Film review: Blade Runner 2049 (spoiler-free)

History has proven that rarely is the sequel better than the original. It was going to be an uphill battle to equal (or improve on) a film as groundbreaking and quotable as the 1982 film. Blade Runner 2049 is good but not a masterpiece. I knew was going to be fan service and that is basically what it boils down to.

Several actors have smaller roles than expected. There are a few cameos, but I won't go into specifics. The filmmakers have said all along that you should go in knowing as little as possible, as the plot is a spoiler in itself.  There's an expansion of this world and the slow pacing is daring for a blockbuster, yet I felt the storytelling was too concerned with honoring the original. In that sense, it's zeitgeisty, in paying homage.

The writers waited too long, in the 35 year gap since 1982, various TV shows and films (again, without going into spoilery territory) have already run with the philosophical themes presented in Blade Runner 2049. And you could argue most of what is presented in the sequel was alluded to tacitly in the original.

Yet an admirable effort that held my interest. The plotting is quite intricate, and fun to be back in this universe. Just isn't as emotional, chill-inducing and memorable as Ridley Scott's classic. The first film could be considered sci-fi-noir, the second has been described as an "Arthouse-Blockbuster". Worth watching on the big screen to meet Deckard again and for the stunning visuals, but go in with moderate expectations.

Rating 7/10

The 1982 film is among my top 10 of all-time, and the atmospheric soundtrack is a big reason why. Vangelis didn't return as composer. At the end of the month, I'll review the new score by Benjamin Wallfisch/Hans Zimmer.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Holiday in Berlin

I recently went on an enjoyable holiday to Berlin for a week. In the DDR museum, I learnt about what it was like to live behind the wall in East Germany. Travel was forbidden, limitations on what food was available, stuck on a waiting list for years in order to own a low quality car (Trabant), and having to sign a written agreement of loyalty to the party so as to be allowed to study at the university.

Opposing the regime was forbidden. Those were different times, yet it wasn't so long ago! If you had to point to a positive of that era, then it was the low unemployment in the DDR. In fact after the fall of the wall in 1989, many East Germans who fled to the West struggled to find work.

Books and music were examples of censorship. Popular culture was viewed as dangerous and potentially subversive in communist Eastern Europe, designed to corrupt its young people, turning them away from socialist ideals. Most music fans simply resorted to taping their favorite songs directly off West German radio stations and exchanging them with their friends. Western bands were not permitted to play in East Germany, and East German rock bands were essentially protected against foreign competition. A limited musical exchange between East and West Germany would gradually happen in the 1980s. Punk was an underground movement; many bands performed concerts in their own garages and recorded and distributed their music on self-made cassettes. However, as the movement grew, Stasi agents were increasingly able to infiltrate the punk scene. East Berlin punk group Namenlos were arrested and sentenced to between 12 and 18 months in prison for ‘disparaging the state’. Klaus Renft Combo were banned in 1975, the committee told the band that their lyrics ‘had absolutely nothing to do with socialist reality'.

The highlight of the museum was a listening area where I could hear DDR hits via headphones. With a chart on the screen in which visitors could vote for their favorites. Der Blaue Planet by Karat was in the top 5. I later discovered it's not just a song but a full length album from 1982, released on the state record label AMIGA. The majority of the music on the playlist I had never heard of. Other popular DDR groups included The Puhdys, City, and Silly. Since the museum's cd stock was sold out, I looked for and found a greatest hits by Karat in Media Markt, a nearby multi-story electronics store at Alexander Platz. Also bought a compilation of (mostly 70s and 80s) rock called Das Beste Aus Der DDR. Each cd cost 6 euro. I guess what I found out is that the German music scene has many interesting acts besides Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Can. Not all quality, but some of it still holds up. My German isn't as good as it used to be, so that may diminish what I take away from the music. If the melodies are strong enough, then the lyrics are of lesser importance.

Der Blaue Planet by Karat (1982)

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: September

Mother! (2017) (Darren Aronofsky)
A film I'll be thinking about for a long time. A strange, unconventional story. Easily one of the most original and surprising horrors of recent years. I had no idea where it was heading. Some critics complained about the tonal shift in the last 45 minutes, but you need the build-up for it to work. As indiewire wrote: "The director creates a feeling of absurdity from the outset that signals to the viewer not to take these events literally".

