Smith looked on silently as Bancroft attempted to conceal the truth

 

The scandal with the ball tampering by the Australian Cricket team, that has grown in volume overnight, has highlighted the surprising gap between expected values in sport and the reality.  The Australian Captain’s deliberate plan, lies and subsequent refusal to stand down marks him as a man not fit to lead a national team in Australia.

This would not have been revealed to an admiring fan base were it not for some ineptitude and some skill.  Ineptitude on the part of Cameron Bancroft in trying to be a magician in concealment on a world stage.  Skill from the media in South Africa.   South Africa’s superior sports camera work has uncovered the finer details of the game of cricket.    It was the live-feed from cameras that opportunistically followed the path of a yellow piece of paper as it was removed and replaced into the trouser pocket of an international cricket player.   I believe that only the optimism of arrogant players could misapprehend the difficulty of concealing these activities in the context of such a high level of surveillance.

The potential infringement came to the attention of the umpires during the game.   The Australian Captain was there when Bancroft was asked about it.   For me, however, it’s what Steve Smith did not say to the umpires, when questioned about his deliberate plan, that speaks volumes for his lack of suitability for the role of Australian cricket Captain.   The Australians had their opportunity to be truthful on the field.  The plan they hatched at lunchtime was carried through into deceptive behaviour on the field.   It was none other than the Australian Captain Steve Smith that stood silently by, within a metre or so, whilst Cameron Bancroft produced the black material intended to mask his offence of ball tampering.    This was his first opportunity for admitting what was done, but he was prepared to go through with the plan.   And so we learn the true character of Steve Smith: a character willing to stay silent whilst his team-mate lies for him and the team in front of international umpires.

 

Smith looks on as Bancroft attempts to conceal the truth
Smith looks on silently as Bancroft attempts to conceal the truth

If it weren’t for South African cameramen being so alive to the true situation, it would have been treated as just another day on the field.   Steve Smith would have brushed it off.   We should be very slow to accept Smith’s statement that this is the first and last incident of its kind, or an ‘isolated incident’.   It is the kind of excuse that is used too readily in recent times.   The infrequency of the misdemeanour does not change the quality of the men who agreed to it.

Unfortunately, some of those within the Cricket fraternity, including those who have leadership positions in Western Australia, having heard Smith’s statement at the post-match press conference, agreed with Smith’s defiant attitude to stand in his position.    This, unfortunately, included Adam Voges (recently retired).  Voges’ reasons (see video 1:30 to 2 minutes) included his view that there was a lot of ‘upside’ to Smith remaining as Captain.   That decision shouldn’t be left to Smith or Voges, but such a conclusion gives insufficient attention to the lack of judgment and the choices that Smith and other players have made: choices that shouldn’t be made in any match, at any level in the game.   Cricket is a game of values, its senior players being role models for millions of Australians, and the motivation to do this surely should have serious implications for the tenure of cricket leaders.   A “win at all costs” attitude, including breaking the rules, needs to be stamped out immediately.

Thankfully, Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich have much clearer view of the inappropriateness of the admitted behaviour, at this early stage, and doubt whether Steve Smith can, or should, remain as Captain.

Blade Runner (Final Cut) – The Hindsight Review/Commentary

  •  I have put down a few thoughts in advance of seeing Blade Runner 2049, to see how my views may change after seeing the sequel.   This is a close reading, rather than a recommendation.

[PLOT]

Blade Runner is a story about a small group of artificial humans being hunted down on Earth by the police force, after returning from space. The Company that makes them, Tyrell Corporation, produces them for the military and commerce, but it is also unwilling to grant its latest models (Nexus 6) anything more than a four year life span, even when they ask for it. The Company’s motto is “More Human Than Human”, yet the police force still uses tests that attempt to distinguish a ‘replicant’ from a natural human. It takes longer to carry out this procedure on the Nexus 6 than the earlier ones. The plot involves a secretive manhunt that is entrusted to a specific ‘retired’ replicant hunter (Deckard). I call him Deckard, because that is how he introduces himself. Deckard is initially reluctant to take up his old work, but is soon persuaded to take up the job, and ultimately he pursues it in a moderately successful way. In the process, we are left to wonder, in the ultimate showdown, what are his real motives, and what morality is behind the project in the first place. At a more mundane level, I detect Deckard has real problems with job satisfaction.

[VERSIONS]

I should note that there is no single version of ‘Blade Runner’. People may criticise George Lucas for fiddling with his Star Wars films, but even Blade Runner has not escaped the post-release modifications and refinements.

The original version was distinguished by Deckard’s voiceover. In those moments where the audience might have been permitted a bit of reflective time, the audience is treated to Harrison Ford’s interior monologues about what he was thinking, or his pondering about why other characters acted the way they did. I suspect that the distributors of the film wanted to avoid open interpretation. The director’s version, years later, removed the voiceover. From this we can infer that the director was happy to trust the film’s interpretation to the audience.

Blade Runner may well sit within the ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ paradigm, of a set of several alternative versions that does not spark too much of an outcry because people can find a version they prefer. (Practically, the issue with multiple versions is whether you know of all these versions, and can you obtain it? That’s the issue Star Wars fans have, due to the low availability of the original version of Star Wars IV, in a modern HD format.)

<————>

[THE DEEP QUESTIONS]

Speculation after the film, particularly in light of the director’s cut, focussed on whether Deckard was himself a replicant. Whilst that may provide further reason for inquiring into the morality of his actions, it probably doesn’t really change the deepest issues that the film is concerned with.

The film’s team of Nexus 6 ‘replicants’ are, by most definitions, perfectly able to pass themselves off as humans to the general public (it takes a sophisticated system to tell the difference).  Whilst emotions may not be always their strong point, they certainly pass themselves off as having more emotional connection than some humans.  Rather, the development of the ‘test’ is itself a plot element that focusses attention on the lines that we draw to classify : to include or exclude. It says more about the maker of the test than the subject in many respects. Tyrell, the creator of the robots, seems intrigued by the test. It seems his interest is not to draw a line, or to emphasise distinctions, but to remove them. In that, although his aim is commerce, he effectively creates a situation where discrimination is impossible. The darker issue, however, is whether the ability to engineer free-thinking, emoting human/replicants can predispose them to particular traits or behaviours. In the opening scenes of Blade Runner, the police force certainly seem to associate them with particular roles and behaviours: Pris is described as a ‘pleasure model’ and Batty as ‘leader’.

Some aspects of Blade Runner that were ‘futuristic’ in 1982 (when it was released) are now more familiar to us.   This includes denser populations, holographic imagery, and the more mundane ability to clone animals and humans.   After all, Dolly the Sheep was cloned here in the real world in 1996 and lived for 7 years, which is longer than the Nexus 6 life span.

What is different in the film that still remains starkly different? The essential difference in the film is that the production of artificial humans is the norm, and has reached an incredible degree of sophistication.  Tyrell adopts the aspirational motto “more human than human”, suitably vague in all its possible meanings, but nonetheless with the promise of superiority.   The police force of the Blade Runner metropolis still chooses to identify the replicants as items of commerce, and not as humans created by Tyrrell Corporation. The Tyrell corporation passively accepts this distinction, whilst remaining proud of the invisible line that exists between its creations and everyone else. Origin is everything. This is a class system, but also a system of enslavement and dictation.

The Blade Runner world has not adopted a functional test for humanity:  the society does not accept that ‘human is as human does’ is an acceptable basis for citizenship.    This is, however, a question the audience must answer in navigating the story and deciding what actions and statements are justified.

The issues that arise between humans and replicants, despite the technological foundation, are ultimately associated with personal freedoms. The laws of the Blade Runner universe seem to equate being artificial or manufactured with able to being controlled.  Interestingly, the solution to the ambiguous nature of what is artificial and what is not has been a pragmatic, rather than a completely regulatory one. That is, lifespan has been reduced. This speaks volumes about the difficulties of controlling the will of the artificial creations. It suggests that they are, in fact, quite capable of doing many things that humans do. To protect the superior position of those with human origin, these artificial humans are placed in chains, within their DNA.

The personal freedoms that we take for granted include those things that are considered unique to our personality – our memories being an important aspect. When memory becomes subject to control (as it is in the case of all replicants), it raises the question whether that individual is truly acting with free will. Some of these questions are answered early in the film by the choices made by the character Rachel.

[INSPECTOR BRYANT]

The police Inspector F.Bryant refers to Deckard by his shortened first name “Dick” when he first enters Bryant’s office. Deckard replies coolly “Bryant”. They are familiar, but not friendly.

Bryant’s desk is squashed between fans and lampshade with backlit pictures of a man sitting with pigs. The fans indicate heat, and insufficient funds for air-conditioning. The desk is swamped with microphones – the large, directional microphones used for press conferences, or interrogations. It paints a picture of connectedness, but there is isolation too.  There is no hum of reporters, or any obvious audience for these tools for communication.  Bryant’s office is hidden inside a dusty room reminiscent of an arrivals area, with dozens of empty booths each topped by a microphone.  There is an air of disuse, of inquisitions and police activism long forgotten.   The action is elsewhere.

An hour into the movie and Bryant changes the scope of work.  He informs Deckard there are now 4 replicants to take out – one of which is now Rachel, who has gone missing after finding out she was a replicant too.

[DECKARD’S MOTIVES]

Deckard’s motivations to come out of ‘retirement’ as a police officer, in order to kill the replicants, are unclear. There is no obvious monetary gain established in the film. He seems tired and jaded. He is brought into the police office by Gaff (Edward James Olmos) under threat; seemingly against his will, but quietly.   Bryant calls the replicants ‘skin jobs’.  It’s harsh, communicating his distaste for them: a suggestion that the resemblance to being human is only skin-deep and superficial.

Although Deckard drags his feet on coming out of retirement, he is persuaded to do so.  The obvious turning point, early in the scene involving Deckard and Bryant, comes when the police chief asks Deckard if he is ‘chicken’. At the same time, the Gaff is quietly putting a paper animal in the shape of a chicken down on the desk. The police chief goes on to berate Deckard for wanting to pull out, pointing out that such a choice involves the risk of being a ‘little person’.   It’s not clear why that would matter to Deckard, or why he thinks he is not already a ‘little person’ in some way.   Whatever the true nature of the taunt, it seems to be a pressure point for Deckard.  It is the taunt that turns him on his heel and back into the police work.   In this capitulation, Deckard seems passive and weak – more of a secondary character than the protagonist.

What’s odd about this is how mundanely Deckard approaches his police work or this new brief.  He does not seem to have an intense personal hatred of all things ‘replicant’.  When he agrees to do the work, he has no apparent knowledge of what Replicants are, so that Bryant has to school him in the subject.  Bryant describes the possibility of the Nexus 6 models developing authentic emotions as an innovation. Deckard’s response is flat. From these early scenes we learn that the replicants suffered from poor emotional range, and even the latest models are considered inferior to humans in that regard.  Indeed, it is subtle cues in the emotional response of even the Nexus 6 models that is used to identify them as artificial.

