Katy says the challenges in the book are all about solving complex puzzles, and it sounds like the whole 1980’s obsession is explained better, but we’re at the movies now, so some quick backstory narration and a killer car race will do just fine. Our dude Parzival (Tye Sheridan of Joe and Mud, young Cyclops in the last X-Men) figures out how to cheat at the racecar event and win the first of three keys in a massive contest to gain control over the virtual-reality universe that all the poor suckers on the dying planet of the future spend all their time in, meanwhile falling for Artemis, a hot red avatar his own age who turns out to be an actual hot girl his own age (Olivia Cooke of Thoroughbreds). Parzival’s badass tough-dude engineer buddy H turns out to be Lena Waithe (Master of None) and his ninja friend Sho is actually 11 years old – they’re all kinda okay kids, but I don’t know if it’s a happy ending when they’re handed the keys to the global economy at the end, and besides shuttering the evil company run by lame Ben Mendelsohn, they close the internet for a couple days per week so kids have time to make out.

Alison Willmore calls it an accidental horror movie:

A lot of the pop culture references in the adaptation have been updated, improved, added to, or made more cinematic, including a sequence in which The Shining gets turned into a survival horror experience in a way that’s both blasphemous and easily the most memorable part of the movie. But onscreen, even though familiar characters (Duke Nukem! Gundam! Chucky!) fill the frame, franchises cross, and the legal fees to clear everything must have been astronomical, Ready Player One doesn’t really feel like it’s about nostalgia. Instead, it seems more concerned with escapism, and how much its characters use pop culture as a womb to shelter them from the ugly realities they’ve accepted from the world outside. It’s not about looking back so much as looking away.

We didn’t want Downsizing to be our official final film of 2017, so we rewatched Inside Out on new year’s eve, then after a couple of attempts, managed to make this early Ghibli feature our first movie of 2018. The early ones are cool, but we’re more taken by their later works (Mononoke and everything after).

Pirates:

A couple of orphan kids from different backgrounds meet and end up saving the world by teaming with pirates to stop a power-mad government agent from harnessing the destructive power of an ancient and abandoned floating city called Laputa. The boy Pazu (pronounced POT-sue in the Disney dub) is from a factory town, and the girl Sheetah is descended from Laputa royalty, and that’s about all we learn about them before the movie erupts into battles, pirate humor, and tons of flying machines.

Every Miyazaki movie has a standout piece of character or vehicle design – in this one it’s long-armed bird-loving robots.

Of our original trio, Han Solo has died in part 7, Leia now leads the resistance with second-in-command Laura Dern and Han-like hotshot flyboy Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Luke is secluded on an island refusing to help would-be protege Rey (Daisy Ridley) because he lost control of his last protege Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). John Boyega (Attack the Block) apparently had a larger role jumpstarting the narrative in part 7 – here he’s paired with engineer/love interest Rose (Kelly Tran) trying to help the rickety remains of the resistance escape from Kylo and howling ham sandwich Domhnall Gleeson in their attack fleet. Benicio Del Toro is a smooth traitor to both sides, there are computer-animated characters who don’t quite work, appearances by Yoda, Chewbacca and the robots. I appreciated Rian Johnson’s commitment to filming it all in well-designed visual frames, and this would probably rival the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in rewatchability, but that doesn’t make me happy that Rian is committed to a decade of Star Wars instead of original stories.

I’m not convinced there needed to be a Blade Runner sequel, but if commercial concerns demanded one, this was probably as good as it was gonna get. You’ve got action, Harrison Ford, lots of references to the first movie but also new explorations of memory and authenticity, artificial intelligence and humanity.

New replicant-cop-who-is-himself-a-replicant Ryan Gosling, working for Robin Wright (also cool in Wonder Woman this year), kills Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) and finds Rachael’s bones. New boss of the new replicant organization is Jared Leto, who sends his enforcer Luv (Dutch Sylvia Hoeks) to steal information from the weak government. Mackenzie Davis (San Junipero) is a prostitute who follows Gosling and tries to seduce him, but unsuccessfully since his true love is a Her-like hologram named Joi (Ana de Armas of Knock Knock). Gosling dives deep within the conspiracy, finds Harrison Ford and leads him to his lost daughter, false-memory-creator Carla Juri. Also appearing: Barkhad Abdi, the security guard in Good Time. Everyone in this is great, except Leto, who acts like a magician. The music sucked, was all bwaaaamp sounds, and Geostorm was playing next door, so when my seat rumbled I could barely tell if it was my own movie or if a geostorm was hitting.


Blade Runner 2048: Nowhere to Run (Luke Scott)

A series of Blade Runner sequel/prequel shorts, introduced by Villeneuve. In this one, Dave Bautista goes to the city to sell some bottled snakes and give a girl a book, utterly destroys a street gang and accidentally attracts police attention.


