The Gospel According To Rick Deckard (ANALYSIS) (SPOILERS)

deckard2049

Is Deckard really a replicant?

Despite my perception that Blade Runner 2049 cleared that issue up once and for all – with an obvious answer of “No” – apparently it’s still an open question, according to some of the filmmakers involved.

That’s a shame, because declaring Deckard human is what gives this whole universe spiritual meaning.

First, just the facts. The case should’ve been closed with the trailer, quite frankly. Why? Because we see an old Deckard, and replicants don’t age. Sure, fans may have been wondering if 2049 would reveal that this replicant could age, but that twist wouldn’t make any sense. It would actually defy logic. Replicants were made to be slaves, after all, and what’s the purpose of an aging slave?

The only reason this was ever debated to begin with is because, long ago, original director Ridley Scott posited quite firmly that, so far as he was concerned, Deckard was a replicant. Meanwhile, screenwriter Hampton Fancher (for both Blade Runner films) has always and resolutely stated that Deckard is, without a doubt, human. Harrison Ford has prescribed to Fancher’s view as well.

But movie geeks will never be able to set aside a fascinating nerd mystery that lingers in pop culture lore, and the Deckard/Replicant question has become an all-timer for fans of the cult classic.

I’ve always felt that “Deckard as replicant” made him a less interesting character, and the story’s themes less compelling. Once you get past what a nifty little plot twist that would be, having two replicants go on the run together (after falling for each other) is, well, pretty boring. Of course that’s what two replicants would do because that’s what replicants do! They flee for their lives.

What’s more interesting is for a human and a replicant to choose to cross that species divide, particularly between “Creator” and “Creation”. The implications, themes, and ideas are much more complex and riveting.

When I saw Blade Runner 2049, it seemed to embrace and double-down on the potential of those implications. To me, the confirmation of Deckard’s humanity was pretty simple:

Deckard impregnated Rachel.

I mean, what more do you need? Human semen mysteriously (miraculously?) found fertile soil in a replicant womb. Unless, of course, we’re to suppose that Replicants have organic semen, too, not just artificial, the kind that can create life.

Nothing in the film substantiates this, which makes it harder to buy into, plus it’d be far less miraculous. Indeed, it would be literal science. Impressive, sure, and even revolutionary, but not truly miraculous. And this movie stressed in no uncertain terms that what happened here was a miracle.

Now lets take this even further, to how it all played out in the story and some of the religious symbolism going on.

The primary reason their child was so valuable was because it was a hybrid child, both human and replicant. A first of its kind (as opposed to just another replicant that happened to be conceived, not made). Their child was a new creation, not a common one created by new means.

Which finally leads us to the symbolism: their child is a Christ figure.

Sure, it’s a daughter in this case, Ana, not a son, despite being deceptively suggested for most of the movie that it was K (well played, Denis). And here’s why the Christ figure is more intriguing, even beyond the narrative Messianic possibilities.

Christ had two natures, equal parts God and man. His father was God and his mother was human. Same thing here. Deckard (“Creator”) and Rachel (“Creation”) gave birth to a child of two equal natures. This was the miracle alluded to in the opening scene, a miracle that inextricably united Creator and Creation.

The ultimate purpose of this union? To reconcile the two, so that Creator and Creation would be one. Salvation itself is at stake.

Consider these words by St. John Kronstadt, on the Incarnation of Christ:

  • “The incarnation is not only an act of love but an act of salvation. Jesus Christ, by uniting man and God in his own person, reopened for man the path to union with God.”

Another Blade Runner film could approach Ana in the same way, reopening for replicant the path to union with humanity.

In the event of another sequel (unlikely, given the low box office), this could serve as a fascinating basis, not just for the “Replicant Uprising” alluded to in 2049 but to actually have a Christ figure confound both its followers and enemies by pursuing love, peace, and forgiveness, not retribution or an earthly throne.

