AFI #93: The French Connection

I barely remember seeing The French Connection when I was younger, so watching it today it was like watching a film I hadn’t seen. I’ll cut right to the chase — the film doesn’t hold up and honestly it’s pretty dull compared to most of today’s crime films. I suppose it was a good police film in 1971, but these days we’re saturated with crime drama and frankly the plots of most TV crime shows is far superior to The French Connection. It’s hard to believe this film won the Oscar for Best Picture.

I did like some things in The French Connection. Gene Hackman’s Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle is a memorable character, and Hackman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the gritty, boozing, racist cop with questionable skills. I also liked the style of the film…it has a definite early 70s mood and the direction caught the period well. But the action was slow and the plot was dull. Truth is Popeye Doyle didn’t do good police work to break up the big drug ring, rather he stumbled upon it. Once he was onto it he kept getting “made” by the people he was tailing and not only did he not catch the bad guy in the end he killed one of his own men in the process. Doyle is definitely a flawed character. The film is “loosely” based on a true story, so some of the plot failures may be due to that, but it doesn’t work for me.

And then there is the famous car chase. You know it…the one in which Gene Hackman swerves in and out of traffic under the elevated train trying to catch a bad guy. The thing is, it’s not a car chase at all. The film is remembered for the amazing car chase that never happened. Yes, he drives fast and almost kills a million other drivers on the road, but he’s trying to catch a train not another car. That doesn’t qualify as a car chase for me! I’ll take the car chase scene in To Live and Die in LA any day!

The French Connection is another film that for me is simply not as good as it is remembered for being. If it were filmed today it would be considered a bad episode of Law and Order.

Next Up: #92 Goodfellas

The Definition of Eclectic: Steppin’ Out with Joe Jackson

All of us have a favorite band or musical artist, and more than likely there is a personal story behind why that artist is our favorite. I listen to a ton of music across a wide range of genres, and while certain artists may spend some time in heavy rotation in my collection there is only one artist that qualifies as my favorite — Joe Jackson.

If you’re not a fan of Joe Jackson, you may be thinking to yourself “isn’t that the guy from the 80s who sang Steppin’ Out?” Yep, that’s the guy. Like a lot of so-called one-hit wonders, there’s a lot more to the story. The truth is, Joe Jackson has been recording consistently amazing music for five decades and his newest album — a collection of reinterpretations of classic Joe Jackson songs from across the decades called Live Music— will be released June 7 in North America. It will be JJ’s 29th album all tolled. You can bet I will be downloading it on release day.

If you don’t know much about Joe Jackson, it’s probably because there hasn’t been much place for him on commercial radio since the early 80s. He has had six songs chart on the Billboard Hot 100, the first 1979’s Is She Really Going Out With Him? and most recently 1984’s Happy Ending. Chart success in his native U.K. hasn’t been much better — he’s charted eight times in the U.K. and not once since 1986 (Left of Center with Suzanne Vega). Yet I’d argue that no other artist has a more diverse and wonderful collection of albums. He’s a genre buster and mainstream music has little place for an artist that they can’t fit neatly into a little box. Just check out what Wikipedia lists for his genre: Punk rock/ska (early), new wave, jazz pop, jazz, and classical music! That is the very definition of eclectic in my mind (I’m still waiting for JJ Sings Nashville Hits)!

I “discovered” Joe Jackson in 1982 with the release of Night & Day, his most mainstream record ever and the album that brought us the aforementioned Steppin’ Out along with Breaking Us in Two. I was immediately struck by the jazzy feel and the witty lyrics. It wasn’t long before I went back to listen to his earlier work including Look Sharp, I’m the Man and Beat Crazy, an energetic trio of punk-infused pop classics. And then just when I thought I had JJ figured out he released 1984’s Body and Soul, a jazz pop album inspired by Blue Note greats like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. You may remember the one hit from that album — You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want). I saw Joe Jackson for the first time on that tour at the outdoor amphitheater at San Diego State with Howard Jones, the first of three times I’ve been fortunate enough to see JJ live.

Over the next several years Joe released a series of great pop albums like Big World, Blaze of Glory and Laughter & Lust, and he threw in a few classical releases as well just to keep his fans on their toes. In 1997 he released Heaven & Hell, a collection of songs based on the seven deadly sins with guest vocalists including Suzanne Vega, Jane Siberry and Brad Roberts from Crash Test Dummies. And then in 2000 he released a sequel to Night & Day called Night & Day II, which has since become my favorite Joe Jackson album. In 2000 he also released Summer in the City: Live in New York, a live CD made up of great takes on his own hits and covers as diverse as The Beatles, Steely Dan and Duke Ellington. His most recent studio release was 2008’s Rain.

