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: :?

The Martian

October 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

If we ever had an astronaut on Mars, I’d want it to be Mark Watney. Actually, nevermind that. I’d want it to be Matt Damon. Like in many “lone survivor” films, an appealing lead is vital. And here, Matt Damon absolutely owns the film and makes a somewhat agreeable film into a piece of outstanding entertainment. Fleshing out the attractive cast is the always faithful Jeff Daniels, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, and…Kristen Wiig.

The story, based on a 2011 novel by Andy Weir, is about a group of astronauts on a planned mission to Mars that gets thwarted by a major martian storm, sending them back to their ship to leave the planet. During the storm, Watney (Damon) gets whacked with a piece of equipment that partly saves his life, and his crew has left him behind. Being a botanist, he finds that he can grow his own food with the crew’s excrement, and ration food long enough for a rescue mission–he hopes. Meanwhile, the news has leaked back to planet Earth that there was a problem with the mission and someone was left behind. That story doesn’t sound enticing, and the head of NASA (Daniels) begrudgingly concocts a plan to help Watney out. The crew on board their ship Hermes initially does not find out about Watney’s fate, as Daniels’ character Teddy Sanders believes that they will want to go back and rescue him–putting all of their lives in potential danger.

So you have three subplots going on: Watney’s survival on Mars, NASA’s attempts at rescue and sending him supplies, and the Hermes crew once they do inevitably find out about Watney still being alive. Commander Lewis (Chastain) feels the most guilt about leaving him behind, being former military, but also knows the risks involved in rescuing him. The rest of the crew, including fellow astronaut Rick Martinez (played well by the always reliable Michael Pena), want to go after him and get him back.

NASA’s Mars mission director, Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor), also wants him to be rescued. Ditto for the flight director played by Sean Bean. The outside influences try to force Sanders’ hand, but he stays on course with the plan to send a probe full of supplies to last Watney another few years before another manned space mission can be executed.

Meanwhile, Watney plods along. At first he cannot communicate with NASA, but then finds a way through an old device that was part of a 1996 mission. He has a few missteps, and he has a few catastrophes. It feels at times like “Cast Away” or “Moon”, “Gravity”, or “Silent Running” (which bears some similarities). But one thing that those films share that is missing in this script, by Drew Goddard, is a little more depth in Watney’s character. While Damon is outstanding, he is…who he is. I’d have liked to see some scenes of him feeling his loss, his isolation, like Hanks in “Cast Away”. He does have a will to live, which is a big theme in the film. It could be the most inspirational movie to be released that wasn’t based on a true story–that feels like one. Up until maybe the last 15 minutes, the film feels like it’s depicting something that really happened. There’s a lot of cheeky dialog, modern mannerisms and throwaway lines (that’s Goddard’s style, after all). But my favorite thing are the 2 references to old Infocom games: “Zork 2”, and “Leather Goddesses of Phobos”, which provide Watney with his only source of entertainment. That is, of course, besides Commander Lewis’ extensive disco collection, much to the chagrin of Watney.

The film is breathtaking, directed by the always reliable Ridley Scott–who is a visual master. It has a lot of tension, even though most of it is predictable. Again, the mark of a great filmmaker. Nothing ever feels out of place, and you do get caught up in the story, pulling for Watney and enjoying his wit as well as his perseverance. Some of it gets a little cutesy, but it’s forgivable. “The Martian” delivers what it promises. Its tagline is “Bring him home”. And this film certainly does.

My rating: :-)

Prometheus

June 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

In 1979, we were introduced to a new kind of alien monster that we had never seen before in the movies. We were always used to aliens either looking like the “little green men” in flying saucers that were popularized in the 50’s, or possibly something tentacled. But in Ridley Scott’s alien horror film simply titled “Alien”, we saw a new kind of monster. It was terrifying, but also mesmerizing. This kind of alien wasn’t necessarily an “intelligent life form” like us; it was more like an insect. And it was simply a killing machine. The film spawned an entire franchise that had its ups and downs (mostly downs) and was finally put to sleep a few years back.

Then, someone had an idea. Ridley Scott admits that this new film, “Prometheus”, is somewhat of a prequel to “Alien”, but not entirely. I think that there’s enough evidence (especially at the end) that gives us an idea that it’s at least a companion piece. It begins mysteriously on an unknown planet with an unknown being that resembles humans disrobing and drinking some kind of sludge from what looks kind of like a petri dish. The being immediately begins convulsing and his status takes a horrible turn for the worse as he plummets into the nearby sea. In the distance there’s a giant ship just hovering above.

The hypnotic beauty and terror of that scene sets the stage for one of the most striking visual experiences you’ll have in modern film–after all, this is Ridley Scott, the same man who brought us visual masterpieces like “Blade Runner”. What’s lacking, however, is a good cast of characters and breadth of story to back it all up.