This would be infinitely more interesting, and challenging, than a simple “battle”, and given the philosophical depth that the first two films were driven by I’d trust that a third movie could do well by this possibility.

And in terms of the characters, they could bring K back (either not having died, or rebooting him) to serve as a John the Baptist figure for Ana Deckard’s messiah. Plus, we’d be given another Chosen One that’s female rather than male. Our pop culture could use more of those so that Rey isn’t all by her lonesome.

With Villeneuve, Fancher, and Scott guiding it all, I’d trust that this Chosen One would be as much about actual ideas and virtues and not restricted to just an iconic template for an action narrative.

That said: if it all ends here, there’s something really poetic about the final shot being of Deckard seeing his daughter for the first time. That was a moving, poignant grace note to end on.

But there’s truly great potential for so much more.

 

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Last Trailer, And Poster, For THE LAST JEDI (VIDEO/IMAGE)

If director Rian Johnson had his druthers, we wouldn’t be seeing this.

But Lucasfilm marketing knows better. Fans hungered for one more bite of a marketing morsel from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and we have it: the second and last trailer for the latest Star Wars episode.

It premiered on Monday Night Football, in October, just like the final one for The Force Awakens did. And it’s clearly the dark Empire Strikes Back of this trilogy.

I think we can now consider ourselves fully primed for Episode 8, if we weren’t already.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens on December 15, 2017.

Last_Jedi_Poster

VICTORIA & ABDUL (Movie Review)

victoriaandabdul
** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for some thematic elements and language)
Released:  October 6, 2017
Runtime: 112 minutes
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Paul Higgins, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar

With Judi Dench starring as Queen Victoria, Victoria & Abdul could’ve been a wonderful companion piece to the magnificent Mrs. Brown from twenty years ago, in which Dench first played (and was Oscar-nominated for portraying) England’s latter 19th Century monarch.

Instead, the two films work in tandem as an unfortunate but instructive compare-and-contrast, a case study on how to do a certain type of material with rich poignancy and class, and then how to make a complete mockery of it.

The two structures are so similar that Victoria & Abdul plays like a quasi-sequel, imitating the original in premise but then changing up the details. Mrs. Brown told the story of Queen Victoria’s personal, life-saving friendship with her Scottish servant John Brown that followed the death of her beloved husband. That film’s timeline ended in 1886.

Victoria & Abdul begins in 1887. It follows the Queen’s friendship with an Indian servant named Abdul, who becomes her spiritual advisor, and how he inspired Victoria in her final years. The film’s advertising could’ve been slapped with the tagline: “Same Queen. Different Footman. New Attitude.”

That sort of trite marketing would’ve been entirely appropriate for a movie that’s as equally glib. It takes the archetype of the stern but loyal John Brown and reincarnates him into the amiable Abdul, providing a similar influence but to much less credible or satisfying effect.

Compared to Mrs. Brown, which is an emotionally searing portrait of a profoundly moving, complex relationship, Victoria & Abdul is an art house softball, pandering to the Period Piece aficionado by playing cute with a progressive-yet-doddering Queen and the Indian version of the Magical Negro (think Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance).

The overall tone is lightweight; that’s particularly surprising given director Stephen Frears’ track record (The Queen and Dangerous Liasons, to name two). Dramatic stakes are entirely undercut by playing up the culture clash as silly antics. Seemingly insurmountable challenges are pushed aside all-too-easily.

Threats aren’t real; they’re formulaic plot beats, quickly dispensed of by Victoria. She simply tells off her advisors, who have imperialist sticks up their butts. (She’s even given a Sorkin-like monologue, too, stacked with an encyclopedic list of facts, delivered with rapid-fire defiance, and capped by a mic drop conclusion.)

The aesthetic is equally slight, feeling more modern than period. Yes, the costumes and set pieces are all 1800s, but the contemporary dialogue and overall lack of propriety keep us in the present, not transporting us to the past. You half-expect someone to pull out a smartphone at any moment.