Deckard avoids judging replicants by that fact alone, but he does so by equating them with machines. He explains his resigned philosophy, in his customary flat delivery:
“Replicant are like any other machine, they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.”  If you follow and accept his description, then he considers his work no more than decomissioning hazardous machines, and allowing the other ones to go about their business.   It’s a fairly distinterested, but utilitarian philosophy he espouses.

Whatever words he has learned to say, outwardly, to reconcile with his work, his true beliefs are tested throughout his relationship with Rachel. In his first encounter with Rachel, he does not know she is a replicant. She refers to artificial life as ‘our work’, and has a sense of ownership of it.   However, any inner conflict about the Nexus 6 issues is made real by his support and affection for Rachel, even after he knows she is a replicant (though some viewers/critics have suggested he wants to dominate her more than protect her).   But his views about replicants are not so tied to moral but rather practical outcomes – his shift toward protecting Rachel could be explained by self-interest rather than a shift in his general attitudes.

[THE ORIGAMI – PART 1]

Gaff puts the origami chicken in view at about the same time that Deckard’s courage is tested in Bryant’s office.  Perhaps it is symbolic that he and Bryant knew how to push Deckard’s buttons.   These calling cards of Gaff, who is fairly tight lipped, are symbolic, but who is the audience?  Is it a joke within the film or for the audience or both?  Deckard doesn’t seem to notice or react to it.   Clearly, Gaff sees Deckard is motivated to act out of fear of being called a coward, rather than for any generally moral purpose.

[RACHEL]

Despite her lifetime memories being a copy of Tyrell’s niece, Rachel seems to function in a very human way.  She initially does not doubt her own humanity.  She is reserved, not prone to anxiety, anger or other extreme emotions. Yet she has the capacity to shoot one of the replicants to save Deckard.  She has some kind of feelings toward him.   Rachel and Deckard’s relationship seems strained, claustrophobic even in the context of what else is going on.   In some ways it seems Rachel is needy, and in particular, needing protection.   Deckard’s pursuit of her seems opportunistic, even impatient.

[THE ORIGAMI – Part 2]

On more than one occasion, Gaff left small folded paper animals near Deckard, or for him to find. These include:
1. A chicken, in the office where he takes Deckard to meet the police chief.
2. A [unicorn?] outside Rachel’s apartment, to prove that he had been thre, but had not arrested Rachel.
3. [In the director’s cut?]

People have often speculated that the cranes are a plot device, to convey information about Deckard’s nature as replicant or not. I think there is more going on.  The director’s original cut relied more on visual cues.   The paper chicken placed on the desk was announcing that Deckard’s nature as a coward was there for all to see, even if not discussed with him.  He is easily cajoled into taking on the work.

[BATTY]

We’re introduced to the leader of the escaped replicants, Batty, when he meets Tyrell.  There we see his ability for both thoughtful conversation and brutal homicide, albeit justified from his point of view.   The meeting leaves him with the realisation he has little time left.

Batty motivates himself by saying “not yet” as his body tells him he has little time left.  Even at the end, he still has a purpose.  But what is it that  he want to do beyond eking out a few more seconds of existence?  Play with Deckard?  Teach him a lesson?  He does not pursue killing for killing’s sake.  When Deckard first shoots at him, he immediately questions Deckard’s principles of shooting against someone who is unarmed.  Being without a gun may not make a replicant any less dangerous, but Deckard is definitely on the defensive.

Deckard still performs some physical feats that appear superhuman – holding on by one hand after falling off the side of a building.   Roy is just far superior.  He punches through walls and sticks metal through his hand to urge his body to respond.  I am not sure why you stick things in your hand when the flexor and extensor muscles fo the fingers extend up the forearm, but maybe it’s a subtlety of replicant biology.   Maybe it’s a symbolic act by the director, referencing things like crucifixion and stigmata.   This kind of interpretation tells us something about the audience, not necessarily the director.  Only those who want to encode the scene with that kind of symbolism may do so, but there’s plenty who might.  Just Google it.   Of course, the director may have not intended any greater symbolism: it might have been a pragmatic act, one designed to show the lengths to which Batty would go to hang on to his physical abilities until the end.

In the final scenes, Roy taunts Deckard, but instead of threats, he just calls him a little man and breaks his fingers.   He only wounds Deckard, deliberately, and by returning the gun to him puts the power back in Deckard’s hands.  The insult ‘little man’ is used by Batty in a much different way to Bryant.  Batty is almost daring Deckard to realise his own nature as a coward, but in doing so Batty is not afraid to die.  As a killer himself, it seems Batty has more regard for what choice is made when taking a life.

[DOVES AND POETRY]

Batty saves Deckard whilst holding a white Dove.  They sit together.  Deckard is in shock, defeated by Batty physically and mentally.  Batty sits down wearily as if his life is spent, but he will not die alone.   He has a moment to share his thoughts on the world.   Then he says “I’ve seen things….[you people]” and goes into his poetic soliloquay.   He ends with the simple, self-reflective realisation: “…time to die” and releases the dove.   Just who Batty was referring to when he said “you people” is not clear: it could encompass the police, Earth dwellers, or non-replicants: perhaps all of these.

One question is where did the Dove come from?  A man nearing death, who can quietly go off and collect a Dove is an unusual man indeed.    In this film, we don’t know if it is artificial or not.  Are we to assume that there is symbolism in the Dove as well, with its deep peace message (another Christian story).

Then, in the original version, there is a voiceover from Deckard, who said:   “I do not know why he saved my life….” and “all he wanted were the same answers the rest of us want….all I could do was sit there and watch him die”.   This kind of narrration is clumsy and obvious.  In that version of the film, we see Deckard as someone who still failed to understand Batty’s nature, even at the end.

Then there are some final remarks by Gaff to Deckard, which we can only assume were made without him knowing that Rachel was any different from the other Nexus 6 replicants because she didn’t have a four year lifespan:

“I guess you’re through huh?”

“It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?”

The last question here is a question about living in fear or not living through fear.

Blade Runner 2049 Review: Fog Runner.  Ponderous. Pensive. Plodding. Foggy. 

This is a long film, so make sure you have snacks before setting out to read this review. Its a long review with no intention to summarise it in a word.

[SCREEN BLACK.  OBLIGATORY CAPITALISED INTRODUCTION]

It’s 2017. 3D is still a novelty at the cinema. As they exit the cinema, film-goers everywhere mourn as they try and adjust to the clear light of day after watching fog: blue fog, orange fog, hyperreal holographic fog and some gratuitous mud-covered nudity without direct fog, but with Jared Leto swanning around with foggy eyes.

In 2017 here at Scorkle Media we want to question the opinions that this movie has strong female characters. Face it twitterverse, this is still a movie with male protagonists and abundant evidence of the the male gaze.

Ponderous. Pensive. Plodding. Foggy.  Fog Runner.  The film is striving for a kind of visual poetry, an aesthetic quality, and a philosophical tone.

[DIRECTION]

People might be fooled into thinking that the high panoramic shots and the sonorous sounds recapture the magic of Vangelis and Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner. But they would be wrong. This is Villeneueve reusing some of the material and style he used in Arrival, with just enough of the Los Angeles city design there to invoke memories of the original.

{Sound}

If you’ve seen Arrival, you can feel that film being scraped for pieces to use in this altogether different film. This one has also got these really big honking whale sounds that shudder through the cinema.  Our little local cinema was rattling to pieces at times as the deep throaty fog horns rumbled about.   Luckily it was perfectly balanced by higher tones and bells, and equilibrium was restored.

{Design}

It’s a film made to seem visually rich, but strip it back a layer or two and it’s a moody crime story, with less ‘noir’ than the original, and  more low-visibility scenes as a substitute for movement.   The experience of watching the film is a long time out from the real world: something like a zen garden or reflection pond for those who like to sit on hard seats in dark rooms.   Something tells me that Villeneuve’s work with the misty environment of the aliens in Arrival has contributed to the idea that all you need to do to convey mystery and save on plot and effects is a bit of water vapour and smog.   However, it’s not all dusty and rank and degraded.   The environment at Wallace’s building and office is like a shot from the World’s Best Interiors.

Let’s not forget the deliberate product placement, laid on the superficial background images.   To see it you must look past the fetish-like attention placed on bodies of all shapes and sizes, mostly artificial.   This is a film where the relationship between mind and body is central: but it’s mostly young bodies searching for meaning, and few older men or women play a part.

There’s a whole world of history here, and the audience is taken on the road of Agent K’s attempts to understand what has happened and his place in the future.   Should we be focussing on a small family?   Unlike the original film, the relationships seem closer and more familial, like the Star Wars Universe.  So let’s think about what’s going outside Wallace Corp.   There’s an AI program that Wallace owns.  If there are other corporations doing a steady trade on earth it is implied rather than stated.  Like the car manufacturers that somehow survived the ‘blackout’ and make almost indestructible cars.  Now there’s a story. Who makes these cars? Are they doing it off world or on the barren earth? Do they make more money than those that make replicants?  I lost count of the number of long shots of flying cars (something that survived even the almost total loss of earth’s records: a marvel really).  Some in light fog, some in heavy fog, some in the rain, some even in water.  Whatever the case, the police force use cars, they don’t worry about their nature too much.

{Themes}

The body.  Naming.  Immortality.  Identity.

[PLOT]

 

The central detective story is about the hunt to find the child of a replicant. First to find him or her obtains the riches of the Replicant Industry, because they can apparently assist with the breeding and population. How? It’s not clear. If they start to populate themselves does that allow easier off-world breeding or something? Will Wallace be able to speed up the birthing process or will it slow down? Wallace wants to create breedable replicants. But it might have made more sense if he wanted to stop it. After all, he treats replicants as commodoties, new models and things that you can slice up moments after they are ‘born’. Why wouldn’t he want to stay with the old models?

Don’t be fooled by the trailers. The scenes of Drax the Destoyer (I mean, Dave Bautista, playing a character called Sapper) bashing through walls to get to Deckard/Harrison Ford are just edited sequences from disparate parts of the movie.  This is part of a recent trend toward turning trailers into teasers to avoid giving too much plot away. Expect more for Star Wars 8.

For some reason, Los Angeles is the centre of making artificial people.  The world in 2049 consists only of Los Angeles. No where else is of significance.   Philip K Dick set his book that inspired the Movies (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”) in the aftermath of global war, with poor atmosphere, and this film is faithful to those aspects of the story. But as viewers we are given what is both a panoramic but also insulated context for what the future is.

The story is slow, gradually building up the audience’s interest in who, what, when, where and why. It takes place in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, California: the city with its giant advertisements and product placement for Sony and Peugeot, then the miles of human refuse, and the glimpse of old world beyond that. On earth real plants and animals are rare (except that Deckard apparently tends to bees and plants and a dog so he has a green thumb now.

