A ghost story

For some time now, I have set out to see all those movies that, one way or the other, have got on my watch list. Mind you, this is not an easy undertaking, since there are more than 200 titles on said list, and one has to find the time for them. Also, not every movie works in any given time, for many, you need to be in the right mood. Never the less, in the past weeks, I have started crossing names of my list. To my disappointment, most of the movies were ok at best. Some were under developed, some were misrepresented and some should not have been made in the first place. Given this track record, I was somewhat worried that this movie will follow suit. Thankfully, it did not.

The story is quite simple. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are a couple, living in a house. One day, Casey Affleck’s characters dies in a car crash. Soon after, he wakes up as a ghost and we find out, what is like to be a ghost. Sounds like a comedy? I assure you, it is not.


The very first thing that anybody will notice is the strange aspect ratio of the picture. The movie is shot in 1.33:1 and the corners are rounded. This provides a very unique look and feeling as well. It is kind of looking through the view finder of a camera. Every showed image is concentrated and you automatically focus on the essential, since there is nothing else to see. There are no distractions. No clutter. If something is on the screen, it is meant to be there. Also, it creates a very intimate atmosphere. The viewing experience becomes much more personal. I was looking at the screen like a deer was looking at a pair of headlights. In fact, this is first and foremost, a movie with visual story telling. Very little dialog, just pictures and sounds for most of the movie. Most of what needs to be learned is on the screen, and the rest is communicated trough the music. Here, the music is used to communicate emotional context. It has a powerful presence, but a powerful absence as well. Come to think of it, all this is rather similar what Wall-e was going for, except this movie is nowhere near as flashy, or animated. And has a much darker subject matter.

The second thing that will be very distinctive for this movie, is the look of the ghost. In almost any movie, tv series, what have you, the ghost of a character will look just the same as it did when it was alive, except that nobody could see him/her, and maybe, there would be some special effects to highlight the ghostly condition. Here, the ghost is a white bedsheet thrown on a man, with 2 black spots for eyes. Like something out of a Scooby-do cartoon. And it is the best thing ever. For something that does not speak, has no facial expression and only limited body language capability, this ghost is able to express an impressive array of emotions. It is hard to imagine how a large piece of cloth with 2 spots on can channel so much instead of just looking ridiculous. Yet, it is very effective. Given the minimalistic approach of the movie, the ghost, this blank canvas, becomes a mirror to our own emotions, reactions to the events, to the visuals, to the music. We project ourselves on it, our emotions, yet we cannot act them out as we are only the spectators. In a similar fashion, the ghost, in general, has a static presence through the movie. He mostly observes what is happening around him. An interesting aspect is how time is perceived by the ghost versus the rest of the world. How the world seems to go by, on fast forward. I find it to be very fitting. It can serve as a metaphor of how people feel when somebody close and dear is no longer there, and it also sounds interesting enough to be a ghosts perception of time.

The strangest thing is, that, despite the sad, somber story, it was a joy to watch this movie. I was loving every second of it. And, at least for me, it ended on a very cathartic note. I do not know if the story indeed had a cathartic ending. That is for everybody to decide on its own. I just know that when the end credits were rolling, I was happy.

Ultimately, this movie is a meditation about what comes after death and about grief. About what does it mean to move on. And it is done so in a beautiful way. It is simple in execution but complex in message, artful but subtle. The very proof of the concept “less is more”. Unlike most good movies, this is not a diamond in a rough. This is a carefully polished diamond of the highest quality.

One of the best movies of 2017, easy.

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Mother!

Anybody, who is a bit more into movies than the average movie going audience, knows the name of Darren Aronofsky. Whenever you hear his name you think of movies that are no longer entertainment, they are, in fact, works of art. They require attention, sensibility, knowledge and reflection in order to be understood and appreciated. If you look at Aronofsky’s body of work, you will find that he is a fearless film maker. He is not shy to put on full display the ugly, dark side of things. He always does pretty much his own thing, and while he does not have such a signature style such as David Lynch or Wes Anderson, Aronofsky is member of the select group of directors, who’s movies can only be compared to the directors previous works. You can compare Scorsese to Coppola or de Palma, but Aronofsky can only be compared to Aronofsky. On a personal note, to this date, I have seen over 1000 movies, that have registered with me in some capacity and that I can recall in one way or another. Aronofsky’s The Fountain is in my top 1% of movies.


This brief introduction into Aronofsky was necessary because I intend to drag Mother! trough all kinds of mud. I do not think that since I saw Inland Empire, was I ever this enraged at a movie. Now, in the case of Inland Empire, that was made by David Lynch so a good measure of insanity was to be expected, I just was not ready for that particular dose of absurdity. Also, I had the luxury of viewing that film at home, on a DVD, so I could pause it anytime in order to vent some of my frustrations. In the case of Mother!, I had no such luck. Given the controversial reputation and divisive nature of the film, I have decided that this one is to be seen in a proper theater and as soon as the movie opened in my area, I went and saw it. I can honestly state that this was one of my worst movie going experiences ever. And not because of the other members of the viewing audience, as one might expect either. No. It is simply because I just saw the worst movie, period, from 2017, period. This year had already released a great deal of disappointments, but this one is particularly painful given the expectations I had, considering that this is an Aronofsky movie.

In terms of story, this is a 2 act movie, one that is crazy and another one that is downright, certifiably, insane. The setup is as follows. Jennifer Lawrence lives with her husband, Javier Bardem, in a large house, in the middle of nowhere. He is a very famous writer/poet and she is a home maker, in this case quite literally, as she singlehandedly restores the house they are living in, since that was previously destroyed in a fire. She is happy with things as they are, or at least, she is content with her situation. He is having writers block. Then one night a man, played by Ed Harris, comes knocking on the door. His wife, played by Michelle Pfeifer, soon follows suit. And from there on, pandemonium ensues.

I could actually give away the entire story and would make no difference at all for 2 big reasons. Number one, this is not your average movie, as the plot is not meant to be taken at face value, it is a Gordon bleu of metaphors. What you see and what you are intended to walk away with are 2 utterly different things. Number two, there is just no way I can reproduce or even give a true sense of the epic madness that comes out of the projector. All I can tell you that many times I had the urge to stand up and walk out of the movie theater and even more times than that, I had to fight myself not to shout out to the screen in sheer protest.

Basically, the movie is about the act of creation and the act of destruction. How much the act of creation demands destruction in the first place, but also, how much destruction is suffered by the creation itself. And how the destruction and creation is an endless cycle. This is the base concept, put in an elegant way. The actual application of it can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. As I said, the movie is a Gordon bleu of metaphors, one can find parallels to the bible, as in God and nature and how the nasty humans ruin everything; one can interpret the movie as the tale of artistic creation, how difficult of a process it is for the artist and to those around it and when the creation is revealed to the world, how it is robbed from the artist and eventually destroyed by outside forces because of misinterpretation. It can be interpreted as a social commentary of our world today and the fucked up state that it is in and it also can be interpreted as a clash between a logical, introverted Yin and an artistic, extraverted Yang. All of them can be true, none of them matter. Because this movie sucks.

