Blade Runner 2049 is the best belated sequel I’ve ever seen

This isn’t really a review, I’m just stoked I finally saw the movie.

I just saw Blade Runner 2049 and even though I’m deep into 31 Days of Gore, I’ve kinda gotta talk about it. Luckily, I knew next to nothing about the sequel and was surprised almost immediately. I knew Ryan Gossling was in the movie and he played a blade runner, and I knew Harrison Ford showed up for at least a cameo, but that’s pretty much it. I saw the teaser trailer, but nothing beyond that.

I’m not going to spoil anyone else on the minor plot or character details, either. I will say I love what was revealed two or three minutes in and it’s something I’m guessing the more recent trailers gave away. It’s also nice how they handle the question at the end of the original. I wasn’t in the mood for a three-hour movie when showtime came around tonight, but it certainly didn’t feel like three hours. I somehow completely forgot just how tired I was until the credits rolled and I stood from my seat.

So many modern sequels look at odds with their 80s counterparts. This one not only looks like it was cut from the same cloth, there’s about thirty years of technology added to the futurism we got the last time around, which is so well done it makes the world seem that much more convincing. I’m also glad they kept the Atari billboards in, too… there’s just something appealing about that logo. As far as belated sequels go, this one’s the absolute best. (Yes, I even enjoyed it more than Fury Road.)

The original Blade Runner wasn’t an instant favorite for me; it took several years and multiple versions until The Final Cut unexpectedly blew my mind one night. Blade Runner 2049, on the other hand, is an instant favorite. I may not like it quite as much as the original, but it’s pretty damn close and seems to incorporate more Phildickian themes than Ridley Scott did.

The best part is I’ve got a few years to let it grow on me. I’m dead tired right now, but if I could, I’d drive back to the theater and watch it a second time. I guarantee I’ll be speaking about it more in depth in the near future.

Okay, back to the regularly scheduled blog feature… my Chucky marathon went live about an hour ago and I’ll be featuring Two Evil Eyes at midnight tonight, Central Time.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) [Midnight Movie]

I have a problem… call it cyberpunk addiction. Not only is cyberpunk my favorite setting for a story, it renders me completely incapable of being objective. What this means for me, the afflicted, is I somehow love Freejack, Johnny Mnemonic, Highlander 2, dozens of B-movies which played heavily on 1990s Cinemax, and at least a few questionable Billy Idol videos. I’ve got a fetish for anti-heroes, chrome, Japanese uber-corporations, questions about consciousness, and bio-electric peripherals which plug directly into the brain.

I want to turn on, jack in, and drop out. (Timothy Leary, by the way, was a pretty big fan of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.)

If that description reminds you of yourself, then stop reading this and go see Ghost in the Shell. Yeah, I know: remakes suck. Fortunately, this one feels more like an honest attempt at honoring the source material rather than a cheap cash-in (for what it’s worth, the original filmmakers seem to be giving this one their blessing). This ain’t Chips or Baywatch and, frankly, I want to see more cyberpunk in theaters (and more genre roles for Scarlett Johansson).

The original Ghost in the Shell is on my short list of favorite movies. The American remake, which initially sounded like a terrible idea (as all remakes do), looked surprisingly great judging from the abundance of promotional materials. For the record, I don’t mean it looked like a great movie; I mean it literally looked great, as in the trailer’s visuals were stunning. (I watched damn near every single one of the clips and trailers, and feel like they spoiled very little.)

And the movie itself is stunning to look at, too. The futuristic cityscapes just don’t feel like they were made with CGI… the neon, the towers, the holographic signs—every bit of it looks convincing in the way the camera and the characters move through it all. There are details here you simply wouldn’t see in most of today’s visions of the future: perfectly placed graffiti, realistic weathering, storm drains, antennas, cables, etc. (How often do you see window-unit air conditioners in futuristic movies? Not very often, I reckon.) If I had to guess, most of this stuff was actually photographed in real life and manipulated in post, rather than built from scratch like a phony-looking Star Wars prequel.

On the other hand, there are some aspects which come off a little wonky. Some of the things the actors do, particularly later in the movie, look a lot more believable in animation than they do in live-action. Meanwhile, the borderline Matrix-y stuff seems a little at odds with the movie’s serious, anti-fantastical tone.

So if you’re new to the franchise, all you need to know is Scarlett Johansson plays The Major, a mostly cybernetic agent for Security Section 9, which is kind of like a futuristic SWAT team that does a lot of work in cyber-intelligence and espionage. (When I say she’s “mostly cybernetic,” I mean she’s essentially a human brain in a robot’s body.) She and her optically-enhanced partner, Batou, are trying to track down a terrorist who’s hacking into the brains of the scientists who created The Major.

