Movie review: Blade Runner 2049

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long-awaited (by some) sequel to another 1980s hit – Blade Runner 2049 – has reached theaters, so, let’s see whether it was worth the wait and all the hype.

IMDb summary: A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.

The original Blade Runner has been a cult classic for years but I’ve never expected it to get a sequel 3 decades later because of the lack of mainstream success. Undoubtedly, it has aged well: the story is still solid and is open to as many different interpretations as there are versions of the film. The pacing is a bit slow but that can be seen as a feature of the time. The effects are great too even if you can tell that they have that particular 1980s futuristic style. Even though I did like the original film, I wouldn’t have been as excited about its sequel if they hadn’t gotten Dennis Villeneuve to direct it. His attachment to the project was the factor that immensely increased my interest the movie! Besides, the marketing shorts, which filled in the 30-year-old gap between the two feature films – the anime Black Out 2022, and the live action shorts 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run – have acted as great tasters for the sequel and doubled the hype as well!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Blade Runner 2049 was written by Hampton Fancher (the writer of the original) and Michael Green (the writer of Logan, Alien: Covenant, and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express, the co-creator of American Gods). This duo of scriptwriters did an amazing job: they paid homage to the original (both the plot and the thematic concepts) and expanded upon it/them extremely successfully.

The first two acts of the sequel were structured as a mystery: a smart yet straightforward one man’s quest for answers. The third act upped the complexity: it had a tonne of exciting reveals and a bunch of sidelines converging with the main one. The writing for the lead character was just brilliant too. Every act of the film had some kind of twist relating to him: either the fact that he was a replicant at the beginning, a potential offspring of a replicant in the second act and just a decoy for the actual child in the end. It was amazing to see a character go from not knowing who he was to finding actual answers but quickly realizing that he was asking the wrong questions in the first place. He both found and lost an identity before our eyes in the time span of two hours. It was such a great and different character arc.

Two huge thematic concepts that 2049 introduced were the virtual/holographic humans and the procreation ability of the replicants. These two ideas pushed the question of ‘what is humanity ?’ so much farther than I ever dream it could go. I still can’t wrap my head around these two concepts.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who has quickly become one of the most critically acclaimed directors of our time with films like Prisoners, Sicario, and especially last year’s Arrival, directed the Blade Runner sequel and did a spectacular job. To begin with, he stayed faithful to the original with the pacing and the style of the visuals. Having said that, Villeneuve also built upon what was already there. 2049 was a really long and quite a slow film, however, it never dragged. It was always intense, intriguing, and exciting – way more than the original ever was.

When it comes to visuals, they were just breathtaking. The set design (by Alessandra Querzola + production design by Dennis Gassner), the costume design (by Renée April), the lighting and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins) – all these different departments just brought their A-game and created such a cohesive masterpiece. The scope was epic and awe-inspiring. The shots were composed so beautifully, you could just freeze them and frame every single image. The colors were so vibrant and just popped off the screen. The shots also lingered a lot (that’s why the movie was so long) but the combination of the visuals and the amazing score made them so impactful, powerful, and effective. In general, the soundtrack (by Benjamin Wallfisch and none other than Hans Zimmer) was so cool and that new instrumental theme was so heart wrenching.

A lot of films have tried to emulate a similar style but none of them have come close to Blade Runner 2049 (Ghost in the Shell looked good but wasted the visuals on an awful story). A few of noteworthy sequences in this picture were: 1. the interplay between the shadows and the light in the pyramid; 2. the memory-construction scene – such a brilliant example of storytelling within a bigger story; 3. the zoom/enhance effect carried over from the first film; 4. a very unique sex scene (not an adjective I’ve ever thought I’d use to describe a sex scene; and 5. an impeccable looking de-aging moment – that technology has never looked better.

Acting

Blade Runner 2049 had quite an extensive cast, full of fan-favorite actors in roles of varying sizes. At the centre of it was Ryan Gosling, who has lent his talents to a variety of genres throughout his career, including but not limited to musicals (La La Land), art films (Only God Forgives), indies with mainstream appeal (Drive), mainstream romantic dramas (The Notebook), arty romantic dramas (Blue Valentine), comedies (Crazy,Stupid,Love), political dramas (The Ides of March), action comedies (The Nice Guys), biopics (The Big Short), and crime dramas (Gangster Squad). Finally, he has added sci-fi to this extensive list with the lead role in Blade Runner 2049, which he was just absolutely brilliant in: powerful, vulnerable, dramatic, emotional. Totally marvelous.

Harrison Ford has come back to another role from his younger days. He has already retired Han Solo and will be back as Indiana Jones in 2020. In Blade Runner 2049, he only appeared in the third act but that was enough to make an impression.

The film also had quite a few female characters. Ana de Armas (War Dogs) was amazing as the virtual girlfriend, Sylvia Hoeks (Renegades) was wonderful as the warrior replicant, Robin Wright (Wonder Woman) was a badass police chief,
Mackenzie Davis (Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ episode) had a fun appearance and, lastly, Carla Juri had a surprisingly important role. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista appeared in a short but the most dramatically challenging role of his career so far, while Captain Phillips’s and Eye in the Sky’s Barkhad Abdi also had a cameo (wish he got more roles). Lastly, Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) played the main antagonist and, although his role was unsettling and quite creepy, it seemed quite normal by Leto’s standards. He was great in it, though.

In short, Blade Runner 2049 was one of those wow pictures that stays with you, long after you are done watching it. Gorgeously looking, carefully written, brilliantly acted sequel that is *gasp* better than the original.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Blade Runner 2049

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Movie review: La La Land

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I had a chance to see the current awards front-runner – the film La La Land – so let’s review it! I have read a lot of emotional (both positive and negative) tweets about it in my feed these past few weeks, but, as usual, I decided to make up my own mind by watching it.

IMDb summary: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

I would like to begin by saying that La La Land is very much an indie picture – it won’t please the majority of the mainstream audiences and it certainly didn’t appeal to the majority of the people at my screening, who were complaining throughout the whole runtime. Despite their actions, I took La La Land for what it was – a niche musical about Hollywood – and had a great time watching it.

Writing

La La Land was written by Damien Chazelle, who also directed the picture. Chazelle is best known for directing and writing 2014’s awards winner Whiplash, but he also wrote the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane. I, personally, found La La Land’s story to be interesting. It wasn’t the most original but it was executed quite well. I, as a fan of cinema, have always enjoyed movies set in LA and Hollywood. Musicals have also always been my guilty pleasure genre. La La Land combined both of these things in a more successful way than Hail, Caesar – another recent film about Hollywood that featured some musical numbers. Lastly, I loved all the homages in La La Land, especially, the Rebel Without a Cause recreation.

Thematically, the film was also quite good. The character development was great as well – the two leads appeared as fully rounded and real characters. I saw some complaints saying that the lead female character was really unlikeable. To my mind, firstly, the characters don’t necessarily have to be likable to interesting. Secondly, I thought that not only the female lead but the male lead had some qualities that made them unlikeable. Besides, real people aren’t always likable too, so why should then the movie characters be over-idealized versions of us? I though that the main pair’s relationship had its ups and downs and that both individuals involved were damaged as well as rewarded by it. She might not have gotten to fulfill her dreams without him but neither would he have reached his goals without her. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite scenes from the writing perspective was their argument over dinner – it had great timing and a lot of emotional weight. Overall, I did enjoy the message of the film, so dream big because somebody has to.

Directing

For the most part, I really enjoyed La La Land’s directing. I loved the mixture of the long tracking shots and the speedy montages. I liked the upbeat energy of it, the dreamy atmosphere, the colorful pallet as well as the beautiful settings and the whole mise-en-scene. However, I think that the picture’s pace was a bit uneven and that the film was a tiny bit too long.

My biggest problem with La La Land was the fact that the movie was confused about its genre. Maybe this was an intentional decision and if so, I don’t think that this particular blend of genres worked. La La Land, at times, was a realistic, grounded, quite modern film, close to a drama. However, a few scenes later, it would very much remind of a filmed theater performance – the levels of overdramatization would go through the roof. This would happen a lot during the musical numbers, which sometimes made the movie seem like a live TV special, like Grease: Live! and Hairspray: Live! I wish the filmmakers would have picked one direction and followed it: either make La La Land into a fully modern or a fully traditional musical.

So, even though La La Land didn’t reach the quality of Singing in the Rain, it still had some pretty enjoyable sequences. A couple of my favorites were all the times when Ryan Gosling’s character played the main theme of the film. I also really like Gosling’s and Stone’s interaction during the ‘I ran’ performance. The dream sequence was also lovely and looked visually stunning. I liked The Messengers’ gig scene too. However, my favorite sequence was the dance with the city’s skyline in the background. 

Music

Justin Hurwitz was responsible for the soundtrack and I think he did a neat job. Although I’m not the biggest fan of jazz, I did appreciate its tunes and all the nostalgia surrounding them in this film. Other songs were beautiful as well but not catchy in that pop-music kinda way. Nevertheless, City of Stars is a magnificent song.

Acting

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone made for a great lead duo. Their chemistry was amazing as usual, as this was not the first time they worked together – they have also started in Crazy, Stupid, Love (one of my favorite romantic comedies) and a passable thriller Gangster Squad. Both of the actors did a good job with their singing – theirs were not the best singing performances I’ve seen in a film but they weren’t the worst either. I absolutely loved the dancing, though. I don’t know if the two of them are going to win any big awards in the acting category but I could definitely spot a few scenes that were included in their awards reels. For Gosling, it could have been any of the piano playing scenes, while for Stone it was most likely the audition storytelling/singing sequence.

A few of my favorite Stone’s film are Easy A, Magic in the Moonlight, Irrational Man, and Birdman. Going forward, she has a sport’s comedy Battle of the Sexes listed for next year. Gosling’s best film are Blue Valentine, Drive, The Big Shortand The Nice Guys. He will star in the Blade Runner sequel next year.

The film’s supporting cast didn’t have much to do in the film, but I’d like to mention two individuals who stood out. First one was, of course, well-known singer John Legend – has was great. The second one – J.K.Simmons – it was nice of him to cameo in a different movie by Chazelle as Whiplash earned Simmons an Academy Award and it was nice of Chazelle to include him in the film for the same reason.

To conclude, La La Land was a gorgeous looking film with a nice story, lovely performances, and great music. However, I can’t recommend it as a must-watch as I think that only a very open minded audience would enjoy it. With musicals, like this one, you just have to go with everything and do not find the random bursting out into song moments awkward or uncomfortable.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: La La Land trailer

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Movie review: The Big Short

Movie reviews

Hi!

This is another movie review of the Oscar season. I had a chance to see The Big Short, nominated for 5 Academy Awards, just before I left my home country, so this is another review, written in an airport, on my way to the UK. Hope you will enjoy it.

IMDb summary: Four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.

Writing and Story

The Big Short’s script was written by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, who also directed the picture. The only film, created by Randolph, that I have seen is Love & Other Drugs – not that original romantic comedy. McKay has also mainly worked in the comedy business alongside Will Ferrell. And although I am not the biggest fan of comedies, I believe that the comedic background of both of these screenwriters helped them a lot, when tackling such a dry and boring issue as an economic crisis. The way they would explain complicated parts of the film by inserting a funny clip of famous people (Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Richard Thaler and Anthony Bourdain) was a very interesting choice, however, it took me out of the film a few times, because the narrative cohesion disappeared. The constant breaking of the 4th wall also did not help the viewer to stay in the film’s world.

The film provided a very sarcastic critique of capitalism. All of the people represented in the movie were quite horrible, even our supposed ‘heroes’ of the story – the crisis was a very hypocritical business and that’s how it was presented in the film. Human vices like greediness and just a plain old stupidity were also portrayed. I also enjoyed the film’s idea that money never helps people but ruins them: money does not make the world go round, it destroys it. I strongly agree with this statement and was glad to see it depicted on screen. The only minus for me in the narrative was the fact that the film was very US based, while the actual aftermath of the crisis had a global reach. Only in a single scene has a character mentioned that some European countries are also crumbling because of the things that Americans did.

I also enjoyed how the narrative was organized and divided into 3 separate stories, all revolving around and building up to the same event. The event – the actual start of the economic crisis in 2008 – was a very depressing and unpleasant ending to the film and it kinda made me feel sick after watching the movie. So, despite the fact that this picture is really funny, this is not a Friday night type of a chill comedy. The part that angered me the most was the fact that rich people never had to pay as much as poor people. And that’s why we need to come up with a new way to organize economy because capitalism clashes with our human nature. And don’t think that by saying things which are against capitalism, I somehow believe in communism – I have lived in a post-communist society and it is not pretty. Basically,  I think we need a new and completely fresh ideology.

This script was based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. Lots of people’s and companies’ names have been changed in the film, however, all of the characters are still based on real people and the overall film and book are inspired by real events, whose presence is still felt today to some extent.

Directing

At the beginning of the film, I thought that the cinematography and constant shifting of the camera and the focus were a bit amateurish as I am used to smooth panning of the camera. However, as the film went on, I realized that this type of filming was a creative choice. I cannot say that I liked it but I definitely respected this different type of filming.

Editing

Editing is not usually the part of the film, which I discuss, however, The Big Short’s editing was quite important to the overall film. Not only did the creators of this movie used inserts with celebrities, explaining difficult economic terms, they also over-saturated the film with montages of random everyday life clips, media coverage, and music videos. However, the opening montage (history recap) and the quotes, appearing on screen, were both nice finishing touches. The other montages were definitely a lot to take in and a bit crazy to watch but they helped the film to prove its main point. In short, the film was both an example of continuity and discontinuity editing. It had discontinuous inserts in the continuous narrative.

Acting

1st story:

  • Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry – a neurologist who has become the manager of the hedge fund Scion Capital. Bale hs always been an amazing actor, starring both in the mainstream films like The Dark Knight trilogy as well as awards contenders, like American Hustle. I also liked him in Exodus, despite the whole whitewashing scandal, but my favorite movie of his is Nolan’s The Prestige. He was also really good in the role of Burry – I liked his confident personality and over-the-top work aesthetic. Bale has a few movies coming out this year and he will also voice one of the characters in Serkis’s Jungle Book: Origins coming out in 2017.

2nd story:

  • Steve Carell as Mark Baum – a manager of Wall Street hedge fund FrontPoint Capital. Carell was also really great in the role, he was probably the nicest character in the whole film, because he actually felt bad for other people. The first time that I’ve seen Carell in a film was back in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. He has also starred in one of my favorite comedies Crazy, Stupid, Love alongside his The Big Short co-star Ryan Gosling. Carell has had a few good years regarding the awards season – he was nominated for Foxcatcher last year – and this streak might continue, because he is starring in a Woody Allen’s film this year and Allen’s films tend to get recognition from the academy. 
  • Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett – a self-interested salesman at Deutsche Bank and the narrator of the film. Also, the most charming character of the film – Gosling did an amazing job and should have gotten more recognition for this role. I have recently watched a different film, starring Gosling, called Drive (my dad actually recommend it to me). He was really good in it and delivered a very nuanced performance. The Ides of March is also a great political drama with Gosling in a lead. I am also very interested in Gosling’s next project – La La Land – it’s a musical coming out this summer.

3rd story:

  • John Magaro as Charlie Geller and Finn Wittrock as Jamie Shipley – founders of Brownfield fund. They did a good job in the roles – I really liked the fact that they were new to this game and still were able to figure out the lie. I am not familiar with both of these actors’ work, although, I can tell you that Magaro has been in another awards’ contender Carol and Wittrock has starred in Noah and Unbroken (he will also be in the aforementioned La La Land).
  • Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert – Charlie and Jamie’s trader and mentor. Pitt was also one of the producers of the film and did an amazing job as always. He was one of the most humane characters, since he was an outsider of the system. I have recently seen Pitt in Jolie’s By The Sea. While I was quick to dismiss that film at first, it kinda grew on me, so I definitely recommend it.

All in all, while economics was the most boring subject for me at school and while I always skip economy news on TV or online, I had a great time watching The Big Short – it was a bit random and weird at times, but all the different pieces somehow all worked together. The narrative and the action were amazing. The directing and the editing – cool but not to my taste. The film definitely was a bit depressing, so keep that in mind when going to see it. I do not think that it will win any Academy Awards, but it certainly deserves the nominations it has received.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: The Big Short trailer

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Movie review: Irrational Man

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review, this time, it’s Woody Allen’s Irrational Man starring Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix.

Woody Allen started making films in the 1960s and 5 decades later, he is still going strong and I couldn’t be happier about it since I’m a fan of his. True, I haven’t seen all of his films (I don’t think that’s humanly possible), but I love his newer films, which are set in various European cities. 2005’s Match Point and 2006’s Scoop are set in London, 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona shows the beauty of one of Spain’s cities, 2010’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger travels back to the capital of the UK, while Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love depicts the life of France’s and Italy’s crown jewels respectably. 2013’s Blue Jasmine brings Allen back to the US, where Irrational Man is set as well.  If you want to read the review of the previous Allen film – 2014’s Magic in the Moonlight, which set in France during the Inter-War Period – you can find it here.

IMDb summary: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act.

Directing and Writing

Allen is one of a few auteur directors in Hollywood. He has always been famous, but he never went full mainstream and I adore him for that. His films are always quirky, a bit controversial and have a distinct point of view. Irrational Man is a story about a depressed man and his journey to redemption. Sadly, the main character chooses wrong weapons for the fight against his own mind. And although his actions might seem inhumane and just plain crazy, Allen makes you understand and even feel pity for this character. I never get so many mixed reactions, when watching an Allen film and that makes it unique.

From the visual perspective, the movie looks great. Warm tones and soft colors make the motion picture seem old school, but also turns it into a refreshing break from shiny and metallic blockbusters. Irrational Man is also a pleasure to the ears because the soundtrack is amazing. Happy and upbeat songs mismatch the depressing and quite tragic actions that are happening on screen, but these contrasting opposites complement each other quite nicely. My favorite tracks from the soundtrack are The ‘In’ Crowd by Ramsey Lewis Trio and Over The Waves by Paul Eakins.

Acting

The main story revolves around two characters – Joaquin Phoenix’s Professor Abe Lucas and his student Jill played by Emma Stone. 

This isn’t the first time that Emma Stone stars in Woody Allen’s film: they worked on  together. In that film and in this one, Emma’s character gets involved with a much older man and, while that may seem creepy or at least controversial in other movies, Woody makes it work somehow. Also, W. Allen is known for sticking with the same actress throughout a few projects (for example, Scarlett Johansson in Scoop, Match Point and Vicki Christina Barcelona), so I’m interested to see if Stone will work with Allen again. She is an amazing actress and I have been a fan of hers since Easy A and I cannot wait to see what she does next,especially after receiving her first Oscar nomination last year for Birdman. Currently, Emma is filming the musical comedy-drama La La Land with Ryan Gosling (they previously teamed up for Crazy Stupid Love).

While I can practically name all of Emma Stone’s films, I can’t say the same about her costar Joaquin Phoenix. I loved him in Her and I really want to watch Inherent Vice – his latest film before this one. Moreover, at one point, Phoenix was in talks to play Doctor Strange for Marvel but that role already went to Benedict Cumberbatch, so I’m interested if Joaquin Phoenix can land a different high profile project or is he destined to play in the small leagues and be an awards’ darling, but never a mainstream celebrity.

All in all, I adored the latest addition to the already impressive Woody Allen’s filmography. The acting was great and the visual appeal of the film was wonderful as well, while the story was relatable to me personally. Even when I was a kid, I got these existential thoughts before going to sleep. I still remember myself as a 7 years old, lying in bed and thinking why do I exist? On a more upbeat level, the movie has a lot of dialogue lines which are true words of wisdom. I even added one of the quotes from the film – Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom – on my mood/inspiration board.

Have a nice weekend!

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Irrational Man trailer

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