Blade Runner 2049: Movie Man Jackson

Things were simpler in 2019. In 2049, Los Angeles is even more of a dystopia than before. Once under the all-watching eye of the Tyrell Corporation, scientist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has bought the company and put money towards new NEXUS replicants. The NEXUS-9’s are more obedient, and phase out the NEXUS-8’s. The few remaining 8’s are hunted once again by the Blade Runners; one known as “K” (Ryan Gosling) is quite adept at his job.

On a mission not out of the ordinary, K literally unearths a revelation that has wide-reaching ramifications for each party on alternates sides of a teetering proverbial “wall.” K’s investigation leads him to the legendary Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who may possess the clues to piecing together this mystery.

Ahh…Blade Runner. The aftermath of that movie released in 1982 is arguably more noteworthy than the actual movie itself, which is in no way a slight to Ridley Scott’s original. But, the aftermath and the second, third, and fourth lives of Blade Runner are why Blade Runner 2049 exists today. A 35 year release gap between productions would seem to be problematic, but not when there’s there’s this high level of talent assembled and involved. Blade Runner 2049 is an extremely impressive piece of work that mostly lives up to its substantial hype.

The pressure and expectations of delving deeper into the dystopian setting of 2019 LA thirty years later would crush many a working director in Hollywood. But Denis Villeneuve isn’t an average director. He’s a dynamic director, one of the best—if not the best—working today. Great sci-fi features depend a lot on visual storytelling, perhaps more so than any other genre. It’s impossible not to be sucked into the extravagant world of Blade Runner 2049 and not believe it doesn’t exist, or rather, won’t exist.

Clearly being inspired by Scott’s vision, Villeneuve keeps that neo-noir style but improves upon it in lighting, ambiance, CGI, and all of the above.The dynamic duo he forms with cinematographer Roger Deakins makes for the best looking film of 2017, bar none. Oh, and the composer collaboration of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch makes for a great atmospheric accompaniment to everything on-screen.

And then there’s the story. Co-written by Blade Runner‘s original writer Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant, Logan), the focus remains on what it means to be human. Is “feeling” still feeling if those feelings are technically artificial? The specific theme that ties into those bigger ones is purpose.To not spoil anything (hopefully), I’ll just say that the film answers this question through the fascinating main character arc. At two hours and forty-three minutes, Blade Runner 2049 tackles a lot and deals with the volume pretty efficiently with a slow burn pace.

However, Villeneuve and company do unfortunately leave a few characters and intriguing narrative threads with little to no resolution, especially in the final act. Chalk it up to an unclear direction—not in the literal sense, but a figurative one. There’s enough here to suggest that Blade Runner 2049 could spawn at least another installment, maybe more (a lower than projected opening box office weekend may put an end to that, though). But at the same time, one gets the feeling that there were multiple people working on this that would like this to close the book on Phillip K. Dick’s story for good. As such, Blade Runner 2049 ends well enough but without that complete level of satisfaction.

What is undeniably satisfying is the cast, starting with lead Ryan Gosling. His character of K is compelling, and seeing how Gosling reacts as the story unfolds around and within him is spectacular. He’s flanked by a rising Ana de Armas, a consistent Robin Wright, and an opening scene-stealing Dave Bautista. The build to Harrison Ford is worth it, the veteran chewing up real estate once he appears. All make for great characters; the only ones who feel a little underwritten on first watch appear to be Jared Leto’s and Sylvia Hoeks. No fault of their own, both deliver great performances; but their motivations seem a little hazy. Still, this cast is spectacular, night and day better than the thespian work in Ridley’s original.

More standalone film than pure sequel, Blade Runner 2049 does nothing to dull the memories of 1982. But it takes those memories as inspiration and makes something that can stand alone well enough, leaving one of the 2010’s best science-fiction films behind.

A-

Photo credits go to liveforfilm.com, cnet.com, and rollingstone.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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War Dogs: Movie Man Jackson

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Every dog has its day. David Packouz (Miles Teller) hasn’t had his yet. He’s a college dropout who massages Miami’s biggest clientele (which sounds better than it seems), and a failing entrepreneur who hitched his wagon attempting to sell blankets to unneedy retirement homes. Cash flow is sparse, and he’s going to need more of it with a baby on the way from his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas).

Just at the right time, his old best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) returns to the cocaine capital, doing very well for himself. Efraim has gotten into the arms dealing business, bidding on U.S. military contracts to supply wartime squadrons. He’s a one man operation, but needs another guy to get this operation humming. David makes the decision to work with Efraim, eating off of the crumbs that other guys brush off to the side. Before you know it, the duo are rolling in dough, and taking on progressively bigger, and progressively more dangerous and unethical, contracts.

