Blade Runner 2049 (Full Review)

Wine isn’t for everybody. While some find it to be a pleasant, and bold tasting elixir that soothes the soul, others find it bitter and unsatisfying. The original 1982 Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford and directed by Ridley Scott was a technical masterpiece and a pillar for neo-noir science fiction. It is also an acquired taste. While the film gave us striking imagery and thought provoking undertones, some just couldn’t get passed the melancholy pacing. But like a fine wine, to me the original gets better with age. And over three decades later, Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival), delivers a sequel that provokes the same sentiments.

Blade_Runner_2049_logoTo understand this sequel, it is inherently necessary to be somewhat familiar with the original film adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel. The world of Blade Runner is mostly a grim wasteland and artificial humans known as replicants are used as slave labor to keep society afloat. These replicants mostly serve their constructed purposes with obedience, but when they do go off the rails, they are hunted down and “retired” by cops nicknamed blade runners.

Blade Runner 2049 picks up 30 years after the events of the first film, when blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was charged with retiring five replicants but ended up falling in love with one and disappearing with her. Replicants are now being made by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to be much more subservient to the extent that replicants like Officer K (Ryan Gosling) are even being used as blade runners to hunt their own kind. When retiring a rogue replicant (Dave Bautista) leads to a shocking revelation, K is forced by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to carry out a secret mission that could alter the fabric of society if he fails.

Like in the first, this film often moves at a dreary, sluggish pace that could be mind numbingly boring for some. But that isn’t something that should deter anyone who has ever sat down and enjoyed classic noir film’s like Casablanca or Taxi Driver. What the film lacks in suspense and action it makes up for in spectacular visuals and suave and swift performances. In those regards, Blade Runner 2049 actually manages to be even better than its predecessor.

The complexity that comes with the primary protagonist being a replicant himself adds tremendous tension to the plot. His interactions with members of both parties, as well as his struggles to understand his own humanity are gorgeously illustrated by his romantic relationship to an artificial intelligence named Joi (Ana De Armas) as well as his banter with Harrison Ford’s grizzly old Deckard. And just because the pacing tends to lull doesn’t mean the film isn’t void of some gripping action sequences. A climactic battle between K and Niander Wallace’s intimidating henchwoman, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), is wonderfully executed and stunningly filmed.

Aside from maintaining the sound and visual elements that made the 1982 film such a cult classic, Blade Runner 2049 manages to improve on the franchise’s lore with a more invigorating story and enthralling new characters. It is sure to bore some, but anyone with appreciation for the first will be undeniably impressed with this more than worthy successor.

FINAL GRADE: A

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Flatliners (2017) Full Review

What happens when scientists look for evidence of the afterlife? It’s a fascinating concept, if only because humans have a tendency to not trust things until they’ve experienced them on a personal level. But if you’re coming to Flatliners for eerie, hypothetical answers to the aforementioned question, keep on searching because this film is basically a cheesy horror film disguising itself as something deeper.

Flatliners_(2017)A remake of an early 90’s film, this Flatliners stars Ellen Page as Courtney, a medical student who seeks to connect with the afterlife after her sister dies in a car accident. With the help of her colleagues (Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons), she embarks on an experiment to die and be resurrected. Despite gaining knowledge and clarity, their quest for the great beyond eventually has side effects that lead them down a dark path.

The movie spends half of its time introducing the characters who are mostly insufferable. James Norton’s Jamie is obnoxious while all of the female characters are either selfish or naively short sighted. Believing that any of them could be medical professionals is the real horror of the film. In fact, when things go south, you almost want all of them to get offed.

The horror does eventually come along and for a moment, the jump scares and eerie imagery is a bit exciting. But it all comes so fast and is resolved so easily, that the payoff isn’t worth the buildup. If you want an existential lesson on not crossing the line between life and death, you’ll be disappointed because the film drops that concept by the way side as soon as it focuses on trying to frighten the audience. Instead, you’ll get what feels like a lengthy B-movie that ends with an after school special lesson on owning up to your past mistakes.

