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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Prisoners: Movie Man Jackson

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“We do not give up on your sister!” 

Common sense seems to lend itself to the idea that with every passing day that goes by in a child abduction, the fear of the worst increases exponentially. Every moment matters, and for Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello), and friends/neighbors Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis), they become unfortunate Prisoners of time. On Thanksgiving afternoon, both of the family’s youngest daughters Anna, and Joy, have been taken away from them.

Only a mysterious RV parked on the street where the families reside is the only lead that Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a detective who has solved every case he has been assigned to, has. All evidence, in the eyes of Keller, points to the driver of the RV, mentally challenged Alex Jones (Paul Dano). With the police unable to do more than the law allows, Keller chooses to head his own investigation, to which there are no ceilings or depths he won’t break through–or sink to—in an effort to locate his daughter.

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There is the horror that comes from the macabre, the supernatural, the slasher, etc. These types of horror can be scary and effective, but sometimes, they don’t stick with the viewer. There is something about using real-life scenarios that really gets under one’s being. In the case of the film Prisoners, it can’t be classified as a horror, but an argument can be made that it is more unsettling, and even, horrific than the common horror film.

Yours truly is not a parent, but the thought of having a son or daughter abducted with little to no trace of where they are has to be rank up as one of the more frightening things that could happen to one’s child, only under seeing them get killed right in front of you. Prisoners, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is permeated with a consistent feeling of dread throughout.

From the 10 minute mark on, the movie is unsettling, and a big part of that is a result of the miserable and depressing environment that Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins choose to exhibit, punctuated by the neverending overcast skies and the torrential downpour. Tone is set early and is never lost. But it isn’t just the usage of the environment to accentuate the story, sometimes it is the simple use of how a subject is focused on for seconds on end while another one is talking. It is a small touch, but a touch that made me feel like I wasn’t watching a movie here and there.

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The screenplay is well-written, with possibly only a very, very, tiny bit of overwriting in the middle. Runtime could be a problem for some, but the story is enthralling and has more than enough from the 10-minute mark to the end. Thematically, and symbolically, it gets under the skin as well, and offers another layer of heavyness, unease, and contemplation (Check out this spoiler-filled but detailed article that you may or may not agree with at Vigilant Citizen). Any mystery has a massive challenge of being unpredictable, and though there will always be people can snap all of the pieces together before the end (70% of the time I’m incorrect on my educated guesses), the misdirects will likely prevent most from getting it right. As another credits to the writing, the pieces and misdirects never feel contrived.

A superstar cast does nothing less than stellar work. Perhaps the most scary thing about Prisoners is Hugh Jackman’s performance. Not scary as in he did a bad job, but scary because when watching, it is unnerving to think that maybe, just maybe, one would go about things exactly as he does if they found themselves in the exact same situation with all indications pointing to one person. Another interesting aspect of the character that makes how he goes about finding justice frightening is the fact that though he and his friend’s daughter are both missing together, he is only shown to care about his own daughter. To some this could be considered a writing oversight, but it feels intentional and implies that we (humans) can be rather myopic despite our efforts not to be. Don’t mistake his one-note character emotion of anger as evidence that he has no layers; the layers just dissipate in this situation. Keller is a representation of impulse, like most would be, here.

His polar opposite is represented in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki. Where Keller is unhinged, Loki is methodical. He’s as mysterious and as layered as the case he is trying to solve, and yet, his character carries a level of trust that no one else possesses. Gyllenhaal loses himself yet again in a role that for most other actors, may have been overshadowed by Jackman’s intensity in his character. Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard are all talented pros and bring what is expected to the table, and even smaller roles played by guys like David Dastmalchian and Len Cariou are noteworthy.

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Years later, it still is baffling that Prisoners did not get the love at the 86th Academy Awards like it should have, in my humble opinion. Thrillers, and films as a whole, don’t get much better. Not an easy view, or one that can be viewed numerous times, but nonetheless a view that remains arresting each time out.

Grade: A

Photo credits go to IMDB.com, vigilantcitizen.com, movieloci.com, and thewrap.com.

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Ant-Man: Movie Man Jackson

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 “I think our first move should be calling the Avengers.”

Occasionally, a small package can be a good thing. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just finished serving some time in the San Quentin state penitentiary after doing a Robin Hood-esque hacking job of sorts, returning money that his previous company had more-or-less stolen from their customers. He desperately wants to make an honest living now, and see his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), more frequently.

Meanwhile, in the corporate world, a battle is being waged for an revolutionary piece of technology developed by physicist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). This powerful piece of tech grants the user the ability to shrink to the size of an insect while increasing their strength, making for a devastating weapon. Temporarily hanging in the possession of a shady company he once founded, Pym is willing to give a second chance to a man who desperately needs one. Dr. Pym recruits Lang to don the Ant-Man suit and take back the blueprint of what he created.

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With all of the development problems for a film allegedly in the works since the 1980’s, it is really a victory that Ant-Man, the latest in Marvel’s sizable cinematic universe, is not horrid. As the official end to Phase 2, this doesn’t end the period with a lot of momentum but does give the universe another (lesser) character to intersperse in future installments. From it’s cinematic brethren, it is different in the way it goes about carrying itself, which is good and bad for yours truly.

Ant-Man is a basic origins story, which isn’t all that different from any character’s first movie in Marvel. But this origin tale feels a little lifeless, honestly, especially in the first third in hitting all of the familiar notes of troubled character ultimately misunderstood, family problems, father figure, etc. As ho-hum as that is, what is admittedly cool about this superhero offering is that, it does feel like its own movie that exists separately from the MCU. Take away the few mentions of The Avengers and this could work as its own…work.

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Part of the reason why is because it takes itself so lightly and whimsical in tone, making Guardians of the Galaxy look heavy in comparison. The idea of a man decreasing in stature yet increasing in strength and controlling every variant of the ant colony is ridiculous, but director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man), seems to know this. Ant-Man behaves just as much as a comedy as it does an action, if not more so. Where others in the universe try to inject humor to various and sometimes pathetically forced degrees, the humor in this fits the film better because it is already coming in at a fixed tone. This actually does help the action stand out more. CGI of course it is, but I’ll admit I enjoyed the small-scale battles being treated like humongous clashes , as well as the eye-catching underground ant sequences.

Still, this is a Marvel movie, and as such, it is sort of impossible not to think how this compares to what came before it. The biggest issue that may be had with this latest superhero is simply that it feels like it lacks importance. It is hard to see how more desire can be drummed up for another feature outing. Unlike Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, or the Guardians, Ant-Man feels destined to be a side character, though the credits point to at least one later standalone installment.

For the film’s tone, Paul Rudd is everything one could want in the titular role. He’s comedic but never too much of a joke to not be taken seriously when needed. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get to lose himself in the role, which isn’t his fault. This is probably an unsubstantiated belief by yours truly (I’m not a comic-book nerd), but the Ant-Man character doesn’t feel like it has the requisite backstory like other characters in their own films do. Even those who don’t read comics know about the characters and in some cases personalities of guys like Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man, while the same can’t be said for Ant-Man. But that is probably the point, I suppose.

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The rest of the cast does mostly well enough to aid Rudd. Pure comic relief is provided by David Dastmalchian (Prisoners), T.I, and Michael Pena as Scott’s criminal friends, with the latter providing the most laughs everytime out. Evangeline Lilly really provides nothing that a hundred other women couldn’t provide as a love interest. I can’t remember the last time Michael Douglas was in something nationally released that was not targeted to an older crowd, so it is nice to see him playing perhaps the most intriguing character of the whole movie. Corey Stoll gets to be the hero’s opposition, and he is formidable even though he is essentially a guy doing being bad because the script calls for it. His performance is fine, but kind of overacted in spots as well.

Have to end with an obvious size pun, right? Ant-Man stands small when put next to most Marvel works, but it doesn’t get completely squashed either.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to 411mania.com, screenrant.com, and cosmicbooknews.com.

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