Listen, if I were to take a blank canvas and threw paint on it in a random fashion, the end result would be different for each person, since everybody would see something else on the canvas. Some might call it a work of art, even genius. I would call it a waste of paint and canvas. So is this movie. There is a metaphor for every kind of problem that had a headline in the news in like the past 3 years. It is an easy way to ensure that something will stick with each number of audience if you throw everything at them, even, literally, the kitchen sink. And as the metaphors keep piling up exponentially, so does the shock value. The movie start out as a slow boiling conflict and ends as a straight up assault on sense and reason. And this is bad. This is not art. Art is supposed to be beauty. Art is supposed to tame the beast. Art is supposed to educate, to ELEVATE. Here, art simply goes down on the level of cable news and reddit threads. It starts a shouting match in the purpose to get a reaction out the audience, since subtle hints do not work anymore, you need to use a sledge hammer to get the attention of people. It is a twitter feed dressed up in a metaphor. If I want to sample this kind of madness, I can just start watching the news, thank you very much. And it takes itself so seriously, that it is such an abstract, intellectual artwork when it is nothing more than big pile of absurdity. It tries to communicate so much, yet in the end no message is delivered. It is like watching somebody dancing ballet on stage while the speakers are blasting dubstep, but you supposed to extrapolate and appreciate the genius of it, just because there is a person playing live violin behind the curtains and the entire thing is not about the dancing but between the clash of the old ways with the new in todays day and age. Confusing? Not as much as this movie. Often life imitates art. Here art tried to imitate life and got lost in the process.

In the end this movie is many things. It is ambitious. It is pretentious. It is shocking. It is absurd. It is a waste of celluloid. It is senseless. It is worthless.

The only good thing that I can say about the movie is that it certainly will not leave you indifferent towards it.

Mother! – the worst movie of 2017.

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Why Blade Runner is not a good movie

In my review of Blade Runner 2049, I have mentioned that I was not a fan of the original movie released in 1982, that most people, whether they are in the movie business or are a more than casual film viewer, find to be a cinema masterpiece. In theory, I should be among their ranks. This is a sci-fi film, a genre which I love, it was conceived to be taken seriously, it is visionary in its design and concept. Also, it is directed by Ridley Scott, who is one of the all-time sci-fi masters in the movie business. I really appreciate his approach towards filmmaking, his preference to use actual, real life sets instead of computer generated green screen effects, to actually film as much as possible out what we, the audience, will end up seeing on the viewing screens. His body of work is exemplary, and he can claim 2 milestone movies out of the sci-fi film history, Alien and Blade Runner. Yet, despite all the odds, I never could get behind Blade Runner. By now I must have seen it at least 5 times and it always felt bloody boring. Yes, sure, the world building in the movie was fascinating, the score was amazing and the base concept was a killer. But in the end, I was just like: meh…


Now, the purpose of this article is not to review the film, not 100% anyway, so I will not go in all the aspects of the film. That was covered numerous times by people far more qualified than me. The purpose is for me to highlight all the reasons why I think that Blade Runner is a dud. To be fair, I must specify, that I will be talking about the final cut of the movie and not of the 4-5 other cuts that have come before this. I have chosen the final cut since the general consensus amongst fans and experts alike is that this is the version to watch. Also, there will be spoilers.

One of the unfortunate aspects of Ridley Scotts works is that, despite being an established director, he does not care that much about the script. To be more precise, he does not care to have an air tight script. He is more comfortable than others to shoot something with plot holes. So, regardless how good of a director he actually is, his final work will only be as ever good as the script, which brings us to Blade Runners massive handicap, the script. Now, since the last time I saw this movie was quite a while ago, I have re-watched it yesterday and I also took notes, which is a first for me.


The movie can be broken down on 3 story lines which unfold in parallel: Deckards hunt for the replicants, the replicants quests for more life, and the romantic interest between Deckard and Rachael. In my opinion, this last part is the weakest of the 3 and usually covers that part of the 2nd act where I check out of the movie. There is no chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Young. None. The entire thing feels forced. He is a grizzled, hard boiled cop and she is the posh, uptown damsel in distress. It is a noir movie cliché, which Blade Runner actually is, but the 2 actors mix as good as oil and water. It also does not help that Sean Young is dressed up and moves like a marionette. She always stands out like the thing that doesn’t belong with her hair due and clothes. Her appearance is more 19th century France than 21st century gritty Los Angeles. There is a love scene between the 2 characters in the 2nd act, but truth be told, it is initiated more like a rape than lovemaking. I cannot decide if this is due to the lack of chemistry between the leads, today’s optics and sensibility about this issue or maybe both. Also, it this this story line where we learn about memory implants and that Rachael is a prototype, the only replicant with this technology. Since she has nothing to do with the other replicants in the movie, and had to go through the Voight-Kampff test specifically because of this feature, I would say that this indicates, alongside the whole unicorn thing, that Deckard is also a replicant. If this is not so, then the entire machine test scene in the first act has no purpose and becomes a bigger plot hole that it already is, which will be covered later. To be fair, the nature of Deckard is never really resolved, not that it would make any of a difference in the grand scheme of things.

