Monday, October 9, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Set in Los Angeles, Ryan Gosling is a Blade Runner - a replicant detective tasked with hunting down and retiring early model replicants that didn't have the "you must obey" directive grown into them. Along the way, he uncovers a replicant conspiracy of sorts and has to figure out where he fits into said schemes and what his responsibility as a "person" is. What I liked: The pacing was outstanding. For an action film, there was no giving in to the "you must be sprinting on a treadmill" fallacy. Instead, director Denis Villenueve took his time when necessary to let me really soak in scenery and emotion. This was a rare treat in today's sci-fi genre. What I didn't like: the LA future visualization. It had some pieces that were clever, but the overall implementation felt like someone up-chucked a bunch of cliché future city pieces and made sure they were all in view. Future LA could have been yet another character, but was just a 2D background tableau that could have been any-city. Perhaps this is unfair, but for a great future city, go see Hong Kong in Ghost in the Shell. And of course, I now need to go back to see the original.
4 stars (out of 5)

Bordertown (Serial)

This police procedural is a Finnish production that follows an ace detective as he moves to a remote part of Finland to try to live a more balanced life with his family. Alas (and we can see where this is going) no such balance arrives. He is thrust into a series of complex and grisly crimes. The hook is that our detective is a bit of a cross between Monk and Sherlock. So brilliant, strange habits and ways of thinking. Add to this a Finnish sensibility and you get a pretty interesting series. I really enjoyed and hope they do additional seasons.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Crossing Lines (Serial)

This 3 season police procedural follows a special investigative team that works for the world court out of the Hague. They are particularly tasked with crimes that cross EU boundaries and helping individual country based police units share information across borders. I loved the first two seasons of this as the characters all had a chemistry that developed into an interesting team. In this third season, only a couple characters are back, but the writers don't spend the time developing the team. Instead, they act like it already exists. Or it doesn't exist, but they don't really care. The conflicts are ripe, but no effort is put into letting that play out. Everything is superficial, in service to the chase. So watch the first two, skip the third.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, we know what to expect in terms of action, gore and satire wrapped together. This time, the Kingsman organization is destroyed at the start by a targeted attack taking out all agents. Well, almost all. The remaining two discover an extreme prejudice clue that sends them to the U.S. to meet their new world counterparts The Statesman. The two join forces to take out the bad guy. Enough for the plot. What made the first film worthwhile was its social commentary in the guise of an action-satire. Here again, we get bits of that commentary that clearly show the bias of the English writers. Or more correctly, show clearly the perspective that the Kingsman are true heroes and the Statesman are basically a bunch of  'merican doofus' with guns and whiskey. The caricature portrayal of the Statesman are hilarious, but I could also see that if you are not tuned into the satire, or not able to see that satire speaks truth you might not want to hear, then this is not funny at all. But if you can't laugh/grimace at your own culture, what can you laugh/grimace at?
3 stars (out of 5)

American Assassin

A young man is traumatized when his fiancé is murdered in a terrorist attack while on vacation in the UAE. Flash forward and he has trained himself as an individual weapon on a personal mission to infiltrate and eliminate terrorist cells. He gets picked up by an elite CIA special team with Michael Keaton as the legendary boss of infiltration ops leading and training the team. And the team instantly gets pulled into pursuit of a rogue nuclear weapon that has hit the black market. What is supposed to make this different than all other films of this ilk is the personal story and transformation of our hero from vigilante into patriot. The telling line... "patriotism was created to give people like us a higher purpose". That is, patriotism is a valid replacement for God, and in this films opinion, a more worthy recipient. Normalization of vengeance and glamorized preemptive retaliation (yes, unfortunately that is a thing) all in the service of this higher calling of patriotism. The discussion of the characters within the film is not that vengeance is bad. Instead, it is that vengeance alone is not a good enough motive. You must have vengeance plus. So we are trying to make an argument about the limitations of vigilantism and vengeance, but take the too small, too simple step to 'wrap it in patriotism' and it's all OK. The problem is that any true alternative to vigilante justice would require a subversive act of sacrifice and require a 10 film commitment to play the entire story out to a possible better future. The movie going public does not have the patience for that. The best we get in film is a future utopia (a la Star Trek) where we start with a society that has agreed to be largely peaceful and can turn efforts to exploration and improving the universe. But we don't get to see the 9 prequel films for Star Trek... who made the first subversive act of peace... and the second... and the 100th... until it became codified?

But I love that this made me think, albeit probably not in the way the filmmakers intended.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Lady Bloodfight

Two martial arts masters participating in a tournament in Hong Kong fight to a draw. This was supposed to be the way to settle a dispute between them. But instead, they are forced to agree to return in 5 years to the tournament. They are to bring a proxy, with them as teacher, to settle the dispute. There is lots of anger and resentment. Flash forward 5 years, an American martial artist travels to Hong Kong in search of her lost father (who happened to fight in the tournament 20 years earlier). She "happens upon" one of the masters, becomes the student and enters the fray. Tournament begins, etc. etc. etc. ... and they lived happily ever after. Mediocre story, mediocre action (did not showcase the variety of martial arts styles that were on display), mediocre movie.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Trip to Spain

Third in the series (The Trip and The Trip to Italy), this is really the same film again. And it is the same comedic goodness. Coogan and Brydon plan another trip to write about travel and restaurants. Effectively, they travel from place to place, eat, and over a meal have impressions contests with each other throwing one British actor after another across the table. It feels very slice of life, documentary, improv and as a result we feel as viewers like voyeurs of this lifelong friendship. While these two are quite funny, I would say that this installation has a bit of an edge to it. The guys are a few years older, and clearly dealing with mid-life, mid-career issues that provide a bite to their conversation. The dueling is all in good fun, and the dark edge is all hidden and kept private. But it is clearly there, showing its fangs in pushing the competition just a bit further than fun, offering just a bit more sarcastic version of 'comedic notes'. I am not sure if this was intentional in the script, or just the way these guys are in their lives right now, but the fact that I am not sure speaks volumes about how authentic the story comes across. It was completely appropriate and gave the interactions a depth that I did not experience previously. Hoping for another installation in a few more years.
5 stars (out of 5)