We’re soon introduced to two archaeologists in 2089, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who, while on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, find some artwork from ancient civilizations that match up to others and think that this is an invitation to go find them. I don’t know why, but it’s comforting to me to know that the Isle of Skye is still going to be here in 2089. Fast forward a few years, and we’re on the Prometheus, an all-too-obvious name for the symbol of what this movie tries to be about. We’re then introduced to one of the more interesting characters (albeit inexplicably devious) named David, the resident android (played extremely well by Michael Fassbender). Besides the captain of the ship, Janek (played charismatically by Idris Elba), the other characters are mere throwaways–fodder for the upcoming monsters to gorge upon. The real disappointment is Meredith Vickers played by Charlize Theron. She’s icy, almost robotic (and at one point accused of being one), and she’s skeptical. But we never get a good idea why she is the way she is except for maybe a hint toward the end. She works for the company, the Weyland Corporation, that has funded the project. The owner, Peter Weyland (played under bad old man makeup by Guy Pearce), believes in the archaeologists and wants to find these ancient civilizations. But, like in all the “Alien” movies, his motives may not synch up to the good-natured intentions of Shaw and Holloway.

Once they land, the film really gets going and it isn’t too long before stupid crew members play around with things they shouldn’t and all hell breaks loose. This is where the film is at its best–Scott may be getting up there in age, but he still knows how to build tension, and create wildly chaotic scenes that are admirable in the way they push visual horror. The creatures they discover are incredibly hostile and certainly resemble the “xenomorph” structure we’re used to in the “Alien” franchise. There’s also the humanoid “Engineers” who speak in a different language, and we’re never really sure what their true motivation is. But they are hostile toward the humans, and seem to want to go to Earth and bring their slimy friends with them.

The mysterious qualities of the film are where it is most interesting. You can ask yourself a lot of questions about these creatures and what their relationship is to us. But what bogs this film down are the cliched ancillary characters, the predictability of the plot once it starts going, and even a clunky third act that gives you a few “Is it over?” moments that may make you shift in your seat. Be sure to stick around, though, because you certainly don’t want to miss the last scene.

As a monster movie, the film is pitch perfect. It has all of the ingredients of a thriller and it delivers on that. But as a philosophical movie about aliens, other worlds, ancient civilizations, the meaning of it all, it just gets lost in a lot of goo, gore, and derivative dialog. I wish the screenwriters (Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts) would’ve spent a little more time developing a more interesting plot and characters with more depth rather than try to mesh sci-fi mumbo jumbo with quippy one-note characters. Holloway’s character starts off with promise but quickly devolves into an alpha-male meathead. The “geologist” who looks like a futuristic cyberpunk is downright cartoonish. Even our “hero”, Shaw, is somewhat bland (Rapace is no Weaver). Comparatively, ”Sunshine”, which also featured a sci-fi space exploration crew, at least had more interesting and likable characters.

All of this makes for a good movie experience, but not a great one. I’ve heard there is more to this film that was cut for the initial release, and that there are plans for more films in this series. What I’d like to see is this lead up to a full on reboot of the “Alien” franchise to give it new life the way “Star Trek” did a few years ago. This “alien” can easily be given a fresh story and still be entertaining. With the right filmmakers and writers and cast, I think it could work. As it stands now, though, there’s a lot of work to be done.

My rating: :-)

Body of Lies

October 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

I had mentioned in my review of “Burn After Reading” that the opening and closing shots are amusing and poignant to what the film is about; in that, here’s a picture of the globe, here we focus on a random area, and see random events that prove to be much more hectic and dramatic than they should. In “Body of Lies”, it’s pretty much the complete opposite effect.

The film revolves around two characters throughout, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. Now, I’m going to go ahead and let you know that the trailers for this film have been their own “body of lies” by somehow trying to portray Crowe as the villain in the film. He’s not. I’m not ruining anything by telling you that, either. In fact, knowing that should aid you through this movie, so that you’re not thinking there will be some big twist at the end or some kind of revelation that turns Crowe into a bad guy. He is a bit of a window character for DiCaprio’s character, named Roger Ferris, who is an undercover agent for the CIA investigating a series of terrorist bombings that have led him to Jordan.

Ridley Scott directed this picture, and he shows time and time again that, even in his advanced age, he can still shoot a picture. The script, by William Monahan, has a great first act. It sets things up very well. You are intrigued by the layers of plot thickening. But, the film goes to such an extent to set things up that really, it can only be justified by having an even bigger ending. I think the film’s eyes were bigger than its stomach.

This film is based on a novel, and I believe the script wanted to treat this as much as a character movie as it was a plot-driven thriller. But because it tries to go into two different directions at once, it goes nowhere instead. There is a brief love interest that Roger becomes involved with–but he goes to an extreme (and unbelievable) length to protect her, and winds up getting right into Ground Zero, and throws himself into the proverbial Lion’s Den.

This is a film of great set up and poor pay off. The “body of lies” that Roger entangles himself into are very natural, it’s not that contrived. But how he gets out of them are exactly that. And it leaves something to be desired by the ending. It’s a film that is also ensconced in themes about deceit and truth and honor. Crowe’s character, as I mentioned before, is used well in this metaphor.

Overall, the movie is well acted, and well paced. I never felt bored, even if I was confused on exactly where it was going. The villains were a bit simple and predictable. But I can’t endorse the film because the biggest thing lacking in the film was the third act and the ending and that’s really the most important thing. It just didn’t have the punch that it should have, and it was a great let down after a wonderful set up. It’s a shame that so many great names are attached to this inferior effort. But, it is worth a viewing if you’re a big fan of Scott, Crowe or DiCaprio. All gave A efforts, but the film winds up with a C result.

My rating: :???: