The Night Of (Season 1, Episode 1)

The Night Of is an eight-part HBO miniseries written by Steve Zaillian (Moneyball) and Richard Price. It is an American adaptation of the British show Criminal JusticeThe Night Of stars Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) as Nasir Khan, a man accused of murdering a girl on the Upper West Side of New York. John Turturro, an extremely talented actor who is, rather unfortunately, widely known by my generation for playing an eccentric Jewish government operative in the Transformers film series, plays Nasir’s lawyer Jack Stone. The series is set to have its broadcast premiere on July 10th. The pilot episode was released on June 24th via HBO’s on-demand streaming services.

I discovered this show while browsing social media when someone posted a link to this trailer, commenting that it gives off vibes reminiscent to the brilliant first season of True Detective, and it does. (The less that can be said about True Detective’s second season, the better.) I hopped on HBO Now planning to find something to watch, and conveniently, the first episode of this series popped up when I logged in.

Nasir Khan is a young college student with a loving family. One night, he steals his father’s cab to go to a party and ends up meeting a beautiful young woman who gets him out of a sticky situation. They grow romantically close throughout the long night, and they eventually go to bed together. Nasir wakes up to find the young woman dead and escapes in the cab, but is picked up for reckless driving and a DUI. Ironically, the patrol car that picks him up also responds to the call for the dead woman, taking Nasir back to the scene of the crime. No one suspects anything more than drunk driving, though, and he is taken down to the station for booking. Through circumstance at the station, they figure Nasir was at the scene, and he is suspected of murder, arrested, and interrogated. What will follow in the upcoming episodes is Nasir and Jack Stone attempting to clear his name whilst Detective Lucas follows up with the investigation of the young woman.

The Night Of’s premiere episode shows tremendous promise and, though it’s not Matthew Mcconaughey nihilistically philosophizing about the cyclical nature of time, it should very well fill the hole left by the best drama of 2014. The cinematography of this show is excellent, and may very well be the best camera work I have seen on television since True Detective itself. The actors are excellent and Nasir is an empathetic, if somewhat naive and foolish character that audiences will feel for. Also excellent is Jeff Wincott as Detective Lucas, the man assigned to investigate the death of the young woman Nasir is accused of killing. John Turturro is awesome, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Richard Price is known for writing HBO’s The Wire, and the realism and groundedness featured in that show returns here. In some ways, this show feels like a spiritual successor to the realistic cop drama that changed television standards forever. The circumstances surrounding Lucas’ initial investigation feel very real, and Price is to thank for that, I think.

The Night Of will probably go places. The premiere episode was nigh outstanding and I hope it continues to be.


Blade Runner: The Final Cut (Spoilers)

Blade Runner is a 1982 science-fiction neo-noir mystery film directed by Ridley Scott, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, based upon the short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.  The film stars Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Joanna Cassidy, Daryl Hannah, M. Emmet Walsh, and Edward James Olmos. It features a very distinct, fitting, and iconic soundtrack from Vangelis.

I am reviewing a specific cut of this film. Before a film is released to theaters, but after the film is complete and ready to potentially be shown, a film studio will screen the film. Since the studios are the ones providing the money for a film to get made in the first place, an overwhelming majority of the time, they have the final say over what will and will not be in the film. They can force scenes to be cut out, that new scenes be put in, that a certain scene is modified or edited a certain way, etc. This can all be done while overriding what the director of a film may want. Sometimes, directors of films have what is called “the right to final cut.” This is when the director of the film is given complete artistic freedom and the studio executives can’t say or do jack to change or modify the film before it’s released. The right to final cut is reserved for bigshot directors like Kubrick, Hitchcock, Spielberg, etc. So odds are, if you see a movie, there’s an original uncut version out there that the director wanted you to see, but you probably won’t. After a film comes out on home video, there will sometimes be a director’s cut. A director’s cut is just like it sounds, it’s not the one you saw in the theater, it’s the one that the director WANTED to show you, but couldn’t. Blade Runner is the best example of what a director’s cut can do.

In the 1980’s when working on this film, Scott only had two other films under his belt: The Duelists in 1977 and Alien in 1979. Despite Alien being… well…. FREAKING ALIEN, Scott did not have the right to final cut. Upon Blade Runner‘s release in 1982, it was met with a lukewarm, bordering on negative, reception from critics and audiences. Also released in 1982 was Steven Spielberg’s beloved classic E.T. The executives at 20th Century Fox were worried that Blade Runner would get crushed by E.T. because Scott’s story was dark and not very happy at all. They were also confused at some plot points in the story, so they forced the star, Harrison Ford, to come back in and record voiceover lines explaining the plot. (Video contains potential plot spoilers.)

If you have seen this film or ever do see this film, that narration should annoy you. Almost everything about Blade Runner is meant to be ambiguous and unclear, from character motivations, to symbolism, to the ending of the movie, speaking of which…

They also forced Scott to change the ambiguous ending of the film into one that was happy and upbeat. Scott was not pleased with any of the decisions the studio executives made, and was very mad about changing the ending. He called up his friend Stanley Kubrick, and the theatrical ending of Blade Runner ended up being mostly unused B-Roll from The Shining. Unhappy about having his artistic vision compromised, a director’s cut of the film was released in 1992. Considered to be the true version of Blade Runner, this cut led to the film’s place as one of the best films ever in the genre. There have, in fact, been seven different versions of this film since its release in 1982. For the purposes of this review, I am viewing The Final Cut, which is the same as the 1992 cut in almost every way, but with remastered special effects and audio.

Rick Deckard is an eponymous Blade Runner, elite policemen assigned to execute escaped replicants, androids created for slave labor in off-world colonies. Replicants have minds equal to that of the men who created them and possess near-superhuman abilities. They think and act like real human beings, but they aren’t. Because of their highly advanced nature, even though replicants do not possess human emotion of their own, they begin to develop what Dr. Tyrell (head of the Tyrell Corporation and original mastermind of replicants) describes as “their own unique emotional responses.” Due to a revolt some time ago, replicants are to be considered highly dangerous and should be executed if they escape. Deckard is recently retired, but is begrudgingly forced to hunt down a group of replicants lead by Roy Batty. Roy is the smartest, strongest, fastest, and most ruthless of the group. There is also Zhora, a replicant who was formerly a member of a covert kill squad, Triss, a pleasure model used as entertainment who possesses superhuman strength and athletic abilities, and Leon, ridiculously strong and used as a frontline soldier. According to the film, Roy is the only one of the group who possesses “A Level Intellect” as well as “A Level Strength,” the others all possess lower levels of intelligence. This is due to Roy being a top-of-the line, cutting-edge Nexus 6 model. Nexus 6 models are extremely advanced, but have a lifespan of four years as a failsafe.

Deckard is informed that Roy and his cronies attempted to break into the Tyrell Corporation and failed, and have since attempted to infiltrate the corporation as workers. This is what is shown in the opening of the film. It involves Leon being interrogated by a Blade Runner using the Voight-Kampf Test, a survey of over 100 cross-referenced questions designed to distinguish human from replicant.

Blade Runner is a neo-noir film.Literally translated as “new black,” neo-noir films are contemporary films (read: color) that take many elements from noir films of the 1930’s and 40’s. Citizen Kane and Mildred Pierce are two noir films I have viewed for film class. Noir films commonly use low lighting (for the purpose of exaggerating shadows to add a layer of mystery or suspense), a dramatic soundtrack, and skewed or dramatic feeling camera angles. Noir films are dark and mysterious in both the literal and figurative senses.

Some neo-noir films include 1974’s Chinatown and my favorite film of all time, 1995’s The Usual Suspects.

Science-fiction neo noir has also been popularized in recent years, with Blade Runner being the film that kickstarted interest in the genre mashup. Other examples of sci-fi noir include 12 Monkeys, Gattaca, Alien 3, and Minority Report. An even more recent example would be the 2015 film Ex Machina. It is very clear throughout the film that it was heavily inspired by classical noir works.

Blade Runner also has several elements reminiscent of hardboiled detective stories of the 1940’s.Through a brilliant screenplay and masterful directing by Scott, the film succeeds at taking an unlikely combination of several genres, including mystery/neo-noir, thriller, cyberpunk, science fiction, romance, and horror (to a certain extent) and turning it into a truly thought-provoking and thrilling film.

The cinematographer behind Blade Runner was Jordan Cronenweth, the father of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, a brilliant master of the camera who is a frequent collaborator of the equally brilliant director David Fincher. Though I personally feel that Jeff has outdone his father, that doesn’t make Blade Runner any less of a beautiful looking film. When viewing The Final Cut, I was pleasantly surprised that the set design and props from this 1982 film still hold up remarkably well, in my opinion. Yes, having been more than thirty years since release, there are things that unavoidably look dated, but it actually isn’t classic Star Trek bad and I’m really surprised it still looks so good. I do not have any of the other cuts to compare side-by-side, but if this brilliant opening always looked this explosively awesome, consider me impressed.