So many characters could be human or replicant: even the AI programs are trying desperately to be human. The one exception to this is Jared Leto’s character Wallace, who is probably the most insipid megalomaniac artificial life creator ever seen on screen. He has no doubt programmed loyalty into the lethal killers that wait on him, but he also seems capable of making artificial humans with no ability to detect someone is about to shoot them, or knife them.  They are so agreeable they seem worse than characters that are cold, psychopathic killers. The emotional range between getting your nails done and killing people is so small that it’s easy not to care about it.

There’s still some notional separation of Corporation and State, so the Police Force goes about their business.  They want to kill the child, because apparently the police lieutenant Joshi is afraid enough to put an end to the idea of replicant reproduction. They are initially assisted by Wallace and his assistant (Luv), but they have their own motives. They break in and steal the mother’s bones and nothing happens, because Wallace is everywhere and beyond control of the police.   In fact, the separation between Wallace and the police gets a bit blurry because the main Blade Runners are Wallace product, so it seems odd that he would tolerate human interference. Oddly, however, Joshi will die for what she believes in, which is protecting Officer K. It makes little sense. If she believes he has killed the child, then she loses her life for little reason. If she believes he has not killed the child, then she is celebrating the end of the human and replicant distinction, along reproductive lines at least.

[WALLACELAND]

 

Los Angeles, or WallaceLand, is run by Nialender Wallace of Wallace Corp, who has revived the replicant industry and apparently lives quite a wealthy life. There’s some subtext that new replicants will obey, but that’s hardly true. They are just introverts who have trouble expressing their emotions; but they still have them, and they still have thoughts that can steer toward rebellion.

Wallace is also very weird. He’s a bit of a stoner CEO, who wears his hair shoulder length and spends more time working through his existential crises with a quick knifing of a new-born replicant than he does entertaining with friends. He’s not out there inspecting the work areas, or looking out the window. Everything is a dramatic presentation to him. I feel like he’s been modelled on a fashion editor somewhere. The air of mystery seems to confirm Hollywood doesn’t know how to do megalomaniac corporate types except to paint them as almost-there enigmas. They might secretly hope that you can be a stoner CEO, but as far as we know you don’t get to be top of the pile without a lot of energy and personal time invested. Ask Jobs or Lucas or Musk or anyone who has maintained a personal involvement in a large corporation.

Because we’re not given any backstory to Wallace, we don’t know why he’s got frosted eyes, and if he’s somehow assisted to see in a particular manner by technology.   There’s an element of expecting us to just watch, without trying to understand.

[THE BONES OF RACHEL]

I’m going to address this up front. People who knew her buried Rachel in a box, respectfully, but were otherwise at pains to protect the identity of her child. I’m not sure how far this goes. It’s a bit creepy if you think too much about it, because to arrange bones in a box you have to clean them up first, rather than just burying the body. Had the body been cremated or something, they would have tied up a few loose ends that were left open for plot purposes.

Disappointingly, Rachel in this movie is treated as a shell, a simulation of the original ‘replicant’ Rachel.  Wallace seems to think that recreating the body of something is enough to bring back the person.  He cannot possibly have recreated all of the memories of the original Rachel.  Did he utilise the Bubble Girl-As-McGuffin as the memory maker?  We don’t know, because McGuffin Girl has no serious plot moves except passing on information to K.  It’s possible that she did the job for Rachel’s memories without knowing the purpose, in her dreamy way.  One would hope she had a picture of her mother, but possibly not.

[THE TRANCE EFFECT: WAITING FOR GODOT?]

This film is long, and slow. Are you supposed to attempt philosophical enquiry or plot review in a kind of stupor?

Even the smartest of us might be so affected by the trance-like delivery of plot that they’ll forget the small bits of information because they’re separate by 45 minutes or more of aural and visual muzak.  Sure, the movie has a careful pace of its own, and perhaps if you let yourself go you can appreciate the artifice of it all.   But that’s merely a comment on our society, and our inability to create real worlds that capture quiet, reflective beauty.

In this film, we watch Wallace and his female offsider (“Gromit” for the purposes of this review) talk people to sleep, make little eye contact, and drop bombs while having nails painted.   The association of austere architectural design, the vain pursuit of perfect beauty and youth with cold and inhuman types that think nothing of killing when it does not meet their short term agendas is something difficult to enjoy unconditionally.    It takes such a lot of trouble to get a rise out of anyone, but then they snap in cold, controlled violence.   This is exactly what happens when Gromit is left alone with Joshi, and she quietly kills her with a crush of broken glass.   She sheds tears, but we are left to guess as to why.  For all we know, they could be tears of joy, or relief.

That’s the end result of the film for me: you will sigh with relief when you’ve endured it.

[SIGNS AND MEANING]

Lieutenant Joshi speaks of watershed moments if replicants can conceive, and of stopping them, but she’s hardly passionate about it and the words come dryly from her mouth. Little does she know that it’s the mere fact that it happened that is enough to drive the revolution, not the identity of the baby that matters.  Her view is that humans are defined in one way and replicants as ‘not human’. There is the notion of the ‘soul’ and ability to give life that exists in the human but not in the other.    This ties in with a greater theme, perhaps encouraged by Wallace, that Replicants do not have a ‘Soul’.  But what does that mean?  In that era of science, is there still a notion of a spark that allows life to create life, but even if this practical function were realised, how does that instil a ‘Soul’.   The potential religious or philosophical ideas that reside in society’s beliefs, particularly this one, are not sufficiently explored through the film.   It might be an unnecessary question to ask.

Let’s say we do ask the question – what is a soul, or what do replicants need to do to demonstrate it (indirectly, circumstantially).  K’s character is informed by Joi that memories are not important, it is what you do.   These trite remarks actually have to do a lot more work to provide a rational answer than they ought to.  There is a disconnect between the idea, the plot and the character.  I think this is what me reticent to endorse it as a good film.  It is a patchwork, a kind of visual collage where the audience is supposed to assemble disparate pieces and construct some kind of philosophical viewpoint about both the world of the film and as a secondary matter, the world we inhabit.

Although the lines between human and replicant were heavily geared toward a distinction based on emotion in the first film, there was no reference to reproductive inabilities. This film takes up that point of differences and develops the philosophical line of thought with the ability to give birth as a central focus. Even K’s AI girlfriend weighs in on the significance of reproduction for being ‘special’. I wonder how that will go down with all those women who have chosen not to conceive, or cannot for other reasons have a child. These ideas are not explored in the film.

[SOME MOOD THOUGHTS]

Be prepared for a long sit in some movie chairs, and for many shots of Ryan Gosling going about in a trenchcoat with a high collar. Yes, Harrison Ford has his collar up when he first accepted the ‘skin job’ assignment in the first Blade Runner movie. Fashion cycles every 30 years or so it seems. Visual rhymes, poetry – I think when George Lucas dropped these terms when explaining his way to make a prequel, it somehow got taken up in the ‘sequel’ guide as well.

The film doesn’t really convey the  teeming throng of humanity that is out there colonising other worlds.  It’s made the world smaller, urban, polluted and somewhat grubby, except in a few opulent interiors.  The prediction of future societal decay is distopian – something that we’ve seen elsewhere, except conveyed in a monologue by Sam Worthington’s character in Avatar, as he describes the predicament on earth.

The tone and mood of the film are generally sombre.  It’s about loss, mainly.  Or the little joys that you take comfort in when you’re in a crap place.  But mostly, people don’t panic, or get overly stressed.  The most passionate action is the fighting, and it’s always a fight between superhumans, so you don’t expect it to go a couple of punches, or for anyone to die from a biro stuck in the eye like Jason Bourne.   It’s a bit soulless in that respect.  Life may be artificial, but death is hard to come by, and there are some excrutiatingly long drowning scenes to deal with.

“Sometimes you need to be a stranger to those that you love” says Deckard. Perhaps that is true of this film’s role in relation to the first movie too. Too long and arduous to easily recommend itself for escapist viewing, or as a date night flick, it’s something for those who aspire to be futurologists, or perhaps literary critics. It is more of a commentary on the soul-less, degrading world that is imagined for earth’s future: one where the urge is to populate new worlds rather than live with one that can support life here. So busy creating images of humans, or beings ‘more human than human”, the mantra has become a monoptic obsession: the kind of narrow mission statement that might easily transfix a global corporation into an endless pathology of turning stuff into people that are treated as disposable, scientific experiments. Deckard voices his concern when he says to K that he didn’t want his daughter found because it would not doubt lead to slicing and dicing. He would know, as would K, who have done their own share of crude slicing and dicing too.

Like a good detective story, Blade Runner 2049 carefully weaves its trance-like music of horns and rumbling, crashing waves into a tapestry of images: with a steady stream of fog-laden skies and cramped interiors. Whereas the most ornate interior of the first film was reserved for Tyrell’s office, where Deckard met Rachel, in this one there’s opulence in the Wallace HQ, but also a different kind of nostalgic opulence in the place where Officer K meets Deckard, although this place is past its prime but has whisky to burn.

[WELCOME TO PHILOSOPHY 101]

The plot is a simple detective story, where identity, self, the real and the unreal are all issues for the audience to interpret. That’s the point, isn’t it? What the characters do is hardly an aspirational existence: a distopian society where we are treated to the lives of the elite corporates and their products: the people that can be punched a dozen times and still get up again. Is the audience to cheer for them in any way? There’s a thick allusion to slavery to frame their position, but it doesn’t feel like an authentic oppression. The apparent class divide that exists barely registers in the reality of the city, where replicants mix with everyone else, and for all we know may be the majority. The real divide is the incapacity to have children, or be children, it seems. Lost innocence and care-giving

We’re treated to footage of Elvish Presley and Frank Sinatra: the past lives on; memories can be created and faked; actual people are replaced and recycled. Yes, the era of simulation is with us and everyone should be reaching for their copy of “Simulacra and Simulation”, by Baudrillard. The movie really requires a Bingo card with all the different manifestations or degrees of movement from object to pure symbol, so that the audience can spot them. There are a couple of times where the simulation is overlaid on reality – the first meal we see Officer K ‘eat’, and his intimate scene with his ‘girlfriend’ Joi. In both cases the real and the representation are overlaid with the image’s edges apparent. What’s odd about this is that the character is prepared to live with these two representations, plainly visible. One is not gradually merging into the other: one is the image fully formed, the other is reality, subordinated to the image, but still existing because it is necessary.

Ask anyone to summarise the film and they’ll be left with sketches of images, perhaps a few choices phrases. But this is really a character study, masguerading as a philosophical text, musing on the meaning of the real and unreal, of human and non-human. For some strange reason, it gives some elevated importance to natural birth (or Caesarian at least), perhaps because that ticks off what life as it has evolved and repeated on earth has to do. Artificial life, in which every new entity arrives as an adult human being, from a factory of some sort, is certainly given the rough treatment, even though the audience is expected to marvel in the ability that these artificial beings have for empathy.