2048: Nowhere to Run (6 min short) (2017) (Luke Scott) 
Set in 2048, a prequel short to the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. The setting looks very similar to Blade Runner, despite 29 years after the events of 2019.
Introduces Sapper ( wrestler/actor Dave Bautista) , a man with different sides to his personality. The book mentioned is The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.

Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 (16 min short) (2017) (Shinichiro Watanabe)
The most beautiful and expansive of the three Blade Runner 2049 prequel shorts. But the storytelling is rather messy and tough to care about any of the characters.

Unforgiven (1992) (Clint Eastwood)
Well-acted, nice cinematography, and a well-told western. Though I do think the film establishes violent revenge (both in the mission and ending) as the right choice, which I feel is a questionable message. But the 1880s was a different era and the film is a time capsule. It's interesting that the lead (Eastwood) used to be a monster yet we root for him. Police brutality is certainly a theme that's still relevant and the film would be less intense if all the characters were non-violent.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper (documentary) (Nick Broomfield) (2014)
True crime documentary about Lonnie Franklin aka the Grim Sleeper. Could have told this story in less than 105 mins. Kept repeating the same points and other suspects are glossed over. But it did have an important message that the murder of homeless black women was (and maybe still is) a low priority for the LAPD. Not warning the community about a serial killer is a tragedy, especially because it took them 20 years to get the info out there. A woman is quoted as saying "The lack of concern allowed a lot more people to be murdered”. From eye witness accounts, victims, neighbours, and family, we are given an impression of who Lonnie is, both the good and the bad.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) (Review of Season 3, Episode 18) (David Lynch)
I was planning to review Episodes 13-17 but decided not to due to lack of time and because I feel I would just be retelling/summarizing.
What I will do is write about the final episode which is the most ambiguous, mysterious and thought-provoking of season 3. There are spoilers ahead, so be warned.
Episode 18 is a bit slow and storyless, but with a lot of tension. The more I think about it, the better I like how it played out. I see Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer as confused members of the red room, no longer knowing what is real and reality, past, present or future. All this travelling between worlds has caused them to lose a sense of who or where they are. Kind of reminded me of The Pledge (2001), Jack Nicholson’s dutiful character sort of lost his mind by working on the same case for a long time. Odd that Cooper doesn’t address the fact there is a corpse in Carrie’s home, he just sits passively in silence while driving to Twin Peaks. Episode 18 is illogical and dream-like, taking place in a parallel universe where things are different to the real world. Perhaps the entire episode is Cooper’s or Laura’s dream. Carrie’s /Laura’s hair color changes from brunette to blond from one scene to the next. As The Vox wrote: “You go to bed in one reality and wake up in another one, where everything and everybody is different, up to and including yourself. You wake up from one dream right into another one.”
Episode 18 will be debated and analysed for years to come. If this is Lynch’s farewell as a director, he went out on a high!

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Albums of the month: September

Recently went on holiday (more on that later), so the two posts today are slightly later than usual. Still had time to listen to a variety of newer and older albums.

The Doors by The Doors (1967)
Amazing debut. 5 classic songs: Break On Through, The Crystal Ship(my personal favorite), Alabama Song, Light My Fire, The End. The filler tracks prevent it from achieving a perfect score.

John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Often described as Lennon’s finest solo effort. A painfully honest album that hits you in the gut. A few filler moments, but with 5 classic songs: Mother, Working Class Hero, Isolation, Love, and God. Almost as great as George Harrison’s 1970 solo album All Things Must Pass.
On a side note, I'm curious to listen to Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band (1970), an experimental rock  album recorded by the same musicians.

