Saturday, December 23, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I've seen it twice. Took the younger to it on Wednesday -- she thought it sucked. Took the elder to it yesterday -- she thought it rocked.

I enjoyed myself both times -- mostly because dad-time with the individual daughters-who-are-now-adults is a great privilege, especially when it involves watching Star Wars. But my pleasure was also the result of a bazillion movie people who worked incredibly hard to make an entertaining flick that people would care about -- and my daughters' love it/hate it/no real middle ground reactions are confirmation, to my eyes, that the Sausage Movie Factory pretty much got the mix exactly right. Love it or hate it, odds are you'll be engaged by Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Don't say I didn't warn you.
The younger hated it -- and brother, is there ever a steaming pile of oops! to hate about this movie. There are MASSIVE plot-holes and logical inconsistencies and convenient "We didn't know you could do that" miracles that keep the narrative chugging along. I'll gloss over the bulk of them and train my focus on two particularly glaring missteps:

Leia survives a skinny-dip in deep space. Nobody in the family liked this scene, so my question isn't "How?" but "Why?" This miracle adds nothing to the story, except perhaps to spritz the woman with a touch of gravitas that the actor (God rest) was unable to muster on her own.

And while we are on the matter of the late (and GREAT) Carrie Fisher, it seemed to my eyes that her CGI double was brought in to substitute for a couple of scenes -- her hospital-gown appearance at the breached bridge door is just one example. I disliked CGI Carrie in Rogue One, but I'm slowly coming around on that score. It's probably just another compromise nudged along by the increasingly diminishing standards a viewer must adopt in order to enjoy Star Wars Universe (SWU) story-telling.

The cruiser is completely out-of-gas, but nevertheless makes a Kamikaze light-speed jump through the enemy's biggest ship. Nothing to add, really -- there are other "wait-a-minnits" but this one is a personal peeve.

The elder loved the movie -- and, yes, there is indeed much to love about it. There are a couple of poignant character arcs, particularly with Poe and Finn. I initially thought the romance between Finn and Rose appeared out of nowhere, but the second viewing revealed a persuasive progression. Lessons get learned in a manner that has emotional depth and subtlety.

The action sequences walk the tightrope between adolescent "wow" and adult "yikes." The most emotionally charged fight is the choreographed chop-sockey extravaganza between the Imperial Guard and Rey and Ren. This occurs at the two-thirds mark of the movie, which leaves the final third of the movie feeling a bit slack, but oh well.

2D vs. 3D -- I hate to say it, but 3D wins. It brings out an articulation that heightens the sense of scale and drama.

The Politics -- Star Wars politics have always been of a piece with the story-telling, really: confused and contradictory and utterly vulnerable when exposed to the lightest scrutiny. I mean, in what universe is equating the Vietcong with stick-wielding teddy-bears considered a compliment? If the political statements supposedly* being made (as opposed to the narrative inconsistencies, etc.) are what prevent the viewer from having a good time, then maybe just perhaps we are all feeling a wee bit snow-flaky these days? Just sayin'.
  • A person could argue the films are an impassioned defence of nascent Republicanism, determinedly moored to founding ideals informed by religious devotion. I'm not gonna make that argument, but it would be an easier sell than claiming the SWU is any sort of sustained Neo-Liberal argument for a Marxist Utopia.
Final note: Kelly Marie Tran is officially THE most ADORABLE person associated with the SWU. Somebody please put her in touch with Tom and Rita to keep that approachability alive.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017: Sounds

When it comes to my year in music 2017 was less about discovery than it was about catching up. And I have to wonder if that's not the truth right across the board on pretty much all matters.

But let us begin with the discovery. This year my wife introduced me to Alexa Dirks — a.k.a. Begonia.
I tried to find a short video that encapsulates the full effect of this woman, but haven't yet lucked across one. In performances she can be a barrel of laughs one minute, then burning with pathos the next — Prana with a microphone. To be honest, she's not someone I cue up frequently. But once I start listening to her I can't stop until she's finished singing what needs to be sung. This early performance, with Ariel Posen, of Marvin Gaye's “Let's Get It On” is one example of what pulls me in. Why the arrangement so similar to Johnny Cash's rendition of “Hurt”? Where are they — where is she — going with this?

