Blade Runner 2049 | Warner Brothers

Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve

Warner Brothers
Blu-Ray

Where to even begin? Honestly, where should we begin? It’s a three-hour movie with 30 years of history built into it. The movie to which Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel has three cuts that all have different interpretations. There are three short films that the creators of 2049 commissioned to piece together the in-between of the original and the sequel. There are mind benders upon more, and then some more. I guess this is the part where I raise my hand and start reciting to the class my notes, as this film was the first one I’ve seen since I graduated from University that made me feel like a student again. It was a movie that I didn’t know the ending for after the first scene.

2049 is a film of misconceptions—highly unfortunate misconceptions at that. It’s deemed a flop because it didn’t monetarily challenge Star Wars last year. It’s misconceived as male-nerd-fantasy wet dream because there are guns and flying ships. It’s misconceived as too complex or needing too much work beforehand to enjoy. It’s misconceived as an up-its-own-ass, arsty-fartsy nonsense movie. It’s misconceived as a cash-grab because Harrison Ford was in the trailer. Hell, the only question the general populace asked post-release was, “Why didn’t 2049 do well?”

What do we mean by well? Because if box office results are what we define as a “success” with no other modifier, then I guess the film industry took a left turn somewhere without me. When I read, heard and saw those who say that Blade Runner was a “flop,” I’m already pretty sure they didn’t see it. The movie is not a failure—it’s a resounding success, a director’s vision come true so conclusively. A beautiful meditation on what it is to be human, the nature of memory, bigotry, prejudice, artificial intelligence and state-sponsored sociopathy; a fantastic question and lack of answer with humanity’s deepest fears of our future: What will happen when climate change catches up with us? What will the impending, unforeseen consequences of that be? What if we run out of food, and only the likes of a Monsanto-esque company—with the dickhead-dial turned up to 11—can save us? What if replicants (the universes’ term for, basically, Chalmersian philosophical zombies) aren’t different at all? What if Blade Runner is a sci-fi version of The Trial by Kafka, despite its clear visual reference to Nabokov? And, the real question, how much longer into Trump’s presidency before all of those questions are answered for the worse?

For those who read this far, you’re either curious, or you already saw the movie and are considering buying the special-edition Blu-Ray and maybe popping over to Amazon to see if there’s some other memorabilia. It’s just the nature with these things. The first Blade Runner has a rabid cult following for a reason. It’s a piece of art in my favorite vein: one that challenges us philosophically. Not just ethically, but epistemologically and metaphysically. But also, it satisfies my deep love for a well-told story with no hand-holding, just because it can. We’re talking about Denis Villeneuve, of Arrival and Enemy fame. We’re talking about a real sequel, not some sterilized shell of former glory with a couple of intellectual property stamps.

Which brings me to another, rather annoying question I ran into while perusing the analysis post-release. For some reason, commenters wondered if/when there would be a three-quel to 2049, because if one movie was good, that means we need six of them a year, right? I sincerely hope not. I hope this is the last we see of Blade Runner for another 30 years, when I’m 55. Why? Because that’s what this world should be. Disney already ruined one beloved universe by making an embarrassed-looking, impotent Luke Skywalker drink green breastmilk pressed out of a squealing, beach-dwelling alien while big-eyed plush toys annoyed Chewbacca. Do we need Deckard corralling a bunch of children in Daddy’s Home 3: Cyberpunk Dystopia Edition? Where the laugh-a-moment young-buck writers do everything they can to demolish the personality of something great? To sterilize any sense of artistic nuance? Do we really need another one?

Anyway, the Blu-Ray edition is wonderful, despite its excellent extras mostly viewable on YouTube. It’s nice to have them all in their highest resolution (with none of that nasty compression that online video hosts tend to push on content) all in one place. But hey, listen, I’m obviously a fanboy. I saw the movie twice in the theater, bought the digital version on Dec. 26 last year (at the stroke of midnight) and watched it again, and then again, and then requested this review of the Blu-Ray. So you could probably, accurately, say that I have some bias. Now that I’ve perused the entire disc and seen what it has to offer, it ultimately comes down to taste. I know some people out there need their Ultra-Super-Mega HD version on the billion-inch television to be satisfied by a story, and then there are some (maybe most) who have decided that binge-watching whichever new half-baked Netflix series on a MacBook screen is enough. I’m not judging either way. I’m weird, too, and prefer to watch my films in my office chair on my PC monitor. All I’m saying is, if you haven’t seen it, pay for it and watch it. If you have—well, you probably already have. –Dylan Davis