Probably the most consistent, solid story line in the movie is the quest of the replicants for more life. Roy, Leon and Pris are working their way up systematically until they reach Tyrell. They started out 6 but 2 of them already gave their life for the quest before the movie event started. The interesting thing is that the 4th replicant, Zhora, is an odd one out. We learn early on that she was trained to be part of a death squad, that she is deadly. And while the other 3 of her friends are being productive to reach their goals by getting employment in Tyrells company or gaining access to Tyrells inner circle, she just assumes the role of a dancer in some kind of saloon. It is never explained how that role would help her in gaining more life. And when she is tracked down by Deckard, her attempt to kill him is discouraged way to easily and runs away. All her actions are in opposition of her nature, of her backstory.

Finally, we get to the main story line, Deckards hunt for the replicants, which really, is as air tight as a slice of Swiss cheese. First we learn that 4 illegal replicants are loose in Los Angeles and needs to be “retired” before things get embarrassing. The sense of urgency is so strong that Deckard is forcibly pulled back from retirement.  He is showed the recording of how the blade runner before him is killed by Leon as well as the faces of the other 3. His is ordered to take out the 4 skin jobs but not before he conducts a Voight-Kampff over at Tyrell headquarters, on an unrelated replicant. Now, these tests are important since replicants are pretty much indistinguishable from normal human beings, so if the test works on a newer, more sophisticated model, it will work on the regular ones as well. Trouble is that: 1) in order to administrate the test, the subject must be compliant and answer a series of strange question while looking into a machine and we already saw how that goes down in the first 2 minutes of the movie, so it is safe to say that this course of action would not work; and 2) they know what the 4 replicants look like, so there is really no need for the test to begin with. Unless Deckard is a replicant as well, there is no good reason for Rachael’s test to happen. Tyrell could have been introduced some other way and the entire Rachael story line is pointless. But any way we cut it, that test in the 1st act is a plot hole, the only thing up for debate is just how big it is. Anyway, after that is done, Deckard and Gaff check out Leon’s apartment. This would have been the very first thing to do but came in second. In the apartment, they find some sort of scale and some pictures. Later in the movie, Deckard takes one of the pictures and processes it through a machine. With enough zooming in, he finds the image of Zhora in the reflection provided by a small mirror on the picture. This is considered to be a major breakthrough, although he already seen the picture of Zhora during his briefing. To be fair, here Zhora has a small tattoo on her face, but still, it is the same face. I can only deduce that Deckard is not that attentive on briefings. Also, kudos to Ridley for doing the CSI thing with the zooming in decades before CSI even would be aired. By tracking down the scale, Deckard arrives to a saloon, where he finds Zhora dancing on stage. We already covered how this makes no sense from Zhoras perspective. He chases Zhora a couple of blocks away from the saloon and kills her. Now, here comes a new plot hole. Before discovering Zhora on the stage, Deckard calls Rachael and invites her to the saloon but she turns him down. So, she knew where Deckard was. But just a short time later, when Deckard is standing over the corpse of Zhora, Rachael is standing in the crowd heartbroken. How did she knew where to be? Also, once Deckard sees her, she leaves. In a couple of moments later Deckard finds out that Rachael has become a wanted replicant because she went missing from Tyrell. Am I to understand that Tyrell would give the kill order over his prized replicant prototype just as she would walk out the front door? It would go against of Tyrells behavior that we have witnessed so far and also, this was not the first-time Rachael was in the city, she has visited Deckards home earlier. So, this just doesn’t make sense. But right after this whole thing, as soon as things cool down on the street, Leon attacks Deckard. They fight, Deckards gun is tossed somewhere in the busy street and just about as Leon would kill Deckard, he is shot by Rachael with Deckards gun. Now, I have 2 issues here. First, where was Rachael before? This fight takes place very close where Zhora was killed and from where she has walked out from, but still, time has passed and it is not THE same place. How did she know to be right there, right then? And second, how the hell did she find the gun? Was she watching Deckard from the shadows all along and came to the rescue as danger descended upon him? This would go against everything we know about Rachael, as we were showed twice that when Rachael walks out, she is gone. So, what gives?

