Films

Small Crush: Blade Runner 2049

I realized how often I must have seen Blade Runner (all the different cuts, too) when I sat down for its 2049 incarnation and felt compelled to watch out for a myriad little details, to see if they where different, if they were just a stale rip-off, or something else. Blade Runner 2049 was a movie that couldn’t possibly win from my perspective: I wanted it to be the same, and I wanted it to be vastly different. Most of all I didn’t want it to be like all those awful sequels I had to mentally disengage myself from over the last years.

I would have been shocked to learn that it did work out after all, only I didn’t have the attention to spare: I was glued to the screen for nearly all of its close to three hours. You’d expect to grow impatient with its meditative pace, but there’s so much tension from the beginning, so much going on under the surface of those poetic images that I almost never felt it lingered too long. It’s the much needed trust in your story and the engagement of your audience’s thoughts that so many other movies lack. It provides the blank spaces and the time you need to tell your own story. Its use of light and color, objects and scenery is powerful, but never heavy-handed.

And the nods to the original are subtle, not the bland rebranded quotes we’ve come to expect. They’re mostly in the visuals and thematic variations. I’m not sure if the story would work entirely on its own, without the groundwork of the first film. To me, it doesn’t matter, because the themes of Blade Runner were extrapolated upon in meaningful ways and adapted to our age of late capitalism and hidden slavery.

But – here come the nitpicks – in 2049, the Blade Runner world still runs on patriarchy. It’s a white man’s (or male replicant’s) world with beautiful virtual girlfriends and replicant sex workers, all there to be enjoyed by our hero. But what if Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright as another complex, super tough woman, yeah) walks home after an exhausting day on the job and wants a come-on from a hot giant holo-boy? Didn’t see one of those lounging in the bleak urban canyons …

And while we’re at it: for Wallace (Jared Leto as another overdone lunatic, meh), I couldn’t see any motivation, he was just your off-the-shelf self-absorbed tech tycoon and his were the only scenes where I wished the film would have mercy and just move on. Bespectacled and mickey-mouse-hairlined Tyrell wins this one easily.

There was no Roy Batty and no tears in the rain either, and that’s a flaw in every movie out there – but apart from that, Blade Runner 2049 was so much more than I had hoped for: a feast of muted colors and beautiful cinematography, an exploration of humanity and its relationship with the other(ed), a story to take away some overwhelming artificial memories from.


Fun fact: This trailer seems to tell a somewhat diverging story, differently emphasized. I can’t see how this would be better, but let those gazillion different cuts come already!

My Primal Apocalypse

It all began with Gremlins.

When I was a child, VCR was the shiny new gadget you needed to have. Well-meaning, but ill-informed, my father brought home Gremlins as one of the very first rentals.

I wasn’t old enough to read stories on my own then (and to choose from any shelf I wanted to), so I had mostly encountered children’s stories. Gremlins might have started like a totally acceptable children’s story, but it soon turned out to be pure horror for me.

Gremlins movie posterI didn’t even make it very far, and my father, who must have felt that I was a little bit too terrified, sent me to bed before it got wild. Which was a bad decision. I knew that suspiciously cute Gizmo would turn into something nasty, and I had learned the rules: The thing with the water and the thing with the feeding. I got it all mixed up when I applied my own logic to the concept: So they turn nasty and grow bigger and multiply when they get wet and eat? You can get wet anytime. And they are monsters, so they’d want to eat people, and BAM! They become even bigger and nastier!

I didn’t only lie awake the whole night in terror. Over the next few days, my imagination led me into a desolate, dark future, where fat, ugly, grown-huge-as-houses Gremlins roamed the streets, looking for more people to feed upon. I thought about how I would sneak through the shadows to hide from them. I felt a little better when I realised that at some point, they would have eaten most of us. Then they wouldn’t find anything else, and the cycle of feeding and growing and multiplying would come to an end. But most of the time, I was half crazy with fear. It could happen anytime. It would be the end.

It couldn’t have been too long until my father noticed something was wrong, but as I remember it, I spent something like a fortnight silently descending into fear and depression. At some point, my father reassured me it was just a movie. A funny movie, even. And it had a happy ending.

But it didn’t matter. I knew now. I knew that something like this could happen, that the world as we knew it could end. That everything could (and would) be gone. And it terrified me.

But it also fascinated me. It was my first what-if extrapolation, my first post-apocalyptical world. I don’t think my final disaster scenario had a lot to do with Gremlins anymore. But until today, I haven’t watched the whole movie, and every time I see a picture of those little pests, they give me the creeps. Even the “real” gremlins, the mechanically inclined imps, make me shudder because they remind me of them. But I’m not entirely sure whether I should condemn director/writer team Joe Dante and Chris Columbus (and my father, I guess) for introducing existential crisis into my life, or thank them for fueling my doom-driven imagination.

Sunday Story Time: Crab

A mean, old, very short animated video from Birdbox Studio. Yes, I’m easily amused. Especially by creatures with eyestalks.

Small Crush: Wonder Woman

How can you not have a crush on Wonder Woman?
She is pure wish-fulfilling empowerment, without being debased by the male-gazey fits a Black Widow (and almost every other woman who ever wore a hero’s costume) has to suffer. If you can’t see that, and if you can’t understand how this is able to change the way a woman perceives herself in the world, you probably never struggled with the kind of roles stories had to offer, the kind of dreams you had access to.

It could have gone wrong in so many ways. Diana was destined to be born sexy yesterday. But lo and behold, every time the dreaded “oooh, so this is what a kiss feels like” scene was about to come up, Wonder Woman veered off into another direction. The whole romance was handled very thoughtfully.

