Blade Runner 2049

Posted on October 3, 2017 at 1:59 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and explicit peril and violence, characters injured and killed,
Date Released to Theaters: October 6, 2017

Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
I’ve got a bit of a conundrum here. As has been widely reported, the filmmakers have asked the critics to avoid spoilers (no problem, we are always careful about that), but they have done so with a very specific list of topics/characters/developments they don’t want us to reveal, so exhaustive that it leaves us with little to say beyond: the camerawork is outstanding (please, give Roger Deakins that Oscar already) and the movie is magnificently imagined, stunningly designed, thoughtful and provocative, and one of the best of the year.

I hate to admit it, but I think they’re right. I really do want you to have the same experience I did, including all of the movie’s surprises. So forgive me for being oblique, and after you’ve seen it, come back and we can discuss it in detail, all right?

In the original “Blade Runner,” based on the story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, Harrison Ford played Deckard, a 21st century detective sent to find and terminate four “replicants,” humanoid robots created to perform physical labor but who somehow are evolving to the point where they want to be independent of human control. Replicants are so close to being human in appearance and manner (and, in the future, life is so dystopic that humans have become less feeling, less compassionate) that it is increasingly difficult to figure out who is human and what being human means. Like Deckard, K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, sent by Joshi, his human boss (Robin Wright), to find the older generation of replicants and terminate them. The new generation of replicants is more obedient, or at least that is the way they are programmed. “It’s my job to keep order,” she tells him. She gives him a new assignment and when he hesitates she asks, “Are you saying no?” “I wasn’t aware that was an option.” “Atta boy,” she says approvingly. K has uncovered something that Joshi believes is an extermination-level threat to humanity as what accountants call a going concern.

This film explores ideas of memory, identity, and, yes, humanity. And it does that through a detective story that is grounded in a Raymond Chandler noir world of deception and betrayal, taking place in a gorgeous, brilliantly designed dystopian future of perpetual rain where organic material is barely a memory and huge, Ozymandias-like ruins carry faint reminders of better times and grander ambitions. Most people have never seen a tree, even a dead one, and a crudely carved wooden toy is priceless. A woman creates pleasant childhood memories to be implanted so that replicants will be more stable, more empathetic, and easier to control. The trick about control, though, is that nature will rebel against it, and those who try to maintain control by sending people or replicants or anyone out to investigate and ask questions is going to find that knowledge can dissolve authority.

That’s about all I can say except to add that Gosling and Ford are outstanding and Sylvia Hoeks is a standout as a character I can’t tell you anything more about, while Jared Leto is the movie’s weak spot as another character I can’t tell you anything about. So I’ll end by saying that this is that rare sequel deserving of its original version, not because it replicates — for want of a better word — the first one, but because it pays tribute (note touches like the see-through raincoat) and then finds its own reason for being, and we are lucky enough to come along.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/action violence with graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, reference to torture, drinking, smoking, some strong language, sexual references and situations, prostitutes, and nudity.

Family discussion: What elements or concerns about today’s society are the basis for this vision of the future? What rules would you make about replicants? What is the most human aspect of the replicants?

If you like this, try: the original “Blade Runner,” “Terminator 2,” “Total Recall,” “Children of Men,” and the writing of Philip K. Dick

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The Adjustment Bureau

Posted on March 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm

The first great movie of 2011 is thought-provoking, exciting, and swooningly romantic. Writer/director George Nolfi takes on the biggest questions of all — faith and doubt, fate and free will, God, love, the meaning of existence — with an absorbing story about who we are and why we do what we do.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, a popular politician with a bad habit of losing control that has just cost him an election. As he gets ready to deliver a safe and appropriate concession speech, he has a brief meeting with a young woman and feels an immediate connection. And then he gives the concession speech and it is frank and outspoken and of course, appealing to the voters who find his candor refreshing. His political prospects are bright again, but he can’t stop thinking about the girl.

We’re used to seeing people, especially people in power, surrounded by fixers, arrangers, smoothers, tweakers — publicists, managers, agents, advisers, lawyers. David has those, including his best friend/campaign manager. But there is something different going on. There are men in hats giving each other odd directions with a strangely compelling sense of urgency, as though they are organizing a rocket launch. But why would someone be deployed to spill coffee on David’s shirt?

To keep him off a bus, for one reason (though the deeper reason will not be revealed for a while). But the coffee isn’t spilled in time. He gets on the bus. And the girl from election night is there. Her name is Elise (Emily Blunt). She is a dancer. And David is besotted with her.

The men in hats are from an Adjustment Bureau. They have enormous power and a secret system of doorways that allow them to bypass miles in a few steps. The hat men step out of the doorways like a less cheery version of the minions who keep things running smoothly at Disney World.

The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t want David and Elise to be together, and they are acting on the highest authority. But even that authority cannot stop the most powerful force in the universe.

A knockout cast and imaginative visuals provide a sumptuous setting for the romance. Anthony Mackie, moving with the graceful economy of a cheetah, is the Adjuster who has come to care for his charge. Other Adjusters include “Mad Men’s” John Slattery as a harried bureaucrat and Terence Stamp as the ruthless enforcer brought in when all else has failed. Damon makes David intelligent, brave, sensitive, vulnerable, curious, and great-hearted, and Blunt makes Elise everything a man like that would be willing to risk it all for. There are a few surprising rough edges for such a well-crafted story. Elise’s reason for being in the men’s room where she meets David for the first time is oddly off-putting, a loose end that is never explained. And a story David tells about his political inspiration would have to have occurred about 15 years before he was born, unless he is the youngest-looking baby boomer in history. But what does work in this movie works exceptionally well, a bracing engagement with the reason for everything that gives us a good reason to remember this movie for a long time.