Whereas the original film (“original” to the degree it was based on the 1989 manga of the same name) was fairly dense and often ambiguous, the American version is unsurprisingly simplified and streamlined, though not insultingly so. A lot of the original questions and motifs remain, but the characters tend to dwell on them in dialogue (they say “ghost” and “shell” an awful lot, which kind of feels like Will Smith’s “suicide squad” line even when it’s coming out of the mouths of Juliette Binoche and Beat Takeshi). Other than that, I really don’t have any complaints. I really enjoyed this movie, though I don’t think the scripted content was as compelling as the visuals.

I honestly can’t tell if the average moviegoer would like Ghost in the Shell. I don’t even know if I would like it if I weren’t such a fan of the genre, and I tend to like damn near anything. This is old school cyberpunk, not the sleek, action-oriented post-Matrix stuff. Which makes it a shame that you can sometimes see the studio’s fingerprints on it… they obviously pushed for something more commercial than the original, but I have a feeling that and the watered-down rating are going to work against it finding the viewers who would appreciate it the most. Otherwise, it’s the rare remake which compliments the original… if you’re not automatically insulted by its existence, that is.

Nemesis (1992) [Midnight Movie]

The opening credits aren’t even over by the time the bullets begin to fly in Nemesis, one of the better cyberpunk adventures of the early 90s. And boy do the bullets fly. In one scene the heroes and the villains alike are shredding through walls to pass from one room to another. Then the hero (Olivier Gruner) creates an escape hatch in the floor by firing his futuristic machine gun in a circle around his feet.

Yes, this is mindless action, but holy shit is it glorious.

Any character in the film can (and usually will) double-cross the hero without warning—to the point it stops making a whole lot of sense. And it’s not really clear why the action hops from one rundown location to the next, other than that’s just the way director Albert Pyun works. (In an interview with io9, Pyun sheds some light on his methods, which were often more practical than artistic.)

So it’s the future and just about anyone who’s anyone has had their bodies heavily modded with illegal implants. Some of the bad guys have faces which split open like nutshells to reveal automatic firearms concealed inside. Other characters exist as digitized ghosts in the machine to guide the hero through the complicated plot. Meanwhile the (presumably) human character can do back- and side-flips as well as the enhanced characters because fuck it, why not?

In the opening scene, Gruner’s character, a kind of blade runner, is ambushed by a group of cyborgs who leave his less-than-human body on the brink of death in a scene reminiscent of Murphy’s demise in Robocop. After a long recovery in the body shop, he tracks them down, shoots the ringleader, and ends up in a dank jail cell for reasons that are escaping me at the moment. A lot of spectacular shit happens and Gruner finds out his boss (Tim Thomerson) has implanted a time bomb in his heart. Gruner, whose ex-lover has been reduced to an artificial consciousness rivaling Siri, leads him through the web of deceit and explosions, insisting he make his way to the top of a volcano because… well, probably because the film crew had access to a volcano location.

The plot really doesn’t matter. What matters is you get beautiful stunt women, more explosions than you can shake a stick at, and early performances by Thomas Jane and Jackie Earle Haley, the latter of whom I didn’t realize was in the movie until I saw the credits. You should know by now if this is your kind of movie. I’ve enjoyed many of Pyun’s movies, which is why it sucks to read his most recent tweet:

Judging from his blog, the disease hasn’t stopped him from directing. Right on.

John Carpenter’s hypnotic "Night" video

Now that’s what I call high tech, low life.
Even though he’s no longer making movies, John Carpenter’s still kicking ass at the age of 68. I’m just now getting around to Lost Themes II. It’s a little trippy considering my insomnia has kicked into overdrive this week. I feel the need to warn you I’m not entirely certain I’m typing coherent sentences here, but if that’s the case then I suppose you already know.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go Negan myself so I can get some sleep. 

I’m beginning to like the idea of a Blade Runner sequel

To say I love Blade Runner would be an understatement. The Final Cut is my second favorite movie of all time. I love the look of the film, the music, and the casting is perfect. Not only do the special effects hold up, they’re better than damn near anything that came out in the last few years. I can read about the production (particularly the set design) for hours at a time. “I’ve seen things… you people wouldn’t believe,” is one of the most insightful lines ever spoken in a movie—something I think about almost everyday. It’s also why I thought Ex Machina was the best movie of 2015. That movie, in turn, made me realize a Blade Runner sequel could still have a lot left to say.

If you’ve never seen Blade Runner, the inferior theatrical cut is currently on Netflix. I suggest skipping that version. Pay money to see The Final Cut, preferably on Blu-Ray.

Spoilers below.

For anyone who’s seen the proper version, the “vague” question posed at the end gets a lot of attention. I would argue there’s nothing vague about it at all—Deckard is a replicant. Period. With that in mind, my initial reaction to news of a sequel was, “Why?”
I’ve been slowly coming around. Ridley Scott isn’t directing it, which I think is a wise idea. The disappointment of Prometheus aside, I just don’t think he’s in the same head space he was in three decades ago. I’m not saying he’s a lousier filmmaker now (you could make that argument, but I loved The Martian), just that he’s no longer suited for the job. People grow as they get older. Nothing wrong with that, especially when you have the sense to stop clinging to the way things used to be. 
The choice of director, Denis Villeneuve, shows the producers are at least attempting to treat this project with respect. I was expecting someone a little more showy and a little less mature to get the job. (The long list of names which have been attached to the Neuromancer movie has been downright horrifying at times, so I tend to expect the worst from these projects.) I have faith in this guy. In an interview on CraveOnline he said:

“Totally, the thing I must say is that I love mystery. I love shadows. I love doubts. I would just want to say to the fans that we will take care of that mystery. I will take care of it.”

All we have is his word, but at least we get that. Any director who took this on as just another job probably wouldn’t bother to assuage our worries. I’m taking this as a good sign until I hear otherwise.
Then there’s Ryan Gossling’s involvement, the news of which reached me when I was still very much against the film. Even then I thought “that doesn’t sound too bad.” To be sure, it’s just a matter of opinion, but I really like Gossling. He’s an actor first and a movie star second, along the lines of 90s Johnny Depp, George Clooney, and Harrison Ford himself. Had they cast someone a lot more box office friendly, I would have been a worried. In fact, it was probably Gossling himself who made me question whether or not a Blade Runner sequel was automatically a terrible idea.
As for Harrison Ford’s casting, which could potentially break the original film… I just don’t know. I have no idea how they plan to use him yet so I can’t get too upset about it. Ridley Scott has said it’s going to be more like a cameo than anything. That can change, so we just don’t know yet.
The only movie I like more than I like Blade Runner is Fargo. A television series based on the film seemed silly to me, too, until I actually saw it. I almost screamed at the screen when the series started messing with what was left buried at the end of the film. (Let’s just say I thought a lot of that movie’s fun was wondering what happened to the ice scraper landmark). The producers of the series, however, handled it with care. I think it’s arguably the best thing on television right now. Today I’m glad I have a Fargo movie and a Fargo television series. One actually enhances the other.
I can only hope Blade Runner 2 is approached in the same way. At least there’s hope, of which I currently have none for the American version of Ghost in the Shell which is coming out soon. I’m ecstatic the Blade Runner 2 producers seem to be doing the opposite of what they’re doing.
My biggest reason for not being worried about a sequel to Blade Runner? By now I’ve seen enough lousy sequels, prequels, and reboots to know that even if they cram something dumb into the official canon, it still doesn’t detract from what came before it. 

Altered Carbon Netflix adaptation is in the works

Richard K. Morgan reportedly quit his day job when Joel Silver purchased the rights for an Altered Carbon film back when movie options could cost ridiculous amounts of money. Now the project is reportedly being made into a Netflix miniseries and I don’t know what to think, exactly. I guess my usual cautious excitement will have to suffice.

Although I never read the sequels, Altered Carbon is something I think is almost as good as Neuromancer and Snow Crash, the landmark novels which—in my mind—respectively created cyberpunk and more or less put it to bed. My knee-jerk reaction to the news was eye-rolling, but this is Netflix we’re talking about here. I haven’t seen all of their original programming, but what I’ve seen is pretty much on par with HBO’s quality. Even though I find The Expanse to be more than agreeable, I’ve never trusted SyFy with projects like this, so I’m glad Netflix got it instead of them.

What do you think?

William Gibson: "How I wrote Neuromancer" @ The Guardian

From the article, written by Gibson himself:

My fantasy of success, then, was that my book, once it had been met with the hostile or indifferent stares I expected, would go out of print. Then, yellowing fragrantly on the SF shelves of secondhand book shops, it might voyage forward, up the time-stream, into some vaguely distant era in which a tiny coterie of esoterics, in London perhaps, or Paris, would seize upon it, however languidly, as perhaps a somewhat good late echo of Bester, Delany or another of the writers I’d pasted, as it were, on the inside of my authorial windshield. And that, I assured myself, sweating metaphorical bullets daily in front of my Hermes 2000 manual portable, would almost certainly be that.

Read the full article here.

Timothy Leary on Neuromancer:
“It’s the way the world is going to be in ten years, like it or not.”
I don’t think there is, nor will there ever be, another story that makes as much sense to me as Neuromancer.