Category Archives: Dystopia

“Isle of Dogs” Movie Review

Those dogs did NOT deserve the treatment they received. As the owner of a boxer, seeing anything like that portrayed on the big screen makes me uncomfortable. Acclaimed writer-director Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated picture first premiered at the 2018 Berlinale in mid-February, where Anderson won a Silver Bear award for directing. After closing out the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival, the film entered a limited American release on March 23rd, 2018. It has done rather well in its run thus far, grossing over $39.6 million at the box office and should perform even better once it releases widely on April 20th. Anderson’s ninth overall feature and his second using stop-motion animation, the story apparently was born out of the auteur’s obsessive love of the films from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It’s also said that he was heavily influenced by holiday specials by Rankin/Bass Productions as well as the exploits of Mecha-Godzilla. Set in a dystopian future, canines have not only grown to epidemic levels but have also contracted a new flu virus. Fearing transition to humans, Mayor Kobayashi of Megasaki City, Japan, banishes all dogs to Trash Island, where several of them form tight-knit packs. The mayor’s young ward and nephew Atari travels to the island in an effort to find his lost dog Spot, all the while civil unrest is becoming more apparent in the city. I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson and his works, some better than others. His previous film, 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, was one of the earliest reviews on my Blog and is perhaps one of my favorite comedies of the decades. So the prospect of him writing and directing another stop-motion picture 9 years after the wonderful Fantastic Mr. Fox? I’m already signed up before I read the plot synopsis. Well, I’ll say that Isle of Dogs is a lower-tier film coming from the American auteur, and certainly is no modern masterpiece. But still, that shouldn’t necessarily deter you from watching it because I had a fun time watching it. However, I’m unfortunately inclined to agree with a recent controversy that has arisen regarding this film. Specifically, Anderson and studio Fox Searchlight have been accused by a number of critics for misappropriating Japanese people and their culture. While there are a number of things that it does get right, it ultimately does succumb to certain Hollywood stereotypes. Moreover, some of them were played for laughs, a large amount of which I actually partook in. Among these was the language barrier between the Japanese, the dogs, and the Americans. While dog barks have been happily translated into English for us, the Japanese characters are often speaking without any subtitles, only aided by a running gag of a television translator. The concept was initially amusing but definitely stretched to the max. The hugely stacked ensemble voice cast does extremely well at almost every turn, especially some of Anderson’s regular collaborators. Including *deep breath* Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Yoko Ono, Courtney B. Vance, Liev Schrieber, Akira Ito, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Anjelica Huston, and co-writer Kunichi Nomura. With the possible exception of Gerwig, all of their characters feel like a worthy addition to the tight, almost flight-footed plot. Most of the dialogue is delivered in an extremely deadpan way, almost as if they’re all aware of the fact they’re in a movie. While there is an apparent melancholy to what everyone’s saying, the manner in which it’s said is nothing short of hilarious. And from a purely technical standpoint, Isle of Dogs is a Wes Anderson movie through and through. All of his distinct trademarks are in place, not the least of which includes the cinematography by Tristan Oliver. Capturing a certain color palette between gray and red, there are a number of static wide shots and close-ups. We also get to see his perfect symmetry where literally everything onscreen is shown in an exact order, from character arrangements to everyday items in the background. The differences in animation between this picture and Fantastic Mr. Fox are astounding with the improvements. Freezing just a single frame would be worth extensive analysis on its own with all the details on the figures and environments. What’s more impressive is that even something like explosions or fight scenes are put together with puffy clouds of cotton, not CG. Plus the editing by Ralph Foster and Edward Bursch is frenetic. Often, something serious or drawn out will be punctuated by an abrupt cut, eliciting real laughter out of my audience. In his 4th collaboration with the director, and the umpteenth in his seemingly endless cinematic hot streak, Alexandre Desplat composes the musical score. One of the most obvious instruments heard here is traditional taiko drums with deep impacts and pulsating rhythms. It is frequently accompanied by ferocious work from auxiliary equipment such as steel pipes and cowbells, which maintain the craziness of this story. Meanwhile, Desplat also manages to incorporate a set of bamboo whistles into perfectly idiosyncratic melodies. In all of this effort, he totally succeeds in making a Western film sound as foreign as possible to audiences while still making it not sound too alien to enjoy. With some truly stunning stop-motion animation, an appropriately self-aware cast, and a compelling story that flies by through its 101 minute-long runtime, Isle of Dogs is a whimsical adventure that occasionally gets bogged down in politics. Fans of Wes Anderson will certainly have a lot to chow down on repeat viewings, even though this definitely isn’t measured up to his finest work. One last thing: If you say the title fast enough, you’ll begin saying, “I love dogs.” And this movie might just convert you to a lover, if you aren’t one already.

