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Blade Runner 2049 – Review

18 Oct

One of the most influential films of all time is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner based off of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This movie is a masterwork of visual effects, cinematography, setting, and ideas. It has the classic Philip K. Dick paranoia that made his works seminal in the realm of science fiction. What Blade Runner doesn’t achieve in is narrative. The plot is threadbare and glazes over a lot of information that could have been a handy tool in building more suspense. I think Blade Runner is an excellent film and deserves to be heralded as a masterpiece, but I can’t say it’s the best science fiction film ever made. I was concerned when I heard it was getting a sequel so many years later, and I really had no excitement whatsoever leading up to the release of Blade Runner 2049. After seeing it, it’s far and away one of the strongest sci fi films to come out in years and may even have a leg up on its predecessor.

30 years after the events of the original Blade Runner, newer replicant models have been reworked and used as servants and loyal employees. K (Ryan Gosling) is one of these newer models, and also works as a blade runner for the LAPD. His sole job is to hunt down the older, more dangerous replicants and “retire” them. After retiring a replicant named Sapper (Dave Bautista) who was running a farm in the middle of nowhere, new evidence comes to light of a child that was born from a replicant. With this knowledge posing a dangerous new way of thinking, K’s boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) orders him to hunt down and destroy all evidence of this, including the child, now an adult, who was born from this replicant. As K follows the trail of evidence, he finds danger around every corner, especially from the founder of the Wallace Corporation, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and his enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). K also begins getting flashes of memories he thought were false, which brings his own existence into question, which ultimately leads him on the trail of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who may be the connection that links the entire mystery together.

The original Blade Runner is a marvel of special effects and world building. While the story may not be there 100%, I dare anyone not to lose themselves in the world that Ridley Scott and his team created. The same can also be said about Blade Runner 2049, which matches Scott’s creativity in design. This is a feat I was not expecting from this movie. There’s a scene towards the beginning when K is flying through the city and the advertisements, buildings, and other structures are all larger than life, but it’s a city that seems like it lives and breathes. There are other areas that are more desolate, but that just shows the variety of the world the characters live in, especially after the “black out” that is constantly references in throughout the story. One setting that took my breath away was the interior of the Wallace building. Not only was it just great to look at, but it also helped define Niander as a character. Denis Villeneuve has shown his skill with visuals with his films before, but this takes it to a new level. I also can’t leave out the importance of Hans Zimmer’s booming score. It’s one of the coolest original scores of the year, and I listened to it immediately in the car ride home from the theater.

Blade Runner 2049 is a science fiction epic in every sense of the word. It features a world of androids, flying cars, and evil technology corporations whose goals threaten the existence that we have come to know. It’s a world that is recognizable, but still seems fresh. I love that about this movie, and again, it’s something I wasn’t really expecting. Where this film really got me though was its strong sense of mystery. This story is essentially a hard boiled mystery tale wrapped in a world of science fiction. The best part about it all is that it had me guessing until the very end, and when the ending finally showed, my mouth was agape. Philip K. Dick is no stranger to paranoia and twisted stories, and while this may not be an original of his, it still has the spirit. Is K a trustworthy protagonist? Who is Deckard really? What is the Wallace Corporation hiding? These are only some of the questions this movie poses, and watching it all unfold at a steady, yet slow pace is extremely gratifying. It’s hard for movies that are almost 3 hours long to grip audiences so  strongly, but Villeneuve’s strong direction makes it no problem.

It was hard for me to think of anyone else being a lead character in a Blade Runner movie that wasn’t Harrison Ford, but the fact that it was Ryan Gosling should have put my mind at ease. He is the hard boiled “detective” of the story and has all the makings of a traditional character. He’s quiet, but has an edge to him with undertones of understanding, and all of the elements make up his complicated character very well. Jared Leto unfortunately in the movie a lot, but his portrayal of Niander Wallace is menacing to say the least. Speaking of menace, Sylvia Hoeks is a character that I loved to hate, which is always the sign of an excellent villain. There’s also a surprisingly heavy performance from Ana de Armas who plays Joi, K’s holographic love interest. I know how that sounds, but they actually made it work.

Blade Runner 2049 surprised the hell out of me. I was feeling like it was an unnecessary sequel which kind of impeded me looking forward to it. Maybe it is an unnecessary sequel, but it’s a damn great one nevertheless. The slow pace of the narrative pulled me into the world that it was creating and the mystery of the whole thing locked me in tighter than many movies can. This is an amazingly shot film with gorgeous special effects, an awesome score, and a story that never lets up. I loved Blade Runner 2049.

Final Grade: A+

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The Fugitive – Review

6 Feb

Isn’t it a shame that I’ve met people who firmly believe that straight up action movies do not qualify as artistic film making and refuse to label any of them “classics?” I find it hard to believe that people can still think like that when movies like The Fugitive exist and has gotten overwhelmingly positive acclaim. Based off of a t.v. series that ran from 1963 to 1967, Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive not only serves up a heaping dish of intelligent storytelling and one of the most intense performances of the ’90s, but also just a very entertaining thrill ride packed with plenty of action and adventure.

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Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is one of Chicago’s go to vascular surgeons and is also graced with a large house and a beautiful wife (Sela Ward). Kimble’s life is completely turned upside down when his wife is killed and he is charged with her murder and sentenced to death. While being transferred, the group of prisoners he is with attempts a break out which crashes the bus allowing Kimble to make his getaway and start his search of the one-armed man that is actually the perpetrator of his wife’s murder. Unfortunately for Kimble, Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), who has a reputation for being relentless, is hot on his trail, but neither of them could have guessed how deep the conspiracy that they’ve been tossed into actually goes.

There’s so many things to talk about with The Fugitive, so trying to get my thoughts evenly together is a bit of a challenge. That’s kind of a compliment in and of itself, but I digress. The most important thing to me is how the movie is written. It’s such a tight story with each scene the perfectly compliments one another. Nothing in the movie feels excessive or unnecessary, which is definitely a good thing for a movie that runs over 2 hours long. The story pretty much hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the resolution. This kept me completely into it the entire time. Not to mention the amount of grand set pieces strewn throughout. One particularly memorable sequence happens during a St. Patrick’s Day parade, which was never in the script and improvised on the spot. That’s some clever film making.

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Because the writing of The Fugitive is so tight, the whole movie just works. I can’t say that I was bored at any point throughout the narrative of this movie. That’s not to say that there isn’t any downtime, because there’s plenty that’s used to build the characters and thicken the plot in ways that it needs to be. This isn’t just stupid thrills that exist for cheap reasons. I mentioned before the memorable scene that takes place during the St. Patrick’s Day parade and how it’s a very well executed scene. There’s another scene that may actually be the most famous from the movie where Kimble successfully avoids a crashing train. The way the stunt was set up required so much planning and used an actual train that I really can’t help but admire it. That’s part of what sets this movie a step above the rest in terms of the action genre.

Finally, the performances in this movie are really something else. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones are the two big names in the movie, but there are also some great supporting cast members like Joe Pantaliano and Julianne Moore. Ford works great as Kimble and his personality makes the character feel very natural and makes him someone the audience can really root for. Ford just has a knack for making heroes seem like everyday guys. The real scene stealer, however, is Tommy Lee Jones who actually took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He really seems to be going above what he normally does and even went so far as to make up a lot of his most famous lines on the spot. That just shows how deep into the character of Samuel Gerard he really was.

The bottom line is that The Fugitive is one of the best action films ever made and shows that action films can be considered art in how they’re made and how well the narrative is constructed. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones give two memorable performances that serve as highlights of their career and was even garnered with 7 Academy Award nominations. I’m sure at this most people have already the pleasure of viewing this contemporary classic, but if not it really is necessary viewing.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Review

21 Dec

I remember exactly when I fell in love with movies. I was in the first grade when I was first exposed to Star Wars. I had just gotten home from school and was watching Return of the Jedi, and I distinctly remember the feeling of excitement watching the speeder bike chase that takes place on the forest moon of Endor. Now here we are in 2015 and I finally got to see a new Star Wars movie. The prequel trilogy didn’t really give me the intense experience that I wanted, so this film had a lot riding on it. With a lot of the cast members returning and J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair, I was confident that this was going to be the Star Wars film that I’ve been waiting for. I’m proud and excited to say that I was right.

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30 years after the Galactic Empire was destroyed by the Rebel Alliance, remnants of the Empire have joined together to create a powerful military strength called the First Order. At the forefront of the First Order is one of the last remaining Jedi, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who has make it his mission to track down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for his own nefarious purposes. On the other side of the spectrum is the Resistance, a much smaller military with the support of the Republic. The Resistance is also hot on the trail of Skywalker and will fight back against the much larger First Order to protect the galaxy and find Luke before any great damage can be done.

There’s really no other way I can lay out this story without giving anything away. The marketing for this movie was perfect because I went into the theater without knowing what the movie was about or what anyone’s motivations were. That made the experience so much more exciting than it could have been. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. Everything about the story flowed very smoothly and felt exactly like the kind of stuff you’d come to expect with a Star Wars movie. My only complaint is that sometimes it felt a little bit too much like the older movies. The Force Awakens contains plot devices and themes from all three of the original films which is really cool in some aspects, but the fact that they took so much was a little bit off putting. Luckily, that is where my problems end and my excitement begins.

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I had a feeling that I was going to love this movie, but I didn’t know that it was going to give me a character that I was going to fall in love with. Since I’ve seen this movie, I can’t stop thinking about Kylo Ren. He is, without a doubt, one of the most complex and interesting villains that I have seen in a long time. I was just expecting him to be the stereotypical bad guy, but what I got was a deep character that is full of mystery and conflict. Luckily all of the other characters hold up really well too. As the series’ new heroes we have Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), who both have very exuberant personalities. At times their motivations do clash, but their chemistry still works great. Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is another performance that stands out. He may be one of the most likable characters of this new trilogy, which means Disney better be planning on keeping him around. Finally, seeing Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, and Mark Hamill in their respective titles was great even if a few of them get pretty limited screen time.

Most importantly, though, The Force Awakens just felt like a Star Wars movie, and I really shouldn’t be worried about that. Unfortunately, in a world where the prequel trilogy exists, I sort of have to. If this movie turned out to be another Attack of the Clones, I would’ve just given up on film all together. This movie has plenty of action, adventure, and humor rolled up in J.J. Abrams signature style. Abrams has a great eye and it really shows here. This film really feels like a grand spectacle. There are huge set pieces, beautiful CGI, and there were also a lot of great practical effects and make up which I really appreciate. It’s nice to know that, along with his two Star Trek films, J.J. Abrams has the ability to handle major and beloved franchises with care.

There was a lot riding on The Force Awakens since it’s pretty much rebooting the Star Wars franchise. I’ve heard some different opinions, but for me, it was a huge success and I loved pretty much every minute of it. Sure, the fan service, references, and plot elements can be a little overwhelming and repetitive at times, but these are minor complaints. This is a really fun and action packed entry in a franchise that is both beloved on side and mocked on the other. It may not be as iconic as the original trilogy, but it sure is great.

The Expendables 3 – Review

2 Jan

When The Expendables came out in 2010, I was thrilled to see all of the legendary action stars coming together to be in one movie, even if it didn’t reach the high expectations that I set for it. I was even more pleased with The Expendables 2 in 2012, which was a superior sequel that added Chuck Norris to the mix and gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis more to do. These were two fun films that hearkened back to action movies from the late 1970 and 1980s, but Stallone wasn’t ready to stop there. The Expendables 3, which I can now say was released in 2014 (just for the sake of saying it), completes the trilogy and actually offered me with more entertainment than I was expecting, which is a nice surprise.

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Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of his team of mercenaries called The Expendables, start their mission by breaking an old member of the team, Doc (Wesley Snipes), out of prison and than rush to Somalia to stop the delivery of bombs by a mysterious arms dealer. The mission goes awry when it is revealed the arms dealer is an ex-Expendable and personal enemy of Barney’s, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). One of the team members is severely injured and Stonebanks escapes, forcing Barney to assemble a new crew to go in and bring Stonbanks back on the orders of his new boss, CIA officer Max Drummer (Harrison Ford). When the new team gets captured by Stonebanks during the mission, the old Expendables crew comes back in to save the new recruits, defeat Stonebanks’ personal army, and bring him in personally to be charged as a war criminal.