Where is she going with this? is the question that grips me every time I do cue her up. At some point I inevitably stop what I'm doing (the dishes, usually) just to follow along. Here's her most recent video:

Catching Up

MetalGojira's Magma got a lot of love last year. I finally picked it up this summer. Choose your favourite Metal descriptors — “brutal,” “punishing,” “relentless” — then throw in “strangely melodic and approachable,” and you've got an album that's better than anything that came out of the same field this year, too. Also, Hibiki Miyazaki deserves a massive shout-out for the outstanding album art.
This was one of those rare years when Devin Townsend did not put out an album (last year he put out four, so we'll let him Mulligan '17). He pitched in on a track with Comeback Kid, though, and “Absolute” got a great deal of play from me this year. Bonus: this guy does a wicked job of playing along (behind every great bedroom guitarist...)

Rammstein: Paris — until they decide to visit Toronto, this concert from five years ago will have to do.

RockClutch, Robot Hive / Exodus. During last year's delight in all things Clutch, I somehow missed their 2005 all-killer-no-filler entry. I'm glad I did, because it gave me more to grok on in '17.
Jazz — this year's runaway catch-up field. It's hardly fair to would-be up-and-comers that gate-keepers continually discover Lost Treasures Of The Giants buried deep in the vault. 2017 saw the release of Bill Evans' Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (the follow-up to last year's sensational Some Other Time). Competing with jazz giant Evans was jazz giant Thelonious Monk, with his restored 1959 soundtrack, Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960.

Then Gary Burton announced his retirement, prompting me to give consideration to The New Gary Burton Quartet — Julian Lage (guitar), Antonio Sánchez (drums), Scott Colley (bass) joining Burton on vibraphone. Listeners who dug what Burton did with the likes of Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny will most certainly clue into what he got up to in Common Ground (2011) and Guided Tour (2013).
If you're looking for new, I'll let you consult PopMatters' yearly list, most of which contains artists who tilt toward the “challenging” end of the spectrum — not my cup of tea, for the most part. Joe Fiedler's Like, Strange is a standout. Loose, punchy fun — the sort of thing you might expect from a Sesame Street musician.

Finally, here are The Top 10 Albums of 2017, according to everyone. I don't own any of them.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent Calendar: Ernst Bloch, René Girard

"This is a good essay, imo," said my Facebook friend, adding the disclaimer: "Better than usual for First Things."
Ernst Bloch — an atheist who believed Jesus was the Messiah, a Stalinist who disagreed with Marx, and a materialist who embraced natural law theory — is a guide into the concealed theology of contemporary liberalism, whose outlook remains profoundly, if paradoxically, biblical in one respect. Having rejected a Christian understanding of nature, it retains an intensely Christian understanding of history. 
Our Secular Theodicy, by Matthew Rose
Bloch: "Mine ly-berry has the most colourful books"

Girard: "My Day Ty-MARE has the most boo-KINGS!"
Reading it put me in mind of René Girard, who followed some of the same currents to reach a similar conclusion, with crucial distinctions.
“Today’s ideology consists of presenting the 10 Commandments as the worst form of tyranny and oppression. The Enlightenment would never have done that. Voltaire was making fun of the church, and aspects of corruption in the Church. But today the 10 Commandments, for instance ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ is regarded as the worst oppression. Then everything is oppression. Everything is victimization. And this I think is the totalitarianism of the future. Marxism was only its most primitive form. 
I think there is another totalitarianism, which is to say, ‘Don’t believe Christianity is about defending the victim, it is just pretend(ing) to. And we are going to show you how to defend the victim,’ which is precisely everything we see today. And the idea of Anti-Christ — an imitation of Christ — which would at the same time be a total betrayal of Christianity, I think we have to read much of contemporary history in this light. Of course it’s so controversial and potentially explosive. I would say today what we call ‘Political Correctness’ and so forth is a Super-Christianity” 
René Girard, in conversation, 2001.
My familiarity with Girard, such as it is, is primarily informed by this CBC Ideas series by David Cayley — the best five hours I've spent on the internet in the last five years.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Advent Calendar: Cogency of Thought & Deed - The Missing Link