Sunnyside | Slamdance Film Festival

Sunnyside

Slamdance Film Festival
Director: Frederik Carbon 

Read the synopsis for Sunnyside, a debut documentary but for a producing credit in 2015 from the writer, director Frederik Carbon. If it grabs you, watch it right away: Two very eccentric, elderly men who are quasi-neighbors and buddies in Northern California—one a sound-designer, the other an anarcho-architect—go about their business, talking everything and anything with whatever Carbon happened to catch on film. Sometimes the topic is their art and work, sometimes it’s discussing old times, sometimes it’s talking about the sounds of the forest, sometimes complaining about bills and fines, and sometimes it’s musing about life—but always, it’s about being eccentric, elderly men.

I was told in my writing classes in college that human beings are natural voyeurs. Glimpses into other lives is enough to grab people’s attention, like seeing a person in a stretcher in the back of an ambulance through the window. If we go by that definition, sure, there’s something to be watched here. It’s very much a consideration of another life that is not your own, right down to what it looks like when a very eccentric, elderly man takes a bath in a bucket outside his front door. Cue the snickers, but that’s not what I’m going for. I’m not critiquing the piece for presenting a naked 90-year-old in the bathtub. What I wonder is what it was going for by doing this. The audience never gets much of a sense of place. We can’t really tell how close they live to each other or how far they live from town. We don’t really see what brought them to the middle of the woods. We don’t really get a sense of how good of friends they are. But most of all, and what surprises me, is we don’t see what compelled Carbon to make an entire film about them, but we know by the tenderness and care he took in the one-sided interviews, there was something.

There are moments, mostly from the architect, of interesting philosophical musing (that could also be categorized by “Oh, Grandpa!”) as he complains about how art is dead because of computers. I have long ago filed phrases like these into my “movies used to cost 5 cents” drawer. I don’t mean to downplay the value of wisdom and glimpses into the past via the lives of those still with us, but those moments are the closest elements we get of what drew Carbon to these men and, thereby, illuminating to the audience what he saw. But then, rather than really digging into that, we get another hard cut to one of them in the shower, his genitalia in plain view.

I’m at a loss. I want to see what Carbon saw. I want to be compelled so badly with each passing second. It’s interesting but isn’t evocative, which I think is what the artist exactly did not intend. In its quest to tell the stories of two eccentric, elderly men in their own words, it falls flat with its lack of linkage or “aha!” moment(s).

But that’s just story, and film is more than story. What of cinematography? It’s good sometimes and shaky in others, and I mean the latter literally. That’s fine; it kind of adds to the intrigue. I can imagine Carbon trekking to them with a case full of rented cameras and saying, “Action!” and then not saying, “Cut!” for a few months. Some shots are gorgeous, and I’d love to see them turned into cinemagraphs, particularly of the landscapes. If you’re on a bender for how any filmmakers get some neat shots, go ahead and spare the hour-long runtime.

If you grew tired during this review of how many times I wrote “two eccentric, elderly men,” then the film will feel no different. It wants you to know those four words. If you’re like me, you’ll come to the end wondering if it’s a mystery or a repetitive collage. Will he take that boat out of the garage? Or does it matter? You could ask me again in 15 years what I make of Sunnyside and I still wouldn’t be able to tell you with a powerful sense of conviction. –Dylan Davis


Showtimes:
Jan. 22 // 12:45 p.m. // Gallery

Preceded by documentary short Big Surf (USA), directed by Brian Smee. 

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival.

Lance Olsen | Photo: Andi Olsen

Lance Olsen and Gabriel Tallent are each authors who reside in Utah. The following reviews are of novels they published this year. You can find more information about them and their books at lanceolsen.com and gabrieltallent.com, respectively.

Read on for SLUG‘s review of Dreamlives of Debris and interview with author Lance Olsen.


Dreamlives of Debris
Lance Olsen

Dzanc Books
Street: 04.25

Dreamlives of Debris is a highly experimental retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur. I must admit that, while I know the major players of Greek mythology (Zeus and what have you), I am by no means a scholar and would not be able to recount the aforementioned myth from memory. Whenever I come across a book like Dreamlives of Debris, I will, at some point, ask myself, “Should I sonread the source text first or after?” It’s like finding a new band that’s done a cover album of Dark Side of the Moon. Should one return to the Pink Floyd album, or would the work be better suited to be experienced on its own face value, because that ought to be the goal of the artist in question? In Dreamlives, on the one hand, I figured that the myth it is based on would inform my reading of the piece greatly. This might seem like a good thing, knowing more about the work going in. But on the other hand, I was thinking, if I do read the myth, I may know the ending before the characters do.

