G A N Z E E R . R E V I E W S

film

by Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra, Maria Camila Arias, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal (& various) o-o-o-o

BIRDS OF PASSAGE is a crime movie that does not feel like a crime movie. Chronicling a Wayuu family’s rise to power by way of illicit drug & arms dealing prior to their fall from grace and the inevitable disintegration that follows, the film serves as more of a window unto rural Wayuu culture in the seldom seen highlands of Columbia. The crime plot here isn’t the main attractor, but rather a narrative vehicle used to explore the Wayuu way of life, crime involved or not. Special attention is given to the depiction of unique Wayuu marriage ceremonies, burial rituals, the interpretation of dreams, and the passing down of ancestral stories. All this makes the film feel more like an anthropological documentary than your regular run-of-the-mill crime yarn, yet it is the crime yarn that serves to propel the narrative forward in a way anthropological documentaries seldom can.

In that sense, a lot of the film’s DNA seems to stem from Third Cinema, in that a fictional story is being delivered through an all too real, very-documentary-like package. Where it veers from standard Third Cinema is in its motive: It doesn’t exist as a critique of capitalist bosses in favor of the masses, nor as a critique of the colonizer in favor of the colonized. It simply serves to highlight the unique qualities of a culture far removed from where cinema is typically made, and in so doing it highlights the thing that makes us special as a species. Even if we all end up killing each other in the end.

Ganzeer November 9, 2018

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By Dennis Villeneuve, Hampton Fancher, Michael Green (& various) o-o-o-o

Ridley Scott’s original 1982 Blade Runner was flawed, and so is this one. But damn is it good. As good as the original? No no, it’s better. I’ve read think pieces about how the original Blade Runner flopped because it was way too dark for its time. Far from the optimistic futures of Dan Dare and Steve Rogers, which wasn’t what people were ready to see. I call bullshit, because if that were the case, Ridley Scott’s previous film, Alien, would’ve been a huge flop as well. I mean, Blade Runner was dark, but nowhere nearly as dark as Alien. The main difference, I think, is that Alien clearly knew what it wanted to be, whereas Blade Runner didn’t. Even to the point where for the 30+ years following the film’s release, Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott continued to argue over whether or not Deckard (Ford’s character) was supposed to be a replicant (humanoid android). It is perhaps for that very same reason that the movie found itself gaining a prominent cult status long after its commercial flop. The ambiguity of its meaning. That, and of course the expansive world building hinted at from just the vantage point of a future Los Angeles plagued by acidic rain, and home to a wide array of tongues. Not to mention the eerily impressive future noir production design and set pieces.

Luckily, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 has all of that and then some. It builds upon the original Blade Runner elegantly without losing any of the spunk that made the original the closest thing we’ve seen to a cyberpunk noir spectacle. Except in this version, Ryan Gosling’s character who goes by K, short for KD6.3-7, knows very well that he’s a replicant. He is, however, a replicant that follows orders, doesn’t rebel like the older models (like Deckard’s), and as such is tasked with “retiring” them, which he does with an absolute clear conscience. Or perhaps, no conscience at all. Until he discovers something that makes him question the origin of his memories. Or rather, memory implants. Uncovering the mysteries requires some critical detective work on part of K, none of that hi-tech, cheating with a computer a`la CSI stuff, but real deductive detective skills that would make even Sherlock Holmes proud. The kinda stuff that could only be pulled off with an analytical mind and a keen eye for subtlety (something Deckard never really got around to doing much of in the original Blade Runner, as Harrison Ford put it himself, “I was a detective who did very little detecting”). The theme of the original Blade Runner, which centered consciousness around love, is present in this one, albeit not the main plot that drives the narrative. But it is taken up a notch through K’s relationship with his virtual assistant (compared to Deckard’s relationship with an actual replicant), which only serves as a minor subplot, one which if eliminated from the film wouldn’t really change the narrative one bit. The main plot however, is built upon a different philosophical question: the relationship between consciousness and the ability to reproduce?