If you act
As you think
The missing link
Synchronicity I, The Police
Back in the late-90s-to-early-aughts, David Frum could be counted on to rook me into purchasing the occasional National Post. The headlines assured me he was present to take on some lefty shibboleth I favoured -- gay marriage, for example. Alright then, I'd think -- persuade me.

Alas, persuasion was not his intent. He'd throw down a string of contentious ideological canards that led to a final put-down punchline mocking the opposition as moral and intellectual invalids. The ploy struck me as a youthful aping of William F. Buckley -- or Ann Coulter, talking in her sleep.

Don't waste time or intellectual energy on cogency of thought -- "defend" your ideological presumptions with a ceaseless barrage of invective against the opposition. To my dismay, this has become the default setting not just for Canada's Intellectual Left, but for aspiring advocates for the Disappearing Center as well.

Say what you will about Jordan Peterson (please), but cogency of thought is a big deal to him. When giving Peterson their consideration, however, this is precisely what our nation's last surviving prestige print platforms are having difficulties with. The less said about Tabitha Southey's "nyah-nyah-a-boo-boo" for Maclean's, the better. The Walrus parks itself left-of-centre, but should be intellectually robust enough to issue a vigorous critique. Ira Wells takes a crack at it, but good Lord, I hope he (or his TA) does a more careful job of grading his students' essays than his editor did fact-checking Wells' presumptive claims. Over at The Globe & Mail, Simona Chiose struggles mightily and spills a tonne of ink to reach a balanced POV on the controversial prof. Alas, the headline and sub-heading give away the game:
"Jordan Peterson and the trolls in the ivory tower: In the fight for 'free speech,' a university professor has found himself backed by the Internet's most ruthless denizens while students cry foul."
If you need help parsing the rhetorical structure of those two sentences, let me know.
This photo, OTOH, presents a challenge.
Full disclosure: if I had to guess I'd say I've devoted 12 hours of my life attending to Peterson's words. I am on-board with some of his claims; others I would question. Occasionally he drops some flat-out rubbish (commit yourself to that much open disclosure on the internet and lapses are bound to happen). If I could magically get three or four of those Peterson hours back for the purpose of reapplying myself to the life and times of Donald Duck, I'd cheerfully accept.

Peterson leads with his chin, he's willing to engage seriously and respectfully with the dopiest of slavering acolytes, and he will take care articulating his line of reasoning so as not to be misunderstood. Ironically enough, the person he most reminds me of is the late Christopher Hitchens. And as with Hitch, while I deeply admire Peterson's candour and rhetorical command, it is his temperament that occasionally chafes.

But I'm glad he's around. If his opponents took a proper stab at emulating his rhetorical method, the ensuing discussion could be enlightening and might actually get us somewhere.

Endnote: need help with that? Jay Heinrichs leans left and he's got a book for you (some tips contained therein (hm - "Heinrichs." There's just something about that name...).

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Whisky's 'Advent Calendar' Begins!

If we share
This nightmare
Then we can dream
Spiritus Mundi
Synchronicity I, The Police
Forgive me, but I'm trying my utmost to avoid referencing that other mention of Spiritus Mundi.
Spiritus Mundi by Drecksen
During a recent glance through my browser history I was struck by how much time I spent giving consideration to explicitly religious matters. What happened to my obsession over underground comix and dumb rock songs?

Such are the times we find ourselves in. This business about "passionate intensity" -- enduring and maybe even surviving it -- seems to be the locus of concern (for me, at least). I'm tempted to dump a bunch of links in one post, but most of them are long-reads so I hope instead to parcel them out one day at a time -- like an Advent Calendar! Only packed with intellectual nutrition!

