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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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Man Jackson

Loud noises! After coming together to save the galaxy the first time, Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) this find themselves assisting an intergalactic species known as the Sovereigns, taking down a dangerous beast in exchange for Gamora’s recently captured sister, the treacherous Nebula (Karen Gillan).

A misguided theft attempt by one of the Guardians (guess who) leads the Soverigns to come after the fivesome, who look to be dead-to-rights until a mysterious figure comes out of nowhere to save them from instadeath. Who is this figure? Only Quill’s/Star-Lord’s long lost and enigmatic father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who whisks away Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet in an effort to ingratiate himself to his son and friends, while leaving Groot and Rocket behind to repair their broken spaceship. Even split up, the Guardians are still wanted, and the Sovereigns send Yondu to collect them all for proper punishment.

At this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 has been covered at length by many a great bloggers and websites. Yours truly can’t add too much to what has already been stated, but I’ll do my best. The first Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t supposed to succeed at the level it did; looking destined to be Marvel’s first true whiff (critically and commercially) in their MCU.

First trailer thoughts: Who in the blue hell are these jabronis? What is with all of this retro music in a comic book movie? To the tune of the almost 774 million worldwide and rave reviews, GoTG is hailed by a noticeable size of Marvel fans as the best the universe has to offer. A significant part of this feeling was simply due to the fact that we had never seen anything like it before in a comic book feature. To an extent, GoTG V2, possibly more than most sequels, was doomed to underwhelm more than most, not from a financial perspective, but from a quality one.

Guardians Vol 2 isn’t a complete rehashing of the movie that came before. James Gunn, returning to both direct and write the sequel, is more interested this time around with delving deeper into what makes the characters who they are. In particular, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, and surprisingly, Yondu are standouts, and respectively, Pratt, Saldana, the voice of Cooper, and Rooker get to deliver some very good character moments, the type of moments that will lead this franchise into the future.

But, it is a little disappointing to see Bautista chained to the comedic role for much of the movie’s runtime. Drax, a standout before, gets the biggest laughs but also the most attempts to do so. Whereas before he was the perfect blend of ass-kicker and humor, the percentage is much more weighted towards comedy this time, neutering the character somewhat. Baby Groot does one note extremely well. Other supporting characters, like Mantis, get lost in the shuffle, while Russell, though a figure with purpose, is reduced to exposition more times than not.

And as a whole, Guardians Vol 2 feels overstuffed from a character standpoint. Or maybe it’s the endless Ravagers, gold-painted, bland Sovereigns, and five post-credits scenes that make me feel as such. Story wise, aimless is the word yours truly would use for the first hour. The script seems content to have the characters spit jokes at one another, or talk a bit about unspoken chemistry. It’s clear where this is going and what the final act is going to consist of, but it takes pretty long in getting there. The importance of family, whether blood or makeshift, is the theme (Guardians of the Furious? The Fate of the Guardians?). And as stated, there are a few good, even poignant, moments, but also a lot of yelling and angst that becomes a little old after a while.

The action still serves as a solid point, and the vibrant, trippy colors make for a good palette. We know that the Guardians and Doctor Strange, along with every major Marvel player, will interact in Infinity War, but consider it a missed opportunity, Marvel, if the Sorcerer and the ultimate ragtag bunch don’t get extended time together in their respective sequels. From a set piece standpoint, not much actually stands out in the way the chase scene, prison breakout, and “Guardians assemble” moment did in the original. Gunn’s direction isn’t bad or mediocre, but just uninteresting.

Uninteresting kind of sums up the overall thoughts that yours truly has of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Doesn’t mean I don’t want want more adventures, just not hooked on this particular one.

C

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, movieweb.com, and cinemavine.com.

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Marauders: Movie Man Jackson

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The Queen City has never been more depressing. In Cincinnati, Ohio, a bank robbery is conducted by a highly coordinated unit. The brutal yet efficient nature of it puts the local police as well as the FBI on the case, led by special agent Montgomery (Christopher Meloni).

Days after, another robbery occurs, and pieces begin to start fitting together. Both robberies happen at banks owned by the same person, Jeffery Hubert (Bruce Willis). The question is such. Is the owner of one of the largest bank chains in the US that has been robbed numerous times actually the prime suspect in this case?

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With Marauders being filmed in Cincinnati, yours truly, being an Ohio (Columbus) resident, had to watch it, if only to support Ohio! And with a not-exactly-all-star but-still-notable cast that features Bruce Willis, Christopher Meloni, Adrian Grenier, and Dave Bautista centered around a heist plot, the potential for a pulpy lazy Saturday morning/afternoon watch seemed to be high. Sadly, Marauders is a difficult watch, not because of content, but because of simple blandness.

There’s a reason why this didn’t get a theatrical release. It’s not very good, but not all is a loss. Director Steven C. Miller makes a functional-looking film. It is a little reminiscent of Triple 9 and the video game Army of Two with its squad of robbers, but the few scenes that do get action-heavy are the “highlights” of the whole feature, even if heists have been done much better before. Miller for some reason uses a fair deal of unnecessary slow-motion, and an awful cool blue color filter that permeates every outside scene in Cincinnati. These two choices add noting to the experience.

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But the plot is where Marauders becomes borderline unwatchable. It is quite the turn of events, given how it starts. That isn’t to say the movie is riveting, but it does set up an interesting crime thriller with the basics of who, what, and why that lasts for about 30-40 minutes or so. Eventually, though, the glut of characters begins to become too much for the film to handle, and the jumbledness and straight seriousness of it all only forces an early checkout. If there were some set pieces, perhaps the movie wouldn’t be so much of a chore in its latter half, but it is pretty dialogue-heavy for a long stretch. Miller and writer Michael Cody attempt to answer a question of whether its right to do bad in order to bring down a greater evil. Not a bad question to pose, but it does rely somewhat on having interesting characters to deal with it.

Few exist here. The only one that does is Christopher Meloni’s, who’s got some depth to his character and feels invested in what he’s doing. But again, everyone else exists, says some lines, goes away for a bit, and then reenters when necessary. One can see Bautista and Grenier trying, but little of substance exists for them to do so. But at least they try, which is more than what the biggest star of the movie can say. Bruce Willis really appears to be sleepwalking through his entire part from the moment he arrives on screen. It is easily one of the more uninspired performances to this point all year. Check is a check, no matter how small the money on VOD return might be.

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By now, I’ve probably thought too much about Marauders and put too many words towards doing so. Just know that John McClane isn’t walking through that door to stop such boredom from occurring.

D-

Photo credits go to nytimes.com, YouTube.com, and pwtorch.com

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Spectre: Movie Man Jackson

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“You’ve got a secret. Something you can’t tell anyone, because you don’t trust anyone.”

No one is impervious to the past. 007 James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) most recent (unsanctioned) mission takes him to Mexico City, where he’s after someone who an old friend wants terminated. Though the mission is successful, the new M (Ralph Fiennes), isn’t all too happy with Bond acting on his own, and promptly suspends him.

Not that it matters for James, though, as Mexico City is just the beginning of a long trail that leads to the criminal organization known as SPECTRE, seemingly headed by an individual known only as Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). He’s an individual who seems to know too much about Bond, as well as the crumbling of the 007 program. As James goes deeper down the rabbit hole, past people both known and unknown come out of the shadows, proving that the dead are alive and may be pulling more strings than could ever be imagined.

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Full disclosure here. Yours truly is not up to speed on all things Bond. Sure, I’ve seen the most recent ones (except for Quantum of Solace, but from the sounds of it, not missing a thing there), and some of past ones here and there, but my Bond knowledge is probably a four at best. I say this because I look at Spectre with relatively virgin eyes, in that little is known on my end about its main baddie, the previous incarnations of Spectre, etc. Much of the symbolism, connections, and Easter Eggs are lost on me, so I just look at Spectre on its own, more or less. It’s a good, even great time with notable highs, but surprising missteps as well.

