Snapshots - #42: Thor: Ragnarok, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, LBJ

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017), (♦♦♦♦½): Thor has saved earth twice by now and has, for the last two years, wandered the universe searching for infinity stones. He hasn't found any. He has, however, become prisoner of an enemy of Asgard, Surtur, who tells Thor that his visions of Asgard engulfed in flames is a premonition of Ragnarok—the destruction of Asgard, which is already in motion. Thor frees himself and arrives at home to find Loki sitting on the throne, passing as Odin, and neglecting his duties to protect the Nine Realms. With Odin's exile, Asgard's enemies have been reassembling, but Odin's death may just free Hela, a goddess against whom neither Thor nor Loki are enough.
It was in Thor: The Dark World where Loki, an antagonist, first threatened to steal the show. He became the villain that Marvel fandom loves to hate. While Loki is at his most charming in this film, the director, with the help of a sparkling screenplay, has very much exploited the great chemistry of t…

Snapshots - #41: Murder on the Orient Express, Thank You for Your Service, Blade Runner(s)



Murder on the Orient Express (2017), (♦♦♦♦): A shady businessman is murdered during the night aboard a closed, packed wagon of the opulent Orient Express. The director of the train asks famed detective Hercule Poirot, a passenger on holiday, to conduct an investigation before they reach their next stop.

This 2017 adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel, is a lavish production directed by Kenneth Brannagh, who also stars as the famed detective Hercule Poirot. Brannagh has a star-studded supporting cast with some of the best actors/actresses in the business whom somehow are given so little room to shine individually that it seems almost as criminal as the killing that takes place aboard the train.

Nonetheless, don't underestimate the spell of this movie. If well it is true that we don't care much about the fate of the victim, once the case gets going it is an enthralling and complex mystery. The audience gets the information along with the detective. The winter scenes—accentuated by the avalanche that has pinned the train in a mountain pass—, the claustrophobia of the train wagon in which the crime and the slow-moving investigation unfold, as well as the uncertainty of whether the killer may strike again, are all masterly exploited. It does help quite a bit that the musical score enhances the tension, as do the multiple red herrings in the case.

While I can't say I developed an emotional connection with the characters, I found the motive shocking and heartbreaking. It was impacting on the first viewing; it didn't hold as well on the second. Despite some of the above criticisms, I was riveted the first time I watched this film. You watch it and be the judge.

Thank You for Your Service (2017), (♦♦♦♦): a group of American soldiers are excited to return home after their deployments in Iraq, only to find that they bear more emotional scars than are initially apparent.


Thank You for Your Service, an adaptation of award-winning journalist David Finkel's nonfiction book, follows the lives of four soldier friends who fought together in Iraq and are suffering from various debilitating symptoms of PTSD after they come back home from the war. If you are expecting a conventional war movie, this is not it. It is, however, an outstanding drama, with a loud, "in-your-face" message—not condemning war or the officials who make those decisions as so many movies do; Last Flag Flying from last year springs to mind— about the invisible scars of war and how ill equipped we are as society to comprehend the horrors they have seen and lived through.

Thank You for Your Service does have a few battle scenes that perfectly put these soldiers' traumas in context. They succeed, as do the scenes in which one of them, on separate occasions, is reminded that, to obtain their benefits, veterans have to accept the workings of the VA bureaucratic machine, and that there are not enough facilities in the country to treat the thousands of soldiers that have come back from the two most recent wars bearing physical and psychological scars. This film is also masterfully and convincingly acted. It doesn't get better than this.

Blade Runner, Final Cut (2007), (♦♦♦): At the start of the 21st century, the Tyrrell Corporation had mass produced robots virtually identical to humans, known as Replicants. They were used as slave labor in the colonization of space, but after a deadly mutiny in one of the off-world colonies, they were outlawed on Earth under penalty of death. Blade Runners were the police squads tasked with "retiring" the Replicants they encountered.

Los Angeles, November 2019... Two weeks ago, a team of six Replicants escaped from an off-world colony, killing 23 people and stealing a ship. After they tried to access the Tyrell Corporation, two of them got killed. Now the remaining four are meticulously being hunted throughout Los Angeles by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the best Blade Runner in the business, brought back from retirement expressly for that task.

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, is a noir mystery/thriller adapted from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? While the film has an intriguing premise, I cannot help but lament that such a precise date was attached to it, because of how wildly off the mark the predictions were: space colonization, robot labor, androids at least equally intelligent to humans, flying cars and landing pads for them atop skyscrapers...all by 2019!

While the predictions were off target, they nonetheless make for great entertainment as we get to enjoy the best that man has dreamed of and that someday may be possible. Blade Runner thus present us with an amazing world populated by flying police cars as well as conventional futuristic-looking ones in which car doors open upwards (Batmobile style), Asia-fied society filled with neon lights and Times Square-esque lit ads.

Blade Runner is a good detective story that, in my opinion, lacks emotionally engaging characters, perhaps because we know who the replicants are, and because we know they have an expiration date.

