Movie Review: BLADE RUNNER 2049

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blade runner 2049Columbia Pictures
2017
R

“All the courage in the world cannot alter fact.”

Officer K, a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years.

The original 1982 cult sci-fi classic Blade Runner is one of those movies that everyone talks about, even when they’ve never seen the movie itself. I know you posers exist. Even you out there that claim to have read the “book” (air-quotes due to the fact that it really barely qualifies as a novella in length). Not that I’m not a poser myself…I have gone for a while knowing about the existence and relative importance of Blade Runner without having seen the movie. It’s the movie that inspired countless sound samplings in numerous German industrial bands, after all. What started off as a box-office bomb has become a cultural icon.

All that to lead into this review of the long-time gestating sequel, Blade Runner 2049. And I must make mention that, while this review isn’t going to be posted until immediately after the Halloween’ing season on my blog, I am writing this pretty much immediately after having watching it with the other Exalted Geeks. I did, however, already post the pubcast of our thoughts on that movie, so at least there was that. Which is to say, by now most of you who were going to watch Blade Runner 2049 probably have already done so; but regardless, spoilers be ahead, brave reader.

Picking up 30 years after the events in the first movie, we follow a Replicant Blade Runner (that’s not a spoiler, that’s actually addressed within the first ten minutes or so in the movie) on a routine mission to retire a rogue Replicant model. During that mission, he stumbles upon the remains of what may be human bones, but may not be, which leads to an even deeper mystery involving Replicants who can supposedly reproduce, in which the Replicant Blade Runner (let’s call him “Joe”…because he does so later on) into seeking out the former Blade Runner Richard Deckard, who’s been hiding out in the nuclear wasteland of Las Vegas (symbolism?), to find out who the offspring of a human and replicant pairing has produced 30 years ago. The guy who owns the corporation that builds the Replicants also wants to find out who this person is, but not for very nice reasons. Oh, and there’s also a side love story between Joe and his holographic girlfriend. I wish I was making that up.

Obviously, the one big concern going into this new Blade Runner was, will it hold up to the scrutiny of all Nerdom? Will it continue on in the grand tradition of mind-blowing science fiction, complete with a complex story that continues on with honoring the original yet telling its own unique self-contained tale, along with some mind-melting and gorgeous visuals? Something that begs to be watched multiple times, and yet still managing to get something new out of it with every viewing? Or, will it go the more accessible route, and make a 21st Century sequel that foregoes everything that made the original such a beloved cult classic, and just go with what they think would make it all kewl and stuff…namely, another action sci-fi flick with lots of ‘splosions and fights between the robots and humans, and ham-fisted fan service type cameos and references.

Well, let me go ahead and assure you, brave reader, that this movie is the former kind of sequel. One that manages to tell its own engaging story, yet remains in the world that was built before. This movie is gorgeous. It’s well-acted, well-written, well-shot and overall well-made all together. It’s a long movie, yes, but it’s very engaging. There is a lot to take in with this movie, which makes me want to take in multiple viewings, maybe even owning it when it comes out on DVD. One of these days I’m going to have to suck it up and get a BluRay player, but for now, DVD suits me just fine, really.

The one complaint I did have is a minor one: At several points, there’s a very loud bass boom that hits unannounced. I understand the use of audio as a way to enhance the viewing experience, but maybe it was the quality of the theater speakers, but every time it hit, I wished I brought earplugs. Otherwise, though, I hasten to call this a perfect movie, but compared with the rest of the year, Blade Runner 2049 certainly has taken the top spot in best movies I’ve seen thus far this year. Highly recommending that you see this in the theaters (trusting it’s still around by the time this gets posted in the first of November, mind) for the full-on experience.

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Book Review: A SCANNER DARKLY

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philip k dick a scanner darklyPhilip K. Dick
Vintage Books
1977

Cops and criminals have always been interdependent, but no novel has explored that perverse symbiosis more powerfully than A Scanner Darkly. Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug called Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, he has taken on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D–which Arctor takes in mammoth doses–gradually splits the user’s brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn’t realize that he is narcing on himself.

Having been reading some of Philip K. Dick’s novels that he wrote later in his life, circa the 1970s, you get the sense that the stories are more autobiographical disguised as science fiction. This could very well have been his way of coping with his increasing psychosis that he famously struggled with for most of his life. Reading A Scanner Darkly though, it’s almost like the sci-fi element was nearly forgotten, more of an afterthought, in favor of a look at an undercover narcotics officer slowly losing his grip on reality due to his own substance abuse.