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“Ready Player One” Movie Review

Y’all are talking about all of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references abound in this movie, but NONE of them made me feel more warm or nostalgic than seeing the Amblin Entertainment logo at the beginning. Only a true follower of 80’s pop culture like Halliday would probably get that same feeling. This dystopian sci-fi adventure from director Steven Spielberg held a surprise premiere at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival, where it debuted to positive critical response. Originally scheduled release in theaters on March 30th, the producers saw the potential of the Good Friday weekend and it arrived a day early. Raking in over $109 million worldwide in the first few days, it is now projected to become the director’s highest-grossing film in years. Based on Ernest Cline’s book of the same name, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the adaptation wallowed in development hell for a few years primarily due to securing rights to all of the references in the book. After Spielberg came aboard, it was only a matter of how many they could actually keep, with his public proclamation that many of his own movies would be avoided- with a few exceptions. The 2-hour and 20 minute-long story takes place in the dystopian future of 2045 when reality has become such a resource-depleted place that most of them retreat to a virtual reality called The OASIS. One of those people is Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan, whose avatar Parzival is something of a loser obsessed with pop culture from the 1980’s. When the creator James Halliday dies with no heirs, he creates a contest: Whoever can find an Easter Egg in his game first will inherit his entire fortune and control of The OASIS. Soon, Parzival grabs the first clue and finds himself thrust into a situation rife with allies and players who are literally willing to kill to get the Egg, all while learning the difference between the real world and the virtual one. Full disclosure before going on further: I’ve read the book by Ernest Cline numerous times before they even announced the cast. While the plot sometimes felt overwhelmed by the nostalgia and references, I was constantly wowed by the epic adventure. Hearing that Steven Spielberg, the man behind many of the book’s influences, would be directing the adaptation felt like a cinephile’s wet dream, especially after the epic first trailer. While news that the movie deviated heavily from the source material created great skepticism among many, I still remained the optimist. That optimism paid off dearly because Ready Player One was a blast for me to watch. I can see, however, that a lot of people are going to be turned off by the wave of pop culture references. In fact, the amount that can be found in the movie is practically exhausting. To me, this wasn’t really window-dressing so much as a look into someone like Wade, whose fanboyism has almost divorced him from the real world. Honestly, it could have gone a little more in-depth about the subject, but for the most part, the movie is able to walk the line. It’s not really about condemning or advocating fandoms of any kind, but rather asking what they do for the individual and where they lead to. The cast is well-aware that they’re in a Spielbergian adventure and are reveling in every moment of it. Tye Sheridan plays the part of Wade Watts like a classic hero as if he were convinced that he was a lovechild between a superhero and a John Hughes protagonist. While some of the dialogue is corny and exposition-heavy, he convincingly plays a kid struggling with identity. Opposite him are Lena Waithe and Olivia Cooke as Aech and Artemis. They both elevate beyond the archetypes of “best friend” or “love interest” and are given full personalities and concerns. Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg play James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, the two creators of The OASIS. While their screentime is limited, we get to see both ends of the VR argument; Morrow is concerned about the substitute for reality while Halliday just never fits in anywhere else. Other supporters like Philip Zhao, Hannah John-Kamen, Win Morisaki, and T.J. Miller add interesting extras to the package but aren’t given a whole lot of room to develop into full, interesting characters. Biggest surprise goes to Ben Mendohlson as Nolan Sorrento, head of the nefarious corporation I.O.I. While he initially seems like a generic big-suit bad guy, we later get to see how little value he sees in The OASIS beyond money. The fact that his avatar is completely uninspired is a rich rip on his lack of imagination in a world full of it. And the director proves once again that even 32 feature films into his career, he’s still got it behind the camera. Most of his regular collaborators return with him. Janus Kaminski’s fluid camera movements? Check. Michael Kahn’s clever editing between both reality and The OASIS? Check. Adam Stockhausen’s brilliant, grungy production design of the Stacks and other places? Check. The big winner here, though, is Industrial Lights & Magic with their glorious visual effects. Even with nearly 317 movies under their belt, the motion capture work done to bring The OASIS to life is magnificent, some of the best done in the movies yet. Each avatar and location is crafted with care and craft. The climactic battle sequence is one of the largest-in-scale I’ve ever seen in a movie theater, but nothing felt hard to follow in the slightest. The amount of references they were able to pack in here warrants a rewatch alone. This is one of the only Spielberg films in which John Williams did not compose the musical score, instead taken care of by Alan Silvestri. And he does a fantastic job, giving us a soundtrack worthy of the films that it wants to pay homage to. The main theme is like a clever homage to several “heroic” musical themes of the past such as Indiana Jones, employing all sorts of different classic styles. You’ve got your Williams with piercing horns, James Horner with epic accompanying vocals, a bit of dynamic percussion like Jerry Goldsmith, and beautiful swelling strings like Silvestri himself. They all come together to create an eclectic and genuinely original soundtrack, on top of some of the most recognizable songs from 1980’s played just for keeps. At this point in his career, I don’t think it’s possible for the director to make a terrible movie. Not even if he tried. There are definitely quite a few people who aren’t going to be won over by this one, either because of its overwhelming nostalgia, strong deviations from the book, or clear messages. Though its character development leaves something to be desired, for me, Ready Player One is a really fun adventure with loving homages to its influences. It’s certainly no masterpiece, but beyond anything, it shows that the 71-year-old still knows how to craft an enthralling adventure, even if it feels like cruise-control sometimes. Doubting Steven Spielberg’s ability to entertain audiences always makes you look like an idiot, even if the results aren’t always amazing.