FINAL GRADE: D

IT (Full Review)

You can count on one hand the amount of horror films I’ve reviewed. That’s because, to me, the genre has become hellishly stale. Jump scares accompanied by long gaps of mediocre character building simply doesn’t interest me anymore, and rather than paste that opinion on every horror review I do, I simply just ignore them. But there’s something intriguing about scary movies where kids are the stars. Unlike the films with adults as the leads, these stories are more likely to be void of the asinine decision making that often plagues the genre. IT, a remake of the classic Stephen King novel and film, is a perfect example of how much more interesting a film can be when you’re actually latched on to the pieces involved.

It_(2017)_logoIT begins with a boy and his brother. Stuttering teen, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) makes a toy boat for his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) that ends up floating into a gutter on a rainy day and bringing him into contact with creepy Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard). One year later, Bill and his band of bullied friends known as the Losers Club (Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs) begin searching for Georgie and the other kids that have gone missing in their town which brings them face to face with the evil personification of fear itself.

Anyone who was captivated by the Netflix series Stranger Things will absolutely enjoy IT. The camaraderie of the teen protagonists is almost identical and the film does a sensational job of making each character necessary to the story. There’s an evident touch of heart to this film that makes its message of getting over loss and facing fears wholly relatable.

Aesthetically there is a lot to love about the film as well. The effects and scares are done without much hokey CGI and makes the movie feel more tangible like the 80’s horror flicks of old. Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise the Clown is also magnetic. The entity itself probably won’t scare any full grown adults who aren’t afraid of clowns, but the portrayal moves and speaks with a subtle eeriness that would be undeniably terrifying if you switched places with any of the teenagers involved.

Our desensitization to the genre, thanks to the over saturation of horror films, may make the scares relatively weak for many. If I were in my early teens watching it, the film would probably give me nightmares for life, but even as an adult the movie garners appreciation for its tactics. Sometimes instead of scaring the audience, a horror film can be worthwhile because you can feel the fear in the characters and this remake of IT manages to be an emotionally grounded and smile inducing adventure. No matter how irrational it may be, fear is incredibly encompassing and running from it only makes it stronger and this concept comes across in full force making for an entertaining journey whether it scares you or not.

FINAL GRADE: A

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Full Review)

There are few actors with the comedic exuberance of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Putting the two personalities on the same screen and giving them guns and cars sounds like a match made in buddy cop genre heaven. Even with a B-movie drop back, when two actors have the right chemistry, it doesn’t take much to be entertained.

220px-HitmansBodyguardIn The Hitman’s Bodyguard Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a topflight bodyguard whose career takes a tumble after one of his shady, high profile clients is killed under his watch. Two years later he is summoned by his Interpol Agent Ex-girlfriend (Elodie Yung) to protect incarcerated hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). Kincaid has made a deal with Interpol that will free his wife (Salma Hayek) from prison if he can make it across Europe to testify against a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman) who wants him dead.

Production value seems to be the film’s biggest flaw as it carries itself like a B-movie from its stock music to its occasionally flimsy use of green screen. The story is also carried out with few surprises and although Gary Oldman is a phenomenal actor, his villain is grossly underutilized. But if you’re coming to see an action movie with Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson, should plot and ambiance really be your number one priority?

The dynamic between the two leads works just as well as you’d hope it would. So even though the script doesn’t do anything otherworldly, it succeeds in letting both actors be themselves. With Reynolds being snarky and passive aggressive, and Jackson a foul mouthed loose cannon, the film strikes the perfect comedic chord to keep the film thoroughly entertaining even through a relatively generic two hours of over the top action sequences.

