Blade Runner 2049

Do you dream about being interlinked?
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If there is one film in the last 20 years that absolutely must be seen in IMAX, it’s Blade Runner 2049. In this staggering epic, Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins weave a consciousness-breaking tapestry filled with images and moments unlike anything I’ve ever seen on the big screen. The original score and sound design, instead of being dwarfed by the epic immensity and evocative terror of the vision, rise to match its towering magic. I can confidently say that Villeneuve’s film is faithful to the awe-inspiring intelligence, disturbingly profound existential inquiry, and the risky but infinitely rewarding optical palette of Ridley Scott’s enduring cinematic gem.
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This is not a briskly paced action film. 2049 is 2 hours and 43 minutes of unhurried, magisterial storytelling, where the focus is on the nature of human emotion and memory, on ideas the size of a metropolis, and on spiritual explorations so sweeping that they will, on further probing, potentially screw with your sleep and crawl into the previously tranquil porosity of your dreams.
 
And dreadfully distinct against the dark
A tall white fountain played
 

La La Land

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Damien Chazelle is a revolutionary traditionalist. If he helms a movie chronicling the heroic travails of a drummer, he’ll grab you by your cuffs and make you feel the drummer’s rage and insanity until you start to sweat and swear quietly to yourself, unable to quite comprehend the magnificent crescendo of pure cinematic energy emanating from the screen. If he makes a bittersweet jazz-themed romance musical about the Herculean gap between dreams and reality, he will leave you unbearably dizzy with melancholy by the film’s end, shaken and wounded and intoxicated.

La La Land belongs to its cast and its director, but it belongs just as much to Tom Cross, whose editing prowess elevates the story’s pathos into some obscure, otherworldly feeling; it belongs to Justin Hurwitz, whose original score is the movie’s thrillingly rich heartbeat; and it belongs to Linus Sandgren who shoots this odyssey in glorious widescreen Cinemascope at 24-paintings-per-second. All my respect and love (or what the kids these days call “mad props”) to the lighting department and the production design crew.

To the people who, like me, live in the sidelines of their lives transfixed by the endless possibilities of how it could all turn out: this film is for us. Mia and Sebastian are our angels.

Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo: a spiritual analysis

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Samurai Champloo looks and sounds and smells (when you become a hundredth as insane as it is) like the botched memory of a fallen God, drunk and out on his ass alone, in some boozy corner of Creation, residing in a time where unfinished business is a virtue: a land of mystic uselessness, the directionless abyss of the perpetually bored.

Its three fascinating protagonists inevitably bring to mind Cowboy Bebop’s magnificent failures masquerading as people. Being broke is their superpower, second only to stumbling headfirst into trouble for no reason and to no reasonable end whatsoever. There is a reason Edo period Japan and 2071 AD outer space connect in this manufactured continuum, running like parallel rays in opposite directions and creating an illusion of difference so perfect it is shattered only when you acknowledge how much of it is like real life.

Watanabe puts this manic, mournful flow first in an anime where characters bounty-hunt through the chaos of outer space, and lets a late 21st century tale bop to old-school jazz.

Then he does it again, this time plotting the invisible outline of that scattered wisdom into the fabric of the Edo period in Medieval Japan, punctuated and enlivened by a score of rap, R-n-B, and stir-fry hip-hop.

And it all… works. Spectacularly, disturbingly well.

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Bebop and Champloo stretch beyond self-important and vain critical analysis. Both shows aim directly for your soul rather than your flawed mental faculties. They are obviously also built on worth-dying-for soundtracks.

I’m not pretending to be objective about either of them here, far from it. It is their subjectivity — their multiple worlds colliding in a burst of bloody starlight — that I love. The two narratives seem to quietly alter shape and meaning every time I watch them. My rationality is no match for their inexplicable, intimate knowledge of my own self, their wildly ambitious reach in time and space, and their groovy, heartbreaking, soulful bouts of sonic attack and caress that accompany their immaculate visual storytelling.

I feel immensely grateful that these two were my gateway to anime, even if the experience of watching both of them was less ‘gate opening’ and more ‘doors of perception blown off hinges’.

Oh yes, I have to find my path
No less, walk on earth, water, and fire
The elements compose a magnum opus

Brazil (1985)

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And I thought Twelve Monkeys (1995) was bewildering.

Welcome to a welfare state that doesn’t give a damn about your welfare. Terry Gilliam’s vision of Brazil is essentially an anxious authoritarian world where dreaming about living a happy life with a loved one becomes an act of treason. It’s about people who are ‘flaws’ in the arrogant perfection of the system.

The narrative coils into itself instead of moving to a conclusion, leaking a morphine-drip of haunting visual details along the way: bizarre amounts of paperwork and perpetually steaming ducts which hiss with menace. The film is loaded with crazed illusions, a Gilliam signature trademark. Its atmosphere is tense and claustrophobic, its sense of humor deadly.

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After 29 years, Brazil still leaves an indelible impression. It is a sci-fi opera set in a Marxian dystopia. Told with the flummoxing accuracy of a Dostoyevsky story. On drugs. Good luck not having your mind blown.