“BLADE RUNNER 2049” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Nothing has changed.

Blade Runner 2049 shares the same strength and weakness as its predecessor, and that is it’s complexion. Throughout both films, there is an exploration on the human condition and what it means to be considered alive. They both observe authoritarian societies and the effects it has on those lower on the food chain. They both contort ideas such as memory and artificial intelligence and how they affect our views of personal identity. Blade Runner finds its niche in its concepts, and so too does 2049 best represent itself under the original’s banner, even though it eventually does get drowned out beneath all of its complexity.

Taking place 30 years after the events of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 picks up in a dystopian future where not much has changed. Androids known as Replicants continue to try and blend in with the rest of society, bounty hunters known as Blade Runners continue to hunt them, and they both continue to live in the same dimly-lit, smoke-filled streets and rainy gallows. Except in this future, newer replicant models are allowed to coexist in human society, under the condition that they become Blade Runners themselves to hunt down and “retire” the older models.

LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) is one of those newer replicants, hunting down his brethren under the badge of a Blade Runner. While out on an assignment one day, he uncovers a trail leading him to former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who made a discovery of his own years ago when he fled Los Angeles with his lover Rachel. As K and Deckard piece events together, they come to a conclusion that will shake the foundation of human and replicant kind for ages to come.

The best thing that can be said about Blade Runner 2049 is that it is an authentic sequel to its predecessor. In Hollywood, most sequels like to cash in on the success of their first entries without offering their own creative input for the provided material (See the Jurassic Park and Alien franchises). 2049 does not fall for this trend. Unlike Jurassic World and Alien: Covenant, which wallow in the clichés of their genres, Blade Runner 2049 fills its frames with its own life and ideas, expanding beyond the questions the original imposed and giving us a wider scope to think about. This makes sense, since screenwriter Hampton Fancher co-wrote the original Blade Runner in addition to its sequel. In 2049, he continues to elaborate on many of its familiar themes, from the existence of artificial intelligence to the barriers between different cultures. However, he also elaborates on many other concepts beyond it, such as internalized racism, love versus joy, and integrated species. This is a film that can easily stand on its own as an original feature, even though its building onto the first’s narrative does make it a stronger film overall.

And as this is a Blade Runner sequel, so too does it make sense that the visual effects would be just as mesmerizing as they were in the original. Even more than the original actually, especially because of how much technology has improved since 1982. The tall, ominous buildings. The sleek, dark vehicles. The bright holographic ads that light up the murky night sky. Everything oozes of detail and assimilation, and even the smaller examples of digital editing do not fail to astound us.

There is one computer construct in the movie portrayed by Ana de Armas, and all of her scenes stand out the most to me. In one of her first appearances, her holographic figure walks out into the rain for the first time, and even though the drops pass through her transparent figure, flickers still pixelate off of her body as if the droplets were falling onto flesh. There’s another scene where her body is mimicking the movements of another human being underlying her, and the way the two bodies moved together were so eerie and interesting that it reminded me of Alicia Vikander’s character Ava in 2015’s Ex Machina. But the image that sticks out the most to me is when an oversized pink variation of her bends down and speaks to her regular-sized lover on a bridge. Was this a metaphor for how small man’s ambition can be to that of an A.I.’s? In any case, cinematographer Roger Deakins captures every scene beautifully, encompassing both the depravity and desolation of a future ruined by mankind’s own misunderstandings.

Two performers that I have to give recognition to are Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks, who play the film’s protagonist and antagonist respectively. Gosling, whose appeal ranges depending on what role he’s given, offers a very thought-provoking performance here as a hero split between the two different worlds of man and machine. I’m not going to give much of his plot details away, but his arc challenges him, his identity, and the convictions he’s held closely to his heart for a long time now. Just to throw a separate example out there to compare the emotions that he’s displaying, imagine if you lived your whole life believing that God was real, only to find out that the Bible was written by only one author and none of the events depicted in it have ever happened. How would that change you? How would that shatter you as a person? Who would you be now after discovering that?

Gosling services that part brilliantly, and Hoeks serves as the antithesis: a woman who knows what she is, what the implications of her culture are and how they would change should one little piece be added to the constantly-shifting puzzle. In the film, I know she symbolizes at least one social idea for sure. I don’t know if she’s supposed to symbolize others beyond that one. All I know is that as a villain she’s cold, calculated, merciless, violent, and terrifying. I would not want to be in the same interrogation room with this woman.