Speaking of Advent, let's begin with this short comic by Mike Dawson: "Keep Christ in Christmas, or just admit it's a shopping holiday, one or the other please." You know me. You know I get feisty when hit with "Either/Or" propositions. But Dawson is so charming and thoughtful with his, he doesn't just get a pass from me -- he gets my heartiest recommendation. Go and read!

Friday, December 01, 2017

"My Sad Cuisine," Continued: Indomie Mi Goreng Instant Noodles

Another staple in "my sad cuisine" -- Indomie Mi Goreng Noodles.
Vegetables not included.
I've been a sucker for instant noodles for as long as I've been able to boil a pot of water. I started with a leftover box of KD I'd scored from a Boys Brigade camporee, and quickly moved on to the cheaper, more nutritionally-suspect Asian varieties, most of which park substandard farina noodles in a steaming bowl of MSG brine. Indomie Noodles beat that scene by an Indonesian mile.

Roger Ebert turned me on to them. Similar to KD, they are a coated noodle -- but that's where the similarities end. When your three minutes of onerous prep is over you have a modest serving of noodles coated with a combination of chili paste, sweet soya sauce and dried salty stuff. Dee-lish!

I never stop there, however. Invest an additional five minutes and you can quickly flash-fry a few of the veggies threatening to spoil in the back of your refrigerator. Add some shrimp and Asian fish-balls (the salami of the sea!) and you've got a dish that's passably nutritious.
Results may vary.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Whither the TV Dinner?

"TV dinners -- they really can't be beat" - ZZ Top
I recently had the house to myself for a couple of nights. Consequently, I found myself in the frozen food aisle at the local grocery store -- not because I can't cook for myself, but for all the usual Freudian reasons.

Back in the '70s, if the parents wanted a date-night, the promise of TV dinners usually got me and the sibs onside with staying behind. Scorching one's fingertips whilst unwrapping the foil and straining to catch the subtle variations of The Muppet Show theme-song became a deeply embedded rite-of-passage.

As for the food, the veggies were a bust -- young consumers in-the-know choked them down first, allowing the mashed potatoes to cool from fourth- to third-degree-burn-inducing temperatures. The pressed turkey was passable, flavour-wise. But the deepest gastronomic delights -- what accounted for the texture, the somehow familiar yet impossible-to-identify flavours? -- were to be found in the dressing and the mashed potatoes. Sometimes even the cobbler dessert was deemed the second thing to go, as it rated a "meh" in both texture and flavour.

I recounted these epicurean adventures to my daughters once, when their mother was off on business. They were keen to get in on the goods (as I expected) so we indulged that very night. Lemme just say, nobody ever clamoured for a repeat of that foray -- perhaps because the dinners themselves repeated for several hours after consumption.

This time around I was considering frozen pizzas. I'm told scientific advancements have made several brands a passable pleasure. Beholding the glossy, "steaming" images, though, I knew well enough that the final product was not going to live up to the promise of the photo. I would eat said product out of a culturally-ingrained sense of thrift, and nothing in my body would be grateful for the discipline.

Instead, I went home and made my go-to comfort food -- Spaghetti Aglia e Olio, one serving. To make it a true TV dinner, I scarfed it down while watching Godless.

There are countless variations on this recipe -- its simplicity begs for improvisation. The "sauce" is essentially extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and parsley -- I throw in slivered sun-dried tomatoes and black olives and usually splash it with Pain Is Good hot sauce during the pasta-to-pan phase. The dish hits all the right childhood/childish "comfort food" flavour notes, cleans up easily and sits well.