With Dreamlives, however, I don’t believe that it matters. The book is all over the place with its narrative, from the Minotaur having been reimagined as a horrific little girl named Debris to cameos from Edward Snowden, Da Vinci and Aquinas. The retelling of a new story in the framework of the Minotaur myth is not the only thing author Lance Olsen set out to do with this work. It is partly an engaging structure to carry us along the plot, but it is also a brooding and creepy backdrop in which Olsen pursues other ideas. I believe that he is successful in this endeavor, even considering just how strange the book reads. I do not mean that to be negative, by the way. I love experimental fiction and applaud whenever I get through an entire book of it. When going into this novel, you would be remiss to expect a Dan Brown–adventure narrative structure or a brooding tale à la Hemingway where the devil is in the dialogue. Think more in the vein of a Danielewski’s House of Leaves– or The Familiar–type work, though, with vastly fewer on-the-page printing experiments. In Dreamlives, we’re thrown from country to country, time period to time period, reeling at the profound description, confusing framework and one’s own aching heart for this little monster named Debris.

It is torturous in a positive way. Be prepared for being a fish out of water and reading most of the pages more than once to extract all the meaning from each word, as they all have a crucial role within the work. It asks things of us that I would not suspect from a novel, and I will not go into too much detail beyond what has been described. Part of the fun is diving into something and thrashing about until you find your sea legs. It will teach you how to read it—I can assure the potential readers of that—but you may wish to ask yourself that question that started this review. Now that I have read it twice, I can say that reading the myth beforehand would have been a good move for me, considering that I was reading for review and not for pure fun, but that is the beauty of it: It is up to you.


SLUG: Who was the first person you told you wanted to be a writer, and how did they react?
Lance Olsen: 
I was the first, and, frankly, I didn’t believe myself. I struck me as a little scruffy and sketchy. I was maybe 16, and had just been introduced to Kafka’s and Poe’s astonishing short stories in high school. How hard could it possibly be, myself asked myself, to write one of those things? It’s taken me and me the better part of 40 years to find out. Every day.

SLUG: Where do you see the art of the novel going, if anywhere? Is it changing?
Olsen: The novel is going everywhere, changing all the time. That’s what I love about it as a form. As opposed, say, to a sonnet or a villanelle or a pop song, it’s never figured out what it is, what it wants to be when it grows up. The novel is always interested in exploring what it can do, wondering what else it could become. Back in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and even ’90s, there was lots of talk about the novel being a dead genre. Just the opposite has proved the case. Theory is good, in other words, but doesn’t stop things from happening. More novels—and more novels innovating in myriad crazy-interesting ways—are being written and published now than ever before.

SLUG: Is there a responsibility for writers to embody a political standpoint in their writing?
Olsen: My sense is that all writing is political, particularly that which alleges it isn’t. I’m especially drawn to writing and reading that works against simplicity, that renews what I think of as the Difficult Imagination—that dense cognitive space in which we are asked continuously to envision the text of the text, the text of our lives, and the text of the world other than they are, and thus contemplate the idea of fundamental change in all three. Writing is never simply an aesthetic undertaking, but an always-already political one.

Another way of thinking about this: One difference between art and entertainment has to do with the speed of perception. Art deliberately slows and complicates reading, hearing and/or viewing so we are challenged to re-think and re-feel structure and experience. Entertainment deliberately accelerates and simplifies them so we don’t have to think about or feel very much of anything at all except a certain adrenaline rush before the spectacle. There will always be novels that do both these things to one degree or another. Both gestures are deeply political.

All around us we hear certain narratives and narrative forms repeated over and over again—so much so, in fact, they begin to sound like the truth, look like the only alternatives on the block, even though, of course, they’re not: They’re just a few ways of arranging and contemplating the world among countless others. I’ve always been drawn to writing that challenges those received narratives and their assumptions about existence, structure—about, in other words, how life flies at us.

Ronald Sukenick, a sorely under-appreciated experimental writer, once put it this way: “If you don’t use your imagination, someone else will use it for you.”

