Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 and Short Takes on Victoria and Abdul

                   History Not Exactly Repeating Itself (for the better)

                                                           Reviews by Ken Burke

                           Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): 30 years after the events of the previous Blade Runner film, Earth is even more devastated than in the earlier story (or at least the larger LA area is, as that’s all we see in either film) although rebellious replicants have now been replaced by a new generation of these androids who cooperate with humans in terminating the remaining remnants of previous incarnations of this quasi-homo sapiens-"species."  However, when our replicant-blade runner-protagonist K accidently makes a discovery of a long-buried-replicant’s bones it leads to a critical need to answer what seems to be an impossible mystery, even though the continuance of the world’s remaining humans may well depend on how it can be solved.  That’s really about all I can say without getting into verboten spoiler territory, so maybe you can just trust me (and a solid majority of other critics) to see this fascinating film for yourself, a worthy sequel to Blade Runner in concept, story tension, visualization, and after-the-fact-ruminations despite the somewhat negative stories calling its debut a bit of a failure for bringing in a “mere” $86.5 million worldwide in its initial week on screen, based on expectations that it’d make an even bigger splash.  Yes, it’s long (2 hrs. 43 min.) but well worth it unless pessimistic futuristic sci-fi is a genre you really have no interest in.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: ⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.  OK, continue on if you like.⇐
              
What Happens: As is clear from the title, this film’s set in 2049, 30 years after the events of the original Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) where we’re left—depending on which released version you see—wondering if LAPD cop/replicant (android) killer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is himself a replicant, whether he really escaped miserably-polluted Earth to an off-world-paradise with sensuous replicant Rachel (Sean Young), as well as whether new-model-Rachel actually had an indefinite life span or is destined to die after just a few years as do the renegade replicants in that earlier seminal work of dystopian sci-fi (if you need to know anything further about the original Blade Runner you could start by looking at the links noted at the beginning of the next section of this review).  Assuming you now have a context for what transpires in the new film, you’ll see from pre-action-intertitles that the replicant Nexus 6 models Deckard previously had to kill have now all been eliminated to prevent any further rebellious moves on their part while their replacement Nexus 8 models (Was Rachel supposed to be one of those?  I forget.)—with indefinite lifespans rather than the built-in-4-year-termination of the Nexus 6s—are also now deemed inconsistent with human cohabitation (again, see below for explanations if needed) so they’re in the process of being hunted down and killed by a new generation of these androids from the Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) Corporation (the previous Tyrell Corp.’s now as dead as its founder, given all their previous replicant calamities), engineered to be subservient to humans to preclude any further attempts at revolution.

 LA cop/replicant K (short for his longer serial number) begins the new action by traveling to a dusty farm (the crop is insects, a protein staple in this miserable future world; the farm’s rendered in brown and yellow rather than green as the first vision in this film of consistently fantastic images, a sure contributor to the $150 million budget) in what’s now the central CA valley to confront replicant-in-hiding Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista).  Morton talks of “a miracle,” but soon the 2 are locked in mortal combat as the larger, more muscular Morton (Bautista’s a former WWE wrestling champ) seems to have the advantage over later-model-K (just as Deckard once struggled mightily against his non-human-adversaries), although K prevails.  As he’s about to leave, though, he sees a couple of flowers near a dead tree outside, then uses a scanner to locate a buried box.  He reports all this to his commander, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), back in LA who sends him home, with a crew to get the box later.  At his apartment he’s comforted by an A.I. “woman,” Joi (Ana de Armas), whom he surprises with an eminator-device giving her enough 3-dimensionality so she can see (feel?) the ever-present-light-rain when they walk out onto the balcony, but we know she’s still a bit transparent, not a true physical presence to offer an actual level of comfort to K as these 2 non-human-entities provide a melancholy sense of how life’s devolved just a few decades from now.  Things get quickly complicated, though, when the contents of the mystery box turn out to be the bones of a female replicant who died 30 years ago during childbirth, the result of a caesarian section.  This is challenging enough in that replicants aren’t supposed to be able to reproduce, ⇒but when an ID number on a rib shows her to be Rachel,⇐ K’s set in motion because Lt. Joshi wants any evidence of the child to be destroyed in order to prevent total chaos if replicants find they’re not truly different from humans (they supposedly have no soul either, but there’s no proof) while Wallace wants to understand how Tyrell fashioned such a replicant birth ability so he can more effectively mass-produce these androids to support the ongoing colonization of 9 off-world-sites.

 Secretly followed by Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), Wallace’s lethal android assistant, K returns to Morton’s farm where he finds evidence of a date (6/10/21) matching one carved on a wooden horse he has memory of trying to hide from bullies when he was a boy (replicant memories are implanted to help give them a semblance of human emotions).  Researching data bases as best he can after much was lost during the Black Out (again, see the next section below if needed) he finds evidence of replicant twins (another seeming impossibility as they’re supposed to be created in a lab, not emerge from a womb) born that day with the girl apparently dead but the boy alive.  After he visits Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri)—who lives in a large isolation chamber (due to immune problems) where she fills her time with holograms or creates memories for Wallace’s replicants—to learn replicants aren’t allowed to be implanted with actual human memories ⇒he comes to the conclusion (which we’re led to accept) he’s actually the son of Deckard and Rachel.⇐   Back at LAPD headquarters K’s no longer able to be reprogrammed back to his “baseline,” so he tells Lt. Joshi he’s destabilized because he killed the mystery child; she sends him off into hiding, knowing his baseline problems will mark him for termination, so he gets a radiation analysis from that crucial toy horse (he found it while searching for the missing child in a miserable orphanage in bombed-out San Diego) that leads him to the remains of barren Las Vegas in search of long-missing-Deckard.  ⇒They meet, fight (although “Dad” barely makes an impact on “son,” further undermining the assertion Deckard’s really a replicant—not to mention what kind of lifespan he has nor how he overrode supposed-replicant-programming not to kill other androids in the earlier film), make up over a drink,* then Deckard reveals he had to leave Rachel with the rebellious Nexus 8s to go in hiding while she was in labor, later  he scrambled the birth records of his children to help keep himself difficult to find.⇐

*While shooting this scene, Ford accidentally connected with Gosling's face harder than he was supposed to in 1 of the many takes, then offered him a drink in the latter’s trailer as appeasement but afterward left with the bottle as he didn’t feel like he needed to make that much on an apology.

 With K now knowing he’s not the “miracle child” he’s further burdened by the arrival of Luv and her troops (she killed Lt. Joshi, followed K’s tracker to Las Vegas [where we got to see some amusing holographic footage of Elvis Presley, Liberace, dancers, etc. during the Deckard-K fight]) who attack our heroes, taking Deckard prisoner while leaving K for dead after smashing his device that contains Joi (thus, our put-upon-protagonist notably finds no solace in either "love" or "joy").  He’s not finished, though, so soon he's rescued by the group of clandestine, rebellious Nexus 8s who tell him  Rachel’s surviving child is actually the female.  Back in LA Wallace wants Deckard to lead him to the miraculous offspring so he can understand and copy the replicant fertility process, suggesting Deckard was intended to fall in love with, then impregnate Rachel (another argument he’s a replicant created for a groundbreaking-mission, possibly also designed as a weapon against renegade androids [my speculation], but if he’s simply a nonhuman-sperm-carrier then the whole “inter-species” conundrum has no meaning, giving further substance to Ford’s argument Deckard’s human), even offering him a new Rachel (he refuses as she doesn’t have green eyes—although it's Young’s earlier image superimposed onto her current self and another actor), then sends him off with Luv to be tortured.  K intercepts them, has a brutal fight with Luv as tides rise around their airship, finally kills her, then, after staging Deckard’s death to throw Wallace off the trail, takes Deckard to meet his daughter, whom K's figured out is Ana (surely she’d have biological problems, given her mixed DNA), while K lies outside her quarantine quarters bleeding to death from wounds sustained in the brutal combat with Luv.  (Whether we’ll see Deckard and Wallace again in yet another sequel is the next mystery to ponder, as the box-office “votes” continue to be counted.)⇐

So What? While nothing in the original Blade Runner’s focused on the question of whether Deckard is a replicant or not, there’s been endless speculation since then on that question with Ridley Scott saying emphatically “yes,” while Harrison Ford argues “no.”  In case you’re not current on that dispute (or even on Scott’s film—in its several manifestations: 1982 theatrical release with studio-demanded film noir-like voiceovers from Deckard plus a happy-ending-escape to an off-world-Eden; 1992 director’s cut; 2007 final cut [only one fully commanded by Scott]), both of which eschew the VO along with the out-of-character-escape to a better life, so you might need some background material before being able to fully appreciate … 2049.  If so, here’s a short summary of the original film (4:26, of the story as it abruptly ends in the later versions), but you might also like this summary (6:52) which asks some pertinent questions about the older narrative’s intentions.  With those links as background you can proceed to this one (4:50) with its specific focus on Deckard as possibly a Nexus 7 replicant model not necessarily limited to the 4-year-life-span of Roy and the other renegades (if so, though, he must have been designed a bit more for identification skills of his kind than combat because he’s barely able to survive his battles with the renegades [needing Rachel to kill Leon to save him, just as Roy saves him again at the end just before Roy's own eloquent death speech {3:54}], although as mentioned in that previous link his ability to survive punishment in these  battles indicates at least a level of hyper-human-resilience).  

 Once you’ve digested all those considerations about the implications of the older Blade Runner you might also like this site, a 27:02 collection of 3 short films showing crucial events after 2019, prior to 2049 (Black Out 2022 [animation] about the data-destroying EMP [massive electromagnetic pulse after a nuclear explosion] event as a result of Nexus 8 models from Tyrell Corp. created with unlimited lifespans, leading to violent Human Supremacy movements [maybe led by the alt-right bigots, but that's not part of this storyline] and the resulting replicant sabotage; 2036: Nexus Dawn about Niander Wallace introducing the new obedient replicants after prohibitions against their kind as the result of that previous disaster; 2048: Nowhere to Run about Sapper Morton having to flee after killing a human while protecting a couple of abused replicants, setting up K’s assault on him in … 2049) as background to the new film (note some of the audio’s a bit low in these shorts, though).

 After all this Blade Runner education—as well as seeing the long-awaited-sequel (or just reading about it here, in an attempt to save some bucks)—you might then have some questions about implications in this latest plot; if so, I’ll steer you to this link where you can join in with speculations about aspects of … 2049, ⇒a primary one being if K is the replicant decoy made from Ana’s DNA that would lead anyone looking for this child (including K) to assume he’s the miraculous one rather than Ana (I make mention of this because that aspect of the story eluded me during my viewing—I knew we and K are supposed to assume he’s the “miracle child” but I didn’t register the part about him sharing her DNA).⇐   The real question to be asked, though, after ruminating on what occurred in the original film, becoming aware of the short films that fill in the 2019-2049 gaps, and wandering through the misery that appears to await the human race in the lifetime of my children—if I had any; I don’t think my cats will live another 32 years, despite their daily eating habits—(a real possibility if increasingly-ferocious-natural-disasters continue battering our planet [Which would be enough to make Earth near-unlivable even without the full holocaust of a nuclear war resulting from North Korea/Iran-trigger-happy-hostilities {no matter who makes the first strike}, even though it’s clear in the original book these films are based on {Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, 1968} such a disaster has occurred, but these cinematic plots veer away from other aspects of the novel such as mechanical animals, a mesmerizing-religious-cult, and Deckard as a human!]) is what appeal … 2049 has beyond the thrill of seeing Deckard again (especially knowing Han Solo’s now out of the ongoing Star Wars picture[s], coupled with the sense Indiana Jones is getting too damn old to keep snapping that whip in various jungles [which are disappearing due to deforestation anyway]) as well as wondering what’s to become of humanity when we keep on insisting to perpetuate some form of ourselves through replicants even though they seem intent on hastening our downfall.  (That hidden Nexus 8 crew certainly spells further trouble, but do we as an audience want to simply retrace a cinematic path already well-trod by the revived Planet of the Apes series with humanoids replacing intelligent simians in an ongoing war against our beleaguered species?)

