“Blade Runner 2049” film review

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Just as mesmerizing as the original! Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of a future classic that demonstrably possesses the soul of the original and pairs it with a new plot brought to life by a fantastic cast. Every minute is filled with beautiful cinematography that is perfect in every way and a haunting score that penetrates down to the bone. At its core, Blade Runner 2049 wrestles with this one central question: what does it mean to be human? A question that can spawn hours of debates or an exquisite nearly three-hour motion picture. Considering that Ridley Scott has not delivered the same quality for which he provided precise and poignant direction, it was a solid decision to attach Villeneuve as the director. This sequel 35 years in the making may not have had the classic Ridley Scott at the helm, but Villeneuve channels his inner Scott to provide audiences with the same profound cinematic experience today as Scott did when Blade Runner first released. From the color palette to the lighting to the sound design, this motion picture is one that typifies the power of the art of motion pictures and one that will surely be regarded as iconic as the years more along, very much in the same way that the original has been regarded over time.

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is tracking down the remaining legacy Replicant models created by the infamous Tyrell Corporation, and his latest mission takes him to an obscure farm in the middle of dessert California. After retiring the replicant at the farm, K uncovers what will become a metaphor for Pandora’s Box, as it opens a mystery that law enforcement and the Wallace Corp. seek to solve. The secret contained within the box is one that could potentially plunge all “humanity” into complete chaos, not there there isn’t enough of that already for those left on earth. K’s journey takes him from the gritty, grimy streets of Greater Los Angeles to the dust bowl that was once Fabulous Las Vegas. There, he meets former Blade Runner Deckard  (Harrison Ford) who has been hiding from law enforcement and the Wallace Corporation for three decades. Together, they must work to locate the miracle that no one ever could have thought would happen–or could happen.

Despite not pulling the numbers that Blade Runner 2049 was forecasted to bring in over its October opening weekend, the film did what fans wanted–it kept the very essence of the original movie alive and well. For all the artificial intelligence in the film, there is nothing artificial about this long-awaited and highly anticipated sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. The reason for not pulling the numbers that it was predicted to do can likely be attributed to the tone of the film and the stylistic filmmaking approach that borders on neo-noir meets the avant-garde. Although not completely necessary, it is incredibly helpful to have seen the first film. And seeing the first film gives an appreciation for the sequel that cannot be experiences without having knowledge of the first. The slow-pace and dark atmosphere may be some of the reasons why more people did not wish out to see it as the weekend moved along. Looking at the two films side by side, this film is a direct extension of the original so the authenticity of this universe and story is genuine and almost visceral. For those who prefer more dialog or higher concept plots, the film may not strike the same level of enthusiasm because of the heavy visuals and dark themes in addition to the profound questions. This combination is not one that will attract the general populous in doves; however, this film IS what it needed to be. Sometimes a long-awaited sequel has to be made to remain true to its soul because that is what the fans want to see, and it’s the true fans who continue to visit the cinema year after year. Blade Runner 2049 may not win over new fans, but it keeps the diehard ones happy.

At the heart of Villeneuve’s cinematic masterpiece are existential questions that drive the plot forward. A plot driven by such questions told through a sedated pace is one that is not as easy to digest as one that is more superficial and more rapidly paced. Still, these questions are profound and cause one to think hard about what it means to be human. What sets this film apart from other science-fiction rapid fire blockbusters is the commitment to visual storytelling and the art of creating a motion picture. Blade Runner 2049 mirrors its predecessor and remains true to the experience of the first. Cinephiles will especially appreciate this film for it harkens back to a time when German expressionism was at the foundation of the set design and lighting. There are many exaggerated and elongated shapes that exist in a world of harsh shadows and dimly lit alleys throughout the film. Although the look of the future world in the original was one that audiences may not have believed would come true or could come true is seen differently by today’s audience that can easily see just how accurate the world of the Blade Runner movies actually is–the mediation of society today seems to be not that far off from this not-so-distant future.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures a wold through the lens that seems to go on forever in a world of greys and beiges. The only color to be found is in the prolific advertising on the sides of buildings. Deakins further extends the artistic approach to the cinematography by paying homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in a shot that was actually added to one of the more recent recuts of Scott’s Blade Runner. That score, though. The sound design and score are an audible extension of the visual landscape. Composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer have created one of the most haunting scores to ever be heard in the cinema. The combination of ghostly groans and blood curdling howls echo the very look and feel of the landscape. I’ve rarely encountered such an immersive sound design and score in a film. Just as the world on screen is an uneasy place to live and one that contains faint images of the grandeur of a world that once was, the score accompanying this motion picture places you in the midst of this post-apocaltyic world that most natural-born humans have left.

