“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.

“Wonder Woman (2017)” film review

WONDERful! No seriously, this is an excellent film! And I’m just not talking about the superhero genre. DC finally hit a homer with this one. This film also serves as evidence that Zack Snyder can TELL/produce a great story but should probably stay out of the director’s chair. Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune’s Wonder Woman is the superhero film we needed. Trailing so far behind the Marvel brand and film quality, DC needed to produce a film that would make up for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad AND catch up to Marvel. Seemingly setting out to accomplish the impossible, this film exceeded all measurable expectations and provided a comprehensive cinematic experience. With many themes, this film hits on many topics and does so with incredible precision and elegance. It’s almost as if this film is an extension of Diana Prince herself. Never addressed or referenced as Wonder Woman actually, Diana Prince’s origin story is powerful and ever so apropos in today’s socio-political climate. If only we could all have the courage, compassion, and determination that Wonder Woman embodies and represents. There are certainly elements of this film that are directly aimed at the female audience members, but this is a film for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Again, not just a great superhero film, but a great film period. One that’s inspirational, evocative, and without need for qualifiers.

After receiving a mysterious package from Wayne Enterprises, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) opens it to find an old photograph of a Greco-Roman female warrior standing with British military in war-ridden Belgium. Bruce Wayne wants the story. Long before she was Wonder Woman, Diana, daughter of the queen of the Amazons, was a spirited young lady growing up on a beautiful and mysterious island inhabited by a super race of warrior women placed on the planet to watch out over those who seek to corrupt it. Being the only child on the island, she wanted to be trained alongside the other women. When her mother expresses a lack of interest in her daughter training, Diana meets secretly with her aunt. Through the years, Diana grows in strength, agility, courage, and cunning. After she rescues Captain Trevor (Chris Pine) from a downed plane that pierced the invisibility shield that hid the island from the rest of the world, she learns of the Great War happening just outside of their borders and makes the decision to leave her home and help man defeat the enemy combatants who she believes are being led by Ares, the Greek god of war. Fighting alongside men, Diana is able to realize her true destiny and powers as she stops at nothing to end the war that is killing so many innocent people and destroying the planet.

Ever since her creation in 1941 by psychologist William Marston, Wonder Woman has always been treated the best when all pre-existing inhibitions typically added to a female character in a “man’s” role are removed, allowing the feminist ethos at her core to shine and erupt with unbridled passion and strength. Among other traits, the chief characteristic that separates her from other superheroes in both the Marvel and DC universes respectively is–no, not her gender–it is her ability to integrate truth, justice, compassion, and courage in everything she does to protect the planet entrusted to her people by the Greek gods. The key to understanding Wonder Woman is not through her brute strength or supernatural powers, but through her love and compassion for innocent people and her own integrity. Rarely has any film truly given women (or anyone, for the matter) a strong female protagonist who does not pander but exhibits excellence in well-developed strength of character and a complete eruption of the fantasies of many women to rise up to serve and protect. It would have been far too easy to sell Diana Prince as a vengeful women out to destroy men or seek revenge for the destruction that has befallen the planet; but no, that is not the Diana we see. We see a heroine of others–a completely unselfish hero who is of earth. Being of the earth is truly what separates her from someone like Super Man. Sure, some strong female characters from with the world of comics, literature, theatre, TV, or film have demonstrated strong characteristics and have been leaders; but Wonder Woman sands alone as a film that provides audiences with a female protagonist who is not merely a leader, but the engineer–the author–of her own destiny and story.

Why does this film work so well??? After all, that is the question you are likely asking yourself after so many DC flops (note: that does not count the Burton or Nolan films). The short answer is that Snyder was NOT in the driver’s seat on this ride; however, there is more to it than that. Snyder’s touch is certainly evident in many scenes (especially the action sequences); furthermore, he was greatly instrumental in the overall structure, but he took a backseat to the driver of this vehicle. His approach was important in the design of the car, and even building it, but when it came time to take it for a spin, he turned the steering wheel over to Director Patty Jenkins. Films featuring strong female protagonists most often seem to fair better when there is a women at the helm. And Wonder Woman is a testament to that observation. Whereas a male director would have likely spent some time sexualizing Diana, Jenkins spends the time on her courage and compassion. Instead of focusing on the terrain of Diana’s mystical home beautifully appointed with white cliffs and sapphire water or spending time on her sleek blade or even her trademark lasso of truth, Jenkins spends a significant amount of screen time on the terrain of Diana’s face. A face that communicates the heart, mind, and soul of Diana. Instead of a face displaying anger or disgust at the world of men, her face is often bright, hopeful, containing a winning smile with eyes overflowing with optimism. In terms of the production design itself, it only bares hints of Snyder’s penchant for beautiful music videos; the production design is one that takes itself seriously, but in the perfect amounts. Although the film is quite dark, there are sufficient moments of levity.

