Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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Well cor blimey, this film looks delicious up on the big screen. The visuals aren’t the only delights though; storytelling, acting, music and cinematography are all excellent features of this sci-fi sequel that in my tiny insignificant opinion may be just as good if not better than the original.

Possibly a first here as I won’t go into a usual plot summary paragraph because I feel that any info on what the story serves could be, if not a spoiler at least something that ruins the element of intrigue that you should enter this movie with. Suffice to say it’s 30 years after the setting of the first one and we follow K (Ryan Gosling) in dystopian LA following a case after discovering something potentially world changing at a farm.

Even though I hadn’t seen the 1982 movie at the time, once this film was announced with details of Denis Villeneuve attached I did squeal a little. This incredible visual and smart director gave me cause for excitement and he does indeed pull off an incredibly visual and smart film again. It’s a very intelligent movie with cause for thought and the whole dystopian set up like in the first one gives amazing room for creative space and design. Villeneuve keeps the tone similar but that doesn’t stop him from expanding on ideas and updating them to fit in the mould of what 2049 could bring.

A strong theme within both movies is the notion of identity. In a way I feel this thread is felt even more within this release thanks to the character of K and the freedom movement he is tracking. What makes us human and what does that mean are two powerful questions and they course throughout the film with constant but not overbearing presence. The whole hero idea is another one played with and K is an interesting character because he’s not exactly all out nice guy but that moral code sits within him. A film is always good or great I say when it leaves you thinking about what you’ve seen and immersing yourself into that world to think on possible answers.

Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch have conducted a wonderful score that trickles along in the background adding suitable futuristic sounds and as Zimmer does best the rises and boom of music at times creates the tension within certain scenes. Better than the music though is the sublime work from director of photography Roger Deakins who deserves to finally win an Academy Award with the sheer beauty he gifted this movie. The lines and forms are stunning all the way through, for example the yellow shifting light and frames captured within Wallace’s headquarters are mesmerising.

I have to comment on the newer technological ideas implanted in the movie too; such as the memory maker aspect which was visually pleasing and a very neat idea. The ‘Her’ like sexual encounter with K and his girlfriend with help from someone else was another case of something visually different. A fight with the background holographic accompaniment of Elvis and some showgirls further boosts the creative visual flair.

This film may be a little long and at times the pacing, like in the original, feels at odds and can be a tad slow but the detective story-line and the stunning future world presented on a big screen makes this a science fiction movie to stand up on its own and not just as a follow up to the Ridley Scott outing. In fact because I got to see this in the cinema unlike the first one, that is possibly the reason I like this more, the atmosphere and scale of seeing it on the big screen is necessary for this movie.

7.5/10

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Blade Runner (1982)

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Forgive me Movie Community for I have sinned. Today was the 1st time I’d seen this film in almost 27 years of existence. A cult classic and movie continually hitting Top film lists and finally I have watched it…mostly in preparation for the new flick but also to try and rectify a big list of classics I’ve not yet seen.

As a group of ‘Replicants’ (extremely strong and equally intelligent synthetic humans) arrive to Earth, Deckard (Harrison Ford) takes one last job to track them down and kill them. Things don’t go so easy though as he comes across Rachael (Sean Young) and eventually comes face to face with Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).

The genre of this movie is something I can wholeheartedly get behind, the slick neo-noir vision is indeed special even to this day, so I can only imagine how it may have looked back in the early 80’s. The combination of futuristic science fiction vibes with film noir is most definitely cool and provides a great backdrop for not only the look of the world being created but the rich story too.

Based off a book by Philip K. Dick, who’s adapted work is further seen currently on Channel 4 which I really want to see, this film written by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher almost effortlessly blends the sci-fi genre of fantastical worlds, gadgets and futuristic elements with the layered and more interesting aspects of noir; the femme fatale, the questionable detective hero and moody lighting and moodier characters.

Not that far into the film I began questioning the central idea of clones and the Replicant possibility within the main character. I see now that it has been a topic of controversy for years. Not helping matters are the changes in various versions of this film that have been shown, released and updated. I watched the Final Cut and I must say that I did start thinking that Rick Deckard could very well be a copy and not human but I guess that interpretation idea makes for good conversations and a thinking piece.

Another controversy is my admittance that though I enjoyed the film and see it’s very very well made, I didn’t completely get behind the hype and amazement people have built it up to have over the years. It’s acted well in places, the music from Vangelis is stellar and the plot is interesting, quite complex and provoking but it felt like a lullaby in places and didn’t keep my interest as I wished it may have done. Perhaps I misunderstood it like people did upon it’s first release but the mystery of the narrative never gripped me and the pacing was slightly irritating.

Those are my only negatives, which I know could well have me shot. Aside from that I get that this film is a superb sci-fi and the ground-breaking hybrid and intelligent story-making on show is cause for this definitive status. I back that status and would recommend the film, I just wouldn’t put it on my Top 10 or Top 20 list of films. Forgive me again Movie Community.

7/10

 

Arrival (2016)

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Gladly, this is not your typical ‘alien invasion’ flick, it’s a much smarter story that totally immerses you into a situation filled with dread yet hope, understanding yet confusion. I came out of the film feeling a little lost but it’s a grower because as you think on it the whole idea becomes more interesting.

As 12 shells arrive on Earth and hover above different locations, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called into help the military. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) hopes that she can understand and translate the aliens’ talking and find out why they’re here. Together with scientist and maths man Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) they start uncovering a complex world-changing language.

Coming from ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Sicario’ director Denis Villeneuve, you can surely expect tension and smart movie story-telling and you’d be right to do so, as this sci-fi release is burning with clever ideas about language, time and humanity’s fight for survival and knowledge. Villeneuve doesn’t go for any last minute twist, he keeps his film going along and through shots or blurred flashbacks we begin building a picture of what’s to come. What he does well is ensure every scene has importance or emotion and gives moments with the aliens a nervous and affecting tone as we try to grip what may happen.

Eric Heisserer gives the story no cliches or over expositional content, aside from one line near the end of the film, everything we hear sounds plausible and brings you into this alien filled drama with ease. The way he adapts the short story and ensures the Heptapods’ speech is intellectual, so much so that it befuddled my mind but not enough to make me disengage from the movie. This language is a huge factor of the script, connecting to Louise and creating a rounded story that gives ‘Arrival’ fantastic depth.

Back to help Villeneuve is composer Johann Johannsson, who has a superb skill in building tension through music. The dread mounts and through deeper reverberations in the score we feel on edge as the characters go to encounter the Heptapods. A brilliant track comes in with some narration and is used again for the credits, it’s haunting and a chorus of voices makes it more impacting.

Amy Adams in her second November outing, is much more interesting to watch in this compared to ‘Nocturnal Animals’, that’s to say she has more to do and her character is excellent. The subtle flickers of tired emotion that fill her thanks to flashes of events or the way she gleefully acts when breaking ground with the aliens communication all make Louise a captivating role. Jeremy Renner is good also, his smart mathematician role bouncing off Louise very well. Whitaker is a great choice as the military superior, his calmness a good thing as he easily could have been the villain straining for violence. Michael Stuhlbarg is a fine actor, always doing good with what he’s given and here he grows as the film progresses.

It may still have me slightly puzzling over the whole grand scope of time but this is a science fiction that dazzles and if you like a movie to make you think then this is the perfect choice. Performances, writing, directing and music create something to blow your mind like not much before.

8/10

 

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

Self/less (2015)

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Looks very good and in a few places it has a cool sense of substance but it begins ‘shedding’ brains and tense thrills as a more twisting Hollywood series of action sequences taint what could have been a better movie.

Billionaire Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is seriously ill but hears of a new process that can give him chance to continue his work in a younger vessel. Damian meets Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who lets him know about how moving his consciousness into a grown body works. Soon Hayes wakes up as a younger and fitter man given the new name Edward (Ryan Reynolds). All isn’t as it seems as Edward hallucinates and finds out more is behind this body swap.

Tarsem Singh directs the film with an undeniable flair, the way troubling past lives warp into existence is brilliant for creating that mysterious unease. It is a film that builds and builds in sense of urgency for Edward’s character. Unfortunately Singh’s quite intelligent vision for this movie is lost as he places in more car chases, gun fights and comes to a rather soppy ending. It starts off really well and Singh can direct greatly with inter-cuts of future moments playing out while present narration continues, it does help the film in style but sadly the script isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Alex and David Pastor are the screenplay duo and though it’s a neat concept it doesn’t work to completion when watching. I admit, it’s a stretched sci-fi idea in the first place but when I saw the trailer it enticed me and it seemed like a dark yet fun look at the identity crisis of this scientific breakthrough. Though the more you journey on this film you start questioning why they picked action over intelligence. The script is one that has so much potential in being edge, creepy and smart but apart from a couple of clever qualities this plot crashes into entertaining fodder with little under the surface.

The look of the film is near perfect, even with all the action screeching in your face, that’s still presented coolly as well. Brendan Galvin’s cinematography is sleek and designed like a glossy new model akin to the central feature of the film’s story. Each location is mastered with a confident touch and all in all the movie does visually everything you’d hope for. Musically too the film hits the right notes. It’s a score that builds on that bubbling tension of what is going on and feels like a usual yet great thriller sound.

I honestly can’t say I am disappointed with the film, even though it doesn’t hit the clever heights it could have reached, I still walked out entertained. I went in expecting a close cut thriller and exited seeing a glossy action piece, not fabulous but still slick and watchable. It’s just a real shame that the sci-fi thriller it easily could have been is left dangling in a lazy grip of action and summery cinematic ‘Lucy’ fatigue.

Ryan Reynolds is getting better though, I feel recently he’s making strides in his acting, ‘The Voices’ is still hands down his best but in this movie he balances charm and swag with that worried broken sense of who am I. Ben Kingsley basically cameos as the set up for the movie. Matthew Goode truly has that chilling factor to an art form, playing the professor Goode manages to give the film it’s more tense moments in that fine line where it could have continued being a focused brainy thriller. Michelle Dockery as Damian’s daughter Claire doesn’t have much to do and could have been used further if the story took a better turn.

Self/less is less about self and more about guns, cars and killing. It’s like a Bourne trip to find yourself instead of the intellectual questions that could have produced a finer sci-fi thriller. Saying all this, I still liked it for some reason and enjoyed the potential it had even if it’s squandered.

6/10

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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From the minds of the Wachowskis comes another magnificent and appetising visual spectacle, but aside from the look the film offers, their story leaves something more satisfying to be desired. Though going into this film on seeing the trailer at least, I knew what to expect and if you want a dazzling entertaining movie with little to no plot sense then see this.

On Earth lives cleaner Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who is in fact royalty to planets born long before our own planet. Squabbling Abrasax siblings led by Balem (Eddie Redmayne) want Jupiter, to stop her potential of ruling the world and so he can harvest humans to keep youthful. Lycan and splice warrior Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) turns up and uses his kick-ass ways to try and help Jones realise who she is and stop Balem too.

The story itself scripted by the Wachowskis isn’t exactly outstanding or coherent. There’s too much going on, back-stories, lots of characters and pepperings of motives and interests. If they had whittled the overblown plot to the bare essentials of Jupiter coming to realise her worth and helping overthrow the villains with Caine, then the film could have honed in on that more interesting and necessary story. It’s to be expected, I guess from Lana and Andy Wachowski, who have an admirable knack for creating vast worlds and ideas, evident in ‘The Matrix’ trilogy and their telling of ‘Cloud Atlas’ but sometimes less is more and sadly they don’t stick to that here.

Odd features of the plot work in favour of the stunning visuals but once looking past their glamorous appearance you wonder why they’re even there. A house covered in bees is one prime example that feels like a stretched tool to see the royal aura Jupiter possesses. The plot pure and simply is a tale of identity and realising potential in the face of greed and an evil thirst for consumption, but getting to that theme is a battle amongst all the stuff thrown at us.

Visual supervisor Dan Glass heads a hugely creditable team of CGI cronies that help craft a breathtaking series of worlds and locations. Shooting from flowery sceneries to high flying space fights twinkling with stars and filled with glossy ships gives the movie a great shine and in fact it holds the same impressive sci-fi scope of ‘Interstellar’ just without that intellect and reserve. Monstrous lizards, alien races and warping space crafts all add suitable science fiction treats to the eye and it’s an enjoyable romp to watch the effects unfold.

There are some funny moments to be had in the nonchalant way Jupiter comments on seeing things, the clunky dialogue (unintentional I know, but it adds to the fun) and in particular a scene featuring a nervous bureaucratic robot attempting to file Jupiter as queen and land her the deserved entitlement. The quickly edited sequence is stuffed with weird creatures and rules to follow and offices to wait at. The whole thing was actually masterfully carried out and feels like the comedic touch of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’.

Channing Tatum is a silly and over the top werewolf human hybrid that skates through the sky like an Olympian Star Trek extra. There’s no stretch to any acting ability to play his role and in fact none of the actors need much push to play the characters but at least Tatum sells the goofily drawn protective Caine. Mila Kunis comes back after a personal break and lands herself in a fun role, emotion not really needed as she retorts and makes witty remarks about things. Her impressive deep eyes and likability help you want Jupiter to succeed but the space filled operatic vibe this story goes for doesn’t give her much scope to play with. Eddie Redmayne goes from universe professor to universe grabber as he turns acting onto the panto setting and softly hums his way through the vamperic role. Douglas Booth has more of the film to eat up in his soft faced nice boy act with a dangerous edge of sinister distrust. Sean Bean is Sean Bean though I won’t say if Bean gets his usual screen death.

Switch your brains to standby and marvel at the bold and huge scaled world created but don’t expect anything more than an entertaining messy sci-fi.

6/10

The Theory of Everything (2015)

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I love this time of year, new beginnings and resolutions may be some people’s great outlooks but I happily accept the influx of heavyweight movies lining up for award ceremony recognition. This is one of those movies. A biopic of one of the most famous male icons is developed through touching and beautiful storytelling led by two tour de force performances.

This film journeys from 60’s Cambridge to detail the relationship between physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and literary student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). It tells of their growing love and togetherness, strongly shown as Hawking is diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease leaving him declining in abilities and putting Jane front and centre as strong caring wife and mother as Stephen continues with his scientific theories.

By far this is the sentimental piece of the possible nomination crowd, the romantic biographical stance feels like the ’12 Years A Slave’ type and so that bodes well for this James Marsh directed story. On the whole, the romance is never sickly and forced, at least shared with Stephen and Jane it’s developed fantastically. The relationship feels so real and chemistry between the two actors is precise and authentic that you honestly believe you’re watching people and not stars doing their job.

If you want to see an emotional tale that not only feels but looks beautiful then this is the one for you. Cambridge couldn’t be more of a perfect English setting to backdrop the coming together of this strong willed minds and Benoit Delhomme captures the posh stunning landscape of the area in a great way that compliments the tone of the film really well. In general this film is softly felt, the look is not glowing but kind of rounded in the edges, making that romantic side of things more pronounced and most of the time this works to its benefit.

There’s creative and lovely imagery to be found in relations of subject and character. As Stephen begins his thoughts on black holes and the start of life, milk in his coffee begins to dance reflecting the vision of rolling black holes, once again as he’s weaker and relying on Jane to help him pull a jumper on his determined character makes him see a light-bulb moment that aids his theory. This is shown through the fireplace manifesting as swirling stars and burning orange mirroring space and the spark setting off in Stephen’s mind. The end cycling back through past events and stopping back on the young Jane and Stephen is also a wonderful moment in helping us relate to Hawking’s poetic yet scientific comment on there being no boundaries in life.

It has a good dose of humour that stops the film from being as overbearingly sentimental as it may otherwise have been. The smart and witty remarks from Stephen are brilliant and the way his disability is spoken of is funny, not taking the mick but lovingly poking fun at a man who can clearly take it. This humourous shine distracts just enough from the clear audible shoving of music to try and make you well up.

I think the main problem the film has are in a few certain moments where it pushes you to feel a specific way. Flaws laying in wishy washy manipulation aren’t to be overlooked and perhaps without the rising orchestral score being ever present, the emotion wouldn’t be as strong and tears wouldn’t be shed. The Wagner show for instance is a tad too dramatically done to but some backing to Stephen’s predicament, so too in a stained glass window magically glowing with sunlight as two characters kiss, it’s a little bit manufactured making it feel like a movie and losing the amazing reality Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne are bringing to the picture.

Eddie Redmayne is in one word – outstanding. There’s no shadow of a doubt that he’ll be nominated and though I haven’t seen all of the other possible Oscar nods for lead actor, I’d agree with him winning. The immersion into this intelligent, funny man and the shocking heartbreaking disease that takes over his and Jane’s lives are so lovingly done, it’s like Stephen Hawking is on screen and not Redmayne. The twitches and crooked movements, the wide smile and the general absorbing presence he exudes make it one of the best male performances I’ve seen in a long time. Felicity Jones should also get nominated as she brings a forceful heroine onto the screens, she’s at first delicate and then tired but strong. It’s clear to see the way she feels from just the look in her eyes, she’s exhausted and needs someone else, Jones polishes the loving yet possibly lost wife with magnificence.

Aside from a handful of twee moments, this is a phenomenal biopic with pristine direction, hair, make up and costume and two magnetic and marvelous lead performances that’s it’s paved the way for 2015 very well indeed.

7.5/10