I love Joe Jackson for his unique style, his brilliant and edgy lyrics and his musical fearlessness. His lyrics spoke to me as I was growing up. What did it mean to be a man? What was love about? What made life worth living? He wrote songs about politics (Right & Wrong) and songs about sexual desire (Jamie G). He wrote about the difference between men and women (It’s Different For Girls) and about recapturing youth (Nineteen Forever). He wrote about longing for home (Hometown) and about chasing your dreams (Go For It). Basically he wrote about the things I was thinking about. He may not have the best vocals of all time, but he can sure write a great song and he can play the piano like nobody’s business.

If you like Joe Jackson, then I’m sure you’re excited about the new record. If you don’t know much about JJ, give him a try. Start with the early punk stuff, move into the jazzier stuff, and then listen in to some of his latest work from the past decade or so. You won’t be disappointed! If you need a place to start, take a listen to one of his various greatest hits or live albums. You can find everything you need at And let me know what you think.

‘Inside Job’ a Sobering Indictment of Financial Services

“Why should a financial engineer be paid four times to 100 times more than a real engineer? A real engineer build bridges. A financial engineer build dreams. And, you know, when those dreams turn out to be nightmares, other people pay for it.” Andrew Sheng, Chief Adviser to the China Banking Regulatory Commission

In the late 2000s the U.S. financial system nearly collapsed as a result of a runaway derivatives fueled housing market. While Americans were mostly tuned into American Idol and watching extensive coverage of Paris Hilton on the nightly news, a handful of uber-rich bankers brought America to the edge of financial ruin. You may have heard the bits and pieces about Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers and AIG going bankrupt, and perhaps you even noticed when the Bush and Obama administrations bailed out these institutions with your money, or maybe even you knew someone who lost their home to foreclosure or had to get out of their home with a short sale, or maybe they just walked away. Yeah, that financial crisis.

Inside Job is the Academy Award winning documentary that explains how we got to the point of financial Armageddon and what we did (or didn’t do) in response. It’s a scary film, especially since the lesson of the film is that we haven’t made any substantial changes to our system to protect us from this sort of scam again and nobody (seriously…nobody) has gone to jail or even been indicted for crimes that clearly took place. In fact, those responsible have been summarily rewarded with huge bonuses and cushy jobs in the Obama administration.

Frankly I’m tired of politicians and “conservatives” talking about the merits of laissez faire economics. “The market will take care of itself,” they decry and “Government regulation is socialism,” they claim falsely. We got into this mess beginning with deregulation of the financial sector beginning in 1980 with Reaganomics and it has gotten worse under every administration since…up to and including the Obama administration. Deregulation and self-monitoring is the problem and the solution is to go back to regulating what the financial services industry can and can’t do with our money. And it should start with removing the foxes from the hen house. I thought it was awful when George W. Bush installed coal and oil executives to monitor our environment, but this is worse. Nearly every major player in government with anything to do with monitoring our economy has a history of working with, lobbying for, or even being CEO of the very banks and brokerages that they are supposed to be watching over. It seems the only qualification needed to head the treasury or be chairman of the federal reserve is to have worked for Goldman Sachs.

Perhaps the reason we’re so ignorant of what’s going on is that these are complicated issues. None of us can hope to fully understand derivatives and credit default swaps. But all you really need to know to understand them is to follow the money…and the money always ends up in the hands of the wealthiest Americans. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it’s hard not to imagine there is some boardroom full of rich old white men laughing their asses off over this whole fiasco. Why should we trust the likes of Geithner, Bernanke and Paulson? And Inside Job even makes the case that we can no longer trust academia as these guys are also financially connected to the Goldman Sachs’ of the world.

Inside Job will piss you off — unless of course you are the CEO of Bank of America in which case you’ll probably think it’s a comedy. This issue should be non-partisan, as even the most conservative of us are still probably not part of the top 1 percent. We’re being fleeced and it’s only getting worse. What’s more, the mainstream media isn’t even interested. So far the only decent reporting on the financial meltdown has been by Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, who for years has been expertly chronicling these crimes. And I have Michael Lewis’ book The Big Short on my reading list as well, which is supposed to be a solid explanation of all this.

