Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

BladeRunner 2049 poster

I’m finding this such a hard movie to review, I can barely imagine how difficult it must have been to make! The original Blade Runner (1982) has become one of the cornerstones of science fiction cinema. The look, the noir-ish feel, the music – all iconic. So, first rule of sequel: don’t destroy that kind of legacy!

And – phew! – BR2049 doesn’t. In fact, it does a lot of things very right. However… I dunno, perhaps my expectations were set too high, but while I thoroughly admire what they’ve done here, I’m giving it a lower mark (still 8/10!) than I thought I would.

First off the good stuff: it looks fantastic. I means, the world is a bit grubby and not-nice, and yet the visuals are still mindblowing. Cinematography Oscar, surely – and given the man responsible is Roger Deakins more than overdue, too!

The cast were all really great, too. I’ve never wholly understood the massive appeal of Ryan Gosling, but his slightly blank approach here works very well for the character. It’s his movie: Harrison Ford doesn’t show up until well through the extended running time, and to be honest it would have been great if they could have left that as a surprise.

Ah, yes: avoiding spoilers! This is definitely one of those movies where going in as un-informed as possible is a plus, which only adds to the difficulties in reviewing! So, no plot details from me, just the vague: Blade Runner Ryan Gosling is sent on a mission that might have a far bigger consequence than anyone could know. Along the way he has to deal with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the new owner of what was the Tyrell Company, who has his own agenda and one of the new, ‘obedient’ replicants, Luv (Syvia Hoeks), to push it.

So why didn’t this hit quite as many buttons for me as I’d hoped? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest – quite frankly, it should have. Perhaps the plot wasn’t as surprising as it was for others, given that a few threads of it have appeared (and not desperately well handled, tbh) in the KW Jeter ‘sequel’ books? I suspect it might be more to do with the ten million different versions of the original movie – with rather different views on a certain Big Issue – leaving this one with a slight dilemma on which to follow. And while many reviewers are praising the way this, too, leaves that ambiguity, I actually felt that only one version actually makes sense – given a few lines, and the overall plot – and it’s not the one I was a fan of. Ho-hum.

Another slight discomfort for me was the sheer amount of female nudity and sexualisation. It’s not the film’s fault to have opened in a time where this is such a trigger issue, but still: it feels like every variation of subservient womanhood is portrayed here, from the virtual and porn-esque representations, to the actual prostitute and the unappreciated ‘secretary’-type. It was all just a bit ‘off’, somehow, given the present culture of Hollywood and beyond.

That said, don’t think I didn’t enjoy this because I did. Flaws aside, the visual spectacle alone is worth a watch, and unlike some other recent eye candy, this has a great deal going on underneath that. The main character’s story arc is handled extremely well, the baddies are a delight, and there’s enough left unsaid or unexplained (black out, anyone? Oh, but how perfect to explain the retro-tech!) to add a layer of intrigue and imagination stimulation.

So: 8/10. Excellent, but not perfect, ymmv and all that, but sooo worth seeing on the big screen for the wow-factor.

Released: 5th October 2017
Viewed: 18th October 2017
Running time: 163 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

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Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Gru (Steve Carell) might have sorted out his family life over the previous two installments, with Lucy (Kristen Wiig) now step-mom to the ‘gurrrrls’ (girls, Margo, Edith, and Agnes), but work isn’t going so well – the pair have just been fired from the Anti Villain League for failing to capture 80s child TV star turned baddy, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker).

Gru then discovers he has a long-lost twin brother, Dru. Dru is desperate for his sibling to show him the dark side of villainy – something Gru has, of course, put behind him (much to the displeasure of the Minions, who walk out in disgust). However, what better opportunity to steal back the diamond Bratt has already stolen – and use it to get his job back.

I do love the Minions movies. This one has been getting mixed feedback, but I liked it better than the middle installment if not quite so much as the original. I think what worked well for me was all the 1980s references from the Bratt character, still stuck in the era of his glory days. I was just in the right mood for a Michael Jackson-themed ‘dance fight’, and all the cheesy hits of the day.

And, of course, the Minions! Their subplot had me in stitches, again with a bit of a dance theme at one point – but I will say no more 😉 The other subplot, with Lucy learning how to be a mom, is a lot weaker, but I did think added a little warmth to the movie.

Overall: lots of daft fun, and I’d happily watch it again – my measure for animated movies. Banana! 🙂

Released: 30th June 2017
Viewed: 10th July 2017
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 7.5/10

Alien: Covenant (2017)

The Covenant: a colony ship, heading to a remote planet to allow its cargo of 2000 sleeping colonists to start a new life. When it hits a damaging neutron field, synthetic life form, Walter (Michael Fassbender, once again the only interesting character in the whole piece), wakes the crew to help deal with the disaster. Shaken by tragedy, a mysterious signal leading them towards an even more habitable planet than the one they were aiming for seems like a dream come true. But given this is a sequel to Prometheus (2012) and a prequel to Alien (1979), the audience is more than aware that the dream is far more likely to be a nightmare…

I had low expectations and yet somewhat high hopes for this movie. I thought Prometheus was a horrible mess, confusing in its attempt to come up with some (un)godly backstory to the classic franchise, and executed sloppily from start to finish. Covenant surely couldn’t be any worse, right?!