Definitely a film that I want to watch for a second time in order to appreciate this film, boasting with artistic achievement, even more than I already do. Although most of the themes and subtext are centered in and around “what it means to be human,” there is a real message regarding the importance of bees. An important visual statement in the film because the populations of bees, the most prolific pollinators, are dwindling. Not for the casual movie-goer, this film is for those who want to experience a sequel in the vein of the original that shows the artistic side of the creation of motion pictures.

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Full Review of Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa

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“Enjoy it while YOU last!” Howl-O-Scream (HOS) opened at Busch Gardens Tampa this past weekend! With two new houses, new scare zones, and the Fiends show’s new venue, it’s definitely an exciting event to attend this Halloween season, and one you don’t want to miss. More apparent than in years’ past, HOS is definitely growing in production value as it continues to draw upon the same visitors and locals in central Florida as HHN does. I’m often asked which event is better. And there is no one answer or even a simple answer, at that, with which to respond. The truth is, both events are equally enjoyable; but, it’s important to note that they are really two different experiences. What I appreciate year after year at HOS is the scare-factor. I’m consistently more scared at HOS than at HHN. Since Busch Gardens knows that they cannot compete with Universal on familiar TV and movie IPs that Universal can license, they choose to focus on the element of the jump scare–and it’s successful. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself jumping more at HOS than you will at HHN. On the topic of IPs and by extension, production value, HOS has delivered some excellent houses that are on the verge of being on par with the HHN original IPs. Once Busch Gardens is able to license a familiar horror/suspense/thriller television show or motion picture, it will be quite the rival for HHN. Another area that HOS has capitalized on moreso than HHN is the availability of full bars. HHN does not offer full bars at the event (instead they have specialty drinks and beer). HOS offers several full liquor bars during the event, so you can get basic cocktails and such to enjoy while you scream your lungs off. With the addition of Reoccurring Nightmare tickets, HOS now offers the equivalent to the Rush of and Frequent Fear passes at HHN.

For the full review, please visit THRILLZ!

Review of Halloween Horror Nights XXVII at Universal Orlando

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“Here’s Johnny!” Experience some of your favorite horror films and television shows as Halloween Horror Nights 27 (HHN27) at Universal Studios Florida showcases the iconic and contemporary in one terrifyingly fantastic celebration of the macabre. Be sure to catch Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure‘s final tour as they riff pop culture and relive some of the best moments in the popular comedy show for the last time. This year’s houses include a selection of movie-based houses and original concepts; furthermore, be sure to visit the scare zones as well! The movie or TV-based houses are: The Shining as the big headliner this year, American Horror Story (Asylum, Coven,  & Roanoke), Saw, The Horrors of Blumhouse, and Ash v. Evil Dead; the original IPs are: The FallenDead WaterScarecrow: the Reaping, & Hive. You’ll also find scare zones featuring familiar elements and scenes from The Purge and Trick’r Treat in the lineup as well as a nod to classic alien films from the 1930s-50s. From several park guests, the general consensus was that this year was solid, offered precisely what most were looking for and successfully brought nightmares to life.

For the full review, please visit Thrillz!

