To Not Be Forgotten (Coco, 2017)

CoC0_PosterMiguel comes from a family that has erased music…and their great, great grandfather… fro the collective memories. But Miguel loves music.  He wants to sing like his idol, the late Ernesto De La Cruz. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel decides to take to heart De La Cruz’s motto of seizing your moment by performing a song at the talent show that evening.

When his grandmother discovers him with his guitar, she smashes it, angering Miguel. He discovers that his unknown great great grandfather is actually De La Cruz and so, after being unable to obtain a guitar from other musicians,  he tries to borrow the guitar from his great great grandfather’s crypt. Suddenly, he finds himself invisible to all around him…until he runs into skeletal beings…who seem to recognize him.  Miguel finds his relatives who have died have come to visit the land of the living for the celebration of the Day of the Dead.

He is brought back to the Land of the Dead, where his family works to get him back to the land of the living.  His Great Great Grandmother Mamá Imelda was held back by by their being no picture of her set out for the Day of the Dead.  When they find out that this is the fault of Miguel, she gifts him the blessing to return…but with the condition that he never seek to play music again. Miguel cannot help himself and ends up back in the Land of the Dead. But instead of accepting his Mamá Imelda’s blessing again, he refuses and seeks to find his Great Great Grandfather De La Cruz, certain he will give him the blessing he so needs, without condition. A con artist named Hector offers to help Miguel get to him in exchange for bringing his picture back to the land of the living and setting it out for the Day of the Dead.  But they are racing against time.  His family is trying to find him both in the Land of the Dead and the Land of the Living, and if he does not get back before sunrise? Miguel will be stuck in the Land of the Dead forever.

One might gripe that there is little about this story that is new.  Many, many times we have seen the story of the young kid or character who is out of step with their family or society in general. Pixar and animated kid movies have capitalized on this notion of the kid (or kid at heart) who has a dream and it really falls on the family (or society) to learn how wrong they were.  And there are elements of that here. His family reasons for erasing the existence of his Great Great Grandfather are understandable.  He walked away from the family…from his wife and daughter…never to be seen again.

But Coco has a much greater lesson for both Miguel and his family. Miguel must learn how important his family truly is to him.  Both Hector and Mamá Imelda express a disdain for musicians, and yet harbor beautiful talent.  We find both have been hurt by the musician’s life.

The infusion of music to the film is an infusion of emotion and life (I honestly cannot picture another artistic love for Miguel that would feel quite as powerful here). The songs connect us to Miguel, Mamá Imelda, Hector and De La Cruz.

Visually, the Land of the Dead is so celebratory and vibrant, it pulls you in, and the character designs allow for the quick adjustment to the fact that Hector is surrounded by decorative skeletons that are fun to watch.

Coco is a wonderfully beautiful fest for the eyes that is full of heart.

Life Without a Soul (Blade Runner 2049, 2017)

blade_runner_2049_PosterIt is 35 years since the first Blade Runner. Agent K is a blade Runner and also a modern replicant.  He is given a mission after the bones of a replicant are found that indicate she died in childbirth. Replicants should be unable to conceive, let alone carry a child to term.

K’s human boss wants him to find the child and kill it.  But things become complicated when he finds evidence that his false implant memories may be real, leading to the question of whether K is the mysterious child of Deckard and Rachel (Sean Young’s Replicant from the original film).

Further problems arise when we find that Niander Wallace, who has profited off the failure of the Tyrell Corporation and become the leading force of Replicant and digital A.I. technology, is also looking for the child.  The one thing that has eluded him has been the ability for replicants to reproduce.  He sees this as a key component in their evolution (well, most everyone does).

The films is visually stunning.  The neon dreams that fill the city, the holographic girlfriend Joi (showing both K’s isolation as a Blade Runner and Replicant and his desire to connect), the desolate Las Vegas…every shot in this film feels like independent artworks.

The ending gives the audience just enough to be satisfying without wrapping everything up in a neat little package.

Not playing coy about K’s identity as a replicant is something that gives the film strength.  In one scene, K expresses a concern about killing something “born” to his superior Lieutenant Joshi.  He notes that being born implies there is a soul there. Joshi sends him off with the cold note that he has gotten along fine without a soul. I am trying to determine if it is a problem for me that Joi is probably one of the most sympathetic beings in the entire film. But I suspect director Denis Villeneuve would like to hear that. By and large, the Replicants are the center of the show here.  Luv, Wallace’s right hand, is downright terrifying.

Villeneuve has given the audience a beautiful and captivating film.

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