Thursday, December 28, 2017

In Defense of The Last Jedi

By now it should be no surprise that The Last Jedi was an extremely polarizing film, some loved it, some hated it, me?  I thought it was an extremely satisfying film, I loved how it shook my expectations. Of course, I had expectations. We all did. I remember having movie buff conversations around each one’s theories of what was going to happen with Luke, Rey, Kylo and Snoke. Still, no matter how many theories we had, what was going to happen in the film was a mystery to us all. But boy was it fun to speculate! We should have took heed of the trailer for the film which did warn us “This is not going to go the way you think!” And that was the problem, everyone thought the film was going to go how they wanted and when it didn’t they labeled it as “bad”. The reasons people gave for hating the film weren’t truly convincing for me because they came of as either blind hatred, or simply hatred because the film didn’t make their fan predictions true. Here are some of the reasons I heard from friends and read on the internet. Do you agree with them? For those of you who haven’t seen the film yet, do not go forward, this is an article that’s FILLED WITH SPOILERS! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

The Film is Feminist

I understand what you’re saying with this, but it’s something that’s happening in cinema and in society in general. Women are finally being put in the forefront and given major roles in films and you primates out there who don’t agree are part of the problem. Since forever, women were always relegated to playing ‘damsels in distress’ in films, always holding the man’s hand as he went ahead and solved the problem. Well, not anymore. Cinema is changing and hopefully the world with it. Now women are leading the rebellion. Though when you think about it, Leia was always leading the rebellion, so Star Wars has always been fighting to put women in the forefront in a way. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. This is something I always applauded about The Force Awakens and it’s something I applaud with The Last Jedi. Women are in the leading roles, they are at the crux of the plot, they are making the big decisions, they have something to say, it is they who are saving the galaxy. They are not being “bossy” they are simply saying what they think and making things happen. If you don’t like that, it’s time you checked your ways of thinking. I have no problem with the ladies taking the spotlight, it’s about time.

The Porgs Are There for Selling Toys

From day one Star Wars went hand in hand with merchandising. It has always been part of the equation. It’s why Ewoks exist. Now I’ve never been one to hate the Ewoks, because dammit I’ve always dug them. Those murderous cute fur balls. And I’m not one to hate any of the creatures that pop up in the Star Wars universe (Jar-Jar Binks excluded). I mean, cute cuddly creatures have always been a part of Star Wars, and you can’t deny The Porgs are actually cute, so I don’t get this hate either. Plus they are part of the indigenous life forms of the Island, it actually makes sense that the island is so alive and filled with all these different lifeforms.  

The Comedy Doesn’t Fit

Again, most of the things people hate about The Last Jedi have always been part of Star Wars, take for instance the comedy in it. Some have gone as far as calling it “intrusive”, as if it didn’t belong. Others felt like The Last Jedi was closer to Spaceballs than Space opera? Hey people, wake up, there’s always been comedy in Star Wars. Remember Luke saying “I used to live here you know” and Han replying “You’re gonna die here, convenient!” Or how’s about Lei calling Han a “Nerf Herder” or Yoda acting all goofy? So what if Poe calls General Hux, Hugs? So what if Luke has funny looking nuns helping him out? So what if Chewbacca has a funny moment with the Porgs, a little comedy has always been part of the Star Wars formula. It’s never overbearing. 

Leia Using The Force

Leia Organa has always been strong with The Force. It’s why she hears Luke’s voice in her head when he called her while hanging from the rafters of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s how she “felt” that he hadn’t died inside the Death Star when it exploded in The Return of the Jedi. So why does it create such a reaction when she finally uses it to save her life in The Last Jedi? Is it because audiences thought she looked stupid or silly floating through space? The Force has always been used by characters to float from here to there, why wouldn’t Leia use it to save her life in that particular moment? Also, for me it was a cinematic, symbolic and moving resurrection of Carrie Fisher and it became an impactful moment for me in the film.

Luke Would Never Become a Murderer

Now this point here is about interpretation. The big deal here is that Luke pulls out his sword on Kylo to kill him because he considers him too big of a threat. You have to remember, Luke only considers killing Kylo for a second, only because he’d seen Kylos future and he knew all the chaos and destruction that Kylo was going to bring to the entire galaxy, all the millions that would die under his yoke as ruler of The First Order. But Luke only considered killing Kylo, he didn’t actually do it because Luke knew Kylo might have some good left inside of him. Same as Darth Vader had some good in him left at the end of Return of the Jedi. And don’t give me the “Luke would never do that” shtick because Star Wars has always been about that inner turmoil we all go through, that battle with our inner demons and our dark side. I can feel the conflict within you, but remember, Star Wars has always been about that very thin like between the Light and the Dark.

