Blade Runner (1982): A Beautiful Sci. Fi. Meditative Exploration of Justice and Identity

   “Blade Runner” is one of my favorite science fiction films of all time. It is also a film I had not seen for years until I saw that “Blade Runner 2049” was coming out. The last version I saw before this was “The Extended Cut” and in the future I plan on doing a comparison of all the different versions, but for purposes of this review, I’m just sticking with the original Theatrical Release. “Blade Runner” is a film that brings so much depth through ambiguity, it doesn’t tell you what to think or to believe but from character actions we can infer greater meanings and truth. This is where the film thrives and what I’ll be analyzing more fully in my review, as the larger ideas aren’t spelled out, they hinted at and let you put the pieces together.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples and produced by Michael Deeley. The story is based off of the Philip K. Dick book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick is an author whose books have been adapted into many of my favorite sci. fi. films.

The story takes place in a futuristic dystopic 2019 where the Tyrell Corporation has invented Replicants as slave labor to do dangerous jobs or the populace and government. They were given a short life span and for those that manage to escape, police known as Blade Runners hunt them down and “retire” them. This story picks up with four escaping to Earth and their attempts to infiltrate Tyrell Corp. as Deckard, a Blade Runner, hunts them down.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The Universe is easily the richest part of it all. This is a version of Earth that could happen. We have a crowded, dirty city full of adds and neon lights where the rich live above the sky and the poor live stacked on top of one another. This is also a world of indifference as watching a replicant get killed means nothing to the everyday people, just like what we see today with how people react to shootings and usually find it justified when an authority figure of some sort (police, military, etc.) is the one doing it.

The Replicants – The replicants who escape are the best part of this film. Whether it is Zhora just trying to live her life as a dancer and isn’t involved in the plots of the other 3. Leon and his desire for justice, especially after Deckard kills Zhora, Pris and curiosity and fun nature and Roy with his desire to understand and to live, a character who wants justice and to be fixed since he was made a slave and made to die. They were the best part of this film and I would’ve have watched a full length film about any of the 4. They were complex and weren’t bad beings, they were seeking freedom and justice in a world that only saw them as monsters and treated them as slaves…and they found meaning beyond that. They were so much more than how others saw them.

Human or Replicant Ambiguity in Deckard – One of the running themes of the film is what makes a person human and Deckard is used as that base, as many times it is hinted that he might be a replicant hunting his own people…as Rachel asks if he’s ever done the test and his avoidance of it shows there is more going on with him. The fact that Rachel is able to fool the Replicant test is a good example of this too and how Deckard could have been designed simply to kill. This ambiguity lends power to the narrative at it humanizes all of those in the world and shows just how unjust what Deckard does is.

Memories and Identity – Another theme that is explored is that of memories as they relate to identity. We see this when Leon is asked about his mother in the opening scene, as he knows he’s a replicant and the memory he’s been given is false and Rachel who believes her memories to be real and shares those memories as a way of getting to know Deckard. Even after she knows they are a lie they still shape her and how she relates to others, unlike Leon who’s actions come from knowing the lie and reacting to the present.

The Means of Justice – There are a few ways that justice happens in the film. Whether it is the Blade Runner Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos giving time for Deckard and Rachel to escape, or the killing of Tyrell by Roy. Tyrell didn’t care about his creations and upheld the system where they would be hunted down. Roy killing him is around the time that he finally finds freedom in what time he has left to live.

The Cons: Deckard, Rachel and Consent – The one con that keeps this film from being perfect is the scene after Rachel saves Deckard from Leon. She is troubled, doesn’t know who she is and Deckard just forces himself on her. If it isn’t rape it is the same kind of evil. I wanted Roy to kill Deckard after this as even though I think it showed that Deckard didn’t see Rachel as a person yet, it is never called out in that way and can only be inferred. Deckard never faces any consequences from Rachel from it and they still fall in love. I hated this scene and it is the one thing that keeps this film from perfection.