[WALLACE CORP]

Wallace Corp is the next big thing, after the demise of Tyrrell Corp. For some reason, there’s lots of money in replicants. Apparently, people will buy slaves to set up new worlds. Who has that sort of money if the manufacturers of the labour force are the ones making all the money? Luckily these economic questions are put far to the bottom of the deep questions. This film is concerned with much easier ones, like “Am I human?”, “Why am I here?” and “Should I get a real or a holographic girlfriend?”. Notice that lifestyle choices in this film are judged from a male perspective. More on that in a minute.

Why does Wallace bother to stay on earth? On an Earth with its devastated computer records, but one that happens to have the crucial moment when Deckard meets Rachel from the first film. Who would have thought?

This is still a man’s world: a man has become the progenitor of artificial life, but seemingly unable to have his female creations reproduce for him. We’re told a little of the history of Tyrell after the first movie, and it provides some clues as to why Wallace wants to track down some of the characters from the first film. Most of that grunt detective work is done by Officer K, who is truly “more than human” as he reads off DNA transcript and notices identical records without the aid of a computer.

[POLICING IN LA]
That casual, dusty, grimy and under-resourced policing of the first film is gone. Police headquarters looks more like the corner accountant’s office, except there’s a debriefing room that determines if you’re going to be fired for having second thoughts about your job.

The police force is still seemingly independent of Wallace corp, but barely. In the sequel, there’s been a disaster, wiping most of the records, and there is an air of menace in the air. The cops keep drones as pets for their cars.

[WHERE’S BRYANT?]

This Blade Runner ‘K’ has a minder cop (Robin Wright Penn) with a new rank: Lieutenant Joshi. She’s no less an enforcer of the strict psychological routines that blade runners must maintain after each job: a process of repeating control words as an automoton (not unlike the control words that programmed the Winter Soldier in the Captain America films.). She’s surprisingly pleasant for someone that won’t let you work unless you pass the baseline. Eventually, your number is going to be up.

[GROMIT]

This is my name for the trash that is Wallace’s heavy-hitting PA, bomb dropper, cop killer and fashionista.   She’s actually Slyvia Hoeks, and the character is called Luv, because she’s special. I like her kicks. Apparently, it takes 6 hours a day training to keep this up. If that were only true, Wallace would need more than one PA to keep his 9-world’s business running. That, really is the true miracle of this film. Don’t let Dave Batista tell you otherwise.

Luv is everybody’s friend until she needs to get her way. She epitomises the Wallace corporation’s ability to make replicants that ‘obey’ (or so we are told in the opening scrawl).   She is a surprisingly vain and passive aggressive character.  In the same way that Wallace is: quietly brooding and philosophical/poetical, then capable of sticking a knife in to his new creations and watching them die/cease to be or whatever word they come up with.   Think of a slightly more introverted version of Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Gladiator and you will get the idea.

 

[K/JOE AND HIS GIRLFRIEND JOI]

The love interests of K (or “Joe” as he is sometimes called) are simply accessories for him. Yes, he buys his girl a present but basically she’s stuck with him, he purchased her and he gifts her a way for her to leave the building. Great guy.

His digital girl pines for some greater expression and play-acts a sex scene with a real woman (“real girl”), who is strangely committed to her role in getting closer to K, but nonetheless must feel a bit awkward being told what to do by a digital girlfriend. This depicted society is like a rabbit hole of slavery.  How deep do you think it goes?

[GAFF AND THE ORIGAMI]
In this film we are once again treated to the paper animals of Gaff.  During a very short meeting with K, Gaff creates a paper sheep, and places neatly on the table. Once again, Gaff seems desperate to be doing one thing whilst performing magic in creating a paper animal with effortless skill, producing the finished product without any obvious signs of having folded it himself.  Did he buy it in advance? Did he use his powers of distraction and subterfuge? I can only imagine that anyone who had not seen the first film would be lost by the magical appearance of a paper sheep on the table, and dismiss it almost immediately.

Not me, I gravitated to Gaff’s need to communicate deeply, truthfully and to the emotional heart of a character in just a few folds. I remember seeing almost immediately that he was shouting “sheep” in the way only paper can. On second thoughts, where does he get all this paper? Given that Wallace has made a name out of creating safe replicants, that ‘obey’, calling a replicant a sheep is probably not a message designed to enlighten. Most likely, it’s just a subtle attempt at criticism. Like the chicken he made for Deckard in the first film. Here’s a sheep, how do you like those apples?

[McGUFFIN GIRL IN THE BUBBLE]

She’s introduced before we know who she is: the memory maker. She’s important. She’s one of a kind and she manages to stay outside the inner Wallace circle. Standing in full sight of him, she’s the one who makes dreams and illusions. The best one may be that she doesn’t actually have a deficiency in her DNA, but that’s just speculation on my part. It would be an interesting twist. The story, however, sets up that there was a genetic abnormality at birth, and the adult is living a life consistently with that. A life of privilege, nonetheless. Perhaps she was the god-daughter of Tyrell as well. Who knows? All we know is that she carried a little wooden horse around for a while. Can a central character be a McGuffin? She is it. The long sought after object of the quest from early in the movie, the girl turns out to be a disappointingly zen girl, meditating on pretend worlds. She lacks sufficient interest and scope for plot or drama that even her meeting with her own father is held until the final blackout, and occurs off camera. For all I know, the two actors involved never needed to meet, since the editing only shows images looking eah way for the glass.

McGufiin, McGuffin, where for art thou?

Would you, as a story teller, focus on the guy that is the Blade Runner instead of the apparently complex world that exists, or the poor girl captured like a budgie in a bubble, alone but with some mysterious support system? She might be off grid, but she’s unprepared for change. Can she even escape the bubble? Trapped in amber, it’s the audience that studies her clinically, even if Wallace does not.

Deckard’s daughter, the centre piece of the plot, is confined to a physical and metaphoric bubble.  She can’t really participate in the real world.  He job involves mediating reality for others.  She is the ultimate social media person : injecting herself into other people’s minds the way that users of Instagram and Twitter might only dream of.

[REAL GIRL]

We meet her first as something like a ‘pleasure model’ like Pris form the first film, but we can’t be sure it’s supposed to be the same one. Who knows what proportion of Tyrrell’s original model’s survived?

The sub-plot that Real Girl forms part of is introduced only vaguely. A discussion amongst a group of women, to find out what the Blade Runner knows. The reveal of who she is, and the connection to the McGuffin Girl is held until later, but it’s an undramatic revelation. As always, it’s filtered by the barely emotional register of the Blade Runner K.

Real Girl’s character is called “Mariette” and is played by Mackenzie Davis. (She’s the girl who spotted Matt Damon on the satellite photos of Mars when everyone thought he was dead in the “Martian)”.

I though this whole dynamic was a bit flat. Real Girl never relates to K in an authentic manner. She’s either under-cover or subsumed inside some larger religious-type sect where she doesn’t get a larger role.

There’s a beautifully subtle nod to the original movie when Gosling’s character is referred to, by ‘real girl’ as a ‘guy that eats rice”, instead of a Blade Runner. It’s a nod to the scene in Blade Runner where we see Harrison Ford eating rice, but being asked to accompany the police officer back to the building. Blink and you’ll miss it.

I don’t think that we’re shown a bevy of great female characters with control over their lives: Joi, Joshi, Luv.   As other reviewers eventually admit (https://www.hypable.com/blade-runner-2049-incredible-female-characters/), none of the female characters really has any agency.  Consistently with this, female nudity seems more acceptable than male nudity in Hollywood: how else can Hollywood justify the 8-storey naked digital women that are advertising AI software?

[DECKARD AND K]

We’re treated to some ‘getting to know you’ violence between Deckard and K, a few Booby Traps and an odd scene with some disfunctional holograms in a theatre. Eventually, Harrison runs out of punches and the boys pop out for a drink. In a world of pollution, crazy replicants and megalomaniac dictators, the picture perfect view of retirement here is being able to pour whisky ont he floor for your dog, you have so much of it.

There’s a nod to scenes from Gattaca as K and Deckard swim in the surf, and one helps the other.

Harrison Ford asks K near the end why he has helped him and K doesn’t give a reason. What he meant to say was: if you’ve sat this long through the movie you’ll know, but Deckard doesn’t really deserve an explanation.

[THE SNOWMAN]

Who doesn’t like a pair of films to be joined by more rhyme and poetry? Instead of tears in the rain, and memories lost (Rutger Hauer’s fine writing in Blade Runner), this film’s conclusion has K finding some peace in falling snow. No tears this time.

Cutting to the chase, who doesn’t feel a little sad that Deckard is still separated from his daughter, unable to leave her bubble, a being unique for being the natural born child of a replicant, but unable to share the physical world?  She lives in a fake world.  She’s the child of a replicant playing in a replicated world.

It’s just so sad.

As Molly Meldrum might say, do yourself a favour, and go buy yourself a rice meal and a beer, and pick up a copy of Simulacra and Simulation  It will be time well spent in the real world.

PS

There are some very well written pieces inspired by this film.  Kudos to the authors of these too:

Blade Runner 2049

[FoR&AI] The Seven Deadly Sins of Predicting the Future of AI

What We Get Wrong About Technology

Star Wars Commentary: the Battle For Naboo

Episode 1: Star Wars the Battle of Naboo (a.k.a The Phantom Menace).

For this review I’m just going to provide a commentary transcript. I’ve decided that this isn’t a film deserving of a Red Letter Media style expose. In fact, I think there are a few simpler explanations for the rather Disney-esque feel to this film. It was a Disney film even though it predated the Disney takeover.

The opening scroll presents the alarming idea that there has been an alarming chain of events.

I’ll summarise the whole movie here, because it avoids the need to keep asking “Why?” so often. First, some heavily weaponised group called the Trade Federation stops trade with a small outer rim planet called Naboo, then invades it and starts the Battle of Naboo. The Trade Federation lose, mostly because of the good luck of an adopted Jedi pilot kid, and that’s the End. Wars have been fought over less I suppose, but even Qui Gon Jin (“QGJ”) described it as a ‘trivial’ thing.

It truly is an alarming trade dispute because the movie occurs without any of the participants, particularly the Trade Federation, having any obvious motive. Here on earth, trade federations are probably collections of traders, and if there is a bad tax, well you should take it up with the tax creators rather than your trading partners or clients or whatever Naboo is. Why Naboo has to suffer and become party to the invasion or do anything else is never explained at all. Is the plight of one planet enough to get the whole galaxy upset? It’s enough for the Chancellor to send a couple of Jedi knights to get things moving on Naboo again.

[THE TRADE DORKS LACK OF MOTIVE]

The Trade Dorks are a bit nervous about proceeding with the blockade, even before being pressured to start the invasion. Why should they be apprehensive when they’ve invested in armies and weaponry and are apparently “Battle Hardened”? They’ve entered into a deal with a Dark Lord of the Sith but we don’t know what that deal was. Who cares about motivations? I do.

As soon as the Jedi arrive outside Naboo, the not-so-mysterious Dark Lord of the Sith tells theTrade Dorks to kill the Jedi and put the troops on Naboo. Why did they wait?  Why are they taking orders from this guy? I don’t know.  Naboo don’t want to legalise an invasion.   Do the Trade Dorks have a sideline in genocide? None of these political or commercial matters make any sense in the movie.   The lack of deliberation downplays the moral choices being made.

