Around Thanksgiving, LitReactor published a list of “10 books to make you feel thankful.” At #10–SUFFER THE CHILDREN! For which I’m thankful too. Thanks for the call out, LitReactor!
BLADE RUNNER 2049 took me back to one of my favorite dystopias and a movie I absolutely loved back in the 80s and have rewatched every few years since. 2049 does thorough justice to the original, continuing its story, atmosphere, and sense of tragedy, while creating something new. With BLADE RUNNER 2049, ARRIVAL, and SICARIO under his belt, Denis Villeneuve is now one of my favorite Hollywood directors.
In 2049, the Tyrell Corporation has failed, but a new corporation has taken over to build replicants (Wallace Corporation, headed by a creepy Jared Leto, who has a terrific replicant assistant who does his dirty work). These replicants do the dangerous jobs nobody else can or will do, resulting in a slave class. K, a replicant (Ryan Gossling, who does a great job in the role despite my fears) is a “blade runner” agent, a police officer who tracks and terminates rogue androids. He uncovers evidence that a child was born to a replicant and human parent. For both humanity and replicants, this is a game-changing event that could trigger a replicant uprising. K’s investigation puts him in the crosshairs of the police, replicants, and Wallace Corporation, and leads him to Agent Deckard and the truth about himself and his reality.
2049 is as moody/atmospheric, filled with eye-candy, and powerful in its ideas as the original. Like Deckard, K is a tragic figure doomed to question his reality and everything he assumes is real. Future technology such as personal digital assistants designed as loving companions is perfectly weaved into the storytelling. The ending is as satisfying as it is tragic, as K embraces his reality and a cause bigger than himself, finding his humanity and authentic connection in the process. I particularly liked that Harrison Ford wasn’t expected to phone it in like he did in his reprisal of Han Solo; he cared and worked hard for the role, and unlike STAR WARS, there’s real meat and purpose to his character.
No criticisms, I clearly loved it. It’s a long movie, but I enjoyed the way the run time allowed the story to breathe and build gravitas through the incredible sets, effects, music, and atmosphere.
In HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017), Theresa, a beautiful college student who is cruel to her classmates, is brutally murdered on her birthday by a hooded figure wearing a campus mascot mask. She instantly wakes up and starts the day over, only to be murdered again and again. The only way to stop it is to figure out who the murderer is and stop them, and hopefully in the process learn how to be a person worth surviving.
It’s GROUNDHOG DAY meets SCREAM, as fun as the first and as lightly scary as the second. I didn’t expect anything earthshaking going into it. By the end, I enjoyed it quite a bit as a basic fun movie that’s competently written, directed, and acted.
BLACK MIRROR (Netflix) is one of my favorite shows, a British anthology series that examines human nature in the face of technological change, which explains the title. What I love about is is no matter how empowered we become by technology, we are always only human, and this technology can exacerbate human flaws to the point of the grotesque.
Retinal implants allow people to record memories, which leads to man confirming his wife’s infidelity then destroying himself by forcing her to play it for him. A woman lives in a world (coming soon to China) where people are rated based on everyday interactions, with high ratings guaranteeing success and low ratings meaning you could be denied service or lose your job. A man lives in a virtual prison serving his sentence for murder. Robotic bees created to supplement the bee population are hacked by a vengeful activist. An artist kidnaps a princess and as ransom requires the prime minister to have sex with a pig on live TV. Brutal and brilliant stuff.
Season 4 was terrific, with some of the best episodes in the series, though a big uneven in quality. Charlie Brooker, its creator, said he wanted a little more hope in the show given the 2016 election, saying he wasn’t sure people would be in the mood for bleak nihilism on TV as they’d have plenty in their real lives. Still, that bleak nihilism gives the show its brutal edge so season 4, while excellent, missed the mark for me a little.
In season 4, there are two outstanding episodes. In USS Callister, a nerdy, shy, put-down software genius creates a virtual reality game based on a TV show similar to Star Trek, and by taking DNA samples from coworkers he likes or despises, he recreates them inside his world to rule as his starship crew. This is a freakily fun episode with an interesting message about a bullied man becoming a bully himself through a virtual experience.
My favorite was by far Metalhead, a simple story about a woman trying to escape a robot intent on killing her. It was a brilliant cat and mouse episode about the strengths of human versus machine, and is a fantastic example of how a small, personal story can tell a much bigger story, in this case a robot apocalypse. The little robot is incredibly creepy and terrifying, particularly in its single-mindedness in pursuing and killing its prey.
No plans for a season 5 yet, though Brooker is up for it. I’m hoping he keeps the series going. It’s the TWILIGHT ZONE of our time.
Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER! recently came to Google Play, giving me an opportunity to rewatch it. It was even better the second time around, particularly since I started the movie with a Biblical interpretation of the story, which I’d discovered about a third of the way through my first time. Here’s my take on the film, which contains spoilers.
