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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Arrival: Movie Man Jackson

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We come in peace? In peace we come? Peace we come in? They all mean different things! Out of nowhere, large opaque oblong spacecrafts come out of the sky, hovering over 12 cities across the world. They look threatening, so they had to have come to bring destruction to Earth. But, they just hover there, idly…

But idle cannot be assumed to completely mean peaceful. The fact of the matter is, someone needs to figure out what the point is of these extraterrestrials’ Arrival. That task primarily falls to linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). As both soon figure out, these beings operate with a higher sense of knowledge and communication than we do. Perhaps it isn’t them they should be concerned about, but rather, whether all parties across the world can collaborate with each other to figure out the meaning of their arrival.

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Few directors have had the critical success that Denis Villeneuve has experienced. Not counting Incendies (a film I so desperately need to see), he has helmed some of the best films of this decade in a relatively short time period with Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario. He’s hit must-see status…even with a weaker offering in Arrival. 

Don’t take that opener as disdain for Arrival. This is still a good movie, one in which Denis Villeneuve has firmly cemented himself as appointment viewing, up there with the likes of Christopher Nolan , David Fincher, and Quentin Tarantino. After delving into abduction, surrealism, and the cartels, the director tackles humanity and cooperation this time around. This is actually the first surprise—rather, misdirect—of Arrival. 

Despite having obvious elements of the science-fiction genre, it can be easily argued that Arrival isn’t much of one as a whole. Which is perfectly OK. The study of linguistics and how each and every culture can interpret meaning differently is fascinating, and it is an idea that is rendered wonderfully from a visual and auditory sense. If one ever wanted to see what a Rorschach test looked like on the silver screen, Arrival is probably the closest movie to capturing that. Arrival isn’t as striking as Sicario or as bizarre as Enemy, but even being more minimalist, there’s a tension (Villeneuve truly knows how to wield a camera to show this) that exists from the jump to the end of the second act. It only helps that the wonderful Johann Johannson provides moody musical cues that get at the extraterrestrial aspect of the story.

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So Arrival, script source material taken from the novella Story of Your Life, is undoubtedly cerebral. Where it falters, for yours truly at least, is tugging at the heartstrings. The rest of this paragraph can essentially be summed up as the super basic statement “It just didn’t do it for me,” but I’ll try to elaborate without spoiling. Perhaps I have no one else to blame but myself for expecting something that wasn’t there. It just feels that, however, something else could have, should have, been there. For all of the tension that is generated in the the initial acts of the movie, the reveal has sort of a flat feeling tied to it. It’s at this point when Arrival moves into full on heartfelt drama. Drama that, while structurally sound when held under a microscope, is a little uninteresting.

There are three performers billed on the movie’s poster, but one that gets all of the good material. That one being Amy Adams, who is always a captivating presence. The biggest reason why the cast works is that they are easy to buy into as their roles. All of Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker possess roles moreso than meaty characters (though Adams figuratively gets a full character circle, if you will), but this is a feature that requires actor and actress to be believable in delivering theories, calculating math, and delivering orders. When the three or some combination of the two are on screen together, they all work well with each other and the dialogue is worth listening to.

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At the very least, Arrival is worth a watch, not just for the impressive direction, but because it is unique, and films like this should be supported regardless of genre. Even with yours truly ultimately feeling a tad underwhelmed with the story aspects and endgame of this film, if it wasn’t clear before, it’s crystal clear now that Denis Villeneuve has arrived as a top-level filmmaker.

B-

Photo credits go to vox.com, nerdreactor.com, and rollingstone.com.

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Sicario: Movie Man Jackson

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“You’re not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves, now.”

For the 1,387,466th time…in Mexico, Sicario means hitman. In what looks like a routine day on the job (or as routine as a day can be for an FBI agent), kidnapping response specialist Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) stumbles into a situation she cannot be prepared for in Chandler, Arizona. The aftermath of the situation isn’t one she can clean herself of, and as a result, she desperately wants to help. Picking up on this, a specialized task force leader named Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), asks her to be a part of the mission.

What is the mission? To take down one of the biggest cartels smack dab in the middle of the United States and Mexico, or in Graver’s words, “The real men responsible” for the carnage seen in Chandler. Giving help to the mission is Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), an enigmatic figure whom little is known about, except that he’s capable to handle this hell. As time goes on in this mission, the idealistic Kate begins to find that right and wrong aren’t all that far away from each other. Welcome to Juarez.

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Two films come to mind after seeing Sicario. One obviously being Trafficwith both focusing on the war on drugs, and the other actually being No Country for Old Menwhich yours truly will come back to. All three of these films are great in their own right for many reasons, but Sicario firmly establishes itself as the best of that group, and taken outside of that group it is an awesome view, regardless.

The first reason? Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) and cinematographer Roger Deakins are the early 2000’s reincarnation of the Shaq and Kobe duo in cinema production form. Every shot is meticulous, meaningful, and worthy of the viewer’s attention, even the most quiet of moments. Like Shaq and Kobe in their tandem heyday, these guys bring the tension, but they know how to make it ebb and flow. It truly is unnerving at times, the feeling even more driven home by the rumbling and unsettling score composed by one of the best today in Johann Johannsson.

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Written by Taylor Sheridan (Sons of Anarchy), Sicario focuses on whether the war on drugs is worth the fight at all, by focusing on the age-old theme of order v.s. chaos. Should chaos be fought with chaos? Is there order to be found in a scenario that seemingly has none? There are a few questions left unanswered in the plot, which is a bit frustrating. But, to yours truly at least, that is part of the statement that Villeneuve is making. Not everything can be answered, and maybe nor should it, and perhaps the sooner one comes to that realization, the better off they’ll be.