This movie should have been called “TomorrowLand” or the “Battle for Naboo” or “Psychopathic Trade Dorks” or something obvious. At least it would have given it a focus. If the “Phantom Menace” is referring to Palpatine all along, why does he harbour this dislike of his own planet? Even after Return of the Jedi we are no wiser. If it’s just part of his no-confidence trick to become Chancellor, then it’s unnecessary to follow through because that plan is a success even before the Battle of Naboo commences.

Calling the film the ‘Battle of Naboo’ would remind people that there is always a battle scene in a Star Wars film.  Are we supposed to care about the Gungans and Trade Dorks in the Battle of Naboo? I don’t think we’re inclined to; as official representative of the Gungans Jar Jar Binks is not a great ambassador.   I don’t think we feel the need to know the outcome of this battle in  the same way care for the Rebel plot to get rid of the Death Star in Episode IV.  The Battle of Naboo might as well be a McGuffin moment: all of it is pretext for putting some Jedi into action, but the Jedi spend most of their time sorting out their own affairs and battling the Sith.  QGJ’s arc: adopt Anakin, get rid of Obi Wan, lose to the Sith and then get out of the movie.

[JAR JAR]

So what about Jar Jar Binks (JJB)? There’s one reason he’s there: there’s no C3PO for comic relief. The big problem is that C3PO is unfinished and so will be stuck on Tatooine. There’s no opportunity for banter between him and R2D2.   It makes sense that JJB is a Gungan because it allows him to keep up the gags during the climactic Battle of Naboo.  But do we need gags then?  No.  They feel out of place, and confuse the tone of the scenes.

Now this is the problem:  JJB is chosen to be a self-sufficient comic, but he gets no time-outs for scenes by himself, as C3PO and R2D2 did.  The mis-step is that he becomes part of all the main scenes, instead of being part of the subplot and comic asides. He’s inside the action instead of providing commentary and distance. In Star Wars, C3PO is not making jokes whilst the battle for the Death Star is on. He knows his place.

JJB’s life debt to QGJ is little more than an excuse to keep him in the picture.  It comes about because Qui Gon saved him from a serious chance of a Darwin Award for running in front of a hover tank.   Here, QGJ has to consciously acknowledge JJB, and often he’s not needed. He certainly doesn’t save QGJ’s life, that’s for sure, and he’s never in a position to do so.

[NABOO]

The Jedi then travel to the other side of the planet in a ‘journey to the centre of Naboo’ voyage, which lacks a lot of sense.   Their ultimate destination is the city of the human-looking inhabitants for whom the planet is named.   Tough luck Gungans.  It turns out that the Trade Federation originally had no idea what was going on under the sea, and ironically the Gungans seem to bear the brunt of the later battle.   As for symbiotic relationships between the Naboo and the Gungans, it’s hard to see what that means at all.

[TO CORUSCANT VIA TATOOINE]

For some reason, the Trade Federation stops all communications with the Republic, and wants to invade secretly.

Perhaps the communication blackout is just a plot point to justify Padme and the Jedi going back to Coruscant for some more scenes there. We have a needless discussion about R2D2’s heroics on the ship as it makes its voyage to the galactic centre.   Paranoid Padme has gone undercover again, and QGJ knows nothing about her duplicity.  She seems to have the same powers as Senator Palpatine.  These Naboo really are mysterious: Padme also has no idea why JJB is on board, even though it’s her ship.

Apparently the communication breakdown is not so severe that the Dark Lord of the Sith can’t find out what is going on in the outer rim. So he sends Darth Maul to Tatooine to make sure Queen Amidala will sign a treaty.  Curiously, Maul does nothing for a while, long enough for Anakin to perform in a ridiculously dangerous pod-race (where only Jedi-esque humans can compete), and be freed as a slave, but without his mother. If he’s the only human who can compete because only his force powers give him the necessary reaction speed, then the Jedi ought to recruit a lot more non-humans. The time taken for this detour to Tatooine and the pod race seems more than necessary, except to indulge the myth that Anakin was always a good pilot. QGJ wasn’t really interested in freeing slaves, and he said so. He can make an exception for someone who can become a Jedi though. Bad luck Schmi, better luck in Episode 2.

“I’ll watch out for Anakin” says QGJ to Schmi, unaware that despite his Force ability to see things before they happen he’ll soon be unable to do so, because he’ll be dead.  So much for JJB’s life debt promises.

Only when they return to the ship and the Anakin backstory has been completed does Darth Maul first try to destroy the Jedi. He fails, because it seems he can’t jump as high as QGJ onto a spaceship when it counts.

[CORUSCANT]
Palpatine is waiting when Padme and Team Jedi arrive back at Coruscant. The leader of the Senate, Valorum, doesn’t seem to have a position on the dispute at Naboo.  He is having a dream about being General Zod.   QGJ goes off to speak to the Jedi Council.

Meanwhile, Palpatine says it’s all too hard to get any intervention for Naboo from the Senate. Padme speaks like a robot. Does she know that melancholy doesn’t suit her?  Why doesn’t anyone else ask her what’s wrong with her voice?

In the Senate, Palpatine states the obvious, namely that the taxation is the start of all this trade dispute and sits down.  The Trade Federation adopt the strange position of denying they are invading Naboo. Why don’t they just call for an adjournment and talk about the treaty? Why do they need to do it in secret on Naboo? For some reason there is still no good intelligence at Coruscant on this issue, even though the movie starts with two Jedi (Obi Wan Kenobi, hereinafter OWK; and QGJ) being sent to Naboo to resolve the blockade. Padme falls for Palpatine’s suggestion to move a no-confidence motion, and he slips deviously into the position of Supreme Chancellor.

[JEDI]
Anakin passes his Jedi gameboy test with Mace Windu using the same iPad design that everyone out at the outer rim pod race was using to watch the race. Despite being remote, Tatooine must still have good JB Hi-Fi or Apple Stores.  QGJ hears about it and devides he will train Anakin if no one else will.

On the eve of going back to Naboo, QGJ has time to convey some information to Anakin on the tarmac about the Force then he and Padme head back to Naboo. They take Anakin, of course – why wouldn’t he be safer elsewhere?

Sidious has not force-choked Maul for his failure to kill the Jedi; he simply sends him off to Naboo. Maul doesn’t seem like the talkative type, ready to get someone to sign anything. Palpatine says he’ll make sure nothing happens at the Senate. Why would it?

[BATTLE FOR NABOO]
Padme has decided to return to her people, and as a result, is talking like a robot again, in her spaceship, even before she arrives at the planet. This might be a royal thing, but it’s annoying.

On arrival, Amidala and the Jedi can’t find the Gungans. They are actually at the sacred place (a bit like the Tree of Souls in Avatar). Good on you JJB for pointing that out to everyone.  But JJB misses the next trick as Padme slips out of her queen role into being one of the handmaidens. Why was it necessary for Padme to deceive even the Gungans? She seems as equally paranoid on Naboo as on Coruscant. What dark secrets lie in her past that make her such a wanted woman? She seems the only personality-shifting leader in the Galaxy (apart from Palpatine that is: it seems to be a Naboo thing)

If you think the Gungan leader is mad, it helps to remember it’s really just Brian Blessed being his usual rumbunctiously loud self, complete with cheek wobbling. If he’d appeared in his own likeness with Beard, I think it would have given the role greater gravitas, Blackadder style.

The good thing is that Padme, having revealed herself as the Queen, largely stops using the stupid robot voice for the rest of the film. She also is prepared to go into Battle without any identity concealment, even though her life is probably in danger more often. Padme’s plan is to capture the Viceroy. “Get the Leader” strategy. She doesn’t have much of a backup plan, and this simple plan is her masterstroke, in her own mind: ‘everything depends on it’ she assures everyone.

Palpatine clarifies that the invasion does not involve any taking of prisoners. He instructs the Trade Federation to wipe out all the Gungans, or Naboo, maybe both.

The Gungan army finally emerges out of the mist in a scene reminiscent of the well-received Phantom Menace Trailer. By this stage all of the good feelings associated with seeing that trailer have been forgotten. The Gungans, surprisingly, have hi-tech shields and weapons and are ready to meet their opponents on the very short, grassy plain well suited to marching droid animations. Presumably, it is short because there are herds of grazing animals or groundskeepers just out of sight. In Episode 2 we’ll see some frollicking in much longer grass.

Meanwhile, at the Naboo palace, QGJ encourages Anakin to hide – as if it wasn’t obvious this would not be a safe place to bring a small kid.

[BATTLE]
The Trade Dorks watch an on-screen display that looks like the next edition of ‘Battle for Naboo” game or something. Are they doing anything? The strategy looks fairly simple: drive forward.

In the palace, Padme does a good job of running around looking busy. Her plan is still pretty simple – find the Viceroy.

[JEDI]
The two Jedi meet up with Darth Maul who seems to have little direct interest in the Queen because he is more concerned to have his “revenge” on the Jedi.

Anakin ends up piloting a ship in space, putting into doubt QGJ’s ability as an adoptive parent/Jedi Master.   Is it just me or does the general audience not really care how he does this?  Anything goes for Anakin in cartoonish fashion.

[BATTLE]

Meanwhile, in the Gungan army, JJB is in the middle of the battle being the stand-in for the foolish C3PO who is unavailable for the cringeworthy comic gags.

Near Naboo city, there are grappling hooks at the ready as Padme gets nearer the Viceroy, who is obviously staying in the Penthouse very high above the ground.

[JEDI]
The place where the Jedi fight Darth Maul is so awesome and Death-Star like you might forget it is on a peaceful planet shared by fashion-loving humans and weird amphibians. It has that fascist industrial look that is found nowhere else on Naboo.

[BATTLE]
The Battle of Naboo continues. Substitute some ice for grass, and AT AT for the silly droid machines and you have something like the Battle of Hoth: lots of people running around as the main attack craft try and mow them down.

[JEDI]
Anakin continues to fly his plane with kid-sized goggles, helmet and earmuffs. His force powers are so strong, he can have helmets made before they are needed.

Unfortunately, QGJ dies at the hands of Darth Maul. Obi Wan subsequently shows a lot of emotion for a Jedi, and perhaps, like Rey in A Force Awakens, gets a bit of an advantage over Darth Maul as a result.

[BATTLE]
Padme arrives at the ViceRoy’s presence, and the game is up. More fake Amidala, and the other girl begins using the monotonic robot voice this time. Switch to Padme using a little bit of the robot tone with the Viceroy.

[JEDI]
Darth Maul gets the better of OWK fairly easily with a force push thing, something he should have tried earlier instead of all that messing around with lightsabres.

Meanwhile, Anakin blows things up above the planet and takes down the droid army control as a result. So the Battle of Naboo is won by a kid that says “so this is pod racing, wooo!” The trade federation command ship explodes like a smaller version of the Death Star. Poetry.

