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Blade Runner 2049

Film Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: This review deliberately omits any real details of the plot, because Blade Runner 2049 is best enjoyed with all its twists unknown, just like the journey Ridley Scott first offered to viewers thirty five years ago.

Watching Blade Runner’s final cut at the B.F.I. two years ago was the closest I have come to having a religious experience. I still remember digging my fingers into the armchair as the camera swooped down onto the rooftop of the L.A.P.D. building while Vangelis’ haunting synthetic score rose to a crescendo. Blade Runner 2049 begins with a literal eye opening once more that surveys the surreal landscape of a future Los Angeles, born from Phillip. K. Dick’s Cold War vision and Ridley Scott’s direction. Once more the same euphoria washed over me as a car fluttered across the screen and pushed back the horizon’s edge. All my scepticism for Blade Runner 2049 was unwarranted.

Neither a sequel nor a spiritual successor, Blade Runner 2049 is a chapter in the exquisite world first witnessed over thirty years ago, created by people who both understand and love the original. Passing the mantle from Blade Runner’s director Ridley Scott to Denis Villeneuve was the correct decision. Scott remains a great director but the taste he has developed for C.G.I over practical effects in recent years has betrayed the grounded future of Alien in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Scott would have likely had the same effect on Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve has kept Blade Runner’s engrossing visual realism alive by intermingling leftover concepts from the original with his own ideas. The Los Angeles from Blade Runner’s 2019 remains but is peppered with additions made by a predicted future grounded in the modern day. Blade Runner 2049 visits the world outside L.A. that Ridley Scott always wanted to include in the original. The film starts in a midwestern dust bowl swirling across bone-white synthetic farms in an environmentally exhausted world. A farmer emerges from a hydroponic tunnel of protein vats draped in a hazmat suit, covered in tubes and plastic. The farmer, the farm, and the world beyond, adorned by minute details, transcend the screen and become tangible.

A sense of reincarnation permeates Blade Runner 2049, concluding that the struggle between replicants and humans will perennially repeat itself. Echoes of the people and places from 2019 peel throughout the film like the old bones of Las Vegas which peek through the new structures above. The unbridled anger of replicant Luv (Slyvia Hoeks) is reminiscent of replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and his childlike fury at an indifferent universe. Deckard’s own mention of Treasure Island is a reference to fellow Blade Runner Dave Holden, who reveals that the novel is his favourite book during a deleted scene in Blade Runner

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Rodger Deakins have created their finest work in Blade Runner 2049. Deakins conveys the dichotomy of the alien and the familiar in Blade Runner 2049’s world. He superimposes the structure of future L.A. over the individual characters while recognisable words and brands from English to Urdu spread across the cityscape. The depth of field in these scenes, especially when focusing on Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling), reinforces how tiny and equally inconsequential humans and replicants are in this strange new metropolis. Deakin’s masterful manipulation of colour segments the world. The smoggy grey and matte black of Los Angeles contrast with the rusted browns of the San Diego junkyards. Las Vegas stands derelict, swathed in a thick sodium orange soup as the desert swirls in silence. Deakins deserves every award he is nominated for this year.

Blade Runner 2049‘s visual opulence is matched by its bravery to broach the philosophical themes established in Blade Runner. The replicants in Blade Runner denote the arbitrary divides in human societies as I said in my 4th Wall piece here. Blade Runner 2049 returns to this central idea and offers a unique conclusion. The world of Blade Runner 2049 quickly reveals the schisms between humans themselves when K encounters fagin-esque orphanage manager Mister Cotton (Lennie James) in the bowels of the San Diego junkyards.

Beyond effects and cinematography, Blade Runner felt real because of its characters which were living and believable beings. At every rung of society which Blade Runner 2049 visits, the characters are alive and belong in this universe; from megalomaniac industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to toughly pragmatic L.A.P.D. chief Madam (Robin Wright). The personalities and motivations of the people K crosses propel the world around him. Unlike other modern blockbusters, Blade Runner 2049 is willing to financially invest in its characters by casting major stars like Jared Leto to convincingly depict supporting roles.

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Jared Leto as Niander Wallace

K was written for Ryan Gosling and no other modern actor excels at being a sympathetic vessel of violence. Watching Gosling in Drive, he effortlessly switches between tranquillity and rage while menace always smolders in his eyes. Contrasted to the silent Driver from DriveBlade Runner 2049’s refreshingly gentle pace lets the humanity and complexity of K seep out from his tough exterior. Harrison Ford gives his best performance since Blade Runner in his return to the role of Blade Runner Deckard, a man changed in the thirty years since the original. Wiser and warier, Ford’s performance is more emotionally charged than the hero he depicted in 1982, reflecting the price Deckard has paid to remain free.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch mesmerisingly emulates the classic soundtrack for the original Blade Runner by Vangelis. The noises of the world enmesh into the pulsating songs by Zimmer and Wallfish, perfecting the sound and vision of Blade Runner 2049.