SLUG: Experimental structure is somewhat of a calling card for this novel. What convinced you that this structure was the best way to tell Dreamlives of Debris’ story?
Olsen: The labyrinth is the central structure, the central metaphor, at work in Dreamlives, which retells the minotaur myth by gendering it: My minotaur isn’t a monster with the head of a bull and body of a man, but rather a little deformed girl tucked away below Knossos by her parents—the embodiment of that which society feels it must repress or expel in order to remain whole and functioning.

Yet the labyrinth at play in Dreamlives is a special sort: an impossible liquid architecture that bears no center and hence no discernable perimeter. In our post-facts contemporary, one could argue it’s become liquid labyrinth all the way down. I imagine the labyrinth, therefore, not only as a structure, but also as a method of knowing, a way of being, an extended and dense metaphor for our current sense of presentness—the impression, for instance, that we are always awash in massive, contradictory, networked, centerless data fields that may lead everywhere and nowhere at once.

SLUG: I’ve read the retelling of myths, but never like this. How did this vehicle of storytelling serve your goals with the piece?
Olsen: For the last decade or so I’ve been as much committed to building novels as writing them. So I laid out Dreamlives myself in InDesign. Every page is a perfect square that represents a different textual room in Debris’—my protagonist’s—liquid labyrinth. And each arrives without a page number, so for the reader it’s easy to become disoriented, lost, in a way that rhymes with Debris’ situation. Because Dreamlives arrives with no conventional location markers, the reader may feel not only more or less adrift, but also a little freer to jump around, begin to think of reading as a kind of choreography, taking various paths as the mood strikes, for as long as the mood strikes, and then perhaps wandering off in a different direction.

Another way of saying this: Dreamlives is a collage novel. Collage-as-structure cuts off, closes off, even as it opens up and out as a series of surprising juxtapositions, interpolations, quotations, irruptions, invitations, reiterations that feel wholly new, and not wholly new, and not not wholly new.

The idea of waking up and writing the same way I did yesterday is terrifying to me. How could one possibly learn more about oneself and the world by repeating who one is and how one narrativizes? Collage provides a form that allows me to think and feel about the text I’m working on a little differently every 20 minutes. It allows my readers and me to feel like we’ll never quite reach the first page.

Gabriel Tallent | Photo: Alex Adams

Lance Olsen and Gabriel Tallent are each authors who reside in Utah. SLUG‘s December Literary Issue reviews are of novels they published this year. You can find more information about them and their books at lanceolsen.com and gabrieltallent.com, respectively.


My Absolute Darling
Gabriel Tallent

Riverhead Books
Street: 08.17

From the first page of Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling, I knew I would need a dictionary open next to me. Perhaps I should have known the definition of verdigris, but it was a great tool to teach me how to read the book in the first paragraph. The description is astounding and a testament that you might not always take your high school teachers’ advice on how to write. It is clear to me that Tallent found his literary voice in learning those basic structures of grammar then breaking all the conventions shortly thereafter. Sentences have so many uses of the word “and” that it would have received a guaranteed F in grade school. As it turns out, Tallent may have taken a tool out of Clavell’s shed and decided that cascading sentences, strung together by three descriptors—be they actions or the things and places being actioned nearby—would be best suited for the descriptions of this rustic and creaky setting. It is decidedly beautiful, and hard not to read more than once while breathing just a bit slower.

But what of the plot? Sure, description is great and all, you may be asking, but do I care about the people experiencing such landscapes? Yes, you do—or you will if you buy it. I think that what most recent popular narratives have shown consumers-of-stories and narratives is that, if characters feel real, they warrant consideration and ought to be cared about. It seems that the days of the who-gives-a-shit Hero No. 458 are thankfully dead, and in their place seems to be the rise the characters of literature. Turtle and Martin, the two main characters, exhibit this from the start. A simple scene where Martin tries to teach Turtle vocabulary—and then how to shoot a firearm at a playing card (inside their house, by the way)—unpacks so much about their relationship and the tension that exists between them. The way in which Turtle verbally abuses herself and, subsequently, how Martin loses his temper in a manner that is just beyond excusable, should be the exact behavior that makes a concerned citizen’s ears perk up and more attentive. Tallent employs this to great effect, playing on our worries of the parent that’s just a little too out of line at the midday-McDonald’s playground. Only, in My Absolute Darling, that’s just the surface.