As Kate, Emily Blunt is essentially the audience’s eyes to the horrors witnessed. She puts on a brave face in the face of danger, but she is honest to herself and knows this isn’t where she belongs. And it gets to her, and Blunt conveys the uncertainty and bewilderment that Kate has with every step in the mission. She’s all about order and doing things the right way, though she does come off at a little too wide-eyed here and there. Nonetheless, great work by Blunt, whose character is kind of reminiscent from an alignment standpoint of Tommy Lee Jones’ character in NCFOM. Her partner that appears throughout is Reggie Wayne, played by Daniel Kaluuya. Kaluuya is fine, but his role adds little, if anything, to the story. If removed, nothing is missed.

Josh Brolin provides some brief lightness to an otherwise bleak tale. That doesn’t mean his character is a joke, but Graver is unconventional; lighthearted and serious at the same time, with an agenda that few know about. Brolin and Blunt are very strong, but like 2000’s Traffic, there is one man that seizes the attention from his other talented co-stars: Benicio Del Toro. From the second he comes off of a plane, Alejandro is a mesmerizing character. There’s something that screams mystery in the way he carries himself, how he speaks in the occasional riddle, etc. He’s very Anton Chigurh-ish in that sense, but with way more layers. One of the better characters of the year, easily.

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Tense, realistic (at least it feels like it), wonderfully well-acted, and above all technically proficient, Sicario is smaller-scoped look at the war on drugs, but one that never wanes in intensity whatsoever. In Mexico, Sicario means hitman.  To me, Sicario means a very, very superb film.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, moviepilot.com, and fubiz.net.

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Enemy: Movie Man Jackson

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“Your voice is just like mine.”

No two snowflakes are alike. But two people can be, and I’m not talking only about identical twins. In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) makes his living as a college professor of history. It is somewhat of a mundane one, but it pays the bills, puts a solid roof over his head, and has given him a steady, and sexy, girlfriend named Mary (Melanie Laurent).

From the recommendation of a colleague who believes Adam should view more movies more to give himself some variety in life, Adam rents Where There’s a Will There’s a Way, and immediately becomes transfixed on an actor, Daniel St. Claire, who looks just like himself. He takes it upon himself to find his carbon copy, real name Anthony Claire (Jake Gyllenhaal), married to wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), with a child on the way. It is unclear what Adam is looking for by trying to find Anthony, but he may be making an Enemy instead of a new friend.

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Yours truly is legitimately surprised that he has, somehow, been able to steer clear of spoilers, trailers, major thinkpieces, and more regarding Enemy, one of the more open-to-interpretation films I’ve witnessed in recent memory. The movie reunites director Denis Villenueve and Jake Gyllenhaal from Prisoners, and surprisingly, what they have combined to make here is even more layered than their first collaboration. Whether it gets under the skin like that aforementioned film will depend on the viewer, but still, Enemy will probably be talked about for years to come.

To compare this to anything in particular is probably doing a disservice to what Villeneuve and screenplay writer Javier Gullon have managed to come up with here. But, after viewing (and skimming over a think piece), I can’t stop thinking of 2003’s Identity, at least a little bit. That is a fine movie in its own right, except is is very reliant on a twist that leaves nothing to the imagination and can come off as pretty goofy. The great thing about Enemy is the fact that there is no real “twist,” or anything that tells the viewer how they are supposed to see the events on screen. No one involved has come forward to definitively expound on what things mean or how they should be looked at, leaving the final interpretation to the viewer.

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With Prisoners and Enemy, Villeneuve has proven to be really adept at asking a question of “How would you react if (insert scenario)…”  For the former, it was finding your missing child. For the latter, it is literally finding your doppelganger. Whether by pure luck or some direct intel on how man reacts to spotting his direct look-alike, Villeneuve captures all of the feelings of this engrossing scenario, from the astonishment and excitement, to the unease and surrealism of it. There’s a lot to take in, but credit goes to the cast for getting most of it in there.

At only 90 minutes, however, an additional 15-20 minutes would have been a nice plus to round out some characters. The actual visual aesthetic of the movie only adds to the bizarre nature of everything, bathed in a rusty, sepia tone that is equal parts beautiful and even ugly. These scenes themselves often feature minimal dialogue, which gives way to a score that can be soothing at times, and jagged at others.

The same guy playing two different characters that look exactly the same sounds like a potential disaster, but Jake Gyleenhaal, with technical prowess from Villeneuve, does it effortlessly. If there were but one criticism, it would be that his characters aren’t all that fleshed out. Or maybe they are, and it requires many views to pick up on the depth. Regardless, Gyllenhaal, and the film by extension, does a stellar job at giving each person portrayed their own personality, yet not making it super-obvious either, if that makes sense. At specific moments, the film doesn’t make it clear whether it is Adam or Anthony in important scenes , and instead relies on Gyllenhaal and its deductive audience to determine who is who. Feels good to not be consistently spoon-fed, sometimes. Both women in Laurent and Gadon pair well with Gyllenhaal, impress when needed, and are the linchpin for many of Enemy‘s themes and ideas.

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Surely, a lot more could be said about Enemy from yours truly, but to be honest, I’m not sure if I’d be up to the task of stating it in a comprehensible manner. The lack of crystal clarity and shorter-than-desired runtime could be a problem for some, but for those wanting to be challenged by a unique thriller in not just one, but multiple views, Enemy is likely to spark discussion until the end of time.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to moviemaker.co.uk, torontoist.com, awn.com, and geeknation.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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