Tag Archives: review

500 Movies #2: Is this the Real Life?

Realizing that although I’d seen many, many movies in my life, I still hadn’t seen enough, I recently created a list of the 500 Best Movies I’ve Never Seen. As I attempt to watch them all, I will write about my experiences seeing classics (and some not-so-classics) for the first time. Warning: these are spoiler-ridden posts, as the films are all past their time in theaters (some, long, long past). If you haven’t seen the film I recommend you first see it and then read. If it’s on the list it’s probably worth seeing. 

2. Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott

I haven’t seen much Ridley Scott so far. Many of his movies are on the 500 Movies list, but my current exposure to him is rather limited. I’ve seen Alien, of course. Randomly I’ve also seen Robin Hood, because history has always appealed to me. Oh and I’ve seen the Apple superbowl commercial from the 80s. With my limited knowledge of Scott and how he directs I sat down to watch Blade Runner with a friend (whose reaction to my revelation that I’d never seen it could be most casually described as aghast). And so in writing this article I do not intend to claim any knowledge of Scott or his directing style or tropes or anything. But goodness me if Blade Runner wasn’t just dripping Ridley Scott all over the place. The low camera angles. The dark filter. The future that’s a bleaker than the present, rather than brighter. I felt like the world of Blade Runner was the world of Ridley Scott. And it’s a dark, dark world.

The story of the film felt all at once cliched and entirely original. A neo-noir sci-fi thriller that made you think but relied on old tropes. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Battlestar Galactica, what with the rebellious robots who look just like us, and, of course, Edward James Olmos. I had to remember that the film came out in 1982, and place myself in context. That, I think, is going to be the hardest part of my 500 Movies venture. But I think I’m okay so far.

The story itself was that of Rick Deckard, expert blade runner, or in laymen’s terms, robot hunter. See the science of this future (which I was surprised to find out is only 2019. It’s 2012. Where are my flying cars? Hmmm?) has created robots that look just like humans, and they have rebelled. They are only allowed on the colonies outside of Earth, but four escape and make it back to home sweet planet Earth. They are seeking their creator, Dr. Tyrell, to get him to extend their limited lives. Deckard is called upon to hunt them down. Along the way he meets Rachael, a replicant (as the robots are called) who believes she is human. She has had fake memories implanted in her, as an experiment. Conflict and violence ensues. Deckard falls for Rachael. He kills three of the four escaped replicants. The fourth saves Deckard’s life before dying due to his own time-limited existence. Deckard and Rachael leave together.

Laying aside the tired cop-hunts-fugitives storyline, the oneness of Blade Runner is in its handling of the question of life. It’s interesting, lately I’ve been watching a lot of film and television that deals with the idea of consciousness and life. Blade Runner. Battlestar Galactica. Dollhouse. What is alive? Who are we? How much is body tied to life? Is there a soul? Is consciousness life? I claim no answers to any of these questions, yet am incredibly intrigued by the way they’ve been handled in pop culture over the past thirty years. In Blade Runner‘s semi-dystopia, replicants were not considered alive. In fact, the whole purpose of Deckard was to “retire” them, not “kill” them. Yet the four who escaped sought to prolong their non-lives, and Rachael remembered a whole life before she was told she didn’t have one. As Deckard’s partner Graff says so succintly, “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?” And true, who does live? Were any of the humans any more alive? Was what they were doing living? In the bleak world we are presented with through dark filters, there is clearly not much to life, even for humans. Everything is fake, from the companions that JF Sebastian builds for himself to the snake draped around the stripper’s shoulders. The whole world is artificial. The line between real and fake is blurred. So is the line between human and machine. Even the line between life and death.

My friend informed me that one of the major points of discussion amongst fans of the film is whether or not Deckard is an android. This does not surprise me. Hints are dropped throughout the film. The most poignant moment occurs when Rachael brings Deckard a photo of herself and her supposed mother when she was a child to prove that she is real. When she leaves Deckard is moved to look at his own photo collection and realizes that they prove nothing. Nothing is real. Photos are just pictures on paper, and they can be faked just like people can be. So why should Deckard be real? 

I don’t know if I can definitively say whether or not he is a replicant. And I kind of love not knowing. Because at the end it’s not about what anyone is, but the choices they make. That is how life ended for Roy, our most villainous replicant. He ends his life by saving Deckard’s. In the world of Blade Runner, the old adage “actions speak louder than words” should be changed to “actions speak louder than DNA.” It turns out it doesn’t matter what you are. Who you are depends on what you do. And so Deckard and Rachael leave together at the end of the film. And that is all I need to know about what or who they are.

Blade Runner is now 180/709 movies on my Flick Chart

Political Animals Episode 1 Review: The Woman Solution

Secretary of State Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver) and reporter Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) are strong women who help the soapy “Political Animals” shine.