(more…)

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Interview: George Nolfi of ‘The Adjustment Bureau’

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 8:00 am

“The Adjustment Bureau” is the first great film of 2011, a big and hugely entertaining film that takes on big ideas — love, free will, destiny, God, and the meaning of life. I was lucky enough to speak with writer and first-time director George Nolfi about being inspired by a short story from Philip K. Dick.adjustment-bureau-poster-3.jpg
The movie is very different from “Adjustment Team,” the original story by Philip K. Dick. How did you approach adapting it for the screen?
The short story is just that, short. And it has a character at the center of it who is explicitly an everyman and so there isn’t much of a character to play there. It was going to need some adaptation one way or another. I was interested in a different thing than Philip K. Dick was. The story can be read from one angle was “Is this real or is this not real?” I wanted it to be — this thing happens and it spins the guy’s whole life on its head and all of his conceptions about the laws of physics and the universe are turned upside down. And he has to accept it because the evidence is just so overwhelming. What does that do to a person?
When my producing partner brought me the short story, I thought, what a great conception for a movie, the idea that fate is a group of people subtly pushing you back on plan. He also said, “You could do this as a love story. Your lead falls in love for the first time in his life and the adjuster comes along and says, ‘Sorry, there’s been a mistake. You weren’t even supposed to meet her.'” For whatever reason, my reaction to that was, “I think I know how to write that.” I didn’t know what I was going to put in the script but I thought the blending of genres would be fascinating and it would get me into territories of these much larger questions that every great system of thought — philosophical, literary, science-fiction, theological — this story would allow me to get there. There are not many stories that make big movies that take you to those questions.
It is unusual for a big-time movie with big-time movies stars to take on questions of life and fate and meaning and free will. I love the fact that it wasn’t focus-grouped away from engaging on those issues.
I optioned the rights and controlled them for six or seven years. I gave the script to Matt Damon and got some thoughts from him about his character. Neither of us thought his character was fully developed yet. I rewrote it to give his character more layers and more interesting things for him to play. And he said yes and we got it financed outside the studio system, from a group called MRC. When we then went to the studios we were able to say, “We have this movie and we have this movie star” and give them a fully-formed movie, so you don’t have this automatic development process where it’s nobody’s fault but things tend to get homogenized.
And Universal was really supportive, right from the beginning. They were on board with the notion of trying something that was really reaching. They were just like — let’s go for it. They thought people would leave the theater feeling satisfied even though we were blending genres. I had no interference while I was making the movie. In post-production they had just a few thoughts which in the Hollywood scheme of things would be considered minuscule. They had thoughts about the music but that was temp music anyway. I didn’t think the original ending worked and they agreed. So it was good people we were in business with and we were all pulling the same way. They were completely supportive of what we were trying to do, and so was Matt.
As a screenwriter, you’ve worked with directors but this is the first time you have directed. What did you learn from the directors you’ve observed?
I was on the set for all the movies I am credited on. And for “Oceans 12,” I knew I was basically going to be there the whole time. I said to Steven Soderbergh, “I’m interested in being director, are you cool with my occasionally ask you why you’re doing what you’re doing?” And he was extremely gracious to explain some of his thought processes about why he was choosing certain shots and so on. But the single biggest piece of advice he gave me that really stuck with me was, “In a perfect world you want to choose your shots and assemble to the movie so that the sound could go out and people could still follow the story.” That’s telling a story through pictures.
Clearly you listened to him! For a writer turned director, this is a very visual film. The effects are very significant and essential to the narrative.
As a writer making the leap to directing the first time, it was very important to me to make a film that was visually significant, to use visuals and music and sound as well as the performances of the cast to tell the story — those are the things you don’t have as a writer. I really wanted to do visual story-telling. I write scripts that are very visual but you can’t know until you try it whether it would come easily to me as a director, but I loved it.
I liked the idea that the Adjusters could do a lot of things but in a way the humans adjusted their options, too. They were nudging each other.
Thematically, I had this idea that the Chairman was limiting the Bureau in all kinds of different ways. That’s too many ripples so you have to go to a higher authority. Or you can’t go through that door unless you are wearing a hat. Or it’s raining out and water kind of blocks our ability. Those are foreshadowing the way that the Chairman will turn out to be supportive of free will.
And of love! It’s a very romantic movie.
I hope so! I hope you experienced it that way. I think it is.
And it is very spiritual, as well.
I wasn’t trying to make a religious film per se, but the most comprehensive attempts to make sense of the world are theological. In terms of fate and free will, that’s the oldest question human beings struggle with. It’s there in Gilgamesh and ancient Greece. Is it fate or do we have choices? There’s a reason for that. Human beings are questioning animals and we want to understand our existence.
Looked at in much less grand terms, most people have some sense that the person they turned out to be, the job they have, their moral code, their interests, their religion, were shaped by what country they were born in, what neighborhood they were born into, their family, their friends, their schools, their chance encounters have put them on a path. Even things considered more deeply personal choices like who your spouse is — you were introduced by friends or met at a wedding or you had mutual interests or whatever it is. So we have this sense that the course of our life is shaped by outside forces, whether a divine hand or your surrounding influences. But we also experience our lives as a series of choices. No religion has successfully answered that. We did an inter-faith screening with an audience of followers of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and we had a discussion with experts in all all three. They discussed faith and free will and pointed out to the audience that the importance of free will was found in all of them. They have to, in order to make sense of existence.

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