I don’t think I even need to say this, but just look at this cast. Just look at it. On top of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the original cast we now have Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, and Antonio Banderas added just to name a few. Not only that, but Schwarzenegger and Jet Li are back to join in to the action and join it they do. Obviously, there are also a bunch of fresher faces there like UFC figher Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, boxer Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell. While it must have been cool for these fighters and actors to join in with the legends, they don’t add anything really special to the movie, and their acting can often be subpar, which shouldn’t even bother me in an Expendables movie. I was worried that these newcomers would push the others to the side, but it was great to see everyone get their chance in the spotlight, my personal favorite being Banderas. I just would have rather seen Gina Carano instead of Ronda Rousey, but that’s just me. There’s also a real big lack of Terry Crews in this movie, which was a little disappointing as well.

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Of course one of the biggest draws to see an Expendables movie is the action, and there’s plenty of it to go around. One of the things that concerned me along with the new cast was the fact that The Expendables 3 was PG-13, which made me think that this movie was going to be completely toned down. It really didn’t feel that way though. In fact, I’d say it may even be superior to the original movie. Another thing that is necessary in action films of this kind is a strong villain, and we get one with Stonebanks. It is obvious that Mel Gibson is having the time of his life, hamming it up as Barney’s arch-enemy and delivering his lines like he’s back in the role of Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon movies. Looking back on these movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson were two of the best parts of the entire series, which is cool because cool villains are just plain awesome.

It’s clear that this is also a pretty personal project to all of the older actors in this movie, especially that there are now younger actors in the movie kicking ass with them. There’s been a few of these kinds of movies recently where the people we loved for years begin to talk about their age in a positive light. Stallone and the rest of them is reminding us once again that they are quite capable of high octane action scenes and still have fun shooting them. That being said, I don’t think we need another Expendables movie, and I’m hoping and praying that we don’t get one, because as much as I like what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it on repeat since 2010. I will say that some of this movie felt like it was getting a little stale (and I’m including the wonky special effects with this), which means it’s time to pack this series in.

The Expendables movies are simply nostalgic guilty pleasures that no one should really feel guilty about, in my opinion. These movies, the third movie included, are not pieces of work that need to be criticized to quickly. Maybe I liked this movie as much as I did because it exceeded my low expectations, but maybe it’s just because I like seeing these actors do what they do best. It’s not high art and it doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say, but we’ve known these actors for a long time and it’s cool to see them in a loud, violent, and often funny action film.

 

Blade Runner – Review

25 Jul

I should really be ashamed of myself for having waited 21 years of my life to see Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. I have read Philip K. Dick’s outstanding novel on which the film was based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and was completely sucked into the dystopian city that he brought to life. To begin with, I was surprised with the similarities between the book and the movie after hearing how different they were, and I was also surprised that I have to call this film a little bit over rated.

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Deckard is (Harrison Ford) is a retired blade runner, a branch of the police force whose main objective is to hunt down and “retire” androids that are called “replicants.” After four advanced Nexus-6 models escape from an off planet colony and come to earth, Deckard is forced out of retirement to hunt them down. These new models are a bit more tricky to find, however, due to advanced emotional control and, in some instances, false memories implanted into their brain to give an “emotional cushion.” This assignment will prove to be a life changing one as Deckard begins to see that he may be playing for the wrong side of the law.

Ok, I know I’m going to get a lot of heat for this one, but I have to be totally honest. I felt a little twang of disappointment with Blade Runner. Part of me thinks that I was expecting a bit too much from it. Another part of me realizes that Deckard is a really boring character whom I really didn’t care for. In the novel, seeing the world from his perspective and getting the inside scoop on his thoughts made him a much more interesting character. As the main protagonist, he just doesn’t really work. I’m way more interested in Rutger Hauer’s role as the lead replicant, Roy, who brings more humanity to his role than Ford. On top of that, we are introduced to characters early in the film which we then don’t see again for what seemed like a really long time. Then after all of that, the movie seems to wrap up really quickly.

