Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Blade Runner 2049

Lowdown: Further musings on what it means to be a live human.
Blade Runner was, and still is, one of those huge movies that forever left its mark on me and made me a significantly different person to the one I was before entering the cinema. If you were to ask me for my pick of best movie ever, there is a very good chance Blade Runner would be my pick (though I would probably add a disclaimer on the frivolous nature of picking "the best" to begin with; ask me, instead, for my favourite movie ever, and you will definitely get a straight answer). The realisation that “they’re doing a sequel” to perhaps my pick for best movie ever had to come with a heavy burden, for it is rare for a sequel to rise up to the challenge; on the other hand, I am mature enough to not really care much. Whatever impact Blade Runner has/had on me does not have to be affected by issues with the sequel.
Like the time between films IRL, Blade Runner 2049 takes place some 30 years past its prequel. You can run a checklist, but I assure you every stylistic cue or plot device of motif that was there in Blade Runner can be found, in one form or another, in 2049. Looks, sound, music, plot, they all feel the same (albeit with CGI making for slicker visuals). 2049 is therefore a proper, and very authentic feeling, sequel. That said, Vangelis’ music clearly cannot be equaled, and come movie peak time 2049 does revert back to the best (as it should!).
Plot wise, we have a Nexus android (Ryan Gosling) that, for a change, actually knows he’s a Nexus, chase after leftover Nexus replicants that survived from the time of the first movie (after which they were apparently outlawed). As he goes about terminating his fellows, armed with a Blade Runner grade pistol and a badge, he uncovers a mystery that leads to revelations on his own identity. Thus starts yet another film noir tale that aims to say another thing or two on what it means to be a human, as in - what it is that defines us. This time around, the main motifs are memories, as per the first round, but also reproduction as well as drawing comparisons with artificial intelligences of the silicon type.
There is a villain, the new millionaire running a business around replicants (Jared Leto), who also happens to be by far the weakest link in the movie’s plot for the crime of rather unsubstantiated motives. And, eventually, we will meet Deckard (Harrison Ford), our hero from the first Blade Runner, for a shortish role.
Which brings me to a point I haven't seen discussed elsewhere: Blade Runner 2049 assumes you know Deckard is a replicant. That, however, was not a conclusion one could logically derive off the original Blade Runner that played at cinemas back in the early eighties; only after the Director’s Cut, released more than a decade later, could that conclusion be drawn (through the addition of the unicorn dream).
What did I make of 2049? Well, after 3 slowish hours, I thought it was a good movie that suffers from severe pacing problems. In an era of CGI overdoses, its visuals have nowhere near the impact the original movie had, and given the lack of originality I would say 2049 will in no way be remembered as the cinematic event its predecessor was. But that’s alright; most other movies fall far, far, behind.
Overall: When taken in context, 2049 feels like a DLC patch for the original. 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

Lowdown: A careful, detailed, cause and effect review of where artificial intelligence may take us.
Multidisciplinary scientists, such as cosmologist Max Tegmark, have a tendency to produce truly enlightening outputs. I would argue Life 3.0 is a fine example of the breed.
Tegmark’s premises are simple enough to understand: Life 1.0 refers to the likes of bacteria, where both the hardware and the software they run on was produced by evolution rather than by design. Us humans represent Life 2.0, made as we are of evolved hardware but capable of designing the software we run on. Life 3.0 is the life form that can design its hardware, too; and that is where our world is heading for with the development of artificial intelligence (AI). The question is, where would that development take us? Would it do us a world of good and give us the promised Garden of Eden, or are we digging our own grave?
Tegmark provides several examples to show why we are on dangerous grounds with AI, even if - at the same time - he completely dismisses the Terminator like scenarios. At the core, he argues that we need to maintain control of the AI and, most importantly, ensure our AIs' targets align with ours. The rest of the book is pretty much an elaboration on the details.
For example, Tegmark proves that our philosophy is centuries behind our technology, and without the adequate levels of philosophy to back us up with we are heading towards a world where technology will overtake us. He goes forth to examine potential scenarios for advanced AI (and no, it’s hard to imagine anyone liking those scenarios much), and even discusses how an intergalactic empire constructed by our future AI would manage the limitations of the laws of physics in order to run its course. It’s just that, in all of these scenarios, it is hard to see what role humans might play.
Following such a long, thorough and multidisciplinary review of the implication of AI, Tegmark argues in favour of us stopping to ask what future we want. And I totally agree; in the last decade alone we have seen technologies such as the smartphone and the social network dictate the way we should live, instead of us actively choosing the technologies that would support the way we would like to live instead.
Overall: If you would like to know where us humans are at with regards to AI, and seek enlightenment about its potential outcomes, then this great thought experiment that is the book called Life 3.0 would be an excellent start. 3.5 out of 5 artificial crabs.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018


Lowdown: An examination of what happens to men when they are put under extreme pressure.
Dunkirk assumes its viewers know the story of what happened on the shores of that French town and the beaches around it during the early stages of World War 2; for the purposes of this review, so shall I.
Our movie follows the personal escapades of four main characters. In effect it thus tells us the story of a whole lot of people around them, and by even further extension the story of the Dunkirk evacuation, but still the main event is those four folks. Thus we have a foot soldier who’s the sole survivor of a unit retreating from the Germans, the navy commander of the beach evacuation (Kenneth Branagh), an older civilian coming with his boat from the safety of the British shore, and an English fighter pilot (Tom Hardy).
I don’t know how historically accurate the movie is, but that’s not the point. The point is showing us those key personalities and those surrounding them as they struggle through hell to survive against insurmountable odds and about the different ways they do so. Some lose their sanity, some sacrifice themselves, some fight till the end, but others sacrifice their peers while others lose their humanity. All the while, the menace they are all fighting or fleeing from is faceless; the closest we come to a German identity is a brief view of a fighter plane, but never a German face. Our people of Dunkirk are people fighting with sheer terror.
It almost goes without saying that the danger for movies such as Dunkirk is them turning into yet another “war is so sexy, let’s do more of it” type of a propaganda affair; or its closest relative of patting ourselves on the shoulder so as to justify our own inhumane acts and losses of humanity. Dunkirk does commit that sins, but only very late into the movie so as to leave the scene with enough dignity intact.
Overall: At 4 out of 5 crabs, Dunkirk is still a movie too many will interpret as the glory of us vs the evil of them. Be them Nazi Germans or whoever it is we call our enemies today.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Oh...Sir! The Insult Simulator

Review published over at Digitally Downloaded.
Personally, I'd recommend getting the iOS version (as opposed to the Nintendo Switch version I reviewed this on), unless party play is a factor.