“Mute” Movie Review

Chasing your dream project for years on end can typically be a respectable endeavor. But when they result in something like this, maybe it wasn’t the best idea. This poorly conceived cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi drama was released by Netflix on February 23rd, 2018. Although its actual budget remains unknown at the moment, the film received a wave of negative reviews from critics. Written and directed by Duncan Jones, the same man behind Moon, Source Code, and (Unfortunately) Warcraft, the film is purported to be a passion project of his, with the earliest draft being written back in the 2000’s. Jones himself has described it as a spiritual sequel to Moon, and there’s even a scene with Sam Rockwell cameoing in his previous role. Set in a futuristic version of the city of Berlin, Alexander Skarsgård stars as a mute Amish bartender named Leo who struggles to stay in touch with the technological world around him. After a fateful night, his girlfriend Naadirah, who works at the same club as him, vanishes without a trace. As she is the only person who truly communicates with him, Leo follows a series of clues in Berlin that ropes him into a world of prostitutes, black market dealers, and two American army surgeons who seem to be the center of it all. To be upfront here, unlike many other critics that have reviewed this film, I have not seen any of Jones’ previous works. I do plan on watching Moon and Source Code soon, but Warcraft is one I’ve been hesitant on. Seeing all the bad press that that video game adaptation received, one would hope that he would be able to bounce back from it. And for a long while, this Netflix Original was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. Even after reading some of the negative reviews, I figured this movie couldn’t possibly so terrible and unwatchable, right? Well… it’s pretty bad, guys. It’s also a damn tragedy for me to say this because Duncan Jones tried to get it off the ground for several years. The son of the late David Bowie (Who’s given a heartfelt tribute in the end credits) promoted it heavily on social media, sharing set photos and concept art almost daily. And that’s all great and dandy. Anyone who wants to make a lifelong passion project and share it with the world has already got my vote. Moreso than that, I always support anyone who wants to make an original science-fiction movie on a big studio budget. Netflix marketed this as their next big blockbuster, much like last year’s Bright. Also, like Bright, Mute fails at being either compelling or intriguing. Skarsgård has impressed me in past films with his performances, but something with Leo just felt off. I know it’s incredibly hard to act without any words, and he does a good job in some scenes, but most of the time he feels annoying and stupid. And that entire thread of him being an Amish man just feels tacked on. His girlfriend, Seyneb Saleh, isn’t any better and spends her spare moments whining and begging for a man. Ant-Man himself Paul Rudd is by far the best performer in the entire film as Cactus Bill, one of the American surgeons. Though his demeanor is uneven and acts like a conceded jerk, he clearly looks like he’s having the time of his life and is (mostly) able to power through the clunky dialogue. His best friend, played by Justin Theroux… is a pedophile. That’s not an exaggeration; Theroux’s character has a sexual attraction to young children in this movie. Admittedly, he does a fine job at being creepy and uncomfortable but the fact that it is played off like some sort of joke is wrong and honestly gross. As far as the technical aspects go, Mute doesn’t have too much going on that separates it from the cyberpunk noir genre. From the neon-soaked streets of night-time Berlin to the filthy interior buildings, the production designers try really hard to be like Blade Runner, a movie that will, unfortunately, get many comparisons to. The cinematography by Gary Shaw often opts for long wide shots, especially for some of the action sequences. Though it does provide a sense of character for the setting, showing as much of the world as possible without being too disorienting. Surprisingly, there’s a sparse amount of CGI used to create this futuristic setting, mostly relying on practical sets and oddball costumes to bring it to life. It definitely adds up to a grimy, lived-in feeling that it’s unfortunately unable to rise out of. Clint Mansell, one of the most versatile composers in the industry, gives us the musical score for this film. Taken as a whole, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a picture like this. The vast majority of the tracks consist heavily of synthesized beats and melodies, some of which seemingly go on indefinitely. On occasion, a new bit of percussion or strings were come in and reach for sentimentality in the story. Although that aspect failed, the soundtrack itself is actually pretty good to listen to and helps establish the somber tone of this world. But the film overall is wildly uneven in both pacing and tone. The first half is a slog to get through and even though it admittedly goes out on a high note, it would be perfectly reasonable if you turned it off by then. And the film seems unsure of whether it wants to be an all-in sci-fi extravaganza or a contemplative noir drama. Mute is a visually appealing busfire devoid of charm or pleasant characters. I could see why some people actually like Warcraft, but I have a hard time seeing anyone enjoying this Netflix Original. It makes me temper my expectations for all of their future content. And the saddest part of all is that, at the end of the day, Duncan Jones has nobody but himself to blame for this.