Usually a bad news first type of guy, but starting with the good this time. Spectre looks awesome. Whether in the shadows, on the snow-capped mountains, or smack dab in the middle of a Day of the Dead festival, director San Mendes builds upon the gorgeousness featured in Skyfall, even without the assistance of the legendary Roger Deakins helming the cinematography. A shot at the beginning of the movie in particular with Bond just calmly walking on the edge of a tall building stands out as one of the best of the year.

As action goes, Spectre is one of the better films of the year. No shortcuts appear to have been taken, and from a budget ranging between 250 and 300 million, there better not be. Sure, there is some occasional shakiness in the action proceedings, and a moment near the end that feels better served in the Fast & Furious universe instead of 007’s. But, it’s easy to follow, memorable, and falls in line with the most recent darker Bond iterations.

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Save for an underwhelming theme song written by Sam Smith (it’s fine after more listens, but the visuals and the lyrics just didn’t fit together), the first half, maybe even two thirds of Spectre are of high quality, featuring excellent pacing, well-timed humor, a superb score, and legitimate mystery. But, a point comes along where many of the plot reveals, connections, and motivations are, at best, mediocre, and at worst, dull.

The over two and a half hour runtime truly begins to be felt in the last 30-40 minutes, where both storylines assimilate into one as this 007 entry ends up using similar staples found in past Bond movies and other spy movies. For a franchise that is 24 movies deep, it could be unfair in coming down too hard on Spectre for leaning on old ingredients, but the first chunk of the movie is so damn great that the final act just doesn’t cash in on the intrigue and mystery that was so wonderfully set up.

It’s hard to find much fault in Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond. He’s tough enough to be believable in a fistfight, yet smooth and debonair enough to be God’s gift to women. Some have called it a phoned in performance, but I look at it more of a guy who just knows the role inside and out, to the point where it may look like he’s phoning it in. Even if he is, Bond feels more like a role in which someone just has it, or they don’t, and Craig has it. His MI6 colleagues aren’t too bad either, though, as Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw reprise these roles as M, Moneypenny, and Q, respectively.

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Some of the other aspects of the typical Bond film do not come together as nicely as they do in other Bonds. Sadly, Christoph Waltz ends up being a disappointment in his appearance as the foil. He does a good job, but is hampered by shoddy writing and motivation, and all mystique is taken away from him in one fell swoop. “The author of all your pain,” is a line that sounds better in a trailer than it does in the feature. The better villain might actually be Dave Bautista as foil 1A, possibly because he doesn’t have to worry about explaining himself through painful backstory. Léa Seadoux is absolutely stunning in the latest Bond girl role, and is a pretty good character. But, like some of the rest of the story missteps, the romance between she and James is really hotshotted, and doesn’t feel organic at all.

Shaken, but in need of a stir in spots, Spectre is still a solid entry into the series. It’s hard not to fall for the fun that Bond. James Bond, brings to the table.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, comingsoon.net, and awn.com.

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Movie Man Jackson

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“You said it yourself, b***h We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Not many movie studios are as hot as Marvel is at the moment. Since 2008’s Iron Man, their tightly yet expansively crafted cinematic universe has amassed crazy amounts of money on what some would call similarly structured films with established and recognizable heroes. The template is flipped a bit with Marvel’s latest feature Guardians of the Galaxy. In it, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is your average fortune hunter and legendary outlaw known to very few as “Star-Lord,” scouring the vast pockets of space for potential treasure. The potential treasure manifests itself in the way of a mysterious orb, valued by many unknown to Quill.

