Movie Review – Rare and Stunning, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a Film You Have to See

The original Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott is a neo-noir, science fiction masterpiece. It felt inconceivable Hollywood Studios would think it a good idea to create a sequel, remake, reboot, or mess with the story in any fashion whatsoever. Some movies are better left in the annals of history untouched. Simultaneously, a sequel (soft-remake) couldn’t have come at a better time. With the advent of ever-increasing new special effects technology plus the everyday technology in our own lives, the science fiction genre is exploding.

What better time than now to re-explore this beloved story?

Thankfully both fans and newcomers can rest easy. Blade Runner 2049 is in safe, capable, and almost nigh-perfect hands. Ridley Scott came back to produce. The original screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, wrote the screenplay with an additional screenwriting credit from Michael Green. Roger Deakins came on as the cinematographer. Hans Zimmer wrote the score. And, best of all, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) was tapped to direct.

The result is a beautiful film matching and quite possibly elevating above the original. Right on the tails of Arrival, Villeneuve continues to do incredible work as a director and has skyrocketed on the scene as someone capable of putting intelligent storytelling in a blockbuster film. Blade Runner 2049 is no exception. While certain elements of the story are lacking, with the help of Roger Deakins providing stunning, gorgeous cinematography and Hans Zimmer honoring the original score with his own spin, Villeneuve reinvigorates the original work with a new, clean vision and creates an all-engrossing experience.

At the request of the director, I am limited in what I can say about the story for fear of revealing important plot points and potential spoilers. With that said, Blade Runner 2049 follows a new class of blade runner (Ryan Gosling) who stumbles upon clues and secrets that eventually leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). What they discover could change their world forever.

The defining elements of Blade Runner are its gritty neo-noir tone and its score. The cinematography is gritty, dark, almost scary with set designs looking like they came out of a haunted house horror movie. So, it’s interesting, then, seeing Roger Deakins’ clean, well-lit and brightly colored cinematography in Blade Runner 2049. While this change felt welcome, because let’s face it Roger Deakins is a master cinematographer, it also felt a little out of place. Is this the same Blade Runner we’ve come to know and love or are they drastically changing things to fit the times? At first glance, it feels like Deakins and Villeneuve’s intention is to shake the status quo, strip the movie of its neo-noir feel, and put their own vision on it regardless of the past.

Still, the visuals are incredible. Deakins work is always top-notch but in this case, it’s probably some of the best work he’s ever done and really elevates the movie. He’ll undoubtedly get an Oscar nod for Best Cinematography and I’d be surprised if he didn’t win.

Blade Runner 2049 benefits from Hans Zimmer’s score but unlike Vangelis, the original composer who brought a breathtaking score to the table, Zimmer seems almost trapped to honor Vangelis while occasionally getting to do his own thing. Much of Zimmer’s calling cards are strewn throughout the score. With loud, vibrating bass, pounding drums, and plenty of oscillating synthesizers, it’s clearly Zimmer and it works, tapping into the emotion of the movie. Yet, Zimmer isn’t running at full capacity here. Not like the fantastic masterpiece he put on full display in Dunkirk.

Clearly, Villeneuve is working within the same confined parameters, having to give several callbacks to the original whether it be the plethora of product placement like the giant Coca-Cola sign, the eerie landscapes, and the neo-noir feel. He needed to make it feel, look, and sound like Blade Runner while breaking out and giving it a new vision and fresh look. Overall, Villeneuve is successful.

On the one hand, so much of Blade Runner 2049 feels like an extension of the original just spruced up with stellar special effects and cinematography. On the other, it doesn’t have the dream-like tone and jazzy, neo-noir feel. You won’t find a scene with saxophone and the dialogue is crisp and clear with no reverb. It’s not really missed. Villeneuve’s style is a welcome change.

Usually, in science fiction films, filmmakers and studios feel compelled to go overboard with CGI special effects. To a point, all the CGI will make it feel fake and silly. It’s nice to see a film which blends fantastic CGI with practical sets. Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road did this well and Blade Runner 2049 takes it even further. Everything feels so real in this film. The cinematography and practical effects give it a tangibility you might not get otherwise.

If you’re familiar with the movie Drive which also stars Ryan Gosling, you’ll recall his stoic and even-keeled character and performance. In many ways, this is what you’re going to get in Blade Runner 2049. Though, in some ways, Gosling almost perfects subtle emoting. On very few occasions does he full emote and when he does, it’s startling because you’re not expecting it. While I understood Gosling’s character motivations, a casual moviegoer might not really get it or care very much about his character. He’s not charismatic and stoicism rarely work well with a general audience.

The villains Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his replicant Luv (Slyvia Hoeks) are, unfortunately, the best and weakest aspects of the film. Externally, Leto is given an eclectic megalomaniac character to work with, spouting out psychotic philosophical dialogue but his motivations are difficult to understand besides the usual world domination. Leto thrives in this role and it’s a good performance despite its lack of depth. Luv seems capable of making her own decisions but ultimately she’s just Wallace’s lap dog. There’s not much there and it makes it hard to really care or feel the weightiness of the stakes.

Unlike the original, the story has more meat and emotion injected into it. The character relationships work better in this one especially between Gosling and his love interest. While I won’t go into full details, the characters, mystery surrounding them, and the inevitable twists that follow make the story more complex and expands on the original’s concepts.

Trying to produce a sequel to a cult classic like Blade Runner is no easy feat. Many have tried and failed to do the same to other properties. Blade Runner 2049 is one of those rare instances where the sequel exceeds expectations and does something just as special if not more so. With all that said, it’s not a perfect movie and I think calling it a “masterpiece” might be a little premature. However, it’s the type of film you’re going to want to at least experience in the theater once. And, with its complexity, you’ll likely want to see it again.

 

Grade: 9.5/10

 

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Recall – The Dreamlike ‘Blade Runner’ Still a Neo-Noir Masterpiece.

Two things which make Blade Runner so unique is its tone and score. It goes without saying the special effects were groundbreaking for its time, creating an all-immersive world you could feel, taste, and touch, bustling with bicyclers, pedestrians, shopkeepers, and the degenerates of the city. The oppressive hovering machines both watching you and advertising to you at the same time. In 2019, Los Angeles hadn’t gotten cleaner but more filthy with plenty of industrial factories blazing and the streets of the city covered in soot and trash. The world-building is stunning. Still, it’s Ridley Scott’s commitment to selling the dreamy, gritty, cyberpunk neo-noir tone and Vangelis’s epic score which sets Blade Runner apart the most.

Everything in the movie, even down to the voice recording, pulls toward a dream-like tone. When the characters speak, there’s a noticeable reverb in their voices. With the exception of the scene where Deckard first meets Rachel, it wouldn’t really make sense for an echo to exist. Usually, filmmakers want voice recordings to be crisp, clear, and most of all, not distracting.

But, in Blade Runner’s case, the opposite is true. It’s almost as if Scott purposefully wants the audience to notice their echoing voices to match the feel of the movie. This unique quality is both oddly off-putting and enticing. In your gut, you know it’s weird to hear actors speaking with so much reverb, but it matches the other elements of the film so it works.

The score by Vangelis, who won the Academy Award for Best Score a year prior, easily makes this film. From the laid-back noir saxophone to the heavy and dark synthesizer, Vangelis soaks Blade Runner in both the old and new. The saxophone especially lends a hand to the dreamy dialogue. Much like Star Wars, Blade Runner wouldn’t be the same without Vangelis’s masterful score. Outside of making the movie feel like a detective serial, Vangelis injects various scenes full of eerie and unsettling strings with oscillating chimes, building on the dreamy tone.

It’s unfortunate the writing can’t really keep up with the rest of the film. The story is a standard detective drama and it doesn’t really go much deeper than that. Deckard needs to solve the mystery, find the replicants, and kill them. It’s simplicity works but it also isn’t revolutionary. At the same time, Deckard, for all his brooding charm, doesn’t have many layers and is kind of an empty vessel. There’s not much to know about him.

Certain scenes lend a hand to Deckard struggling with hunting replicants. For instance, Rachel openly questions how he knows he’s always killing a replicant and not a human. Deckard’s response is confident if not a little arrogant. But throughout the rest of the movie, he never struggles with these questions.

The writers miss a perfect emotional arc for the protagonist. His arc slightly comes at the end when he decides to stop hunting replicants and run away with one (Rachel) instead. By the resolution, however, it doesn’t have the same impact because you never really knew he struggled with hunting them in the first place. Most of the movie, he seems pretty happy gunning them down.

Arguably, Rachel and the main protagonist Roy, have more interesting motivations and character dilemmas. Rachel wrestles with her personhood after discovering she’s a replicant. Can she love? If her memories are not hers, does that mean she isn’t real? Most of the movie she wrestles with these questions but little answers come of them.

Roy, for all his insanity, is trying to save his other replicant friends, Pris and Leon, before they die (Replicants were programmed to have a short lifespan). Roy’s monologue to Deckard, about seeing miraculous things but bemoaning them as only tears in the rain if he dies, ironically humanizes him. You understand his struggle because he’s trying to survive like the rest of us.

Despite their attempts, the story and characters barely measure up to the masterful world-building, set design, score, and special effects. So, it’s not so much the story is bad. It merely isn’t working at the same caliber as the rest of the overall work.

Regardless, Blade Runner is without a doubt a genre-defining masterpiece, inspiring future neo-noir and cyberpunk movies to come. Scott makes it easy to embrace his all-encompassing and other-worldly vision even if the darker and unsettling moments are hard to swallow at times. And it’s his uncompromising commitment to a dreamy, ethereal tone which truly sets the whole film apart, making it a unique and worthwhile film experience.

 

Grade: 9/10

 

Photos courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Movie Review – ‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie’ Resorts to Derivative, Sloppy Storytelling

The Lego Movie did a great job establishing a classic hero’s journey while at the same time ruthlessly making fun of it. Even though it was a kids movie, it understood its narrative structure, stuck to it like glue, but also played around a bit and let the story breathe. You never once thought, “Oh, now we’re in the relationship-building scene.” It knew its boundaries but also knew when to cross the boundaries. And despite its ADHD pacing, it worked.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie, on the other hand, really has no idea what it’s doing. It’s sloppy and rushed story tries a little too hard to hit all the right beats but fails spectacularly. The storytelling feels fake and predictable with no time for anything to breathe. The only memorable characters are the hero and the villain and even they are horribly written. Unlike its predecessors, very little of the comedy is funny, and again, feels like they are trying too hard.

I have a feeling some of this might be attributed to the ungodly six screenplay credits attached to the movie. When you have too many cooks in the kitchen and studio pressure to pump out a story quickly, you’re likely going to get a hot, chopped up mess. In the end, kids might like it because of the Legos, bright colors, and lots of action but you’re likely to fall asleep within the first fifteen minutes.

Written by Bob Logan, Paul Fischer, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, and John Whittington (See what I mean?), The LEGO Ninjago Movie follows Lloyd (Dave Franco), a young kid with a problem. He is hated at his high school for being the son of Garmadon (Justin Theroux), the evil overlord constantly trying to take over their city. In secret, however, Lloyd is the famed Green Ninja who everyone loves. With the help of his friends, he’ll fight his father and try to defeat him once and for all.

One of the few bright spots in The LEGO Ninjago Movie is the fantastic animation and special effects. Their art department hasn’t been resting on their laurels and continues to push the visual effects envelope. So, the great benefit of this film is its eye candy if anything. And like the past two movies, the pacing doesn’t slow down. Quite the opposite. Action scenes abound in this movie to the point of redundancy. That’s kind of the problem.

The story jumps from plot point to plot point with little room for character development. Allowing the narrative to breathe a little and let the characters get to know each other is a huge part of making a story work. In this movie, by the time you feel like you’re getting settled, they’re already moving on to the next plot point.

The characters are equally disappointing. Most of the movie, the hero Lloyd is a whiny, overly emotional crybaby with no sense of humor. He barely has an arc and the arc he does have is very superficial and forced. Most of his story is connected to his father, Garmadon. Oddly, Garmadon is the character with all the humor. He’s cracking jokes left and right. The wisecracks become so overwhelming, you’re left to wonder why you should hate him at all, since he is, you know, the bad guy. In fact, you’re likely to be more fond of Garmadon than his son, Lloyd.

A lot of Garmadon’s character oddly feels like a big rip-off of Batman’s character in The Lego Batman Movie. He’s sarcastic, obtuse, silly, and has that brazen charm where he feels like he can say anything he wants and get away with it. Even his voice sounds familiar. It just doesn’t work. While villains can have a sense of humor (like The Joker in The Lego Batman Movie), they shouldn’t be the main source of humor otherwise it just makes them too likable. The Joker tries to be funny but too often comes across as just annoying.

In The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Garmadon is likable, funny, and there’s not much reason to hate the guy. That makes the narrative feel off when the hero is the one you hate and the villain is the one you like. This becomes especially realized when the two try to reconcile and the payoff in the end just falls flat. You see what the writers are going for but they set it up wrong.

In The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, all the supporting characters have a personality and a purpose in helping the main character. While you don’t really know the characters completely, you get a feeling for who they are by their dialogue and actions. In The LEGO Ninjago Movie, none of the supporting characters have any personality that separates them from each other. They’re all indistinguishable and purposeless. If anything, their sole purpose is to be moving background props that say stuff once in a while. I found this frustrating especially with how well the supporting characters had been written in the past.

In a way, the same thing can be said of The LEGO Ninjago Movie within the whole LEGO Movie Universe. It didn’t do anything to set itself apart from the other two Lego movies, resulting in a poorly executed, derivative mess which barely deserves to be in theaters. There’s nothing here that deserves your time or money. Unless your kids are dying to see this new installment in the Lego movie franchise, I would pass and wait for it to come out on rental.

Grade: 2/10

Photos courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Movie Review – ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ Is a Big Step Backward.


When Matthew Vaughn left the X-Men franchise after the roaring success of X-men: First Class, you could say I was puzzled. He single-handedly brought back a dying franchise to life. Why would he abandon a good thing? It didn’t make sense. Things got even more strange when it was announced later he’d adapt, write and direct an obscure comic book into a movie called Kingsman: The Secret Service.

At the time, I figured no one would care and the movie would end up a flop. Of course, I was incredibly wrong. Vaughn figured out how to pull a rabbit out of his hat again and turn an obscure comic into a breakaway movie hit. The beauty of the first movie was its reckless abandon and willingness to go all out despite the consequences. Ironically, this was also its Achilles Heel. It went a little too far sometimes to the point of absurdity.

In light of that, it feels like Kingsman: The Golden Circle pulls back on the reins and plays it safe. That’s not to say it isn’t over the top. It certainly tries to do some ridiculous things but they all pale in comparison to the tone and style of the first. Unfortunately, that’s not even the main problem. The Golden Circle does what no sequel should do – It shouldn’t copy its predecessor’s beats and plot. Not even the characters got a good arc to make the story compelling or necessary. While Vaughn can direct a movie well, and piece it together into a fun and exciting ride, the sum total is a big step backward.

Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, and directed by Vaughn, Kingsman: The Golden Circle starts off shortly after the first. Eggy (Taron Edgerton) is a full-fledged Kingsman taking on the name Galahad from his former protege. However, when a mysterious group destroys the Kingman headquarters, he and Merlin (Mark Strong) must travel to Kentucky to seek the help of the Statesman to fight back.

If there’s one thing Vaughn does well, it’s keeping an audience engaged. Whether through an action scene, humor, or compelling dialogue, it’s rare to sit through one of his movies and feel bored. He knows how to entertain and it’s a gift that shouldn’t be ignored. We’re all looking for an escape when we enter the theater, and if that’s what you’re looking for, Vaughn provides.

With that said, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun, sometimes funny, and entertaining spectacle. The special effects, action scenes, and wild antics are enough to please a casual moviegoer who just wants to see a spy film and not much else.

Unfortunately, that’s all this movie really offers.

Instead of doubling down and diving in deep to discover more about the Kingsman organization, Kingsman: The Golden Circle literally bombs the whole thing and decides to move on to a new face and a fresh start in the Statesman. Except, the Statesmen are essentially just the Kingsman but with cowboy hats, belt buckles, and lassos. Pulling a big narrative punch and destroying an entire spy organization felt like it should hurt more. But it just didn’t. Because of that, it became a forced and unnecessary plot device to make Eggys feel on his own.

Once they meet up with the Statesman, the plot is almost identical to the first movie. The biggest offender being a villainous evil organization run by a murderous drug dealer named Poppy (Julianne Moore). Like the first movie, she holds the world hostage and the Kingsman (and Statesman) must stop her before she kills everyone off. It’s all horribly predictable and frustrating.

For having such an unoriginal story, you’d think they’d find a way to whittle the time down to not make it feel long. However, the opposite happened. With the Statesman being thrown into the mix, a lame subplot involving the original Galahad (Colin Firth), and one too many action scenes, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is longer than the first in both perceived and actual time. The last thing you want is for the climax to feel boring but I couldn’t help but almost yawn and get restless.

Out of all this, the most frustrating piece is the lack of an arc for the main character Eggy. In the first movie, he had a near perfect arc, going from street hooligan to secret agent but also learning about how to be a man, have manners, and conduct himself correctly. In this, he doesn’t have an arc at all which only adds to the feeling that the movie doesn’t measure up.

When you make a sequel, the hope is the new addition will be a necessary, relevant, and worthy continuation of a good story. In this case, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is none of those things. While it holds your attention and keeps things entertaining, it doesn’t make a compelling case for its existence. Because of that, it makes you wish they’d just left things with the first movie and called it a day.

 

Grade: 4/10

 

Photos courtesy of: 20th Century Fox. 

Minneapolis Watched the Rise and Fall of an Opioid Rock Star

Janis Joplin grew up in Port Arthur Texas, a small town with a fading downtown right out of the Last Picture Show and a skyline of smoking oil refinery and petrochemical plants. Janis was bullied throughout high school. One clique named her the “best looking man” at Thomas Jefferson High — according to Texas Monthly, others threw pennies at her or called her a whore.

Joplin endured the harassment but never forgot it, while seeking solace in art classes. After graduation, she drifted and hitchhiked between short stints at local colleges and road trips to San Francisco to experience its emerging psychedelic rock scene. Janis had cultivated a love of music from an early age. She honed her talents joining impromptu folk-singing gatherings or performing guest spots with local bands.

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Minnesota Twins Midseason Report — Hitting Success and Pitching Failures

The Minnesota Twins have had a roller coaster of a season thus far. The Twins will resume play Friday after the All-Star break with a record of 45-43, 2.5 games behind the American League Central Division leading Cleveland Indians. They are one game back in a crowded American League Wild Card race.

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Movie Review – ‘Cars 3’ Desperately Tries Not to be Cars 2

cars 3

If you haven’t been brought up to speed over the last eleven years of Cars history, I’ll help you out. The Cars movie only exists to sell toys. And if you’re parent, it’s likely you know this pretty well by now. Pixar makes bank selling Lightning McQueen and Mater toys. However, as a film franchise, it’s one of the worst Pixar properties in their long and successful film history. Of all their movies, Cars 2 is the only critically panned Pixar film to date.

Usually, when a sequel gets panned, a studio ends it and moves on. But since Cars is a merchandising cash cow, it was only inevitable they’d release the third installment and make it a trilogy. As a side note, it’s a little sad their worst property has a trilogy before The Incredibles. But I digress.

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Ervin Santana Continues to Be the Twins Rock in the Rotation

When I look at the success of the Minnesota Twins thus far this season, there’s one pitcher that stands out — Ervin Santana.

When Santana takes the mound tonight against the Seattle Mariners at Target Field, he would be making his 13th start of the season which leads the club. He has a record of 8-3 with a 2.20 ERA in 90 innings pitched. He’s allowed 23 runs, 22 of which are earned. He has held opponents to a .154 batting average, but unfortunately has given up 11 home runs. He also has 33 walks with 63 strikeouts.

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Movie Review – ‘The Mummy’ is a Hollow Soul Wrapped in a Fun Adventure

the mummy movie

Many who hear the title The Mummy likely think of the 1999 Brendan Fraser movie, its two sequels, and that spinoff with The Rock. This is not that movie. We all know Hollywood loves trends. Endless sequels, remakes, reboots, and breaking up movies into parts, have all been the bread and butter of the industry. The Mummy directed by Alex Kurtzman and starring Tom Cruise hops onto one of those bandwagons (remake) with one additional one. It’s part of the “Dark Universe.”

With the outstanding success by Marvel Studios, cinematic universes are now tickling every Hollywood executives fancy and Universal Studios is no exception. The Mummy is the first of many monster movies to exist within the same cinematic universe. It’s important to note this before getting started. Understanding what a movie sets out to do is a big part of figuring out whether or not it’s any good.
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Movie Review – ‘Captain Underpants’ Overflows with Potty Humor, Delighting Kids and Ignoring Adults

captain underpants

When I was in third grade, I really wanted to see the movie Blank Check. My parents, on the other hand, weren’t so thrilled. Eventually, I convinced them to rent it for me and I loved it. As expected, they didn’t. Honestly, in my childhood mind, I didn’t understand why. But then I re-watched it this year and it all made total sense. Blank Check is geared entirely to kids in every way imaginable with no logical reasoning built into the story whatsoever. And who remembers Blank Check? No one.

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