Bottom Line Final Comments: In answer to my above question (or at least a noble attempt to address it), what really matters about this new version of Blade Runner is exactly the challenge that mattered about the old one:  What defines us as human?  Is it our unique biology—even with all its limitations and weaknesses—that seems to come with an identifiable soul (If that’s a reality either, not a conclusion agreed upon throughout our many cultures or even, if so, what becomes of it upon death of our bodies?) and a cluster of emotions that can’t (or so we assume) be replicated in any form of android or A.I. because that’s an aspect of our existence which is beyond quantification (supposedly).  Is it our ability to show sincere empathy with others of our kind (and other species when we’re not just using them for the burdens of manual labor)?  Is it our self-consciousness that’s so far allowed us to evolve to levels of awareness, abstract thought, creativity that exceeds what other animals on our planet seem capable of (although dolphins might argue with us on that point if we could devise a common language—yet, possibly they demonstrate superior intelligence by not even attempting to communicate with us, lest they get caught up in our cycles of denigration and warfare).  While the replicants in both Blade Runners and A.I. Joi in this one (who offers some complexity of “her” own in that “she” seems to be an off-the-shelf-purchase for anyonehuman or replicantwho needs her form of invested companionship, but this particular Joi's seemingly evolved into something very personal for K, invested in his welfare even though both of them are essentially machines) depend on humans for their creation, as they become more self-aware—and able to reproduce?—they'll challenge us as to how unique or even “superior” we are.

 Definitely it seems this particular Joi manifestation’s formed some sort of unique bond with K that can’t (easily or at all?) be replaced when Luv crushes “her” out of existence so this specific Joi (they seem to all have the same name, as with Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa) has evolved (?) into an individualized-mate for android K, each of them reaching for levels of emotion their baseline programming (intentionally?) doesn’t provide, even as the primary humans they encounter are either high-tech-egomaniacs (Wallace here but also Tyrell relative to Roy and his crew in the earlier film) or Deckard, the worn-out-killer (back in [1982] 2019 he even says in voiceover he’s called “Sushi”—indicating cold fish—by his ex-wife [? I've forgotten exactly who said it.]), none of whom offer the actual emotional depths Rachel, Roy, and Joi are willing to share with Deckard and K, respectively.*

*Joi even goes so far as give K a name, Joe, and arranges for a physical sexual encounter with him by letting a replicant hooker, Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), into their apartment so she can somehow merge with this almost-female for a sensual-sharing with Joe, reminding me of a similar scene in Ghost (Jerry Zucker, 1990) where Sam Wheat's (Patrick Swayze) spirit enters the body of the psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), for one last slow dance with girlfriend Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) not long before he leaves our Earthly plane.  But, just as we see only the bodies of Swayze and Moore in this close embrace—no lesbo-implications with images of a Black female and a White female cuddling in this yesteryear-mainstream-romance—we’re given no indication if there are male versions of Joi for female replicants who might be interested in such considerations; however, given that all of these androids are programmed by humans, with the females mostly created for prostitution purposes—except for warriors like Luv—it seems heterosexuality has been established as a post-apocalyptic-norm in this society, or, if not, we see nothing to the contrary.

