Blade Runner 2049 – A dazzling cinematic reflection on the concept of humanity

*Spoiler alert*

The first thing I have to say about the new Blade Runner film is that I think it is a very worthy sequel to the original 1982 film, which is quite a feat. I went to see it on the day after it came out in a fully-packed IMAX theatre and it was mind-blowingly stunning.

Firstly, aesthetically, the use of colour was a spectacular – from the swirly yellow lighting of Wallace’s space to the faded oranges of the radioactive zone. The city of Los Angeles, also, looked incredible, with neon lights, holograms and low-angle shots looking up to the imposing modern high rise buildings and skyline. The film did not hesitate to slow down the action to show this to its full potential. Slow zooms in and out accompanied by synthy, ethereal music provide beautiful periods of calmness amongst some face-paced action scenes.

The film doesn’t rush into action, just as it doesn’t feature the excess sentimentality and dramatisation of most modern blockbusters. The acting of Ryan Gosling, playing K, was understated and believable. The dystopian, cold world in which it is set is supposed devoid of emotion and the film captures this perfectly. An example of this could be the encounter between K and Deckard in which we expect to be full of revelations and emotional outbursts, believing that they are long-lost father and son at this stage. However, instead, we get a gun fight in the ruins of Las Vegas’ formerly iconic venues. The flickering projections of performers in the dark concert hall portray a sense of loss, sadness and memory, instead of a sense of warmness from a family reunion as we might expect.

The film examines the components which make a human similar and different from a replicant. The idea of the sensory experience is fervently portrayed as we see multiple scenes showing close ups of rain and snow falling onto the skin and a focus on K’s relationship with his holographic/android girlfriend where we see the longing for a sense of touch. The way that the replicants are showing a desire and a willingness to combat these differences make us consider how far this could go.

The film also brings in the idea of birth and memory as what makes something human. We hear many times that K is ‘special’ and that he seems more human than other replicants. The flashbacks of childhood experience are seemly his, which tricks the viewer into believing he is really human. Also, the fact that he is the protagonist of the film tricks the viewer into believing there must be something unique about him. The film then brings a sense of bathos when we realise that he is not actually the child. Although we do find out who the child is, we don’t get the same sense of satisfaction. We do not see much of Dr Ana Stelline in the film, which makes the final twist in revealing her as the child more of a surprise. We also don’t get to see the interaction between her and Deckard before the film ends. Although this is slightly disappointing, it is probably for the best, as these sorts of ‘I’m your father’ scenes have been done so many times and it could easily seem stale. It is also a thought that the disappointment of K actually shows us that replicants can have hope for their future. The fact that K believed he was part-human when he wasn’t shows that their minds can believe in new and subversive ideas against the authorities. We see this diversion from fate as a numb robot when he fails his tests and we see that his mind is in disarray, as a human’s might be. Therefore, perhaps the fact that K turns out not to be human is actually more promising for the revolution than if he were.

The most chilling parts of the film for me are the ones which dehumanise the female. The female replicants in the film are objectified: they are sex workers, holograms and billboards. Blade Runner shows us a world where woman are naked, nameless and disposable. Particularly the scene where Wallace confronts the newly created female replicant displays their vulnerability. She drops onto the floor, shaking and covered in some sort of bodily fluid. Wallace then proceeds to touch her womb threateningly and then slash it open, portraying his disrespect and displeasure with the being he has created. He is furious that the old version of the replicants have been able to give birth, or Rachel has anyway, and he has not been able to find out the secret to this.

The whole concept of the cold, hyper-masculine figure of the replicant draws out their machine like violence and oppression of women. This could be seen as a critique of the masculine, and actually show a crisis of masculinity and a sense of self-defence. Also, although women’s bodies are objectified, they are somewhat powerful. Rachel, in the first instance, became a femme fatale, changing the course of history and rebelling against the laws. This power is echoed by some of the female replicants in the film such as the incredibly clever and evil villain, Luv, and the leader of the revolution, Freysa. We realise that women are stronger than they appear. The posthuman idea of the cyborg also makes us think about the idea of otherness. Theoretically, if cyborgs are robots then they are different from humans. Then, if they are different from the human then we are more likely to consider the difference of species between the human and the cyborg instead of considering the difference of gender between the male and the female. In this sense, the gender divide is somewhat blurred and cyborgs are ungendered. However, the way that the film considers the difference between humans and cyborgs blurs this boundary as well, as the idea that replicants are able to reproduce, feel human emotions and rebel threatens the whole system. We see an increasing similarity between the two and an overall fragmentation of human identity.

