“Blade Runner 2049” film review

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.

“Blade Runner” (1982) movie review

BadeRunnerStill a visionary masterpiece? On the rare occasion that I do not feel compelled to see one of the weekly new releases, I enjoy taking my Thursday night and watching an older movie that would be fun to review. As it turns out, it dawned on me that I had never seen Ridley Scott’s Neo-Noir Blade Runner despite the fact that it it a critically acclaimed film and highly regarded by many of my contemporaries. I have found that sometimes you have seen clips, heard people reference it, and simply hear the title so much that you think you have seen it. Then you realize that you’re familiar with the ideas, concept, or story but not the movie itself. So, I decided to watch it for Throwback Thursday and review it today. Unfortunately, I have been struggling with connecting with the film as so many other filmmakers and film lovers have. When watching a movie from 30+ years ago, I do my best to place myself in the shoes of the audience then. But, I am having difficulty this time. As a peer-reviewed cinema researcher, I believe that no matter how old a film is that it should still be relevant and impact audiences many decades down the road. Truthfully, I am not entirely seeing why it is such a regarded film still to this day. However, it is definitely an artistic masterpiece due to the technical elements of the production. So in many ways, yes, it still IS an iconic visionary masterpiece; but, fails to connect or resonate with audiences today.

Travel to a dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2020, or present day Detroit; take your pick. Many have fled the city for colonies on other planets or to the far north of the city to escape the rampant chaos. In the early to mid 2010s, Tyrell Corporation invented Replicants (or human-like androids) to carry out menial tasks and hard labor in a modern slavery fashion. Each unit was programmed to last for a specific amount of time (4yrs +/-). When a small band of Replicants decided that they wanted to take their lives into their own hands, they return to earth from the planet they were slaving way on and are determined to force Tyrell Corp to fix them. These Replicants led by Roy (Rutger Hauer) will stop at nothing. Over the years, when the Replicants began to pose a threat to humanity, special operations forces known as Blade Runners were trained to “retire” the androids. Former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) has been reactivated and forced to retire the small band of Replicants that pose a threat in the already dystopian Los Angeles. Follow Deckard as he conducts an investigation and is fearful of his own life as he attempts to track down and “retire” the remaining Replicants before they achieve long-lasting life. All seems pretty routine until he encounters a special Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young) at Tyrell Corp.

It doesn’t take long to understand that this film is a neo-noir detective movie that takes place in a dystopian future. Neo-noir is regarded as a film noir style movie produced after the classic film noir period (which was relatively short (~1940s-50s). This genre [although, technically, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that film noir is more of a style not a true genre] follows many of the same tropes and elements found in film noir (think Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd, Double Indemnity, classic detective movies, or Orson Welles). Often, the protagonist is a solitary individual who finds him or herself in over his or her head who faces or exhibits perpetual pessimism, fatality, or menace in a plot consisting of cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. From a technical perspective, film noir (or neo-noir) is stylistically dark, high contrast, low key lighting, contains strategic shadows, and shots filled with symbolism and dichotomy. The plots are usually slow burning and contain social commentary or a self-reflexive narrative. Once analyzing this movie as a neo-noir, it becomes more fascinating but still lacks that timelessness that can be found in some of the examples mentioned earlier in this paragraph. As a artistic film, I am impressed with the vision of Ridley Scott. As a classically-regarded and praised film, I am not very impressed. Although, I find that it is an excellent example of how many in the early 1980s viewed the future and that is is a fantastic example of neo-noir style filmmaking.

One of the biggest problems I had with the film is the fact that I had trouble loving the protagonist or hating the antagonist, or feeling sympathy for either of the aforementioned. In screenwriting, it is imperative that the audience make a firm connection with either the protagonist or the antagonist. Note: the antagonist in a film/neo-noir is not always the “bad guy.” Whereas even Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd made a strong connection with the audience in that we feel great sympathy for her plight, yet she is the antagonist in the story–or many agree as such. Harrison Ford’s Deckard in Blade Runner never quite garnered strong support from me in the same way his nemesis Roy failed to elicit disdain. Both Deckard and Roy are fairly static characters–meaning they lack dynamic development. There is, however, an indirect glimmer of character development in Roy at the very end that plays significantly into the plot for a brief but strategic moment. As regularly reoccurring throughout the narrative the character of Rachael is, she can almost be removed from the film and change little in the overarching story. For the most part, she simply exists and pays into Deckard’s motivation, but mildly so. She neither causes him to view Replicants differently or becomes his sole goal. It is clear from early on in the plot that Deckard already had reservations in retiring Replicants. Rachael simply amplifies or intensifies the feelings that were already brewing.

