“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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“Arrival”

When you encounter another being (human or not), don’t aim a tank at them! “Arrival” is a topical reminder to stay together to solve a problem.

Linguist Louise Banks’s (Amy Adams) class is interrupted by ringing phones, until one student asks to watch the news. We then learn that several large, mysterious space crafts have landed around the world and everyone wants to know why. US Army Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker) enlists Banks and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to find answers before conflict escalates.

Much like “10 Cloverfield Lane” last March, “Arrival” is a film you want to watch knowing little about, so this review will be spoiler free. In short, “Arrival” is the most challenging film I’ve seen all year. It’s also beautiful, timely, and a strong contender for best of 2016.

There isn’t a shred of destruction or violence in “Arrival.” Director Denis Villeneuve, who recently directed the grim and brutal “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” trades in nihilism for optimism. Louise is a peaceful protagonist, compared to Villeneuve’s past on-screen protagonists, and her main tool is communication.

The film dives into the science of linguistics, and how it’s important to translate another language, observe tone, and understand the meaning before taking action. Adams delivers an expressive performance as the quirky linguist, arguing her point with military personnel.  Her best scenes are in the opening and closing acts, where we learn of her journey.

There’s a unique spin on Louise’s background story that I won’t get into, but it will demand a second viewing. Villeneuve has once again crafted a thought-provoking, gorgeous film that will leave you thinking for days; I’m confident in him directing the upcoming “Blade Runner” sequel.

Grade: A+

The Best Movies Of 2015

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It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite review to write – MY FAVORITE MOVIES (OR FILMS) OF 2015!!!! This year was a solid year, especially in the genre films department. Now I have a couple of disclaimers.

  • I go see at least three or four movies a month, but it’s hard to catch everything. So films on other peoples’ lists like Straight Outta Compton, Room, and Carol won’t be on the list.
  • I really wanted to see The Revenant, but it won’t be out until a week after the new year, so it’s unfortunately not a contender.
  • There are a few movies you’ll see on this list and think, “Hey, why didn’t you review or mention this?” It’s because I either saw them before I launched this blog or after they were released on video.
  • A grade doesn’t mean I have to rank an A+ over an A. There’s even a movie I gave an A+ that’s not on the list at all!

On that note, I have some honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut, but are still worth mentioning:

  • Beasts of No Nation (the only A+ movie not on the list) was a beautiful and harrowing war film about innocence lost, featuring Idris Elba’s finest performance to date.
  • Creed restored my faith in the Rocky franchise, thanks to Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.
  • The End of the Tour is the best road trip movie I’ve seen in the last few years and featured Jason Segel’s finest work.
  • Ex-Machina was a disturbing and suspenseful sci-fi thriller that had great commentary on objectification.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service – was the best spy movie I saw in a year loaded with spy movies, and featured one of the most innovative and memorable fight scenes to date.
  • Trainwreck was a very funny and surprisingly dramatic comedy that introduced me to the talented Amy Schumer.

And now let’s get down to it! My top 10 favorite films of 2015 are:

10) It FollowsIt Follows may have the ridiculous concept of a dark sex comedy, but it’s also a very disturbing commentary on teen sexuality and a strong message to young kids about safe sex.

9) Sicario – Perhaps the darkest and most nihilistic movie on my list, Sicario shines through the darkness, thanks to Denis Villeneuve’s visceral direction and powerful performances from both Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. This is one cartel thriller that isn’t for the faint of heart.

8) The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino’s newest Western is also not for the faint of heart, but still an absolute blast. Part murder mystery and part classical Western, Tarantino’s beautiful direction brings out the best work from its cast, particularly Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins.

7) Love & Mercy – I hate music biopics, but Love & Mercy is more of an engaging psychological study of a broken man than a generic Brian Wilson biopic. Paul Dano plays young Wilson with frenetic energy while John Cusack portrays the older fragile version of Wilson in this unique music film.

6) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – Thank you, J.J. Abrams, for giving us a great Star Wars movie for Christmas. New and old blood, nostalgia mixed with more character-driven storytelling, Star Wars ranks among the best Star Wars installments to date.

5) The Martian – Ridley Scott returns to form and directs the year’s most optimistic movie featuring this year’s most likable protagonist, Mark Watney (Matt Damon in his best performance). This is a survival sci-fi tale that will have viewers laughing while engaged in science and disco music.

4) Steve Jobs – Director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin crafted the best film that no one saw this year! Shame on the film goers for skipping a visionary fast-paced biopic, featuring a brilliant performance from Michael Fassbender as the titular character.

3) Spotlight – Likely this year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight is a gripping and important journalism piece that follows people (not heroes or villains) and their struggles writing an investigative piece on molestation in the Catholic Church. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel MacAdams all deliver standout performances as our protagonists.

2) Inside Out – Pixar is back with the very beautiful, funny, and emotional Inside Out. Director Pete Docter (Up, Monster’s Inc.) continues to combine basic genre formulas with innovative storytelling in the form of an animated film. In this case, a disaster movie with insight on emotions.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – What a film! WHAT A LOVELY FILM! That’s the fanboy part of me talking, but the reason why Mad Max is #1 is because George Miller rebooted his own franchise and topped his previous installments. Between the action sequences with stuntmen and reliance on basic props for visual effects, we rarely get an action movie with as much effort put into it as Mad Max: Fury Road. Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw an action movie that treated an ensemble of female characters as powerful people and passed the Bechdel test. These reasons are enough to please all film goers and not just action fans.

Thanks a bunch for reading this countdown! At the bottom, tell me if you agree or disagree with my list. Also, what was your favorite film of 2015?

 

“Sicario”

Sicario

Emily Blunt’s Kate with her gun ready to fire.

“Sicario” states with a nihilistic tone that the war on drugs will never end and that you have to fight evil with evil. It’s also a very convincing look at how crippling cartel activity is in Mexico.

Emily Blunt stars as Kate; she’s the idealistic cop we’ve seen several times before, who grows cynical and horrified over a case she’s been given. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are a pair of mercenaries who act as Kate’s superiors; Brolin’s Matt is a smart ass calculating individual whilst Del Toro’s Alejandro is cold, mysterious, and trigger happy. These men are prepared to use Kate to wipe out all cartel leaders while Kate questions their morals.

“Sicario” is the third film I’ve seen of director Denis Villeneuve’s (“Prisoners” (2013),  “Enemy” (2014)), and after seeing “Sicario”, Villeneuve is here to stay. “Sicario” is a cynical masterpiece filled with endless suspense, masterful directing, and excellent performances.

Blunt is Oscar worthy as Kate, delivering a hardened and vulnerable performance. We know she’s going to become jaded by the end of the movie, but we so desperately hope she sees the light. Del Toro is the scene stealer in this movie. He uses his expressive face to bring the morally ambiguous hitman much more depth. And of course, Josh Brolin is always enjoyable to watch.

The execution of “Sicario” makes it look like a dreadful maze. Between the aerial view shots of suburban Arizona and war-torn Juarez, Mexico, we know we’re following Kate into Hell and back. She thinks she’s going into this war for the right cause, not realizing she’s aiding anarchy.

That’s the most haunting part of “Sicario” – there isn’t hope in the war on drugs and the movie perfectly states it in the final act. In season one of “True Detective,” there’s a great line about time being a flat circle and how we’ll always do the same things. This applies perfectly in the final scene of “Sicario”, demonstrating the war on drugs will never end and will only open more doors for it to continue.

Villeneuve continues to handle moral ambiguity very well and the drug war is a perfect topic to practice this storytelling style with.

Grade: A