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“Annihilation” Movie Review

I almost don’t know what to say. I just… I… Words are escaping me now. Well, I guess structural integrity is the way to go. Here goes nothing. This trippy science-fiction horror marks the second directorial effort of Alex Garland, following his massively acclaimed debut Ex Machina in 2015. Produced on a budget of around $40 million, the film has thus far earned back over $11 million following its stateside release on February 23rd, 2018. I suspect that a large portion of its profit will come from the United States, as international audiences won’t get to see it in a conventional manner. That’s something that I’ll explain more on in a little bit. Though it’s adapted from the first part in a literary trilogy, Alex Garland has said that he approached the source material as its own story, which he took from and morphed freely. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a cellular biologist hired by a mysterious program called the Southern Reach. Following her thought-to-be deceased husband Kane’s sudden reappearance, she learns of a quarantined zone called The Shimmer that has been cut off from the rest of civilization. She then agrees to go out into the Shimmer with four other female experts and hopes to find new evidence of what happened to Kane and just what the heck is going on here. I loved Ex Machina, Garland’s debut feature. In an age where we’re practically surrounded by rip-offs and reboots and sequels that decades late, the screenwriter behind 28 Days Later and Sunshine created an original breath of fresh sci-fi that leaned more on speculative ideas than spectacle. And in anticipation for his new release, I read the VanderMeer novel, and can tell you two things. First, it’s one of the weirdest and boldest stories in recent fiction. Second, the film adaptation took massive liberties with the source material yet found ways to make its ideas still profound and complex. Hands down, either Annihilation will be the best movie I’ll see this year or 2018 is going to be an incredible year for cinema. It’s sad, however, that not everyone in the world will get to experience it in a traditional sense. Apparently, an executive from Paramount Pictures demanded that changes be made both to the ending and the main character, sighting it as “too intellectual” or “too complicated” for a wide audience. In response, producer Scott Rudin, who retains rights to the final cut, took Garland’s side and refused any notes or changes. As a result, while folks in the U.S. and China will get to see it in theaters, international audiences will have a chance to watch it 17 days later… premiering on Netflix. While I’m not necessarily opposed to Netflix picking up distribution rights for a film, this decision makes me really upset. No matter how large you 4K television is and even if you can watch it on the go, nothing will compare to sitting down in a dark theater and soaking it all in. The lengthy discourse I had with a handful of strangers after it finished is proof enough. Over the last few years, Natalie Portman has consistently proven to be one of my favorite actresses working today. Her performance here is a truly versatile one, bouncing between traumatized and tough-as-nails with ease. A damaged soul, some may find her character to be unlikable, but it’s honestly refreshing to watch a sci-fi movie where the female lead isn’t just a damsel in distress or a love interest. And she’s surrounded by Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny as her teammates. You get a glimpse of each of their individual personalities and every decision they made in the Shimmer was intelligent and reasonable. Oscar Isaac also does great work as Kane, subverting the traditional idea of a traumatized soldier. He initially gives a very wooden performance, but the reasons for it become clear later on. Meanwhile, on a technical scale, this film is nothing short of astounding. The visual effects inside of The Shimmer are something to behold, rarely have on-screen visuals been so simultaneously beautiful yet also terrifying. I won’t actually describe any of them for you so that you can be as surprised as I was watching it. But Garland managed to pull off a number of creature designs from the book I thought would have been impossible to visualize. The lush green landscapes and unique animals can be noticeably CGI, but the fantastic production design and ethereal lighting make it all the more pleasant to look at. Meanwhile, the cinematography by Rob Hardy feels like something straight out of a John Carpenter film. Wonderful, steady wideshots of both the Southern Reach outpost and the landscapes inside The Shimmer feel lucid and almost dreamlike. The widescreen format and excellent lighting allows for an intense, immersive atmosphere that feels so lacking in other horror films. Composers Ban Salisbury and Geoff Barrow both provide the musical score, which perfectly fits the surreal tone of the film. In some of the more mundane scenes, it just consists of an acoustic guitar getting plucked with some accompanying percussion. But during some of the more fantastical moments, it shifts into an ambient mix of synthesizers and suppressed strings. Interestingly, this dichotomy works perfectly to explore the duality of the characters’ situation and bring out a genuine reaction from the audience. The last 15 minutes of the movie are almost dialogue-free, save for that powerful music. As a result, my jaw just dropped. However, I can appreciate that this movie is not for everyone. Like the novel, this movie is like a modern-day H.P. Lovecraft story. For those unfamiliar, H.P. Lovecraft was one of the fathers of horror fiction, creating the myth of Cthulu. In all of his stories, as well as ones that imitated them, the main theme involved ordinary characters trying (And failing) to make sense of the impossible. If you’re unable to accept that from the beginning, then you’ll just be left behind. For those with the fortitude to wait it out and really soak it all in, Annihilation is a stunning, psychedelic piece of science-fiction cinema. Whether you love it or hate it, this is a movie that is going to stick with you long after the credits start rolling. Luckily for people like me, that’s a feeling that I cherish these days with the current studio system.