Thankfully, the third act is rather solid and nothing sticks out like the examples above. Hopefully, I was able to argue my case that the script is weak, at best. I do not want to take away of the experience of others, but I am firmly convinced that if this story would have been a crime thriller set in the 30s instead of being a sci-fi set in the 21st century, nobody would have remembered that the movie ever came out.

Overall, the world building and the technical aspects of the movie have secured an everlasting legacy. But the fact remains, it is not that of a good movie. Blade Runner (1982) on IMDb(function(d,s,id){var js,stags=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(d.getElementById(id)){return;}js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=”https://ia.media-imdb.com/images/G/01/imdb/plugins/rating/js/rating.js”;stags.parentNode.insertBefore(js,stags);})(document,”script”,”imdb-rating-api”);

BLADE RUNNER 2049


I am not in the habit of seeing a movie more than one time in the theater. Usually, I am able to make up my mind pretty fast if I liked a movie or not. In this case, however, I could not. And, being an avid movie fan, I just had to reach a conclusion, since this movie was possibly the most anticipated one of the entire year. So, I went and saw Blade Runner 2049 one more time.
Unfortunately, you cannot talk about Blade Runner 2049 without talking about the original one. You just can’t. The original movie is such a cult classic, such a landmark of cinema, that it cannot be left out of the discussion when it comes to a movie directly related to it. Now, mind you, I do not like the first movie, and I will explain in my next article why not. In the mean time… You could go out and see Blade Runner 2049 without seeing the original one, and you might even enjoy it, but you will not understand at least about one third of the movie. You just will not. To make matters worse, if you do not know the original material, chances are that you will hate this movie. This is due to the fact that when it comes to high budget sci-fi films, the general audience expects something totally different than this movie has to offer. There is a reason why the first movie is a cult classic but not a box office hit. In fact, in order to fully understand Blade Runner 2049, you not only have to watch the movie from 1982, but you would also have to see the 3 short films released online just before the movie. Now, that is a lot of homework. And that’s before you have to digest a 164 minute long movie. It is easy to see why the box office performance was so unfavorable, mirroring the same fate that the first Blade Runner encountered. But was the movie any good?