Fans of the original Blade Runner will appreciate the various allusions made to it throughout the film. In fact, some of the actual audio from the original is used, for example we hear the dialogue between Rachel and Deckard when they first meet. The way that Rachel was brought back as a source of torture for Deckard was also brilliant. Seeing her sparkling new in the bright lights of Wallace’s chamber next to the aged Deckard is quite a spectacle. This respect and reference to the original is important and provides a profound reflection on the ideas of re-creation and artificiality which are so fundamental to the film.

The world which it depicts reminds us of our own and shows us certain elements which could be present in the future. With modern technology developing at such a fast rate, it is interesting to reflect on possibilities and consequences that it could have. In some sense, the film is located in a strange place between fantasy and reality, making us consider the known world from a different perspective.

Basically, this film is thought-provoking, action-packed and visually outstanding. It was understandable to be sceptical about a sequel being released so long after the original. However, this time gap actually provides the film with a new sense of perspective on humanity, memory, modernization and change which makes the film so ingenious.

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The Story So Far appreciation post (+ ‘Out of It’ review)

Trying my hardest not to fangirl

In light of the new release from The Story So Far I thought this would be a good opportunity to express my love for this band and highlight some of my favourite songs of theirs. The new track ‘Out of It’ was released as a surprise on 13th September (rumours had been circulating but there were no official announcements), and I completely lost my chill – I was so excited you cannot imagine. The Story So Far have not released anything since their self-titled album in 2015, but the release of this track suggests that information about the band’s upcoming studio album may be due in the near future.

Firstly, the new song ‘Out of It’ is very typical TSSF, and therefore great. The chorus is strong and its repetitiveness makes it both aggressive and catchy. The verses are more varied with sort of underground, muffled vocals and lyrics about physical pain and confusion: ‘Cause I am all that you need, the hunger I feed, my loaded gun, always sore in my in my back, from the spine that I lack to really be done’. This kind of sound makes me very hopeful for the new album.

TSSF are a pop-punk band from California who formed in 2007, and also happen to be my favourite band. Since 2007, they have released three full length albums in total, the first being Under Soil and Dirt in 2011. Under Soil and Dirt really is incredible for a debut album. Although the sound is not as refined as their newer albums and Parker’s voice sounds more raw, the songs are some of the best the band has created. Actually, I think I have had an obsession with every single track on this album. The ones which have stuck the most past the initial obsession seem to be ‘High Regard’, ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Mt. Diablo’. Parker shows so much passion in this album. Most TSSF songs are pretty angry and nothing sums this up like the end of ‘Quicksand’ where Parker repeats ‘I’m trying hard, real hard, everyday not to lose my temper.’ The songs are quite spiteful at times, about relationships issues: for example ‘I’d like to think that you’re worth my time, but you embody everything that I hate’ and ‘watch the sunrise over Mt. Diablo, if you even bother getting dressed today’. The lyrics can be fairly matter of fact, and include a lot of swearing, but the tone of Parker’s voice makes this sound really powerful, in combination TSSF’s signature guitar riffage, heavy drum usage and the way that the songs build and fall giving them a really dynamic sound.

However, a few acoustic songs like ‘Placeholder’ and notably ‘Clairvoyant’ (from their split EP with Stick To Your Guns) are much more mellow and are actually really beautiful. ‘Placeholder’ features an extended metaphor of the sea which is used to show a longing for freedom: ‘Headstrong in the world, with the wind at my back’, ‘Free me from the anchor, depart these seas and let me do what I have to do’.

The album What You Don’t See was released in 2013 and is also a really solid album. My favourite songs from this are probably ‘Stifled’, about the difficulties of long-distance relationships and ‘Empty Space’ about relationship anxiety. ‘Empty Space’ has an interesting melody and the rhyming in the lyrics is clever: ‘I dwell on it nightly, Tread swiftly and lightly, Make up the lost ground, And see what you don’t see, All questions aside, I asked and you lied, And now my hands are tied’. This chorus will never get old.