“The Discovery” Movie Review

Oh yeah, we’ve got even more reviews of Netflix films are coming to you all this week. Trying to cram in some last minute spots as the year begins to come to a close. Just wish it was a better movie that I started out with. Released on the streaming giant on March 31st, 2017, this dystopian science-fiction romance premiered out of competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival- one of many purchases made by Netflix this year. The film marks the second feature film of writer-director Charlie McDowell, who had previously made the sci-fi thriller The One I Love. With this film, it could be argued that McDowell is creating a sustained filmography of high concept futuristic dystopias-that all goe to video-on-demand, that is. The story is set in the near-future where a scientist named Thomas Harbor, played by Robert Redford, has made a breakthrough that proves the existence of the afterlife. This unintentionally leads to an all-time high rate of suicides around the world, which causes his son Will, played by Jason Segel, to alienate himself from the family. After he meets a mysterious woman named Isla, they both set out to find out more about Harbor’s discovery and the implications it could have for the world. From the description I just gave you, you could go one of two ways. First, one might think that The Discovery is one of the more original and cerebral science-fiction pictures of recent years. But another, then, might retort that it is an unofficial feature-length episode of the British anthology series Black Mirror. (Which itself has feature-length episodes) I’d be willing to entertain both arguments because the premise is quite fascinating. And it opens up on a promising note with a rather brilliant prologue that teases something truly unique and special. But when the movie ends, that’s all it apparently reveals itself as: a 102 minute-long tease. The movie evidently tries to infuse some religious themes into the narrative every now and then. Being about the afterlife, this makes sense. Science vs religion isn’t really a new topic in the genre, but in the case of this movie, they really do try to put in some thought and time to it. “What kind of atheist talks to God?” a cynical Will Harbor says as some characters take part in a group prayer. This is a decently powerful question that doesn’t seem to get much of a payoff. When it comes to the acting department, it’s a really mixed bag. Jason Segel is a very funny and warm actor, but he feels miscast as a severely unhappy man. He spends the majority of his screentime moping around this dreary future just like everyone else seems to be doing. In contrast, Robert Redford and Jesse Plemons do fine work as his father and brother, respectively. They both really feel like a father and son duo with a sense of uncertainty and distrust among them, despite their charismatic outward appearances. Rooney Mara rounds out the main cast as the primary love interest Isla. She’s okay, but her chemistry with Segel falls flat in every scene they’re together. Technically speaking, The Discovery is rather singular. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography evokes something that David Fincher might have directed, with steady shots of characters in almost every scenario. Nearly every shot is dark or toned down to look even bleaker. The color palette, meanwhile, is absolutely grey and cold like it belongs in the winter. Textures are muted, too, all to contribute to a seemingly grim and hopeless future our world will inevitably lead to. The musical score also deserves some commentary. Composed by Danny Bansi and Saunder Juriaans, most of the soundtrack consists of mellow piano melodies and low strings like cellos. They are most prominent in scenes of major emotional pull but are usually put in the background. It helped further enhance the melancholy mood of the overall story, never once over-intensifying for manipulation. The film also ends with the song “Arrival in Nara” by the band alt-J which felt appropriate for the gloomy feeling that permeates throughout. I can’t imagine myself rushing out to iTunes to pick up the soundtrack, but I enjoyed it as it went on in the moment. But where the film falters most is its story. Like I said, the opening prologue is very well-crafted and set up the rest of the movie to be a potentially interesting commentary on desires. Yet it felt like Charlie McDowell and co-writer Justin Lader came up with a really great concept but didn’t quite know where to take it. That’s because the film ends in unsatisfyingly familiar territory that feels like a disservice to what it began as. Maybe that’s because the characters aren’t really worth rooting for. They’re hard to connect with and none of them are really compelling enough to get invested in. All the setup early on seems like their arcs are going somewhere and they just don’t. As the end credits rolled, I sat on my couch feeling unsatisfied by their journey and wished something more could have been done. That’s what The Discovery is. The beautiful aesthetic and concept are bogged down by a meager script and detached character interactions. It starts out promising but ends up becoming a frustration in the lack of interest in its own story. It could have been so much more and wound up being a hollow and uninspired mess. Not necessarily bad. Just a wasted opportunity.

