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


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