Darth Maul slashes away at the metal floor above OWK a bit like Ren in Force Awakens. Obi Wan rises and slices Maul in half. How could anyone survive that fall into a pipe, that looks a lot like the one in cloud city?

More emotion from OWK and QGJ. “He is the chosen one. He will bring balance” says QGJ in his dying words. Sure will: half human, half machine.

It turns out that the Jedi and the Sith are really on the periphery of the Battle of Naboo, in that they are more concerned about fighting each other than with particular battle milestones. The Jedi Council think that two jedi can handle it. Well, the main Jedi result for the Battle of Naboo is the little Jedi pilot kid, who did more than Padme’s dubious strategy of taking the Viceroy. So it’s the Jedi that save the day, once again.

[CLOSE]
Palpatine arrives on Naboo, looking happy and not worried about the loss of Darth Maul at all.
He promises peace.

[JEDI]
Yoda makes OWK a Jedi Knight in a surprisingly informal and solitary ceremony.
For some reason, this significant event occurs on Naboo and that’s why there is no sign of the Jedi Council. Yoda must have been in a hurry. Maybe you can’t have padawans running around without a master. They argue about training Anakin, but it’s a waste of time as only Yoda has dissented to that suggestion now.

[FUNERAL]

They’re burning the body of QGJ on Naboo and watching at close range. He must smell a bit, in those close confines. To pass the time in what is obviously an uninteresting process, OWK and Annakin have time to chat about being a Jedi, and Yoda and Mace chat about the Sith. Now the interesting thing here is that everyone has had time to get to Naboo. So you’d think that Yoda could have waited to make OWK a Jedi. The ceremonial cutting of the hair and so on.

[FINALE]
Brian Blessed as Gungan leader and JJB both get the final opportunity to yell some throaty nonsense, and it looks like that will end the dialogue for the film, until R2 beeps. Unfortunately, C3PO is not there to translate. Then there’s a big photo opportunity for the surviving cast, just like at the end of Star Wars.

Goodnight and Goodluck!

The Trailer has Landed

Scorkle Review Teaser

Yoda: Hey Luke, do not underestimate the power of Kylo Ren, or Snoke, or anyone else, not even Rey!  You are reckless, remember!

LATER….

Luke: Okay, Rey let’s do some more Yoga, ’cause it may come in useful.

Luke: Holy shit, this is new!  30 years on an island and I forgot to update my Force Tricks to 2.1!

Luke: Woah (best Keanu impression).  I can’t compete with this whole new Unstoppable Force thing!   Where are my power converters?

Rey: Shit, I didn’t see that coming, but at least the Yoga was useful !

Hockey WA Grand Finals at PHS

Lots of action out at PHS today.  The UWA 2’s men and women, and UWA mens 1’s.  The Women’s 1’s final will be contested by WASPS and Vic Park!

 

Update:

UWA Mens come from behind to take a 2-1 win – the first 1st grade mens win in 10 years.   Big celebration ahead.

WASPS Women defeated Vic Park in a match that was close for most of the game, but WASPS converted early in each half and made better of their chances.

 

Movie Reviews (Archive)

Here are the movies reviewed so far:

Edge of Tomorrow

Elysium

Guardians of the Galaxy

Interstellar

Lucy

Man of Steel

The Martian

Prometheus

Oblivion

Shaun The Sheep

Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens

The Wolverine

X Men Days of Future Past

Zero Theorem

I’m leaning toward science fiction here. Those like Interstellar are strangely fantastical where the fiction clearly outweights the science.


Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens (2015)

What can we add to what has already been said about one of the biggest movies of all time, in terms of both its anticipation and its box office figures?

First of all, we liked it a lot. Having seen it in December, and again recently, it helps to watch it without the burden of questions about whether it will be good or not, and just enjoy it. So many questions that others asked about what the film might be can be left alone, once you know what is actually in it. And that includes those questions arise from the teaser trailers that used cut scenes!

There are plenty of quality scenes involving space ships and lasers, the requisite amount of blasters and lightsabres (just 2!). The plot involves 3 main characters, the central one being Rey, who get caught up in a battle, which is part of a larger conflict against the First Order. The First Order is a group with uniforms, an agenda of supression of individuality and great military tools of enforcement. There is a common question asked by both sides of the conflict: where is Luke Skywalker?

The Star Wars protagonists, particularly Rey and Finn, are characters who go about their lives without grand agendas, choosing to act according to their conscience. Rey has no grand agenda except to reunite with her family, and Finn rejects the grand agenda of the First Order to act on his own conscience. That’s the central message of Star Wars – as old Obi Wan Kenobi might have said “You must do what you feel is right, of course”. What’s valued is the freedom to choose, and as Maz Kanata explains in this film, people must fight for freedom and not look away. That one of the characters vocalises this is a reminder that it’s often a call that needs to be made explicitly before people acknowledge it.

The antagonist is Kylo Ren, who we learn has changed his name to avoid being characterised as a Skywalker/Solo. He’s bad in part simply because he doesn’t admit to liking his father Han Solo, who is held in high regard within the Star Wars universe and with audiences alike (as objective evidence of this, I offer the fact that Harrison Ford was paid a cool $34 million). Unlike the protagonists, Ren is quite happy to look for a larger agenda, with power and domination, and it involves his hero-worship of his grandfather Darth Vader. Exactly why remains unclear. Maybe he’s just missing something inside. Ren may have a conscience deep down, but somewhere and somehow he’s become all confused. He doesn’t know if he’s dark or light, but he wants to be dark and shuns the light side of Vader, and everyone else for that matter. It may have something to do with his father and Luke Skywalker and some old fossil called Supreme Leader Snoke.

We aren’t told much about Luke’s training of Kylo Ren, but it may be that Luke himself was talking a lot about Vader’s power and whipped up a bit of of enthusiasm that got out of hand. That would have given Luke something to think about, and encouragement to retreat to some mysterious place in the universe to meditate.

Confused characters in the Star Wars universe are apparently capable of redemption. Those lacking confusion or conscience but embracing the dark side (like the Emperor, and perhaps Snoke) have no conscience (or soul) to save. Some justification has been given for the redemption of the confused soul: as Obi-Wan said on another occasion “…many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view”. Obi-Wan himself had a bit of trouble presenting Vader/Anakin Skywalker as a single person, rather than just a confused soul in the same body. What we do know is that confused force-wielding guys can still inflict a lot of pain and go about routine murder without consequences.

The appeal of Rey is that apart from being likeable and independent, she is definitely not the same as your average audience member. She is what we on earth might call supremely gifted. She knows things, she learns quickly, but initially she doesn’t know she is in a “Star Wars universe” with a real Luke Skywalker, and apparently that is the intrigue that convinced JJ Abrams to make the movie (ET interview 1 min mark). Later we discover she steps into the “larger world” because she disovers those magical abilities that only exist in the movies, like telepathy and mind-control, and quick reflexes. We haven’t seen her use any ability to move things with her mind but that will surely be added to her skills in the next movie or two.

Many questions remain. The film is pitched as another dip into a world where not everything is answered, and there is more to learn. Of course that invites some comparisons with a New Hope, but it’s also a deliberate way to encourage audiences to ask questions they will want answered in the films to come. After all, we are in the age of the multi-movie franchise.

4.5/5

The Martian (2015)

This was Matt Damon’s chance to redeem himself after his involvement with the sadly underperforming film Intersteller, and he didn’t disappoint. It’s a one man tour-de-force, with Damon in scenes by himself with only a few potatoes to talk to (I should say, there are also probably millions of bacteria but the potatoes are the only ones that get the credits). Matt Damon’s turn in ‘The Martian’ is not like his role in Interstellar because it is very different.

In a nutshell, this is a movie about an astronaut getting stranded on Mars, left by his crew not knowing he was still alive, and demonstrating what they will do to help return him to earth. Between the initial disaster that leaves astronaut Mark Watney stranded, and his return to earth, we’re taken on a journey of real-life problem solving (as real as Hollywood allows, anyway), through an entertaining performance by Matt Damon as Watney. Damon does a great job and holds the film together for its entire length. He has to deal with surviving a dust storm after being punctured by an antenna, ensuring food and oxygen supply, establishing communications with earth, repairing a helmet, finding ways to repair his habitat, and also going on some reconnaisance missions on Mars. The last part of the film involves additional risks in trying to achieve orbit and docking with a fly-by space station which do tend to push the bounds of credibility a little.

If you didn’t know it, this film was always going to be grounded in engineering problems with appeal to the geeks. It was based on a book written by computer geek himself, Andy Weir. I recommend you watch this interview with Weir on YouTube. He sure shows he’s into computers and user interfaces when he says, at about 21:50, “I needed something in the narration itself that would keep the user interested” (he is talking about his book’s readers!). The solution to that particular problem is that the main character, Mark Watney, doesn’t get depressed, he just goes into problem solving mode.

The movie was smart enough to get NASA support and still delve superficially into NASA politics, which it never takes too seriously.  This film invites comparisons with NASA’s real-world space shuttle program issues, specifically when cutting corners on cost.  China’s space program is given sufficient positive support in the plot to ensure co-operation with China in the real world for a few more years.

The geeks in the audience will be left with a memory of Sean Bean’s Lord of the Ring jokes. They will also be trying not to smile with embarrassment when it seems NASA needs to employ a young genius to teach them about the basics of orbital mechanics.

Without going into too much detail about the science (I’ll leave you with some links to other’s sites below), I think most of it is credible enough to satisfy the geeks in the audience, except perhaps for the iron-man style flying and orbital adjustments at the end.

I enjoyed this way more than Interstellar, both for the film’s aesthetic and down-to-earth (or down-to-Mars) approach, as well as the acting of Damon and the sheer time devoted to geeky plot elements without fantasy.

4/5 for me.

END NOTE:

Here are a few links to other people discussing the science:

  • http://www.space.com/30400-the-martian-how-to-stay-alive-on-mars-infographic.html
  • http://time.com/4055413/martian-movie-review-science-accuracy-matt-damon/
  • http://www.vox.com/2015/10/7/9465463/the-martian-science-explained.

Prometheus (2012)

This is an oblique prequel to the Aliens films.

The opening scenes are beautiful to watch, but unclear as to what they mean. The aliens (Engineers as they were called) scattered their DNA into earth’s water and somehow, after millions of years, we suddenly had their DNA – if you know anything about convergent evolutionary biology, be perplexed.

So the basic plot is that some scientists find an alien message inscribed in a cave in Scotland, and many other places. A billionaire funds a mission to find out who sent it and puts together a crew who are not told much about the mission. There is a fairly frigid woman played by Charlize Theron who claims to be in charge. Later we find that the powerful but ailing billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce’s character) is actually onboard and wanting to meet the aliens. Before he does, the crew encounter some very dangerous biological agents (mutating chemicals). Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) ends up pregnant with a mutation too. She is the only survivor (with an Android named David – hardly the first time an android has been called Dave). As the characters die off, we begin to realise who is going to make the next film, where we hope there are more answers.