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“Blade Runner 2049” Movie Review

I have been sitting at my desktop for the past two hours trying to come up with the words to describe my feelings toward this film. This sci-fi noir thriller from director Denis Villeneuve opened on October 6th, 2017. Budgeted at about $155 million, the movie has thus far only made back around $82 million in its opening weekend worldwide. Rumors of a sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic original circled around Hollywood as far back as 1999. In 2015, after Scott stepped down from the directing chair to the position of a producer, it was officially announced that Villeneuve was in charge of directing duties with the new cast filled out soon after. So much like the new Star Wars trilogy, a 35-year-old dream has become a reality. Set 30 years after the events of the original film, a new blade runner named LAPD Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling, discovers a secret that could potentially destroy the remains of human and replicant society. His journey takes him on a path that eventually leads to Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, the star of the original film. When this film came out, press screenings received personal notes from Villeneuve himself to keep spoilers out of their reviews. That is so refreshing to hear in a major studio production. Even though there are some characters and plot points I don’t consider to be spoiler-y, out of respect for the director, I will not discuss the story any further. Instead, I will discuss how genuinely excited yet cautious I was with this sequel. I loved the original by Ridley Scott, especially the Final Cut version. But decades-later follow-ups rarely pay off well, especially for a film that’s so beloved as Blade Runner. But Denis Villeneuve delivered us Arrival, my favorite film from last year and one of the best science-fiction films in recent memory. This 2017 film is even better than that. Starting with the performances, Ryan Gosling once again proves his leading man status as a tormented protagonist. Caught in something of a crossfire, his journey is one of self-discovery as he learns more about the world around him and we get to learn more about his past. Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks play the primary antagonists this time around and are both great. Leto is a creepy weirdo like he usually is and Hoeks was a downright menacing Terminator-esque hit-woman. Robyn Wright, Lennie James, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abdi, and Hiam Abbass fill out the supporting cast. The film does a great job at fleshing out everyone who is pertinent to the story, making them all feel like tangible individuals rather than archetypes. Harrison Ford returns to play Rick Deckard after 35 years, and much like his performance in The Force Awakens slips back into the role with ease. A major concern many people had was whether this sequel would ruin the mystery of if he is a human being or not. But thankfully, screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green opt for strong implications rather than overt explanations, allowing us to pick this character back up after decades of absence. Technically speaking, this is the most complete motion picture of the year. Nominated 13 times but never taking home a trophy, the inimitable cinematographer Roger Deakins has crafted his best shot yet at the Oscars. Most of it is taken on-camera and contrasts gorgeous colors with harsh, controlled lighting. Even if it was on a sound stage, it looked incredibly real. And the beautiful, elongated direction of Villeneuve made it all the more compelling, especially with the (sparse) CGI surrounding the sets and characters. I saw this movie in IMAX and I implore you to see this movie on the biggest screen with the loudest speakers possible. The sound design and particularly the musical score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallifisch are glorious to the ears. Replacing Vangelis for the soundtrack, the two of them crafted their own beast while not losing sight of what made the original literally sound great. At least on par with their work on this year’s Dunkirk, the incredible synthesizers mixed with orchestral beats creates an eery, uncertain atmosphere perfect for the world. During some action scenes or moments of intense emotion, the score would practically drown out every other sound. I will definitely be picking this soundtrack up on disc as soon as I can, even for some of the more ambient tracks of introspection. But notice how I said “some” action scenes. Much like the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is much more investigative and concerned with meditating on ideas than putting out scene after scene of nonstop action. That could have been so easy for the studio to do, but this movie takes its time to tell the fascinating story. It’s running at 2 hours and 45 minutes long, and at times, I thought it was something of an epic. The film is definitely slow and deliberate in its pacing, but it’s never once boring. With every frame a painting and such craftsmanship on display, I don’t see how one could hate this movie. And whereas the original had very broad themes to share, this sequel has very specific ideas on its mind. In regards to identity and how prejudice can shape that for you and the consequences of keeping a society in order, it’s all quite relevant with everything happening recently. Wright’s character points out, “The world is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there’s no wall you bought a war… or a slaughter.” Arguably better than its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is everything that science-fiction should be, with arresting photography and thoughtful introspection. Everything about it reminds me why I love movies and why I want to someday make one. With this film, Denis Villeneuve has become arguably the best living director of this generation. And I’m excited to see more of his work to come.