Chop some garlic (no fewer than one clove), chop some parsley (I prefer curly to flat, but whatever), chop a sun-dried tomato (packed in oil, natch) and two pitted black olives. Boil some pasta (spaghetti for me) in salted water. Heat a glub of EVOO in a pan, with ingredients, plus some flakes of chili pepper. If you have to remove it from heat to keep the garlic from browning, that's fine. As pasta edges toward al dente splash a little of the pasta water into the pan, drain the pasta, then throw it into the pan and finish the cook. Transfer to plate, add Parmesan -- and take comfort.
Results may vary, depending on camera (and photographer).
Ironically, Spaghetti Aglia e Olio happens to be the first dish I associate with adulthood, as I didn't know of it until shortly into our marriage. We learned of it from Giuliano Hazan's The Classic Pasta Cookbook (Abe), one of those rare cookbooks I consider indispensable.

End-note: what, or who, is responsible for the demise of the Swanson TV Dinner? This guy says it's the microwave oven. This guy says it's those darn Millennials!

Friday, November 17, 2017

"Your 'Assignment,' should you choose to accept it..."

I pay visits to our Blue-and-White Panopticon -- several times a day, usually. There is plenty to protest and eschew in its matrix, but the one element a user cannot avoid is probably its most insidious evil -- the "Like" button.
I don't "like" where this is going...
It initially seemed innocuous. C'mon, you approve this message, or at least acknowledge that you've absorbed some measure of its significance to the person proclaiming it -- go ahead and "like" it, why doncha?
From 'Aleister & Adolf' - check it out.
Posting or reading/watching anything behind the blue-and-white velvet rope is a pressing invitation to signal your "Like." This simple, single click adds up. All these "little" signals get fed into the algorithm, and your existence on the internet becomes ever more tailored to your particular . . . what? "Tastes"? "Passions"? "Cravings"? "Yearnings"? "Mortal fears"? "Obsessions"?


This isn't just what passes for public discourse, it is what passes for your lived reality.

It's too easy, I don't trust it. I don't trust what others "like." And I think I've reached the point where I no longer even trust what I "like." I want -- I daresay I need -- to give consideration to things I might at first blush "dislike."

Hey, have you seen that new, critically reviled Walter Hill flick -- the one Scout Tafoya is absolutely gaga over?
"Wouldn't even if you held a gun to my head..."
Not me -- not yet, at least. But I plan to. I expect when it's over the experience will be akin to the last half-dozen Hill films I've sat through -- largely underwhelming, but just clumsy enough with its provocations to get me cogitating in unexpected directions. A worthy investment of time, no?

Getting back to Tafoya's terrific shout-out, I particularly dug this quote:
"Any film that has a conversation about other films and why it's better than those movies doesn't need you. 'The Assignment' does. Hill has filled it with questions he hopes an audience can answer because he seems genuinely curious, and knows that at his age some things will escape him. It needs us."
Reading that evoked memories of late-night conversations in hippie* kitchens, where so long as you spoke sincerely absolutely no question was considered beyond the pale of consideration. And couldn't we use more of that?

Alright: until next week, the balcony is closed.
"'The balcony is closed' - we like that!"
*And really, what was "Grunge" but our desperate shot at a scene we'd heard the babysitter describe to us?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thor Ragnarok

Funniest Marvel movie yet? Mm . . . it got a few chuckles out of me, but I would have put Deadpool and Dr. Strange -- two movies Jesse David Fox doesn't even mention -- ahead of TR.
"Deadpool? Seriously?"
Genuine laughter erupts from the element of surprise, and there wasn't much of that to be had in this movie -- Oh (channeling inner-Jeff-Goldblum:), and HUGE thanks, trailer-people, for rolling out the movie's single biggest laugh to get people into the tent. Good work, give yourselves all a big pat on the back. (Jerks.)

MZS hits all the right notes with his review ("A close-but-no-cigar movie"), so I'll send you there and kvetch instead on an element of the aesthetic that (predictably) gets me cogitating: Marvel's use of 3D CGI. I'm working with stills from the various trailers, i.e. visuals selected to quickly capture and keep viewer attention, so I can't zero in on the particular scenes that struck me. But see if you can't spot where I'm going, regardless:
The gathered masses, a flotilla of sky-boats above a fortress city of spires -- one could argue this tableau is Kirby-esque. There is a particularity of detail, however, that . . . well, I don't know whether it would have caused Kirby to blush or turn green with envy. But for this viewer, that much "too much" nudges me into boredom.