“Blade Runner” is a film that has had a lasting legacy and far reaching legacy on science fiction. It helped bring about some of my favorite shows like the new “Battlestar Galactica” as replicants and cylons are pretty similar, the dirty advanced sci. fi. futures of “Cowboy Bebop” and “Ghost in the Shell,” and countless other works that explore self, personhood and greater themes. I’ll be exploring “Blade Runner 2049” after this but I wanted to go back to this classic first. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. This film is a work of genius and if you are a fan of sci. fi. you will most likely enjoy this film as much as I did.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

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John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) – A Good Sequel That Raises the Stakes

john-wick-2-keanu-reeves-the-sequel-to-john-wick

    “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the best kind of sequel. It raises the stakes, gives greater exploration of the world and further develops the characters. Sadly what keeps it from being on par with the first film is it isn’t nearly as tightly written and the ending could have been handled differently. I wouldn’t call it great because the cons it carries keep it from being that, it is no “Empire Strikes Back” but it is better than “Die Hard 2.”

      The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by David Leitch, Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee.

     The story picks up where the last film left off with Wick taking out Viggo’s brother to get his car back so he can go back into retirement. Sadly his retirement doesn’t last long as Santino calls upon a “Marker” that had been formed between them when he helped John complete his impossible task. When John refuses he destroys his home, forcing John to fulfill the “Marker” and kill his sister, who sits on the Assassin High Table.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise involves John being pulled back into the world of assassins after he finishes back his car as the stakes are raised as he has to kill someone who will put an even bigger bounty on his head. I enjoy the “lose lose” of the situation that John is put into. It forces creativity and thinking outside the box.

The Opening – The opening is fantastic and one of the best action sequences in the whole film. In it we see John get his car back and make peace with Abram (Viggo’s brother) after he kills all his men and gets his car back. It is powerful and we see that John is still honorable even when others are not.

The Action – This film has a lot of action in it and because of it there is a lot of great action. From the fight in the catacombs in Rome, to the Museum fight and the car chase at the beginning…all of these run laps around the Bond films out of recent memory.

 The World – The world is intricate as we learn more about what holds the world of assassins in place. From the Continental having hotels all over the world, the High Council of 12 that runs everything and the Bowery King, and underground information broker in NY who owns the streets.

The Characters – The characters are the best part and there are a lot of great ones, though the villain is once again the least interesting character in the film…much like Viggo’s son in the first film.

Charon – Charon is the man who welcomes people into the Continental and this time he is Wick’s ally as he takes care of his dog and takes him in before the Continental excommunicates him. I hope he’ll be back for the sequel.

Ares – Ares is the deaf assassin that serves Santino. She is a great character and holds off Wick on multiple occasions. I wish we could have learned why she is serving Santino as there was clearly more there. She is the final boss for Wick before he finally ends Santino in the Continental. Ruby Rose does a fantastic job.

Gianna – Gianna is Santino’s sister and one of the members of the High Table. She kills herself rather than letting John kill her and they have a great conversation as we see that she always ended things on her terms. Like Santino she is ruthless though as our first scene with her is her shutting down someone whose land she has taken in her rise to power. We learn that her and John are friends too.

Cassian – Cassian is Gianna’s protector and Common does a great job of showing him to be the honorable assassin. He is respectful of John, even as he is trying to kill him and we see how both of their codes keep them at odds where they would be friends in other circumstances.

Aurelio – Leguizamo is back, though it is only to pick up John’s car and joke around about when it will be fixed. He is a great character though and I hope he is an ally in the next film.

Winston – McShane does an amazing job as this character. In this we see he like Cassian is bound by honor and he gives Wick a day before he excommunicates him as well as giving him the “Marker” that Santino had placed him under so he can use it to free himself someday. You see regret from Winston but also hope that Wick will survive.

The Bowery King – Fishburne plays the Bowery King, an information broker who tags pigeons with chips and microphones so he knows what is going on everywhere. He is insane but has respect for Wick for sparing his life. I hope we see him again as he mentions that Wick owes him when he hides, heals and gives Wick the gun to take out Santino.

Okay: Santino – Santino betrays Wick and there is no reason behind it. It is implied they have a history but it is never explored fully. I didn’t hate the character so I won’t put him as a con, but he could have been so much more. I wanted more history and less action and he could have been how to do that.

The Ending – The ending has Wick excommunicated and the High Table raising the bounty internationally on his head as he is running away with his dog but holding the “Marker” which maybe his salvation. I liked it but wish he had found a more creative way to end Santino. I wish he’d still had the Continental. Him having nothing makes his survival much more questionable and if they don’t kill him next film (given he has no allies) it will be difficult to take seriously. He needed some allies.