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An evolution, in any arena of life, rarely happens overnight. Rather, it is gradual and incremental. While striking out with some, possibly most, comedies here and there, director Todd Phillips has helmed some of the more memorable ones of the 21st century in The Hangover and Old School. His latest in War Dogs still retains some of the style that those movies had, but also is a tad more serious. Though not flawless, the final product indicates that there is some real potential for Phillips to tackle something really substantial down the line.

Even in Hollywood where many biographies take liberties, War Dogs takes the cake and might as well be an original screenplay. Okay, not exactly, but it is clearly less about the facts and more about the “unfathomable-ness” of the whole ordeal. Hell, it doesn’t carry the requisite character facts at the end of a feature that accompany so many biographies! Perhaps any real emotional impact or stabs at political commentary is lost, but looked at as another story of how the largest American dreams are often seized by the people who lack morality the least, War Dogs works just fine script-wise.

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For the most part, Phillips paces War Dogs well, moving at an efficient clip. The narration done by Teller’s character is a nice addition, the cultivated soundtrack fits nicely at the right times, and the visual direction approaches fourth-wall breaks without going all of the way there. It is only at the end where the movie begins to drag on the inevitable fallout and consequences, and the last 15-25 minutes become very elongated. Again, Phillips sort of struggles with the resonating aspect of the film. Unlike, say, The Big Short which really stuck with me personally a few days/weeks after viewing, despite Phillips’ best efforts, War Dogs never comes close to leaving an emotional imprint.

But who cares about emotions when what is being viewed is constantly entertaining? Credit really goes to the cast. It would be fair to call Miles Teller a little dry and dull in this one, but it works perfectly for who he plays off of, and near the end he does have some great dramatic moments. Ana de Armas is just begging to be unleashed in the right role; her housewife isn’t though she does what she can with it. Bradley Cooper adds more name value than anything, but he actually appears interested to be in a Phillips production again, and his character is a big part of the movie. With more screentime, he really would have left a mark.

But undoubtedly, “fat” Jonah Hill (because there is a difference between the rotund version and the svelte version) makes War Dogs worth remembering. He goes all in as his Efraim character, and imbues the events on screen with an infectiousness that is hard not to appreciate and fall for, just like the many he comes across in the movie do. Teller is certainly important here, but Jonah Hill is first billed for a reason. As much as this may seem to be a buddy movie, this is purely Jonah’s vehicle for the first time in his career.

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War Dogs never truly hits introspectively or emotionally, and yet it is pretty intriguing from beginning to end. Tasty crumbs. Anyone else feel like this is going to be a staple on HBO for years and years?

B-

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, rollingstone.com, and metacritic.com.

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Hands of Stone: Movie Man Jackson

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Even the most stony of fighters become soft sometimes. Panamanian Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramírez) was born into nothing; no education, no father to learn from, etc. His home country of Panama is under political turmoil from the United States of America. In spite of all of this, Duran uses this to become a skilled and hardened boxer. 

With the help of legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert de Niro), Duran makes his way up the ranks, undefeated, to challenge fellow undefeated lightweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond IV). Duran gets to the apex of the boxing sport, but everyone knows that the fall is easily as precipitous, if not more so, than the rise.

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What to make of Hands of Stone, the latest boxing epic in a genre that seems to have found revitalized life in the last year? Well, much of what has been made before, really. This is to say that Hands of Stone is watchable, good in some aspects, poor in others. If it were a 15 round fight, it goes about 7 and a half.

The film is directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, unknown to this viewer before this film. Pretty clear to see he’s got passion for this project, and is dedicated to telling if not all of the highs and lows of Duran’s story, than at least most of them. The production does suffer from a few things. There’s really no sense of time even with the date stamps provided; yours truly was a little shocked that some of the fights and events in the film were much more spaced out according to Wikipedia then they appeared to be in the film. Particularly, the end comes very quick, not too long after our hero has hit rock bottom. A real oddity is the inclusion of nudity. I’m no prude (especially for the beautiful Ana de Armas), but the bare skin serves nothing to the story and it actually goes on a little long.

As for the in-ring action, it is sort of disappointing. Perhaps we are all still spoiled off of Creed with the technical prowess Ryan Coogler exhibited in his pugilism scenes. Hands of Stone can sometimes look like it was filmed with stone hands. Jakubowicz loves the 180 degree pans—not only for fighting—and it can become a little annoying. Questionable camera angles exist as well; for every good sequence, an equally scattershot one is found where it can be hard to discern what is going on. Whether the result of stars that can’t go in the ring, or poor direction, it is nonetheless frustrating.

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A few points on the scorecard are earned for the very solid work turned in the cast, though. Not counting Grudge Match, it is interesting to see Robert de Niro return to a boxing movie as a trainer, like Sly did as Rocky (obviously not being as linear). This isn’t a return to form for the legend, but it is certainly way less embarrassing than his appearance in Dirty Grandpa, and dry and unneeded story narration aside, he delivers a few dramatic highlights.

However, he’s actually outshined by a few of his less heralded cast-mates. Edgar Ramírez is Duran, and in a better movie we may be talking about his performance more. He’s compelling even in somewhat of a basic biographical/rise-fall boxing movie, and not a cookie-cutter protagonist, that term being used loosely here. All things considered, Usher keeps up and looks the role of Sugar Ray Leonard, not forcing Raymond to have to stretch too much as a pretty boy. Ana de Armas shows she can be much more than a pretty face moving forward, she’s very capable opposite Ramírez.

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Upon its conclusion, Hands of Stone feels like a boxer who has the potential knockout power, but never cared to learn how to box and take in the sweet science. He’s missing a few crucial things to make himself a true contender.

C-

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, teaser-trailer.com, and traileraddict.com.

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Knock Knock: Movie Man Jackson

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“Louis, be careful! They’re crazy!”

The Boogeyman would have never let this happen. It is Father’s Day weekend, and familyman Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves), is all alone. Due to being behind on work, he cannot join his wife and children on a weekend excursion to the beach. It is what it is, though, as the solace gives him the opportunity to complete his architecture project, indulge in some alcohol, and smoke some reefer.

It all goes to plan until a Knock Knock emits from the front door. On the step stands two young ladies, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo), and Bel (Ana de Armas), soaking wet and cold from the torrential downpour as a result of a wrong address to a party. Evan, the nice guy he is, invites them into his home, gets them dry, and even requests an Uber, which will take 45 minutes to arrive. In that 45 minutes, he begins to find the ladies super open about their sexual conquests, and what they would like to partake in with Evan. Very reluctant originally, he soon gives into the ménage à trois, but finds the next day that it’s the worst decision he could have possibly made.

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To be honest, yours truly has never been a big fan of Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel). I cannot say that I’ve seen every film he’s ever directed, but the gore, gore, gore, and more GORE! approach he brings to the table is usually more revolting than frightening. I expected the same with Knock Knock, which drew me in its basic, but interesting, premise. The good thing? Knock Knock strays far away from the buckets of blood style that Roth has made a name on. The bad thing? Knock Knock isn’t that much better in quality than some of those other Roth-helmed flicks. But, it is more entertaining from a pure viewing standpoint.

Knock Knock is a remake of a 70’s film called Death Game. I’ve never viewed that, but to put it in modern terms, this is essentially No Good Deed meets Wild Things. It doesn’t take too long to get into the crux of the story, and it is the foreplay—err, build—before the mid-movie climax that Roth and screenplay writer Nicolas Lopez get right. There’s a real patience in getting to the big event that has to be commended, and it is generally fun to see Evan continue to duck and sidestep, both literally and figuratively, the advances of the women.

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Where the movie becomes a little messy is from the second half on. The tone becomes hard to decipher; it wants to be both a comedy and a horror/thriller. Thematically, there’s a feeling Roth wants to say something profound about marriage, infidelity, social media in today’s world, and privacy, but it never comes together in a clear way. Probably because the characters never feel like real people; especially the antagonists, who are extremely unbelievable, yet seemingly are capable of doing everything. They are flat out irritating, instead of being disturbing.

Perhaps the biggest black mark on the story is an effort to justify that Keanu Reeves’ character deserves the scenario he finds himself in. It would be one thing to show that Evan is fundamentally a bad guy, or reveal more layers that could justify his punishment, but the character here is, for all intents and purposes, a good guy who simply makes a mistake. But, the movie draws him as being bad and 100% responsible for everything that occurs.

However, Knock Knock is an entertaining view in parts due to the below-average dialogue and Keanu Reeves. People generally don’t talk like the people present here, but a hoot can be had to hear them spew the lines Roth and Lopez have written. As alluded to earlier, the women are grating rather than something to fear, and worse yet, they are painted as masterminds with no real motive or smarts.

As for Reeves, it’s hard to tell whether he turns in a bad performance, or is in on the joke. Evidence for both sides exists, but it does look like he is having fun with this role, especially as the movie goes on. There’s something about the way he emotes (or lack thereof) in various moments of distress, and he has a few rants that are absolutely gutbusting; think of The Wicker Man with a maybe a touch more self-awareness from its lead. This flick will have tons of life on Netflix and in YouTube clips.

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Knock Knock is designed to be the start of a new period in Roth’s career, far from the visceral works he has made a name on. It is more of a trashy comedic joke than a truly thrilling and disturbing film, but it is a semi-memorable one that works well over during a rainy night, some alcoholic drinks and pizza. If you can get free pizza while viewing, even better. That last line will make sense after a watch!

Grade: D+

Photo credits go to geekyrant.com, onehundredlunatics.com, and teaser-trailer.com. Last hyperlink in final paragraph goes to a piece at Grantland.com authored by Steven Hyden.

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