Credit is also deserved for making the two leads more than just comedians. With Jackson’s Kincaid being a murderer of corrupt men and Reynolds’ Bryce being a protector of those same men, the film manages to raise some surprisingly interesting questions about the nature of good and evil. So even though it often carries itself like something you’d find in the bargain bin, The Hitman’s Bodyguard actually ends up being a fun ride worthy of the full price of admission.

FINAL GRADE: B

The Dark Tower (Full Review)

When you think of Stephen King, horror films like The Shining, Carrie, and It are the first things that come to mind. But in his decades of creating literary classics, he’s also managed to create one of the best selling fantasy series’. I’ve never read The Dark Tower but have always been vaguely familiar with some of the story elements and concepts. With King’s track record, I went into the film adaptation of his 1982 novel with modest optimism.

The_Dark_Tower_teaser_posterThe Dark Tower film tells the story of a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who begins having visions of a parallel world. In those visions, Jake sees that a man in black (Matthew McConaughey) is kidnapping psychic children and trying to use them to destroy the dark tower that protects each world from a realm of evil monsters. Once he realizes his visions are real, Jake journeys into the parallel world and joins forces with Roland (Idris Elba), the last remaining gunslinger charged with protecting the tower.

Although the source material predates a lot of films in the genre, the fact that a film version is just being made doesn’t do The Dark Tower any favors. Several moments, like the bullied teenage main character, come off extremely cliché. The plot almost plays out like a bedtime story for children, spouting out pieces of its vast mythology and expecting the audience to catch on or not ask any deeper questions.

But there is an overall simplicity to the story that actually feels refreshing. In a time where so many science fiction films are bloated with two hour long convoluted plots and unnecessary characters, this movie feels fairly concise. McConaughey’s villain is imposing even if his motivations are juvenile, and Idris Elba delivers his performance with the necessary dose of grizzled swagger to make him both likable and heroic.

As a person who never read the books, I fully understand that there is a better version of this story. But holding it to the standard of simply being entertaining, The Dark Tower works. The action sequences, though reaching Wanted levels of ridiculous, have a keen rhythm to them that make them fairly fun. So despite the fact that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel and never truly feels as compelling as other summer blockbusters, The Dark Tower is a fairly decent time at the movies if you are a fan of the genre.

FINAL GRADE: B

The Emoji Movie (Full Review)

Pixar kind of already did this before. In fact, between talking toys and cars, the animated film giant has cornered the market on turning odd concepts into critically acclaimed, box office gold. So it was only a matter of time before someone tried to replicate the formula. Enter Sony Animations’ The Emoji Movie, an obscure idea to turn phone emojis into a kid friendly comedy.

The_Emoji_Movie_film_posterT.J. Miller stars as Gene, a ‘meh’ emoticon who hopes to follow in his parents lethargic footsteps (Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge) and present the perfect ‘meh’ face when called upon via text by his teenage user. When Gene crumbles under the pressure, the ‘Smiley’ emoji (Maya Rudolph) sends a horde of robots to take him out before the entire phone is deleted. Gene’s only help is to journey with the forgotten ‘Hi-5’ emoji (James Corden) and a mysterious hacker emoji (Anna Faris) to ‘The Cloud’ where he can be reprogrammed as the perfect ‘meh’.

Filled with enough bad puns to make a 90’s action movie director cringe, The Emoji Movie is relatively short on laughs. James Corden and Patrick Stewart’s ‘Poop’ Emoji provide a few snickers here and there, but not enough to overtake a horde of eye rolls that will undoubtedly accompany most of the people old enough to understand the film’s jokes. When it isn’t failing at puns and sight gags, the movie is trying its best to make social commentary that also feels redundant.

From the start of this predictable narrative, the film’s premise is hard to get behind. The characters that aren’t bland, like Miller’s Gene who is completely void of comedic wit, are just flat out annoying like Rudolph’s insufferable villain. Even the message, “Be Yourself”, feels wholly played out in a children’s film, so Emoji Movie never manages to stand out as something more than a weak copy cat of something we’ve seen done with more originality. Director Tony Leondis deserves credit for some solid visuals and at least making an attempt to be endearing, but by the time the credits role it’s hard to feel any emotion about The Emoji Movie other than… ‘meh’.

FINAL GRADE: D

Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Full Review)

Chances are, unless you’re European, you’ve never heard of Valérian and Laureline.  The French comic book was started back in 1967 and ran all the way until 2010. The series chronicles the adventures of a pair of space special agents as they try and protect a colony made up of millions of species from around the universe. There is perhaps no better person to bring those stories to the big screen for American audiences than French Director Luc Besson, who brought us the sci-fi classic The Fifth Element.

Valerian_and_the_City_of_a_Thousand_PlanetsDane DeHann plays Valérian, a cocky, but brave and resourceful space agent who is in love with his head strong partner Laureline (Cara Delevigne). Together, the two go on dangerous missions to other worlds and dimensions to recover endangered lifeforms and protect the people and interests of Alpha, the space colony made up of over a thousand planets. When the commander of Alpha (Clive Owen) is kidnapped, it is up to Valérian and Laureline to solve the mystery of his kidnapping and prevent a war within Alpha.

Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets has an undeniable creativity to it and an acute sense of detail. Every creature has depth to it from its appearance to its backstory which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has seen The Fifth Element. The visuals and sheer scope of this film are breathtaking and most of the action sequences are thrilling.

Despite looking impressive, what keeps the movie from being great or even wholly memorable is undoubtedly its characters. Both Valérian and Laureline feel like stock characters you can find in any sci-fi fantasy novel. Rather than use the story to flesh out both characters as individuals, the movie spends most of its time trying to sell them as a couple. But the romance falls flat mainly because DeHann’s character comes off like a creep. The supporting cast isn’t any better, because they are underutilized. Characters like Rihanna’s shape shifting exotic dancer, Bubble, are barely on screen long enough to resonate with the audience.

A better, less predictable story could’ve made Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets feel worthy of its stunning universe. You can certainly tell why the concept worked as a comic book and maybe a sequel can do more with its characters. But without focal points for the audience to gravitate toward, the final product is merely a decent film that you won’t care to see more than once.

FINAL GRADE: C

Dunkirk (Full Review)

Christopher Nolan is one of my all-time favorite directors. His methodical style might not be for everyone, but to me, he’s never made a bad movie. With that being said, I feel the opposite about war films. I usually find movies in the genre to be boring and dreary, but if anyone can make me thoroughly enjoy a war picture, it’s the man behind Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and the Prestige.

Dunkirk_Film_posterDunkirk takes place in 1940 in the years of World War II predating American involvement. The Germans have forced British troops to the edge of Dunkirk, France. Nolan tells the story of the heroic evacuation of those troops through the eyes of a trio of stranded soldiers (Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard), an Air Force pilot (Tom Hardy), and an old mariner (Mark Rylance) who rescues a shell shocked soldier (Cilian Murphy) while headed toward Dunkirk.

What I’ve always enjoyed about Nolan’s filmmaking is his ability to create unique ways to tell stories. Dunkirk uses nonlinear storytelling to add intrigue and keep the film steadily suspenseful. With each focal point taking place at different times (an hour, a day, and a week) before the climax, the film never feels dull even if there isn’t much dialogue.

The pacing may feel methodical to anyone who likes their movies filled with clever monologues, gun battles or explosions, but not knowing when the enemy might strike, and creating high emotional stakes for the primary characters creates the tension. And when the bombs strike and the bullets fly, it is felt. The sound is heavy and piercing, made for IMAX surround sound, to make you feel engulfed in the action. Meticulous camera angels are also used to engulf the audience in the emotions of the characters.