Perhaps you’re a stereotypical dude who does not care for films that feature female protagonists and feministic themes. No fear. Wonder Woman is actually a World War I film disguised as a superhero movie. As much as Wonder Woman works as an exceptional superhero movie, it is equally an impressive World War I film. Taking place in the days leading up to Armistice Day, this film displays the atrocities of war and the determination of both sides to win. You will find yourself in the trenches in France and Belgium with the Allied forces who, against all odds, are determined to defeat the enemy in order to stop genocide and widespread devastation. Placing Wonder Woman amidst the warriors of earth, connects her to humanity in ways that most superheroes cannot. Fighting for what you believe in is a major theme in this film. Some of the best war movies are those that “show don’t tell.” And Wonder Woman certainly shows what war really looks like instead of talking about it as some abstract concept or spending time in diplomacy. In fact, diplomacy is thrown out the window, and Diana lays the need to fight on the hearts of the bureaucratic leaders and soldiers alike. Pick up your sword and fight. Don’t just sit idly by while humanity is destroyed. There is a particular scene midway through the film that nearly brought me to tears because of the strong emotion and courage displayed by Diana.

Go see it! Wonder Woman is an exceptional film that will blow your mind. I had high expectations going into the film last night after the early reviews were released, but I was not prepared for the degree to which I would thoroughly enjoy the entire experience. It’s not only a film for women, it’s sincerely a film or everyone. Next time you are faced with great opposition, when it feels that the world is caving in around you, be a Diana Prince.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” (2009) movie review

d_a_christmas_carolAn exhilarating visual array of breathtaking motion-capture animation with a touch of the macabre! Disney’s A Christmas Carol directed by Robert Zemeckis is an outstanding adaptation of the literary classic. Instead of attending the cinema this week, with the box office offerings on the anemic side as we gear up for the bulk of Oscar season heavy hitters, I decided to rewatch Disney’s A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens’ masterpieces have long sense been a source of inspiration for film adaptations of literature. Specifically, A Christmas Carol was actually one of the earliest films period–let alone adaptations. The first adaptation of A Christmas Carol was a British film in 1901 titled Marley’s Ghost. This classic work has been adapted for film, theatre, radio, and television more than 100 original/separate times, collectively. But why??? Why this novel? Quite possibly, this single work of literature has been brought to life for the stage, speaker, or screen more than any other with only a few possible exceptions. Perhaps, because it is simply timeless–transcends all generations. Writer-director Robert Zemeckis showcases his ability to put his spin on the timeless tale by perfecting the motion-capture animation techniques that made his adaptation of The Polar Express so visually stunning. Although Patrick Stewart’s Scrooge in the TNT original movie from 1999 is my favorite Scrooge, I feel strongly that Zemeckis’ film is closest adaptation to the spirit of the novel and brings it to life in the way Dickens himself may have imagined.

London may be anxiously awaiting the arrival of Christmas Day, but the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) could not care any less. He much prefers the company of his money and micro-managing his humble clerk Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) at his counting house. After begrudgingly allowing Cratchit to have Christmas Day off, Scrooge heads home. Upon arrival to his stately but lonely townhouse, Scrooge encounters the ghost of his dead–and there is no doubt about that–business partner Jacob Marley (Oldman). In an effort to spare Scrooge his horrifying fate, Marley informs Scrooge that he will be listed by three spirits (Carrey). The ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come respectively take Scrooge on a terrifying journey through his his life in hopes of transforming his selfish bitterness and embrace the selfless love and joy of Christmas.

