“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.

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“Baby Driver” movie review

Exhilarating! Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is an accelerated non-stop comedic action-thriller that will have you in high-gear the entire drive time. Wildly entertaining! It offers up the best car chases, excellent characters, and displays solid writing in this subgenre of action films. During the golden age of Hollywood cinema, grand getaways, robberies, and car chase movies were a staple. Sony/Tristar, et al, demonstrate that one of the foundational plot types that provided audiences with thrills back then can be effectively resurrected today to embody the engine that drove those motion pictures and install it into a new, sleek body design to mesmerize and impress audiences of today. Certainly, Baby drives to the beat of his own mixtape in this movie, but the film itself goes further and integrates the rhythm of action into the sound design of the motion picture. Not to be left behind on the 80s throwback movies and TV shows bandwagon featuring hipsters and mixtapes, Wright crafts a summer film that rises above the all too cliché CGI robots taking to the sky and pirates swashbuckling across the seas to remind us that little can compare to the squeal of the wheel, love, and the witty turning of phrase. In short, Baby Driver is a self-aware pop-culture film but has the soul of a James Dean motion picture.

Meet Baby (Elgort). Yes, that’s B-A-B-Y Baby. He’s the unparalleled talented getaway driver for Doc’s (Spacey) Atlanta crime ring. With earbuds in place, playing classic rock or his own mixtapes, Baby drives, speeds, and maneuvers to the beat of his tunes. No police force is a match for his ability to evade his would-be captors in order to return Doc’s henchman (and woman) to the secret lair. As chance would have it, Baby meets Debora (James), the girl of his dreams, at his usual diner. All that stands in his way is one more job for Doc, or so he thinks. With payment in full of his debt to Doc on the horizon, Baby sees this as his opportunity to make a clean break and to ditch his shady lifestyle of crime. But when Doc approaches Baby with yet another job, Baby must decide to whom his allegiances lie and protect those he loves.

Any veteran filmmaker will tell you that it’s vitally important to hook the audience within the first three to five minutes of a film. Fail to hook producers at the beginning of the screenplay, and it’s file-thirteen for those 120 pages. As a director, it’s encumbered upon him or her to grab hold of the audience’s attention, creating the urge to want more, to know more. The first scene of Baby Driver is an incredible display of excellence in writing, directing, and the technical elements of motion picture creation. The magic of this scene lies in the ability for Wright to wow the audience, without leaving anyone “out there in the dark” (Sunset Blvd) overly-stimulated or left with the feeling of utter exhaustion. The scene is perfectly stimulating. It sets the bar high for the film, and continues to keep it up there for the entire runtime. Just like the pace of Baby’s driving, the pacing of the film is exquisitely handled and couldn’t be better! The biggest difference between this robbery/getaway film and similar films such as The Fast and the Furious is substance. In addition to the incredible cinematography and sound design paired with out of the world car chases, the film provides heart, soul, and qualitative substance that forms the foundation upon which the more superficial elements are laid.

The cast couldn’t have been more brilliantly selected. One of the hallmarks of an Edgar Wright film is the charismatic leads that display solid chemistry on screen. Just who are our heroes in this film? You’ll just have to watch it and decide for yourself. I love it when films take the more conventional concept of heroes and villains and turns it on its head. For whomever you decide are the heroes, you’ll certainly find yourself actively rooting for their survival and rooting for the villains to meet their demise in shockingly creative ways. When Kevin Spacey isn’t busy being the President of the United States, or more recently, an ex-President, he is the king pin of an Atlanta-based crime syndicate that stages fantastically wild robberies. And Baby is indebted to him and must reluctantly aid and abet as the best getaway driver ever to hit the screens in recent years–think a modern-day James Dean. Jaime Foxx plays the veteran head henchman extremely well and adds his own repulsive, yet comedic charm to his role. It would have been far too easy to play off Spacey and Foxx’s conventional talents to steel focus away from the central plot, but Wright strikes a perfect balance between his leads and the story. Elgort and Spacey’s on-screen chemistry was crafted with strategic precision in order to quickly solidify the frenemy relationship between the two characters. With Elgot increasing in popularity, Wright could have deflated to playing up the attractive bad boy tropes but instead allows Elgot’s Baby to develop organically throughout the film.

If you are seeking a summer film that clearly demonstrates a movie in which all the creative elements work seamlessly together in the manner in which they were respectively intended, then don’t miss Baby Driver while it’s in theatres. The energy you will feel in this film is nearly unparalleled by any in recent times, and that’s because both the major and minor components work together like a well-oiled machine. You will be at full throttle as you are instantly transported from your auditorium seat to the passenger seat in Baby’s car.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“LIFE” movie review

Chilling! In space, no one can hear you scream. Although that tagline is associated with Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking space-horror Alien, director Daniel Espinosa’s LIFE delivers an intensely dark thriller that will have you screaming and cringing from the moment life on Mars is discovered. In the same vein as AlienLIFE is a science-fiction horror that may look like Gravity and might even have the strong orchestral sounds of Interstellar, but provides audiences with an entirely different experience. Borrowing from Alien and Gravity, Sony and Columbia Pictures craft a new space-horror narrative that can sufficiently serve as a standalone film–and be great in that–but also has potential for a sequel or two. Interestingly, there are parallels to Ridley Scott’s Alien beyond the premise; LIFE also features the same number of crew members and other more subtle elements. That being said, LIFE is definitely not a knockoff Alien nor is it trying to be Ridley Scott’s critically claimed film as it does not contain the social commentary on gender, sex, and family. However, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and LIFE pays both homage to the film that likely inspired it but delivers a comprehensive science-fiction horror experience that provides ample twists, turns, and even some emotional connection along the way.

A group comprised of engineers and researchers on board the International Space Station (ISS) are on the brink of one of the most important discoveries in human civilization: life on Mars. Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Sho Murkami (Hiroyuki Sandana), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Baker), and Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) represent several different counties, all working in cooperation on this groundbreaking mission. After the satellite, carrying the Martian sample, is retrieved from spiraling out of control towards the ISS is secured, the group of astronauts are faced with the crisis and task of retrieving it. After a daring retrieval, what should be a joyous discovery–something out of a scientists dreams–soon becomes a living nightmarish game of hide and seek. When the specimen from Mars begins to grow rapidly and become more and more intelligent, it stops at nothing to continue to feed the alien’s insatiable appetite and its goal to find a new home.

Initial impressions of LIFE leave you with noticing just how much like Alien it feels. It’s been nearly forty years since the Ridley Scott cinematic masterpiece, but in that time, no other science-fiction/horror film has come this close to delivering a similar (note: not as high on the cinematic totem pole as its predecessor) experience to that which first terrified audiences in 1979. One of the primary differences between Alien and LIFE is just how much closer to home this horrifying experience occurs. Whereas with the former, the alien encounter takes place hundreds of lightyears away, the latter’s narrative takes place just outside of our atmosphere on the ISS. Not that LIFE feels more intimate than Alien–it doesn’t–but the proximity of this story might add a little something more to the edge that you’re already sitting on as the horrific events unfold on the space station. Pacing is similar to Alien in that LIFE has a slow burn during the first act. To balance this slow burn or to keep audiences from thinking that it’s taking forever for the movie to really get started, the film begins with the “big event” right at the very beginning. The “big event” being the apprehension of the satellite carrying the Martian specimen. But for all it’s similarities, this movie provides a different experience that can certainly stand on its own. LIFE may have been inspired by Alien, but it is certainly not a ripoff.