Well…!! It seems like a lot of attention has been paid to the complaints from last time, so sure, this story is a bit less mystical and vague, and ‘woo’ – we have the classic xenomorphs back (I wasn’t *that* fussed, tbh!). Alas, every single other problem seems to have been ported across wholesale: crew I don’t care about in the slightest, thus making the peril they face less than gripping? Check. Clunky plot holes and/or events that fit the joining up of narratives more than logic? Check. Drippy Ripley-wannabe utterly failing to impress as Sigourney Weaver’s successor? Oh, triple check. Excuse me while I roll my eyes.

Set 10 years after the Prometheus went missing – although while the crew all seem aware of this fact in retrospect, they still all do the “It’s impossible that there’s human life out here!” without a single ‘what if…’ crossing their tiny brains – there is still a bit of a gap to explain what happened between the two. A few flashbacks attempt to bridge this, but I was still left with a sense of “Hmm, is that really likely?!” – even in fiction as wild as this, you still expect people to act like people, unlikely random coincidences to not happen every time, and a whole extra stage in a creature’s lifecycle not just to crop up because the first prequel skipped it but it needs to come back!

But, the bulk of the ‘now’ of the movie should make up for this, and while it’s not dreadful for a slasher-horror gore fest, I loathed the lazy ‘crew bonding’ device of making them all married to someone who gets picked off – so, oooh, we’re going to feel for them! Urm, no. Someone is killed off at the very start, but as we hadn’t even met the character at that point it’s really hard to care, and the hysterical spouse reaction is jarring until we get the explanation. Would the story have been any different if that character had survived? Not much. Yes, it changes the actions of another two characters but it just struck me as the laziest possible way to stimulate those motivations and ‘feels’. I don’t care for the obvious manipulation.

I will allow that this film looks gorgeous – the design has always been a very strong element with even the prequels. And, I will also allow that my own disappointment that this wasn’t better is leading me to be very harsh. But… meh. Something about this whole movie just struck me as reactive and a bit lazy, and overall desperately unsatisfying.

And yes, I will still go see the third planned prequel: I might be being harsh, but Covenant is better than Prometheus, so hope springs eternal! o_O

Released: 12th May 2017
Viewed: 12th May 2017
Running time: 122 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10 – disappointing

BladeRunner 3: Replicant Night – KW Jeter

“Wake up…”

I think the best thing I can say about this book is that it’s very worthwhile to read something a bit rubbish once in a while to make the good stuff look good! o_O

Not having been too impressed with the previous volume, Edge of Human, I had hoped that a second sequel (to the movie, Blade Runner, rather than the source book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) would move further away from the film and have a more interesting plot. Which it almost does, but not before we land slap bang in the middle of the movie – literally, as Deckard advises on a dramatisation of his hunt for the missing (5? 6? ;)) replicants. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but there are a lot of references to visuals in the movie that seem like trying-too-hard in-‘jokes’ for a book. Yes, Mr Writer, we’ve seen it too, thank you very much.

There is quite a lot of repetition here. I suppose some of the ‘real life’ turned to fiction is merited, but then it just keeps happening, constant little dropped references to “oh that bit that only real fans like me would remember”, and it gets really grating, really fast.

Which is a shame, as by the halfway point, there is a really quite fascinating new story line introduced, which had me glued to a large chunk of the book wanting to know what was going on. Alas, I’d have to suggest that the whole thing is handled less than well, and what could have been vastly interesting is turned into another superficial layer on the same-old that we’ve had more than enough of already.

The last book in the series has, like this one, been on my shelf for over a decade, so morbid curiosity will get me to the end, I’m sure. I’m not offering any recommendation, however.

Paperback: 309 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 1996
Series: BladeRunner book 3 (of 4)
Read from 3rd-10th January 2017

My rating: 4/10

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Twenty years ago, a little movie about the most unlikely of subjects – an Edinburgh youth with an on/off heroin addiction – become something of a cultural phenomenon for Scotland. In preparation for viewing the sequel, I rewatched the original and was amazed at just how iconic 90% of the scenes had become and still remain.

That two decade wait is a genius move for this follow up, with the aging of the characters playing a huge role in the story. Renton’s been living clean – and hiding out – in Amsterdam since the events at the end of ‘T1’, but when events send him home to Edinburgh it’s not long before his old friends – Spud, Sickboy, and Begbie – are once again turning his life upside down.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did. Although I was glad for the rewatch of the original – there are flashbacks and references that do benefit from a familiarity – it’s not an easy watch. The sequel, however, really has moved on twenty years. Sure, there’s still some drug-taking, sex, a lot of violence, and the dialogue is surely 90% swearing 😉 but there’s just so much more depth to this story. As one of my equally-impressed colleagues put it, you don’t often get to see a (serious) “coming-of-middle-age” tale.

