“Blade Runner: 2049”

I’ve now seen Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated film, Blade Runner: 2049 twice. That alone should tell you how I feel about the film.

Thirty years after Deckard (Harrison Ford) fled with Rachael (Sean Young), we’re introduced to a new blade runner named K (Ryan Gosling). K’s tasked uncovers a certain secret that’s connected to him and Deckard, and threatens what remains of order. That’s all you need to know.

Blade Runner: 2049 was my most anticipated film of 2017 and it lives up to the hype. This is a mesmerizing film that maintains its predecessor’s tone and aesthetics while acting as a stand alone film. It’s currently my favorite film of 2017.

A lot has changed between 2019 and 2049 in the Blade Runner universe. Replicants have evolved, computers have evolved, and the world is now overpopulated and decayed. LA isn’t just rainy; it’s snowy, foggy, and smoggy. There isn’t a single shot of sunshine, yet the film is still stunning.

From start to finish, Blade Runner: 2049 is eye candy. I was mesmerized between the aerial shots of K driving through the neon skyscrapers and the shots of him walking through dark hallways and smoggy landscapes. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Prisoners, No Country for Old Men, Fargo) once again proves he’s the master of cinematography.

This isn’t a style over substance film by any means. Much like Ridley Scott’s masterful predecessor, Villeneuve’s sequel maintains the philosophical themes and ambiguous questions about life, death, and humanity. It also raises new ones about memory, miracles, evolution, and survival. 2049 isn’t at all a rehash of the first film.

2049 is 2 hours and 43 minutes long (roughly 44 minutes longer than the original) and is an epic in scale and tone. If you saw Villeneuve’s previous works Sicario and Prisoners, you know he has a knack for violent quick bursts of action. 2049 has enough to satisfy action lovers.

Everyone in the cast is perfect. Gosling delivers another cool, expressionistic performance as a troubled antihero. Ford portrays Deckard as a traumatized battle-torn veteran with grace. Robin Wright adds some humanity to her cold character Detective Joshi; she’s K’s superior and acts as a caring maternal figure. Even Jared Leto has a few golden moments as a god complex-ridden replicant manufacturer, Niander Wallace. Of all the performances, Sylvia Hoeks shines as Luv, Wallace’s replicant enforcer who wants to prove she’s the superior replicant.

Blade Runner was an acquired taste and 2049 isn’t any different. If you want an artistic epic that’s restrained in action but grandiose in themes, 2049 is for you. Villeneuve once again proves he’s one of the best working filmmakers to date.

Grade: A+

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“Ghost in the Shell”

Scarlett Johansson is best with quiet, expressive roles and action heroines. In “Ghost in the Shell,” she does both and carries the ultimately bland cyberpunk film.

Humans have cybernetic technology and use it to enhance their strength, intelligence, and other traits. Major Mira Killian (Johansson), a cybernetic soldier, hunts for a mysterious cyber-terrorist (Michael Pitt) against her superiors’ orders. After encountering him, Killian recalls her past and realizes that her creators are hiding something.

I haven’t watched the anime, but from what I understand, “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) is one of the greatest anime films of all time. The live-action adaptation is uncertain if it wants to be a slow, artistic sci-fi film in tradition of “Blade Runner” (1982) or more action-packed like “Equilibrium” (2002).

The over-reliance on slow-mo action sequences are distracting from the film’s superb visuals and expressive moments. I enjoy Johansson performing her own stunts, but I was more interested in her character-driven moments. Rupert Sanders’s occasionally mesmerizing direction is best utilized in Killian’s solo scenes. It’s unfortunate there aren’t enough of those moments.

Writing wise, I prefer science fiction that shows the audience its world rather than tell us about it. The writers don’t trust their audience well since most dialogue scenes are exposition-fueled. Furthermore, the characters are emotionless with their delivery, with the exception of Pitt.

Pitt’s performance is cartoonish and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to sound damaged or imitate the Apple Macintosh. The best supporting performance goes to the great Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki. Kitano only speaks Japanese in this role and delivers each line with sass, charisma, and confidence. Why hasn’t he gotten more American roles?!

“Ghost in the Shell” had potential to be a mind-bending sci-fi film due to its visuals, concepts, and Johansson’s compelling performance. Maybe the sequel will expand more on those attributes.

Grade: C+