Tag Archives: tech noir

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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Dark City – Review

4 May

Getting lost in a really good science fiction story may be on my top 10 list of the best ways to spend my time. I recently had the pleasure to see one of the most surprisingly excellent science fiction films that I have ever seen. That move is Alex Proyas’ 1998 film Dark City. Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post had this to say about the movie, “If you don’t fall in love with it, you’ve probably never fallen in love with a movie, and never will.” I think that’s the best way to summarize how great this movie actually is, and it’s going to be hard to pick out all of the great things while keeping this review a reasonable length.

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When John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a bath tub with no memory of who he is or what he’s doing there, he becomes worried. When he soon sees that there is a prostitute who’s been brutally murdered in the same hotel room as he is, he becomes terrified. As he wanders the city he finds himself in, which is suffering from a case of perpetual darkness, Murdoch soon learns that he is being chased by a mysterious group of pale men with psychokinetic powers. As the mystery thickens, Murdoch learns he also has a less than faithful wife (Jennifer Connelly) and a psychologist (Kiefer Sutherland) who seems to want to help him, but who is also involved with the group of pale men called the Strangers. Meanwhile, Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) is in charge of a team that is investigating the mystery surrounding the murdered prostitute, but soon finds himself wrapped up in Murdoch’s own mystery that will completely change the lives of every citizen in the city.

A lot of stuff happens in this movie, and it isn’t easy getting in the important plot information to give a skeletal version of the story without ruining the plethora of surprises that this movie has up its sleeve. That being said, if you’re interested in seeing this movie at all, make sure you pick up or find a copy of the director’s cut, because the studio that was producing this movie demanded Proyas put a voice over in the beginning that was meant to give some background information, but ended up spoiling a lot of the mystery behind what is actually going on. That was, in my opinion, the best part of this movie. In the very beginning when Sewell’s character wakes up, we know just as much as he does which is absolutely nothing. As the film rolls on, I found myself trying harder and harder to figure out what was going on before any of it was revealed.

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With all of that talk of mystery, I have to point out just how well written this movie is. As someone who studies screenwriting with big hopes of doing just that for a living, I found myself thinking that this movie should be shown and studied in classes that have to do with writing. In terms of story, this is one of the best written movies I have ever seen. Alex Proyas along with Lem Dobbs (The LimeyHaywire) and David S. Goyer (Blade IIThe Dark Knight) have crafted an incredible screenplay filled with twists, suspense, and philosophy. Almost every good science fiction story has some sort of lesson or warning, and the one in Dark City asks a very good question: What makes us human? Is it our intelligence, moral code, or something else?

I can’t say a whole hell of a lot about the acting. It’s serviceable, but nothing special save for Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Mr. Hand. Fun fact about this movie, the Strangers are actually based off his character of Riff Raff in Rocky Horror. Anyway, while the acting is fine, I should talk more about the set design. Anyone who has seen Proyas’ earlier film The Crow knows how good he is when it comes to creating environments covered in darkness. Dark City just drives that point home. The city is a dark version of cities from many different eras of time. We never know what time period it is since the scenery is such an eclectic mix of old and new. Buildings seem like they could fall apart at any second and the lights and darks set a whole new bar for the subgenre of tech-noir.

It’s nice in these reviews to end by saying that I have a new movie to add to my list of favorites. Dark City is a mesmerizing and heady trip into the depths of science fiction and philosophy. There are a lot of stylistic similarities to Blade Runner, but (in a most unpopular opinion) I would much rather spend my time watching Dark City. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see what Roger Ebert called “the best movie of 1998,” then get working on finding a copy. It’s pretty mind blowing stuff.

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.

Renaissance – Review

14 Sep

It’s important for a movie to have style. Style gives a film a unique mark that separates it from all the rest. Unfortunately, it isn’t a rare thing that a movie will become so overly stylized that it detracts from its success. Case and point: Renaissance.

 

Paris, 2054. The city has become a maze of streets, railways, and alleys that are carefully monitored by law enforcement.Ilona Tasuiev (Romola Garai), an employee for the mega-corporation, Avalon, is kidnapped for an unknown reason. Enter Barthèlèmy Karas (Daniel Craig), a street wise cop hired to track her down by any means necessary. During his investigation, begins to work with Ilona’s older sister, the mysterious Bislane (Catherine McCormack), and soon discovers the the web of corporate and moral intrigue runs deeper than he could have possibly imagined.

Everything about this film is part of a recipe for success. The stunning visuals, the interesting plot points, and just the way the story unravels is cool to watch. Just like if you were making any type of food, too much of one recipe will start to overbear the rest of the flavor. This is the main issue with Renaissance. The visuals are so stunning and overdone that I started just looking at the movie rather than watching it.

 

Other than the overwhelming visuals, the story was just not involving at all. Things moved on before I got a chance to really process what was happening, and there was little to no explanation of things. The crazy black and white effects also put characters in such ridiculous shadow, sometimes, that I had no idea who I was really looking at, and then the scene was over. Great.

I’m a little bent out of shape about this movie because I really wanted to like it. There were times where I finally got adjusted to the animation and effects and then the scene would change. Once the scene changed I would get lost in the animation again and spend more time adjusting to the surroundings. Again, the animation is absolutely fantastic and very reminiscent of Sin City and A Scanner Darkly. Unfortunately, I was more into what the film looked like and not so much the story or the characters.

 

I feel like the story is definitely there. Like I said, there were times where I was really invested in what was happening onscreen, just not as much as I really should have been. The characters do have to make some interesting moral choices and there are a few good twists that had me legitimately surprised, but by the end of the movie, I was more than ready to turn it off and go do something else.

I can’t say that I’ve ever really had this problem before. Normally I really enjoy an overabundance of style in movies. Any Guy Ritchie (except one that will go unmentioned) has a crazy amount of style that, when mixed with the plot and characters, make the films worthwhile. In Renaissance, there was too much style and not enough good characters or plot elements. I’d definitely say check it out for the visuals alone, but there really is no need to see it twice.