“Kingsman: the Golden Circle” movie review

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Rough start, but a smooth finish. The highly anticipated sequel to Kingsman: the Secret Service releases this week, and you are in for a fun time! Unfortunately, not as great a time as you had with the first one. Looks like this franchise fell victim to the same condition that plagues so many franchises’ sequels. One of the experiential elements that made the first one so great is the constant reminder that “this isn’t one of those movies.” The original was self-aware and full of excellent writing. Though this sequel contains the similar action and comedy, the novelty, that was the first, is lost with Golden Circle. A struggle of many sequels is opening with sufficient connections to the original but not in such a way that it feels like the same plot. Although the movie finishes satisfyingly well, the first scene felt too much like a cliche action movie–too animated feeling. However, it finds its way back to the soul of the original soon enough. Perhaps this installment plays out differently because it no longer feels new and different. While the writing may not be as on point as the previous film, the cast is still fantastic and there is one reoccurring cameo in particular that will catch you pleasantly by surprise.

After an explosive car chase through the streets of London, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) witnesses he destruction of his apartment, close colleagues, and discovers the headquarters of The Kingsman completely wiped off the planet. With nothing left to do except follow the mysterious doomsday protocol, Eggsy finds his way to a counterpart operations in the United States known as Statesman. Meanwhile, much of the world finds itself hostage in the grasp of Poppy (Julianne Moore), a peppy beautiful drug lord operating out of a remote jungle location. Poppy has poisoned illegal drugs with a compound that brings about certain death if left untreated. In exchange for the antidote, she is forcing the US President to declassify all drugs in order to tax them like a normal legit business. Once connected with the elite team of Statesman, both agents must form a partnership to take down Poppy and save the world from mass genocide.

Although this is a fun movie–no mistaking that–it contains far too many gimmicks than solid writing. The strength in the first one was two fold: (1) the writing and (2) the cast. Given that Golden Circle contains many of the same cast members, the fault has to then be in the writing. So much of the comedy and character dynamics felt forced and less organic than the original. This film serves as evidence than even an all-star powerhouse cast and talented director cannot save a film built upon sloppy writing. The Secret Service wowed audiences with a movie that transcended all other James Bond spoofs to create a world of its own–that’s it–it felt unique in a world filled with conventional and parodied espionage movies. Character wise, Eggsy is no longer the protagonist in a My Fair Lady meets James Bond but just another flat would-be action hero. Julianna Moore’s Poppy is more interesting because she is a cross between a deranged 1950s housewife meets Martha Stewart meets drug cartel kingpin. Though the trailers contain a lot of Tatum, his character goes by the wayside at the end of Act I. Halle Berry is a solid choice for her counterpart to Strong’s Merlin.

By in large, the plot is just too silly and lacks innovation. Even the cameo by a well-known and talented vocal artist feels like an excuse to dust off the most flamboyant costumes. The plot is certainly not helped by the heavy-handed CGI effects throughout the film, and it’s so incredibly concentrated in the beginning that it feels like an animated film. That’s not to say that there aren’t reasons to enjoy Kingsman: the Golden Circle. I certainly had a good time and so did my friend who accompanied me to the advanced screening in Tampa. Some of the enjoyable parts of the film are the high profile cameo, seeing A-list actors just have fun portraying outrageous characters, and the humorous one-liners delivered tongue in cheek. Although the opening scene is over the top, it does quickly connect the beginning of this film with the end of the previous one. Had this film taken itself more seriously as a spy movie that happened to also be funny, then I think it would have be more appreciated by the audience. Despite the rough opening, the film does manage to come in for a smooth finish and leads into another installment.

If you’re looking for 2015’s Kingsman, then you may be disappointed. If you’re looking for a fun spy movie spoof, then you’ll likely enjoy The Golden Circle for the most part.

“IT” (2017) film review

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IT’s hauntingly fantastic! From the first to the last scene, the Stephen King adaptation directed by Andres Buschietti is nothing less than a horror masterpiece that does both the original novel and the TV mini series (1990) justice. The brilliance behind the adaptation is found in the excellent cast. So organic, so relatable. A common trope in King novels (and by extension the movie adaptation) is the tried and true narrative structure of the “coming of age” story. Although Stand By Me typifies the “coming of age” subgenre, IT may serve as a horror film for shock value on the outside; but beneath the nightmare-inducing exterior, beats the heart of a heavy drama with a great message about growing up, friendship, teamwork, and facing one’s fears. Few horror films reach iconic status, but this one is surely destined to be counted among films like: The Shining, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and others. For all the previous King adaptations, Buschietti may have directed the best adaption we have ever seen. Kubrick’s The Shining may still win the award for most artistic and cinematic; however, 2017’s IT takes the words from the pages and successfully translates them to the silver screen along with impressive set design, special/practical effects, and a blood curdling score.