You might leave wondering about the significance of the film, as it doesn’t do quite enough to illustrate the historical influence of the events. But considering the story wants to feel self-contained, that isn’t much of a flaw. The biggest flaw is that the movie also seems to carry on a bit longer than it needs to, even though it’s not actually a long movie. There are also a few character resolutions that are a bit anti-climactic, but overall Dunkirk accomplishes its goal of being a brisk, cohesive, but thrilling narrative.

FINAL GRADE: B

The House (Full Review)

It’s almost surprising that Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler have never been leads in a movie together. Both know funny. Both were hilarious in their Saturday Night Live days and although that comedic flare doesn’t always translate into their films, you always know both are capable of owning any scene.

The_House_(2017_film)In The House, Ferrell and Poehler team up as parents whose daughter (Ryan Simpkins) is headed off to college. When the sleazy head of the town’s city council (Nick Kroll) revokes their daughter’s scholarship, the couple is lured into a scheme by their divorced neighbor (Jason Mantzoukas) to raise money for tuition by starting up their own casino in his home. With all of their quirky neighbors onboard, their scheme takes off and leads them down a crazy life as underground casino runners.

As with more and more comedies these days, this film carries a wacky tone that makes it not even remotely believable. This is a world where a town has only one cop (Rob Huebel), all of the adults act like irresponsible children, and a successful casino can be started up in a matter of days by someone who can’t even afford their own home. In other words, have your sense of reality clock out at the box office window.

The utter ridiculousness of the plot makes The House go off the rails at almost every turn. Luckily, this is a comedy, and flaws can be more forgiving if you just make the audience laugh. Ferrell and Poehler, when they aren’t trying too hard to oversell a joke or two, bring out the necessary dose of laughter to make The House moderately entertaining. And if you have never been into their antics then you really shouldn’t be watching this film in the first place. They aren’t alone though. Mantzoukas also manages to master the art of being funny simply with effective facial expressions and delivery.

There were two or three scenes that were so funny they had me in tears. Unfortunately, you’ll have to get through long stretches of buffoonery and annoying characters (*Nick Kroll) to get to them. If you can just turn your brain off and ignore the half baked nature of everything going on, you might just have a decent time with this one.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

 

Baby Driver (Full Review)

Fast and the Furious can be an acquired taste, but if there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that fast cars are entertaining as hell. Edgar Wright, the man behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, seems to have grasped that concept pretty well and manufactured it into a sleek heist film. In this summer filled with sequels, adaptations, and reboots, Wright refreshingly injects a film with exhilarating summer action, a great cast, and some catchy tunes.

Baby_Driver_posterBaby Driver stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a skilled getaway driver who uses music to drown out a condition leftover from an accident that killed his parents. After falling for a diner waitress named Debora (Lily James), Baby desires a life free of car chases and shootouts. But to gain his freedom, he’ll have to outsmart his blackmailing boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), and his collection of loose cannon associates Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm,) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez).

Everything about Baby Driver is stylish and fun. The action sequences, which the film wastes no time getting into, are ridiculously exhilarating thanks to some jaw dropping stunt work. The music is an eclectic, but fitting mix of rock n’ roll and hip hop songs blended from different eras. Perhaps the most captivating, is how Wright incorporates the music into his cinematography, often synchronizing beats with the swift movements onscreen.

But while it can be entertaining, a movie can’t be truly great off of action, music, and cinematography alone. Wright’s story is well crafted and endearing. Though the characters seem simple, the charm of Elgort and Lily James helps us buy into the starry eyed romance between Baby and Debora. Meanwhile, Foxx, Hamm, Gonzalez, and even Jon Bernthal in a small role, all do their best to steal each scene they’re in as the wickedly charismatic band of degenerate thieves. Kevin Spacey effectively makes it all come together with his slick portrayal of the group’s ring leader.

Baby Driver moves at a pace that is swift but never difficult to follow. If you aren’t hooked by the opening scene, then this simply isn’t for you. As for me, I found it to be the most exciting thrill ride of the summer and maybe of 2017.

FINAL GRADE: A