My main concern with Blade Runner 2049 is how overstuffed it is. The film is two hours and 44 minutes long, and it has earned every bit of its screen time with all of the content that is in it. I’m just afraid that it may be too much. It’s been a week since I’ve seen the film now, and I’m still struggling to wrap my head around every character, every arc, every idea, every theme, every point iterated on, every plot twist the film takes you through, and all of the implications that the movie ends on. I know I liked what I saw in Blade Runner 2049. I just don’t know if I understand it. This is a film that definitely requires second viewings, even though the appreciation of it might not improve with each viewing.

Still, viewers such as myself asked for a faithful sequel in Blade Runner 2049. It undoubtedly fulfilled its promises, and it most impressively did it without the help of Phillip K. Dick’s characters. When I finished the original Blade Runner in 1982, I thought endlessly about the relationship between Deckard and the replicants, of the society that mankind created, and the many ways it mirrored our current world. I asked myself the same questions after watching 2049 as I did with the original Blade Runner. How sad is it that we’ve been given all this time to learn, to change, and to grow from where we were, and yet here we are 30 years later, making the same mistakes now as we did back then.

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Hollywood, the Sexual Predator

CREDIT: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Here’s how the next few weeks are going to go. Harvey Weinstein is going to offer both apologies and excuses, one on top of the other. Multiple Hollywood celebrities, commentators, and insiders are going to condemn him and his actions. Legal procedures will get carried out. Victims will offer testimonies, details, and depressingly vivid accounts of the experiences they went through. All through it all, people are going to say quote “This must never be allowed to happen again.” And then Hollywood will allow it to happen again, and then again, and then again, again and again.

This is not a pessimistic viewpoint. This is a fact. We live in a society where rape culture is in a constant flux of victim-blaming and lies, and through it all we lose focus and consistently fail to advocate for the victim. Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment extends well beyond three decades. His accusers consist of more than 32 women, including actresses Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Gweneth Paltrow, Cara Delevigne, and Rose McGowan. How many people knew about this? How many complaints were filed to the Weinstein Company? How many times did they overlook those claims? His reputation was such an open-secret in the industry that “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane even joked about it at the 2013 Academy Awards nominations announcement, saying to the best supporting actress nominees “You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” The room was met with a mix of awkward laughs and uncomfortable silence.

Yet, the most bothersome thing about this is not Weinstein’s egregious behavior. It’s not how far back the allegations extend. It isn’t even the Weinstein Company’s reaction to throw everything under the rug. It’s how much of a recurring trend it is in Hollywood to not only excuse criminal behavior, but to also silence and deflect the accuser’s voices away from the conversation.

Observe, for instance, the following names: Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Casey Affleck. They all share three things in common with Weinstein. They’re all prominent Hollywood figures. They’re all Academy Award-winners. And they all have a history of sexual harassment.

Look at Allen, for instance. Winning four Oscars for Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Midnight in Paris, Allen is highly regarded by many Hollywood award ceremonies, yet his controversies follow him just as closely as his award statuettes. For one thing, during his relationship with actress Mia Farrow in 1992, Farrow discovered that Allen was having an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, who at the latest would have been 19 years old at the time they started dating. The fact that Farrow’s teenage daughter started a relationship with her 53-year old boyfriend is disturbing all on its own, but only a few months later her seven year old daughter Dylan said she was molested by Allen while Farrow was out of the house. The case has been reviewed back and forth, with Dylan’s own siblings both defending and criticizing Dylan’s testimony. If it means anything, however, Allen’s biological son Ronan sympathizes with Dylan. The case was closed and Allen was released of all charges, going back into the moviemaking world to win more accolades.

Roman Polanski. Directed the movies Rosemary’s Baby, Macbeth, and Chinatown. Won an Oscar for directing The Pianist. Raped a 13-year old girl in 1977. Entered a plea bargain with the judge to serve his time under probation. Fled to France when he learned the judge was going to ignore the bargain and sentence him to 50 years in prison. You can think whatever you want about the events themselves. It doesn’t change the fact that when he won his best director Oscar in 2002, he was met with thunderous applause from everyone in the auditorium. He continues to work with many notable celebrity figures well into this day.

Casey Affleck. Won a Oscar last year for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Was sued by producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka for sexual harassment while he directed the 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here. That controversy was so under-the-radar that it didn’t even hit mainstream conversation until Affleck’s win on Oscar night. I didn’t even find out about it until after I reported on it the day after.

As a film critic, I often find myself in a difficult position where my job is to critique the art and not the artist. Earlier this year, I received criticism for giving the superhero film Wonder Woman four stars out of four, mostly because of Gal Gadot’s position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The issue is that I wasn’t reviewing Gadot’s social views: I was reviewing her performance in a movie. And the fact of the matter is that she was outstanding in the picture, regardless of whatever real-life causes she advocated for.

The same thing goes for Weinstein. Here is a Hollywood media mogul responsible for the takeoff of so many successful careers and filmmakers. Quentin Taratino and Pulp Fiction. Lasse Halstromm and The Cider House Rules. Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings. Multiple accolades have been garnered from his productions. Six of them won the Academy Award for best picture. He has without a doubt had a huge impact on Hollywood culture and storytelling, and will continue to influence it years beyond this controversy as well as his own lifespan.

But here’s the thing: his successes does not excuse him from his cruelties. Yes, he has produced multiple masterpieces throughout his career. So what? He still sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted more than 30 women for three decades. Where is the accountability? Where are his consequences? He’s been exercising this reckless sexual ego since 1984. Why is it that 33 years later he’s suddenly facing the music for what he’s done? As viewers, we are required to suspend our personal cultural opinions in order to observe the film and review it on its own merits. But as human beings, how can we be responsible for no less than holding each other accountable for our actions?

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

I am reminded of a quote by the iconic Marilyn Monroe, who’s life creepily enough was adapted into the Weinstein production My Week With Marilyn. In her book My Story, she writes “In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” I read this somberly, imagining her 40 years after her death still singing “Happy Birthday” to the man in the chair. Only this time, it isn’t president John F. Kennedy sitting in it. It’s Harvey Weinstein, and Hollywood’s executives are all sitting right behind him.

– David Dunn

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“ARRIVAL” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

Changing the things we can, and confronting the things we cannot.

There is a double meaning to the title Arrival, although you wouldn’t know it if you haven’t seen the film. On the surface, Arrival looks like another science-fiction thriller, unraveling an extraordinary world to an ordinary one, quietly observing how one reacts to the other. What the film turns into as it draws to its closing moments is a question of mortality, a search for purpose in life, and how we face the inevitable.

Confronting the life-long question of “Are we alone in the universe?”, Arrival starts on a bleak day where alien ships land on different continents all over the globe. Their landings seems to be without pattern or purpose, but whatever their motivations are, they don’t confront the human residents with hostility. Their ships just rest there, floating vertically over the horizon, awaiting brief interactions with the humans watching in awe below.

Enter Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an experienced linguist who is notable for her translation of thousands of languages. Louise is recruited alongside physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) by Colonel Webber (Forest Whitaker) to find out as much as they can about Earth’s new visitors, and if they establish communication, find out what they’re doing here. As Louise delves deeper into the aliens’ minds, she makes a discovery so shocking that will change the course of the human species forever.

One of the most unique elements of the film is how intelligently it approaches its strange premise. Director Denis Villeneuve, who directed the deeply unsettling films Prisoners and Sicario, approaches Arrival not as a typical science-fiction blockbuster, but instead as a quiet observation of the extraterrestrial, how human beings react to the unknown, and how we build bridges to learn foreign communication. I didn’t know what exactly to expect when going in to see Arrival, but after watching it I know one thing for certain: it is definitely not an action movie. A thriller, maybe. But the film doesn’t excite you as much as it educates you, and that immersion in knowledge is where the movie finds its niche.

Let me break down one of the movie’s key scenes to show you what I’m talking about. In one exchange between Webber and Louise, Webber tells her to ask the aliens one question: “What is your purpose here?” One sentence, five words. Seems simple enough. Yet when Louise breaks it down, she explains how complex the question actually is to those unfamiliar with the language, from differentiating between a question and a statement, to identifying the meaning behind “what”, to whether “your” is plural or singular, to even defining what the word “purpose” means. To us, these are simple concepts because we’ve been educated on these since we were children. But when communicating with someone or something else that has spent their entire lives learning another form of communication? How do you even begin to bridge that gap?

This film’s exploration into our interpretation of language is one that is only seldom observed in both mainstream and independent cinema alike. The fact that Villeneuve translated it into a science-fiction film is sheer brilliance on his part, as he draws comparisons between the humans and the aliens in the film to the real-life encounters we’ve shared with our own species in the past. Think, for instance, the first time the pilgrims landed in America and met Native Americans for the first time in the 1620’s. Spaceships and aliens aside, would their interactions really have been that different from what we’re seeing in the film?