Exodus by Bob Marley & The Wailers (1977)

Blade Runner (Esper Edition) by Vangelis (1982/2003)
My all-time favorite soundtrack which never fails to enrapture me. A two-cd bootleg, collecting music related to the film.  To me, the 114 minute Esper Edition is superior to the official 57 minute soundtrack from 1994. Many of the sound effects from the film were omitted on the official soundtrack. The Esper Edition is among the highest rated bootlegs of all-time on Rate Your Music, and should please most fans of Blade Runner, though apparently there is a 3-cd MR3 Edition.

Faith by George Michael (1987)
Won Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1989. The first four songs are very good. Faith & Father Figure are 80s classics. I Want Your Sex is well-produced and held my interest despite running 9 min. One More Try showcases Michael's ability as a singer.
Tracks 5-8 didn't interest me. Track 9 Kissing a Fool is well-written and encouraged me to google the philosophical lyrics. Bonus track A Last Request is smooth and quite good.
Looks like he is smelling his own armpit on the album sleeve /:

Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti (2017)
The soundtrack for season 3 of Twin Peaks. I’m pretty sure will remain in my top 5 albums of the year. The set includes 3-4 tracks from the early 90s. Badalamenti's new score is juxtapositioned with various artists from past and present.
I like the new instrumentals, especially Accident / Farewell Theme, Windswept by Johnny Jewel, The Chair, The Fireman, Saturday (Instrumental) by Chromatics, and Heartbreaking. Nice to have Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima on here too, used during the atomic bomb sequence from Episode 8. The new stuff isn't as distinctive as Badalamenti's best work, but it feels like Twin Peaks music, is competently made, atmospheric, and sometimes quite moving.
If you have to choose between buying Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Soundtrack or the instrumental album Windswept by Johnny Jewel, I'd pick the former.

Sleep Well Beast by The National (2017)
To me, despite the critical praise, it's a lesser album from a band I usually like. Has the familiar Berninger baritone and melancholy, though the lyrics didn't resonate as deeply as previous National albums. Walk It Back goes for tongue-in-cheek-ness but isn't as potent as their serious music. Wasn't a fan of the production choices. At times, the drum programming, electronic sounds, and keyboards are frankly annoying.
That said, The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness and I'll Still Destroy You (about self-medication) are powerful and superbly written.
Doubtful Sleep Well Beast has the same replay value as their earlier work.
Favorite lyrics: ”But he had to deal with those people like you who made no goddamn common sense”
”I’m always thinking about useless things”
"I'm just trying to stay in touch with anything I'm still in touch with"
"I swear you got a little bit taller since I saw you, I'll still destroy you"
"Maybe I listen more than you think"

Science Fiction by Brand New (2017)
The meaning of the title (Science Fiction) alludes me for now. A critically acclaimed and commercially successful return by a band who have not released a studio album since 2009’s Daisy. The Nirvana-esque 137 is very good, and Same Logic/Teeth stayed with me. There's some quite beautiful guitar work on tracks such as In The Water, Desert, and 451, but not sure I love the vocal. The melancholy closing ballad Batter Up is the album's most emotionally affecting moment.
Perhaps you need to be a fan of the band and Emo to fully appreciate what they are doing here on their final LP. I don't have context or nostalgia.
6 to 7 /10

Cigarettes After Sex by Cigarettes After Sex (2017)
Recommended by RYM-user jonlanghoff. Most of these songs have the same Beach House-esque sound, so I'm not sure how original the album actually is. Yet it's infectious, calming, and easy to get lost in the hazy mood the band creates. The lyrics are effective and the slow delivery elevates the words. I was surprised to find out the vocalist is not a woman?! Over time, could rise to a 7/10.
6 to 7 /10

Music for People in Trouble by Susanne Sundfør (2017)
I listened based on the favorable reviews. Slow, minimalist folk. Undercover, Bedtime Story and Reincarnation are the tracks that interested me the most. The outros from the title track & No One Believes in Love Anymore are quite haunting. She has a good voice, but the album has too many boring songs.

The Weather Station by The Weather Station (2017)
Very patchy. The opening two songs (Free & Thirty) are strong for the melodies. Impossible and You and I (On the Other Side of the World) have energy and a nice production. A pity the rest of the album is a bit dull and uninvolving. Her vocal is similar to Joni Mitchell.