Derry, Maine may seem like a picturesque idealistic version of Americana, but it has a problem. Every couple of decades, children and teenagers vanish without a trace. After Georgie disappears while playing with a paper boat in the rain, his brother Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) becomes determined to solve the mystery and find his brother. Met with opposition from his father, Billy teams up with his long-time friends Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), and new friends Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) to unravel the mystery surrounding the town of Derry. In their wildest nightmares, no one could have anticipated the evil that lies beneath the streets, in the dank sewers of the Maine hamlet. When faced with what terrifies each of them the most, the group of young people must band together in order to conquer their fears and destroy Pennywise, the evil dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard).

The local movie theatre’s marquee displays Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5; and the fact it is that particular film serves a more important purpose than simply to establish the period (which it does brilliantly, by the way). That particular movie is quite symbolic, and in many ways, parallels the events that unfold in Derry, Maine. Both Nightmare and IT take place in small towns; and furthermore, the ensemble cast is comprised of young people who must face fears and band together in order to conquer the evil that threatens their very lives. Although this version of Pennywise is a little less playful than the iconic original Tim Curry Pennywise, the dancing killer clown has a very Freddy Kruger quality about him. Many of the qualities that aid in (in my opinion) making Freddy the most terrifying of all the classic slashers and icons, is his playful attitude followed by moving in for the kill in a very showman way. Both Pennywise and Freddy are born out of and prey upon deep childhood fears and quite literally become the manifestation of the evil in the world. As such, there are many reasonable ways for IT: Chapter 1 to spawn several sequels in the same way that A Nightmare on Elm Street did.

As nightmarish as the majority of the movie is, it does struggle here and there to connect all the scenes together whilst maintaining a solid rhythm. The overall sense of dread is carried through for the most part, but there are times that the film fails to increase the level of anxiety which could have been accomplished by spending more time in Derry’s history and the traumas and secrets that were buried over the decades. I would have liked to have seen the sewers that the kids search through be more symbolic of the very plumbing that transports the deep seeded fears that are ignored or flushed away by the people of Derry. IT certainly accomplishes its goal of being a high quality horror film but it falls short of going as deep as it could have. The overall experience of the film rivals that of other great horror films that have gained iconic status. Greatly contributing to this success is the balance between establishing nostalgic connections between it, the original IT, and the audience members, and the excellent 21st century hair-raising effects. The relatable cast seems to have been taken right out of Netflix’ Stranger Things, and will work wonders for attracting a younger audience who may not be familiar with the novel or original mini series.

There are two films in IT: the horror film and dark drama. Both are well executed but have a few flaws in the nearly perfect recipe. It’s both a nostalgic coming-of-age story and a Wes Craven Freddy-like slasher. Having an ability to be a dark drama masquerading around as a horror film will do very nicely at the box office. Perhaps if this film were a little more like Nightmare and we saw a little less of Pennywise, he would be more terrifying. As it stands, the more we see Pennywise, the less scary he becomes. Still, he is pretty terrifying! Buschietti may not wind up with the same cache as Kubrick, Hitchcock, or Craven, but he has emulated much of what the aforementioned masters of suspense, terror, and horror pioneered many years ago.

One thing’s for sure, this is a great way to kick off the Halloween season of films! After a mostly lackluster August, I am glad that the cinema is bustling with great films to see. IT this week, Mother next week, followed by the remake of Flatliners, September is shaping up to be a terrifyingly brilliant month for films. Should you choose to venture to Derry, Maine this weekend, you won’t be disappointed with the remake of a classic. If you really want to have some fun, bring along a friend who has a phobia of clowns.