Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review

     These type of sequels aren’t supposed to be this good. You know the ones I mean; the ones that took decades to write direct and produce, especially if the original is a masterpiece of its genre. Blade Runner 2049 is an exception that should become the norm. A sequel that expands and compliments the original instead of negating it completely. 

     Its Los Angeles 2049, artificial humans called Replicants are now outlawed except for use as officers called Blade Runners, who hunt down older replicants. One such Blade Runner named K (Ryan Gosling) soon uncovers a secret tied to an old Blade Runner from 30 years ago named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) that could change all of humanity. 

     Even though I gave a bare bones plot summary, I feel like I gave away too much. While Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel, make no mistake, but this comes off more like a story that took place in the same universe. This time though, the story is much more of an odyssey than the standard sci fi fare; its still a noir story except we’ve actually met the person he’s searching for. 

     I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor in a performance and thought that no one else could’ve played it, but it happened here with Gosling as K. He anchors his performance with wide eyed silence that almost comes off childlike. He’s discriminated against, by both his peers and the people he’s sworn to protect; its easy to sympathize with him, even though that’s not how he plays it. The presence that Gosling has is just completely mesmerizing. His relationship with a Siri-like application is equal parts sweet, and sad and it came off as believable. He anchors the entire film and gives it its emotional weight. 

     Director Denis Villenuve has crafted his greatest film so far; the man was wise enough to know that the reason that the original is a science fiction influence is to keep the effects as practical as possible. This feels like a world that was built and lived in for decades. It is just one of the most gorgeous films I’ve looked upon in God knows how long. Love and care went into this, and it’s there on the screen. 

     Even though Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own story, people who haven’t seen the original might have a hard time following some visual and audio clues that key us into not just into the action but the emotions as well. I do apologize if I seem to be all over the place with this review, but there’s so much to take in on a story and visual level. Like the first film, Blade Runner 2049 begs repeated viewings and analysis. Like the best films are wont to do. 

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American Assassin (2017) Review

     Action movies in this day and age always seem to have the same fundamental problem that has existed since the early 2000s: the fucking gritty, sloppy edited, shaky cam style. Films like John Wick, Mad Max, and even fucking Baby Driver all seem to have learned that audiences need to be able to see what the fuck is going on. Too bad no one told the makers of American Assassin that, could’ve had a franchise on their hands. 

     While on vacation with his girlfriend, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Bryan) watches his get gunned down by terrorists at a beach resort. Rapp takes it upon himself to take down every terrorist cell as payback. He manages to infiltrate said cell, and gets rescued by a counter-terrorism unit headed by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who sees his fucked up potential. She sends him off to be trained by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to take down former operative Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) who is in possession of a nuclear bomb. 

     Now, that’s a whole lot of plot to digest, and some of it is pretty damn interesting. The film always worked best when it was dealing with the characters and even the moral dilemmas that come with fighting terrorism. But at about the half way mark and forward this constantly happens:

     Hurley: Don’t do the thing! That’s an order!!!!

     Rapp: Imma do the thing!

     I shit you not, that happens so much that when it happened (again) during the climax of the movie, I was just about to laugh. It seems like 40 % of the dialog is just how Rapp is the best because he fits the profile and some such shit. 

     As mentioned earlier, the way American Assassin is shot and edited is just plain sloppy. I really thought we were past this trend. I can’t even seem to recall if I even got excited by the action if I could make out at times what the fuck was going on. It just sadly make the movie look cheap when its supposed to be an espionage epic. 

     I do now firmly hold the belief that you could watch Michael Keaton take a shit for 90 minutes and he’ll still be able to give a compelling performance. The man has this way of making even silly lines sound completely natural and realistic. I wanted the movie to be more about his and Rapp’s training, but that shit is glossed over. Actually, the performances aren’t bad at all; they’re just in the service of a weak ass story. Kitsch and O’Bryan both sell their parts as foils to one another but nothing is really done with it. Everything by the end just falls flat. 

     In recent years the bar has been set pretty high for action movies, and I doubt that anyone will remember this movie until it comes on cinemax. Its a shame too, because the actors have done better stuff in the past, and it shows that a weak script can hurt even the best of them. 

     

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle (2017) Review

     The first Kingsmen film came along as one hell of a surprise; an exciting, funny love letter to the classic James Bond films that came before it. 

     Now we have the follow up, Kingsmen: The Golden Circle which sees the headquarters of the titular spy agency destroyed by the villainous Poppy (Julianne Moore) who wants to poison the world’s marijuana smokers and ransom the antidote. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) seeks help from the American branch known as The Statesman, run by Champ (Jeff Bridges). Soon though, Eggsy will discover the truth about one of his fallen comrades.

     I’m sure now more than ever, that any follow up to The Kingsman was sure to suffer by comparison. The original just kind of crept up on you, eventually winning you over with its humpr, charm, and ridiculously over the top action. 

     The Golden Circle isn’t a terrible film by any means, but it is a tad bit underwhelming when stood side by side with the first one. Its a bit of a design flaw for a sequel on that there are no real surprises this time around. Not as refreshing as the original. 

     One of the weaker aspects is the villain Poppy. Julianne Moore is a fine actress, but she’s not given much in way of personality or anything to do really. Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine in the first film was a parody of classic Bond villains, but he knew he was. Moore’s character plays it straight, but by doing so she comes off as bland. 

     Another crazy thing is The Statesmen themselves; they set up this fascinating agency, but don’t do much with it. An agent by the name of Tequila, played by Channing Tatum is criminally underused by the screenplay. He’s barely in it, but when he is in it, you love the dude. Same goes for Ginger played by Halle Barry, the woman tech genius. They were some hints that she might have experienced some sexism in her work, but its brushed aside, and that just frustrated me. 

     Now, there are some fun scenes to be had. The action still remains top notch, especially at the climax of the film, and there’s a sweet love story with Eggsy and his girlfriend who is the Princess of Sweden. But the best, truly the best part is the subplot with Elton John. Thinking about, he has the best character arc of anyone else in the picture. Film is totally worth watching for it and I can’t bare to reveal anything more about it. 

     While I laughed and was fairly entertained by this installment of the Kingsmen I felt myself wanting a bit more; from The Statesmen to the villain to fucking Elton John for God’s sake, the movie did too good of a job setting these great ideas that just came up short. For some not by much, for others it may not be worth it. 

Mr. Mercedes: A Different Type of Stephen King Horror 

     Stephen King has been enjoying this bit of a resurgence lately, with It recently breaking box office records. Even though thw man has been known for his tale of the supernatural macabre, he does manage to find new ways to horrify you; and Mr. Mercedes is just that new flavor to get a taste of. 

     During a job fair, a man driving a Mercedes plows his way through the crowd injuring and killing many including a young mother and her infant child. Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) was assigned to the case but was never able to locate the killer. Two years later, now retired, Bill begins to receive messages from the killer (Harry Treadaway) taunting him, goading him to kill himself. He just didn’t count on one thing: Bill starts to fight back. 

     I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Stephen King story that has both the elements of noir along with that of a cat and mouse game. As of this writing there have been 6 episodes (out of ten) and there is nothing supernatural about. Just the ugly depravity of human nature.

     The best thing about Mr. Mercedes is that it is a series so the characters are allowed to flourish under the episodic nature of television. Gleeson’s Hodges is a man broken, haunted by his failure to not only capture the Mercedes killer, but to keep his family together. The most shocking thing, as it were, about the series is that from the first episode we the audience know who the killer is. Treadaway’s Brady has that creepy vibe, but you can tell that he doesn’t want to be that way. Because of his introverted ways, he gets stepped on by his boss and mother, causing him to pursue a twisted sense of righteousness.  

     The series dives into some truly disturbing elements and images that will turn some people off, like the aforementioned job fair scene, but the quiet nature of the game that these to men are playing is just to juicy to pass up. These men have given themselves a perverted sense of purpose towards each other, and it’s only going to get worse for the both of them from here. 

     This time Stephen King has shown us that the monsters we should be frightened of don’t live in the sewers, but the ones that could live next door to us. 

Death Note (2017) Review

     The anime Death Note is one of the most thrilling, shocking television series that has ever been released. With its densely layered plot, complex characters it leaves an impact unlike most television nowadays. Now we have a 2017 American adaptation that does manage to capture some of the themes and complexities of the characters. While it comes up short compared to the anime, the film manages to be fascinating, and grips you from the start. 

     Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a smart kid in Seattle, Washington who is constantly being bullied at school. One day while minding his own business, he comes across a ledger called a Death Note. A mystical demon named Ryuk (Willam Defoe) tells him that he can write a name, imagine them, they’ll die. Now with a sense of power, Light starts to kill criminals which catches the attention of the authorities and a master detective only known as L (Keith Stanfield).

     This only covers the surface of the story. I think of this as a bit of a cliff notes version, but it is a damn good one. The performances are all spot on, especially Stanfield as L. He manages to bring an eccentricity to the character that actually comes off as endearing instead of off putting. He has a vulnerability that counterbalances his seemingly supernatural ability to keep up with Light. Wolff as Light had the embodiment of righteousness down, but due to cultural differences with Japan, he comes off as more of a victim than a lauded student. It works well for this version, and gives the film its own sense of identity. 

     Unlike this year’s Ghost in the Shell, director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) has a clear love for the material. Subtle nods and ingenious explanations for using elements that were clearly Japanese but moving them over to America which somehow managed to work. The film doesn’t shy away from the horror elements of the material, and along with the music, has a distinctive 1980s vibe that took me by surprise on how well that worked. 

     While in the grand scheme of things I do prefer the series over the film, that version shook me up pretty bad with its twists, the film exists as its own beast and exists as further evidence that apparently Netflix is where you’ll get some thrilling, just damn good movies. Few movies this year left an impact on me, but this one sure did, and I hope everyone sees this movie, and then check out the series. 

Note: I chose not to dive into the whitewashing controversy because I wanted to focus the films on its own merits and its source material only. 

The Defenders (2017) Miniseries Review

     The Defenders has that Avengers vibe going for it, and that’s a great thing. Here we have four distinct characters, all with their own style, so forgive the skepticism when I came into this, um, miniseries? Yeah, I’m going to call it that. 

     When the series picks up, Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is on his own, Jessica Jones (Kristin Ritter) takes up a case that gets her arrested, Luke Cage (Mike Coulter) is just getting out of prison, and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is coming back to New York to face The Hand which is run apparently by Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). After meeting in a brawl, they begrudgingly team up to take down The Hand once and for all. 

     The greatest things about this series is that the interactions between the four leads is just so much fun. The way in that they team up feels natural and no one acts out of character. Think about it, all four of them are lone wolves so having to trust strangers is just not going to be easy. 

     But easily the happiest part for me was the chemistry and banter between Luke Cage and Iron Fist. As a comic book nerd growing up, even I know the chance of seeing those two on a screen was going to be damn near impossible. These are the Heroes for Hire, man!!! What an age we live in. See the two of them laugh, starting to look out for one another just bleeds the comics. I already want their spin off series. 

     Marvel/Netflix keeps up their tally of having villains that are so much better than their big screen compatriots. Weaver just reminds you that no one can be so evil, yet calm, like she can. She actually has an arc, a motive, even an understanding of why The Hand needs to destroy New York. She holds your attention every damn step of the way. 

     At a brisk eight episode, the show doesn’t have time for filler, but it does drag on occation. But I have to say that while Finn Jones has gotten better in the role of Iron Fist, but Jesus Christ, does he have a way to go. He’s great opposite Luke Cage, hell with any of the other Defenders, but when he has to act tough or serious, he sucks. I actually yelled at my screen at him to lighten the fuck up, it just doesn’t come off natural, and you’re full of shit if that’s because of how the character is supposed to be. No. He sucks. Luke Cage needs to be in every scene with him so he can stop sucking so damn much. 

     Stupid Iron Fist moments aside, the show is just a lot of fun if you enjoyed any of the previous Marvel/Netflix series. I was truly apprehensive about The Hand being the antagonists, they were among the shittier things in Daredevil Season 2, and Iron Fist, but this actually made them compelling. The motives are now so clear and defined to put it lightly. It was great to see these characters again (except Iron Fist) and I already can’t wait for what comes next. 
     

The Dark Tower (2017) Review

     Author Stephen King has written many an epic tale, but none more so than The Dark Tower series of books. Imagine if Lord of the Rings were to meet a Spaghetti Western. Yeah, its weird but because King is fucking insane he makes it work. To adapt that as a film you need to be just as crazy as him or as passionate about the Gunslinger and his quest. The filmmakers got one of those right. 