Blade Runner 2036: Nexus Dawn (Luke Scott)

Magician Jared Leto faces off against government agent Benedict Wong (Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation) in a dimly-lit, delapidated office, displays the suicidal obediance of his new replicants in order to get the laws changed. Luke “son of Ridley” Scott also made the Prometheus shorts, the Alien: Covenant shorts and an episode of The Hunger TV series, and I’m sensing a pattern.


Blade Runner 2022: Black Out (Shinichiro Watanabe)

Anime short from the director of Cowboy Bebop, the one I was looking forward to, and therefore the most disappointing. Prequel shorts that fill in story gaps between major stories are fully unnecessary, and this one’s got some style (and briefly Edward James Olmos) but not enough to redeem the bad dialogue. Kung-fu replicants whup the asses of a Star Wars-helmeted security team, conspiring to cause the blackout mentioned in the sequel film. Lead girl Luci Christian has voiced a million movies and shows, including the Fullmetal Alchemist series.

Cool impressionist war sequence:

“It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

I remembered noir detective Harrison Ford tracking rogue artificial humans Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah through a future city, but did not remember the replicants convincing childlike inventor/toymaker William Sanderson to bring them to their maker Terrell (Joe Turkel wearing stop-sign glasses). First time watching the “final cut” edition on blu-ray, and it was glorious.

I was so disappointed… instead of the tough, capable Weaver or Rapace, we get a bunch of panicky crew members who make very bad decisions, leading to all of their deaths and leaving evil android David in charge of thousands of frozen would-be colonists. These people have no capacity for fighting, thinking clearly in an emergency situation, or prioritizing… and for some reason everyone in the crew is a married couple, so when their partner dies they become useless. More importantly, it’s no fun watching them walk into traps that we Alien-movie vets easily see coming and just die unceremoniously. Each movie brought something new to the table until this one, which only rehashes things we’ve seen before.

But then I was pondering on the way home – maybe this bunch of useless, easily dispatched characters was assembled on purpose. David says something about humans being a failed species on the evidence that they need a space colonization program in the first place, that it’s worth letting them die, and he’s going to make sure it happens. Maybe this is the opinion of Ridley and the umpteen writers, and they prove their point by having humanity’s most vital mission entrusted to these bozos. The Alien series stories always featured individuals fiercely triumphing over adversity, over external forces and internal human greed, and now Ridley has given his corporate lords another space-massacre movie to sell, but he no longer sees a society worth saving.

Captain Billy Crudup is a Christian, which is mentioned every time he’s on screen to diminished effect from the Prometheus origin-story wonderings. He lasts a good while, is finally replaced by the Carey Mulligan-looking Katherine Waterston (Queen of Earth, Inherent Vice) down on the planet and Cowboy Danny McBride (of mostly James Franco movies) in the ship. The star, of course, is Michael Fassbender as both drama queen David and buttoned-up Walter. They are identical-ish, and in the finale they switch places and you totally can’t tell except that you’ve been expecting it the entire movie, then you know they’ve switched places and you’re waiting for the rest of the characters to discover it and it’s exasperating, then finally it’s too late and you think “good, to hell with humanity.”

Ehrlich called it “majestically shot” and Matt Lynch said “gorgeous,” hmmm, maybe I was sitting too close? Also, come to think of it, David also genocides an entire planet of those bald guys from Prometheus, so maybe it’s less anti-humanity than anti-life.

First Nacho movie I’ve watched since Timecrimes – I missed his Extraterrestrial and didn’t hear much about Open Windows. Anne Hathaway, not a fraction as messed up as she was in Rachel Getting Married, a movie that has been on everyone’s minds lately, is still somewhat messed up, moving to her old town and hooking up with Jason Sudeikis (Floyd in 30 Rock), then with younger Austin Stowell (Whiplash), causing Jason to unfurl his rage and become a supervillain. Anne can become/control a giant beast stomping Korea by stepping into a local playground at a certain time in the morning, and Jason can become a giant robot, and they have drunken childish playground wars while real people die (we assume, all off-camera) across the world, until he gets fully out of control and she travels to Korea and turns the tables, her avatar now in America facing down the puny Sudeikis.

Tim Blake Nelson, who I’ve seen in six movies and never recognized, is a bar buddy who Jason badly offends then he never returns, and Matthew Crawley is Anne’s ex who returns to rescue her from this nowhere small town.

M. D’Angelo:

Colossal never quite decides whether it’s about the unwitting havoc caused by an alcoholic or the toxic behavior of a closet misogynist, and it veers uncertainly between goofy comedy and genuine ugliness. Furthermore, placing the giant avatars in another country suggests barbed commentary on collateral damage caused by American foreign policy — rich potential that the movie ignores … Even at its most muddled, Colossal taps into the universal secret conviction that one’s most trivial actions and emotions are somehow world-consequential.

Preceded by the Peter Huang short 5 Films About Technology – episodes about people’s lives being ruined by cellphone technology – which I guess fits thematically with Colossal in that Katy points out that ever since Certain Women she’s realized all modern movies are about alienation and peoples’ inability to connect.