Fans of Blade Runner have received a sequel they never deserved. Blade Runner 2049 is the best film of 2017.

By Saul Shimmin


My god. This film rocked me to my core with its sweeping opening of dust-ridden California as Zimmer and Wallfisch’s harsh, post-industrial score trumpeted over the speakers. If the Academy fails to nominate this film for every category (everything from Makeup & Hairstyling to Film Editing to Best Picture) it will be the greatest tragedy since Shakespeare in Love stole Best Picture from Saving Private Ryan in 1999.

Like Saul, I do not want to ruin any plot points, but I am dying to sing this movie’s praises.

The best part of the Blade Runner 2049 was its plot themes. They attacked issues that are just arising today, but will vastly affect our lives in the near future. I’m talking about Artificial Intelligence or AI and questions like makes something “alive.” Is it soul? Is it the ability to feel pain? Is it having the capability to reason? These are matters that may seem ridiculous to consider especially as Siri or Cortana struggles to understand your command to call your mom. But in due time, these will become problems that our generation will have to solve especially with the pace Apple, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants are pouring money into developing AI. Blade Runner 2049 expanded on themes raised in movies like Her, Ex Machina, and, of course, the original Blade Runner.

Raising such social questions and projecting the technology of the future used to be what science fiction did best. With recent rubbish films like Flatliners, Transcendence, and Ghost in the Shell, it was refreshing to let this movie challenge my mind and open it to the possibility of crazy technology that could soon be in my living room.  

The next best facet of the film was its settings and set designs. The post-apocalyptic world (society hadn’t been extinct, but the world had survived some nuclear blasts and mass plant extinction) was unsettling. The fact that some characters had never seen trees and that one city spanned the horizon like the mega cities in Dredd struck me at how fragile our planet is and how sad our existence would be without nature. However, it was not just the emotions that the sets sparked that made me love them. It was also their detail. Alessandra Querzola, the film’s set decorator, made sure to film them with junk, giving Blade Runner 2049 the used world aesthetic that George Lucas first introduced to the sci-fi world with Star Wars. Because of all the little things like exposed pipes, Coca-Cola ads, and all the curious trinkets in Doc Badger’s (Barkhad Abdi) shop, the movie’s realism was superb and provided it with a certain horror that such a dead world could be ours.

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Post-apocalyptic Los Angeles

Finally, apart from Denis Villeneuve, who has entered my Directors Hall of Fame that includes Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and Danny Boyle, the movie’s actors were the icing on Blade Runner 2049. The greatest surprise was Villeneuve’s casting of Dave Bautista as the replicant, Sapper Morton. Bautista has slowly been climbing into the A-list ranks from his WWE origins and, I would argue, doing a better job than Dwayne Johnson. Despite his hulking figure (I think he slimmed down for this role) his movements were precise, his words exquisitely spoken, and his emotions, raw. It was a drastic reversal from the loud and humorous role of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, which reveals Bautista’s acting range is quite diverse. However, Bautista was not alone in acting excellence. Each actor/actress in the film similarly excelled in each of their roles. There was not one scene that was over or under-acted.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to dislike seeing movies twice, especially while they’re still in theaters. I normally get bored on second viewings after knowing the twists and turns of a plot. Blade Runner 2049, however, is a film I am dying to see again. And soon. I recommend you go enjoy this movie as soon as possible.

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below;

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Spider-Man Homecoming

Movie Score4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Hannibal Buress, Laura Harrier, & Tony Revolori

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: The mutated spider has already bit Peter Parker and transformed him into Spider-Man. The movie commences a few months after Spidey disarmed Captain America. While technically part of the Avengers, Peter has to remain in Queens, fighting petty criminals because Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) commanded him to lay low and be “a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.”  Frustrated with such limitations, Peter sets off to fight “serious crime” in order to prove his worth as an Avenger to Tony and his assistant, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). On this quest, Peter discovers Adrian Toomes/The Vulture/Birdman (Michael Keaton), a former construction contractor, who is now scavenging and selling alien weaponry from The Avengers invasion on the black market. After seeing the destruction such weapons are capable of, Peter sets out to defeat The Vulture whilst balancing a normal high school life. A great movie ensues.

Heading into the movie, I felt disappointed. A week early, I had read a review that stated Spider-Man Homecoming was purely a franchise building machine with only small moments of humor and few redeeming qualities. Ladies and gentlemen, friends, families, and readers, let me be the first and hopefully not the last to tell you the aforementioned review was wrong.