Looking back at movies from the mid to late 20th century that take place in the early to mid 21st century can be quite entertaining. Sometimes the future portrayed in the film, in one form or another, has actually come to pass. Although, other times, the future is incredibly inaccurate. The dystopian Los Angeles in Blade Runner is definitely the latter. Yes, there are themes of unchecked immigration, authoritarian power, and capitalism that can be read as not so different from today; but, for all intents and purposes, the future is much more grim in the movie than in today’s reality. Perhaps that’s why it can be difficult to connect with this movie. It takes place in a “future” that never happened, and probably won’t happen in the now near future. I think that’s the danger when writing or directing a movie set in a future that relies heavily upon technology directly related to the plot. Some movies can pull it off. Take Back to the Future for instance. It works because the technology in the culture of the future isn’t significantly integrated into the essence of the plot or are solely responsible for some dystopian world. The futuristic technology merely exists and helps to move the plot along. In Blade Runner, the whole reason for the plot is because futuristic technology in our present day has turned on its creators and became the catalyst for a world drowning in chaos.

If you have never seen Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, I definitely encourage you to do so, especially if you enjoy film or neo-noir movies. It provides us with a glimpse into how the world viewed a possible future in the early 1980s; and prompts us to think about life and how we might behave if we knew that we only had a few years to live. Survival of the fittest maybe? Or, fight or flight? If I was a psychologist, I think that this would be fascinating to analyze from a psycho-social perspective. At the end of the day, the film was quite the visionary masterpiece for its day and still remains a favorite of many filmmakers, scholars, and just film lovers alike.

*This review is in reference to the original theatrical release

“Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens” movie review

Star Wars VIIThe force awakens…then realizes it’s done this all before and should’ve stayed in bed. Return to that time long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Relive that first moment you saw Star Wars IV and fell in love with the franchise, because you are pretty much getting a plot so similar that you may wonder if the rest of this new trilogy will just continue to rehash and polish what’s all been said and done before. A more appropriate title for this visually stunning film would have been Star Wars: DejaVu or Star Wars: Revisited. No doubt that this film will indeed perform well this weekend; but that has a lot to do with the fact that so many people will view this film through an augmented reality and perceive it to be better than it actually is. The Big D can do no wrong, right??? All that being said, J.J. Abrams once again proves that he is a master at visual storytelling and his films are of a high caliber from a technical achievement perspective. The cinematography and editing are nearly flawless and really help to mesmerize the audience and impress even those who are generally not impressed by visual graphics and sound design. Watching the screen as familiar faces reprise the roles that cemented them in cinema history is nostalgic and heartwarming. Unfortunately, the writers should have spent more time developing a NEW story versus relying upon nostalgia.

With Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in hiding, the Resistance, which has birthed out of the old rebellion, needs to find him in order to defeat the The First Order, a new world empire developed out of the ashes of the old Empire. In an effort to avoid capture, BB8 meets Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). Through a series of events, this small band of rebels encounters the legendary general and smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Form). Working together, they need to get the information in this BB unit to the resistance so that The First Order may be stopped. Leading The First Order is Kylo Ren, a masked, dark, and menacing Sith under the direction of the Supreme Leader. Follow familiar and new faces on a journey through the galaxies to stop this new empire from destroying all that is good.

Put simply, this film relies too heavily on the previous movies, thus prohibiting a new story to “awaken.” It was made known early on that Abrams desired to create a new old-school Star Wars sequel to the original trilogy. And in many ways, he did just that. The problem is that it is way too old school and forgets that this movie was also responsible for relaunching the dormant (as far as theatrically released movies) franchise and introducing something truly new. He was so concerned with pleasing everyone–old fans and new ones alike–that he ended up not pleasing anyone who is willing to step back and actually examine the film as a film. All this film did was reuse past plots and forget to give the eager audience and fanbase something legitimately new after waiting so long. The overall plot, locations, and characters lack anything newly appealing. The movie even begins on a desert planet and ends with the destruction of a “not” Death Star–but it basically is–just larger.