Yes, it was. But I will not put it on the same pedestal as everybody else in the film community. The story this time is actually logical, has a solid structure and some interesting twists and misdirection. I was not exactly satisfied with the final reveal, but overall, it is a massive improvement vs. the original one. Also, the characters are much more fleshed out. Ryan Gosling is bringing his signature, stoic, performance, much like in Drive and Only God Forgives. But the “less is more” approach works very well here. Joi, portrayed by Ana de Armas, however, brings some much-needed color and heart to the movie. She and Gosling have good chemistry, matching like a good steak and red wine. Also, just given the nature of the two characters, a whole lot of parallels and themes can be discovered, which is a pretty nice touch. In fact, the whole movie is heavily influenced by the book of Genesis, or the very least, many parallels can be drawn. Jared Leto brings a superb performance as Niander Wallace, the industrialist mogul on duty (since Tyrell was killed). Generally, I consider Leto to be overrated, but here he was in just the right amount of time and had the right material to work with. He is the one creating the replicants this time, to which he refers to as “angels”, and given his attitude, demeanor, words, and overall nature, him being a metaphor to God is an obvious one. And we are talking about the old testament God. His right hand, Luv, is portrayed by Sylvia Hoeks. I really hope that she will get some recognition for her work as it is truly outstanding. If de Armas is the sweet of the movie, Hoeks is the sour, which in this case is richer. The two women are the opposite of each other, yet in many ways, they are the same. Like the two faces of the same coin, or, if I choose to go on with my Genesis allegory, they are Cain and Abel but in sister form, one representing innocence and the other not so much. Besides these, there are a couple more people worth mentioning in this movie such as Dave Bautista, who continues to build up his resume as a more than serviceable actor with a short but good performance, Mackenzie Davis, who has too little time to do anything remarkable besides a one liner, and Robin Wright, who personally I detest, but the character bestowed upon her and its story was more than fitting for my taste. Last, but not least, there is Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, the only character from the original movie that is present not as a cameo, but as an actual participant in the story. It is clear, that, while paramount, he is not the main character, reflected also by his relatively short screen time. Not as short as most of the other people, but still. Ford brings a good performance, enjoyable, fitting even for the story. Yet, I could not help but wonder if he still has what it takes to be a good actor. I am asking this because his acting was the only inconsistency between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. I heard the name of Rick Deckard, the face was of Rick Deckard, but the persona on screen, that was Han Solo. That was Indi Jones. It was of a smart mouth adventurer that got old. And this is striking because back in the 80s, Ford did Empire Strikes Back in ’80, Raiders Of The Lost Ark in ’81 and Blade Runner in ’82 and managed to deliver 3 different but emblematic characters in the span of 3 years. Rick Deckard back then was something cut out of a noir detective story and Fords performance was in line with that. Nowadays, he did Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull in ’08, The Force Awakens in ’15 and Blade Runner 2049 in ’17 and in all 3 movies he basically did the same act. So, I kind of think that, sadly, Ford became a one trick pony.

Now, from a technical point of view, the movie is flawless. It is staggering how much this visual world channels the one from ’82, yet everything is updated in a very organic manner. It is clearly visible that there was significant progress made in the universe of the movie, but that progress is very specific to that universe. Everything is updated but everything is quirky enough to belong. And the cinematography… Every frame is like a painting. Roger Deakins truly outdid himself here. If for nothing else, you need to see this movie just for the sheer cinematical experience, on the biggest screen available, with the best sound system.

Personally, I will be rather upset if it would not win all the technical awards at the Oscars. Unfortunately, it will face some strong competition in the form of Dunkirk, Star Wars and War For The Planet Of The Apes. The only aspect where this movie falls short, from a technical point of view, is the soundtrack. It is good, but it is not Vangelis.

Finally, let us spend a couple of words on Dennis Villeneuve, the director. It is a well-known fact that the original Blade Runner is one of his favorite movies and that one of the reasons why he took this directorial job is so that others could not fuck this up. To his credit, Villeneuve managed to stay true to the original movie, but then again, he was rather suited for the job, given that he is predominantly a visual story teller. His personal style is very clean, intellectual, but in a cold fashion. He is more like a scientist working in a clinically sterile laboratory than a philosopher sitting next to a fireplace. What he creates is art, but his method is rather a science. In a way, his approach to film making is a perfect fit to the Blade Runner universe. But he does loose points on pacing. The movie is 164 minutes long, which is too much. He could have easily reduced about 30 minutes by cutting out Robin Wright and the whole orphanage part. Sure, those were essential for one plot device but he could have find another way to deliver that, in a more time economical fashion. However, unlike Ridley Scott, who directed the first Blade Runner, Villeneuve always makes sure that the script is good, and because of this him too, as a director, is an improvement upon the original. Yet, my final conclusion is that this movie is, of sorts, a failure. But why?