 So, with all of this philosophical depth in Blade Runner 2049 enhanced with enough action scenes (as K’s constantly fighting for his life to balance the solitude whether in the many desert environments he visits or the always-night-flying-car-shots over dismal LA [maybe I need to see the original again, but it seems there aren’t as many vehicles whizzing around above the streets this time; possibly that’s because the Black Out interrupted computer control enough so it’s mainly the police and high-end-corporate-vehicles gaining access to such technology in 2049]) to keep our adrenalin running hot while we’re intrigued by the mysteries of the plot, what’s been the response to this extremely-long-awaited-sequel?  From the critics’ standpoint (including mine with my lofty 4 stars, my usual-highest-plateau except for the exceptionally-rare-achievement of current fare or the re-release of a true classic) Blade Runner 2049 is a solid hit, with the reviewer-accumulator-site of Rotten Tomatoes offering 88% positive responses while the folks at Metacritic were equally enthralled with an 81% average score (one of the highest they’ve given to something I’ve also reviewed this year), but there’s some concern in bean-counter-land (as I noted far above) with an opening-weekend-take of “only” about $85.5 million worldwide (a bit over $37 million of that from the domestic [U.S.-Canada] market), which normally would be great cause for celebration but apparently the hope (after all the hype) was for a $50 million domestic opening weekend given the 4,058-theater-availability, so we’ll just have to see how momentum builds or falls in coming weeks.*

*If you’re interested, here’s an analysis of what went "wrong": too long of a running time both for audiences’ attention spans (as well as their bladders) and theaters’ abilities to schedule more daily showings; the original didn’t really bring in enough revenue to justify such a huge budget for this sequel; multiple-release-versions of Blade Runner have created plot confusion for the casual viewer; that aforementioned-budget’s too huge to anticipate much profit; the marketing fails because the trailers focus on stunning visuals rather than plot points; appeal is limited because of the need to understand what went on in a film from so long ago; the current competition (even My Little Pony: The Movie [Jayson Thiessen]) proved easier for audiences to digest (although there are still hopes for higher returns when … 2049 opens later in huge markets such as Korea and China).

 Well, after all that I’m just going to wrap up with a strong encouragement for you to see Blade Runner 2049 (easy enough to do, given its availability), although I don’t know if the 3-D format will be worth the extra bucks because the 2-D version’s stunning enough, so even if you just want to pay bargain-matinee-prices (but be sure and use the restroom as close as you can to the actual start time, even if that’s enough preparation; I did my due diligence but still squirmed a bit during that last 45 min.) I’d say do so even if for no other reason than the magnificent visuals (including those skyscraper-sized-billboards that were so effective in the original).  Recognizing my review’s getting to be as lengthy as the film I think it’s time to wrap it up with my usual choice of a Musical Metaphor to offer a final set of considerations but from the perspective of the aural arts.  For … 2049 I’ve picked George Harrison’s “What Is Life” (from his 1970 solo-debut-triple-album All Things Must Pass) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiH9edd25Bc, the official music video for the song in which a teenage girl’s happily dancing in various environments (including a graveyard) until she’s joined by a dancing teenage boy.  The simple energy shown of living joyously in the moment allows us to slowly appreciate how they relate to the deeper implications of the lyrics, which could also easily speak to the troubled relationships in this film as various characters whom we know to not be human (maybe including Deckard, but I agree with Ford the whole narrative becomes richer, more intriguing if he’s understood as one of us [Which is how Ford plays him, Ridley Scott be damned!] finding connection with what may indeed be an emerging new species in Roy and Rachel) still have yearnings for love, even as do the more ambiguous humanish-characters (Ana, maybe Deckard) so the lyrics of “What I feel, I can’t say But my love is there for you anytime of day […] Tell me, what is my life without your love Tell me, who am I without you, by my side” have resonance for me with all of these relationships, just as the ongoing repetition of these words keeps reminding us these Blade Runner stories are rife with fundamentally-intriguing-questions that leave the answers to our post-screening-conversations over a meal/drinks or Internet dialogues.  (Care to comment?)
              