This is a great film from Villeneuve: a thoughtful minimalist masterpiece that evokes the same eeriness and existentialism as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey does. If there is any weakness, it is the drudging tone and pacing that follows the film everywhere it goes. We as moviegoers are so used to movies that are quick-paced, fast-tempoed and always watching something happen on-screen. It’s not usual to find a film as slow-moving, contemplative, and uneventful as this. In that lack of excitement, viewers might have a hard time immersing themselves into such a sublime picture when they’re so used to watching flashy effects and movement light up the screen.

And yet, I don’t fault Arrival for this choice of tone. Not one bit. That’s because the pacing isn’t a mistake on its part: it’s intentional. If real-life aliens ever did come to our planet, our first instinct wouldn’t be to shoot at them like a Michael Bay movie. No, we would try to establish communication with them and find out what exactly they want from us. We would be surprised, confused, scared, maybe intimidated all at once by their presence. In embodying our emotions in such a situation, Arrival’s slow pacing is validated due to the reality the film tries to encompass, not the sensationalism that every other Hollywood blockbuster contrives to.

Arrival is much more than standard science-fiction. I would classify it as science-philosophy. It poses questions, leaves its answers open to interpretation, and watches as two different species push past their cultural boundaries so they could try and understand each other. And after watching all of these events unfold on the screen, we are forced to ask ourselves the most important question of all: if our knowledge expanded beyond that of our human capabilities, would we use it to change what we previously couldn’t? The answer will shock you.

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Harvey Weinstein Fired In Midst Of Sexual Harassment Allegations

CREDIT: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

The Weinstein Company has officially removed the “Weinstein” part from its name.

After The New York Times broke the story that studio executive Harvey Weinstein had spent three decades paying off sexual harassment accusers, his own company officially fired him Sunday after the board of directors learned about the allegations. The company released their official statement below:

“In light of new information about misconduct by Harvey Weinstein that has emerged in the past few days, the directors of The Weinstein Company – Robert Weinstein, Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg and Tarak Ben Ammar – have determined, and have informed Harvey Weinstein, that his employment with The Weinstein Company is terminated effective immediately.”

A media mogul and a pioneer in promoting independent cinema, Weinstein has served as executive producer for multiple Academy Award-winning films, including best picture winners Shakespeare In Love, The English Patient, Chicago, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The King’s Speech, and The Artist. He also co-founded Miramax films, which produced the movies Pulp Fiction, The Crying Game, and Sex, Lies, And Videotape. Allegations or not, Weinstein has introduced many filmmakers into mainstream cinema, and helped shape entertainment culture for years to come.

It is understandable, then, that the allegations have shaken up Hollywood as we know it. According to The New York Times, the allegations go as far back as 1990, during Weinstein’s first marriage with Eve Chilton. His accusers consist of eight former employees, including actress Ashley Judd. Of the allegations, Weinstein said:

“I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”

Weinstein’s attorney Charles Harder said that the producer plans to sue The New York Times over the story’s publishing. The Weinstein Company has launched an official investigation into the full extent of the allegations.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The New York Times, Variety

 

J.J. Abrams Bringing ‘Your Name’ Into Theaters

Oh boy. Let the anime fan rage resume.

After the astronomical success of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, director J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) reserved the rights to adapt a live-action version of the animated film, bringing Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer on board to pen the screenplay. The film tells the story of two different individuals in Japan who inexorably switch bodies on opposite ends of the continent. Their journey to get back into their own bodies eventually leads them to meet each other, gaining a greater understanding of their shared experiences and how it’s led them both to grow as people.

This announcement comes after a year jam-packed with whitewashing controversies. First there was recasting Major, a Japanese cyborg, into Caucasian actress Scarlett Johansson for Ghost In The Shell. Then came recasting Light Yagami, the Japanese protagonist of Death Note, into Caucasian actor Nat Wolff for the Netflix adaptation. Deadpool actor Ed Skrein was almost slated to take over a Chinese character’s part in the Hellboy reboot, but Skrein graciously turned it down after learning of the character’s true ethnicity. With all of these controversies in mind, fans are reasonably concerned about the live-action version of Your Name and of Hollywood whitewashing more of their favorite characters.

SOURCE: Toho Co.