Cons: When the Action Goes Too Long – There is a ton of action in this film and at times it goes on way too long. I get this is an action movie but what made the first film better is the action had purpose and didn’t overstay it’s welcome. When Alfie Allen is taken out it is quick but here the action sequences are dragged out and it detracted from the amazing narrative that was going on.

    This is a sequel you should check out if you like action films and were a fan of the first film. The world is further developed and the stakes are raised in such a way that they could end this series as a Trilogy easily. After that I hope they don’t do anymore, they can’t raise the stakes and take anymore from John Wick, so I hope they end this series next movie. I really like John Wick and I’d hate for to be “Die Harded.” This film is a solid sequel and is once again a lot of fun in a world Keanu Reeves clearly owns.

Final Score: 8.9 / 10

“Gotham” Season 1 – Establishing the Crazy City, The Moral Grey and Characters

Gotham Season 1

     “Gotham” was a series that I didn’t expect to like. Part of the reason is it does start out slow and the child actors are the weakest part of the series…but once the Gang Drama starts up it gets really fascinating. I grew to care about the different fighting Crime Lords  and wanted to see what they would do to rise and how they would fight one another. This is a show that is a Noir and as someone who has always enjoyed Noir style films the city of “Gotham” is the perfect location to tell a Noir Drama which over time pulled me and from there I grew to care about the series.

    The series was created by Bruno Heller who was also one of the producers along with Danny Cannon, John Stephens and Ben Edlund.

      The story is about Jim Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) return to London and him facing the corruption of the city with his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as the drama between the Crime Lords tear the city apart as Gordon tries to establish order and solve the mystery behind the Wayne Murders.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World of Gotham – Gotham is a fascinating world..and as a fan of Batman I really enjoyed this interpretation. What kind of world would it take for Batman to be a good thing? A pretty broken and crazy world and that is the world of Gotham, where the good are few and become corrupted and a new bad will always rise.

Law and Order  – The Law and Order side of Gotham is fascinating and we get to see some of Batman’s rogues and allies here and see what motivates them.

Edward Nygma – Nyma is fascinating as the awkward riddle man who is drawn to one of his coworkers who gets into a lot of abusive relationships. It is from him being the outsider and obsessive that we see him become corrupt when he kills his crushes abusive boyfriend, hides it and from there he breaks. Cory Michael Smith gives a tenderness to the character that isn’t often seen.

Sarah Essen – Sarah Essen is in charge of the Station and we see her advocate for Jim and Bullock, including risking her life when Zsasz comes for Gordon’s head on orders from Falcone. From here we see her walking the very thin line between her job and corruption as she does all she can to help. Zabryna Guevera is good.

Harvey Dent – Harvey is shown to be the driven and idealistic lawyer willing to take the fight to the Mob, until Loeb comes in and cuts out his feat from under him and we learn he will fight but he toes the line because he does have ambition. He doesn’t stop being Gordon’s ally though, even through it all. Nicholas D’Agosto is wonderful.

Leslie Tompkins – Leslie starts out as a Doctor in Arkham, but after her and Gordon hunt down one of the escapies she joins GPD and becomes their doctor as the past was fired for corruption. She is really cool and it’s great seeing Morena Baccerin (Inara from “Firefly”) again.

Harvey Bullock – Harvey is one of my favorite characters on the show. He’s the corrupt cop in so deep with the mob but because he is he knows how to keep peace on the streets and cut deals. It is the idealistic Gordon who changes him as we see him risk for more than himself and put himself out there helping Gordon reform Gotham and the GPD. Donal Logue is fantastic.

The Thugs and Crime Lords – These guys are the best part of the show, not the crazies…but the crime lords who use Gotham as their chessboard. Each of them has such fascinating motivations and it is a joy to see how those unfold.

Victor Zsasz – Zsasz is wonderful in this as the brutal thug and enforcer who has no fear. It is he who breaks Fish’s number 2, Butch and turns him into Falcone’s puppet. He also survives the gang war and upheavel at the end showing that he’s a survivor. He’s also really creepy too as he puts a cut on his body for every hit he does.

Butch – Butch is Fish’s number 2 who is broken by Falcone. He is the guy who turns on his friend because he believes in Fish only to lose it all when Zsasz breaks him and turns him into Penguin’s pet. He tries to rebel against it but fails in the end when Penguin reigns triumphant.