My biggest disappointment was that there were too few characters to relate to in this film. Whilst it was visually stunning in parts, it lacked sufficient plot and characterisation to be a memorable experience. In particular, the Engineers were non-communicative and did not inspire awe except in terms of their size.

3/5

Shaun the Sheep

In a radical departure from the usual movie reviews, we’re reviewing the animated Shaun the Sheep from Aardman Productions, the team that is most famous for Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run (Nick Parks).

Junior Scorkles gave mixed reviews. The 4yo thought it was a bit long. Being locked in a movie cinema is not to everyone’s taste. But that’s not really a reflection on the movie, which kept everyone else entertained.

Shaun the Sheep is already a popular television show and this seems like a longer movie length story in the same vein. Remarkably, there is no dialogue for the entire movie (any conversation between people is mumbled jargon), and with the exception of a few helpful words on pieces of paper, it is an animated mime for the duration.

The basic plot involves the attempts by the sheep, led by Shaun, to get a day off. This idea is inspired by advertisements on the side of the bus that travels to the town of Mossy Bottom, where the farm is located. The plot requires the sheep to get the farmer off to sleep and locked up in a trailer caravan, which works out quite well until the caravan slips off its wheel stops and goes racing down into the “Big City”. The faithful dog heads off to find the Farmer, but the Sheep do not dare venture past the farm gate. After a brief celebration, Shaun has second thoughts and goes off to find the farmer, who is by now lost in the Big City with amnesia from various adventures and head injuries along the way. Soon the rest of the mob follow along, and the sheep then face the challenges of the city whilst trying to find the Farmer. Along the way, they meet up with city strays and try to stay out of the clutches of the local animal catcher, who is obsessive about containment and has a stash of weapons to rival Bond. The sheep find out the Farmer has temporary amnesia, but everything works out at the end. You can get a fair idea from the trailer on the official site: Web link

Shaun is highly skilled at coming up with ideas and leading the rest of the sheep, who generally can’t decide what to do. That is, until Shaun is in trouble, and then they are just as innovative as he is. The ongoing gag of the sheep dressing up as people in the Big City is ridiculous, but it doesn’t seem to matter. You have to accept the sheep can do almost anything they put their mind to, from singing, to creating elaborate means of transport for themselves, and passing themselves off as people in fine dining restaurants.

There’s some humour for adults in the scenes (which must have been crafted and scripted in minute detail), including an homage to Silence of the Lambs. The lack of dialogue is made up for with some catchy songs, the lyrics filling in the plot or the mood quite well. There is even a “Baa Baa Shop” quartet.

Despite it running a bit long for some of the younger children, it should be enjoyable for any existing fans of Shaun or fans of animated movies for younger children. It is amazing what the film-makers achieve in communicating ideas, and laughs, without words.

For anyone interested in the technical side of the movie and the team behind it, there are some excellent production notes at this link.

3.5/5

Guardians of the Galaxy

Funny, enjoyable and the CGI is well integrated. Marvel-lous. For a B-grade premise, it is catchy, and it has the funky music hook “Hooked on a Feeling”. This song was actually written in 1968 or thereabouts, and its jungle chant was added later, then covered by Blue Swede (Swedish group, obviously, but mainly a cover band), and that is the version that has hung around for 40 plus years and made its way into the soundtrack of this movie. Singer Bjorn Skifs went on to solo – Blue Swede didn’t last much longer.

This movie (and the ‘Ultimate Mix Tape’) features a song called “Ooh Child” (by Stan Vincent), the song that Starlord sings to distract Ronan the Accuser near the end. The song is also on a recent album by Australian chanteuse Katie Noonan, namely her “Songs That Made Me” album.

 

The cast? Bradley Cooper’s overexposure in the last few years is bearable because here he voices a racoon. Zoe Saldana is attractively green in this movie, marking a change from being so blue in Avatar. Groot is quietly majestic, a bit zen and regenerative. Karen Gillan, ex Doctor Who’s Amy Pond was positively unrecognisable and dynamic in her role as a cybernetically enhanced Nebula. And Chris Pratt as Starlord? Well, the journeyman finally comes into his own here – comic timing is not everyone’s gift, but he has it. He’s also a weight loss expert, finding the antidote to his wife’s love of cooking to slim down from his beefy role as Andy in Parks & Recreation. (He has had a few knockbacks before becoming a lead actor but had the good sense to marry Anna Faris).

If you are confused by all the Chris-named actors around at the moment, here is a quick guide:

Chris Pine – star trek dude
Chris Pratt – starlord dude
Chris Hemsworth – norse dude
Chris Evans – captain america dude
Chris Rock – comedian dude

I am Groot.

post-script: now xkcd has ‘the bracket’ which plays off a few similar names

Summer 2014 update

There will be some summer movies for us to review, but recently we caught up on some sci-fi past its use by date.

The quick verdicts:

Zero Theorem. As a big fan of 12 Monkeys, another film by Terry Gilliam, I had high expectations. Unfortunately, this is too avant garde for my taste, or I just could not see anything beyond a simple thesis: “A man discovers that other people can make life meaningful, but ultimately elects to spend time inside his own fantasy world by himself”. I couldn’t get into it. A movie with about three sets and striving for profundity, but it was lacking in dramatic tension and all too dull for me. 1/5.

Elysium Fairly predictable, but the gritty realism of Division 9 (by the same director) is still evident in the Earth scenes. Matt Damon does his job, and Jodie Foster carried her role but it did not require a great range (her character could have been played by anyone I suppose). Overall, an enjoyable movie but the plot let it down 3.5/5.

Cloud Atlas. Having not read the book, I found the plot intriguing for a while. Who was reincarnated? What was the star-shaped birthmark thingy? It just kept rolling on forward. The journey was better than the destination. 3/5.

Interstellar

Interstellar uses space travel (and the theme of gravity) as a drawcard for what is mostly a story about a father-daughter relationship, parental neglect and hurt that lasts for decades. In between all that, the Earth is apparently going to waste and we get to see some nice renderings of a black hole and a wormhole, both of which involve distortions of space-time by gravity.

I know that this is a film set “in” space not necessarily “about space”, but the marketing of the film suggested that setting “in” space was still based on “real science”, with realistic portrayals of black holes and so on. Well, what they meant was “the depiction [of black holes] began with…” some scientific concerns. So they used some science in the pre-production visualisation, and this video encapsulates what was being said about Kip Thorne’s involvement in the science. [Postscript: Kip Thorne won a nobel prize for physics in 2017!]

The film was, however, deliberately unrealistic. I know this because Jonathan Nolan who had a large part in its conception admitted that a realistic space movie would be boring and full of people dying from radiation due to travelling in space. He said that the film that Steven Spielberg wanted to make was “a science exploration film that was grounded in good physics.”. Yet Nolan was the one, he says, who convinced Steven Spielberg and others not to make such a film. He also apparently decided that in the present we are not into space exploration (which given that people still think about Mars missions sells us a bit short).

I found that this was even less science-driven in its plot than other similar films like Contact (with Jodie Foster, based on Carl Sagan’s book). There was more time given in Contact to detecting the extra-terrestrial message, building a machine and then travelling through some kind of wormhole.

In this story, a wormhole simply appeared miraculously near Saturn. This should have been a MASSIVE phenomenon. It should have knocked a few planets and possibly the sun out of their usual motion. It should have sent people into a wild state of excitement or extinction. But it was dealt with so lightly in the story, that it sets the scene for the physical universe being just a convenient backdrop to matters of human concern. In other words, when your main characer should die, he’ll be whisked off to another dimension and saved by pan-dimensional beings.

Yes, the characters were a little thin. The plot is written from the outside in, and not from what the characters would really do. The plot has to get the characters to Saturn, so we see them take off, then promptly go into cryo-sleep without much discussion. Later, they’ll talk to each other about wormholes with rolled up paper so that the audience can understand the visuals, but it’s not necessary for the character development or the plot.

I didn’t really begin to care for Anne Hathaway’s character, and the mumbling of Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper was sleep-inducing. His father-in-law had to remind him to talk scientifically to his daughter about the messages, but we don’t really see them poring over the evidence later, trying out possibilities or theories. We don’t engage with them as the scientists they supposedly are.

The central point of drama is not really Cooper (who will survive all odds), but poor Murph who has to watch her father leave without any explanation of why he has to go so soon (I have no idea what the launch window was, after watching the film). She wants to learn about science, learns her mentor has been hiding the truth, but we don’t stay with her as the central character. We don’t see the successful parts of her life unfold, as she successfully helps the people escape earth. If she’d been played by Bruce Willis, I am sure we’d have watched every last agonising minute of it. Unfortunately, her role is little more than window dressing for Cooper’s story. She is ultimately handed the answer to her physics problem via Cooper’s message, and after that, the movie mostly loses interest in her story, and returns to Cooper being reunited with her at some stage in the future.

I think the movie might have been more interesting told from Murph’s point of view, with Cooper’s story always being a mystery. The discovery of his body floating near Saturn would then have been a real revelation, and there would have been some point to the scenes between Murph and Cooper at the end. As it turned out, Murph was not particularly interested in knowing what had happened, which seemed unsatisfying. The demands of the movie made her indifferent, when I think her character would have been more interested.

All in all, the movie spends a fair amount of time with only one significant but fairly simple question for the audience: will Cooper reunite with Murph? The many reasons why he shouldn’t meet up with her are not resolved by a triumph of the will or intelligence, but by supernatural beings taking a hand in his communication with and return to Murph. Against the stage of the interstellar activities, it’s a pretty simple story that didn’t challenge my interest or attention for too long. I never even found out why NASA thought Mars (relatively close to Earth and it’s yellow sun) was not a better prospect than distant and unknown other worlds (which turned out to be orbiting a back hole and not a young sun anyway).

A bit disappointing: 3/5.

Edge of Tomorrow

The story is set against the background of an alien invasion, which has the earth on the brink of defeat. In France, the humans have gained a small victory, enough for hope of another. The alien opponents are technologically advanced, but aggressive hunters with little interest in conversation. From the human perspective, they lack individuality, except for the characterisation of some as “Alphas” or “Omegas”. There is simply no insight into their thoughts or motivations – it is “us” and “them”, an unknowable foe.

The primary character is Tom Cruise’s Cage character, who we join when he is asked to visit a general for an update on the campaign. He supposes a new public relations campaign is required. He is surprised to learn that he will have to visit the frontline and he tries to talk his way out of it, but his refusal earns the General’s ire. Cage’s fate is set when he is quickly demoted by the General to private rank, labelled a deserter and sent to join the battle as a low-level fighting soldier. This brief, dialogue-driven introduction involves no sense of the action that will follow.