At the start of the story, we have the poet (God) reconstituting the world from ashes. The poet (“Him” in the credits) and Mother (representing Earth, or nature) live in harmony until Man arrives professing to be an admirer of the poet. This is Adam, who in this story is a bone surgeon (rib reference) with a surgical scar over his ribs. Then Woman arrives (Eve), a seductress fascinated with the poet’s study where he does his writing (Eden), particularly a large and beautiful piece of crystal (the apple). Man and Woman break the crystal, which gets them expelled from the room and locked out (banishment from Eden). Despite them being nothing but trouble, the poet finds them inspiring and seems to depend on their adoration.
Since their arrival, Mother is struck by visions of ashes returning to the home, foreshadowing but also a buried memory, and when she places her hand against the walls of the house, she senses cancerous cinders infecting a heart, which is really her own heart. She discovers an ominous sealed-off room in the basement which houses the oil tank (Hell, the dark flip side of paradise, a foreshadowing of the coming apocalypse). They’re extremely rude to her, giving all their love and praise to the Poet while ignoring or belittling her, and making a mess everywhere they go. Then their sons show up (Cain and Abel). One son kills the other, and the poet slams him against a piece of glass, cutting his forehead (the mark of Cain). After the funeral, Man and Woman and all their friends show up, all of whom are amazingly rude to Mother in her own home, putting the worst of human nastiness on display. When the people break an unfinished sink, which floods the house, Mother banishes them. The house is wrecked, and it’s raining outside, but the people are gone. This is the Biblical Flood.
The poet and Mother make love that night and conceive a child, and all is harmony for a while. Mother is happily pregnant while the Poet has rediscovered a passion to write. His new work draws adoring worshippers from all over, who start to trash the house. Mother sees a blood stain on the floor (from Abel’s murder) reappear like a diseased wound, as humans are back. The film’s subsequent last act is completely surreal as we see humanity in all its extremes, dancing, joy, worship, religious evils, war, poverty, destitution, and hypocrisy. Soon it’s hell on earth all over the house. Tormented and horrified, Mother begins having contractions, which strike like earth tremors. The poet reopens his study and brings her inside, where she delivers a son.
The poet wants to show the boy to the people in the house, who have been leaving them gifts outside the door, but she refuses, not trusting them. When she finally falls asleep, the Poet takes the baby to the people outside, who handle him so roughly they kill him. Mother pushes through the crowd to discover they are eating him in a ritual. The baby, of course, is Jesus, and the ritual a version of the Last Supper. Mother goes berserk until she’s severely beaten to the point of almost being unrecognizable.
In a blind rage, she goes to the basement, where she breaks open the oil tank. Holding a lighter, she tells the poet he never loved her, he only loved how much she loved him. Then she burns the house and everyone in it (the apocalypse). The poet takes her ravaged body to the kitchen. She tells him she still loves him, and this allows him to take out her heart (her love) and fuse it into a large and beautiful crystal. Using that crystal, he is able to regenerate the house and the surrounding paradise, producing a new Mother. He will try again. His creations and what they do to their world don’t matter, only that they adore him.
MOTHER! presents God as narcissist, humans as nasty monkeys at best and a plague at worst, humans as focused on the spiritual rather than their environment, and Earth as living, giving, nurturing mother who is snubbed, scorned, and abused in turn by its children who depend on her for life.
The film has a brilliant message, is beautifully shot, and contains a raw power I found completely compelling. It was one of my favorite films of 2017.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017) is a fantastic sequel, replaying the elements that worked in the original while delivering everything else fresh.
KINGSMAN (2014) surprised me earlier this year in how entertaining it was. This is James Bond with over-the-top weapons, violence, and a much punchier sense of humor. The church scene is one of the craziest and most violence set-pieces I’ve ever seen on film, and really shows off what these powerful secret agents are capable of.
My review of THE GOLDEN CIRCLE contains a few minor spoilers, but these are in the trailer, so I consider them fair game. Eggsy is now a Kingsman (taking on his mentor’s alias as Galahad) and living with Tilde, the Swedish princess whom he rescued at the end of the first film and, well, got a very nice reward from for saving the world. The organization has recruited new agents and has been operating for a year. The plot follows similarly as the first movie, in which we have a charming villain who commits evil for a good cause, chief henchman with a trademark cool personal weapon, near apocalyptic event, Kingsman virtually wiped out, and Eggsy saving the day. Along the way there are frequent little references to the events in the first film that are great.
The world’s biggest drug baron, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), wants to legitimize herself by ending the War on Drugs. She laces her drug supply with a toxin that will kill all users if the world doesn’t legalize all drugs. After she kills all the Kingsman agents, it’s down to Eggsy to save the day. He goes to America, where the organization’s American counterpart, Statesman, agrees to help stop Poppy. Along the way, Harry (Colin Firth) returns. The result is a thoroughly entertaining thrill ride that keeps the plot simple, has great characters, uses special effects and violence when needed, and delivers a slaughterfest when the agents unleash their powers.
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed it as much as I did the first one. Now I’m hoping they make another one if all the sequels will be this great.