‘Face Value’ is also amazing, but I only noticed this fairly recently – this song is really underrated. It’s about change and the lack of control when things are not how they used to be. The chorus is really powerful: ‘Is it so hard to think like we used to? It’s nothing I can’t prove, to my stubborn self, I can’t control you, selfish if I do, all of the plans that you made never included me.’

My favourite album is actually the newest one, the self-titled album from 2015. From the heavy bass in ‘Heavy Gloom’ to more chilled vibes of ‘Solo’, this album has everything. ‘Stalemate’ finishes the album with a typically aggressive note. The overlaying of vocals, fast tempo and build-up of emotion throughout the song makes it one of the best ones ever! I can only hope the new album matches up to this standard… and judging by their new song, I have complete faith in them.

 

Psycho (1960) : Hitchcock’s mastery of suspense

*Spoiler alert* PLEASE don’t read this if you haven’t seen this film, you’ll regret it…

So I thought I’d give Psycho a go, one of the most famous (and best, in my opinion) films in history!

This film is very different to watch for the first time as it is to watch afterwards. I remember how I felt the first time I watched it – my mind was completely blown. Having seen it again several times, the subtleties of the film are much more detectable and I found it almost as amazing to consider these elements as I did on the first viewing.

On the first viewing of the film, Norman seems likeable and innocent at the beginning. He seems genuinely afraid of his mother and we feel sorry for him. However, on knowing the truth we realise that he is in fact afraid of his mother but that this is part of himself. When he says “a boy’s best friend is his mother” we know that this actually means that he is obsessed with her and she has taken over him. All we can see is that horrifying scene in the shower which dissolves any true sympathy. What we are left with is a sense of distrust, disdain and perhaps pity rather than sympathy. However, when we consider that Norman actually has a very serious mental disorder, triggered by the trauma of his childhood, perhaps this is harsh. Since the death of his father and his murder of his mother, Norman developed what is often called ‘multiple personality disorder’. This is actually more accurately been described in this case as ‘dissociative personality disorder’. We see Norman literally trying to be in two places at once, running in and out of the house. At the end of the film we realise that he is literally having conversations between the two versions of himself. He cannot face up to what he has done to his mother, so he “gives her half his life”.

It is interesting to consider the foreshadowing of the revelation of his psychological state. The obsession with bringing things back from the dead and preserving things, like he does with his mother, is shown through his hobby of taxidermy. He says, whilst surrounded by all his stuffed birds, “we’re all in our private traps”. He knows deep down that that he is held apart from society in a deserted motel, and trapped within this obsession with his mother. When we finally see that he has been preserving his dead mother in the basement, we realise that the taxidermy is part of a scheme to deal with loss by making dead things seem life-like. The dissociation between himself and the mother is extremely evident when he cleans up Marion’s body. He treats the murder as if it wasn’t him. He acts with calmness and a sense of logic. Interestingly, the camera focuses on the newspaper (containing the money) in Marion’s room, putting Norman in the background. This is in some sense drawing the viewer’s attention to the trigger for all of this (ie. the reason she was in the motel in the first place) but also making them see that it is actually really unimportant in the scheme of what has just happened. There is a sense of nervous energy, however, when Norman reaches the swamp to get rid of the car with Marion’s body inside it. There is a long close-up shot of him watching the car sinking and we see him chewing something, probably his fingers, which suggest there is something on his mind. On the first viewing we see this as him worrying about what his mother has done but on the second, we realise that he perhaps does have some kind of guilt for what he has done, despite his dissociative personality disorder. There is a lot of silence in this section of the film, and Hitchcock makes sure to increase suspicion of Norman but without revealing his secret. The mystery ensues and we constantly feel there is more to be explored.