The story has said narc named Fred who has been going undercover as a drug addict named Bob Arctor to infiltrate the source of a nasty drug named Substance D. A synthetic psycho-addictive drug, Substance D has a nasty effect of severing the connections between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, causing a break from reality that, more often than not, results in permanent damage. So then, during the course of the book, we get a ringside seat at watching Fred/Bob slowly lose his grip on his two manufactured personas and reality in general, as he is taking Substance D to maintain his front as one of the addicts he associates with on a daily basis. Due to his real identity being virtually unknown at the precinct he works for due to the scramble suit he’s required to wear while he’s Fred, he’s eventually assigned to watch himself as Bob, which doesn’t help with his gradual slip into his psychotic break.

Having now read this classic from Philip K. Dick, I have to say that A Scanner Darkly is really more of an at oft times uncomfortable look at the slow downward spiral of drug-induced psychosis. The only things that indicate A Scanner Darkly being a work of science fiction would be the inclusion of the aforementioned scramble suits, 3D Holocams, and that it’s set in the then-futuristic year of  1994. Otherwise, nothing could have been said about the year, and you would have thought it was set in the era it was written–namely, the early 1970s. There’s the slang, the mannerisms, the description of Southern California, and various other bits that indicate this. But, really, that’s all incidental to the story.

The novel is not so much a structured narrative, as it is a series of interactions between the characters (one of which is an oddly captivating yet slimy sociopath) while Fred/Bob is careening down a path that ultimately finds him stumbling almost Forest Gump style on the source of the drug, in a twist that’s worthy of Hitchcock at his peak. The captivation in reading this was, in fact, the William S. Burroughs style, which could very well be chalked up to the fact that Dick wrote this after a divorce saw him spiral into drug use, and having a number of homeless drug addicts come live with him at his house.

Overall, A Scanner Darkly was a rather unconventional science fiction novel, but a fascinating look into madness that tends to creep under your skin and remain there long after you’re done. Highly recommended, especially if you’ve only watched the movie adaptation.

AUGUST 17: I’ve got two turn tables and a Meat Lover’s with extra cheese…

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NecRoSarX Chronicles Header

But “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends. – 2 Corinthians 10:17-18

Sometimes I wish I knew how to go crazy. I forget how.

Also, this is apparently a thing in the UK:

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve consumed a pizza and then thought to myself, “Self, I wish I could really spin some jams” but never could.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Book Review: The MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

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1-25 - Book Review_ The MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLEPhilip K. Dick
Vintage Books
1962

Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane.

It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war–and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan. this harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.

Alternative history stories are an interesting breed of science fiction; they tell a kind of “what if?” tale, speculating what the world might be like if key moments in time zigged instead of zagged, changing the present considerably from the one that we’re experiencing now. It can be a mind-blowing thing. Especially when you factor in questions like, “what if [B] won [specific war] instead of [A]?” Such is the topic of Philip K. Dick’s alternative history novel, The Man in the High Castle.

It’s post-World War II America, a world where the Axis won the war instead of the Allied forces, when Franklin D. Roosevelt is assassinated in 1933 and America maintained its isolationist policy. Thus, America is divided into three sections: the Nazi powerers controlling the East section, the Japanese controling the West section, with a kind of neutral zone in the middle area. And although they won, both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan are embroiled in a cold war that makes the one America and the USSR had seem like a stare-down in a Junior High lunch cafeteria.

The core story itself focuses on a handful of individuals that, for all intents and purposes, are merely trying to live their lives in this reality that is all they’ve known: Frank Frink, who fought in the Pacific War, beginning a startup business with a former colleague making unique jewelry that oddly moves the Americans and Japanese who see them; Frank’s estranged wife Juliana, who finds herself part of a mission to assassinate the author of the popular subversive novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy; Nobusuke Tagomi, a high-ranking trade businessman who finds himself unwillingly being dragged into conflicts involving a Nazi plot to take down the Japanese regime, all this before catching a glimpse of an alternate reality that is closer to our post-war reality; Robert Childan, the curator of an Americana antiques business who discovers that his ability to determine between genuine articles and counterfeit ones isn’t as good as he thought; and Rudolf Wegener, a counter-spy trying to prevent the Nazi strike on Japanese America.