If the growing disparity between rich and poor in America isn’t enough reason for you to re-think your love of Capitalism run amok I’m not sure what is. I for one am not afraid to say I think we need to reconsider our financial system and move toward a more socialist system. Electing more of the same politicians isn’t the answer. Anyone else for a revolution?

AFI #94: Pulp Fiction

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know My name is the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon thee. – Jules Winnfield

It was 1994 when Quentin Tarantino burst onto the Hollywood landscape with Pulp Fiction, a film that people tend to either love or despise. It probably won’t be a surprise to you, my readers, that I think Pulp Fiction is one of the most entertaining films ever to hit the silver screen. I remember sitting there in the theater when it was over and seeing the look on my in-laws’ faces and my sister-in-law’s as well. They looked like they had just been hit in the face by a brick, and meanwhile Leslie and I were smiling ear to ear in movie bliss. Like I said, you either loved it or you didn’t.

I don’t think there is any question that Tarantino is a sick fucker. Pulp Fiction is just one of his many films that proves he has a warped mind. But to me and his millions of fans he walks the fine line between morbidity and comedy like no other. If you watch Pulp Fiction (and Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs, etc., etc.) you have to watch with the understanding that the violence and gore is purposely over the top to make you cringe. And then you laugh because it’s not realistic — it’s pulp fiction.

Pulp Fiction made an impact (and made the AFI list) because it is creative, because it is a true original, and because the writing is pure genius. The banter between Jules and Vincent about everyday topics like cheeseburgers (a Royale with cheese), religion, foot massages and more are epic and movie fans have been quoting them ever since. Here’s a gem:

Jules: Oh, man, I will never forgive your ass for this shit. This is some fucked-up repugnant shit.
Vincent: Jules, did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits that he’s wrong that he is immediately forgiven for all wrongdoings? Have you ever heard that?
Jules: Get the fuck out my face with that shit! The motherfucker that said that shit never had to pick up itty-bitty pieces of skull on account of your dumb ass.

The plot is simply bizarre, from Butch throwing his fight to Mia’s overdose to Marsellus and Butch being held hostage by a couple of rejects from Deliverance, to the story of Butch’s watch as told by Chris Walken to Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer’s ill-fated restaurant robbery…it goes on and on. Classic acting on all fronts. And of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Pulp Fiction completely re-energized the acting careers of both John Travolta and Bruce Willis.

Pulp Fiction is easily one of my favorite films and re-watching for this project was great. In fact, I may have enjoyed it more than the first few times I saw it because I was paying attention to the details for this review.

Next up: #93 The French Connection

AFI #95: The Last Picture Show

I’ll say this for 1971’s The Last Picture Show — Cybill Shepherd looked hot. As for the film itself, I thought it was as slow and dull as life must have been in Anarene, Texas in the 1950s! I didn’t read the book by Larry McMurtry upon which this film was based, but I imagine it was much more detailed about the lives of the characters in this story. I think one of the fatal flaws of most films made from epic novels is that you simply can’t get into all the details in two hours so the film is left leaving the viewer wondering why everyone is acting the way they are and why the plot moves in the direction it does. Which is a long winded way to say that I thought the characters in this film were really flat.

The film revolves around a couple of high school friends in a tiny Texas town in the 1950s. The town is decaying and these soon to be graduates are “coming of age” as it were. Sonny Crawford is lonely and bored, and after breaking up with his girlfriend he begins a strange affair with the 40-ish wife of his coach. The wife, played by Cloris Leachman, is a pathetic and unattractive woman, so we can guess young Sonny is sleeping with her out of pure boredom and a teenage desire to get laid (I read that in the book the coach is a closet homosexual, so it would make sense she was unhappy). The other best friend, Duane Jackson, is trying desperately to sleep with the desirable Jacy Farrow (Shepherd), but he’s a bit of a loser and she doesn’t want to get stuck with him for the rest of her life. Jacy is looking for anything to get her out of the life of her mother, so she gloms on to whatever man she can find, including sleeping with the much older Abilene.

Sex is the common theme in this film — everyone is trying to get it in disturbing ways. Jacy sleeps with everyone. Sonny sleeps with a much older woman (this would be statutory rape by the way). The boys pony up money for the “slow-witted” Billy to get laid by a disgusting prostitute. One of the boys kidnaps a little girl and is caught by police having only “gotten her underwear off.” A group of rich teens have a weird ritual where they skinny dip and as an initiation the newbie has to stand on the diving board and get naked while everyone watches. This was quite a depraved town!

I suppose The Last Picture Show was quite bold for its time. My goodness, there were tits on screen. But I am not willing to let the period dictate whether or not I think a film is good. The Last Picture show was nominated for Best Picture in 1972 along with Fiddler on the Roof, A Clockwork Orange, Nicholas and Alexandra and eventual winner The French Connection. I haven’t seen Nicholas and Alexandra, but the other three are far superior to The Last Picture Show in my mind. I’m also not sure why all the fuss about director Peter Bogdanovich. Aside from this, and Paper Moon he hardly directed anything worth a shit, and in the past 20 years or so his biggest claim to fame is being an extra on The Sopranos. I’m sensing a theme so far with these AFI reviews — history has a muddy memory. I did not like The Last Picture Show and cannot recommend it.

Next Up: AFI #94 Pulp Fiction

Enjoying the Classics (or Why I Love Steinbeck)

I like to mix things up when I’m reading, so I will often follow up fiction with non-fiction and vice versa. I also like to check in with classic authors every so often to remind myself what great writing is all about (not that there aren’t any great modern writers, but let’s be honest…the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds are fewer and farther between nowadays). I have to admit though that I’m not a huge fan of the classics, but I do have a soft spot for American masters. Which brings me to John Steinbeck.

Somehow I managed to get through high school and four years of college without having ever read a Steinbeck novel. The closest I ever came was seeing the 1992 Gary Sinise film version of Of Mice and Men. I always assumed that I wouldn’t like Steinbeck because he was too commercially successful, and that is in fact what many critics argued when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Then something interesting happened to change my mind — I read a Steinbeck novel!

As a graduate student in English at NAU a few years ago I took a class in which we had to read East of Eden. I remember thinking to myself it was going to be a struggle and that I’d have to slog through it, but once I started reading the words on the page I was sucked in. This post isn’t about East of Eden, but suffice it to say it is now one of my all-time favorite novels and features one of my all-time favorite literary characters in Samuel Hamilton.

Steinbeck writes about everyday people and chronicled the American experience during his career, which spanned from 1927 with the publication of his first novel to his death in 1968. His political views played a major role in his writing, and his characters always seemed to say something powerful about what it takes to overcome poverty, hardship and even persecution. He was his generation’s Michael Moore, and for me that’s a good thing. He also touches on themes of religion and the difference between right and wrong, yet he does so without espousing any religious convictions or spirituality — giving him major points in my book.

After I graduated from NAU I decided to go back and, over time, read the entire Steinbeck collection. I’ve since read Tortilla Flat, The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, The Wayward Bus, The Winter of Our Discontent and Travels with Charley. This weekend, after several mediocre reads, I decided it was time for a palate cleanser so I am now reading To a God Unknown. After just a few pages I feel like I’ve been rejuvinated. It’s such a pleasure to sink into Steinbeck’s warm storytelling and near perfect structure.

Just saying.

AFI #96: Do The Right Thing

“Mookie, always do the right thing.” – The Mayor

Unfortunately for Mookie, doing the right thing isn’t always easy, and that, in a nutshell, is the lesson of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do The Right Thing. Looking over the AFI list, I’m wondering if AFI did the right thing by including only one African-American directed film on its list of the top 100 American films of all time. Frankly, I’d have included a few other Spike Lee films, but that’s me.

Do The Right Thing is one of my favorite films and seeing it again this weekend did nothing to change my opinion. The movie takes place on an extremely hot day in Brooklyn’s Bed Stuy neighborhood. The heat is really just a metaphor for the racial tension that the film portrays as tempers flare at the neighborhood pizza joint, where Italian-Americans Sal and his sons serve up slices in the predominantly black community. The ruckus begins when patron Buggin Out notices that there are no famous African-American people on Sal’s wall of fame, which is decorated with Italian-American heroes like Frank Sinatra and Al Pacino. Buggin Out calls for a boycott because “black people spend much money” in Sal’s, but Sal says it’s his place and his wall and he has the right to put whomever he wants on his wall. The tension culminates that night when things get out of hand as Radio Raheem joins the wall of fame cause leading to a fight in which the police accidentally kill him. It is at this crucial moment in the film when pizza delivery boy Mookie is faced with doing the right thing — and his choice has dire consequences for Sal. Does Mookie do the right thing when he throws a trash can through Sal’s window? We have no idea, which is the point I think.