The viewer gets a hunger for the truth in this film and Hitchcock builds this through snippets of information and suspense. For example, when we find out that Norman’s mother is dead, we start thinking about all the possibilities of why she could still be alive, considering even the supernatural (or at least I did). We want to see what is in the house and understand the truth. Hitchcock also draws out our fascination with the mystery through his use of suspense. From the low-angle shots looking up at the looming house to the slow- moving travelling shots of Norman walking around the motel, we get a sense of darkness and mystery. The most terrifying scene is probably Marion’s murder, with a dark figure lurking behind the curtain and extremely dramatic music. We see the knives appear, shots of the shower head and the blood in the water but the actual stabbing is left to the imagination which makes it even more disturbing somehow. Similarly, the private investigator’s death has even more of a tense build-up. The camera follows him as he walks around the house slowly and carefully, and then suddenly the mother appears from nowhere and we see an aerial view of his body falling backwards down the stairs.

The climax of the film, however, has to be the moment that Norman runs towards Marion’s sister and is restrained by Sam. The expression of pain on Norman’s face is incredible as he struggles and slashes. The film then takes a turn towards its conclusion and the final explanation is provided for the viewer. This sense of satisfaction when the truth is being explained by the detective brings a sense of closure and echoes the typical Hollywood happy ending. However, although this ending brings satisfaction for the viewer, the actual ending for the characters is actually quite dark. They receive the confirmation that Marion and the investigator are dead which is upsetting news. We also see something in the final scene which disturbs the feelings of settlement from the explanations, even for the viewer. We see that the mother has finally completely taken over Norman. There is a voice-over of Norman speaking in his mother’s voice as he sits in the police station with a blanket over his legs like an old lady. A fly crawls over his hand and he says “I wouldn’t hurt a fly” with a sinister smile on his face, staring directly at the camera. Norman has completely gone. The film ends as we see the image of his mother’s skull (from earlier in the film) superimposed onto his face. This final conclusion is perhaps the most terrifying of them all.

Neck Deep’s ‘The Peace and the Panic’ = incredible!

Neck Deep’s new album, The Peace and the Panic, came out about a month ago and I haven’t stopped listening to it since, so obviously I had to do a post about it! Neck Deep are one of my favourite bands and it had been a while since their last album, Life’s Not Out To Get You in 2015, so I was so excited to hear it… I was not disappointed.

The band have matured so much since the last album and the sound reflects this. LNOTGY was created when the band were riding a bit of a high having plunged into success fairly rapidly. I’m not saying they were naive and I still love that album a lot, but the song-writing wasn’t nearly as heart-felt as it is now. Through The Peace and the Panic, the band seemed to have gone through a sort of coming of age process due to the fact that some of the band members have had to deal with a difficult time in their lives recently and the novelty and initial success of the band had died down slightly, meaning that they had to re-set. Neck Deep always had a slightly defensive approach to criticism, labelling themselves ‘generic pop punk’ ironically and using the tagline ‘Neck Deep are shit mate, Ben’s dad owns a record label’ (which of course is not the case!). In the past I felt like they were actually aiming for this generic pop punk sound, but with this new album they have made themselves so much more. The album reached number 4 in the UK album charts which is so impressive for a band of this genre. I think, and hope, their  success is only going to rise.

The themes in this album are more varied and thoughtful than they have been in the past. ‘The Grand Delusion’ is about depression and anxiety. It is this song which features the image of the tightrope walker from the album artwork. The song lyrics read ‘when the tension gives out, ‘cause that’s when I snap’. This references the important issue of mental health and reflects the turbulent nature of the human mind.

The album is also a lot more political than Neck Deep have previously been. ‘Happy Judgement Day’ is probably my favourite musically from the record and also has some fairly radical political statements. There are jabs at Trump (woo) – ‘building walls, dropping bombs, stop the world, I’m getting off’ – and at also UK politics. I particularly like the bridge ‘there’s a black cat in the windows of parliament, there’s a man in the back of a black cab, talking about the good days, when it all went up in flames’ as it really successfully conveys the hatred of politics and the corruption of the modern world which Neck Deep feel… and because it just gets me psyched. Similarly, the song ‘Don’t Wait’ featuring Sam Carter of Architects shows a sense of rage and aggression and the lyrics portray a warning for public: ‘Suspend your disbelief, are you paying close attention, if you blink then you might miss, their tricks and their deception’. I don’t think the melody of the song is the best, and for me, Sam Carter makes the track, but the radical sentiment is there, stronger than ever.