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So, while the movie bothered me at some parts, it really does exceed in others. For one thing, the special effects are superb. Seeing the spinners flying through the dystopian Los Angeles, complete with advertising zeppelins and moving billboards as tall as skyscrapers is mind blowing. If anything, Blade Runner deserves a spot on anyone’s list of best science fiction films for the visuals alone. I hear a lot of complaints that this is a very dark movie and can be hard to see things at times. This is true, but Blade Runner falls into the sub genre of tech noir, which means it’s science fiction in the style of classic noir films. Thankfully, that god awful narration by Harrison Ford has been taken out of the re-releases!

Like the book, Blade Runner is definitely a philosophical tale. Deckard begins to see throughout his journeys that destroying these androids is a moral dilemma. In what I consider to be a fantastic monologue given be Hauer towards the end, he explains that his replicant eyes have seen things that most humans on earth would never believe, and when he is gone, so are the memories. The theme of eyes is very important to the story, and visually, Scott even went so far as to make the character’s eyes glow at some parts by reflecting a small light directly at them. The eye is the window to the soul, people say, and that is what the movie can be boiled down to. Deckard is hunting the androids because they have no soul, even though his job is more soulless than the androids he is killing.

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In my honest opinion, Blade Runner is just a tad bit over rated, even though the more I really think about it, the more I am liking it. Some things about it could definitely be changed, even though it’s been tinkered with throughout the years so  much so that even George Lucas would be blushing. It’s not my favorite sci fi movie, and objectively it isn’t the best, but it is something of a marvel and is definitely a reminder that blockbusters these days don’t have as much of a philosophical or soulful push that they had just a few decades earlier.

Air Force One – Review

10 Oct

Air Force One, aka Sky Hard, is the story of Officer John McClane after he became president. I’m kidding of course, but it seems every time I watch this movie I find more similarities between it and the original Die Hard. Still, even though these can be distracting, Air Force One is still a pretty good action movie that kept me entertained for its running time.

President Marshall (Harrison Ford) is in Moscow at a dinner celebrating the capture of a warlord from Kazakhstan, General Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow). In his speech, Marshall declares America’s zero tolerance policy on terrorism and negotiation with said terrorists. After his departure with his family, employees, and secret service on Air Force One, the plane is promptly hijacked by ultranationalist terrorists led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). He and his team are dedicated to General Radek and will execute a hostage every half hour until Radek is freed. What these terrorists never bet on was President Marshall reverting back to his days of the military and making the terrorists get a taste of their own medicine.

This is a very pro-American action movie that reeks with patriotism. This is an easy way for a movie to become intolerable. I don’t mind a pro-national stance for a film, but not when it’s shoved down the viewer’s throat. With the sweeping music and American flags everywhere to some of the dialogue, this movie just couldn’t get enough. But, and this is a big but, there were obvious criticisms of American policy that speak some truth. When Oldman’s character begins talking about our foreign policies and how the government works, he doesn’t sound like a crazy person. This was obviously intentional both for character purposes and thematically. If he came off as a lunatic, then it would be difficult to believe the sincerity in the writing.

While we’re on the topic of Gary Oldman, he is the strongest part of this movie both in form and performance. Let’s face it, the story here is pretty weak, the bulk of the characters (including the president) are uninspired, but Oldman’s performance is something to be taken completely seriously. While all the other actors do their jobs just fine, he goes above and beyond what is called for. I don’t want to keep comparing this to Die Hard, but think of how great Alan Rickman was as Hans Gruber. This is the level of intensity that Gary Oldman gives Ivan Korshunov. He is an A+ actor.

The special effects are pretty dated in Air Force One, but I still really enjoyed the action. There are excellent gun battles that have surprisingly fine cinematography and jet planes engaging in dog fights that will put you on the edge of your seat. I wouldn’t say the action is nonstop, but a lingering feeling of suspense plays throughout the movie. Unfortunately, the film is just a bit too long and should have ended 15 minutes earlier. The effects and action couldn’t keep me interested by the end.

Air Force One is a fun movie if you are willing to check your brain at the door. It has obvious flaws in its story that makes you wish you were actually watching Die Hard at times, but the action and Gary Oldman’s performance is enough to keep you watching. It’s better than a lot of action movie, but it can’t be place in the upper-eschelons of the genre neither. Still, it’s a fun movie to watch, especially if you’re with other people.