Prior to analyzing this adaptation, as it is a story most of us know and cherish, I’d like to look at why. Why has this work of literature been adapted for nearly every storytelling medium? The short answer is that it is a story that is as relevant today as it was in the 1800s. Much like with his other masterpieces, Dickens captures so much about the human condition, in what amounts to a short story. The novel is not terribly long. With many in the U.S. feeling as though, much like in Dickens’ world, that we are being divided up into the rich and poor, this novel rings especially true. In fact, there are definitely high profile people in our economy echoing Scrooge’s words “have we no prisons; have we no work houses???” Not that we have a physical debters’ prison or work houses (in the old fashioned sense), but there are certainly elements of our society which parallel them. The story hits close to home for many. Furthermore, the novel, and subsequent adaptations, are regarded so highly because Dickens encapsulated every aspect by which mankind judges one another: past, present, and future. This is the foundation of a single person or people as a unit. Through Scrooge, Dickens shows us that if we look at our past, present, and future, then we can see the impact we have on those around us and even ourselves. By seeing how we really are, we can make the decisions to develop an approach to change ourselves to be about the business of mankind.

Interestingly, the ghosts show Scrooge how Christmas past was a time of magic (although it ended in heartbreak for Scrooge), Christmas present depicts how commercialism and greed have all but wiped out the magic with a glimmer of hope as shown by Cratchit and Fred, and Christmas yet to come shows Scrooge–and us–a world without the magic of Christmas: a world that we created. Another reason why this story is so powerful is because Dickens wrote the character of Scrooge to be a complex, multi-layered human who acts very much like a mirror to many of us. On the surface, he looks like a stereotypical old miser, but after looking into his past, we are given a glimpse of how he evolved–not unlike many of us. This story is also powerful for those who recognize the religious origins of Christmas or not. The focus of the story is on generosity, hospitality, love, compassion, as well as selfishness, greed, and sociopathy; but, it very much includes and makes reference to the religious underpinnings of this special time of year. Simply stated, this is a dynamic story of redemption that transcends generations of people.

Zemeckis’ adaptation is a beautiful usage of 3D storytelling technology. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of 3D movies, but this one is an exception for sure. I did not watch it in 3D last night, but I remember watching it in 3D when it came out in 2009 at the [then] Downtown Disney AMC. Zemeckis is one of few directors who knows how to use 3D effectively without it seeming like a gimmick. His use of 3D in A Christmas Carol greatly enhances the visceral appeal of the movie. One of the principle differences between this and other adaptations is just how supercharged it is with visual effects, intense chase scenes, and flying through the street of London. But, as Scrooge himself acknowledged, spirits can do anything–they’re spirits. Zemeckis does not hold back on the dark elements of the story. If you have read the novel, you will recognize that there are very dark parts. In many respects, A Christmas Carol is a supernatural horror film. After all, how else was Scrooge going be so scared that he would make a 180 and change his miserly ways???

It’s no surprise that Jim Carrey can be seen in the character of Scrooge; however, it is not as apparent that he is the infrastructure of the look of the characters he voiced, as was the case with Tom Hanks’ characters in Zemeckis’ The Polar Express. And this trend is even less apparent with Firth’s, Oldman’s, and Wright’s, respective characters. I love Zemeckis’ embrace of the macabre mood of the story. So often, adaptations of this story lose the very horrifying elements that absolutely terrify Scrooge. Although I remember hearing parents comment that this version was too scary for their kids, I think that having a version that is skewed towards teens and adults was important. Another great element in this film: the score! Alan Silvestri’s score sneaks in some traditional Christmas carols, but you have to listen for such as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” when its distinctive cadences turn sinister during a perilous flight through London.

There are few Christmas movies that capture the spirit of the season better than A Christmas Carol. Zemeckis’ adaptation is my pick for best translation of page to screen. The cinematic excellence of Disney storytelling is woven throughout this film and makes for a thrilling journey. If you are planning to watch some Christmas movies this holiday season, I highly recommend this version of A Christmas Carol. But if you have very young children, it may be a little too scary for them. Whether you are young or young at heart, the magic of Christmas rings all too loudly in this timeless story brought to screen once again.