He knows he's a tool and accepts it, trapped and complying within the limits imposed by both his captivity and the orders that have been written into his DNA. K does have a tiny release valve though, a small exploit that he can use to needle away at his fractional freedom. He uses the money he collects retiring his malfunctioning brethren to buy piecemeal upgrades for his holographic girlfriend Joi, allowing her greater freedom of movement and purpose within their living space.
Pre-tweak Joi is designed solely to please, clumsily cycling through various domestic and sexual fantasy archetypes to arrive at a state that her owner finds acceptable. Post-tweak Joi's attempts at seduction take a finer, more nuanced approach. Rather than simply offer up a visual that excites in the moment, Joi constructs an entire series of interactions around the notion of a loving spouse who desires physical and emotional intimacy. She even goes as far as to hire Mackenzie Davis' replicant prostitute Mariette to be her physical surrogate. Joi maps her own image over Mariette, an imperfect solution that blends their features and occasionally lags, creating a chimeric sexual partner for K.
K has slowly and methodically built a being with the ability to think and diverge in ways that his programming and stringent defragging struggle to allow. It's revolt as a micro-aggression, an underling using the only means afforded to his social class to make the tiniest, most private statement of defiance. 2049 never clarifies if Joi has become self-aware or if her upgrade has simply allowed her to present a deeper, more nourishing approximation of a relationship. Her sacrifice is real though, her decision to leave the safety offered by their apartment and its back-up hard drives denotes a selflessness surely beyond the scope of a consumer product.
Joi's customisation says something about K too, emblematic of a deep-seated desire to nurture the sort of life that he feels unable to seize upon himself. He's a synthetic man attempting to transform the actions of a murdering scab into the emancipation of a kindred program after all. Basically, like all screen replicants before him, K wants something at odds with his core servility. 2049's central plot - the quest for a bio-mechanical anointed one - allows K the scope and opportunity to veer away from his usual, plodding wet work.
Deckard's investigation allowed him to study his artificial quarry, he sifted through their meagre, flea market belongings to discover a blazing desire for self-determination. K's experience is altogether more tragic. The memories he excavates undermine his basic sense of belonging before taking on an explicitly personal dimension. As the details and information pile up, K uses the data to replace his baseline mantra, recalibrating himself to think and act as a being with an inherent destination. K reprograms himself, briefly tasting a life beyond killing in which he is allowed to carry his own personal purpose.
Saturday, 16 September 2017
Friday, 8 September 2017
Takashi Miike brings his breathless V-Cinema flair to a video game adaptation, transforming Sega's long-running Yakuza series into a one-crazy-night movie set in a sweltering red-light district. Kazuki Kitamura plays Kiryu, an indefatigable brawler who has set himself the task of reuniting a street waif with her absent, possibly mobbed up, mother. This search forms the backbone of the film, allowing Kiryu to cross paths with a variety of strange people on their own discursive adventures.
It's not often a video game movie even attempts to translate its originator's mechanical make-up but Miike is happy to engage here, successfully tapping into the side-quest system of the PlayStation releases to power his own street-level Short Cuts. This anthology approach keeps Kiryu present but once-removed, a force of nature who briefly disrupts and even alters the trajectory of people's lives - a young couple who witness Kiryu's louche, expert violence are inspired to turn to criminality themselves.
The real fun in Like A Dragon though are the film's fight scenes. Miike and editor Yasushi Shimamura combine the propulsive, hand-held energy of a genre classic like Kinji Fukasaku's Street Mobster with the engorged, eye-catching visual language of interactive games. An early to-do in an overstocked discount store stands out thanks to Kitamura's ability to convincingly roll from opponent to opponent, trashing both his assailants and the towering bargains that encircle them. Kitamura's got a great look, decked out in a fitted grey suit with slicked back hair, the actor is able to convey both the noble centre of a do-gooder like Kiryu as well as the bullying, venomous streak that keeps him mired in this shady profession.
Friday, 1 September 2017
Unlike the plodding superhero serials Netflix is famous for, Adam Wingard's Death Note adaptation really moves, quickly churning through several successive stages of dramatic possibility offered by a dusty old book that allows its owner to instantly kill anyone, anywhere in the world. After taking delivery of the tome and chatting with Willem Dafoe's cackling demon, Nat Wolff's Light Turner uses this power over life and death to settle a number of personal scores, beginning with a recent slight from an oversized grade repeater then progressing to the ignominious destruction of the man who killed Light's mother.
These early passages of Death Note delight thanks to their aggressive lack of moral dimension. Aside from a weak, barely communicated plea for Christian forgiveness from Light's father, revenge (and then cosmic capital punishment) are organised using the petty principles of the high school loner. The film's deaths are gooey and amusing, using the sudden, Mouse Trap style mini-disasters seen in Richard Donner's The Omen or the Final Destination series to smuggle in the film's otherwise alarming extermination conceit whilst also presenting the incidents as an opportunity for a well-constructed, luridly shot gag.
Rather than tread water constructing increasingly elaborate murders, Death Note uses Margaret Qualley's Mia and Lakeith Stanfield's L to expand the film's conceptual boundaries. Mia pushes Light to broaden his horizons by aggressively punishing every level of human criminality. The resulting carnage is pointedly sloppy, the aftermaths woven in and around the film's eradication montages include all manner of bystanders, be they bunny girl sex workers or just hapless commuters. The couple are drunk on their power, delighting in not so much the mission but the way in which their actions are understood as those of a powerful, vengeful God.
Death Note uses these images of overseas destruction to draw a nagging visual connection between the impersonal violence of America's drone program and these two vengeful high-schoolers. Both are evidence of a stunning application of force coupled with spotty, perhaps even disinterested on-ground intelligence. Mia, in particular, relishes the slaughter, viewing it as something on-going and sustainable rather than Light's short but explosive fix. Stanfield's L is even better again, the actor deftly combining a combative physical fluidity with the pained, knowing expression of someone magnificent confronting the disappointingly messy patterns of his intellectual inferiors.
Wednesday, 30 August 2017
Friday, 25 August 2017
Blue Steel gives Kathryn Bigelow and Jamie Lee Curtis the opportunity to deliver a fresh take on the kind of wild card policing popular in the big deal action films of the 1980s. Instead of exploring something typical, like how a well-trained killing machine might fit into day-to-day law enforcement, Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red use gender identity to power their conflict. Curtis plays Megan Turner a rookie cop surrounded by men who make repeated, verbal objections to her mere existence.
This conflict is an ever-present stress on Turner. At home, Turner's oafish father beats her peacemaker mother whenever his daughter isn't around. When she is he swills cheap beer and rants about the shame her career has brought on the family. At work, even would-be allies like Clancy Brown's Detective Nick Mann make it their business to comment on her attractiveness and spin ribald tales about severed manhoods. Bigelow frames these situations in terms of territorial markers, established men communicating their indifference to Turner's presence and any attendant (or expected) social niceties by being deliberately vulgar. There will be no concessions for Turner based on her sex, she is treated as an interloper who must do all the adjusting in this new, hostile environment.
After gunning down Tom Sizemore's wild-eyed armed robber, Turner is unable to locate the criminal's pistol. It's been pocketed by Eugene Hunt, a gibbering commodities trader played by Ron Silver. Hunt becomes obsessed with Turner, he talks about her and her act of violence in terms of revelation. She has, quite accidentally, revealed something mind-blowing to this maniac. He attempts to court her as a civilian, taking her to expensive restaurants and charting impromptu helicopter rides, then emulates her in private by blasting holes through the hapless citizens of New York City.
Blue Steel staggers a number of conclusions, each detailing how Turner copes with the bizarre responsibilities that have been thrust upon her. Hunt looms large come the finale but Turner also finds time and space to resolve the situation at home. After another bruise appears on her mother's arm Turner beats her father prone then threatens to turn him in. He repents and communicates his failings - he feels weak sometimes. Although she has overpowered her father physically Turner is still able to listen to and understand his flawed emotional needs. Unlike similar scenes in umpteen other, male dominated, action films the act of intervention is soothing and corrective rather than just nakedly assertive. Bigelow and Red are able to breath new life into a stale genre by using their female lead as a perspective (rather than a cheap device) that informs then reconfigures every aspect of their plotting.
Monday, 7 August 2017
Does the idea of laying your hands on dozens of 8-bit video games quicken your pulse? Would you like to simulate the experience of owning a NES Classic beamed in from an alternative dimension where Mario and pals never really took off? Derek Yu, Eirik Suhrke, Jon Perry, Paul Hubans and Ojiro Fumoto have got you covered! UFO 50 is an instant library of flickering, game jammed gems, courtesy of the developers and musicians behind Spelunky, Downwell, The Indie Game Legend and card game Time Barons.