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“Mother!” Movie Review

Jeez, Daren Aronofsky! You beautiful, creative, courageous, unapologetic, batshit crazy, magnificent bastard. Way to make me feel uncomfortable in a filled auditorium with complete strangers. This controversial psychological horror film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, garnering both boos and a standing ovation. It has received a limited release on September 15th, 2017, and will continue to expand in later weeks, earning over $15 million on a $30 million budget. After the wide emotional response for Noah, Aronofsky initially wanted to make a family film. But the project couldn’t come to light and wrote the screenplay for Mother! instead, which apparently took him five days to complete. I think it’s safe to say that his brain was on fire. What’s this movie about? Well, that’s actually pretty tough. At a surface level, Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem played a married couple who live a tranquil life in a secluded house. One day, some uninvited guests, played by Michelle Pfieffer and Ed Harris, arrive at their door asking for some middle-of-the-road help. And from there, some truly insane and unpredictable things happen to our protagonists. I have rarely seen such a divided reaction from people on a new film. Critics, while not entirely positive, have agreed on their pleasure on the movie. Audiences, however, have gone out of their way to trash it, even scoring it an F on the website CinemaScore. But considering that they gave films like Transformers and The Emoji Movie relatively good grades, I don’t really trust it. And I know some people personally who didn’t like the movie at all, which is understandable. I, however, was riveted almost the entire time. From the getgo, I want to make it clear that this is not a movie for everyone. If you go into this movie expecting a straightforward or conventional film based solely on the premise of the trailer, you’re going to be very disappointed. It is extremely metaphorical in the story from beginning to end which I’ll discuss later on. For the first half of the film, it’s relatively normal yet creepy, building the tension and establishing the characters. But- and what I’m about to say is going to sound hyperbolic but I assure you it is not -the last 30-45 minutes of the movie is the most disturbing and disgusting piece of cinema I’ve ever seen in my life. And this is coming from someone who sat through Antichrist, The VVitch, Sicario, and Requiem For a Dream. As much flak as she’s gotten in recent years for phoned-in performances in major franchises, Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in the lead role. She’s in almost every single scene of the movie, and she’s not charming or funny. She’s on-edge, unhappy, and could snap at any moment. Almost 20 years her senior, Javier Bardem provides as with another committed role. He’s a poet with an obsession, but different than that of Anton Chigurh or Raoul Silva. His obsession isn’t based on murder or anger, but rather with celebrity. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer show they haven’t lost their touch after so many years of acting, giving some of their best performances. If I were to judge this film based purely on filmmaking techniques, then Mother! would be the best of the year. This is a Darren Aronofsky film through and through, so you’re going to see a lot of close-up shots of the protagonists’ faces. It does a pretty neat job at making the audience feel uncomfortable. Matthew Libatique keeps the camera steady and focused, very rarely giving in to shaky cam hijinks. It’s only matched with the visceral editing of Andrew Weisblum, who previously worked with the director on Black Swan. It’s chopped together in a frantic yet cohesive manner that never panders to the audience. Some of the most frightening things that happen, we barely any of it. Also worth noting is the complete absence of a musical score in this film. Without the help of collaborator of Clint Mansell, Johann Johannson was apparently onboard to write the soundtrack for the movie. But after watching the synchronized version, they apparently agreed to let the movie play with virtually no music. And in some ways, I feel that it made the film even more effective in creeping out the audience, as it got a few genuine scares out of people with the need for jolts of strings to signify jumpscares. But like I said if you go into this movie expecting a straightforward horror flick like the ads promised, look somewhere else. Like I said, Mother! is not a piece of conventional filmmaking. Inherently, it’s all one big metaphor for something I never thought of. Actually, there are multiple interpretations of what the plot could mean, depending on your viewing. The relationship between God and the Earth, how celebrity affects a person’s needs, environmental abuse, as well as Cain and Abel. If you are at all familiar with the Bible, you are probably going to pick up more than a few references. But I really can’t overstate how truly disturbing and cage-rattling this film is. During the last 45 minutes of the movie, my jaw was dropped in amazement at what happened inside the house. When it was all over, most of the fellow patrons were discussed what they thought. I sat through the credits for about 2 minutes because I was left speechless. Although not for the weak-stomached, faint of heart, or less-than-patient, Mother! is a visceral and unrelenting symphony of madness in marriage. If you approach it with an open mind, it will be something truly unique. You have never seen anything like this before. And considering the current climate of big studio blockbusters, I think it’s a good thing that people are talking about this movie. Paramount, you had some balls.

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