So T2 becomes about these men facing middle age, their lives not what they’d hoped. Heroin might be (more or less) behind them, but as the new – and quite brilliant – “Choose Life” speech shows, the world has only changed so much and not all for the best. Throw in some revenge story lines, the attempt to reforge friendships and find… not purpose, but just something to do – through all of this, the character studies are done brilliantly and yet subtly. I came out feeling this movie had twice the content of the 2-hour running time, which is absolutely not something I was expecting – nor the bits where I was almost crying with laughter!

Of course, chuck in the extra layer of seeing my hometown on screen – including my bus stop, yay! – in the same cinema as the premier was held, of seeing twenty years pass not just for the characters but also in my own life… your mileage may vary, but I was wowed.

Released: 27th January 2017
Viewed: 10th February 2017
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 9/10

BladeRunner 2: The Edge of Human – KW Jeter

“When every murder seems the same, it’s time to quit.”

I reread Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? last year, and was yet again amazed at just how different it is to the film it inspired: BladeRunner. Given both are feted parts of sci-fi culture, the surprise here isn’t that someone decided to try and come up with a sequel (to the movie), it’s that they make so much of an effort to bridge the gap between the two formats.

The central premise of this book comes from a mistake: a mention of six escaped replicants, when the movie then only deals with five. Of course, director Ridley Scott offered his own answers to this with several director’s cuts, so the mystery is already obsolete. Then again, if you weren’t so keen on the shift in direction there, this might offer a different view.

There’s also great scope in the main theme here: what is it that makes us human, and can artificial intelligence get so close to ‘real’ that it is indeed life?

Alas, it all descends into something of a messy sprawl. Too desperate to join book, film, and grander concepts, none felt satisfactorily handled. Instead, we get something of a rehash of the movie: the same replicants, the same BladeRunners, the same issues. Throw in those attempts to paper over some of the gaps between movie and source material – I mean, did anyone really care if J.F. Sebastian was John Isidore renamed, or a separate character? – and… yeah o_O

There is something quite visual in the story telling –  I can see the strain to describe scenes that would have played out better on screen – but ultimately there’s just too much reliance on trying to picture Harrison Ford delivering the lines, rather than developing the character.

This is actual my second read of Edge of Human, but I wouldn’t have noticed from the reread – it left that much of an impact, clearly! However, I’ve had the other two instalments on my shelf for about a decade, and an urge to finally (!) get around to them, particularly before the new BladeRunner 2049 movie hits the cinema later this year. I highly doubt any of these books will have influenced that sequel, but curiosity remains.

Paperback: 340 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 1995
Series: BladeRunner book 2 (of 4)
Read from 21st December 2016 – 14th January 2017 (reread, previously Nov 2007)

My rating: 4/10

Rogue One (2016)

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens, in a popcorn-tastic kind of a way, it was easy to see why the die-hard fans were rather disappointed: there was nothing really ‘new’ for those who’d followed the story and wanted to see a different part of the sprawling universe of Star Wars.

Rogue One, I suspect, is the film they were looking for. Rather than the stand-alone piece I was expecting, this is instead a direct prequel to the original movie (A New Hope, or episode 4, or however we refer to it!) filling in events that happen just before 1977, as mentioned in that famous text scrolling up the screen. And boy, what events! This is what people hoped for from a Star Wars prequel – not the politics of Naboo, but the running and shooting and bleeding of a rebellion making a come back.

We follow Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who, after a bit of a traumatic childhood, wants nothing to do with either side of the rebellion. But with a new ‘star killer’ weapon being spoken about in hushed tones, it seems that the rebellion might not be done with her – not when she’s the daughter of the Empire’s most noted weapons developer…

While I thoroughly enjoyed Rogue One, I would suggest that it is primarily a film for the fans – not in a bad way, but to be honest I was a tad disappointed with how much reference there was to the original film, given I remember so little of it. Enough to see that there was a lot of ‘clever’ tying in, but with that level of frustration that I just wasn’t appreciating enough of it all. I’d really like a clear ‘this is the story of it all, in one place, go read it’ kind of a thing – otherwise this is a universe that really pays to have that fanaticism about, or risk being left just a little in the cold. ymmv, of course.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy anyway. The movie is just gorgeous to look at, the action is fantastic, and the characters are all very non-annoying (a lesson that apparently took some learning through the six seven previous instalments ;)). I particularly loved new robot, K2, who has just all the best lines – the whole audience was laughing at/with him. On the other side, there are a few familiar faces, and a few ‘hmm’ uses of technology to make some of those tie-ins to the original. Plus, the whole tone is – rather unavoidably – rather dark.

Recommended? Yes, for fans and not-so-fantaticals alike. But be prepared to want to go watch eps. 4-6 (again), if only to ‘get’ some of the tie-ins and a sense of the darkness here only preceding that ‘new hope’.

Released: 15th December 2016
Viewed: 16th December 2016
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10 – it was good, but I slightly resent the push to go be a bigger fan! 😉