The Casino Scene is Too Long

The Casino scene on Canto Bight is actually a very important scene in the film, in fact, it’s the one with the most social commentary. It’s the scene that’s making a statement about the society we live in. Child slavery does in fact exist in our world, and its one of those things that’s extremely wrong with our reality, yet there it is. If director Rian Johnson wants to make a comment about that and take a good chunk of the film to do it, then so be it. It’s a statement that matters. And it’s not unheard of in the Star Wars universe either, The Phantom Menace shone a light on similar subject matter by having Anakin be a slave child as well. And who’s profiting from those races? The rich scum of the earth, who sell weapons of mass destruction, to both sides. So yeah, there’s something to be said there. On top of that, it’s an amazing sequence filled with a bunch of creatures! I didn’t know where to look at with so much coolness up on the screen. It was on part with the Cantina scene going all the way back to A New Hope, so yeah, it fits right in there in Star Wars universe.  

Rose is a Weak Character

There’s something to be said with Rose as well. Aside from the fact that Disney is making a huge effort to make these films ethnically diverse by including people of all colors and nationalities in their films, Rose also fulfills the role of representing the working class. Her character (as well as Finn’s who used to mop floors on the Dark Side) show how anyone of us can make a difference and become a hero, we can all do something important with our lives if we chose to. And that’s also a statement that matters. She saves Finn from sacrificing himself unnecessarily. And it’s her dead sisters medallion (which she unselfishly gives up) that ends up saving the day at one point. So, I guess she isn’t as weak a character as you all might think.  

They Shouldn’t Have Killed Off Snoke

Star Wars is famous for killing off cool villains. Remember Darth Maul and how we all thought he was the coolest looking villain in Star Wars? Remember how we thought we’d be seeing a lot of him in future films only to see him get sliced in half in The Phantom Menace? Or how about Boba Fett dying in the Sarlacc Pit? The same can be said for the good guys. I mean, I was so freaking sorry to see Qui Gon Jinn dying in The Phantom Menace! Of course I was as shocked as the next guy when Snoke bit the bullet, but come one guys, Lucas had been playing that game since forever. Plus, I like the fact that Snokes death shook things up to the point where we have ask ourselves what the hell is The First Order going to do now? In this movie no one is safe! I loved that about it. 

The Film is Boring

Now this is just a lame ass comment. Really, a film that gives us juicy character development and has all these amazing events taking place, how can you even say this film was boring. Rey meets Luke, The First Order is on The Rebels ass, Finn almost bites it, Snoke is split in half… and that freaking battle in Snokes Throne Room, that scene is the reason they invented phrases like “worth the price of admission”. This comment about the film being “boring” seems like blind hatred to me. Moving on…

It Doesn’t Feel Like Star Wars (It’s Too Disney)

This isn’t true in my book for various reasons, but number one being that Disney has actually made sure that these films feel a lot like the first trilogy, like those first three films that came out. Some mentioned that some of the creatures were too Disney, namely the caretakers, the crystal doggies and the Porgs…to that I say whatever, Star Wars has always had cute little creatures. How could it not feel like Star Wars when The Last Jedi shares similarities with both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? It has Luke and Leia. It has The Millenium Falcon, Yoda, C3-PO and R2. This is very much a Star Wars film my friends. It’s another brainless excuse to spew blind hatred.

So that’s my take on it dudes and dudettes. I think that what is going on is the film destroyed all theories and didn’t give audiences exactly what they wanted, which is what The Force Awakens did. J.J. Abram’s film gave audiences exactly what they wanted. The Last Jedi did the opposite of that and to me that’s the genius of it. J.J. Abrams is apparently going to direct the next one, so let’s see what he does with this universe left in tatters. Maybe audiences will like Episode 9 more because J.J.’s the kind of director who loves to give you guys what you want, but to me Rian Johnson made a bold and risky film and as a result ended up making one of the most talked about entries in the franchise. To me that’s something worth noting.

The risk taker, destroyer of worlds, Rian Johnson. 

When Empire Strikes Back was released, it had a similar reaction to The Last Jedi. Audiences thought it was too dark and like Last Jedi, it wasn’t immediately loved by all.  What we need to remember as audiences is that in Hollywood, the second film in a trilogy is always the one in which everything goes to hell. This is the chapter in which everything becomes complicated and sad and all our heroes are left in dire straits. This is all done so that it all resolves itself in the third and final chapter. This is George Lucas 101. This is screenwriting 101. So, don’t worry my friends, I’m sure Episode 9 will be a bit more uplifting and J. J. will be considered the savior of the Star Wars universe because his film will be the “happy ending” to this new trilogy. I also bet that like Empire Strikes Back, decades down the road, The Last Jedi will be considered by many as one of the best in the series, mark my words. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi (2017)

