Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ad Astra (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency Enterprises and Plan B

Ad Astra – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Director: James Gray

Synopsis: After the Earth experiences deadly power surges, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is recruited for a top secret space mission, in the belief that the events may be connected to his father’s own space mission that blasted off several years prior…

Review: Ever since humanity first blasted off into space back in 1961, there’s always been something of a fascination with what’s out there in the great chasm that is space, and the solar system. Indeed it is a subject that has inspired many filmmakers to try and approach this fascinating, and at the same time, terrifying void of eternal emptiness. Through all the space films that have graced the big screen over the years, one thing is crystal clear: being an astronaut takes some very serious guts.

Like his father before him, Roy McBride is an astronaut, and a damn good one at that too. When some unnatural power surges start to cause some problems back on Earth, a top secret briefing leads Roy back to the mission that his father Clifford (Jones) departed for several decades ago. Believing that said mission could pose some extremely serious risks to the survival of humanity, Roy must venture deep into the unforgiving world of space in the pursuit of his seemingly long lost father, and the answers to some essential questions that NASA believe Clifford possesses, that could be integral to humanity’s survival.

Given that the majority of the film features his character’s crucial mission, the entire movie is resting on Brad Pitt’s shoulders. It’s a responsibility he carries faultlessly as he turns in a very subdued, sombre, but yet extremely powerful performance. Though regrettably, the fact that Roy’s main mission is the focus for the majority of the film, it means that pretty much every other member of this cast is severely underutilised. None of them have enough screen time to make you care about their plight, which is frustrating as there definitely was potential for a further exploration of some of the other characters’s stories. This is especially frustrating when considering the talent of some of these actors and this is best exemplified by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her performance from Roy’s distant wife, played by Liv Tyler.

After going on an interstellar journey with Christopher Nolan, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography gives the film a rich visual majesty that perfectly captures the beauty and the terror that is space in equal measure. The production design and visual effects are so meticulously crafted, it makes it feel like the cast and crew actually went to the Moon and to the other planets beyond to film. James Gray’s screenplay, co-written with Ethan Gross, is cognitive and thoughtful. There are one or two action set pieces to get the pulses racing, but the film’s pacing is patient and methodical. There’s been no shortage of space films that have had awe-inspiring, heart-pounding intense scores, but Max Richter’s haunting, powerful score is right up there with the very best of them.

Though the film is not, and was never intending to be, an enthralling action spectacle set in the deepest depths of space. The film’s deliberately slowed-down pacing may begin to test the patience of the audience, particularly once the third act has come into view. Though not bereft of drama, the screenplay has some thought-provoking and bold ideas behind it. However. it doesn’t come nearly as close as other recent films of this genre in crafting something that has resonated as strongly as previous space films. Though if anyone was scared of space beforehand, after watching this, it will only reinforce their perspective that space is absolutely, completely terrifying.

Like astronauts themselves, the story’s extremely ambitious. However, even with an excellent performance from Brad Pitt, and some striking visuals, this thought-provoking adventure aims for the stars, but only just falls short.  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel – Film Review

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Synopsis: Set in the 26th century,  a compassionate doctor finds an abandoned cyborg whom he names Alita (Salazar). Upon reawakening, Alita with no recollection or memories of her previous life, goes in search of answers…

Review: If you’re looking for a big name film-maker to get an ambitious project off the ground, James Cameron is not a bad choice to turn to. For here is a director who for a time, boasted the two highest grossing films of all time in his repertoire, as well as being the one of the two brains behind the Terminator franchise. But even with the involvement of such a talent as Cameron, and director Robert Rodriguez, sometimes, it just not enough to save the project.

After humanity has been seriously affected by a deadly war, Dr Dyson Ido (Waltz) finds the remains of a female cyborg in a scrapyard, brings her body back to his lab and restores her to life. However, Alita with no memory of who she was in her previous life, is determined to get some answers. Right away the film throws the audience head first into the thick of what is evidently a planet that has clearly been effected heavily by war. Yet the screenplay, penned by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, doesn’t really provide any context for the preceding war that has seemingly crippled this society. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of the dialogue feels very stilted.

As the main character, Alita is certainly a likeable protagonist that you want to root for, even if the CGI on her is a little jarring to begin with. You want her to find out the answers that she’s seeking and it is extremely entertaining to watch her throw down against some of the slimy, nefarious people that inhabit this world. But of course, they had to add a romance into the mixture with Alita falling for Hugo (Keean Johnson). It’s functional to the plot as he helps Alita acclimatise to the new world she is discovering but, there’s not a great deal of chemistry between the two of them, and while not as laughable as some of the romantic dialogue that the Star Wars prequels served up, it’s still pretty cringey.

The rest of the cast are also functional at best, which is extremely frustrating when you have Oscar winning talents like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. It just feels like their considerable talents are wasted on what could have been a much better script. What’s more, the motivations/purposes of some characters for doing what they’re doing are extremely vague, with scope clearly being left for future instalments. The CGI on the whole is very hit or miss, sometimes it looks really impressive, and there are other instances where it looks extremely cheap. This is problematic for a big budget blockbuster, especially since Cameron’s Avatar, a film that came out a decade ago, showed the world what CGI could accomplish.

For what is clearly striving to be a film that is trying to be its own franchise, it tries so hard to set up a sequel that it negates telling a worthwhile story to begin with. There are some entertaining scenes but again, there’s nothing here that really stands out to differentiate it from the plethora of films in this genre, that have been far more memorable. For any film that spends a long time stuck in development hell, it always feels like the odds are against it. Despite the best efforts of all concerned to bring this property to the big screen, and even with such star power, both in front of and behind the camera, this is a classic case of style over substance.

One cannot fault the ambition, but even with a solid lead performance from Salazar, the extremely corny dialogue and a rather messy plot just cannot save this film from its place on the scrapheap.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Image is property of Universal, Amblin Entertainment and Legendary Pictures

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, B. D. Wong

Director: J.A. Bayona

Synopsis: Years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, with the island’s volcano about to explode, a rescue operation is launched to save the island’s dinosaur population from almost certain extinction…

Review: There is a seemingly undying fascination that humanity as a species has with dinosaurs. With museums that boast fascinating old skeletons of these creatures to a series of films that began all the way back in 1993 with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, a film that changed the movie industry forever as for the first time on the big screen, dinosaurs came to life. Though the 1997 and 2001 sequels never quite lived up to the majesty of the original, the fascination never died. Indeed, when Jurassic World came along in 2015 to try and reintroduce the franchise to a new generation, the box office roared accordingly, to the tune of $1.6 billion, and so this franchise finds a way to keep on going.

With the Jurassic World theme park having met a predictable fate, following some disastrous dino-experimentation, the dinosaurs that are still on Isla Nublar are in immediate danger due to the island’s volcano which is threatening to erupt. So Claire (Howard) re-teams with Owen (Pratt) to mount a rescue operation to save the pre-historic beasts. However, there is the question of whether these creatures should be saved, or should nature just take its course? With Colin Trevorrow now solely on writing credits along with Derek Connolly, in comes The Impossible director J.A.Bayona who injects some of his disaster movie expertise into the film. In doing so, providing some especially haunting shots of the now desolate park and one scene in particular that is especially melancholic.

Hold on to your butts, and run for your life!

Bayona does his best to replicate the visual majesty of the original, and while topping that is an almost impossible task, he does bring some really stellar action scenes to the mix. Yet the script could easily have done with having some of the DNA of the first film injected into it, as there is a severe lack of development on many of the humans. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard once again both give solid performances as our two main characters, but the development their characters is very limited. It is a similar story for those that are in the supporting roles, as they’re just not as memorable as say a John Hammond or Ian Malcolm. Speaking of, the Goldblum makes a welcome return, but his appearance is fleeting at best.

With Bayona bringing the visual splendour, Trevorrow and Connolly’s script doesn’t quite match up to that. The plot certainly goes in a very interesting direction, and it is very much a tale of two halves. One being the mission to the island, and the other being that mission’s aftermath. Plaudits must be given for them for trying something a bit different, but having said that, it is hard to ignore the similarities that this film has with its predecessors, and there are specific elements that you will look at think that you have seen this before, because we have.

What is cooked up by Bayona and Trevorrow delivers both what a sequel should do, but in other cases should not do. There is a much stronger attempt to bring a more coherent narrative to the story, which does bring more spectacle and emotion. What’s more, Bayona’s horror routes really shine through in a number of places. Yet the lack of development on many of the characters and the rehash of familiar plot elements is a massive frustration as we have seen franchises in the past take things in a brand new direction before. Blending classic Jurassic franchise tropes with some new elements, almost like trying to cook up the perfect dinosaur. The results are not catastrophic, but definitely nothing extraordinary.

The addition of Bayona as director provides some visual majesty that Spielberg would be proud of, but a tonally inconsistent script results in a dinosaur romp that will entertain, terrify and bemuse in equal measure.  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Image is property of Disney and Lucasfilm

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Film Review

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo

Director: Ron Howard

Synopsis: Charting the origins of a young Han Solo as he escapes a desolate planet and finds a calling as a pilot and a smuggler, which sends him on an adventure where he meets a few familiar faces…

Review: Whenever a discussion regarding the greatest characters to have graced the big screen get discussed, one name that is very likely to crop up is everyone’s favourite stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder, AKA Han Solo. Right from his very first appearance in the franchise, he just charmed his way into the affection of legions of fans across the galaxy.  So in the wake of the extremely successful Rogue One, comes the latest chapter in the Anthology franchise, taking a look at a much younger Han, and how he came to be the cocky smuggler we know and love

It is no secret that the production of this film ran into a few problems somewhat when original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were given their marching orders, perhaps they made the mistake in shooting first? With the duo ejected off the project, Ron Howard was handed the keys to the ship. It is not known how much Lord and Miller had filmed before their exit, nor to what extent their efforts are what we see in the finished product. Given those well documented production problems, there were some concerns about how the film would turn out. Though Rogue One also had some well document production problems of its own, the finished product stayed on target to deliver the goods. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Solo.

The start of a beautiful furry friendship…

The adventure that Star Wars veteran writer Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan take us on explores the early stages of Han’s life, how he forged a friendship with a certain Wookie and the beginnings of his life as a smuggler as he gets dragged into a mission alongside said Wookie, and a group of fellow smugglers. However the film severely suffers with its pacing as the initial stages really drag. Furthermore, once the plot finally goes into lightspeed, it is just extremely bland and not memorable in the slightest.

Though it might take some time to adjust to him, Alden Ehrenreich does a solid job as the young Han. Though it has to be said, there are plenty of actors who could have assumed that role and done an equally splendid job. In spite of that, and the enormous shoes that he had to fill, he does do his best to capture that roguish streak that made him such a memorable presence in the original trilogy. There is certainly enjoyment to be had in looking at how this unlikely pair became the duo we know they come to be, as is exploring the early relationship between Han and Lando, who is perfectly portrayed by Donald Glover. Certain characters get introduced and the audience is barely given a chance to get to know them before the plot moves forward.

Apart from Han and Lando, there is severe lack of development on many of these characters. And for the ones that do get some development, like Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra, it is flimsy at best. One thing that has so often been a staple of Star Wars films of the past was the presence of a strong compelling villain. There is a villain here, but due to a severe lack of development, he does not get the chance to leave a solid impression. Ultimately, this is also applicable for much of the rest of the cast, which is a shame when you consider the real talent of the actors involved. On that note, some of the cinematography on show here is really murky and just looks awful, which is baffling when you realise that the DP is Bradford Young, the man who was behind the lenses to the superb Arrival. And while everything is competently made, the direction from Howard is solid if unspectacular.

Usually with every SW film, there is at least one shot or scene that sticks in the mind, but with Solo these are few and far between. Furthermore, the the generic nature of the plot and its by-the-numbers execution leaves a lot to be desired, particularly when it is compared to the recent Star Wars films, both of the main new trilogy and the first Anthology film. With Han Solo, a character who never likes to be told the odds, the odds were stacked against this film, and sadly despite a super talented cast and production crew, it fell short of those lofty expectations that many perhaps expect from a Star Wars adventure. Don’t punch it Chewie, where’s that escape pod?

There is fun to be had, but the presence of the Star Wars name cannot disguise the very bland and forgettable nature of the story, even with a super talented cast and director.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ready Player One (2018)

Ready Player One – Film Review

Cast: Tye Sherdian, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg

Director: Steven Spielberg

Synopsis: In the year 2045, the real world in pretty bad shape. As such, in order to escape their daily troubles, many people go into a virtual game world known as the OASIS, where a world of games and activities await…

Review: If ever there was a record for the amount of pop culture references that were made throughout the runtime of one particular film, the odds are good that this particular work would be pretty near the top of the list. If you were to play a round of pop culture bingo whilst watching this film, you would probably have enough references to yell out bingo, possible a few times over, and maybe then a few more.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, the story focuses on Wade Watts (name to sound like a superhero alter-ego). He is just one of many citizens whose life is far from idyllic in Columbus, Ohio. So he goes into the virtual reality world known as the OASIS, essentially on a daily basis. Given what you can do in this world (basically anything) it isn’t hard to see why people jump into this world with such regularity. As part of a prize left behind by the world’s creator, a competition arises to win a pretty sweet prize that would change the life of the winner forever, which naturally has Wade’s attention. All the while, the head honchos at a rival company led by Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn) try to get their hands on the big prize for their own maniacal purposes.

Given the sheer volume of pop culture references in this film, it could have very easily felt just like a massive pop culture extravaganza. However, despite all the references that will undoubtedly delight audiences everywhere, Spielberg strikes a balance between the vast array of pop culture and a very personal story involving Wade and the relationship he begins to strike up with another gamer, namely Samantha (Cooke). The chemistry between these two is really well done and provides the film with the emotional heart that it really needs amidst all the pop culture phenomenon that is taking place, and the battle that ensues between these two and Sorrento.

Given the portfolio of a director such as Spielberg, with so many pieces of work that have left their ever-lasting stamp on the world of entertainment, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Spielberg crafts a visual treat in terms of the world of the OASIS and all that it encompasses. After his last few films have ventured for the most part into the Oscar territory, it is refreshing to see Spielberg go back into the pure blockbuster spectacle territory. As such, it is likely that a lot of fun was being had during the production, which definitely filters through when it comes to the story. Though it is a visual treat, the plot does suffer from some narrative issues and there is a notable lack of character development on some of the supporting crew besides Wade and Samantha. Furthermore, though the film is extremely entertaining visually, the plot can’t help but stray into very familiar and predictable territory.

Nevertheless, there is something delightful to behold in what Spielberg has brought to the screen, which will definitely be enhanced by how many of the references you will recognise and appreciate. Sheridan and Cooke are excellent in their key roles, and Mark Rylance once again reunites with Spielberg to great effect once again as perhaps the most significant player in this entire story. Spielberg strikes just about the right balance between this incredible world of the OASIS and the real life struggle that comes about as a result of this quest. The nostalgia factor plays its part, but the film is driven deeply personal story at its core. Though let’s be fair, a film driven entirely by the nostalgia/Pop culture Easter egg bonanza under the genius vision of a director like Spielberg wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing at all.

Visually delightful with pop culture Easter eggs aplenty, fused together with a heartfelt and intriguing story ensure a solid return in the blockbuster film-making department for Spielberg.

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Image is property of TriStar Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgement Day  – Film Review

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton

Director: James Cameron

Synopsis: Having failed with their mission to assassinate Sarah Connor, the machines send a new and much more advanced lethal to go after John Connor as a child. However, the adult John Connor counteracts this by sending the same cyborg that tried to kill his mother, to protect him.

Review: “I’ll be back,” said the T-800 before he rammed his car through a police station during a climatic event of the first Terminator movie as he ruthlessly hunted down his prey, Sarah Connor, in a bid to kill her to prevent a deadly war between man and the machines from ever taking place. It’s a line that has become one of the most quoted lines of dialogue in cinematic history. Though he did not succeed in said mission, he was true to his word, and came back with an almighty bang to help create what many feel is one of the greatest sequels ever made in the history of film.

The first Terminator film was revolutionary and it managed this feat on quite the remarkably small budget. Hence for the sequel, as sequels should do it upped the ante and in considerable style too, including quite the higher budget. With the war against the Machines still raging, and having failed to eliminate Sarah, Skynet sends an advanced Terminator, the T-1000 back in time to eliminate John Connor as a child to prevent him from leading humanity to victory against the machines. Yet to counteract this, the adult John sends back a reprogrammed T-800 that was originally sent to kill his mother, back to protect him at all costs.

Having shown himself to be a ruthless badass killing machine in the first film, to see Arnie flip that on its head, and be a little bit more compassionate this time around was a masterstroke in terms of storytelling. Yet at the same time, he still remains an absolute badass that you wouldn’t want to find yourself up against. And once again, he has some terrific one liners that he delivers with such charisma. The role of the Terminator is what perhaps Arnie has become best known for, and he absolutely bosses every minute of screen time that he has.

With Sarah Connor as well you also have a character who has gone through some shit, and it’s made her a much tougher individual in this film than compared to the rather timid waitress she was in the first film. Taking the characters from the first film and developing them is what sequels should do, and this film does it perfectly, as Sarah is a transformed woman in this film. On the other hand the T-1000, played by Robert Patrick, is one of the most persistent relentless antagonists ever put to film. To watch him scrap with Arnie, two very well matched forces, it makes for some pulsating action. By doing this it makes it that so much more compelling, given that in the first film it was Arnie VS Sarah and Kyle, not exactly the most even of match ups.

With the budget now considerably enhanced, much like The Terminator himself, Cameron manages to create just as compelling, if not more compelling action sequences. he manages to top those action sequences here. The film is paced perfectly with plenty of tremendous action scenes to keep the energy going, including perhaps the best chase scene that has ever been put to film. However, though there are a lot of these chase sequences, it crucially allows those personal moments between the characters particularly between John and Sarah, and indeed the whole plot surrounding the war between man and machines and the dreaded Judgement Day.

It’s the perfect blend of upping the ante in terms of action and the drama, whilst crucially giving moments for the central characters to develop.  It’s one of the finest examples of a sequel that some might argue is better than the original. It is a film that has helped shape science fiction and indeed action films in the years that followed, and will in all likelihood, continue to be a staple of both genres for many more years to come.

He said he’d be back, and he certainly was a man (?) of his word. With much more developed characters and some breathtaking action set pieces, this is the perfect example of a sequel done perfectly. Hasta la Vista Baby indeed!

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Image is property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Domnhall Gleeson,

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: Following on from the events of The Force AwakensThe First Order is hot on the trails of the Resistance, while Rey seeks out the guidance of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker.

This review will be 100% spoiler free.

Review: Very few films manage to become such events that build anticipation and excitement among audiences quite like Star Wars does. Though for a long time (a decade to be exact) no new films were made in the Star Wars universe, it never lost that magic and majesty that it carries for so many people. Though that was unlikely to ever diminish, as 2015’s The Force Awakens came along, it was the film the franchise needed to revitalise itself and get the force flowing through it once more.

Picking up almost immediately after the events of Force Awakens, without divulging too much information, the First Order is now aggressively hunting The Resistance, which is to be expected after you blow up a significant asset, namely Starkiller Base. Meanwhile over on Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker has chosen to hide himself away, due to a horrible event that took place in the past, which doesn’t bode well for Rey, who is seeking Luke out to return a significant possession of his, and for help in honing her Jedi powers.

For many a big criticism of Abrams’s efforts was that it was just a rehash of A New Hope, and while it is not a shot for shot remake, it does undeniably heavily borrow elements of that film. The reception of the prequels and how different they were to the original trilogy meant that the decision to make the first chapter of the new trilogy feel like the film that started all this was a sound decision. However, taking over from Abrams, Rian Johnson continues on what Abrams built so successfully and gives another strong addition to the franchise that continues at the themes that almost every film before it has touched upon.

For many the greatest film in this celebrated franchise is The Empire Strikes Back, and justifiably so too. It took the characters and developed them in extremely unique ways, and it’s clear Johnson is going for a similar vibe, but this is not just a rehash of Empire, it crafts a story that needs to be told, taking the characters and taking them in certainly very intriguing directions. Conflicts are occurring both between the First Order and the Resistance and intense personal conflicts are raging inside some of the characters. Of the familiar faces, Daisy Ridley is once again superb as Rey, adding real intensity into her performance as she goes on a journey to discover the answers to the questions that we had about her last time out. John Boyega likewise as Finn, is certainly a very likeable presence, as is the roguish charm of Poe Dameron. Of the newcomers, Laura Dern has an authoritative presence alongside the late Carrie Fisher’s Leia.

On the flip side, there’s a lot going on with Kylo Ren too, which given the heinous crime he committed against his father is understandable. But even then, his character has a lot on his plate, just like many of the characters here. Though once again, the Skywalker siblings are key pieces in this puzzle. Having had a mere cameo last time around, Luke has a lot more to do this time around and given that so much has happened to him since he decided to adopt the hermit lifestyle, there’s much to be explored and Hamill is once again terrific in the role. Though there is an obvious element of sadness surrounding Leia and the passing of Carrie Fisher, in what will be her final turn in the role, she bows out tremendously. That being said there are some new characters who could have really done with more fleshing out, and some characters who were so frustratingly underutilised previously are still not given the time to shine.

last jedi

Though the story does move along at a steady pace, there are moments in particular around the second act that really slow the film down, and in some cases seem almost completely out of place and for some it might take them completely out of the film. That being said, that does not take away from the brilliant direction that Johnson puts into this. Sometimes a film can have the feel that it was almost directed by a committee, absolutely not the case here. The film looks immaculate and the action scenes are superbly well handled. There are some scenes that could have been omitted but there’s plenty of scenes that will get the adrenaline flowing.

A key task of any chapter two in a trilogy is to leave the audience desperately wanting more by the time the credits start to role, that criteria has been met. What Johnson crafts here is so well done it’s easy to see why Disney has given him the green light to make a new Star Wars trilogy unrelated to the current events of the saga, or so we are led to believe at this moment in time. The task of completing this story for these characters now reverts back to the man who introduced the world to them, and given that excitement and interest in this franchise is now likely to continue to the end of time, can we somehow make the jump into lightspeed to December 2019 already?

Continuing on the foundations laid by Force Awakens, The Last Jedi packs plenty of emotional punch, taking the characters in exciting directions and setting the stage for what should be an enthralling conclusion to this new trilogy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Scott Free Productions

Blade Runner 2049 – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: Set thirty years after the original Blade Runner, after uncovering a decades old secret, Blade Runner Officer K (Gosling) goes on the hunt for information, and his investigation leads him to a very familiar face…

Review: In terms of a challenging project for a director to get their hands on, being tasked with making a sequel to one of the most beloved science fiction films of all time, is surely right up there with the hardest.  Having garnered quite the cult following, in spite of decidedly mixed critical reactions upon release, Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic has built a legacy that has endured.

So in a time when Hollywood certainly likes making a sequel or two, one was perhaps almost inevitable. Though a sequel was for a long time in development, with Scott considering the possibility of directing, those plans were shelved. As such, the chance and indeed the enormous pressure of making this fell to Denis Villeneuve, and well simply put, it’s a challenge that he rose to in magnificent style delivering a superb blockbuster that combines tremendous style with emotional substance.

I see your true colours shining through…

Right from the off, Villeneuve, re-teaming with the great Roger Deakins following Prisoners and Sicario, they beautifully recreate that futuristic and visually mesmerising world that was so elegantly brought to life, but once more with those murky undertones. With superb production design this time being provided by Dennis Gassner, it’s all just a stunning visual treat to watch. Having shown his ability to dabble in mind-bending science fiction with his astonishing masterpiece Arrival, Villeneuve has once again shown he’s a formidable force to be reckoned with behind the camera. Oscar nominations are surely bound to follow, and hopefully this time, this will be the time that Deakins takes the statue, one can hope. But Oscar or not, Deakins has added another visual masterpiece to his glowing portfolio.

The great risk of making a sequel to something so beloved is that if you fail to live up to those lofty expectations, it could taint the original for some. However, the story crafted by original Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher along with Michael Green, delivers a deeply personal story that expands the world that was so elegantly brought to life in the original film. At the centre of the new story is Officer K who works as a Blade Runner, and stumbles upon a secret that opens up a can of worms. Much like its predecessor, the film is a slow burn in terms of pacing, it is not all out guns blazing action. Instead the film takes time with its story, which works to its advantage, whilst delivering those moments of intense action when it really needs to.

In a world where humanity and replicant are deeply intertwined, the lines between the two are almost non existent, and no one exemplifies this better than K. Gosling’s performance shows him in his much grittier, more melancholic mood in the same a similar manner to his performance in Drive. Charisma to boot (as well as a cool coat) he makes for a very compelling protagonist. For Harrison Ford meanwhile, after having made a triumphant return as Han Solo, he’s on masterful form once again as Deckard.

Ford is not here to just collect a pay cheque, as he delivers a performance that really packs the emotional punch making Deckard a relevant piece in this dystopian world of futuristic Los Angeles. Other new figures also include Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace and his associate Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Leto might have copped a lot of flak following the much maligned Suicide Squad, but he is effective as the eccentric leader of a global corporation. Meanwhile, Hoeks’s Luv certainly makes her presence known.

The expectations were enormous. And with the pressure to deliver something to stand shoulder to shoulder with a film that has help to significantly define this genre, was equally gargantuan. Yet Villeneuve once again shows his remarkable credentials by delivering a sequel that beautifully pays homage to its predecessor, whilst at the same time, making things feel almost new and fresh. There will have been those who said that the original was untouchable, but we have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, and it is truly something to savour.

As visually mesmerising as its predecessor, and continuing the themes that are just as thought-provoking now as they were when the first film was released. A worthy sequel to one of the most significant films ever made.

Posted in 1980-1989, Film Review

Blade Runner (1982)

Image is property of Warner Bros, The Ladd Company and Shaw Brothers

Blade Runner: The Final Cut – Film Review

Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: Set in 2019, A police officer, known as a Blade Runner, is tasked with hunting down and eliminating four human like beings, known as replicants…

Review: Every once in a while, a film comes along that initially audiences, and indeed critics do not appreciate upon initial viewing. Yet, over time, opinions change and it becomes clear that some films need perhaps another watch, to allow audiences to really appreciate a film in all of its majesty. Never is this more applicable than for Ridley Scott’s neo-noir classic Blade Runner. It would be fair to say that upon its first arrival in cinemas back in 1982, this film was hardly a run away success with the critics divided. Yet decades after its release, its holds its place as a sci-fi masterpiece.

Over time, numerous cuts of the movie have emerged (eight in total) but the final cut is almost certainly the cut that you should seek to watch. Immediately right from the opening shot, there is something so mesmerising to look at Los Angeles in 2019 as was envisioned back in the 80s, though we don’t quite have those flying cars as of right now! The CGI, for a film released at that time, is breath-taking and still holds up to this day. The set decoration also really helps capture that futuristic vibe perfectly, with a very futuristic sounding score from Vangelis.

All the various cuts would suggest that in all of this time Scott was not quite ever fully satisfied with the film, but despite all these versions, the core story at the heart of the film remains a very fascinating one that explores a plethora of different themes, all of which perhaps have helped the film to stand the test of time. Artificial intelligence was not exactly anything new in terms of science fiction cinema, yet the way it approached the subject and its exploration of many other themes ensure it has become a landmark piece of not just science fiction cinema, but cinema in general. That being said, the screenplay is bogged down in places by some pacing issues, as some scenes do drag for longer than they perhaps need to.

blade runner 1982

Harrison Ford was at the time, one of the hottest properties in Hollywood. Fresh from his success in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones universes, he certainly showed he had the charisma to be the leading man. As Rick Deckard, the man charged with hunting down these sinister replicants, he doesn’t quite have that Han solo or Indy-esque charm about him, but his performance ensures that Deckard is a testament to his talent that he added another memorable character to his collection. However, leading replicant Roy Batty (Hauer) manages the quite remarkable feat of stealing the limelight away from Ford, giving a very chilling performance. He deftly manages the balance between maniacal evil and compassion. Furthermore, he also gives what has deservedly gone down as one of the greatest (and improvised) monologues in film history.

Minor nitpicks aside, there can be no doubt that the impact this film has had, and continues to have over science fiction cinema cannot be underestimated. Indeed, the cult following that this film has gained in the years since its release certainly tells you all you need to know.  when a film has stood the test of time, even in spite of several different versions and quite the extensive amount of tinkering on Scott’s part. Nevertheless, what exists in the Final Cut of this film is a staple of science fiction cinema, and will more than likely continue to be so for several more decades to come.

Not so greatly received upon release, but over time, generations have appreciation for the wonder and beauty of the story that Scott brings to the table. It has deservedly gone down as a landmark piece of cinema.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment

War for the Planet of the Apes – Film Review 

Cast:  Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Amiah Miller

Director: Matt Reeves

Synopsis: After the devastation caused by the skirmish between Apes and Humans, Caesar and his apes now face a new threat in the form of a vicious Colonel who’s intent on eradicating the Apes once and for all

Review: “Apes, together, strong!” These were some of the words that we saw written on one of the walls of what was once the stronghold of the colony of super-smart Apes led by Caesar. The Ape that kick-started the rise of the Ape revolution that we saw in the first chapter of this reboot. We watched in awe as he became the leader of that colony. Then came the second chapter, where Caesar saw his leadership and his ideals challenged. It was the dawn of the Ape uprising, as one ape went rogue, and things went a bit awry for mankind and ape-kind both, and the war that was triggered as a result of that conflict, is now upon us, and it ain’t pretty.

Continuing in the same vein as both Rise and Dawn, this is a very personal story for Caesar, once again voiced and mo-capped tremendously by Andy Serkis. After the events of Dawn, the actions of the mutinous Koba and the utter contempt for humanity  he had have had a lasting effect on Caesar. And when the humans and the apes clash once again, it proves to be the final straw for Caesar, and he sets out on the hunt for the vicious colonel (Harrelson) who is determined to eradicate Caesar and all of his apes, once and for all. Thus, this sets the wheels motion for another deeply personal and brilliantly told personal clash. Back once again after directing Dawn, Reeves has really showed himself to at the top of his craft, both as a writer and as a director, so it’s no wonder that he’s been handed the keys to the Batmobile.

The screenplay, co-written by Reeves and Matt Bomback, once again makes the smart decision to focus on Caesar and his apes, and their motivations for doing what they’re doing. Caesar stands out by far, but Maurice (Konoval) has a much greater role as Caesar’s most trusted adviser, and Rocket (Notary) likewise. A new addition to the Ape clan is Steve Zahn’s self named “Bad Ape” who certainly adds the humour this time around, but it’s gratefully kept to a minimum and thus it doesn’t become annoying. Dawn certainly offered plenty of exhilarating action sequences and once again Reeves delivers equally enthralling action sequences, whilst also delivering an intense psychological battle that pits Caesar against, by far the most compelling human antagonist of the franchise to date, Woody Harrelson’s Colonel, a man who is determined to ensure that humanity retains its place as the dominant species of the planet.

The CGI is once again, particularly for the Apes, is absolutely faultless. It’s so life like that once again you forget that they’re portrayed by actual actors in rather unusual suits. Though Serkis has often been overlooked for his work in these films in terms of awards recognition, he absolutely demonstrates his talents in bringing such emotional depth to a character, one who really makes the audience root for him, and want to see the obliteration of their own species. His performance is truly awards worthy, but award or not, his sterling work has ensured Caesar’s place as one of the most iconic film characters of the decade without a doubt. Michael Giacchino’s score is as you would expect, absolutely flawless.

Though there will almost certainly be more to come for this franchise, with Rise, Dawn and now War, we we have a trilogy that improves on what came before, and thus giving us one of one of the best trilogies of modern times. Apes, together, strong indeed.

The third chapter in trilogies so often disappoints, but no so here. With a thrilling personal story, combined with another excellent turn from Serkis as Caesar, to ensure that this trilogy is completed in great style, with the best film in the trilogy.