The musical score, by Vangelis, punctuate the story from beginning to end, making the watching of this film an otherworldly experience. It consists of xylophone notes, slow saxophone jazz notes, and electronic synthesizer. The final scenes, a showdown between man and machine, are punctuated by falling rain, doves desperately flying inside a dark apartment occasionally illuminated by flashes of a light beam coming from the street, howling, thunder, vocalizations that contribute to heighten the tension and the atmosphere of a cat and mouse game in which is hard to discern who is outsmarting whom.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017), (♦♦♦♦): Thirty years after the event in the first film, the Tyrrell Corporation has gone bankrupt because violent rebellions in the off-world colonies forced the stopping of mass production of Replicants. Industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has acquired the remains of the Tyrell Corporation and renewed the production of Replicants. These new models obey. Some older models with open-ended life spans exist but are on the run and still being hunted by Blade Runners.


Los Angeles, 2049... Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is one of the new model Replicants who works as a Blade Runner at LAPD. On a ‘retirement’ mission, K’s drone unearths a military issued box containing the clean bones and hair of a female. Forensic analysis determines that she has been dead for thirty years, as well as something else: a secret Madam Joshi (Robin Wright) orders Officer K to take care of because it has the potential to throw what is left of society into chaos.

In his investigation, Officer K crosses path with Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), a ruthless female Replicant whom Mister Wallace calls his ‘favorite Angel’. He tracks down former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been missing for thirty years and may hold the key to the deceased’s identity and be privy to her secret.

Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve and executive produced by Ridley Scott, who also co-wrote the script, is a thriller that takes the original story in a new direction without losing track of its roots. The elements that made Blade Runner groundbreaking, such as the references to space colonization, androids stronger and at least equally intelligent to humans, and flying cars have been kept very much intact, as have been the Asia-fied society filled with neon lights, the appearances of Harrison Ford and Sean Young (cameo) reprising their characters of old, and the spirit of the final scenes in which another epic showdown takes place. Even the otherworldly ‘Blade Runner’ theme by Vangelis underscores the action scenes.

More modern elements are the flat screen computers, 3D advertisement holograms in the streets, and a nod to the way of life that has been lost. Frank Sinatra’s, Elvis Presley’s and Marilyn Monroe’s holograms make cameo appearances. Another enhancement over the original is showing what remains of life outside Los Angeles; San Diego is a waste processing district full of detritus and society’s outliers while Las Vegas Strip, ‘previously full with casinos and people who exchanged money like it was candy’, now has been reclaimed by the sands and orange glow of the desert. A character emphasizes how lucky K is to own an object made of real wood.

While I thought that the original Blade Runner was a good detective story that lacked emotionally depth, the secret at the core of Blade Runner 2049 has, in my opinion, humanized this installment; that, and the hefty characterization of Officer K by Ryan Gosling, who has permeated his character with doubts, hope, love and even chivalry, all very human emotions played to a T.

Comments

  1. I want to see all of these. I am not much a fan of Agatha Christie but her books do lend themselves to film. I was glad to read your review of Thank You For Your Service because I have been curious about it. I will watch both Blade Runner movies eventually but I want to read the book first. It is amusing how those 20th century sci fi novels predicted (and dated) things that still have not come about, though some are in the works to this day. I remember the 1964 World's Fair and some of the stuff they were exhibiting, like a self-driving car!
    I recently watched Phantom Thread and All the Money in the World-found them both excellent. Also, hubby went on a search and put an early Spielberg movie in the queue: Sugarland Express with a very young Goldie Hawn. It was great!

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    1. I'll make a note of the Spielberg movie to watch at some point. I'll be starting with the heavy-hitters this coming week. Perhaps I'll start with the two you just mentioned to compare notes. I still have Thor 3 and (maybe?) Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool to review before I tackle the other 12 award nominated/winners. BTW, did you watch the movie LBJ with Woody Harrelson? It was exhibited last year and it's out for rental. It's a Lyndon Johnson biopic. I thought it was mediocre but well acted and made me re-think a few things about the Kennedy brothers. I thought you might be interested since you have been reading about Johnson's life, but I understand if you've had enough of the man.

      I highly recommend all of these. I advise you, if possible, to watch both Blade Runners back to back for a more wholesome experience. I agree that Agatha Christie's novels lend themselves well to film. Thank You for Your Service made me feel like an explosive device went off right next to me; it was powerful and eye-opening.

      It's interesting what you say about the 1964 World's Fair. Just yesterday I heard in the news about Uber commissioning air taxis from the army (or something like that); it's in talks but it's amazing that something envisioned in the 1960s hasn't yet come to fruition. Enough with my babbling! ;-)

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  2. I haven't seen the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express but I remember well the 1974 film with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and a cast comprised of that day's stars as the other passengers on the train. I loved it! This was actually one of my favorites of Christie's books, along with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None.

    Likewise, I saw the original Blade Runner several years ago but haven't seen the new films. Obviously, I am years behind the times.

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    1. If you loved the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express, it may be better to steer away from this one; it wasn't as well received by the general public as it was by me. ;-) I'll make a note to find that film and watch it for comparison. The original Blade Runner is a classic; I can't say the same about the new one but it is very entertaining. I wasn't crazy about the original. In my eyes, the new one is better acted and there is a sense of continuity that I appreciated.