Hold on, take a deep breath for a moment, because I honestly don’t think this is as troublesome as it sounds. Remember that J.J. Abrams made one of the progressive moves of our time by casting actor John Boyega and newcomer Daisy Ridley as the leads for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That was the first time in the series where both a woman and a black actor led the charge for Star Wars, and that helped catapult the film to its highest grossing release ever at $2 billion. With Abrams being aware of Hollywood’s cultural appropriation, I’m confident he will do the original justice by casting multicultural actors in the leads. If he doesn’t, then he’ll have to face the backlash of many passionate fans of the source material. I don’t know which is scarier: Darth Vader, or the PO’d anime fan.

What do you think? Are you looking forward to a live-action adaptation of Your Name, or would you wish that Hollywood could just leave the original alone? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: MoviePilot, IndieWire

DiCaprio and Scorsese Team Up for Teddy Roosevelt Biopic

Looks like we won’t have to wait long for our next DiCaprio/Scorsese collaboration.

News broke earlier this week that famed actor Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic, The Revenant) and filmmaker Martin Scorsese (Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street) are teaming up for a new project together. It will be a biographical picture on America’s very own 26th President Teddy Roosevelt, with DiCaprio attached to star and Scorsese slated to direct the project.

Out of all of Hollywood’s actor/director collaborations, nearly none are as strong as DiCaprio and Scorsese’s partnership. First working together in 2002’s Gangs of New York, Scorsese and DiCaprio have gone on to work on many successful films together, including The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and of course The Wolf of Wall Street. They’ve work so well together that Warner Bros. has even held discussions on casting DiCaprio in the title role of Scorsese’s Joker solo film (I’m personally not partial for that, however. I’m still pining for Jackie Earle Haley.)

Still, anytime these two get together it spells good fortune, and the fact that they’re teaming up for Teddy Roosevelt is exciting of itself. I personally wasn’t itching for a Teddy Rooseelt movie, but with these two on board? Count me in.

What do you think? Are you excited for another Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Deadline, Variety

“THE MUMMY (2017)” Review (Half of a star)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

Should have stayed buried.

The Mummy is one of the most asinine experiences I’ve ever had at the movies. I did not enjoy a single frame of it. Not one. If the entire film stock was ripped from the theaters and used as body wrapping for a King Tut replica in a museum, I’d be completely fine with it. At least then it would have served a more useful purpose. Or even any purpose, really.

A remake/reboot/re-imagining of the Mummy tale done too many times over, this rendition of The Mummy stars Tom Cruise in a role so forgettable that I refuse to even recognize him using his character’s name. The story (*belches*) follows Corporal Tom, who is the typical bad boy in the military, stuck with boring female interest Annabelle Wallis and stock best friend sidekick Jake Johnson looking for buried treasure in Iraq.

Just so you know, I had to look up both of the actors names just to type them up. I would have rather left their credits blank just to save time writing this review.

The big baddie: a grey-skinned, Egyptian-tattooed mummified Goddess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), whose movements and speech is so awkward and clumsy that she makes Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress in Suicide Squad look like a Victoria’s Secret model. If this is the best movie monster that Universal can come up with, they should fire all of their future actors, makeup artists, and costume designers and just place Barbie dolls in their places. They would save money, they would get the same plastic performance, and the Barbies would actually be creepy, unlike any of the scenes containing Boutella in them.

I have so many problems with this movie, but let’s start with the most glaring problem of them all: Tom Cruise. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. Even in his older age, Cruise still manages to enthusiastically dish out one role after another, from the intelligent and ruthless action thriller Jack Reacher, to the creative and captivating Edge of Tomorrow, to his familiar role as Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I like the guy when he is in movies that work for him. The Mummy, however, irredeemably embodies the worst parts of Cruise as an actor.

I admittedly don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s Cruise’s half-witted delivery with all of his lines. Maybe it’s because he acts like he’s manically tweaked up on heroine in moments where his character is supposed to be calm and collective. Maybe it’s because for three quarters of the movie he’s spent either running away from terrible CGI or fighting PG-13 zombies in various slapping contests. Or maybe it’s because the film is written so poorly that it doesn’t know how to play off of Cruise’s charisma or charm. I simply don’t know, and a close analysis of his terrible scenes does nothing to bring any more clarity to the situation.

I’ll cut him some slack though, if for no other reason than that Russell Crowe is equally terrible here as Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Yes, you read that right. What on Earth is Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde doing in a Mummy picture? For marketing purposes? Whatever. He’s just as forgettable and useless here as Cruise is. For half of his screen time, he’s either spent narrating over cliché flashback sequences or going Frankenstein on poor Corporal Tom’s frail body. What happened to him? He was funny and crass in last year’s The Nice Guys alongside Ryan Gosling. Now he’s stuck with just talking in a raspy British dialect and spazzing out on his co-stars. God, it’s depressing to see what actors will do for a paycheck.