Here's what I got when I Googled "Jack Kirby gathered masses":
Not quite Valhalla, but unmistakably Kirby.
In contrast to movies, comic books are an immeasurably more interactive medium. A kid can glance at that spread, flip to the exciting part of the story -- then flip back again, to catch what he missed, or just savour the artist's mastery of form, etc. A film's gotta keep moving forward til the end credits roll.

To be fair to the filmmakers, Marvel's animators seem to recognize this impediment. While other scenes and set-pieces buzz with Lucasian clutter, the battle scenes invariably resort to slow-motion -- the better for hapless movie goers to admire the CGI goods.

Here's a typical battle scene:
A veritable mudslide of detail, it nevertheless has visual narrative cogency, albeit of a rudimentary Raphaelite variety.
While regarding Raphael's Transfiguration the eye moves from up-to-down and back again, or vice versa, depending on the viewer. The Marvel animators stick with upper-left-corner-to-lower-right, or vice versa -- depending on the necessary visual cues (preceding scene/next scene).

These battle scenes are visually impressive, employing an effect that, although akin to what we've already seen in the Jackson-Tolkien movies or 300, has a brocaded intricacy unique to Marvel 3D. Sitting in the middle row of a darkened theatre and watching a Marvel 3D Slo-Mo Battle Crescendo is a surprisingly miniature affair. Paradoxically, it's like watching a time-lapse video of someone engraving Dürer's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse onto a grain of rice.

Alright, one final scene for your consideration -- take a look:
Ah, Cate Blanchett! Could anything distract from those fabulous shoulders?

'nuff said.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

500 years of protesting and reforming ... something-or-other

Hmf, somehow I missed the Quincentenary Celebration of the Protestant Reformation. Unlike my HRC friends, I can't pretend it didn't happen for good reasons. Still, I can't quite whip up a celebratory attitude, either. Perhaps it's because I gave the matter some thought earlier this year.
"All I need is one good story..."

Hey, if it worked for Adam...

"Ow! Hey, are you trying to silence me?"
So many conspiracies -- how's a guy to keep track? F'rinstance, just this morning I read there might be a conspiracy to silence Rose McGowan:
"Are they trying to silence me?"
The state of Virginia issues an arrest warrant for a California resident -- a celebrity, whose current fame is for exposing Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator -- in relation to a Felony Drug Possession charge . . . I mean, it might be a conspiracy. On the other hand, what is to be gained by her silence? As far as Weinstein is concerned, the secret (such as it was) is out. So could this not also be a matter of the state's Prosecution receiving a preponderance of evidence to bring an indictable offense to court, as they are required by law to do?

These are troubled times, admittedly, so the one scenario does not necessarily rule out the other, alas. Still, for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I get a little suspicious when a public figure's first claim, when facing potentially damning exposure, is of conspiracy and calumny. Let's see, who else "swings for the fences" like that? Oh, right:
"Are they trying to silence me?"
We are (yet again) assured that 45 is a man of unimpeachable innocence -- because SOMEONE ELSE is out there capable of far greater, more insidious malfeasance and manipulation of The System! Wherever did he pick up a tactic like that, I wonder?
"Are they ...? Never mind."

All this turtle-posting took place in 1998, when a "vast, right-wing conspiracy" attempted to undo the results of two elections -- via impeaching a President for taking advantage of and enjoying inappropriate sexual relations with a 22-year-old intern, whom husband and wife promptly threw to the sharks, the better to keep the ship of state on course.

Claims of conspiracy -- valid or otherwise -- are currently the preferred means of deflection from potential public grievance (valid or otherwise). That's just the way it is. I kinda wish we'd all go back to Sunday school, because at least Adam and Eve followed their shabby attempts at deflection with admitting their transgression. Better yet, they were banished! -- suggesting to me, at least, that often the best way to move forward is to be forcibly moved out.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Take the Prize (Please)

My sour grapes personality comes out when literary prizes are announced. To my mind, Paul Auster should have been nominated for (and received) the Man Booker Award for Moon Palace. Rules didn't allow for this, of course, but now they've been changed he gets nominated for a work I regard with suspicion. That ain't right. In fact, I think it delivers a message aspiring writers ought not to hear.