Carmine Falcone – Falcone is  an old world crime boss who keeps all his deals and shows that he can play the long game. When Fish plots rebellion he uses Penguin to reveal her as well as to reveal his rival Sal Maroni. In the end he is done with it all though as he goes into retirement away from it all as the fight is out of him and he’s tired of people and betrayal. Falcone’s primary drive is power and order and when order is lost all he wants is safety where he can keep his own power and order away from the chaos of Gotham.

Sal Maroni – David Zayas is awesome as Sal Maroni. After seeing him play a stupid and kind character in “Dexter” he is amazing as the smooth criminal who plays his cards really well right until the end when his insulting Fish Mooney leads to her head shotting him. His drive is respect and family and we see how his old friendships are what put him at risk, as well as his need for revenge and to be the leader of his world.

Fish Mooney – Jada Pinkett Smith is awesome as Fish Mooney! Her character loses everything at one point when she is in the Dollmaker’s prison, yet we see her insight and lead a prison rebellion, escape and in the she is the one who kills Sal Maroni. My money is on her being alive even though Penguin pushed her into the river in the final fight. Her first name is Fish afterall, and she’s survived more than that. Her character like Penguin is a survivor who is absolutely ruthless against her enemies. Her drive is to protect her own and to rule and from that respect.

Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin – Robin Lord Taylor is wonderful as this manipulative, rat punk who rises through the ranks betraying Fish, Falcone and Maroni to become the King of Gotham…and in the end he succeeds. He proves in this world ruthlessness and being without morality will get you what you want. Gordon also owes him a favor so he has control over GPD in his own way too, plus Gordon doesn’t kill so there is that. One of his primary motivations is caring for his somewhat insane mother and giving her the illusion that he is an honorable man. He goes full crazy and ruthless when Maroni tells her the truth of who he is.

Main – The main cast who isn’t GPD isn’t as strong at this point and I’ll get into why further on. Alfred, Barbara and Jim Gordon are great though.

Barbara Kean – This show is Barbara breaking as we see her isolated and living with Selina Kyle and Poison Ivy and eventually being chosen and broken by the Ogre turning her into a mad murder stuck in Gotham after she kills her parents and tries to kill Leslie.

Alfred Pennyworth – Sean Pertwee (son of Jon Pertwee the 3rd Doctor from “Doctor Who”) does a great job as Alfred. He’s an ex-marine still bearing the weight of the things he was made to do (one reason he doesn’t believe it in anymore) and it is that guilt that leads to an old friend almost killing him. He is the moral center for Bruce Wayne who is angry and broken and he is the one who supports and trains Bruce as best he can.

Jim Gordon –  Ben McKenzie is actually a pretty good actor. In this we see a man driven by his job and code forced to make compromises for the greater good and from it slowly grow corrupt in his own way while his actions lead to the rise of the Penguin as the new King of Gotham. His story is a tragedy as his ex Barbara goes insane from a serial killer and Loeb does all he can to hurt Gordon so the GPD will not change.

Okay: Selina Kyle – She is just a punk and we don’t know why she does the things she does. She’s a blank slate and it is only the actresses performance that elevates her above a con.

Bruce Wayne – Bruce has the same problem as Selina. He is a blank slate though he does have a little bit more development. He is obsessed and a bit of a savant and may be autistic which lends some depth to Bruce that isn’t often seen or explored in regards to his character. It is that helped me get through the okay performance by the child actor.

Arkham – There is nothing unique about Arkham Asylum. I cared so much more about GPD Headquarters and the Penguin’s and Fish’s Lounge than this place…which is sad is this location is so central to the mythos.

Cons: Poison Ivy – She is just a mean kid from an abusive household. No depth, nothing interesting…a waste.

Commissioner Loeb – He’s a one-dimensional corrupt man trying to protect his insane daughter. Really wanted more from this character as Falcone, Maroni, Fish and Penguin all have more development.

   This is a show I’d recommend for sure! The weakest parts are when there are child actors and the first third of the series isn’t all that strong, but when the betrayals begin happening and Gordon’s desire to reform kicks into full gear the story really takes off. If you like Batman and that universe you will probably like this show. It is a fascinating and twisted Noir that enjoys it’s place in the Batman mythos. I’m looking forward to Season 2 and where the story will go.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10