I’ve been quite critical of the CGI-effects of films in more recent years, but the brilliance of the alien life form in LIFE is the degree to which it feels organic. In the beginning, the life form is little more than a single-celled organism; however, as the plot thickens, the organism begins to take a more chilling form and shape. Eventually, the alien develops a frightening grin and a mysterious-like form. One of the scariest parts of Ridley Scott’s Alien was the degree to which the Xenomorph feels so real that, even in your seat, you could feel the acidic slime and your body likely felt the excruciating pains of that iconic moment when the alien shoots out of the stomach. Part of that can be attributed to the use of pneumatics, animatronics, miniatures, and other practical effects standards. Yes, the alien life form in LIFE is computer-generated, but it also has a very real nature to it. Instead of focussing on how to make the alien as impressive as possible, it would appear that the special effects artists (whose work can be seen in the Transformers movies) focussed more on the small details that ordinarily give a CGI character away. Just like with the brilliant visual effects work in Ex Machina, the visual effects of the alien are flawless.

There is an inherent level of unpredictability in LIFE even after the unavoidable similarities to AlienLIFE plays around with the final girl trope and the killings have a strategy or method to their madness. Conspicuously missing from the characters of LIFE in a comparison to Alien is a Ripley-like character. Does the film portray strong female characters? Certainly. But LIFE keeps you guessing because the order of the deaths do not follow any predictable pattern. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of being predisposed to the order of the killings to be based up on star billing. Speaking of the characters, effectively managing an ensemble cast is always difficult. So often, some characters in the ensemble get lost or do not receive nearly as much development as the more obvious leaders. Not true with LIFE. True that there is not a large degree of character development all the way around, but each of the characters is treated with equal screen time and emphasis. That is, until death occurs. The excellent handling of this ensemble gives LIFE an extra dynamic that lacks in other ensemble cast films, thus helping this science-fiction horror to stand out from others that are similar in premise or plot. This movie has a “life” of its own.

2017 seems to be shaping up to be a year of excellent movies! We are just about to finish the first quarter of the year, and already there have been some great motion pictures. Furthermore, 2017 seems to be the year of the horror film because so many have made the theatrical distribution circuit. For those who love a good science-fiction thriller, you will not be disappointed with LIFE. Albeit the film may not be able to sustain the magic and horror for the entire runtime, it successfully delivers a terrifying experience for most of the film. If you don’t mind some cringeworthy moments and the dark tone of the film, then this is definitely one to see this weekend.

PS. I saw Power Rangers this week as well, and it was a delightful film! Yeah, it’s a little campy, but that’s to be expected. Definitely the best Power Rangers motion picture. All-in-all, it sufficiently pays homage to the 90s show but provides audiences with a new story. Go-go see it too!

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

A Short History of How the Cinema Shaped Theme Parks (part 2)

dlr_castleFollowing the ending of the Studio System, the now bankrupt motion picture studios were purchased by various conglomerates looking for new sources of income. One of the sources of income that studios began investing into was the concept of movie-based theme parks. With the opening of Walter Elias Disney’s Disneyland in 1955, Universal Studios made the decision to incorporate stand-alone attractions into its newly reopened studio tour. Both Disneyland and the future Universal Studios used their intellectual property (IP) as the basis for creating theme park rides, shows, and attractions. Although movie studios as a “park” began with Laemmle, in its current incarnation, the convergence of cinema and theme park began with Disneyland, and later was perfected by Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida. Since the movie studios already had dedicated movie-going audiences, it made sense to capitalize on the idea of incorporating the concepts from the movies into attractions that the general public could enjoy and be immersed in. This action both acts as advertising for the respective studios and generates income for the movies and park improvements…

For the full article on the Thrillz website, click HERE!

 

“Passengers” movie review

passengersAn intriguing journey with lots of potential but ultimately fails to pull into the space dock. The highly anticipated visually stunning science-fiction film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt proves one thing: Pratt and Lawrence have excellent on screen chemistry and play off each other very well. With films like this one, it’s hard to know where the fault lies. Typically, a film with such potential and a powerful cast is weakened by either the writing or directing. Since the director principally works with the cast, it can be concluded that the writing lacked the drive that this film needed. On a more positive note, this film depicts deep space travel how it could likely be in the not-so-distant future. From the centrifugal force created by the rotating space craft to simulate how artificial gravity could be generated to the onboard technology to the sickbay, this film does a fantastic job of providing audiences with a science-fiction that is almost tangible. Having such a limited cast in one location can spell disaster for cinematic storytelling; but, the film is quite interesting to watch and sufficiently keeps the audience’s attention. Furthermore, the audience mostly connects with Aurora (Lawrence) and Jim (Pratt) well enough. But, the film fails to truly provide audiences with a new adventure because it amounts to a glorified Castaway set in the Disney Springs of shopping malls in outer space–just completely empty of scooters, strollers, and other park guests. Lack of surprise pretty well sums it up.

Welcome aboard The Avalon on the Homestead Company’s routine transport to Homestead II, a new earth colony. All is going well until two passengers find themselves awakened from suspended animation about 90 years too early during a cascade of ship wide malfunctions. Faced with living the rest of their respective lives on board and only the company of an AI bartender (Michael Sheen), Jim and Aurora must cope with the challenges of living together in a world that is merely 1000 meters from stem to stern. When the ship begins to increasingly malfunction and life support at risk, Jim and Aurora much solve the mystery of what originally caused the problem that began the cascade. Just as the ship is keeping a secret, there are other dark secrets on board the ship as well. Meeting with psychological, emotional, and engineering challenges, Jim and Aurora have 5000 other passengers and crew to save while maintaining their own sanity and psycho-social health.

As the movie faded to black, I began discussing it with the friends who accompanied me to the cinema last night. And we shared a mutual reaction of hmm, not exactly sure what this was or how to read it but it had some interesting components. And that pretty well covers it. The film will likely keep you entertained but with few surprises, it lacks anything to make it memorable in a positive way. Forgettable is what this movie will become in the no-so-distant future. Essentially, Passengers is what you would get if Gravity and Titanic were to have a baby. Star-crossed lovers on a ship that is self-destructing in the vacuum of space. One of the most intriguing components in the plot of the film is also highly disturbing. While love and infatuation causes many to go to great lengths in order to see desire become reality, it is a double-edged sword that can cause one to behave selfishly if not displaying signs of sociopathy. While Pratt’s performance is what is to be expected from one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood who is equally a dedicated family man, his performance is never quite on par with his Castaway counterpart. However, Lawrence delivers an intense performance as she plays off Pratt,the bartender, and The Avalon itself.

The cinematography and editing are excellent. In fact, the technical elements of the film are impressive! Not quite as groundbreaking as Gravity or Interstellar but still outstanding. There is one scene in particular that still has me puzzled as to how it was able to be achieved so flawlessly. The set design, albeit spartan, is beautifully sleek and functional. As film is a visually driven medium of storytelling, the camera often pulls in close to characters to establish intimacy but juxtaposes that against pulling back to reveal the oppressive loneliness of being alone on a massive ship in space. For a brief moment, I experienced the dread that is created in Kubrick’s The Shining when Jim meets Arthur the bartender. Interestingly, the music (composed by Thomas Newman), camera direction, dialog, blocking, an set design all work together seamlessly to establish that unparalleled sense of dread, loneliness, and self-destructive despair that are so iconic to The Shining. Unfortunately, that powerful sense of dread is lost in weak writing. Had the film embraced the potential to channel The Shining, it may have played out more memorably. But, this is a love story so the horror plot devices that could have helped the film were not integrated into the plot. Although there are may significant contributors to a film’s success, the success of a film often relies upon the direction, writing, and cast. As briefly mentioned in my opening paragraph, the director (Morten Tyldum) of a film principally works with the cast and is responsible for blocking, delivery of dialog, and perception; so, it is likely the screenplay by Jon Spaihts that is responsible for the weak story. A director and cast can work hard to makeup for a weak screenplay, but in this case, the lack of developed story showed through.

Despite sharing the screen with Aurora, this truly is Jim’s movie and others simply happen to appear in it when necessary. As a side note, I could easily see how this film could be translated into a stage production. Perhaps on stage, the story could evolve to leave more of an impact on the audience.