Another key theme of the album is mortality which is a really interesting one. This was also a theme in LNOTGY but it was more of a positive ‘carpe diem’ message then, but now it is more confused and pessimistic. The song ‘Where Do We Go When We Go’ has the lyrics ‘I just wanna get one up on life before it kills me’ which suggests a resolve to try and make something of life. However, also, the line ‘it just passed me by’ repeats in the chorus, which has the opposite message – that life goes too quickly to control.

‘In Bloom’, although quite radio-friendly, is a really nice song and the lyrics are about childhood and growing up. If you haven’t listened to Neck Deep before, this is a good place to start. Listen here. Also on the album, there are, as always, a few songs about relationships such as ‘Critical Mistake’ and ‘Heavy Lies’. Although the lyrics may not be that innovative, these two songs are some of my favourites from the album musically. I wasn’t sure about ‘Critical Mistake’ at first but it really grew on me and it’s just really catchy. ‘Heavy Lies’, particularly, reminds me of Neck Deep’s older stuff with some really good riffs and I feel like it’s quite an underrated song.

This is the first Neck Deep record to make me properly cry. I may have shed a tear at some of their older songs, but nothing has hit a chord as much as this. In the track ‘19 Seventy Sumthin’’, Ben Barlow (vocalist) sings about the way his family have had to deal with the loss of his father, which happened recently. The song builds up emotion until the climax of final part when he finally mentions the heart attack. The tears just come flooding out – ‘nothing could save him from the ambulance that day’. The lyrics are from Ben’s perspective, singing to his mother ‘Oh mother, oh mother please don’t cry’ which makes the song even more real and raw. I think you can even hear his voice cracking in parts. It’s too much… D: D:

It is worth talking about Ben for a minute. A while I listened to a podcast where he took part in a very in depth interview in the ‘Lead Singer Syndrome’ series. He talked a lot about how he feels about the media and public attention. He made it so clear that he doesn’t want to feel fake at all and he is all about the meaning and not the image. He said that he never wanted to be famous and he doesn’t really believe in the way that social media skews our perception of reality. I think this makes him special as a songwriter. He is not at all ungrateful for his success, but it means that he doesn’t use fame as his prime motivation which makes sure that he remains true to himself. This definitely comes through in his song-writing, particularly in The Peace and the Panic.

Basically, I’d rate this album 5 star. If you haven’t listened to Neck Deep before, firstly well done for reading this whole thing (it is a bit longer than I intended, oops), and secondly, I would really recommend checking them out of course! I also hope the current Neck Deep fans amongst you agree with me that this album is extremely awesome.

Here’s a link to the full album on Spotify: The Peace and the Panic

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – The wonder that is Baby Groot, naivety as a source of humour and the Father Complex

*Spoiler alert*

I thought I would kick this blog off with a review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I recently re-watched this film, having seen it in the cinema when it was released, and I have to say that it is undoubtedly visually stunning and fun to watch. I especially wanted to talk about the use of humour in relation to the new adorable characters, Baby Groot and Mantis and to discuss some theories about Quill’s attitude to his father, as the plot of the film focuses largely on this. These seem to be the main elements which distinguish the film from Vol. 1 and make it unique. They also highlight the interplay between humour and sincerity which is handled impressively well in this film. I’m going to bring in some heavy-duty psychoanalysis so if you think I’m going to far please do let me know in the comments, but I thought it would be fun to write about anyway… and hopefully to read.
Firstly, let’s just take a minute to appreciate Baby Groot. The cutest thing ever, and also the hero of the film. As Baby Groot cannot speak intelligibly, or can only say the three words ‘I am Groot’, the humour deriving from him is of a physical nature. We get a whole credit sequence at the beginning of the film with him dancing, I didn’t even realise credits were happening to be honest. The camera moves around on his level as if Baby Groot has hijacked it, emphasising his tricksyness. One of the best parts of the film for me was the section where Baby Groot is trying to find Yondu’s fin and he doesn’t understand what he is being asked to find. There are shots of his little confused face every time he comes back with the wrong item, for example hilariously someone’s toe, juxtaposed with shots of Yondu and Rocket despairing. This slap-stick-esque physical humour successfully creates a paradoxical, contradictory image of Baby Groot as both naive and baby-like, but also fairly lethal.
Similarly, the humour of Mantis’ role in the film comes from her social inexperience. Her high-pitched voice and wide-eyed appearance make her almost child-like. We find ourselves laughing at the attempts she makes to understand humans as it all seems so obvious to us, for example when she tries to smile and ends up grimacing strangely. The addition of Mantis as a character brings a sense of joy and refreshment; she is so harmless and innocent and yet so perfect to laugh at. The humour created from naivety and ignorance is the oldest trick in the book, but never disappoints. One of the oldest novels in history, first published 1605, Don Quijote by Miguel de Cervantes uses this as its main source of humour. The protagonist makes a fool of himself as he does not know how to interact with others. This is because he reads too many chivalric romances, immersing himself in another world, much like Mantis, who is literally from another world and has not been sufficiently exposed to humans. My boyfriend says I’m like her, so that bodes well for me…
Looking at the more emotional side of the film, it is interesting to consider Quill’s approach to his long-lost father in relation to Freud’s Father Complex theory. Quill has a strong positive association with the father figure, even given his father’s absence and the inadequacy of Yondu as a substitute. He holds this photo of David Hasselhoff as an ideal of what his father would be like, which shows his impulse to create a strong father figure. Although the mention of David Hasselhoff seems ridiculous, there are sincere undertones. When Ego emerges in the novel, Quill snaps up this opportunity to find paternal authority extremely rapidly. This means that the spectator is sceptical of Ego almost immediately as he is clearly exploiting Quill’s lack. The plot here seems extremely predictable in the sense that there is an indication that Ego is evil, however we still don’t know what he plans to do with his son, which keeps us intrigued.
The issue of the father and son relationship is at play throughout the film, as Quill realises the true nature of his father’s cruelty and has to battle his Father Complex to separate himself again. In the end, it is Yondu who becomes the true father to Quill and saves his life, taking his own in the process. The end of the film marks an emotional climax as the whole galaxy unites to mourn Yondu’s death. This change of perspective from Quill in relation to his father and Yondu seems to set him free, and provides a touching and optimistic end to the film. I particularly enjoyed the final scene of the film with Quill giving Baby Groot one of his earphones, showing that he is taking care of him and treating him like a family-member. It sums up for me the versatility and dynamism of the film in marrying together light-heartedness with real emotion.

 

Annabel King and the Secret of the Green Hoodie (2017)

How the site came into being…

Hello internet.

I’ve been wanting to start a blog for a while… and I finally took the step just now!! Yes thanks for the congratulations! I think it would be cool to have a place to write about things I’m passionate about and I hope it may interest some of you… and that I remember to actually post with all the rest of my busy life.

I’ve got a few ideas for things I’d like to post about – I’d like to do mostly film and music reviews but also just use this as a space to show my appreciation for art and fashion.

I don’t want it to be a blog related to my degree because I have enough writing to do for that! I’m studying Modern Languages at Cambridge but I’d like to develop my creative writing in English. It’s a bit rusty with that at the moment… words, words where are you..?!

Films I like tend to be psychological thrillers, mystery, crime, sci-fi related. I’m also a massive fantasy nerd. I’m hoping to bring an academic/technical approach to them instead of writing a purely ‘did I like this or not?’ type review. Music-wise, I have a lot less technical knowledge but I do listen to a lot of goddamn music, I am an addict, so I hope that gives me some credibility. I think lyric analysis could be an interesting way to go, as I am comfortable with looking at literature and poetry. I suppose songs are kind of like poetry?

Art and fashion will be less of an analysis and more of a ‘this is a nice aesthetic’ kind of thing. I’m inspired by grunge fashion and body art mainly but I also like photography and fine art so we’ll see how it goes.

You might be wondering what the name is all about – I was trying to think of something clever but I couldn’t, hah, so I thought about myself in this present moment (something which I often struggle to do, always thinking of the next thing! …) and saw that I was wearing this emerald green hoodie that I wear pretty much everyday, I looked across my room to see a velvet green dress which arrived in the post this morning and then realised that half of my wardrobe and my flat is this colour… so it seemed right. I also have a green Krispy Kreme packet next to me… Hershey’s cookies and creme flavour if you’re interested.

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy!

Annabel