SHORT (relatively speaking) TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                
                      Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears)
                
Here’s yet another “Based On Real Events” movie (although it admits to aspects of fictionalization) this one focused on the relationship between England’s Queen Victoria and her Indian subject, Abdul Karim, originally intended to be a household servant but evolved via her interest in him into the role of secretary/advisor, much to the horror of the rest of her household.
              
Here’s the trailer:


        Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
                    
What Happens: In 1887 England’s Queen Victoria’s in the process of celebrating her Golden Jubilee, marking a 50-year-reign over the British Empire (since 1858 including India) so among the many gifts sent to her is a ceremonial Indian coin to be carried into a lavish banquet by 2 men from the city of Agra, intended to function as short-term-servants in the royal household, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Mohammed Buksh (Adeel Aktar).  Despite strict admonitions not to look directly at the queen, Abdul does just that (but it’s clear she rather likes what she sees in this young, tall, handsome man), then ingratiates himself when serving her lunch dessert pudding the next day by spontaneously kissing her feet.  To Mohammed’s horror—wishing only to return home, leaving cold, unwelcoming, “barbaric” England behind—Victoria’s growing fascination with Ahmed leads to their continuance at court where he eagerly ingratiates himself into her private life teaching her the Urdu language (called Hindustani by the Brits) and the Quran along with the fascinating beauty of Indian culture (as she’d never be able to survive the long voyage there herself, despite being Empress).  Admitting she’s a lonely old woman (on the throne since 1837 at the age of 18; her husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861), not trusting her close advisors nor her greedy children—especially pompous Prince Edward (Eddie Izzard)—Queen Victoria readily takes Abdul into her private sphere, a move which upsets Bertie (her nickname for the prince) along with her governmental entourage including Private Secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith), Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon), and her personal physician, Dr. James Reid (Paul Higgins).  Despite the haughty attitude shown toward “the Hindu” (insults always countered by supportive Victoria), his prestige at court continues to grow as the queen becomes enthralled with all things Indian, further shocking her retinue by bringing Abdul along on a state trip to Italy as her Munshi (teacher, personal attendant).

 No matter what attempts Queen Victoria’s inner circle makes to dim her fascination with this “inappropriate intruder” she remains steadfast in her loyalty even when it’s discovered that neither he nor his family is as lofty in their accomplishments as Abdul indicated (he was simply a prison clerk, but given the constant procedural-protocols of the royal lifestyle along with such a ridiculous abundance of elegance in the Queen’s world I’m sure he felt the need to embellish his background) or that he yet has no children because of his gonorrhea (discovered by Dr. Reid upon a quick examination) or that he has a wife (Sukh Ojla) and mother-in-law (Sally Jokhan) back home he’s not previously mentioned; none of this fazes Victoria (she seems not to care about his heritage; simply tells Dr. Reid to treat the man’s illness; arranges for Abdul’s family to be housed in England despite their odd presence to Western sensibilities by wearing full burkas in front of anyone but Abdul), but when she learns the Indian Muslims revolted and aren’t supportive of her as Abdul claimed (in fact, she’s the target of a fatwa [death decree]) she initially decides to send him home, then relents with the idea of forcing his acceptance from her other advisors by making him a knight; this leads to a proposed mass-resignation by her staff then an attempt by Dr. Reid to have her removed as monarch because of insanity, but her resolute dismissal of these threats keeps Abdul close at hand with his eventual title a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, ⇒although his success comes to an abrupt end in 1901 with her death, followed swiftly by Bertie’s (now Edward VII) banishment of Abdul back to India along with burning of all evidence of connection between his mother and this perceived “usurper.”  His story essentially remained unknown until the discovery of Abdul’s diaries in 2010 (plus support from translations of long-ignored Urdu notations in Victoria’s own diaries).⇐*

*Between the trailer and easily-found historical summaries there’s nothing I can say that’s truly a spoiler, but this above aspect might be the biggest surprise for those who haven’t been exposed to the background about Abdul Karim as it comes a rude rejection of his presence just at story's end.

So What? Unlike the usual statement found before movies inspired by historical events this one honestly modifies its fictionalization by adding the word “mostly” up front, although based on what we see on screen vs. the facts as we know them (with differences summarized nicely in this Vanity Fair article or put into much greater detail in this extensive summary [if you can accept Wikipedia as a source; I easily can in this case—as well as with most everything else I’ve ever looked up in this massive informational storehouse—given the plethora of documentation]) I don’t see much of significance has been omitted, abbreviated, fabricated, or spun together to give us what appears in the script.  However, such accomplishments haven’t prevented Victoria … from being criticized as failing in another manner, that of being racist (at least in Bilal Qureshi’s opinion) regarding Abdul’s willing subservience to his queen rather than challenging her on Britian’s harsh occupation of his country (although I’m surprised Qureshi doesn’t mention Mohammed’s obscene tirade against Victoria’s minions in response to their attempt to find “dirt” on his colleague, in which the disgusted man [even though he’s been assigned to be Abdul’s servant] essentially tells an English aristocrat to shove his empire far up his ass [a clip I’m sad—but not surprisedI haven’t yet been able to find]).

 Within his complaints, Qureshi acknowledges Victoria’s son, ministers, and entire household all express racist condescension toward Abdul—only to be upbraided by the queen for acting in such an inhumane manner toward one of the few people she truly has much regard for—but, nevertheless, he finds “The film is elegant and warm and entirely misleading.  It’s charming inoffensiveness is at the root of its insidious politics” with Abdul as “an object of exotic eroticism” so that “This kind of shallow Raj revisionism is possible because of how little we’ve confronted the enduring and painful legacy of the British empire.”  While Qureshi has more of a personal (and probably historical) investment in the movie’s depictions than I do, I admit I found little of these objections in my own viewing of the story—augmented as it might be by the presentation of Abdul’s easy interactions with the monarch as well as his somewhat flirtatious manner with her before revealing the waiting wife back home—because, based on accounts I've encountered* of Victoria and Abdul’s relationship I’m not so sure that the depictions in this movie are all that exaggerated.

*This documentary (47:54, if you’ve got time to watch; if not, you might skim through it to get a sense of its information) seems to support much of what’s presented in Victoria ... more so than the criticisms cited above (including verification of his kissing her feet—noted by another source I’ve read as being recorded in her diaries—so this is no servile invention on the part of the filmmakers).

Bottom Line Final Comments: As noted just above (and in other negative responses to Victoria …, which you can find in both the RT [67% positive reviews] and MC [57% average score]) summaries, there are naysayers about this movie; yet there are also many vocal supporters who find charm in the story as well as Oscar-consideration for Dench’s outstanding performance.  As for the attitudes about romantic whimsy in this presentation, you’ll certainly find that in scenes such as the one in Italy where Victoria and Abdul dance privately or when he confesses she’s more important to him than his wife, but there’s plenty of rancor here as well, from Victoria’s self-admitted faults (enumerated in the trailer when she’s rejecting the attempt to declare her insane) to her retinue’s blunt dismissal of her Indian protégé as both racially and intellectually unsuited to the honors she wished to bestow upon him to his own prideful ambition to remain in her service for the benefit of his advancement (lying to her about himself as well as Indian Muslims, eagerly accepting whatever gifts she wished to bestow despite the truth of his inadequacies).  For those who find this movie cloyingly-romanticized (if not downright racist) I’d suggest—despite whatever faults it may have in conception—that it seems to reflect the essence of the historical record (if not all the minor facts) but perhaps presented from the perspectives of how the 2 principals want to see themselves: Victoria as a sad, lonely ruler almost drained of meaningful human contact suddenly revived by an interesting young man who seems more concerned for her welfare than for advancing an agenda on behalf of his fellow Indians (for whatever reason, but from what little I know that seems to be the case) while Adbul’s eagerly responding to the attentions of a powerful-mother-figure who’s offering him a level of material comfort and self-esteem denied to him otherwise in both England and India (he may also legitimately have respected his mentor’s royal office—even while she's an oppressor of his countrymen—but I’d have to do a lot more research to get better insights into that argument).

 On the whole, while the tone of this story may have been made more lighthearted in many scenes than a documentary would show, I get the sense of sincerity of overall depiction on the part of the filmmakers to the actual relationship of Queen and Munshi even if the result’s not as challenging to the status quo of the times as its critics (and Mohammed) would have cared for.  While the screening I attended was more packed than most I’ve encountered recently, audiences as a whole aren’t yet warming up to this movie as quickly as many critics have with a worldwide take of about $31.1 million (a mere $6 million of that domestically) after 3 weeks in release so as it expands onto more screens we’ll just have to see what attraction it offers for audiences who so far seem more attracted to Brits (and their U.S. allies) who save the world from destruction than those who set about colonizing it (Kingsman: The Golden Circle [Matthew Vaughn] has taken in about $253.7 million worldwide [$80.5 million domestic sales] in the same amount of time as Victoria …).  As for my Musical Metaphor for Victoria and Abdul I’ll go British there as well (influenced by occasional sitar on the soundtrack) once again with George Harrison, this time his “Within You, Without You” (from The Beatles’ 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album) at http://www.jukebox. fr/the-beatles/clip,within-you-without-you,uv8vu.html with its grand rhythmic Indian instrumentation accompanying lyrics about “the space between us all And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion [… because] No one else can make you change [… so work to no be among] the people who gain the world and lose their soul [… don’t be] one of them [… because with clarity] you may find peace of mind is waiting” (no matter what it is your class, heritage, or ethnicity may be).

 As I write all this I’m very aware (from local news reports as well as smoke coming in my window) of people geographically close to me who’re struggling to retain their souls after losing most—if not all—of what they’d gained in the world in the horrible wildfires raging just north of San Francisco, yet another soul-searing-tragedy to ravage parts of the U.S., its territories, and its nearby neighbors in recent weeks, giving any of us not directly impacted by such crises reason to thank our lucky stars (and share whatever we can with those currently suffering) because we’re all “really only very small And life flows on within you and without you,” no matter how much control we think we have only to be awakened some early morning with flames roaring all around (for many—at least those who've survived this spreading inferno—leaving them in environments as barrenly-bleak as those in Blade Runner 2049).  Thus, when we’re safe (either now or after the disasters finally cool off a bit) we often turn to movies or other forms of diversionary entertainment to remind us of memories we carry about better times, almost-forgotten friends and lovers, storylines resolved as fiction usually triumphs over fact in giving us outcomes corresponding more to our dreams than our realities.  If a touch of that nostalgia might help anyone in any circumstances reading this blog, I’ll offer you a trip from Esquire to a set of photos from the sets of 25 memorable movies (including one of Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford from the original Blade Runner; by the way, the “unidentified film” with Woody Allen looks very much like Annie Hall [1977] to me), followed by another gallery of 25, this time key moments in film history.  (I thank my friend, Barry Caine, for alerting me to this site, just as I thank my friend/faithful reader/frequent collaborator Richard Parker for steering me to the Vanity Fair article about Victoria and Abdul.)  That’s all for now, but as those aforementioned Beatles collectively said in another song (from their 1964 A Hard Day’s Night album): “I’ll be back again.”
                 
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
                
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Blade Runner 2049:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPn-xuifKFg (32:03 interview with director Denis Villeneuve)



Here’s more information about Victoria and Abdul:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87mTH8uquOg (4:48 interview with actors Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, and director Stephen Frears—although the latter doesn’t say anything so you can hear from him at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Su-nzvz00Cw[6:03, although his interview goes only until 3:54])



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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*YouTube keeps deleting links to this Eagles performance so I keep putting a newer version back in but you’ll just find dead links in our previous postings prior to October 12, 2017, so don’t be confused.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
               
OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.
               
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 16,375; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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