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  3. I watched the Agatha Christie Murder on the Orient Express and enjoyed it just for the pure entertainment 'whodunnit' value. I'm not sure how it would stand up to a second viewing. I quite fancy watching both Blade Runner films like you've done so that I can compare the two.
    Lynn :D

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    1. I mention the second viewing because since the rental period expires 48 h after you watch the movie, I'm getting in the habit of re-watching the ones I really like; this one happened to be one, plus I watch once for entertainment and once again for review purpose. Some movies are so straightforward that I only need to watch them once to say all I want to say; none of these happened to be that kind. ;-)

      To be honest, Blade Runner took me repetitive viewings of both, with plenty of note-taking, to grasp all the elements that I covered in my reviews. I found that helped me to understand the story, at least with the first installment, which I found kind of complicated when I first saw the movie long ago.

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  4. Well I have to say Carmen, I am very sad to see the original Blade Runner only got 3 stars... as it one of my all-time-favourite films!! I understand the problem with the date, but that has to be blamed on Philip K Dick. However I have to disagree that there is no emotion in it. As well as being a good detective, I think more importantly it is a powerful discussion of what makes us human. These replicants have such short lives, love each other fiercely and are so desperate to keep living, while it could be claimed humans take it for granted. Also, to play devil's advocate, was it human vs machine in the final showdown... many people believe Deckard is also a replicant but just doesn't realise it?! Fortunately I can agree that the new film does take the story in a new direction without losing track of its roots.

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    1. So sorry to judge your beloved film so harshly! ;-D I didn't mind much about the date, but it took a bit from the "getting it right" factor. In 1983 didn't matter as much because it was a long time to come, but now... I watched it several times, in different versions: the theatrical version, the director's cut, and the final cut; I failed to connect emotionally with all three. It's not in the story where the problem lies, but the acting; it failed to convince me. You make a great case about "being a discussion of what makes us human and what we take for granted." That's an angle that I hadn't thought about. I do believe though that there are strong hints in both stories that Deckard is indeed a Replicant. So I stand corrected, however, since the clues about Deckard's identity are tantalizing but not conclusive, it can still be argued that it was man vs. machine. :-)

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    2. Ooo Carmen you're brave I have never watched the theatrical version - I'm afraid I wasn't born in 1983 and my dad says there was a terrible corny voice over and stuff haha! So thankfully I have only known the director's cut. I also agree it can definitely be argued that Deckard could be human, which is what makes it so interesting for me. I think I am even more convinced that he is a replicant since seeing the new film though, because I don't think an old human could take that beating off Ryan Gosling's new generation replicant haha!

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    3. I'm loving this discussion! :-) I saw it back in the 80s when I was growing up and developing my movie tastes. Back then I wasn't into sci-fi or fantasy as I'm now. I only remember the showdown, which is not much. I came to really know the story with the recent viewings. The original version was grainy, I think that I saw the director's cut in SD though it's possible that it was in HD because the quality of the movie was greatly improved.

      I started thinking that he was a replicant when he dreamed of a unicorn in the first movie and the other Blade Runner (Edward James Olmos) made a paper unicorn and left it as clue at the end that he had been at Deckard's place and knew of Deckard and Rachael's relationship. Another clue was in the most recent movie when Wallace said that Deckard had been sort of "picked" to fall for Rachael's beauty. Funny, eh? ;-) I started convincing myself of the opposite because, in the first movie, the most advanced replicants were Nexus 6 generation, and those had the short lifespan. They were the best and most advanced of the crop. So what generation would Deckard be if he were one?

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  5. I would guess Deckard would have to be some sort of secret prototype and the same for Rachel. They were meant to pass for human and even believe themselves that they were human, hence not being quite as strong as the most advanced Nexus 6 replicant but having longer life spans.

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    1. That's an intriguing thought! Deckard said that the test to determine if one was a replicant was supposed to take at least 50 questions/answers cross-referenced. It took Deckard about 100 questions/answers to find out what Rachael was. She didn't know she was a replicant. I guess the same could hold true for him. ;-)

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    2. I've never been able to discuss a movie before. Thanks, Jessica. How cool! ;-)

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  6. I haven't seen or heard about Sean Young in a long, long time, but apparently she's still acting. I remember her from the Kevin Costner movie No Way Out back in the '80s; she was big back then. Those were the days. I want to see the first two films you review. Both look good. Some of the visuals for Murder on the Orient Express I've heard are really great: when they get off the train etc. I also want to see Thank You for Your Service. I remember the David Finkel book. It looks like a potent movie ... with Miles Teller too who's usually excellent. I will get to these!

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    1. I thought Sean Young was retired. I think she worked in Cousins too, with Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini. I love that movie! Murder on the Orient Express is visually lush. Thank You for Your Service is powerful; sort of a different and unexpected perspective on what it means to be a war veteran. Miles Teller was excellent. He usually is. I hope you like both movies as much I did.

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  7. I've been wanting to watch Murder on the Orient Express, but I want to read the book first.

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    1. It is a lavish adaptation; I hope you enjoy it when you get to watch it.

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