     On Mid-World, The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) has been on a quest for vengeance against The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) for years, who has a goal of destroying the Dark Tower which holds together all of existence. If left in ruins all of reality with cease to exist as we know it. But a little boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) could hold the key to either its salvation or annihilation. 

     This verson of The Dark Tower is not the book series. Yeah it has the basic ingredients that do make it the series, but ita truly not. The books were more meditative, more about the existential pursuit of something that gives your life meaning and purpose. The movie is more action and conflict oriented because you need to get to the point when it comes to cinema. 

     A key missing ingredient in the film is the spaghetti western element from the books. The lingering shots of the landscape, the unspeakable violence and especially the music. This is more of a 21st century film problem, musical scores are just bland. Think of the score from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and that is the Gunslinger’s music. Drive around with that music playing and you’ll feel like a badass. 

     The best thing about the flick, hands down, is the casting of Elba and McConaughey in the lead roles. The presence that they both carry just commands your attention. Elba manages to embody Roland’s stoic yet vulnerable nature of a man who has essentially become ronin. McConaughey, fuck, I haven’t seen an actor have this much fun playing a villain in years. The guy chews up scenery like he ran out of bubble gum. There is no greater joy than seeing an actor just have fun being evil. These two guys alone are worth the price of admission alone. 

     Putting aside my love of The Dark Tower books, it works on its own even if the plot is flimsy at times. Fans of Stephen King should have a lot fun spotting the easter eggs from his other stories, and the flick just ain’t bad at all. I mean, once you see Maximum Overdrive you can only really go up when it comes to Stephen King film adaptations. It says so little, but it truly says a lot. 

Ka. 

The Importance Of George A. Romero. 1940-2017


     Filmmaker George A. Romero passed away last week, I’ve been thinking about his films and the contributios that he made to cinema. He did more than that. He changed the face of American horror films with his masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. I could go on for days on how he invented the modern zombie, how he made them cannibalistic in nature and all that. How films like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead would never had existed if it weren’t for Romero. 

     Instead I’d rather dive into something a bit more personal. It was close to Halloween 1998, and I was just learning about symbolism and allegory in stories. Late one Saturday night, Night of the Living Dead came on so I finally decided to see it. 

     I was absolutely devastated by the ending. 

     As anybody who knows the final moments with the protagonist of the movie, Ben play out in a bit of a slow motion in my mind as he takes the shot to the head and dies. That alone is enough to depress anybody but I caught something this time around. 

     It has to do with the fact that Ben is a black man. 

     I had know the history of the Civil Rights movement as well as a kid could at that age, so I knew about Dr. King, Malcolm X and even Medgar Evers and their tragic deaths. 

     I can’t tell you if this was the first time I ever saw Night of the Living Dead, but I can tell you it was the first time I caught the symbolism of the tragic ending, and it opened up my eyes to other works and their meanings. When I saw Ben lying there dead among the other corpses, the images of the Civil Rights leaders flashed through my head. 

     Romero did say during an interview that the ending was not supposed to evoke the assassinations of these black men, actor Duane Jones was simply the best man for the job, but he did admit that seeing it now he couldn’t deny the symbolism behind it. 

     Soon after I discovered his sequel Dawn of the Dead and holy shit was it a scathing social commentary on materialism in society. The dead are all aimlessly wondering around a mall. The man always had something to say in some form. 

     I have to give credit to Romero for changing how I came to view film from simple entertainment to an art form that speaks to countless people. I know he influenced so many artists. But speaking for myself, he was the one that caused me to look closer, and discover truth in filmmaking. Rest in Peace Mr. Romero. And thank you.  

Spider Man: Homecoming (2017) Review


     I remember the first time I saw Sam Rami’s Spider-Man back in 2002. The wow factor, the close proximity to the comics, even the joy that the movie made me feel. 

     Well, 15 years, six films, and 3 Spider- Men later I can say enthusiastically that the films finally got lighthearted and humorous which was something the franchise was sorely lacking. 

     Its been about two months since the events of Captain America: Civil War and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is eagerly waiting for his next mission from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) while trying to balance high school and being a friendly neighborhood superhero. 

     After foiling a robbery attempt by the crew of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) a former government contractor, Spider-Man is put to the test if he’s actually cut out to be a hero. 

     I believe its safe to assume that a lot of fans of Spider-Man have mild reservations about giving this movie their time and money consider how underwhelming the last few entries were. And that’s fair. As someone who doesn’t mind seeing the same character on screen, I just always hope for a different take or story to make it worth my while. 

     And holy shit, I got that here. 

     First off, the origin story has been reduced to a couple of lines. Parker is 15 years old and still in high school. Like for the entire movie. A lot of the movie feels like (because it is) a high school movie that took some inspiration from John Hughes. They even have a school dance (a Homecoming dance…) in the flick, for God’s sake!

     Tom Holland as Spider-Man is the best interpretation of the character I have seen yet on film. Some of the movies gloss over or just plain ignore the fact the Spider-Man is just a child. He really should have no business being a superhero. Holland manages to play the awkwardness of the character to such perfection, that I accepted him readily as the character more than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Might have to do with the focus being on high school, but it was easy going for me. This is the first time in a movie where I actually felt scared for Parker, where in the third act especially, I saw the boy’s fear in his eyes, trying to be brave, but he’s still just a 15 year old kid. 

     The true revelation of the film is Michael Keaton as The Vulture. This should have been a thankless, bullshit paycheck role, oh but not with Keaton. He infuses his character of Toomes with humor, sheer villainy, pathos and humanity into his role that any lesser actor would have slept through. The man in many respects was too good for the role. I mean, its the fucking Vulture! He was B-level villain, and that’s being much too kind. Every single damn time the man just commanded my attention. I have to refrain myself from too many spoilers, but you’ll know the scenes I’m referring to because you won’t be able to blink. 

     I was certain that the Marvel Universe references would be a distracting nuisance, but it fit seamlessly into the story. Tony Stark felt organic, appearing appropriately enough that it doesn’t become less of a Spider-Man movie instead of Iron Man 4. It helps to know the players, but its more self contained as a story than other Marvel films. 

     Homecoming had a lot of hurdles to get through in my eyes, but it damn well got over them. It’s so different, so humorous, that when the credits rolled, I laughed out loud and had a smile on my face as I went home. 

     Welcome home, Spider-Man. 

Baby Driver (2017) Review

     Edgar Wright is a god damn artist. The writer-director of Baby Driver has made other incredible films in the past, but here. Here. The man has ascended to the entirely other level. What should’ve been standard genre fare has been delivered to us as one of the best films of the year, bar none. 

     After suffer from a terrible car accident as a child that left him with tinnitus, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the best getaway driver out there. Using music to drown out the ringing in his ears, he masterfully navigates the streets to pay off his debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey). But with one more job left and a beautiful waitress (Lily James) giving him purpose, he quickly learns that there are no clean getaways. 

     Edgar Wright has always been the kind of fimmaker who both embraces and skews the conventions of any given genre be it Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World the man’s love of filmmaking is embedded into every single frame of the films he makes. 

     I can’t recall any recent film where the editing is so meticulously put together to the soundtrack of the movie. I mean everything from gunshots, to revving engines to even the actor’s body movements are all precisely timed to the soundtrack. It just manages to suck you in and without even trying, gets you to focus on the story’s unfolding of the events. 

     All of this shit, as fucking incredible as it is, wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t for the acting that’s on display here. Jamie Foxx is subtly terrifying as an unhinged member of the crew. Spacey just effortlessly commands every single scene he’s in. I don’t know another actor that comes off so confident. 

     Esgort’s Baby comes through perfectly written, believable, sweet especially in scenes with James’s Debora but the relationship that gave the movie an unexpected depth and warm heart was Baby’s relationship with his foster father Joseph played by CJ Jones. It was this storyline that made me root for Baby and for him to ride off into the sunset. 

     Maybe a lot of people won’t care that the movie is a throwback to the 70s line of heist films, but no one can deny that the movie is thrilling, funny as hell, and the best car chases I’ve seen in years. And you can actually see them too! No shaky cam bullshit. The film is fresh and original and I need that soundtrack in my life.