Although easily dismissible as a pretty dumb question (because the ability to reproduce obviously isn’t what makes us human), one can see how this could be a major game changer from a replicant’s point of view, even one designed to strictly follow orders.

Although never boring, the film is needlessly long, close to 3 hours. Aside from the unnecessary subplot involving K’s assistant, there are a few questionable scenes in there, like the one in which Jared Leto’s character Niander Wallace kills a “newborn” fully grown replicant for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than to point out that he’s the big bad guy, I guess. Although his motives, and our protagonist’s aren’t necessarily opposite, because what Wallace essentially wants is to get replicants to reproduce. This makes one feel that perhaps the only reason they are at odds is a case of miscommunication, even if not necessarily intended by the filmmakers.

The moment K and Deckard first meet is a big one, but is somewhat ruined by our knowledge of it already happening, thanks to the film’s marketing campaign greatly hinging on announcing Harrison Ford’s involvement. I feel the studio has done the film a great disservice by revealing it so early on. It’s a bit akin to placing a novel’s central plot twist right on the book’s cover.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is grand and daunting in all the right parts, but I personally could’ve done with just a hint of 80’s Carpenter-esque synth goodness.

Without a doubt, the weakest link in the chain of the film’s artistry is in the dialogue, for there are a way too many instances where it is cheesy beyond belief. The strongest link is the visuals and production design. My god, how gorgeous! Every set, every scene, and every goddamn frame is a beaut, it’s unbelievable.

Between that, the world building, and the philosophical questions inherent in the world presented to us, I am already eager to watch the film again. And I may even be on board for another sequel or two.

#film

by Ana Lily Amirpour (& various) o-o-o-o

This is one fucking weird movie, but I actually really liked it and I'm not sure why. Logically speaking, I really shouldn't like it. I mean, there's hardly a likable character in the entire thing. What little dialogue is in it is actually really slow and kind of off and pointless. But it stays with you long after you're done watching it. Or at least it has with me.

A 20-something year old girl is dropped off by the police at a fenced off desert, where she is hunted down by cannibals. She manages to escape and make it to a self-sufficient community called Comfort, where besides having drugged out raves, inhabitants grow their own vegetables and raise bunnies. Up to here, the movie has you gripped by the balls and is pretty fucking flawless. But after that the story zigzags into these completely irrational directions and, despite being really slow and moody (appropriate for the desert setting), it all ends abruptly on a whatever sorta note.

So: I can see why so many people really fucking despise this movie, including the two friends I saw it with.

But: This is the first time in a very long time I've walked out of a movie and actually felt like; if I could, I'd actually like to own an original print of this film. It is absolutely gorgeously shot. The post-apocalyptic set pieces in the desert are made up of the debris of our current very average world, but the assemblage is peak style and super artistic. I get that it's very easy to write the whole thing off as some kind of millennial hipster Burning Man bullshit, but you can imagine a society of white suburban John Wayne-like family men hating on Dennis Hopper's EASY RIDER for reasons not entirely dissimilar. The equivalent of the long-haired hippie biker of the 70's is probably the millennial hipster of today, who is often shat on by the generation that came before. Which is why I suppose THE BAD BATCH isn't really made for the current generation of film critiques or Rotten Tomatoes voters, hence the really poor reviews it's been getting. Its audience is likely only within the millennial crowd, who unfortunately will probably not even hear about it before the film's director, Ana Lily Amirpour, is sent to Hollywood jail and denied the privilege of directing ever again.

I'm hoping that won't be the case though, because if anyone can make a unique film right now on a nickel-to-dime budget, it's Amirpour, as demonstrated by her previous masterpiece, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT. I would argue that THE BAD BATCH is the EASY RIDER of this generation, but that would be selling the artistry of Ana Lily Amirpour really really short. It might be more appropriate to compare her to 70's Jodorowsy whose EL TOPO was viewed religiously in late night exploitation theaters. Indeed, if such theaters still existed to this day, you can imagine them being the perfect viewing venues for THE BAD BATCH, where a contemporary crowd of young, high 20-somethings would likely frequent regularly just to watch the picture over and over and over again (although, it might have to be annexed to a craft brewery or artistinal coffeehouse for that to work).