American Dream by LCD Soundsystem (2017)
I don't understand the high ratings on RYM and praise in the press. The songs are overlong and a struggle to even finish. The synthesizer often sounds cheap, although I did like the synth work at the end of the track American Dream.
As others have said, reminiscent of Talking Heads, only not as effective. The good news is the writing is satisfying.
Call the Police and Oh Baby are the strongest moments on an album that I didn't enjoy.

Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers (2017)
I enjoyed Brandon Flowers' 2015 solo album The Desired Effect, unfortunately this new Killers album is not nearly as good and lacking in emotion. The Man is a catchy pop single, although I disliked the over-confident lyrics. I've read the song possibly is a sarcastic jab at those in our culture who believe that they really are sitting on the throne, men who say with a straight face, "I'm the man!". I still find the swagger distasteful.
I like Some Kind of Love which is the only track here that made me feel something.
The 80s inspired synth production on Tyson vs. Douglas works, and it arguably ought to have been a single, but again, the lyrics should have been better, about a 1990 Mike Tyson boxing match.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Film review: Wait (2015) directed by Alex Withrow

Tough to review this feature debut, because I know the director. I'll give it a shot. Also, I find it difficult to review a micro budget film fairly, because you can’t really compare it to most big budget studio productions. Has to be measured up against similar smaller, independent films, and I just don’t have many recent examples aside from Edward Burns, who wrote and directed the underseen Newlyweds (2011) for just $9.000.
I liked the montages, music, colors, editing and writing in Wait. The opening 30 minutes essentially introduces the characters. The dialogue with the two couples at the restaurant had energy, and is entertaining to watch despite not being vital to the subsequent conflicts. The scene at the coffee shop between Claire, Christian, and a friend was a bit too on the nose in its visual delivery. I question the amount of screen time Micah Parker is given, a good actor, but his scenes alone are a bit self-indulgent. Too often we see him staring into mirrors or clenching his jaw. To me, Parker felt like a supporting character who had been elevated to lead actor, but who was not the most fascinating person to follow in the film. Christian is not a dull character, but Dylan, Natalie, Claire, David and Colin interested me more.

The last 45 min of the 72 min film I felt were a lot stronger and more emotionally involving. You begin to figure out what is at stake. The city lights representing the passage of time at 25.45 was a beautiful moment.David’s reaction (from the 31 min mark) was memorable and when the film really got me hooked.  (Spoilers start) The cut with David facing the camera and looking despondent was powerful, and so is the car sequence. I loved how the score blended into the beeping hospital equipment at 44.30. The best acted and best written scene is probably the discussion between Natalie and Dylan, about whether he should go to the hospital or not. A tricky situation, she is too controlling, and he is maybe too caring about a former lover who treated him badly. It's not easy to say who is right or wrong. In an ideal world, if you love someone you should allow them to be themselves and make their own choices.

Interesting to rewatch the early scenes to see if there is tension between Dylan and Natalie, there isn’t much eye contact between them at the restaurant. The two seem at ease at this point, he’s mellow and quiet, while she is animated and a little flirtatious towards Colin. The difference between them is indicated in the poster. In the club and in bed they appear in love, and when you rewatch Dylan reading Claire’s interview online you put the pieces together. I also found it interesting that Dylan picked a girlfriend in Natalie whose face resembled his previous lover Claire. It was like Dylan picked a new girlfriend who reminded him of Claire. I don't know if this was a deliberate casting decision. (Spoilers end)

According to imdb, the first draft of the script was written in one continuous 36 hour-long session. Writer Alex Withrow edited and fined tuned the script for 10 months, until production began.

Is the interview in which Claire (Catherine Warner) talks about receiving a different script for Bliss autobiographical? In regards to the making of Earrings and Wait in which she starred, I wondered if this really happened!

To sum up, I enjoyed Wait, which won three film festival awards. A promising debut feature and I look forward to what Alex Withrow puts out in the future.

You can rent or buy Wait, from anywhere in the world, via Vimeo OnDemand. If you are in the US, it's also available to watch on Amazon and iTunes. You can read Alex Withrow's blog at And So It Begins

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome


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