The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Ryan Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hammill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyongo, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Anticipation is always high for any Star Wars movie and The Last Jedi wasn’t going to be the exception. People just can’t wait for that Star Wars logo to flash on the screen while John William’s legendary score blasts through the speakers, it just starts things out with such a blast! Of course, I was as excited as everybody else. Where the hell was Rey and Finn’s story going to go? Who’s going to go bad, who’s going to “turn”? The interesting thing about this particular Star Wars sequel was that directors were going to change. J.J. Abrams passed the baton to Ryan Johnson who took the reins of the series with relentlessness. I wasn’t floored when I heard that Johnson had gotten the gig because to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Brick (2005) or The Brothers Bloom (2008). The only light at the end of his cinematic repertoire was a film called Looper (2012) which I did enjoy a whole lot. So, where would a new voice, a new director/writer take the series? I was extremely curious.

This time around, the rebels are escaping the ever-nearing death grip of The New Order. After the destruction of Star Killer Base, the Order is desperate to wipe out the last remaining members of the Rebel Alliance. But rebels are not so easy to kill. Meanwhile, Rey is trying to convince Luke to rejoin the fight, to lead, to train more Jedi. Sadly, Luke has all but given up on the force and the training of Jedi. He wants none of the responsibility. Will Rey convince him to come out of seclusion?

When I say that Johnson took the franchise relentlessly, I mean it. It feels as if its writer/director, Ryan Johnson is scrapping everything J.J. Abrams set up in The Force Awakens (2015) and doing his own thing. And by scrapping, I mean, completely obliterating a lot of what makes The Force Awakens what it is. So creatively speaking, that was so interesting. The Last Jedi is the polar opposite of what The Force Awakens was. If Force Awakens was giving fans everything they wanted, then The Last Jedi is defying what you expected from this sequel. It’s almost as if Johnson is saying, if we follow what Abrams set up, we’ll end up seeing the exact same films we’ve already seen. And Johnson obviously doesn’t want that, so he’s shaking things up almost to the point of starting anew. And I must admit, I dug this direction Johnson took a whole lot. With this movie, you’ll feel like no one is safe. It’s not like when you’re watching a movie and you know nothing is going to happen to the good guys, so let’s just enjoy how they go about doing what they got to do. Nope, in The Last Jedi you will feel like every single person on the screen is in danger of being obliterated, or killed or blasted into infinity by some freaking giant laser. In that sense, for me, the film succeeds. It takes away that feeling of safety towards the characters.  

The film succeeds in many other ways as well. It is a darker chapter in the franchise and in this way it is similar to The Empire Strikes Back (1980), but it’s not as blatant as The Force Awakens was with its fan service. This isn’t a Xerox copy of The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, though we hear and see echoes of both films. So it gives you a bit of that familiarity, but without becoming fan service, which was what The Force Awakens was guilty of. The Last Jedi has many new things going for it, old fans will be thrilled at how well they go about explaining exactly what The Force is but will also be surprised at the additions that Johnson makes to the mythology.  

Thematically speaking the film is all about the new wanting to stamp out the old, trying to forget it, leave it behind to start anew, which is kind of what the entire film attempts to do as well. I thought it was amazing how the film was mimicking what its characters were feeling. I loved where the characters were going and was surprised at every characters story arc and ultimate fate. I mean, Rey and Kilo, awesome! Snoke! Leia! Finn! Poe! So cool to see them all going through their own intense thing and then coming together in the grand finale. With each passing movie I love Rey even more. The new characters like Rose and Benicio del Toro’s DJ were welcome additions. I was especially proud of Benicio’s performance because he is one of Puerto Rico’s best actors, and he's up there in Star Wars and he represents. So, cool for Benicio!   

 The film is like a long trip you don’t want to end. When I thought it was just about to be over, boom, it wasn’t and a whole other chapter opens, and it’s also awesome. Final thoughts on The Last Jedi is that yes, it’s a very satisfying sequel. It is a dark chapter that shakes things up like crazy and attempts to put our characters in an incredibly difficult situation, therefore it is going to polarize audiences. Some will love it, others will hate it, or perhaps even find it “boring”, though honestly, I can’t agree one parsec with them. I kept thinking, boy, whoever ends up directing the next one is going to have a hard time doing it because this Ryan Johnson guy just left things in pretty dire straits! Ryan Johnson was like a hurricane that just passed through the Star Wars universe and left said universe in tatters. Where are these characters headed now? That’s what I want to know! We have to wait a couple of years to find out, so patience my young Padawan’s. Patience.

Ratings: 5 out of 5  


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffallo, Anthony Hopkins, Bennedict Cumberbatch

Within the Marvel movies, there are the huge hits that everyone loves like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and The Avengers (2012) and then there are those films that people liked but don’t go bananas over, like the Thor movies. The first film was directed by Kenneth Branagh and I was really pumped for it because he’s known for doing Shakespeare adaptations and so I was like, cool, he’s going to bring that Shakespearian quality to the Thor universe, which he did. That first film was all serious and tragic in true Shakespearian fashion. It was followed by a less then spectacular sequel which really didn’t do much for me. Which is probably why the Thor franchise has never been the one to light the Box Office on fire, well, at least not as spectacularly as the rest of the Marvel Universe. Thor movies made money, but didn’t make as much as the rest. Which meant something had to be reworked, something had to be fixed, because people weren’t reacting as favorably to the Thor franchise as Disney hoped they would. So what’s a studio to do? Well, Disney did what they had to do, they tried something new for this third film to ensure its success. They made it funny. Did it work?

This time around Thor faces the takeover of Asgard by his evil sister Hella. Unfortunately, he accidentally ends up stranded on a distant planet where people are obsessed with Gladiator fights featuring The Incredible Hulk as the star of the show. Oh, and Thor’s also without his magical Hammer Mjolnir. Can he get back home to fix things in Asgard before his sister begins her reign of terror? Will he ever get Mjolnir back? And can he win in a fight against the Hulk?

With the success of films like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Deadpool (2016), suddenly offbeat movies that didn’t take themselves so seriously were the big money makers. And so, this new Thor movie is a thrill a minute, fast paced, joke fest. It’s lighthearted and crazy and I love it and so has the rest of the world; Thor Ragnarok has turned into one of the biggest money makers in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. A huge part of the successful formula for this enjoyable film is the guy behind the camera, Taika Waititi. Who the hell is Taika Waititi you might ask. Well, he might not be a household name yet, but Waititi has been making movies for a while now. In all honesty, he’s a rather gifted storyteller. If you want to see what he is capable of, I recommend you check out a movie he made called Boy (2010), a touching and beautiful film about a boy who misses his father. Waititi acts, writes and directs his own films, yes my friends, Waititi is a creative force to be reckoned with and I have a feeling we’ve yet to discover what he can really do. I mean, if this is him working with a studios ideas, imagine when he does a project thats purely his. I predict good things from Waititi. You might remember him best for his performance in a faux Documentary What We Do in The Shadows (2014), a super funny film that follows a group of vampires who are all house mates in a flat in London. Just hilarious, highly recommend checking that film out. After seeing Waititi’s repertoire, you’ll understand perfectly well why Thor: Ragnarok is so hilarious. So remember, if you enjoy the funny in Ragnarok, Waititi is the guy you have to thank.  

What Waititi does with some of his films is he turns things around, he puts a tired idea in a new unexpected situation. I mean, there’s no more tired genre than the vampire genre and Waititi made it work. He made us see vampires in a way we hadn’t seen them before. I mean, did you ever think you’d see vampires squabbling over who should do the dishes? “Fuck that! Vampires don’t do dishes!” Did you ever think you’d see Thor being traumatized after seeing Hulk naked? Well, in this movie he does, and that’s what I’m talking about, he puts the characters we know and love in funny, unthought of situations. Situations you’d never imagine seeing them in. Situations that most movies would avoid. Not only is the film funny, but it shatters the foundations of the Thor universe to their very core. Thor goes through a life changing journey, more so than any previous films. Ragnarok shakes things up good. Nothing is sacred. All while spewing one liners. You wont feel danger or peril, but you’ll have one hell of a good time. You’ll bust a gut with the banter between Thor and The Hulk.

Speaking of the films look, well, it’s very bright and colorful. It’s very much in tune with the look and feel of two very important comic book artists who helped shape the character of Thor in the 60’s. I speak of  Jacky Kirby and Walter Simonson. Kirby and Simonson did some of the more seminal runs on Thor, they helped shape and define what Thor eventually became, the way he would look. Waititi and crew paid homage to these classic artists by giving the film a very classic look with regards to set designs and the wardrobe of some of the characters. Thor himself has a more contemporary feel, getting away from the long hair, the capes and the hammer, making him less of a Viking. So the film is a bit of the old and the new.  Speaking of the old and the retro, If you love the 80’s then you’ll love the soundtrack which is pure 80’s synth stuff. It has a John Carpenter/Stranger Things vibe going for it. Thor: Ragnarok is a film that is showing us just how important it is to put the right person behind the camera, because without Waititi, this would be a very different film. This film shows movie studios can realize when something didnt work and that they shouldn’t be afraid to go in an entirely different direction to try something new and freshen things up. Who knows, it just might work. This is a lesson the DC Universe could learn from.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Justice League (2017)

Justice League (2017)