We’re dumped into the middle of a complex situation in a mechanized future city, where teenage kids are piloting giant robots to fend off invading aliens, or “angels,” then as the show settles into a groove of one angel per episode (each requiring either skill, strategy, or brute force/rage to defeat) it gradually fills in the details – some of them, anyway. Plenty of questions remain: why teenagers? Where do the alien-angels come from, and how are they connected to the apparently partly-biological robots (or “evas”)? Who’s the shadowy organization that runs the shadowy organization that runs the eva program and where did they get their plans and prophecies from? Why do the main characters have a pet penguin? And why is every single character in this show extremely neurotic?

I get that we’re in Japan, so of course there are teenagers piloting giant robots and of course there’s an out-of-place, comic-relief pet penguin. These traditions endure from Voltron to Macross/Robotech to Gundam to American movies like Robot Jox and Pacific Rim. I just played a 2015 Japanese video game in which cool dudes and underdressed sexy ladies pilot giant robots to kill marauding aliens, accompanied by a comic-relief talking potato, so it’s still going strong.

Our heroes:

Things get dark quickly:

The show is obsessed with numbering things (the third child, unit 04, seventh construction phase of tokyo-3, twelfth angel, second branch, code 707), feeling at times like the script was written in Excel. Set in the futuristic time of 2015-2016.

Seele or Nerv or something:

Our tormented lead character is Shinji. He lives with Misato, a hard-drinkin’ penguin-owner who runs mission control along with ex-rival Ritsuko and ex-flame Kaji, or actually I’m not sure what any of their jobs are because I watched the show slowly and missed or forgot some details. Also living with them is super-cocky pilot Asuka, whose whole world falls apart if she can’t be the best at everything. And living on her own is the quiet, often-injured Rei. Everyone has major, major parental and/or love-life issues, the worst of which is that Shinji’s dad Ikari runs the shadowy Eva organization Nerv but has never once spoken to his son with affection, and has a weird offscreen relationship with Rei, who he might be cloning.

Rei-clones:

Ikari-hand:

Then in the final episodes, instead of polishing off the story it dives into the tortured minds of the lead characters for an experimental-film psychoanalysis session. “This is the me that exists in your mind.” Shinji meets the perfect friend who turns out to be the final angel and must be killed by Shinji’s own hands. Asuka’s and Shinji’s moms die repeatedly in flashback. Ikari talks to an eyeball in his disfigured hand. Rei keeps being resurrected. Even the penguin is sent to live with someone else. Finally, Shinji reaches self-acceptance. “It’s okay for me to be here.” I found parts of the final episodes whiny and repetitive, but over the next few days warmed up to the idea of the whole series having been a prolonged Shinji therapy session.


The End of Evangelion (1997)

Then, the movie remakes those last two episodes the way the fans preferred: with mad apocalypse instead of therapy. There are still sexual and parental hangups, petty grievances, inter-agency power struggles, and everyone’s still super lonely and unhappy, but now there’s more sci-fi storyline to go with it. Nine new winged evas are unleashed along with military forces upon our Tokyo base, decimating it. Asuka goes on the biggest homicidal rampage of all time, taking down all the new evas, then Shinji has the biggest crippling self-doubt paralysis of all time, then every other character in the entire series is killed, then Rei becomes a planet-sized god, rapturing and absorbing the souls of all humanity. Unfortunately, the underground control panel nerds stay alive until the very end so they can keep spouting nonsense:

“Ikari has installed a Type 666 firewall on the MAGI’s external feed circuits.”

“Psychograph signal down!”

and my favorite,

“Pilot response approaching infinite zero!”

Said to be one of the best anime series ever… after this and Paranoia Agent I wonder what I should try next. Apparently Death & Rebirth is a skippable movie, condensed from the series and End of Evangelion movie, and there’s a trilogy of remake movies from 2007-2012 from the original creative team, which might be good, but I’ll hold off watching those since Wikipedia says there’s a part four coming. Writer/director Hideaki Anno apparently created the series (particularly the finale) in response to his own battle with depression. He started out as an animator on Nausicaa, also made Cutie Honey (which I enjoyed), some other kid/teen animated shows, and I guess he’s making the next Godzilla movie. Codirector Kazuya Tsurumaki directed the weirdo series FLCL.

Something wonderful (inflatable medical robot turned flying/fighting machine against its own will) combines with standard superhero-team origin-story and standard double-revenge plot with standard twist ending (you mean the most extremely obvious suspect doesn’t turn out to be the shadowy masked villain?). Adequately racially/sexually-diverse team of genius tech-nerd college kids use their lab experiments to defeat their own professor who has hijacked young Hiro’s micro-bots to destroy the military-capitalist who sent the prof’s daughter into another dimension. Interdimensional rescue of cryo-sleeping daughter unexpectedly recalls Interstellar, and robot’s self-sacrifice to serve man, floating away half-wrecked, recalls Terminator 2. Actually made me kinda sad, but as with Guardians of the Galaxy, we get a rebirth epilogue. As much as the world calls out for sequels to recent hit Disney movies, they keep putting out new stuff like this, to their credit.