Blade Runner is a very deep film that explores a multitude of issues. The most obvious issue is “What does it really mean to be human?” As it turns out, Roy and Pris have fallen in love. They escaped to Earth in order to coerce Dr. Tyrell into removing the four-year lifespan failsafe so they can live as real human beings. This leads to Rutger Hauer’s most emotional, and certainly most terrifying, moment in the film.

Keep in mind that since I am reviewing The Final Cut, several gruesome and grotesque alterations were made to this scene that make it all the more effective and creepy. Blade Runner, and Roy’s confrontation with Dr. Tyrell in particular, is evocative of a very twisted version of Pinocchio. Although the viewer is never given much time with Roy and Pris when they aren’t doing something monumentally creepy, I am very much empathetic to their wishes to live longer, which brings me back to the theme. No, Roy Batty is not a human, neither is Pris or Rachel. At what point though, does that not matter? It is stated that Nexus 6 replicants are meant to be human in every way except emotions. Roy and his crew have evolved to the point where they have emotions, so has Rachel. Does that, then, make them human? This is again driven home by Roy’s emotional ending monologue, which I have taken the liberty of reinserting here sans Ford’s forced and stupid voiceover dialogue near the end.

Another theme which is not really discussed anywhere else but was picked up on in my class was that of slavery, revolution, and punishment. The opening text scroll of the film explains:

Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced robot evolution into the NEXUS phase – a being virtually identical to a human – known as a Replicant. The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them. Replicants were used Off-World as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets. After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-World colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death. Special police squads – BLADE RUNNER UNITS – had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant This was not called execution. It was called retirement.

Of course, we are not told in the opening text scroll that the replicants can in fact develop human emotion, but they can and do just that. Does that make them slaves and the Tyrell Corporation their slavers? If they revolt against what they are arguably forced to do, they are executed. Are the Blade Runners the good guys… or the bad guys? Philip K. Dick, as well as his psuedo-predecessor and the man many consider to be the godfather and progenitor of modern science-fiction, the legendary Isaac Asimov, used the science fiction genre to explore many complex philosophical and even theological issues such as predestination and predeterminism in Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau, altered states of consciousness and transcendental experiences in Total Recall and A Scanner Darkly, as well as the nature of government with The Man in the High Castle. While using literature to explore very deep themes and ideals is not at all uncommon, it can sometimes be difficult to effectively translate these to film, which is probably why film adaptations of his work are hit or miss. (All of the works I mentioned have been adapted for film, television, or both) Blade Runner, a modified adaptation of the short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is definitely a hit thanks to Francher and People’s excellent work.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut is truly the definitive version of a film that succeeds, due to great work by all involved except the inept and moronic studio executives, at genre-bending almost every genre available to bend in 1982. This film made Ridley Scott a true household name following his previously monumental success with Alien. Looking back, it’s extremely ironic that Ridley is now one of a very select group of directors to get final cut privilege today. It may have taken ten long years to get the original director’s cut of Blade Runner out there, but it was worth it for both him and viewers, and expanding it even further by adding more polish with 2007’s Final Cut, released on the film’s 25th anniversary, was a smart move. Blade Runner was the start of Scott’s tradition of releasing director’s cuts of his films, and it makes me want more directors to go that route. Blade Runner is getting a sequel in 2017. It is not directed by Ridley Scott, with the brilliant auteur Denis Villeneueve, director of the brilliantly dark and twisted thrillers Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario, taking the reins. Scott not returning to direct is somewhat of a disappointment, but Sicario was one of my favorite films of last year, and 2013’s Prisoners was absolutely brilliant. With a tentative cast which now includes the returning Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Davis, Robin Wright, Ryan Gosling, and Dave Bautista, all being directed by the guy who made this friggin’ scene?

(To be honest, I had an immense amount of trouble trying to pick out the best scene from Sicario BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL SO FRIGGIN’ GOOD!!! I also don’t wanna spoil the movie, so after much deliberation, I decided to simply go with the opening…)

I think the sequel to Blade Runner, with this amount of immense talent involved, does have the potential to be even better than the original. Even in the early stages of production, it is one of my most anticipated films of the near future. Of course, we would be nowhere without Scott and the original Blade Runner, for sure. Go watch The Final Cut. (and Sicario!!!)