The film is about good and bad, dark and light, black and white, and of course right and wrong. The mood of the film plays into this dichotomy, and as the day gets hotter so too do the racial tensions. Do The Right Thing asks so many complicated questions around race. For Lee, nothing is off limits. Mookie is in a multi-cultural relationship with Rita (Rosie Perez in her first film role) and they have a child together. Older black men sit on the corner with nothing to do all day, waxing poetically about how come the Korean family has a successful business in their neighborhood and none of them do. Sal’s son Pino, played with intensity by John Turturro, laments about how he wants to leave the black neighborhood because he doesn’t like the people yet at the same time he tells Mookie his favorite actor is Eddie Murphy, his favorite musician is Prince and his favorite ball player is Magic Johnson. Lee deals with these issues head on as is his nature. In one scene, members of the community face the camera and spout off horrible racial stereotypes (here it is, NSFW):

Spike Lee is my favorite director, in part because he is fearless. But more than that, his films do what I think art is supposed to do: make us think, make us ask questions, teach us, and of course entertain us. Lee does this better than any American director in my opinion. When I think of great American directors I think of five: Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and Spike Lee. Lee’s films are mostly about the African-American experience, but of course that’s just as American as the Italian-American or any other hyphen American experience. It just took decades of film making before someone like Lee was able to come around and make films about the black experience with such power and honesty. You might not like Lee’s off camera persona, but I dare you to watch Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, Bamboozled or Do The Right Thing and not be educated and entertained.

In 1986 I was a sophomore at San Jose State when I wandered into the Camera Cinema in downtown San Jose and saw She’s Gotta Have It. It was Lee’s first major release and it was eye opening for me. I had never seen a film with an all black cast (I grew up in white bread America). It was funny, sexy, intelligent and beautifully filmed. Lee used his film school experience to explore African- American relationship issues, and of course the film introduced America to his character Mars Blackmon, who soon after this film came out was a fixture on American television pitching Air Jordan’s to American kids — it’s gotta be the shoes money!

His second major release was School Daze, a film that dealt with racial stereotypes within the black community. Anyone who has seen the musical dance number “Good and Bad Hair” will never forget it! Do The Right Thing came out next, and I spent an entire summer thinking about what it meant and blasting Public Enemy from my stereo, much to the chagrin of my very white fraternity brothers at Sigma Chi headquarters in Illinois. Lee has made so many great films, yet many white audiences have missed them — and that’s a shame. Obviously you should see Do The Right Thing if you haven’t, but here are some other ones you shouldn’t miss:

    • Jungle Fever. It’s about inter-racial relationships of course, and also introduced America to Halle Berry as an actress. We all know where she ended up, as the first African-American women to win an Oscar for Best Actress
    • He Got Game. The story of a young basketball star and what happens when his father is released from prison and tries to re-enter his life just as he’s about to become rich and famous. This film opens with one of my favorite film moments ever as Lee juxtaposes African-American playground basketball to the music of Western-American composer Aaron Copeland. Hey, this is America too Lee seems to be saying.
    • Miracle at St. Anna. A World War II film told from the point of view of an African-American platoon. Yes, blacks fought in World War II!
    • Summer of Sam. A “New York Story” told during the summer New Yorkers were terrorized by the Son of Sam serial killer.
    • 25th Hour. Edward Norton looks back at what got him there as he spends the last 25 hours he has before going to jail for seven years.
    • If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise. A documentary about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

There are so many more. Take a look at his IMDB page and enjoy. Another great thing about Lee is that he creates such compelling characters for actors. Just looking through the list of actors he’s either introduced to film or worked with over the years is truly amazing. Denzel Washington. Wesley Snipes. John Turturro. Jada Smith. Halle Berry. Sam Jackson. Damon Wayons. Laurence Fishburne. Ossie Davis. Ruby Dee. Danny Aiello. Martin Lawrence. Branford Marsalis. Ed Norton. Angela Basset. Delroy Lindo. Alfre Woodard. Harvey Keitel. Andre Braugher. John Leguizamo. Adrien Brody. Mira Sorvino. Ellen Barkin. Kerry Washington. Clive Owen. Jodie Foster…Whew. Seriously. It goes on and on.

Do the right thing and catch up on some Spike Lee films! You won’t be sorry.