The real start of Cage’s journey starts when he wakes up the next day at a military base. He soon learns that he has been attached to the J-Squad, a riff-raff of low-rank fighters that are about to be sent to the front line by air transport. Some look hardly fit for battle at all. They are sent out to battle equipped with a mechatronic exo-suit that allows them to run faster and operate heavy equipment and weapons. The team is loaded onto a deployment ship that delivers them to the battle area using drop-parachutes. They never reach their preferred destination because the ship is damaged by an explosion and they are dropped into an area already heavily under attack. It is difficult for anyone to survive for more than a few minutes, and initially Cage does not even know how to de-activate the safety mechanism on his weaponry. This is the start of his journey: learning how to survive the first day.

We do not know it at the beginning, but the form of this film mirrors quite closely with a computer game, in which the main character is given many “lives” to learn how to play the game better, and to reach the game’s ultimate objective. It is a fighting quest. The plot device that allows Cage these endless lives (i.e. waking up at the start of the same day to commence it again) is him being sprayed with the blood of an alien that is called an “Alpha”. Cage couldn’t be expected to understand this, but conveniently he soon meets up with war legend Rita Vrataski, who apparently has experienced the same phenomenon. She used her ability with the single-minded purpose of defeating the Aliens, but at the same time she became emotionally detached by watching those she cared for die over and over. When she finds out that Cage has acquired the power she soon sets about putting him on the same quest as her own, and making sure that if one of them is to die, it will be him not her. It is not really expected that Cage or the audience will question this to any great extent. In fact, the trivialisation of his repeated death is played for a bit of comedy rather than tragedy.

Cage and Vrataski training at the base
Okay, let’s do it again, with feeling.

After some additional narrative explanation from Rita, the audience now knows the main elements of the quest story: Tom’s character (Cage), who is compelled by his own ineptitude and weaknesses to become a reluctant soldier, must find the Omega (the alien “mothership” or queen of the hive-mind aliens) and destroy it. He is granted many lives to do this. Along the way, he can improve his skills and impress the lady (Rita) with his deeds.

What changes is Cage’s role. He initially has to learn basic skills just so he can escort Rita to the destination. But then it appears that it is going to be difficult to do this, and he might have to go alone. He is forced to make difficult decisions about whether he is going to be the leader of the attack, but when he does that, he takes on the dragon-slaying hero mantle. Ultimately, he tries to achieve the quest without losing Rita, but for a moment it seems that the quest will end in great sacrifice.

Although Cage wants to impress Rita, initially she is the one that has the higher skill level and adopts the role of the wise soldier-teacher, rather than the love interest. Emily Blunt is very plausible in that role, but her character has mythic status and she has to convey a sense of strength and determination, rather than intellect. The personal journeys of the characters are always constrained by the fact they only share the memory of the latest day, which is a significant hurdle to developing the emotional connection. The plot device to overcome this is to have Rita share more personal details with Cage, so that later she can recognise she must have trusted him on other occasions. This is more of an intellectual solution so it never really seems satisfying.

The result of Rita’s training and Cage’s acceptance of his powers and responsibility is that Cage grows in confidence and fighting ability, and he acquires skills and fighting abilities similar to those Rita has in battle. He eventually earns the respect of the other soldiers and takes a leadership role. In the end, he is able to fulfil the quest that he was barely able to imagine at the start of the film. We are left with the distinct impression that his main prize was not the destruction of the Omega, but the opportunity to find Rita and relate to her as an equal. The end of the film involves a contrived plot device to allow them an opportunity to live together (possibly “happily ever after”), a signal that this is as much a romantic film as it is one characterised as science fiction. However, this final connection and closure is never resolved on-screen.

All in all you should enjoy the movie despite Tom Cruise being in it.

4/5 from me.

Lucy

I was pretty disappointed with this film from Luc Besson. It tantalised with the expectation of a leading heroine, and with potential for more gritty realism than had been realised in The Fifth Element (which was kooky but enjoyable). Scarlett Johansson has to suppress her emotions fr too much in this film.

Although it might have been sold to movie-goers as a science fiction film, it is much more in the realm of science-fantasy, with an emphasis on the fantastical. The title character is a nice and apparently innocent girl, who becomes progressively more intelligent after she ingests a brain-altering drug and somehow survives its intoxicating effects. But rather than a gradual development of awareness, maturity and abilities, the transformation is depicted as mechanical, rational and rapid. Empathy and compassion do not seem to be a function of increased intelligence for her, as if the movie writer equated more intelligence with only increased computational power, a certain psychopathology and motivation for revenge rather than forgiveness.

Morgan Freeman portrays a Professor who has a theory about what will happen to people with increased intelligence. This theory is far-fetched (unbelievable really) but it provides a huge spoiler for the audience. His theory as to what increased intelligence will provide for human beings is an almost perfect prediction of what will happen to Lucy (and a confirmation that her capacity will in itself be her purpose, rather than help her find a purpose). Knowing this in advance removes any surprise or suspense for the audience. And his character is deprived of any real role as a confident or mentor. His intellectual interests offer no guidance to Lucy in moral, social or spiritual matters.

Lucy’s character arc is not particularly interesting either. With her increased intelligence, Lucy coolly concludes that she will die soon, in literally a matter of hours. By this stage, I was beyond caring, and the movie simply rolled on to its conclusion. Lucy’s main goal became some sort of personal enlightenment: to create a database of information on a custom USB before her body wasted.

I didn’t feel the audience was encouraged to relate to her, or emotionally invest in her journey. As she gained intelligence, she coolly ordered doctors around, and killed when she needed to. But the real reason I couldn’t relate to her was that Lucy never really doubted her own abilities. She even had some awareness that she would transcend death, as she told the French policeman Del Rio that death isn’t really an end. “I am everywhere” she said in a phone message to the policeman, and then she told the audience “now you know what to do”. (It may have been a nod to Neo’s closing voiceover in the Matrix I). I think I lost her meaning. In fact, she struggled to find her own goal after her accidental transformation. We don’t know what she considered important, other than data, and so there is really no take-home message or aspirational goal that lingers.

Two out of five for me.

Man of Steel (2013)

“A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing” – George Lucas, 1977.

I went to see a movie about the Life and Times of Clark Kent, or as it is optimistically named, Man of Steel. Superman is simple and ill prepared for conflict. His years of listening to the calming tones of his earth dad Kevin Costner have made him passive and ill-prepared for ruthless aliens. He fights, at the end of the movie, out of desperate anger and a reaction to his repression. It’s a pity he levelled Metropolis and Smallville in the process, but he won so it seems that everyone is able to forgive him.

Along the way, we see the past of Krypton (inspired by Rome in design, and reflected in the new Superman costume). The moral of the story is never leave your planet’s future to a committee.

Those involved in this movie seemed to have debated whether Superman should kill anyone(link to the discussion here), but I think they confused themselves. Superman could have been innately opposed to killing – this did not need a motivating incident to explain it. The dillema he faced was how to immobilise Zod quickly and save the family, but it seemed like he was merely making a moral decision about whether to kill or not. This overt moralising seemed out of step with the preceding action.

Oblivion (2013)

This film seems more like a glossy magazine than something with science-fiction chops. Tom Cruise plays Jack, the decorated space commander living a controlled life, who happens to have the dual responsibility for saving the world and saving/reuniting with his true (fellow astronaut) wife.

Jack is living in a dream – his world is manipulated by a malevolent alien technology, who has enslaved and killed most of the human race by cloning the first astronauts to encounter it (Jack and some of his crew). Jack’s wife was not cloned, but remained preserved in orbit, and his clones still have memories, even though they do not understand what they are.

The austere, highly engineered and clinical world in which the clones live above the earth is constrasted with the gritty, subterranean and harsh reality that humanity’s survivors (the resistance) live in. The goal that motivates the resistance, and eventually one of the Jack clones too, is the need to destroy the single AI entity that holds power over earth. This is not a particularly sophisticated endeavour with a series of sub-goals. If it had been, the movie would have been more interesting. Rather, it involves the idea of flying in and destroying the AI mothership from inside the alien vessel. It could so easily have been taken from the plot of Independence Day.

In a Hollywood-style ending, the sacrificial and self-aware Jack does not survive but he is effectively resurrected because other clones retain his former memories and one of them comes back to look after his wife.

Jack has to save the day, of course. For some reason, the future is in his hands and no one else can pull it off. Why not the people who had to fight against his clones, maintain hope and resources and survive for years before he finally woke up to himself? I think that those people who had to survive for 60 years, and the original battle with the Jack clones might have had more interesting stories.

Score: 2/5

The Wolverine (2013)

In this story, the Wolverine (Logan) gets drawn into a mess with a two-faced Japanese soldier he saved back in World War II. Years later, the same soldier tries to steal the Wolverine’s powers to renew his aging body.

The Wolverine returns to the story of the big guy with big claws sometime after the death of Dr Jean Grey in the last X men film. It starts in flashback, to showcase the attractive Famke Janssen as Dr Jean Grey. Wolverine makes his way to Japan at the invitation of the soldier many years after the second world war, where he becomes close to the man’s granddaughter, Maruko. She is a quiet but strong and capable woman and the annointed heiress to the company that has been built by her grandfather. She and Wolverine are supported by Yuki, the red-haired sword-wielding child-assassin who has big anime eyes and the ability to see the deaths of others. Yuki provides a shadowy, protective figure for the duration of the film. These two Japanese maidens both look out for our big guy, and everyone else dies.

The Japanese adversary eventually succeeds in removing some of the Adamantine claws, but you can’t keep a good wolf down. He lives to fight another day

X Men Days of Future Past

Four central characters dominate the plot direction in this film – Wolverine, Mystique, Magneto and Professor X (Charles Xavier).

In the comic-book story on which this is based, Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat (played by Ellen Page in the movie) is the time-traveller who must save the world and the X men from anihilation by the Sentinels. In the movie adaptation, Wolverine was the main time-travelling character and had to carry a bit of the action. That is, until the point in the story where young Xavier decided to give up the drugs and get with the program. But mostly it is Xavier and Magneto, and to some extent, Mystique that carry the story. Mystique’s decisions regarding her future with Magneto and tolerance or intolerance for killing shift the plot in new directions, but it doesn’t get too intellectual. Xavier engages in telepathy for much of the time and Magneto sulks around, not particularly grateful for being released from his prison in order to join the resistance against the Sentinel army.

The main dangers to the X-Men still remain amongst themselves, in whatever version of history the movie deals with. Magneto is still a central player with potential for evil. His ability to rewire the Sentinels is extraordinary, especially doing it on a moving train and in microscopic (and microcomputing) details. His ability and willingness to torture Wolverine in this film is something darker than we’ve seen in the other movies, and it’s not really clear if there’s personal animosity there or he just doesn’t want to be held back by anyone. He doesn’t seem remorseful about it.

By the end of the film Charles Xavier seems to have moved on without beating himself up about Magneto’s hissy fit in front of the White House and is quite perky at the end. Wolverine is back on deck, with the memories from his original time stream intact. I don’t know if that means he lost his memories and has to start again at the point he wakes up, but it seems to be a convenient ending point (though it is unlikely Hugh Jackman will be appearing in too many more as Wolverine).

3.5 out of 5