“They only love us when they’re not busy hating us.”

Former first son TJ Hammond (Sebastian Stan) of USA’s new miniseries, Political Animals, pretty much sums up the trouble with politics in this country in that succinct statement. Or perhaps, more specifically, the politics of personality is really what he’s talking about here. You know what I mean. Our obsession with the personal lives, dramas, and (really now) mistakes of the people who run our government and their families. Perhaps it is the fact that we always have such strong feelings about our public figures that makes their lives so intriguing. Love or hate the fictional politicians of Political Animals, you do want to know more about them.

The conceit of the six episode miniseries, created by Everwood and Jack and Bobby alum, Greg Berlanti, is simple enough. Former First Lady and Governor of Illinois Elaine Barrish Hammond (Sigourney Weaver, in a rare television role), complete with a philandering ex-presidential husband, is now Secretary of State after an unsuccessful primary presidential bid. Sound familiar? It should. Despite the denial by Weaver that the show is specifically about the Clintons, the parallels are simply to many to ignore. And perhaps that is good for the show, to link itself so inextricably to people so firmly rooted in our cultural memory. We all share an intimate knowledge of the background of the characters that we are inclined to watch them in this new setting. And indeed, the Hammonds seem to be more than the Clintons. In a Kennedy-esque way, they are what American royalty would be like. But once you get passed the idea that the show is a dramatization of that famous family, it actually starts to hold its own.

For one thing, a crux on which the show rests is the fact that Barrish actually divorced her husband. The show opens with her concession speech after losing the Democratic primary (with a nod to Secretary Clinton’s famous “glass ceiling” speech), which she immediately follows by demanding a divorce from Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds). Fast forward two years and Secretary Barrish is being interviewed by ambitious reporter Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) who wants to know simply, why? Why that night? Why not right when the affairs started? Was it political? In a moment of pure exposition she notes that Barrish’s popularity has soared since the divorce while Hammond’s has plummeted. If she ran for president that moment she would win in a landslide. Did she decide to divorce her husband at her moment of defeat because she was so desperate to win?

The interview questions aside, the idea that Barrish divorcing her husband made her a more popular figure is something I find fascinating. That it showed her to be a strong and independent woman and that the American public loved that, is an intriguing piece of fiction. I cannot say I believe that if Hilary Clinton were to divorce Bill it would increase her popularity. Rather I feel it would tarnish her, leave her open to attacks from conservatives about the sanctity of marriage, and call into question the political intentions of staying together in the first place. I just don’t think that as a group, the American public likes strong independent women at all. I personally have a great love of strong and independent women. I grew up around them, and hope to one day be able to count myself among them. But I am also hyper-aware of the reactions of others to them. And they are usually negative.

And it is not just in politics. In film and television, we are constantly assaulted with a barrage of weak and attractive female characters that are there to serve men rather than their own interests. They flutter around being supported by their stronger male counterparts and usually have very little consequence to the story other than a romantic one. We call it the Woman Problem. And it is a problem. It’s a problem because we’ve been so ingrained with this stereotype by the media that we accept these pathetic female characters without really questioning them. Think about women in Tim Burton films, the female characters in The Newsroom, or the Queen Bee of women waifs, Bella Swan. We are programmed to believe this is how women behave. And so I am happy to see a show that has taken the Woman Problem and made it a concept rather than a consequence.

That is not to say that the show is completely flattering in its portrayal of a powerful woman. Barrish runs into trouble with attacks from the press, her male diplomatic counterparts’ sexual advances, and the vitriol of the men who surround her in the White House (one staffer asks her, ever so viciously,”why don’t you worry about your son’s engagement party and we’ll worry about the situation in Iran”). But it does, in its own very melodramatic way, face those issues head on.

An interesting aspect of the series that helps to propel this theme is the dynamic between Barrish and her tag-along-reporter, Susan Berg. Berg starts off as the villain, extorting an all access pass to Barrish’s life by dangling the threat of publishing an embarrassing story about her son TJ. Instead, Berg turns into a foil for the weak women in other stories: she is a strong woman who is proud and self-aware of her strength, and who hated Barrish for her weakness at first. A great moment occurs at the end of the first hour of the series when these two women recognize the strength in each other.

The show is very self-aware of its own faults and limitations. It is a nighttime soap, completely over-dramatic, and occasionally, very lightweight. But it embraces these aspects, melding melodrama with message. I’m interested to see where they take the idea of women and the Woman Problem, but I’m also interested to see what happens with President Hammond and his TV star girlfriend, how Barrish will beat the President in their power plays, and if the engagement with Hammond son Douglas and the bulimic Anne will make it. And the show is designed to make me interested in both.

“Political Animals” airs Sundays at 10/9c on USA Network.