Same goes for the camaraderie. My first love in fiction was epic fantasy, so I have this soft spot for ragtag, diverse groups of adventurers going on a quest. I liked Diana’s companions. And the scene when they free a Flemish village is pure joy for many reasons.

Wonder Woman movie release posterWhat I enjoyed most, though, was the movie’s beginning at Themyscira, showing a whole island of women at all levels of society. I could have watched this forever. Actually, I was able to watch it for quite some time, because Wonder Woman starts out slow-paced. Which would have been perfect, hadn’t the rest of the film been totally detached from these scenes. I felt there should have been some reconnection later on, anything to justify the time we spent with that awesome Amazon action.

(Talking about action: Why, oh why, do we still have to put a woman who’s all legs anyway in high heeled boots in 2017? No amazon worth her tiara would ever wear high heels to fight, when it’s all about balance and firm stance.)

The old superhero movie malady of too much thrashing and bashing also raises its ugly head in the finale. It looks good, but doesn’t show anything beyond that, especially in super slowmo and going on forever because the big bossfight has to be epic.

These issues with pacing and focussing are nitpicks, though, and compared to most superhero movies I have seen, Wonder Woman has a strong plot. But it often hinges on the assumption that women can’t do that. Wouldn’t do that. Diana does, astonishment arises, and she wins the day. The story depends on the element of surprise, on the outrage and innovation of a physically overpowering woman. I wonder how Wonder Woman’s plot will develop when this crutch falls away, when she’s accepted as what she is.

We’re not there yet. But Wonder Woman is a beginning, and I’m impatient. With heroines like Diana, we’ll get there.

Sunday Story Time: Minuscule Valentine’s Day

Yeah, it’s not exactly the season … but I’m still fighting my deadlines (this time for a not-so-small, but very urgent licensing project), so I need something calming. Enter Minuscule, a French children’s show about insects. What’s interesting about the five-minute episodes created by Hélène Giraud (daughter of comic artist Moebius) and Thomas Szabo is that they come without any dialogue. The inner lives of the adventurous tiny heroes (animations blending into live action nature shots) are relayed by sounds and insect facial expressions only.

Nothing much happens in the short episodes (but the feature-length film emerging from the show, Valley of the Lost Ants, boasts a thickened plot by adding warring ant tribes and the coming of age of a ladybeetle hero – also highly recommended). They are simply charming and relaxing. And the meadow world is a serious (more or less) take on a self-contained insect cosmos.

Enjoy, or watch it here (if you’re in a country without restrictions) or here.


Minuscule – Valentine's Day / La Saint Valentin von YourKidTV

Sunday Story Time: The Last Bastion

It’s time again for some story magic! This week, one of the animated short films accompanying Blizzard’s Overwatch came to my mind.
Of course you’ll already know Bastion, Overwatch‘s endearing killing machine, if you’re among the more than 25 million players. But even if you’ve never heard about the game, The Last Bastion will charm you. It is a self-contained, exquisitely beautiful film, evocative of Hayao Miyazaki’s masterworks with its overall themes and its lush green nature.

Enjoy, or watch it here on YouTube, and keep in mind: Overwatch the game is a completely different kind of fun (if you consider playing it right after having watched The Last Bastion …)

I wanna be Roy Batty

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

If you are the slightest bit into sf, the odds are pretty high that you not only know, but fiercely love the Tears in the rain monologue from Blade Runner. For me, it blew my mind when I was about 14 years old and watched the movie one night on my tiny TV. I was not only an sf fangirl back then, but was also very occupied with trying to wrap my mind around the concept of death at that time, so it spoke to me on every level.
I’ve heard and seen it quoted hundreds of times since then, up to the point where I’d actively avoid it in the hopes that it would never become trite to me. As the story goes, it was a genius piece of improvisation by Rutger Hauer.

And indeed, when I look at it now, what I see is a damn good storyteller.

So, if you think the magic is lost as soon as you know how a thing works, maybe now is the time to tiptoe out of the room and come back for the next post, because I’m going to look very closely at this quote.

Tears in the rain is not only a brilliant conclusion to an intense action sequence (and to the whole main story arc), but also a fine piece of micro-fiction. With these few lines, the universe of Blade Runner becomes so much bigger, promising things we could see, things out there, things transcending our bleak existence on Earth. That’s how you do evocative imagery and world-building, folks! C-beams? Sea-beams? What the hell are they even? Doesn’t matter, because we make up our own images. Our imagination does most of the heavy lifting here, but Roy’s words are the catalyst for the magic. No explanation needed. He knows. He has seen things. Good enough for our mind, it will gladly hop on the train to the stars now, thank you very much.

Also, with these lines, Roy’s life becomes narration, becomes a story in and on itself – the scenes we saw in the movie are maybe just a footnote (or more of an endnote) to something much larger. There are only hints, but they transform the character into something else altogether.
And Roy is transformed further by telling us the ending of his story, the ending of every story, ultimately, and giving the narration a metaphysical twist, especially considering his background.

Food for thought and food for imagination – philosophical impulse and evocative allusions – are the magic ingredients, and they are put to highly effective use here. I recommend a look at the two versions of the monologue, the one from the script and the improvised one from the movie (for example here at Wikipedia) to see that less is indeed more, and that the right words that glitter in the vast darkness approaching this scene from all sides are so much better than meticulous descriptions.

So, daring to transcend a concrete scene, and letting a strong narrator pull you in and unfold big spaces in your imagination makes for very convincing storytelling. I wouldn’t mind at all to be able to do it like Roy.