Yet George Saunders gets the prize for a book I've not yet read, and . . . I'm happy for him. I'm even happy for the prize. I like Saunders' writing, I like Saunders -- I'm looking forward to reading the novel (or, perhaps better yet, hearing it performed).

In the meantime check out Eleanor Wachtel's funny, moving interview with Saunders. And while you're at it, check out this revisit of a funny, moving interview with Linda Barry.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Other places, other words

The allusion to Joseph K I got; the JOKE ("Joe K") I missed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Blade Runner: Dare To Compare, Part 2

**Spoilers Galore, people.**

Scott's version of the Pinocchio Story is by now very familiar.
"Run it by me one more time..."
Whether or not Deckard is a Replicant (an open, and to my mind pointless, question) he very much is: 1) a dim-wit, low on charisma; 2) an inept killer; 3) a rapist. He is thoroughly pathetic, if not repugnant -- reviewers who coo over what a welcome sight Deckard is in the new movie have completely lost touch with what a shit-heel he was in the earlier one.
"Stop! There's a sequel!"
It is the "villain" Roy Batty who brings life abundant to the characters he encounters -- just before he kills them, more often than not.
Batty meets his Maker.
Batty is the Angel of Death, or Flannery O'Connor's "The Misfit," bringing the heightened recognition that comes to those on the cusp of shedding their mortal coil.
I once was blind, but now I see...
Scott breaks script, however, in the final act, when Batty brings physical salvation and enlightened self-awareness to the hapless and undeserving Deckard -- then gives up the ghost. Deckard returns to Rachel, a Replicant whose life he is now determined to protect. If there is a hero in Blade Runner, it is Batty -- a tragic figure.
Rescuing with nail-pierced hand.
Blade Runner 2049 is also a Pinocchio Story, but it takes its time getting there.

The first two-thirds of the film masquerades as an Annointing Of The Chosen One story, and devotes the time to fleshing out exactly what the Chosen One will need to rescue humanity from -- a stratified and misery-inducing caste system, basically.

This time there is no doubt whatsoever about whether or not this story's Blade Runner is a Replicant -- his name is KD9-3.7, or "K" for short.
That's "K" for Kafka, or PKD, etc.
K's human boss (he calls her "Madam") assigns him to find and eliminate the Chosen One. While K sniffs out the trail, the audience takes in a grocery list of what the caste system has wrought -- a defoliated Earth, the universal acceptance of child labour, cramped living conditions, festering resentment among all classes, materialist discontent ramped up to a cosmic scale. The Chosen One has a lot of work to do.

It becomes increasingly apparent to the viewer that K has internalized and accommodated himself to this class-structure to a degree he is not aware of. He behaves imperiously toward technology designed to serve him, including not just his faithful drone but fellow Replicants offering sexual favours. When his human boss pointedly suggests she too might be up for a shag, he politely declines and returns to his job. In what passes for his private life, he's managed to do one better than Madam -- he has a compliant virtual helpmate and intimate he has purchased, to whom he slowly grants an incremental form of agency.
As events unfurl, K is persuaded that he is the Chosen One, and his carefully ordered world falls to pieces.
An unhappy moment: the Blue Fairy revealed as hoax.
He tracks down and confronts his Maker -- in the reality-frame K has come to accept, that would be Deckard.
Fortunately for K, Deckard is still crap at killing Replicants.
In the 30 years that have taken place in the Blade Runner universe, Deckard has come to look and behave a great deal like Harrison Ford does in this universe -- taking a breather from grumpily punching Replicants in the face to savour the pleasures of Elvis singing "Can't Help Falling In Love." Over a post-beating cocktail, Deckard sets K straight -- K is just another Replicant, albeit one who has in fact met the actual Chosen One, but was too thick to recognize it.