With more than half of the movie consisting of space travel and battle sequences, you will wonder if you are actually playing Star Wars: Battlefront. Why? Because it looks and feels very similar to a highly developed video game that includes film sequences to transition to the different chapters or levels. Just pick one of the characters in the film and you can almost feel yourself moving them with your controller. One of the most memorable elements to the original trilogy is the nearly unparalleled cinematic villain–and the one who many try to be but fail–Darth Vader. Don’t worry, “there is another” as Yoda put it in Empire Strikes Back. However, this new “Vader” will leave you wondering how the writers thought he (Kylo Ren) could even come close to filling Vader’s boots and mask. From the mask to the red lightsaber, Kylo Ren appears to be just as menacing as Lord Vader. And there was some promise there. Unfortunately, the writers took any potential of a comparable sinister villain and essentially emasculated him when he removes his mask to reveal a guy in his 30s with luscious wavy hair. After that, it is impossible to take Kylo Ren seriously as a villain for the remainder of the movie.

Before you jump to the conclusion that the writing in general was poorly developed and executed, just wait a moment. Actually, the writing includes some comedic relief, moderately intense moments, with some pretty decent rushed character development, and sufficient exposition. The problem with the writing lies in the overly used plot elements and past Star Wars tropes. The script essentially lives in the past even though there are parts of it that want to live in the present. Leaving the audience thinking that they’ve seen this all before, the writers fail to include anything new and interesting. Instead of coming across as a much-needed sequel or revival, the film plays out as a reboot. There isn’t anything innately wrong with reboots of old, beloved franchises; but Disney and Abrams indirectly promised the sequel that never was but should have been after Return of the Jedi. Sequels are required to advance the story, introduce significantly new material, and move the plot along. The Force Awakens can easily be interpreted as 3/4 reboot and 1/4 sequel.

Visually, the film is cinematically brilliant! The sound design is also incredibly well executed. Even the score is beautiful. What one can appreciate about the score is that there is familiar music wrapped in a completely new score. Too bad the plot didn’t takes notes from John Williams on how to include the old but advance the new. There is no doubt that this movie will be nominated, if not win the Academy Awards in the technical achievement areas–and it deserves them. Honestly, I think some of the editing and graphics team from this movie should work on improving the graphics in the next Jurassic installment. Abrams promised that he would go back to practical effects and merely enhance them with digital effects, and he did just that. The combination played out very well and impressed me. He may not have delivered the movie that Star Wars fans wanted to see, but he did keep his promise to not rely on cheap digital effects as a large part of the design.

If you want to relive the first time you saw A New Hope, then here is your opportunity. It’s basically the same movie, but looks way more impressive. For those who wanted an actual sequel to resurrect this piece of Americana, then you may be disappointed. I really hope the next installment will give me something new. At the end of the day, the movie is certainly entertaining; and seeing Carrie Fischer, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, C3PO, and R2D2 on screen again, in their most iconic roles, is just plain cool and heartwarming. The nostalgia will certainly bring some to tears. And I also want to point out that this IS a fantastic film for a family, whether diehard fans or not, to spend some time together over the holidays at the movies.

The Age of Adaline

Age of AdalineA new ‘timeless’ classic! The Age of Adaline, from Lions Gate, is a beautiful modern-day fairy tale that will prick your curiosity and capture your imagination. Blake Lively shines as Adaline, an ageless woman in an ever-changing world. Borrowing elements from the popular children’s novel Tuck Everlasting and the Academy Award winning film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this movie takes what the preceding stories did and develop a new movie around the concept of a character with prolonged life. Fortunately, director Lee Toland Krieger sets his movie apart from others, in a similar sub-genre, so the audience can enjoy a fresh take on a plot that is reminiscent a Twilight Zone episode. I won’t go as far as to say this was a completely original concept; but, it is clear that this movie throws what’s been done into a blender, added some additional ingredients, to produce a story that combines the best of a fairytale with a romantic drama. From ‘time to time,’ there are movies that show love as something that can be beautiful and painful, and this is definitely one for your movie library.