The main point of interest tying all of these things together, really, is the novel-with-the-novel, the afore-mentioned The Grasshopper Lies Heavy; in it, we have a kind of alternate history novel to the alternate history of The Man in the High Castle, which speculates a world where the Allies won World War II, but then Britain becomes the tyrannical nation, spreading its kingdom (instead of dismantling it, like in the real reality…if we can figure out what reality really is by this point).

Philip K. Dick had this immense talent for bringing the whole Inception thing into the waking world, and The Man in the High Castle is yet another example of this talent of his. It’s hard to really explain the book in a linear fashion, without diverting on the many bunny trails this book brings up. I’m afraid I’m going to have to go with the standard “I can’t describe it and do it justice, you’re just going to have to read it.” And read it you must, as this is recommended Sci-Fi reading.

Also, just for the record, I read this some time before there was talk of making this into a miniseries. And as of this writing, I still have yet to watch that. I would suspect, though, if you have seen the show, you would want to read this book anyway. Tell me how it compares.

Book Review: The GAME PLAYERS OF TITAN

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the game players of titanPhilip K. Dick
Ace Books
1963

Poor Pete Garden has just lost Berkeley. He’s also lost his wife, but he’ll get a new one as soon as he rolls a three. It’s all part of the rules of Bluff, the game that’s become a blinding obsession for the last inhabitants of the planet Earth. But the rules are about to change–drastically and terminally–because Pete Garden will be playing his next game against an opponent who isn’t even human, for stakes that are a lot higher than Berkeley.

Back when I was just starting to edge my way into checking out the works of Philip K. Dick, it was this and another novel that was lent to me by a fellow Sci-Fi geek to get a taste of what was probably one of the more interesting modern-age writers of the genre. Which is kind of like calling Mozart a music enthusiast, I know. Lack of a better word, and all that.

For those of you who are mainly familiar with the Philip K. Dick stories and novels that have been adapted into films of some sort, it would be understandable if you’ve never heard of The Game-Players of Titan. I know I didn’t at the time. Remember, I was kind of easing my way into reading the works of Dick, but also have friends that decided to start me with something less known to check out, rather than the usual suspects. I have awesome friends, is what I’m saying.

The Game-Players of Titan was one of four Philip K. Dick novels that were published in 1963. The story takes place on a post-war, post-apocalyptic, depopulated Earth, where the few humans that exist are made to play a game called Bluff to gamble all of their possessions–including land, family, and even social status–for the amusement of the aliens that have taken over caretaking of the Earth: amorphous silicon-based creatures from the moon Titan that kept imagining as a cross between that Horta creature from “The Devil in the Dark” episode of Star Trek and a ludicrously oversized amoeba. I don’t know why, that’s just how my brain works. Seems our future blobular overlords have an addiction to gambling, which is why they make us humans participate in the game. That, and also to help the repopulation process, as it seems that one of the war tactics from Red China was to sterilize a bunch of people. The future sucks, let me tell you.

As this was my actual first introduction to reading anything by Philip K. Dick, I have to tell you: this made my head swim a bit. I wasn’t yet acclimated to the standard themes that Dick wrote about, where the stories seem to be more like thinly veiled philosophical discourses on existential paranoia, with the sci-fi portion being incidental. It happens. Also, 2012 was the year where I pretty much suffered from near-pneumonia and was sickish for the majority of the time. Medicated is not the way to go into reading Philip K. Dick. Just trust me. Otherwise, interesting story, worth looking into for something completely different than your standard sci-fi fare.

Book Review: DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?

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electic-sheepPhilip K. Dick
Doubleday
1966

War had left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, in search of the renegade replicants who were his prey. When he wasn’t ‘retiring’ them, he dreamed of owning the ultimate status symbol – a live animal. Then Rick got his big assignment: to kill six Nexus-6 targets, for a huge reward. But things were never that simple, and Rick’s life quickly turned into a nightmare kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deceit.

By now, every sci-fi enthusiast should know the source material of the classic sci-fi noir film Blade Runner. Originally published in 1966, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? takes place in the near future of…well, 1992 originally, but subsequent editions have used 2021 to keep things future-y, I guess. Earth has been devastated and rendered nearly uninhabitable due to the radioactive fallout of World War Terminus, but some of us tenacious humans have remained despite mass colonization of the other planets in our solar system. One of those humans is one Rick Deckard, who lives along with his wife Iran in San Francisco, working as a bounty hunter of androids who have escaped from the Mars colonies to Earth in reaction to the slavery and psychological isolation they come across for not being human, even though they resemble humans in every facet except for that pesky “no empathy” thing. Three rather nasty ones happen to arrive seeking refuge from the slavery of being (I’ll just go ahead and say it) “more human than human”, befriends a simpleton who works as a “vet” for the android animals that the humans keep in lieu of owning a real animal (on account of them all being nearly extinct), and Deckard takes up the task of retiring these rogue androids. And then he drives into Oregon to have an existential crisis. Which is what you would do. The end.

I’m not going to spend the duration of this review discussing the differences between the book and the movie. You’re welcome. There are plenty of websites and articles that have done that kind of pedantic work, so I wouldn’t have to (might I suggest this particular one, from a YouTube series that I enjoy so very, very much?). Instead, as a stand-alone sci-fi novel–and a classic one at that–Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? hits all of the usual Philip K. Dick hallmarks: questions about life, religion, identity, all wrapped up in a flaky crust of paranoia. What fascinates me is that Dick could juggle all of these kind of heady subjects and yet manage to write a story that is relatively simple enough to read. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing juvenile about this book. He just trims the needless fat and leaves the tasty lean bits.

Overall, I found Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a really engaging story that caused me to read it all in merely a few hours, while causing me to chew on the story long after I finished it. I will say this, though: If you’re avoiding reading this because you’ve already seen the movie, so why bother?, you need to dislodge your cranium from that distinctly smelly place you’ve inserted it into and go read it. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH

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radio free albemuthFreestyle Digital Media
2010
R

Part of the reason why science fiction author Philip K. Dick fascinates me–okay, more like a good chunk of the reason–is because of the reason why he was so good at writing stories involving themes of paranoia, loss of identity, and metaphysical weirdness: namely, he suffered from a kind of mental illness that translated really well into his fiction. Among other things. And since insanity is kind of a hobby of mine, of course I would have been drawn to Dick’s work sooner or later. And now, if you’re done giggling immaturely at the multiple use of the word “Dick”, let’s continue on with this review, shall we?

I haven’t read the book Radio Free Albemuth is based on yet (getting around to it, there), but from what I understand, it’s a mind-blowing stew of sci-fi that takes on new meaning when you realize that it’s semi-autobiographical, as far as Philip K. Dick was concerned. Since I haven’t read the book yet, I really don’t know if this movie follows it closely, and considering the track record of all of the other movies that are based on Philip K. Dick novels and stories, it would be more surprising if this one did stick close to the source material.

Regardless, the story of Radio Free Albemuth tells the tale of a record producer named Nick who starts getting strange visions by way of alien signals being beamed into his brain every night in the wee hours of the mornin’. Both his wife and his best friend–who just happens to be writer Philip K. Dick…how meta–initially think he’s having a breakdown of sorts; but when his visions start having this uncanny way of coming true…yeah, they still think he’s having a breakdown, but now they just smile and nod politely. Soon, though, sNickers meets Alanis Morissette, who has been having the same kind of visions, and together they decide to record and release a super-subversive song to help stir dissent against the fascist regime that controls America, because this is an alternate reality of sorts, and there are roves of SS-style police called the Friends Of People…or FAP, if you needed to giggle uncontrollably…roaming around ready to spirit you away to jail at the drop of a tin-foil hat. Are there aliens beaming things into people’s heads? Is there really a government conspiracy to stamp out those in tune to said alien frequencies? Will I manage to stay awake during the entire run of the movie?

Oh, but this was a rather long, boring mess of a movie to sit through. The pacing just kind of plods along, the actors give performances that seems like they’re sleepwalking through everything. Maybe this was a directing decision? To put forth that everyone is sleeping through the reality? I don’t know. What I do know is, I’ve seen more charisma and dynamic acting in a grade school play than I did watching this movie. Which is a pity, because I have no qualms with the plot itself. I count myself as a fan of Philip K. Dick, the writer. I haven’t read the VALIS trilogy, which is what this movie is derived from, and for the most part it does have the unsettling atmosphere of paranoia that I love so very much.

I get the feeling that Radio Free Albemuth could have been pulled off with enough of a budget and much more work on both the script and getting some actors with even a modicum of personality. Maybe a different 90s alt rock star, instead of Alanis Morissette. Shirley Mason was pretty good in the Sarah Connor Chronicles.

In the end, Radio Free Albemuth ranks as one of the lower adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s material. Watch it if you must, but just remember to have the coffee ready to go.