Well, to put it simply, the original Blade Runner is more than the sum of its part, but Blade Runner 2049 is not. The original movie was ahead of its time. Nothing like it was seen before. But it was released 35 years ago. Since then it inspired countless movies and whatever was new in it, by now we have seen it in many iterations, good and bad alike. Yes, Blade Runner 2049 is a good sequel. So good even, that it can stand tall as a shining exception from the rule that if an old movie is rebooted or issued a sequel to, all in the name of name recognition and cash grab, it will fail. And yes, good enough to gain the praise of the critics and the die hard fans of the original alike. But it is just a sequel, an update, a love letter. It is not a game changer. Same reason why nobody remembers 2010: The Year We Make Contact. If the name does not ring a bell, it is the sequel to Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ridley Scott did the original Blade Runner in ’82 and it was revolutionary. But just 3 years before that, he did Alien, which again is a revolutionary milestone in sci-fi movie history. Just 7 years later James Cameron does the sequel, Aliens, which is regarded just as revolutionary, has just as a “must see” status as the first movie, Alien. The difference is that Aliens is its own movie. It has a bigger scope, a different approach. It was an action movie with the aliens, not a horror. It brought something actually new, other than the improved special effects. The other famous example of a sci-fi sequel that reached iconic status on its own is Terminator 2, again by Cameron. In this case, we do speak about a straight up sequel, but there, there were only 7 years between the movies, and in a time when fewer movies were made and the technology remained roughly the same.

Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy sequel just not groundbreaking enough, not visionary enough to become iconic. That being said, this movie laid enough groundwork that would allow the studio to make a third instalment. Maybe, if they figure out how change the genre within the universe, from a detective story to something much more broader, something like a replicant exodus for example, and with an appropriately talented and ballsy director at the helm, a new, iconic Blade Runner movie would certainly be a possibility.

Final thought: Villeneuve’s original pick to play Niander Wallace was David Bowie. Sadly, he passed away before the start of the shooting. And while Leto’s performance is amazing, I cannot help but wonder, what would have Bowie did the material?

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1.02 Joe

Somebody has laughed out loud. This sudden noise woke Joe up. He was having a nice nap, but alas that is gone. Still, he was comfortable. He has found just the right way to sit on his seat, the train car was pleasantly warm and had a smoothing rocking to it. Even the other passengers were quiet, except for this sudden outburst he just heard. It was a gloomy Monday morning and everybody was heading to work. The car was not more crowded than usual, but it was dirtier. You could smell the trapped body odour, cigarette smoke, breath of cheap beer and the stench of the filthy lavatory. This unholy cuvée of odours kept on ageing in the car like wine does in the barrel, and just like every barrels wine is different, so was the smell of every old train car. They all stink, but if you travel them long enough, you learn to distinguish between them and to appreciate, of sorts, the different shades and nuances of stench. The hint of coffee that comes from the disposable cup from the trash bin. The dash of chlorine used in the failed attempt to clean up the car a couple of hours ago. The aroma of sweat oozed by the seats during a hot summer. All elements of an olfactory adventure that would knock you out on your

first time, but as time goes by you get comfortable with. It is an acquired taste, in a negative way. Joe, just like all the others he was traveling with, had acquired this taste and occasionally, he even missed it. It was a strange feeling. Long ago, when he was forced to ride this train on a daily bases he would have done everything to escape it. By his own admission, he would have even sucked a dick just to escape his daily commute and everything else connected to it. His job, the bills in the postbox, the maxed out credit cards in his wallet. Everything. And now, now that he no longer needs to worry about all those things ever again, he finds himself wondering back to the very same train and taking the very same ride with the very same people he had despised for so long. He is back here, as if nothing would have changed.