Directors: Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon

Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons, Billy Crudup, Diane Lane, Amber Heard, Robin Wright

I started collecting comics when I was nine years old. I discovered the world of comic books through a neighbor of mine who had mountains of them. Back then, you were either a Marvel fan or a DC fan, it was always a clash of who had the best superheroes. Who would win if they ever fought against each other? Who was the most powerful? And it was all about those big events like Marvel’s ‘Secret Wars’ , where all of the heroes got together to defeat an all-powerful villain. Nowadays, these clashes have translated to the silver screen. Who makes the best comic book movies? Marvel or DC? Are you with Warner Bros. or are ya with Disney? Maybe you’re like me and enjoy both sides equally, I mean, why side, when you can have all the fun and enjoy the whole shebang? Cool thing is that each production company is always trying to make the biggest and the baddest comic book film ever made, all to please us, the viewer. They don’t always succeed, but boy is it fun to watch them try. Up to my writing this, I’d say that there’s no doubt that Marvel is winning the day in terms of who makes the best comic book movies. Marvel seems to have the formula figured out, and they are ahead of the game, no doubt. But DC is slowly learning from their mistakes. Is Justice League a step in the right direction?  

This time around, Batman is trying to gather superheroes to form a group of heroes to protect the earth from a coming threat. Apparently, a villain called Steppenwolf is hell bent on world domination, but in order to do so, he has to recollect three “mother boxes” that will give him the power he seeks in order to achieve his goals. Will Batman gather the team in time, and if he does, will they be enough? How can this world without a Superman confront such a threat?

For those of you not in the know, this film had a bumpy road towards the silver screen. Zack Snyder was directing it, but he suffered the death of a loved one, so he stepped down to deal with that. Warner Bros. decided to hire Josh Whedon director of Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) in order to finish the film. Whedon did a couple of re-writes and reshoots and boom, we got Justice League. Warner Bros. took the opportunity to make the film a bit “lighter”, the reason for this being that audiences have felt that DC movies are “too dark and brooding”, well, at least when compared to Marvel movies, which are bright and shiny and know how to juggle heroic elements with comedy. 

This whole making DC movies lighter thing has been going on for a while now. Warner Bros. has been reactionary in this sense, they react to whatever Marvel does. And I think that’s actually part of the problem, they aren’t trend setters. They are following, reacting to whatever Marvel does. In this sense, Marvel has proven themselves the leaders of this whole comic book movie craze. Warner Bros tried making Suicide Squad (2016) lighter and funnier with some reshoots, but that turned out to be a failed experiment. With Justice League, DC finally found the right balance between comedy and super hero antics, and it’s all thanks to Whedon’s influence in the project. The funny moments are truly funny, well written and effective, so I’d say you guys can rest assured the film delivers.

In terms of these six heroes coming together, I’d say they did a good job as well. I gotta say I had a kick out of seeing all these heroes together on the silver screen. Nobody is left behind, they all shine, they all kick ass, they work together. It’s cool seeing their different personalities clash. Some are seasoned veterans, others are just learning how to be heroes. How cool is it to see Flash afraid of getting into battle? I’d say he is the one that grows the most as a character, learning how to grow into the role of a hero. Flash also has the funniest lines in the film. For the record, I like Ben Affleck as Batman. Momoa is the badboy of the group as Aquaman. Cyborg is surprisingly crucial to the story. And Wonder Woman is growing to be the leader of the pack. And speaking of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, she looks even more beautiful on this one, I have a crush on this girl. She’s just stunning on this film.

On the negative side, the villain is your typical “world domination” type, which felt very “been there done that”. The villain being a completely computer generated character didn’t help matters much in terms of giving it life, Hollywood has to learn that lesson. We want thespians Hollywood, not pixels. No matter how cool they may look, nothing will ever replace the performance of a real actor. In this type of film, the villains shenanigans are just a trigger to get our heroes in motion and what really matters is how they get from here to there, how they go about it. The McGuffin this time are three powerful items called “The Mother Boxes” and basically, they are what moves the plot along. It’s the type of film where the villains motivations don’t matter as long as we get that cool superhero action, which can be seen as a negative point. In a good honest to god great film, everything is that much better if we care about what’s moving the story along. You definetly feel the voice of two different directors, and a bunch of producers messing with the movie, as a result the film does feel a bit uneven. It feels a bit disjointed in terms of tone and style. But whatever, Justice League is a no brainer. It’s meant to be a fun movie and in that sense, it delivers every step of the way. There are surprises and cool moments that will have those geeky fans wetting their pants with joy. Stay for the two extra endings!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Sean Young

What has always attracted me to Blade Runner (1982), and part of the reason why it’s one of my favorite science fiction films ever (topped only by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) are its themes. The film asks one of the most thought-provoking questions of all time: why must we die? The question of our mortality has haunted us since the dawn of time. Why are we born with an expiration date? One for the ages to be sure, but one that Ridley Scott and his crew weren’t afraid to ask back in 1982. Which is why that scene in which Roy Batty kills his creator for being unable to give him more life struck me as a great example of a film that knows its themes well and truly explores them. “You were made as good as we could make you” is the answer Tyrell, the ‘God of Biomechanics’ gives his creations. Live your life to the fullest, but rest assured, you’re going to die.  That frustration and anger we all feel at the fact that we know we are going to die is explored on Blade Runner with laser clear precision. The film really dives into its themes with reckless abandon. It asks questions and attempts to give us answers, even if said answers are dark and hopeless. And it delivers these dark explorations with beauty and poetry.

Of course, when standing on the shoulders of such a giant, the makers of Blade Runner 2049 must’ve been concerned with delivering a film that was just as compelling and thought provoking as the original. Which of course was never going to be an easy task. Ridley Scott’s film is good on so many levels, it has  memorable characters, incredible dialog, amazing art direction, incredible special effects and music…it’s that rare “perfect” film that is extremely hard to top. I give kudos to Denis Villeneuve’s for having the guts to tackle the sequel of such a masterpiece. Was Blade Runner 2049 a worthy sequel? How does it compare to the first film? Can it be its own thing?

On Blade Runner 2049 we are presented with a new Android Executioner (a.k.a. Blade Runner) called agent ‘K’, who is assigned to retire a rebellious android who is passing itself for a farmer. Agent K ends up stumbling upon a mystery, which will lead him to a discovery that can shake the very foundations of society itself. Will he take the task and open this Pandora’s Box?  

I have to give it to Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, the writers behind this sequel, because they actually came up with some interesting concepts for this movie. The concepts are so good that they could branch off into entirely different films, which says a lot about the complexities of the concepts behind Blade Runner 2049. This movie has more meat to it than 90% percent of what passes for science fiction these days. And that “meat” is merely the backdrop of the story.  The actual plot of Blade Runner 2049 concerns itself with continuing exactly where the original film leaves off, with Deckard running off with Rachel to god knows where. This makes perfect sense when we take in consideration that Fancher also wrote the first film, so he’s picking up the story right where he left it.

Blade Runner 2049 has gotten lots of praise for its visuals and I agree, the film looks astonishing. Denis Villeneuve pays huge amounts of respect to the original film. You’ll feel you are in the same world that Ridley Scott presented us with in the first film. From the crummy, dirty streets filled with mutants to the flying police cars and the nonstop rain. It was great seeing landmarks from the first film like the Tyrell Corporation Pyramids or all those neon holograms promoting every sort of product available to man. I mean, Villeneuve succeeded in recreating that visual complexity that Ridley Scott is so good at conjuring on his films. Fans of the original Blade Runner are in for a real treat. It’s got that classy Film Noir vibe we all love from Blade Runner, its still very much a science fictin film mixed with a detective story. 

I was extremely disappointed that Vangelis was not used as the composer for Blade Runner 2049 because to me, the Vangelis score in Blade Runner (1982)  is a huge part of what emotes in conjunction with the visuals, such a unique cinematic experience. Vangelis’s music is sampled and reused in 2049, but instead letting him come up with a new score, they brought it in Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, which I will admit did an amazing job here anyway. The sounds used to compliment the visuals effectively evoke that dark science fiction vibe, it’s not Vangelis, but its mind-blowing in its own way. I’ve seen the film twice already and realized just how fantastic that musical score is. So prepare yourselves to dive into an amazing audio visual experience.

Though the film is amazing in many ways, it did have some flaws. One of the things that just didn’t work for me were the unanswered plot points, purposely left that way to be answered in a possible sequel. I personally don’t like to see scenes shoehorned in there for the sake of setting up a franchise, but whatever, you might not care. The original Blade Runner wasn’t concerned with establishing a franchise, they just did the one great film. To me it feels distracting, especially if you’re not even sure if there will be a sequel at all. You'll be left wondering what happened to certain characters, so be ready for that. Another thing is that to me 2049 is not as crystal clear with its themes as its predecessor. What is Blade Runner 2049 really about? Is it trying to answer any big questions? It is not as crystal clear as the first film. For now all I can say is that it is a film that warrants a few viewings to really grasp it, which means its a film that begs to be analyzed. I missed that focus in themes I got with the original film. But even with its flaws, the film is amazing on so many other levels that it balances the pros and cons out. I do hope more people go see it because like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t exactly lighting the box office in flames. In fact, last time I checked it was having a hard time making its money back. Which is sometimes a good thing. When general audiences don't like a film, it usually means it has some brains to it, which usually means I'll like it. So there's that. It's not a film made for mass consumption, which is a good thing for some of us.    

This was a risky movie for Denis Villeneuve to make because it’s an intelligent, slow paced science fiction film, and mass audiences like their explosions and fights every five seconds and they like everything spoon fed to them. It also has a lengthy running time of almost three hours, but I’ll tell ya, I was engaged all the way through, I didn’t really notice the running time. I wanted more by the time it was over. When it's over it comes as a surprise. In that sense, it is extremely similar to the original Blade Runner, which also slammed its door on our face, making us wonder what happened to Deckard and Rachel. Well, this film answers us that question, but it leaves so many others unanswered, hopefully we’ll get a sequel, hopefully the answers will come, and hopefully they wont take thirty something years to make the next film. I love the world of Blade Runner and I hope we get to revisit it at some point. I am extremely happy that Denis Villeneuve is doing such an amazing job with the science fiction genre, he is steadily becoming the sci-fi director of this generation. I hear he wants to tackle Dune next! What can I say, after seeing Blade Runner 2049, he has my vote. Final word, even with its flaws, I cannot bring myself to give this film anything but a perfect score. One for the ages in deed. 
Rating: 5 out of 5


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mother! (2017)

Mother! (2017)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris

Darren Aronofsky isn’t a stranger to playing with themes of Christianity or religion, in fact, right from the get go with his first film Pi (1998), he was already playing with ideas of religion vs. logic. Even when he did Noah (2014) a film based on the biblical tale of Noah’s ark, he twisted the tale in a way that the film actually turned into a critical view of the bible and its teachings instead of a purely “Christian Film”. When I saw Noah, I felt Aronofksy took many fantastical elements from the bible and slapped Christians right in the face with it. What angered Christians about Noah, and part of the reason why the Christian Community didn’t fully embrace that film was because they couldn’t deny that the “craziest” elements from that film where actually in the bible to begin with. This is why I find that Aronofsky’s newest film Mother! (2017), fits right in there with the rest of his cinematic repertoire. Aronofsky has always had a strong critical voice about religion. So, how do his views on religion show up in Mother!?

Mother! is all about this couple who lives out in the sticks in the middle of nowhere. All they want is a bit of peace and quiet. He wants peace in order to work on his writing and she enjoys working on improving her home. Problems begin to develop when uninvited guests being to knock at their door to interrupt their secluded married life. Will these people ever stop coming? What do they want?

This is not a film to be watched like a regular film, it is not “linear” or even literal in any sense of the word, though it starts out that way. Mother! is a film filled with symbolisms, closer to the experience of watching an Alejandro Jodorwsky film, where you aren’t supposed to follow a story line in the traditional sense of the word, but instead, you are asked to interpret what you are watching so that you can understand what the director/writer is trying to say.  That Aronofksy has made this type of film shouldn’t surprise anyone, after all, this is the director of The Fountain (2006), also a risky film, filled with symbolisms. I say risky because American audiences aren’t used to films they have to interpret. American audiences are used to being spoon fed the plot, so I am not surprised that Mother! received such a cold reception at the box office. Aronofksy knew he was making a hard movie to sell, which is why I applaud him for taking the risk of making an honest film that will make us think. It’s so much more refreshing then repetitive dribble regularly projected in movie screens across the world.  

Paramount Pictures actually sent out a press release “apologizing” for Mother! saying that they recognize it isn’t a film for everybody, which is true. What I liked abot their press release was that they didn’t kick the movie in the gut, but rather, stood by it and its filmmaker, defending it by calling Mother! a bold film made by a director and actors at the top of their game.  The backlash from audiences has been brutal, but it’s probably because they don’t understand the film for what it is. I mean, sure its images are shocking, gory, and brutal, but what do they stand for? Could it be that it’s getting this backlash because it’s saying that Christianity is just as gory, shocking and brutal? I’m guessing that’s why it’s being lambasted. Because again, Christianity cannot deny that the savagery seen in the film actually reflects their own beliefs. It’s not nice looking in the mirror and realizing you’re a monster.

Kudos to Aronofsky for doing this. I mean, I was just as shocked as everyone while watching the movie and it succeeds in making you feel something, even if it is horrendous shock. But if you look past the shock, there’s something profound being said here. Not many filmmakers are as brave as Aronofsky.  People are saying its “the worst film they’ve ever seen” and that they “left the theater before it ended” but it’s not because its badly acted or because it doesn’t look beautiful. Lawrence and Bardem are amazing in it. The film looks as beautiful as any other Aronofksy movie, though darker and grimmer for sure. Still, it’s not a badly made film, far from it. 