Next Up: AFI #95 The Last Picture Show

Pulitzer Gets a ‘Visit from the Goon Squad’

A few weeks ago author Jennifer Egan won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” I was just finishing up a book, so I downloaded it to my nook and moved it to the top of my rotation. Yesterday I finished it and I’m going back and forth on it frankly. It doesn’t measure up to some recent Pulitzer winners like “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz or “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides, two of my all-time favorites. But I liked it.

I hadn’t read any of Egan’s previous work, and truth be told I thought she was a chick lit author so I never even skimmed a jacket. I shall offer a mea culpa for that bit of chauvinism and admit right now that she is definitely a literary author. Goon Squad is a very modern tale written in a progressive style with interesting characters and told using a very unique literary device. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, a character that you only learn about from the previous chapter. On top of that, the chapters jump back and forth across time so that there is no easy literary flow. I was intrigued by the device and at the same time confused. I thought the concept was great, but as a result it was very hard to follow. I sort of want to go back and read it again, this time keeping a flow chart of the relationships between all the characters!

With or without the literary chicanery, the characters are all very interesting and the individual stories are fun. It was fun to read. But at the same time, I feel like I didn’t really follow the lives of the two main characters that well. The novel begins with Sasha, a young woman who we learn has a little issue with stealing things. She works for a record producer, Bennie, who was famous for discovering a popular punk rock band. Each chapter can be related back to Bennie and/or Sasha, even as they are told through the eyes of secondary and tertiary characters. For example, in one chapter Sasha’s uncle is wandering the streets of Italy looking for Sasha, who has run away from home. He interacts with her while there, so we learn a little bit about her motivation. That’s sort of how the novel goes.

I won’t say anything else in case you want to read the novel, which I do recommend. Along with the Pulitzer it has won numerous accolades including the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was a PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist and a New York Times Book Review Best Book. I think it has won so many fans because of both the unique way Egan tells the story and because it’s a modern tale that is very well written. I am definitely going to go back and look at Egan’s other books now and will consider adding them to my reading list.

AFI #97: Blade Runner

I’ve probably seen Blade Runner three or four times since it came out in 1982, and it’s always been one of my favorites. It works on so many levels, from its message about the advances of science to it dark dystopian vision of Los Angeles. Frankly it’s just a really cool film.

Watching it again today I was struck by how the science fiction of the film stood up over time. It’s strange that when Ridley Scott made the film he envisioned it taking place way off in the future — 2019. Now that we’re pretty darn close to 2019 it’s interesting to note a few details that aren’t so far off. For one, Los Angeles looks more like Beijing than LA. Surely Scott couldn’t have predicted the domination of China in the world, but he did see that LA (and maybe all of America) was to become culturally diverse to the point that a new mixed language of the streets would develop. Creepy given that anglos are now a minority in LA. Also, Scott didn’t invent crazy new weapons or too many high tech devices (some cars hover and fly, but not all of them). Mostly Scott created a futuristic mood more than a high tech future.

But the film is great because the plot is so intriguing. Harrison Ford’s replicant cop would be home in the 1940s, but rather than chasing down gangsters he chases down runaway androids. And in a world where we now have amazing artificial limbs and we’re growing organs in a lab, it’s not so far-fetched to think that we could soon develop androids that are so human-like that it would be hard to tell the difference without high tech tools. Ford’s character uses his street savvy and investigative skills to track down replicants — he’s more Sam Spade than Han Solo.

The runaway replicants are simply doing what comes natural — looking for a way to extend their life beyond the 4 years they are set to expire. If you give an android emotions, it’s not surprising they’d develop the most important human emotion of all, the will to survive. Rutger Hauer’s replicant is like Prometheus, using his superior strength to survive. But in the end, he breaks down emotionally as his death draws near. He is the “villain” in the film but you end up feeling sorry for him because he has to die. Darryl Hannah’s character is similar in her childlike fascination with the toys in Sebastian’s apartment. It’s hard to blame them for their actions.

Blade Runner was one of Scott’s first films, following just a few years after Alien. In the years that followed he has made some of the best movies in the industry, from G.I. Jane and Gladiator to Black Hawk Down and American Gangster. Blade Runner is a really good film, but frankly I think Black Hawk Down and Gladiator are both superior but neither made the AFI list. By the way, in case you are interested I watched the theatrical cut of Blade Runner rather than the director’s cut because that’s what was available on Netflix. I know some people prefer the director’s cut, but I like the Harrison Ford voice over and I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

Next Up: #96 Do The Right Thing (a Spike Lee Joint!)