The train conductor came in the car to check the passengers for tickets. He went trough everybody, except for Joe. Joe was sitting alone next to a window. He was staring at the conductor but the conductor looked right trough him and went on to the next passenger. Eventually the conductor moved on to the next car. The sun was already up and Joe could tell that they will arrive shortly. About 20 minutes later he got off the train and made his way out of the train station. On the platform he passed a pack of stray dogs. The dogs proceeded to bark heavenly towards him as Joe passed them by to the big surprise of everybody else around. Joe was still surprised about the fact that such a large pack of strays were allowed to roam unchecked in the heart of the city, inside of a major train station non the less. But his surprise quickly faded away, as this was nothing new under the sun. Anyway, this was no longer any of his concern. Outside of the station, on the street, Joe took a good look around while he was deciding where to go next. It was a cold February Monday morning, just about rush hour. Everybody was going everywhere. Across the street a whole bunch of people were waiting for the tram, all grouped, one next to the other, like penguins, trying to conserve heat in a snowstorm. In the intersection, a maze of cars, each trying to get ahead, to drop the kid off to school and to get to work on time. Some old man clearly does not know what he is doing behind the wheel, as he is keeping up everybody behind him. The light is green but he is afraid to take the turn due to the cars coming from his left. Eventually, the light turns back to red and an orchestra of horns starts to play just for him as gratitude. After 3 painful minutes the light is green again, but alas so is for the pedestrians that are crossing the street on his right. The second act of the traffic symphony dedicated for this man begins to play.  Finally, Joe has decided where to go next and starts walking across the intersection, between the cars in the traffic. From there he heads towards the bridge. After about 30 minutes of walking he arrived to a market place which is followed by a street filled with shops on the ground level. None of the stores are anything spectacular, thrift shops, household items, greasy fast food joints and other questionable business ventures that makes one wonder if the owners are crazy or if they are laundering money. Not like these options are mutually exclusive. After 5 more minutes Joe arrives to a gate that despite being large enough for a full sized truck to go trough it, somehow is discreet enough not to be noticed at first glance by an occasional bystander. They usually spot either the sex shop on the left or the Shawarma joint on the right. Who would care for a dull, big gate that is covered partially by old, faded event posters on one hand and by rust on the other? Especially in such select company, I mean, really? But still, Joe is no occasional bystander, he knows the gate well and goes trough it, into the inner court. He takes right, then a left, opens a door, goes down some stairs in the basement and goes in the room. There is no floor in there. No carpet, no tiles, not even concrete. Just the bare, dirt ground on which the very first row of the buildings bricks were layed upon. Across the entrance, an old refrigerator that was most likely salvaged from some two bit bodega decades ago, the kind in which milk and other perishable stuff was kept.  Now it is filled up to one third with some cheap kind of beer and about 2 stacks of disposable cups. Where the storage place is limited, one has to improvise. Next to that there is a busted counter and and equally busted boom box, which due to some miracle is still able to play cassette tapes. Up on the wall a neon light is blinking, asking for a friendly slap on the side to resume its normal way of working despite being a decade over its warranty. To the left, there were some tables with some do it yourself type of benches, the ones that are made of two logs, a couple of two by fours and some nails. All these placed small holes in the walls, like cubicles. This place original was used to store fire wood back in the days when the building was constructed. Now that wood is no longer used for heat, the spaces are empty, just good enough for some off the book dive bar. But, given that it is Monday morning, the place is empty, save from Zeke and some other fellow that Joe has never seen before.

“Hi Zeke” said Joe and sits down to their table.

“Joe! Long time no see! Had enough of the country side, had ya?”

“You could say that. Who’s your friend?”

“Ah, he is new in our realm. Doesn’t have all his bearings right. You know how it is at the beginning.”

“yeah, yeah, I do.”

“I am sorry” finally the new guy speaks up, “they call me Chocolate bar. “

“Chocolate bar? That is a strange name. I mean you do not resemble one, in shape or colour either. Who gave you that name anyway?”

“They. I do not remember who exactly. I do not remember much of anything. This is all so confusing…”

“There, there, its okay” said Zeke” We have all been there. Me, Joe, the whole lot of us. You will find your way, don’t worry. Hey Joe! Care to help me out explaining to our new friend the facts of life as we know it?”

“Well first, let us not call them facts of life. It is misleading. They should be the facts of death. I mean we are all dead, right? What good can the facts of life do to a ghost anyway?”