Not enough books are about bravery. Well, I should rephrase, not enough books are about the right kind of bravery. We get plenty of superhero bravery, plenty of Vin Diesel–jumping-out-of-cars bravery, but we do not get enough stories about the bravery of those who have not had the chance to exercise that ability. Without straying too far into spoiler territory—because I really do want you to read this book—the topics of feminism, abuse and internal strength in the face of adversity are paramount to the narrative. If you are the type of person who is titillated by this, well, you know what to do.

That is not to say this book is a universal buy, though, as some may be turned off by how dark and, frankly, horrifying it is. Abuse is not told behind a curtain or a sharp cut away from the violence like in film. It is in your face, forcing you to experience it, and you must, otherwise you will not be reading this book at its ultimate intention. You can pick My Absolute Darling up in book stores everywhere.

Chimera
Julian Mihdi

Self-Published
Street: 02.07

Julian Mihdi, the author of the debut fiction work Chimera, has a fun vocabulary. He allows this vocabulary to carry his stories from one to the next and does so successfully. In fact, I feel like anyone who gets a kick out of reading for the sake of the trills and buttresses, arpeggios, daring colonnades and, hell, even arboretums, would enjoy Chimera.

It’s, as the title page suggests, “four stories and a novelette.” The four stories leading up to the novelette, which resides at the back in what I assume is meant to be a bravura for the whole book, vary dramatically in length. The longest of them is “A Search in Siam,” which clocks in at 22 pages. This story is the closest one I got the sense of a Bildungsroman taking place (common for debut works). It follows the character Louie, who does not show up (not that he needs to) in any of the other pages, as he goes about his day in Thailand when he is confronted by a Blue-skinned, alicorned Buddhist angel who seeks to rid the world of those statues owned by those who wear Buddhism like the latest Supreme sweater. Or Birkenstocks, take your pick. Anyway, the reason why I think this one is most Bildungsroman-y of them all is that Mihdi’s short biography at the back of the book reveals that he served a stint in Southeast Asia teaching English. What “A Search in Siam” wants to be about is a young man finding Nirvana, or the revealed meaning of it. Put the equations together and you get an idea. This is the story I recommend one read first. It’s the one Mihdi cared most about when writing Chimera, no doubt. It captures the joviality of Mihdi’s spirited writing.

Chimera-Julian-Mihdi

But it’s not all perfect. Nothing ever is. While I appreciate the musicality of Mihdi’s stories, I often found myself lost in them, and not in a Faulknerian way (though, I am aware, it is not fair to draw comparisons to Faulkner on a debut work). What I mean is, I think sometimes Mihdi was lost in his own stories. Many sections left me wondering who was narrating, if there was an overarching chimeric narrator who liked to dip in now and again and, most of all, what some of these stories were trying to say to me. What does not happen in Chimera often for me is the moment in which the internal framework of the story forces all the meaning to coalesce in a climax or anti-climax. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe his stories were meant to “stop” and not “end.” Tom Stoppard did it with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Why can’t Mihdi? He certainly can.

The other thing I’ll say on this side of the fence is that, as a lover of grammar, the book could have used a few more passovers before going to print. It’s not unreadable—it can even be endearing—but when “German Shepherd” is spelled “Shepard” in “Siam,” I can’t help but eye the pages crossly. Then again, given the surrealistic nature of the subject material, it’s possible that, once again, the misspelling was intended. I can’t be sure.

It sounds harsh, but it’s not meant to be. Buy the book. As a local writer myself, I love that Mihdi puts such a daring first book out. Most people wouldn’t even try to touch some of the landscapes that Mihdi describes. And sports fans, listen to the way he describes a foul on a layup. “And one!’ a blue-booted, airborne blur screams. The orange sphere hangs in the air, a grapefruit at the tip of an invisible branch, then kisses the rickety ring twice before falling through a gray net.” This is the type of description I recommend this book for. He could have said something simple—something drab that gets the point across, but what fun would that have been for him? It’s in these stretches of story where you can see just how much fun Mihdi has when he writes. That description comes at the beginning of the novelette, called “The Scorekeeper.” And there’s a lot more of those not only in the big one but throughout the rest of the work.

Keep an eye out for Mihdi in the future. He’s already cranking away on other writing, as is evidenced by his Onion-esque satire and Trump Politik think pieces on his website julianmihdi.comChimera is available locally at Golden Braid Books and Sam Wellers, and can also be ordered online via Amazon or downloaded for Kindle, Nook and Kobo. –Dylan Davis