The Age of Adaline is about Adaline Bowman (Lively) who lead a very nondescript life in the early 20th century until one day, following a tragic car accident, she is blessed and, at the same time, cursed with eternal youth. Realizing that she will never age past 29, Adaline must keep running and changing her identity every decade so as no one discovers her secret. Although it means leaving the daughter she loves so dearly and never allowing herself to experience true love, Adaline is unable to let anyone into her life for fear of becoming a specimen in a science experiment. Depressing as it is, everything is going to plan until one day, Adaline has a chance meeting with a charismatic philanthropist named Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman). As hard as Adaline plays hard-to-get, she is ensnared by his generosity and persistence. After reluctantly agreeing to travel with him to his parents’ place for their 40th anniversary, Adaline comes face-to-face with her past when she meets Ellis’ dad William (Harrison Ford). Follow Adaline through the 20th and 21st centuries as she attempts to maintain a relationship with her daughter, hides from love, and then falls in love, all while coping with her seemingly immortal youth.

At the center of the movie is 29 year-old Adaline. Blake Lively was an outstanding casting choice to play the century-old protagonist. Lively’s passion for design and style is clearly visible through her character. This is impart thanks to the costuming and makeup departments on the film. Bringing the costuming and hair/makeup to life for the screen, Lively embodies the idea of a sense class that transcends the decades. Despite how easy it would have been for the character of Adaline to be one-dimensional and mostly stagnate, Lively plays the role in such a way that she adds depth and shows development through the story. In indirect and subtle ways, Lively displays the pain and loneliness Adaline must live with everyday. As her counterpart, Michiel Huisman plays the gentleman who captures what’s left of her heart. Even though we don’t get a lot of backstory or exposition regarding the character of Ellis, it is apparent that he has been longing to find someone to love for most, if not all, of his adult life. Not nearly as well-developed as Adaline, Huisman takes the role of Ellis, who  essentially represents the opposition to Adeline’s goal of no one discovering her secret for fear of what may happen, and portrays a character that the audience can fall in love with and feel his pain of not having his emotions reciprocated by Adaline.

One of inescapable elements of the movie, the audience first enounters, is the omniscient narrator. This sets the mood for and indirectly explains to the audience that this is a fairy tale. Unlike many fairy tales, this is one that is grounded in a pseudo-science, so it helps to bolster the believability of the plot, within the confines of the narrative that is. Although having the narrator helps to create the atmosphere of a modern-day fairy tale, there are definitely times in which the exposition was a little too much. After all, the very foundation of a movie is anchored in the concept of showing and not telling. It isn’t that a movie cannot include voiceover, but it needs to be kept from explaining elements that could be shown visually instead. When a narrator is describing something with words at the same time it’s being shown on screen, the exposition becomes a trifle redundant. However, there is plenty that is shown, and quite well, in the movie. Speaking of ‘shown,’ another technical element of the film that is sure not to go un-noticed is the gorgeous cinematography (by David Lanzenberg) and production design. Not that it is flashy or profoundly groundbreaking, but that it displays a sense of timeless class that supports the narrative and moves it along instead of becoming the spectacle in and of themselves.

Regarding any areas of improvement, the aspect of the plot I found lacking was the under-developed external goal; we deal mostly with internal opposition and growth. A well-written story needs a protagonist with a well-developed external goal and well-defined opposition to that goal. The closest we get to an antagonist and opposition is through the characters of Ellis and William (Ford). More like anti-heroes than true opposition, they pose a threat to the life Adaline has lived for over 80 years. A plot element that often, when used, gets abused and written haphazardly is the flashback. Writers must be very careful when integrating the concept of storytelling with the tool of the flashback because sometimes the audience is left to wonder whether the main story is the present one or the one being told through flashbacks. Fortunately, writers J. Mills Goodloe & Salvador Paskowitz, handle this fragile plot tool carefully and keep the focus on the present story while using the flashbacks as support.

Taking place around New Years Eve, this movie may have been better-received by many critics had it been released during the Holidays. Never-the-less, I feel strongly that is is a beautiful movie that is definitely worth a watch this weekend. It may not be the next Academy Award winning love story, but it is still an all-around well-produced and directed film that most anyone will enjoy alone or with their significant other. It’s also refreshing to see another romantic movie released by the studio best-known for their horror films.

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