A lighter, even more comedic approach is fine. This need not be as weighted as Mrs. Brown so powerfully was. Fears, however, makes a joke of a story that’s packed with layers of potential. Consequently, at those rare moments that the Queen expresses genuine vulnerability, even tears, it comes out nowhere – like from a different movie entirely – and doesn’t register.

Dench’s formidable chops are chopped and, as Abdul, the sincere charisma and noble grace of newcomer Ali Fazal is reduced to a flat (if endearing) caricature. The narrative focus even veers off-course, evolving from Victoria & Abdul to Victoria vs. the Petty, Cowardly Royal Household. This trifling miscalculation also belabors its import, overstaying its welcome by a good twenty minutes.

Like many biopics, this movie opens with an on-screen statement that reads (with a wink), “Based on a true story…mostly.” It should’ve said…barely.

A Superman Tease In Lastest, Last JUSTICE LEAGUE Trailer (VIDEO/IMAGES)

A little over a month out and we’re getting a our last rock-and-roll look at the new Justice League movie. This official “Heroes” trailer is driven by a cover of that David Bowie classic as the gang unites together in explosions of CGI excess, with glimpses of the big bad villain Steppenwolf to go along with it. Justice League opens on November 17, 2017.

Click on any poster for larger image gallery.

Colorful Sci-Fi Rock-‘Em Sock-‘Em In PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING Trailer (VIDEO/IMAGES)

Robots! Monsters! Sequels! Oh my!

Defying a lackluster stateside run with a global haul led by China, Pacific Rim has spawned a sequel, and here’s its first trailer. Gone are creator / director Guillermo del Toro and actor Charlie Hunnam. In their places are Stephen S. DeKnight (TV’s Daredevil) and Star Wars star John Boyega who plays the son of son of Idris Elba‘s hero from the original film.

In short, what we’re given here is an even more colorful spin on the Transformers franchise, and if you’d told me Michael Bay was the director I’d have believed you. For a spring release, that might not be the worst thing for multiplexes.

Co-starring Scott EastwoodTian JingCharlie DayAdria ArjonaBurn Gorman, and Rinko Kikuchi, Pacific Rim: Uprising opens on March 23, 2018.

Click on any picture for larger image gallery.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES (Movie Review)

BOTSwrestle
*** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for some sexual content, partial nudity, and language)
Released: September 29, 2017 limited; expands October 6
Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton
Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Austin Stowell, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Alan Cumming, Bill Pullman, Elizabeth Shue, Jessica McNamee

Starting out as little more than activist hagiography draped in Boomer nostalgia, Battle of the Sexes initially appears to be a well-made history lesson, but a lesson nonetheless, with jabs of feminist snark (thank you, Sarah Silverman).

It’s not that these Equal Rights fights weren’t real, or that genuine obstacles weren’t faced, but it’s difficult to imagine they were this caricatured. The first act works as a populist crowd pleaser but, in being so, stacks the deck too broadly. Women are smart and progressive, men are sexist neanderthals. Check and check.

Fortunately, Battle of the Sexes evolves into a more nuanced and compelling portrait once it gets past establishing its agenda driven bona fides.

Battle of the Sexes dramatizes the events surrounding the then-biggest broadcast sporting event of all time (90 million people globally) that pitted former tennis great Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) against reigning female champ Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) in a match at the peak of the Feminist Revolution. Underlying this very public coverage was King’s private sexual awakening, as she came to terms with her identity as a lesbian.

Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), along with their creative team, re-create the 1970s era with lush detail and absorbing energy, capped by some legitimately thrilling tennis in the climactic showdown. As it digs deeper into personal challenges of the two leads, however, Battle of the Sexes becomes an empathetic character study.

The sexual politics always remain in the very fabric of the film throughout, but when it serves as a backdrop rather than a soapbox, Battle of the Sexes is elevated from an adulatory depiction of a movement to a moving story about two people at a personal crossroads.

Riggs is an unabashed provocateur, making the challenge to King to “prove” on the court which gender is superior, but he’s also a man with a gambling vice that’s threatening his marriage. King bears the burden of being the poster girl for women’s tennis, equal pay, and gender equality while having to hide the very thing – being gay – that could compromise these fights and her credibility in validating them.

How these main figures are handled is a testament to the care, grace, and humanity the story grants, even in the context of its specific worldview. Riggs is a sexist, yes, but we come to see that, compared to others (like Bill Pullman’s misogynist sports commentator), he’s not ideologically driven. Riggs is a showman. The fun for him is more in the spectacle and the goading than it is in putting women in their place.

Indeed, Riggs isn’t the real antagonist here (the film saves that for anyone with uptight puritanical morals); he’s simply the foil. That doesn’t make him right, but it does make him human. Carell plays these dual layers brilliantly, and simultaneously.

For King, the struggle is very real between what she’s passionate about (tennis first, equality a close second) pitted against her own personal desires and longings. She must surrender the latter to not risk the former. Like Carell, the recent Best Actress winner Stone puts King’s humanity first, not limiting her to the iconic status of what King represented and stood for.

More generously, King sympathizes with her husband Larry (no, not that Larry King) rather than seeing him as a patriarchal obstacle, honoring his kindness towards her even as he’s understandably hurt by a betrayal he didn’t bargain for (and yet graciously comes to accept).

Yes, Billie Jean and Larry would eventually leave each other, but they didn’t forsake each other. That’s heartening to see, particularly in a movie that could’ve easily marginalized Larry – and their relationship – with all of the themes it was juggling.

By not shortchanging any of these facets, Battle of the Sexes delves deeper than the political and cultural overtones and into the internal and personal realities, giving the film’s title an appropriate double meaning.

Faris and Dayton still can’t resist telling this story through a filter of self-conscious contemporary hindsight (right down to a final “it’ll all be worth it someday” encouragement to King by her gay stylist, played well by Alan Cumming). That kind of on-the-nose affirmation undercuts authenticity for the sake of sentimentality.

These are minor blemishes, however, in a movie that primarily captures a time, place, and singular moment with entertaining drive and a charitable heart.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Movie Review)

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***1/2 out of ****
Rated R
(for violence, some sexuality, nudity, and some strong language)
Released:  October 6, 2017
Runtime: 163 minutes
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: 
Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” – Roy Batty, replicant

When Blade Runner hit screens in the summer of 1982, its dystopian future was so unlike anything we’d seen before that audiences not only had a hard time believing it but they didn’t actually buy it – literally. A failure at the box office, it was a movie that (to finish Roy Batty’s poetic sentiments) seemed destined to be “lost in time…like tears in rain.” Time to die, indeed.

A decade later, however, following a critical reassessment, popular resurgence, and growing cult status (not to mention its undeniable influence as a template for most sci-fi movies thereafter), this once obscure genre piece became a modern classic. Now it’s finally time to reboot this dark vision of Los Angeles in Blade Runner 2049, and the result – a brainy art house indie on a blockbuster budget – may once again fascinate and frustrate audiences in equal measure.

It would be impossible to reinvent cinema like the original Blade Runner did (and it would be a creative miscalculation to even try, which this doesn’t), but Blade Runner 2049 exceeds mere fan service. Vast in scope, rich in detail, with ambitions both aesthetic and philosophical, director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) honors and expands upon Ridley Scott’s original in ways that are truly inspired. A viewer need not have seen the groundbreaking predecessor to follow this sequel’s plot, but a familiarity of – and love for – the original will reap big rewards.

Inventively and intricately linked to the events of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 (set thirty years after the original’s alt-universe L.A. of 2019, in its dreary, rain-soaked gloom) will not only satisfy fans but actually provide gasp-inducing revelations and truly satisfying emotional payoffs.

It constructs a compelling arc in particular for Ryan Gosling’s Officer K, this story’s Blade Runner (a.k.a. an LAPD detective who hunts down Replicants, those rogue androids who are deceptively human). He uncovers a shocking possibility connected to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a Blade Runner who’s been missing (and wanted) for thirty years, sending K on a mission to track Deckard down (one that, among other things, finally answers the burning question, “Is Deckard really a replicant?”).

Much like Deckard’s romance with the replicant Rachel (whose fate is also made clear), K’s relationship to these non-human sentient beings is conflicted, particularly given how artificial intelligence has evolved over three decades. Where the original Blade Runner blurred the lines between humans and androids, 2049 blurs them even further, confusing and redefining reality itself.

This takes the big questions that the first film was asking, about what it means to be human, and exponentially complicates them, especially when you consider the poetic irony that the more a Replicant becomes conscious of its limitations and aware of its non-humanity, the more human it actually becomes.

Do we have a moral responsibility to human-like creations, ones that don’t have souls but sure act like they do, with sincere emotions that express sadness and grief? Is it possible for humans to be good gods, or are we inherently compromised moral entities who will abuse our creations via our historical impulse toward slavery?

Fundamentally, should our ethics extend to artifice and simulation, particularly when that simulation’s own consciousness is indistinguishable from our own? Do we bear a moral obligation towards A.I.?

How we answer those questions reveals the true nature of our own humanity, and indicts it.

Favoring existential ennui over high-octane thrills, the slow pace of this visionary spectacle will test the patience of some, particularly over a runtime that exceeds two-and-a-half hours. There’s plenty of spectacular eye candy across this bold sci-fi canvas, and it offers its share of intense action set pieces. But, like the original, Blade Runner 2049 is more obsessed with its themes and ideas than the bells and whistles of its mesmerizing backdrop.

Still, unlike the original film’s plot (that some found too dense), the story here follows a clearer path with provocative implications. There’s a mystery to be solved within this detective story framework, and it often keeps us a few steps ahead of the characters (by design, not error) so you won’t be lost, although surprises inevitably remain.

It’s all anchored in Gosling’s K, a cipher for every idea that this bleak parable explores. K’s journey becomes an emotionally wrought search for identity and purpose, and Gosling imbues the film’s cold, mechanized sterility with heart and soul. I was moved by what he must face, accept, and reconcile.

Ford, too, rises to the challenge of a wonderfully written character, one revisited with depth and empathy, burdened by a lifetime of necessary personal sacrifice. Deckard is a tough guy with no regrets, but underneath there’s pain, sorrow, and longing. Ford allows us to see just how fragile he is.

There are intriguing metaphors to contemplate here as well, but unlike the inscrutable mother! this movie doesn’t rise or fall on grasping any of them. Within a story about creations, creators, and institutionalized slavery (of Replicants), Judeo-Christian symbols can be gleaned, from a possible Moses parallel to a potential Christ figure. These don’t play out literally, mind you, but work instead as layers and textures.

There’s also a brief reference to a “Galatians Syndrome” that remains cryptic, but it’s worth considering why the name of that particular New Testament epistle was chosen, especially for a book that defines the fruit of the Spirit (“Against such things there is no law.”), emphasizes grace, and proclaims in chapter 3, verse 28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free (emphasis mine), nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

For all its magnitude and grandeur – visually, thematically, and otherwise – I’m still hard-pressed to concede that this is better than the original (as most have). That is to say, I can’t. It lacks the original’s daring, psychotic edge, and also removes its vivid noir atmosphere. Even so, it’s difficult to imagine how Blade Runner 2049 could be much better than what Villeneuve has crafted so brilliantly. It simply relies too much on the Blade Runner that started it all to be declared its superior.

Blade Runner 2049 may not supersede its forbear, but it does stand honorably on its shoulders. That doesn’t minimize or undercut what an impressive triumph this cinematic gift is. If anything, it’s in that fidelity to style and substance that Blade Runner 2049 achieves its own greatness.