The movie’s teenage characters were my favorite part (besides the villain Toomes). Tom Holland phenomenally portrayed Peter Parker. I’m so glad he did not try to emulate Toby Maguire’s sniveling, wimpy version of Peter. Instead, Holland imbues Peter with humorous and nerdy, yet subtly cool, qualities. Together with Jacob Batalon’s hilarious character, Ned, the two form a wonderful duo who made me laugh a lot more than I expected. Normally, six screenwriters on one film signals trouble, but in this one the writers created and gave Ned and Peter some fantastic quips. However, they didn’t hoard all the best lines for the main characters. Zendaya’s hipster Michelle several great lines. I wish they had also decided to make Michelle a more prominent character since she stole all her scenes.

Like Zendaya, Keaton, of course, killed all his scenes. However, what made me love his character and the movie was not just his quality acting. It was also his character and his motives. Toomes began the movie as just an honest construction worker trying to take advantage of a good business opportunity: governmental contracts to help rebuild a destroyed New York City after the Chitauri army wrecks it in The Avengers. However, after losing the contract when the government discovers the power of the Chitauri weapons and asserts control over the reconstruction. This move leaves Toomes in a precarious position as he took out large loans to gather the men and equipment needed to take on such a job. Therefore, in order to support his family and his men’s families, he starts finding, fixing, and selling the alien weaponry on the black market.

I enjoyed Toomes because he was not a master villain trying to take over the world à la Loki. Instead, he was just a man doing whatever it takes to make ends meet and live the American dream. In an interesting conversation with Peter, Toomes asks him, what’s the difference between what he does and Tony Stark selling arms to the armies of the world. Such a question enters a fantastic grey area that Marvel likes to venture into and have successfully done so far like in The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  The question stumps Peter and it stumped me.

Target Audience: Teenagers, Marvel/DC/Disney lovers, and middle age adults. I’m counting out people over 50 based on my dad’s groans when he saw the trailer and children because the Vulture can, at times, be fearsome.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Life

Life is another addition to the sci-fi, creature feature/suspense category. The film begins with with a team aboard the International Space Station waiting to receive a probe carrying sediment samples from Mars. The team soon discovers that the samples carry a dormant, single-cell life form, the first life to be discovered outside of Earth. After introducing the cell to different environments, the team’s lead scientist, Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) awakens the cell and begins to nurture it. After accidentally frightening the alien, known as Calvin, enters survival mode and death ensues.

Movie Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average) 

 

–Spoilers Ahead–

While Life‘s special effects were breathtaking and often horrifying, I believe the movie’s screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo behind the fantastic films Zombieland and Deadpool) missed an opportunity to delve deeper into the dark recesses of humanity. They touched upon certain aspects of our existence: humans feelings of hatred, procreation, love, and unquestioning duty to protect one another. They even rationalized Calvin’s quest to massacre the crew as a survival-of-the-fittest reaction. However, they failed to appropriately address the humans’ survival instinct, leaving a rich topic untouched.

The writers’ first mistake was failing to provide themselves with the right characters to correctly portray life and enter the complex waters of humans’ animalistic survival-instincts. The International Space Station’s crew consisted of a bunch of overly rational, “good people.” CDC doctor, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who lived and died by her adherence to the code of her employer, pilot-come-physician, David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wanted to remain on the ISS and away from Earth, Sho Muraki (Hiroyuki Sananda) who’s wife just had a baby (that’s all we learn about Sho), the scientist Hugh Darry who loved other creatures (he was a good guy with an optimistic outlook despite being a paraplegic), the Russian who was kind, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Ryan Reynolds’ character Rory Adams who mostly acted like Ryan Reynolds. The writers created no gray characters, people who were willing to put their survival before their crew-mates. I realize there might be one or two “good” people on a crew of six, but lacking at least one selfish guy/gal, who is willing to sacrifice others to escape Calvin, is not only unrealistic, but boring.

Despite eventually realizing they needed to kill Calvin to survive, the crew always seemed to do so without any ethical conundrums. The closest the astronauts came to a dilemma occurred when Calvin first turned hostile in the lab. Despite some self-sacrifices by members of the crew to save the others, I never believed their acts of “love.” Their uniform kindness made them unbelievable as characters because humans are not so pure. We are sinful creatures at heart.

The writers should have created a greedy, evil, sinful character to match Calvin’s ferocity, to overturn all the “goodness” and “humanity” on the International Space Station. For a moment, I thought Sho was going to be that character, but the script never clarified if his attempt to reach the lifeboat was an act of selfishness or stupidity.

In sum,  Life failed to showcase humanity’s darkside, the side that executed the Holocaust, the side that commits terrorism on a daily basis, the side that massacred Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Instead, every crew member lived by their code, played nice, and died nice.

This is not to say the movie didn’t have its moments. In actuality, I enjoyed many parts of the film. I truly relished how Reese and Wernick overturned many of the monster genre’s conventions. For example, they didn’t allow the crew’s minority members to die first. Though the movie’s finish wasn’t unexpected, they managed to add a pleasant twist and resist the happy ending trope. Also, some of the crew’s deaths were quite imaginative, and I dug seeing Calvin’s motivation for murder (survival) grow .

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below: