Blade Runner 2049

October 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

In 1982, Ridley Scott brought us “Blade Runner”, an intriguing, cerebral sci-fi flick set in the future, adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story entitled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. Make your own assessment of which had the better title; but I know what my answer’d be. The film wasn’t a success at the box office, despite having the star power of Harrison Ford, and some young talent like Sean Young. It was too slow, too dark, and miserable, in a year with “E.T.” and “Poltergeist”; even “Star Trek” gave audiences something to get excited about, in the world of science fiction. But “Blade Runner” was trying to be something different–a throwback to film noir, complete with hard boiled narration (that Harrison Ford reportedly hated). It was visually captivating, but little else.

Then, it gained a following in years to come. Now, it’s regarded as a classic, a golden standard of “thinking sci-fi”. Films like “Dark City” and “Gattaca” would come over a decade later, and were a little better received thanks to the groundbreaking “Blade Runner”. For me personally, “Blade Runner” never quite connected. I think because it had so much “stuff” in it, it kind of weighed itself down. The characters weren’t exactly very endearing, and the plot seemed to move in slow motion. The set design, the effects, were all magnificent. I still like to “look” at the film. But as a narrative, it just left me cold. Certainly I could appreciate what Scott was trying to do, and what message the film was saying about morality and humanity, and what it means to be human. What we take for granted, what we take with us, could be “tears in the rain”.

Now, 35 years later, we have a sequel. I was certainly interested, because I felt that with Scott again involved, maybe he could further develop the world he created back in 1982. Of course now, we are far into the future, with it being 2049. I’m sure this won’t spoil a thing–but Deckard is back, although his presence is couched in favor of our new Blade Runner, K (Ryan Gosling). K is part of a code that he is named after. He’s assigned to a case to “retire” a replicant on a farm. Replicants, if you’re familiar with “Blade Runner” lore, are robots designed after humans to resemble us completely, except for one trait: they lack empathy and are synthetic. They were mostly created as slaves, but some are “retired” (destroyed) if unwanted. If you’re not familiar, all of this explained in the opening sequence in text, so you aren’t completely lost.

Once K meets with the farmer (played by Dave Bautista), a fight ensues, with K being the victor and discovering something: replicant remains. And, the kicker–she was pregnant. This is unprecedented in replicant evolution, and there’s a race to destroy all remains of the all of it, including the child–who is alive. K is pursued by an employee of the Wallace corporation (who took over for the Tyrell Corporation following the first film), led by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), she’s a replicant as well and replicants can have some superhuman powers. You don’t really want to be Blade Runned by a replicant.

K has somewhat of a normal existence: he works for the LAPD, and though being a replicant himself, he is obedient in his job, and good at it. His boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) seems to like him and his ethic, and even somewhat protects him once it gets out that the remains of the pregnant replicant have been taken. K also has a “girlfriend”, an entity that works like a holographic Amazon Echo, and who can love you unconditionally, with only the push of a button. Named Joi (Ana de Armas), after the product, she believes there’s something special in K, even though he thinks he’s just your average…Joe.

But when one of his implanted memories turns out to be seen as “genuine”, something impossible for replicants as they have no living memory, he starts to believe her, and–in himself.

But this sort of self journey only serves as background noise to an otherwise noisy, and would-be thought provoking film. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours long, you’d think director Denis Villenueve would utilize the run time to explore K’s existence more than just a few flashbacks, and link his to Deckard’s and other replicants. But this is an insulated film, and Gosling is always tough to read. So again, there’s an emotional hole that could’ve been filled with the kind of story this is telling–which has to do with literal creation. It doesn’t seem to drown in cliches of religious symbolism, thankfully, but it spends an awful lot of time on lingering shots of the world–colorful at that–that this film exists in. Yes, it’s gorgeous at times; sometimes, ugly. I think there’s a metaphor in there, something that can be divined from all the rainy, claustrophobic city sequences; then, contrasted with quiet beauty of a sprawling desert, or even inside an office building. There’s a lot of empty space, and that rings true for the film’s narrative. Just like in the first film, it seems to suffer from taking a short story subject and putting it into full length feature film mode. “Blade Runner” was only 2 hours though; this is almost 3. With that extra hour, we really don’t get much more juice that had already been squeezed from the original. We get very similar themes of self-worth, what it means to be human–and what the importance of one’s existence can be.

Harrison Ford looks tired in just about everything he does lately, and even though it’s nice to see him again, it feels a bit sad too. His character is alone, and has really nothing to look forward to. Spending more time with him, rather than leaving him for the third act as another MacGuffin, would have really strengthened the film.

The look of the film is exhilarating, and a lot of the film does actually work fine. But the bloated run time, including pretty much all scenes with Wallace, really bog the film down. Leto is a great actor, but his character has really no importance to the overall plot. And his musings are rather dull, instead of being ominous or foreboding. He does have a singular function, of basically being the puppet master of his creations. But Luv, his henchwoman, basically has a mind of her own and makes a fine villain on her own. She certainly doesn’t seem the type who needs to “obey”.

There is also another subplot of an uprising of replicants. I would imagine this would serve as a centerpiece for another sequel–but the film doesn’t work enough for me to want to invest myself in another “Blade Runner” film. As it stands, it falls flat, and only becomes relevant for K’s journey that I think he would’ve figured out eventually anyway. The resolution for Deckard is a little more uplifting and satisfying, but by the time we get there, I was ready to bolt out of my seat.

If you want a thinking sci-fi film, put more thought into it. That should be obvious–but also, make the plot interesting. Make it complete. This came off as a bit fractured, and it really hampered the full enjoyment I think a person could have with it.

If this were a replicant, I wouldn’t have a problem with it being “retired”.

My rating: :?

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

December 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

“Star Wars” has become less a film franchise and more a cultural phenomenon in the past decade, and a new film–the first not to be helmed by George Lucas–seems almost moot when it comes to critiquing its merits as a film. We know what to expect at this point. Episodes IV, V, and VI all told the story of the Rebellion versus the Galactic Empire. Small fry versus big guy. David vs. Goliath. It was a story we all could relate to; we all wanted to be like Han Solo, but were probably more like Luke. The Force, the Jedi, the Dark Side, were all defining storytelling elements that made that trilogy a classic. Next, Lucas wanted to go back and tell the story of Luke’s father Anakin with episodes I, II, and III. He attempted to tell a backstory that really fell flat, and didn’t create very engaging characters. He certainly managed to create some really annoying ones, though. Through the years, the vitriol for the prequels has abated, and now–for better or worse–they are a part of the “Star Wars” film canon. There’s even a DVD release that puts them in order so you can watch I-VI, as George Lucas, er, intended (if you really want to believe that).

Episode VII resembles the first trilogy (that is, the middle episodes). It begins with action and ends with action, and in between we have a very predictable story arc that is plucked right out of “A New Hope”. We are introduced to a few new characters: a disgruntled Stormtrooper (cloning went out of style) named FN-2187 (well played by John Boyega) opts out of the program and joins a new rebellion called the Resistance to overcome the First Order, which are the remnants of the old Galactic Empire. FN is paired with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, in an appealing role) who nicknames him “Finn”. The big driving story is that Luke, the last of the Jedi, has gone missing and both the Resistance and the First Order are trying to find him. The Resistance obviously wants him to help their cause; the First Order wants to vanquish him. The map to Luke’s whereabouts is given to a cute little droid named BB-8, and that map becomes an obvious MacGuffin very quickly. Meanwhile, a girl, Rey (Daisy Ridley), comes into contact with the droid, and also Finn after his ship crashes on the planet she’s on, presumably killing Poe. Finn, Rey, and BB-8 stumble upon the Millennium Falcon, and we are soon reacquainted with two familiar and very welcomed faces: Han Solo (Harrison Ford, always a pleasure), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Solo is back to being a smuggler, but he has left a little legacy behind: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who just happens to be a part of this First Order, taking orders from a mysterious leader, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) that looks a little bit like a middle earth reject from “Lord of the Rings”. It’s fitting Serkis would play him. Ren has the Force, because his mother happens to be Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), a General with the new Resistance. Ren obviously is torn by two worlds, in a way that Darth Vader was. Ren also wears a mask and has his voice modulated–but here it’s by choice, rather than because of being disfigured and dismembered. Ren is younger, and more unsure of who he really wants to be. It’s a good choice for a character arc, as we know Ren will most likely be the focal villain who we want to like a whole lot more than we wanted to like Darth Vader. But Kylo Ren is capable of some pretty horrible things as well, including dispatching a very well liked character. I still think it was a mistake to be rid of this particular character. But J.J. Abrams, the director, must have wanted to shake things up early.

He does a very good job of balancing the action with the character narrative, and the film’s pace is snappy. Like the original trilogy, the film never feels as long as it actually is. There’s even some good humor peppered in, something that was severely lacking in the prequels, and something that really added to the entertainment value of the film.

And as a film, it does work quite well. As a sci-fi yarn you do have to suspend disbelief at times. But there’s never a point where I felt “out” of this movie. I was sold, from the first moments of the opening crawl, and the film never let me go as an invested viewer. Of course, it ends on a cliffhanger, and so it’s hard to judge how this will all work out in the end.

But it certainly is a very strong start to hopefully a redeeming trilogy, one that can stand the test of time that the original has. It has a lot of pressure riding on it, but I think Abrams & Co. are up to the task.

My rating::-)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

January 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

The period between 2001 and 2004 produced some of my favorite comedies of the modern era. There was a real stale period sometime after “American Pie” that made me think we had perhaps seen the end of the Great American Comedy Movie. Everything was either trying to copy the aforementioned “Pie” or “There’s Something About Mary”. Even the Farrelly Brothers seemed to be running out of steam coming into the 21st century. But then came a few comedies that gave me hope: “Zoolander” and “Old School”. These two films captured genuine humor that had been missing in the past few years, where the comedy seemed forced. Ben Stiller reached back into his sketch comedy roots to produce a full length feature film based on his popular character from MTV Video Awards sketches. The result was one of the funniest films I saw in years. I still love watching “Zoolander”. In 2003, there was “Old School”. Putting together a very strong cast of comic actors coupled with an entertaining story line made this a great addition to the Campus Comedy subgenre. Then, in 2004, we were treated to “Team America”, “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, and…

“Anchorman”. At the time, it wasn’t a huge hit and it received mixed reviews from critics. But my friends and I all loved it, loved quoting it, and it still remains a favorite of mine. I think it’s classic in the way “Caddyshack” and “Stripes” are of their respective times. This spawned what I call the Judd Apatow Era of comedies. Mixing raunchy humor with oddball characters that are strangely appealing and endearing, films like “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” created a new avenue for adult comedies in the new millennium.

Through the years, the act has grown stale to be sure. It gets tiresome to see the same actors regurgitated in familiar plots, bloated run times, and release after release of the Unrated Versions of DVD’s.

Then a few years ago, there was talk of a sequel to “Anchorman”. I thought, “Oh no. It IS ‘Caddyshack’ all over again.” I didn’t like the idea at all, especially because “Anchorman” aged well on its own and could be considered a classic in its own right, without having an unnecessary sequel attached to it.

Last year, it was pretty official and we started seeing teaser trailers. By this time, I had put behind my reservations and tried to approach the sequel with an open mind. They were reuniting the entire cast, which back in 2004 was relatively unknown, and it would simply continue the story of Ron Burgundy into the 80’s, which I thought could be a great period to utilize since the 80’s are so popular now.

Well, after seeing the film, I can’t say that I am angry they made a sequel. But, I can’t quite recommend the film, either. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” begins with Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) almost being eaten by a shark. Promising.

Then, we’re taken back to when Burgundy is co-hosting a weekend wrap up show with his wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who now have a child, Walter (delightfully overplayed by Judah Nelson). They are approached by the network’s leading news anchor, Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford), who fires Ron but promotes Veronica to the nightly news anchor while he retires.

Ron doesn’t approve and it tears up their marriage, and also leaves Ron jobless (he’s also fired from Sea World). He’s then given an opportunity by someone working for an upcoming 24 hour news channel (Dylan Baker) who wants Ron to do the news again. At first Ron balks at the idea, but then after being allowed to include the rest of his news team, he accepts the opportunity and rounds up the gang.

This is where the film hits a fork in the road for me, and this is where it starts to head in the wrong direction. Instead of a story about Ron finding his friends again and creating a rivalry with his wife, there are simply endless scenes of banter that leave the film more quotable than memorable. There is a banal subplot between Ron and the leading producer, Linda (Meagan Good) that doesn’t lead to any real drama between them and Veronica. There’s an amusing but underused storyline of a rivalry between Ron and the new network’s lead anchor, Jack Lime (James Marsden, a real sport in this film). But where the film grinds to an unforgivable halt is the extremely sorry excuse for a comic love story between Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell) and a bumbling receptionist played by Kristen Wiig. I like both of these actors immensely and think they are talented, funny, and very smart. But their scenes are just nails on the chalkboard. They are obviously not scripted, and instead rely on that old standby in the Apatow Era–improv. But the improvised lines sound more forced than funny. Maybe if these were outtakes of the film, they’d be appealing. But as part of the narrative, these scenes just clang. And we don’t care about these characters, we were never meant to.

Burgundy’s character seems a bit out of tune at times, as well. He can be cocky, and stupid, like he was in the first film. But then it’s almost like Will Ferrell’s doing an impression of Ron Burgundy instead of being Ron Burgundy. There are times where his typically sharp wit is dulled and comes off as unrehearsed and sloppy. It also seems like at times he’s searching so hard for that really funny line to rival “a whale’s vagina” and instead just blurts something inane and dumb. Ferrell seems to have given all of his best lines to Dodge for the Durango commercials, which is a shame for this sequel.

There are laughs in the film, and I think the best line comes from Champ Kind (reprised nicely by David Koechner) when he’s discovered by Ron to be running his own fried chicken joint that actually sells bat wings and meat instead of chicken. When he’s asked about why, he says it’s cheaper. And besides, he says, bats are known as “chicken of the cave”.

The 24 news network, GNN, could have also served as a real juicy satire on oversaturated news. It’s even run by a greedy, over the top Australian (played by Josh Lawson). This had potential, and includes some jokes about how desperate the news can be for storylines; but it isn’t explored enough. Instead, we’re given a purposely off the wall and goofy subplot involving Ron becoming blind and raising a shark named Doby. I found that funny, especially since Ron goes way overboard on pointing out how blind he is–to the point that he tries brushing his teeth with a lobster. But it goes on too long, and the film stretches itself into so many half-hearted, hair-brained directions that it never really finds a focus or purpose. Oh, and there is another Newsteam Melee. While you may be impressed by the cameos…it really doesn’t do much else but make you say, “Oh look! It’s (insert name)”. What made the original fight so funny was not just the fight, but the joke was more about the fact that they can be actual “gangs”. That joke didn’t need to be repeated for the sequel.

It’s overindulgent and overlong, and while it has its moments of the original’s inspired brilliance, it just seems to be content as a send up of one-liners rather than a full blooded comedy film. It’s certainly not as abominable as “Caddyshack 2”, but it does share some of its slapdash demeanor.

Ron Burgundy could still be used in another sequel, as well as his appealing co-workers and supporting cast. I think next time they should work more on the script and less time trying to show off how funny they are. We already know they are. Now put a story behind it, and make a funny movie.

My rating::?