Amirpour has reportedly stated “I don’t make a film to tell you a message,” so if you're expecting to walk into a film that is spoon-feeding you what it's about, or where every action is supposed to have some kind of payoff as per the conventional storytelling mechanics of the Hollywood film school, then you will certainly be disappointed. We find out at a much later point in the film that this barren desert is where “the bad batch”, society's unwanted, is sent. So you find yourself assuming that maybe... these outcasts will break out and fight back? Or maybe we focus on the internal struggle within this desert prison and we have the cannibals facing off with the people of Comfort? Or maybe our heroine takes it upon herself to enact full-on revenge against the cannibals? The story never goes there though. Instead, much like the film's protagonist, you're tossed into a world that makes little sense, where people say shit that has no meaning and will lead to absolutely nothing, and you just go with it because that's actually what we do in real life most of the time.

Not that you won't come out of THE BAD BATCH with something. It's a work of art where new meaning can be derived from the whole experience as per each and every viewers own persona, where new meaning can be derived each time you watch it. It's a work of art created by someone who might've tossed a young Jodorowsky, Lynch, Tarentino, and Miller into the blender, and chugged that shit down right before marching on set and declaring ACTION!

The soundtrack is also killer (way better than BABY DRIVER's, by the way), and I am very much eager to give it a listen on vinyl.

#film

by Edgar Wright (& various) o-o

A young guy named Baby, whose name isn't really Baby, is the go-to getaway driver of a very bad man named Doc who turns out to be not all that bad after all. Doc assembles a different crew for each of his heists, but Baby is a constant because he's just so fucking good. Baby wants to get out of the game though, and this desire is brought to the forefront when he falls in love with a cute waitress all in the span of a 5-minute conversation.

The waitress, whose name I cannot recall because of her utter lack of personality, sweeps Baby off his feet for no other reason than she flirts, laughs at Baby's jokes, has a pretty voice, and is readily willing to go on a murderous crime spree with Baby even after being stood up by him just the other night (huh?). Oh, and Baby's deceased mom used to be a waitress at the very same diner (oh I seeeee).

Listen, I love Edgar Wright to no end and I was actually super excited to watch BABY DRIVER. But the movie might as well have been scripted by a poorly-written algorithm. There isn't an inkling of originality in the film, aside from a handful of quirky moments from some of the characters. It's the same heist movie you've seen a million times, albeit a lot more Disneyfied.

Typically, I'm not one to care much for plot anyway, and do believe that how a story is told contributes to the originality of a story more than anything, but even in the storytelling department I'm afraid Wright has severely underperformed. Much has been written about how BABY DRIVER is the perfectly synchronized heist ballet, with all the stunts perfectly choreographed to sync to the soundtrack Wright had already decided on over 20 years ago. Lies, I tell you, lies!

The stunts are not synched. The editing is synched. We've all watched the music videos of Spike Jonze and know what choreographing live action to music actually looks like. And BABY DRIVER is not that. The closest it gets to achieving anything remotely close to that is a scene void of stunts in which Baby is walking down the street to fetch coffees for the gang. It is also the only scene in which you get a true sense of place, Atlanta, where the film was shot on location. The rest of the entire thing, except for a handful of aerial shots, might've easily been shot within the sterile confines of a production studio's lot.

And y'know what? All of that could've been fine, just fine. If you're going to give me a plastic plot acted out by plastic characters in a plastic setting because you're using them as an excuse to do some really cool stunt scenes against the backdrop of your favorite music, well even that would've been fine, but the car chases that dominate the movie deliver less thrill than watching a leaf fall off a tree.

Edgar Wright's BABY DRIVER shows that he's got style, knows where the funny is, and has a good ear for music, but an auteur he is not.

(As for the public's fascination with it? It shows that holy shit, we're doomed! DOOMED!)

#film