The scales fall from K's eyes, and he willingly sacrifices himself in the cause of reuniting the Creator with the Created Chosen One. If Batty was Milton's Lucifer, K is the ode-writer who reassures, "They also serve who stand and wait."
Or shoot, depending.
2049's final act is laudable in construction but lamentable in execution, as it relies on Villains Who Are Villainous And Nothing But. The final confrontation is a scene that does not penetrate nearly as deeply as Batty murdering his Creator, never mind Batty's final confrontation with Deckard.
"I'm so glad we had this time together."
Most would suggest this is due to the absence of Rutger Hauer, but I thought Sylvia Hoeks (Replicant "Luv") showed considerable promise as the new Unhinged Super-Athletic Dutch Heavy. She did an admirable job of flexing what she could, but the script kept her hamstrung, alas.
Luv, in action.
Hopefully this is not my final word on the film, as there are other subtleties and complexities to mull over. But I would perhaps assert what Roger Ebert* did about the earlier film2049 fails on a fundamental level, while delivering on levels this viewer did not anticipate -- surely a fitting achievement for a sequel to a 35-year-old oddity that wound up changing everything.

*Mistakenly, to my mind.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Blade Runner: Dare To Compare, Part 1

This weekend I joined the stalwart few and went to see Blade Runner 2049.
"Let me show you to your seat."
Some stats indicate the audience tilted toward older males, by up to 71%. In our theatre, the women outnumbered the men by a ratio of two-to-one. Mind you, my wife, daughter and I were the only ones there. (I jest, but only just.)

Denis Villeneuve's movie was, as I expected, very much its own thing -- focused on his particular concerns and obsessions, utilizing and subverting stock-and-trade narratives in a manner that has become peculiar to Villeneuve, and recognizably so. While watching I thought it somewhat unfair to compare and contrast his film with Ridley Scott's from 35 years ago -- a film that subsequently dictated the visual grammar of Western cinema and became, for many, passionately loved not just despite its narrative flaws but because of them.

Still, Scott's is the property Villeneuve agreed to work with, so comparisons aren't just inevitable, I think they are called for. Here are a few of my own -- with NO SPOILERS (yet).

The aesthetic: Scott's Blade Runner aesthetic is arguably the tipping-point for the hesitant fan.
You know it. You LOVE it. Los Angeles, 2019!!
So visually saturated was Scott's Los Angeles of 2019 that cyberpunk godfather William Gibson reportedly fled the theatre within the first ten minutes of the movie.

The rest of us stayed put. Scott's future was vibrant . . .
. . . exotic . . .
. . . recognizable . . .
. . . off-putting . . .
Mezcal, with extra worms.
. . . but comfy. Sure, it never stops raining in Scott's LA, but who didn't want to live in Deckard's bachelor pad?
"Help me with the dishes, will ya?"
Villeneuve's LA some 30 years later is decidedly less shiny and more Brutalist.
At times I felt like I had returned to the halls of the University of Winnipeg.
"Walmart says they need my student transcript..."
The blue/yellow hue imbalance that Scott brought to the screen is turned beyond "11" by Villeneuve, heightening viewer discomfort. Will anybody but the perverse ever get sentimental over this aesthetic? For the rest of us this is a decidedly cold and unwelcoming visual palette -- considering how it serves the narrative, this comparison is a "win" for Villeneuve.

Film score: Vangelis' original score was the stuff of legend, in large part because it was decades before anybody could get a copy to play on the home stereo. 2049's score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfinch can be streamed at your immediate convenience. Odds are you won't play it at the eardrum-shredding volumes we endured in the theatre -- even so, none of the tracks are likely to become ubiquitous at Manhattan Ayahuasca ceremonies. This, too, serves Villeneuve's story well, as Vangelis' did Scott's, so I will declare this comparison a "tie."

Story: both films retell the Pinocchio story. But there are twists, which I hope to get to in the next day or two.