This is a film that, for the life of me, I cannot understand how it ended up so unabashedly bad as it did. The film is written and directed by Alex Kurtzman, who up until now has been mostly consistent with his body of work. He’s co-written multiple successful blockbusters, including Mission Impossible III, Watchmen, and the Star Trek films. He’s produced Cowboys & Aliens, Now You See Me, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Granted, his director debut People Like Us had earnest intentions but collapsed under the weight of its own mediocrity. Still, in the world of Hollywood, Kurtzman is more experienced and reliable than most. How did he flub it up so badly and make a film as silly, stupid, and inconsistent as this?

I think it’s because instead of focusing on creating a coherent and exciting action thriller, he was trying to make a franchise. The Mummy is the first entry under the Dark Universe imprint, an expanded franchise that shares all of Universal’s horror icons under one banner (Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man, etc). If this is any indication of what’s to come for the franchise, they need to end it right here and now. The Mummy wants so desperately to launch into an expanded horror universe that it focuses too much on the superficial elements and not enough on the grounded ones. I can name to you every bland action scene in this putrid movie, every excrement of attempted comedy and drama that fails oh so spectacularly. But I can’t tell you a thing about its characters, their flat motivations, or their meaningless placement in this uninspired story. Marvel and DC are blatant in their universe-building for sure, but at least they have interesting characters and scenarios to go along with it. Whatever interest The Mummy might have had sinks beneath its narrative incapacity: like throwing the screenplay into quicksand.

The Mummy gets half of a star as opposed to its deserving zero only because it is brainless and not offensive, unlike the films Split and A Cure For Wellness which succeed in being both. Still, don’t let the generosity fool you. The Mummy is bad, and not just in the regular type of cliché blockbuster genericism bad, but in an impressively stupefying type of bad that wastes our money, intelligence, patience, and capacity to enjoy Tom Cruise all at once. This really is a special kind of terrible. Film professors should host special screenings of it just to show their students how not to make a movie. Maybe they could also invite Universal’s producers so they can learn as well.

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“IT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Be afraid.

Stephen King is a master at personifying fear. Whether it’s with haunted hotels in The Shining, or rabid animals in Cujo, or even with female puberty in Carrie, King always finds a way to scare us in the most unorthodox of ways. Most horror writers are content with scribbling in the clichés of the genre (the teenagers that have sex dies first, group gets picked off one by one, female survivor is the only one to live at the end) and calling it a day. But like a literary sadist, King feeds off of his readers and their absorption into his material. And like any skilled predator, he likes to play with his prey.

In It, Stephen King gives us his most terrifying personification of fear yet in Pennywise the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard), an omnipotent apex predator who comes out of hibernation every 27 years to feed off of children’s fears. If you were terrified of clowns before, you don’t even want to see what Pennywise is like. This is a creature that can take the appearance of any fear that you possess, from decapitated corpses, to zombies, to even paintings. If you can think it, Pennywise can be it.

His victims mostly consist of one group of children who dubbed themselves “The Loser’s Club.” Their leader Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) lost his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to the clown months ago during a rainy afternoon. One by one, the kids meet Pennywise and his many different forms as he terrorizes them using their own fears against them. As they continue to learn more about Pennywise and the history of Derry, the Loser’s Club decides to unite together and put an end to Pennywise’s villainy once and for all.

One of the most terrifying things about It is that we don’t even know what “It” is. Throughout the film, we see Pennywise use different approaches to terrify the children and to make them more susceptible to his manipulation, but even after finishing the film we still don’t get a clear idea of who or what he is. Maybe that’s the point. When we’re confronted by a threatening force, do we really care about what it’s supposed to be? Are we more interested in the facts surrounding our fears, or are we only caught up in surviving them? I thought about the animals in the natural food chain while watching this movie. When a gazelle is face-to-face with a lion, does he care about what exactly is hunting him, or is he more concerned about getting out alive?

In that sense, Pennywise does not inspire fear like his horror icon counterparts (Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, etc.) but rather embodies it, filling it with our own emotions, anxieties, and perceptions of fear and subverting them against ourselves. Bill Skarsgard, who is the son of actor Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Thor), demonstrates an impeccable understanding of Pennywise and appropriately embodies the madness and bloodlust that a being like him would possess. Any other actor who would have taken on the role might have mistaken Pennywise as evil or insane. Skarsgard rightfully doesn’t make that inference because Pennywise is not human like any of the kids are in this movie. To human beings like us who possess moral compasses and value of life, we obviously see Pennywise as an evil that must be destroyed. But to Pennywise, a natural predator, there is just his meal and the meal he’s having after that. If beings like Pennywise are beyond concepts such as right and wrong, does that mean that he’s still quote-unquote “evil”, or is he immune to such labels because of his ignorance to the concepts? Circling back to the lion metaphor for comparison, is the lion evil for killing the gazelle, or is he only acting off of his instincts?

These are endlessly complex concepts here made simple by director Andy Muschietti, who years ago helmed the eerie and unusual horror film Mama. In It, Muschietti smartly juxtaposes human nature with that of a predator’s nature, and in that sense asks us if these two concepts can exist in the same society. After seeing the film, I’ll admit I have no answer to his query. I just know that I’m terrified of Pennywise and that I never want to see him again. That is, until the sequel comes out a few years from now.

Technically, the film is immaculate. The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung (2003’s Oldboy) is smooth and calculated, following the action while never getting distracted by it. The child actors all give passionate performances, with Lieberher demonstrating the most layers as a kid grappling with the guilt and grief of his brother’s death. And the makeup work done on Skarsgard is among the best I’ve seen in years. I actually saw Skarsgard earlier this year in David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde. Yet in the first moment when he appears on-screen as Pennywise, I didn’t even recognize him.

As always, I don’t like all of the violence and the trauma that these kids go through, and some scenes I think would be difficult to stomach even for adults. And of course the kids swear it up in typical R-rated fashion, as if they’re trying to meet the F-word quota by the end of the month. Yet none of these things change the thoughtful concepts being explored here, the scares that the film builds up to, or the great demonstration of acting and art on display here. Take caution while watching It: you don’t know which of your fears Pennywise will use against you.

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“BLADE RUNNER” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Tears lost in rain.

Blade Runner isn’t so much a story as it is a philosophy, an intricate and intelligent observation on life, the perceptions of society, and humanity’s carnal need for dominance. After watching the film, I didn’t think so much about the plot of Blade Runner as I did on its themes. This is a film that asks many questions and then asks its viewers to provide the answers. And the questions Blade Runner poses are irrevocably complex; our answers, even more so.

The story is based on a Philip K. Dick book titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It takes place in an alternate future where flying cars are the primary form of transportation, holographic Coca-Cola ads light up the night sky, and robotic-humanoid hybrids blend in with the rest of society. These hybrids are called “Replicants”, and they are seen as a threat to the human race and are relentlessly hunted by specialists called “Blade Runners.” When a blade runner eliminates a replicant, they don’t even get the courtesy of saying they were killed. Instead, they call it “retirement.”

Our hero Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a blade runner, and he is tasked with hunting four replicants that arrived to Earth a few days ago. One of those replicants is Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), and his mission is to expand on his replicant bretheren’s short life span and integrate into human society. Both are extremists by every definition. Both are not above taking a life for the sake of their own agenda. And both think they are justified for their cruelty.

Ultimately, Blade Runner is a film about discrimination. Against who, exactly? Doesn’t matter. Pick your minority of choice and fill it inside the replicants, and you have your conflict. Unlike other films that tackle a similar subject matter, Blade Runner isn’t so much interested in the labels as much as it is interested in the actions. For instance, observe the principles of the Blade Runners themselves. They’re a team of bounty hunters tasked with navigating, hunting, and eventually killing (excuse me, “retiring”) a group of individuals they know next to nothing about. They don’t know who they are, they don’t know why they came here, and they don’t know what exactly they’re trying to accomplish. They only know their names and where they came from, and that they don’t belong in the society that created them.

Now tell me: how is that different from the sheriffs that hunted slaves who fled from their plantations during the 1800’s? Or a swarm of police finding and viciously punishing a group of civil rights protestors in the segregation era? Or Nazis searching for Jews hiding out in Poland in the 1940’s? Without directly commenting on these social issues, Blade Runner demonstrates the primal fear that society develops for individuals they don’t understand and the prejudice they create as a response to it. Granted, Blade Runner doesn’t have anything to say about the solutions to such issues: just the psychology of persecution and how that creates ripple effects throughout society.

Take Roy as another curious example. In the context of this film, he is seen as the film’s antagonist. But in his perspective, he sees Deckard as the antagonist. Is either one wrong? Is either one right? They both play to their own extremes and aren’t against violence and killing, but that’s besides the point. Both the humans and the replicants have their guns pulled on each other. Both are in response to violence that was previously perpetrated. Now the question is this: who fired first, and is the other justified in firing back?

As I said before, complicated questions, many of which don’t have easy answers to. Part of that is because there isn’t any neutrality expressed in the film. The character that is closest to representing one is Rachael (Sean Young), a replicant who believes that she is human. Really, she isn’t that far off from any other regular person. She likes to smoke, she exhibits her own feelings, emotions, fears, and she even possesses childhood memories. The memories in actuality belong to her creator’s niece, but does that make her memories any less real? Does it make her any less real?

The film is beautiful to look at and invokes the same aesthetic and nostalgia as those 1950’s Neo-Noir crime dramas do. Using light and contrast as tools to sharpen the images he brings to the screen, director Ridley Scott invokes a dark, ethereal setting that feels downtrodden and slummy, yet inhibits its own spirit and energy where shadowy figures hide around bleak corners, smoking cigars, and maybe downing a drink from the local pub. Bringing on visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner possesses the same edginess and detail to its set design, but it never gets lost in it. It simply lets the setting breathe as it will, and as Deckard navigates through the complexions of a lost city, so do we deconstruct the complicated things going on within it.

Blade Runner is well-acted, morally challenging, and visually absorbing. This much it has going for it. Where it loses focus is in its screenplay, which is so messy and convoluted that it nearly screws up the entire narrative. While I was a fan of the ambitious ideas the film was exploring, I wasn’t a fan of how it was overreaching beyond its grasp. There were many times where the film moved at a briskly quick pace, oftentimes slipping past important details that were essential to later scenes. I didn’t really understand the point of Blade Runner up until its climax, but by that point I was endlessly confused and lost with what these characters were supposed to be doing and why. It wasn’t until after I finished watching the film that I began to piece events together and understand it more efficiently. When it comes to filmmaking, it is the screenwriters job to construct the story and simplify it for its viewers, not the other way around. With Blade Runner, it is much more interested in flashy effects, brilliant concepts, and dystopian scenery than it is in its characters and deeper mythology. In that regard, Blade Runner is just plain lazy.

In hindsight, I find Blade Runner to be strongest as a conversation topic: an exchange of ideas between cinephiles and philosophers on where we are as a society versus where we are going. I don’t, however, consider it quality entertainment or even necessarily fun. I would watch it again to understand it better; not to enjoy it more.

As a film, Blade Runner is confusing and flashy. As a story, it fails to be coherent. But as a series of existential questions that we all need to ask ourselves, Blade Runner is invaluable. I hope you are ready with your answers.

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Jared Leto Is Returning As DCEU’s Joker

UPDATE 8/24: Warner Bros. just recently added another spinoff to Leto’s slate as the Joker. It will primarily focus on the Joker’s relationship with Harley Quinn and will also feature Suicide Squad co-star Margot Robbie. The film is being written and directed by Crazy, Stupid, Love filmmakers Glen Ficarra and John Requa.


ORIGINAL STORY: 

Whoa, okay. I wasn’t expecting this much Joker news in one day. That’s kind awesome.

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Hours after the announcement that Warner Bros. will be producing a standalone Joker movie, they followed up with more Joker news that is sure to both please and infuriate fans. Jared Leto will be reprising his role as the Joker from Suicide Squad in both the sequel and the Harley Quinn-centered spinoff, Gotham City Sirens. Reps have not confirmed whether Leto’s contract will extend past that to Ben Affleck’s solo Batman film or not.

I’m a little mixed with this development. I didn’t care for Leto that much in Suicide Squad and felt he was unnecessarily forced into the picture just so the marketing team could use him in their promotional material. With Leto, I didn’t get the sense that this guy had a sick sense of humor or was supposed to serve as a dark parody of a clown. He felt more like Scarface with some tattoos and makeup plastered on.

That being said, I blame writer-director David Ayer more for his portrayal than I do of Leto. His screenplay shoehorned the Joker awkwardly in there rather than giving him his own space to breathe and interact with the other characters, and I think it shortchanged him in the long run. With how little screen time he’s given as well as the sloppy editing of his scenes, I think Leto wasn’t given a lot to work with to truly stand out in Suicide Squad. I would be happy to see him given a second chance at the part in the sequel, although if it still doesn’t work DC may have to take the character back to the drawing board.

What do you guys think? Are you smiling to see Leto reprise the iconic villain, or do you wish he would laugh himself away from the part? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Comic Book Resource, Screenrant