After others catch word of the galaxy-altering orb being temporarily in Star-Lord’s possession, an assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saladana), and bounty hunters Rocket Racoon/tree-like Groot (Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel), all get into the mad dash for the crown jewel. Unfortunately, they all end up in jail where they come across Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who is after some personal vengeance. With the orb still up for grabs, villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) targets the five for elimination. Despite having no true ties to each other, the individuals soon find that their and the galaxy’s best chance for survival is their cooperation, no matter how reluctant and hard that may be.

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Hyperbolic as it may sound, the general thoughts and feelings in the months leading up to Guardians of the Galaxy appeared to be of the either/or variety: Either it was going to be an impressive success which would build toward the future and further cement Marvel Studios, or it would be a critical and even commercial failure that would knock said studio down a few pegs. With its release, the concerns are alleviated. Guardians of the Galaxy is over-the-top and unconventional fun.

Story-wise, this isn’t much different than past fare, most closely resembling the fight for the Tesseract in The Avengers, the first Captain America, and Thor. But the execution? Nothing is predictable about the way events play out. As a famous wrestling legend once said, “Just when you think you have all of the answers, I change the questions.” This movie revels in doing the opposite, being zany and flat out peculiar. And you buy into it despite the wackiness, because it is highly amusing, yet also carrying more emotional heft than anticipated, giving the sort of familiar “chase” story some weight.

Back to the main aspect that distinguishes this from others: comedy. GoTG is written with a ton of wit that hits consistent laughs, sometimes very hard. In most respects, the dialogue itself between the ragtag group is lightyears better than the action, which is solid if kind of unimpressive. What is great about the humor is that it isn’t limited to just one person. Sure, some characters just lend themselves more to comedy than others, but all have certain styles and specific moments where they shine front and center. Everyone in this played the comic relief at one point, which is a welcome surprise not often seen.

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95 times out of 100, Marvel gets it right with casting, and this film is no different. Chris Pratt is Star-Lord, convincing as the sort of everyman (albeit outfitted with a slick costume and snazzy gun) that is really just trying to survive daily in the harsh galaxy. As seen in Parks and Recreation, Pratt knows how to elicit laughs, but it is his turn as a galvanizing leader here that is most intriguing. Zoe Saldana at this point seems pretty comfortable playing alien-like creatures in movies, but that doesn’t take away her overall effectiveness. Even Vin Diesel voicing three-worded Groot is memorable, though that may be more due to the technical achievement than anything Diesel does.

These three are great and without their contributions Guardians isn’t as impressive, but the two scene-thieves are Drax the Destroyer and Rocket Raccoon. The former, played by Dave Bautista (known to wrestling fans as simply Batista) is in many respects the deepest and most versatile character. Drax slides effortlessly into rage and deadpan humor at the drop of a dime, and Dave never seems stretched when doing so or out of place among his more accomplished stars. Last but not least is the hothead Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper. Cooper is allowed to be unhinged as Rocket, an anarchist wrapped in an animal’s body, akin to Conker from the Nintendo 64 days. You can tell Bradley is enjoying this, and so did I. Even with his diminutive stature, it isn’t hard to imagine Rocket being the face of the Guardians in regards to marketing.

High production is par for the course with Marvel, and this once again applies. It is a visual treat to look at, reminiscent of Mass Effect in many places. The only issue that pops up from time to time is that of the noticeable CGI in hand to hand fight scenes. It is fully realized that this is less rooted in reality than, say, The Winter Soldier, and it isn’t a huge qualm, but it is visible. What is audible is the old-school music vibe from beginning to end throughout this, giving a retro feel to a futuristic backdrop. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

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It is a little easier to take risks when you have a deep well of past successes , but the fact that Marvel was willing to do something like this to shake up the template is a small marvel in of itself. Guardians of the Galaxy embraces being offbeat and wears it like a proud badge of honor. Add another money making film galaxy to the comic book universe .

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to hypable.com, and nydailynews.com.