Lawrence and Aronofksy working out a scene

People are saying its “bad” because they can’t take the shock. So if you can take shock, you’ll have no problem. If you can take strong themes, go see the movie. If you despise religion, politics and hive like mentalities, you’ll dig this film. But if you are a Christian, you’ll probably hate looking at your beliefs represented on film and you’ll hate the fact that you can’t deny that this is what the bible teaches. Awesome movie in my book. Go see it, test your boundaries then interpret what you’ve seen. I applaude Aronofsky and Paramount for making bold, different cinema, keep at it.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Monday, September 11, 2017

IT (2017)

IT (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard

Every generation gets their boogeyman and it looks like this generation is getting Pennywise, The Dancing Clown. Yes my friends, this killer clown from outer space has earned his rank amongst the horror elite. Pennywise is the brainchild of Stephen King who first introduced him with his hugely successful novel ‘IT’, which premiered way back in 1986. The book was then adapted into a television miniseries, where it frightened a whole generation of 90’s kids (myself included) thanks in no small part to Tim Curry’s brilliant interpretation of the title character. Now Pennywise has been resurrected via a theatrically released film. Considering how many terrible remakes we get on a yearly basis, I was hesitant to accept this one, as I always am when they want to mess around with a classic. Would Bill Skarsgard, the actor portraying Pennywise do the character justice, or was he just going to clone Tim Curry’s take on it? The same trepidation went for the director, Andy Muschietti, the director behind Mama (2003), which I’ve yet to see. Would he have what it takes to make a truly frightening movie or would this be another watered down “Horror Movie” afraid to truly scare us?

In case you’ve never seen the mini-series or read King’s book IT is all about this town in which kids keep disappearing for no apparent reason. A group of nerds and outcast who call themselves “The Losers” notice what is happening and decide to do something about it. Their explorations lead them to a discovery: there’s a strange, evil clown kidnapping the kids! Can they confront this evil entity and stop the disappearance’s from happening?

My big preoccupation with this movie was whether it was going to be truly horrifying or not. I’ve grown to learn that in modern Hollywood, an ‘R’ rating doesn’t necessarily equal intensity. Sometimes it’s just a hook to make you think the film you are about to watch is going to be “edgy” then you realize you’ve been had. In the case of ‘IT’ I am happy to say that this is a truly hardcore horror movie not afraid to shock us. In the first ten minutes, the film really shows us its fangs and lets us know it isn’t fooling around, if you stay, you are going to be horrified! So if you can’t take the heat, you better get out of that kitchen! The scares are well orchestrated, it is gory, it is intense and freaking Pennywise is a memorable boogyman! A memorable villain! My hats down to Bill Skarsgard for delivering a truly nuanced performance. Pennywise’s movements and facial gestures truly delivered a bone chilling villain, everything about him feels strange or “off”, his evil is felt in every part of the performance. Loved this villain, and I love the fact that he really goes for the jugular when the movie turns up the heat.

But apart from a strong, memorable villain, which by the way I’ve been dying to see in a film for a while now, we get a group of young characters who deliver believable performances that manage to capture that innocent age when everything is new, when you kiss for the first time, when you develop friendships that will last you a life time, and when you first start standing up to your parents. I’ve always liked that about ‘IT’, that idea that this group of friends truly care for each other, that feeling that you’re with people you can really trust in. This of course is something present in many of Stephen King’s stories like Stand By Me (1986) and Dreamcatcher (2003). King loves to tell stories of friends or a community coming together to defeat an ultimate evil, so he takes his time in writing situations where that bond, that love between characters is truly felt. Kudos to the director for seeing that and bringing it to the big screen. By the way, this film does something that all good remakes do, it gives us enough new elements so it doesn’t feel like we’re watching the same film over again.

What I loved the most about this adaptation is that it didn’t feel like a cheap horror film. It doesn’t feel like it was made by an idiot trying to scare us with cheap scares. Nope, this is a well-crafted horror film that looks beautiful, is truly frightening and has characters you care about, all without losing its edge and remembering its mission: to make you squirm in your seat. So yes my dear readers, Andy Muschietti and crew aimed to do make a truly memorable horror film and not something that you’d forget or worse yet, wish you’d never spent your time and your money on. This one was special in my book. It's filled with a lot of great moments, I think what Muschietti was aiming for was a roller coaster ride of horror and he achieved it. I was so impressed that I will be checking out Muschietti’s Mama (2003). Bottom line is IT is a fun ride, and should be experienced in a movie theater. By the looks of it, a sequel is assured, which is supposed to take place 27 years later, when the kids have all grown up. Here’s hoping they don’t give us a cheap ass sequel and maintain the same high level of quality with the next film. This film surpassed my expectations, and that’s a lot to say because normally new horror films fail to amaze me. IT was jaw-droppingly good!

Rating: 5 out of 5 


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