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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Suicide Squad: Movie Man Jackson

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I’ll just stick to mixing sodas together. To be better prepared for extraterrestrial threats such as Superman who might not be as friendly as the Man of Steel, the government, led by intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), decides to put together a group of talented, yet unstable, individuals.

Call them a Suicide Squad, if you will, comprised of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and Slipknot (Adam Beach). Along with de facto special forces leader Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and appointed bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the ragtag group is asked to take down not The Joker (Jared Leto), but a threat that could destroy the world. If they succeed, wonderful. And if they fail? Well, there’s a reason the baddest of the bad drew this straw and got called a suicide squad.

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Some popular memes going around the Internet concern Marvel vs DC Comics, and how much the latter lags behind the former. One of my personal favorites is this one here, taken from Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Sam Wilson aka Falcon talks about how he does everything Captain America does but much slower. This is, in a way, a perfect image that defines the struggles the DC Extended Universe has had in getting off the ground since BvS and now with Suicide Squad. The irony is, however, that by hotshotting a multitude of characters in the hopes of creating a big comic book universe fast in two movies has actually had the opposite effect.

The talented David Ayer (End of Watch, writer of Training Day), was tagged to not only direct this next entry in the DCEU. Ayer is one of the grittiest directors, and writers, of today, and with the supposedly dark material that Suicide Squad houses in the comics, that would seem to be up his alley, right? Not exactly. There’s a part of me that understands that with the criticism of Dawn of Justice, there was no way that a following DC movie could be as somber.

But, Suicide Squad does unfortunately feel a little neutered, fragmented, and duller than could be imagined. Perhaps it isn’t Ayer’s fault, but the fault of what appears to be a meddling studio yet again. Perhaps we’ll see an extended cut on Blu-Ray akin to Batman V Superman, though a second time with subsequent films gives off the wrong idea. On a bright note, a pretty good score is found by Steven Price, but the soundtrack drives the scenes more, for good and for bad.

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Ayer does present a nice setup. Though exposition-heavy in a scene that seems to last forever in a restaurant, there likely was no other feasible way to introduce the characters that make up the squad. It does its job. The problem is that after that, the story is pretty rinse-and-repeat. I actually didn’t find it that hard to follow, but there very much is a bait-and-switch element to the proceedings. Pretty much a whole act is devoted to getting through two waves of literal faceless enemies to get to a building to extract someone. There are some cool visual moments, mainly of Deadshot being an expert marksman, but it all adds up to a meh trek to the finale, which is hampered by middling to bad CGI and the cheesiness of slow-motion.

The main reason why Suicide Squad isn’t a complete waste is because it is easy to see that the cast is fully committed to these characters and the movie, even if some do not get the requisite attention or backstory. Will Smith is always gonna be Will Smith to me, never fully bleeding into a character. That is not to say he isn’t entertaining, though, and his Deadshot possesses the most humane storyline of any character. Margot Robbie is the true star, and rightfully so. WB has promoted her crazy person act as the franchise player, and it isn’t hyperbolic to say she may one day rival or surpass Batman’s popularity on the silver screen in the DCEU. More of her, please.

In a film of nuts and psychos, Viola Davis’ role is important, if only just to give some sense to the proceedings. Finally, Jared Leto’s Joker is something I was down on after the conclusion of this film, but after thinking about it more, one has to respect his efforts to do something different. Maybe the real reason I was down was the simple fact that he’s not the real opposition this feature deserves, but it’s the one we needed.

The rest of the squad has a clear hierarchy after Deadshot and Quinn. Jay Hernandez and Joel Kinnaman get some development, the former’s actually a little emotional while the latter’s only serves to propel the movie’s baddie. Jai Courtney gets a few funny lines here and there, and barely edges above worthless. Sadly, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Karen Fukuhara are basically that as Killer Croc and Katana, respectively. Nothing against them as actors, just have no care if their characters somehow turned up dead before the sequel. This really needed a stronger villain than the one given to us played by Cara Delevingne. By film’s end, it’s pretty brutal and not in a good way. 

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Suicide Squad contains a good-to-great foundation for future DC film property in its own universe, but its present is a little bit mucky. Squad goals? Not exactly yet.

C

Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, ew.com, and screenrant.com

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Dallas Buyers Club: Movie Man Jackson

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“Sorry lady, but I prefer to die with my boots on.”

Stigmas are potent, and it is hard to come to grips with once you have been stigmatized. But how do you react? Do you let the world define you, and what you have become? Or do you display resolve and define yourself?

Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story, and tells the narrative of Ron Woodruff, portrayed magnificently by Matthew McConaughey. Woodruff is officially a technician but seems most official as the sex-loving, drug-abusing hustling cowboy when not on the clock. One day at work, he suffers a substantial injury that mandates his blood be drawn. The injury becomes minute once the doctors inform Ron a life-shattering ordeal: He is HIV positive, and likely only has 30 days to live.  As anticipated, the defiant wrangler refuses to accept this, and continues to live life like before. Slowly but surely, however, he begins to realize the gravitas of his affliction.

Luckily, a new treatment drug known as AZT, could be a godsend to AIDS patients, but still in the test stages. Ron knows he must get his hands on some, and does through a hospital contact. While helpful early on, the drug seems to atrophy his immune system (as well as continued abuse of drugs) as the days progress.  Still, Ron needs more but once the hospital’s supply runs out, he is told by his contact to travel to Mexico to get more. Here, he is assisted by a non-licensed doctor that informs him that AZT is a lot more harmful than it is helpful. Before he leaves, he is given a sizable supply of ddC and proteins that will prolong his life. The stuff does make him feel better, and ever the hustler Ron is, he immediately sees the possible monetary in this endeavor, and even recruits Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender woman he met during hospital care.  From here, the “Dallas Buyers Club” is spawned and things look good for everyone, but the FDA may have something to say about this operation…

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Some films hinge upon one or two characters/actors, meaning the success of the film is tied to how well these selected few handle the weight. This is one of those films, and luckily, McConaughey and Leto are up to the task. You’ve heard this sentiment in some way or form by now, but it is so true: McConaughey is undergoing one of the most (if not the most) unlikely career revivals in cinema history. It seems like yesterday that this man was in repetitive nothingness like The Wedding Planner and Failure to Launch. Since 2011 though, he has flexed his muscles—acting that is— in memorable roles, and has reached a fever pitch with Dallas Buyers Club. Matthew’s Ron Woodruff is just so captivating, and it is a delight to see him go from bigoted country man to unlikely hero. You can tell he was committed to this role, shedding an insane amount of weight to portray a very sick man. He and DiCaprio are my Oscar favorites for Best Actor.

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Speaking of shocking transformations, Jared Leto’s role as Rayon may be more noteworthy. Not only did he have to lose an inordinate amount of weight similar to McConaughey; he had to portray a female as well, which in totality may be a more difficult acting job. Even more impressive is the fact that he has been out of acting for four years, and never looked rusty, if that could be quantified. Let me just say he had me fully convinced. If it were not for Ron’s quips and teasing, he (she?) would blend in quite well. You really see the pain and anguish that the character has had to live with their whole existence, but you also see the vulnerability and hope exhibited as well. Possible Oscar winning supporting male performance for sure in what is an extremely strong and maybe the most compelling category as a whole. The rest of the cast was respectable, but nothing to write home about. The movie is clearly carried by this duo.

I commend the script for being original. Well, not purely original as it is adapted but I cannot recall the last time we have seen a movie that dealt mainly with HIV/AIDS. It was quite a joy to see a history of sorts regarding the disease, which I always knew about and yet was still unsure of its historical timeline, so educate me it did.  But, I was most interested in seeing Ron Woodruff’s transformation. To see him from the beginning of the movie to where he ends up at the conclusion of it is stellar character depth 101 at its finest.

The film does have flaws. As aforementioned, after Matthew and Jared and maybe Steve Zahn (small role) no one really stands out.  At times, I felt like I was watching  “template” characters instead of organic ones. I believe some were just there to serve as a physical representation of what Ron had to fight against. I would not say it is overly long, but there is noticeable drag if that makes sense, probably due to the pacing. Occasionally it feels tonally disjointed, like it sort of wants to be light but then overly dark in the same minute. Everyone else may not notice or be affected by it, but I observed this and thought I should at least say something about it. From a technical aspect there was nothing that blew me away, but I did think there was a nice touch audio-wise when the virus is relentlessly attacking Ron. You’ll know when you hear it.

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With that said, Dallas Buyers Club is a film that deserves credit for the way it tackles its uncomfortable subject matter, and never goes into being too formulaic. It is quite impressive that the film is making this type of impact on a relatively minuscule budget. I implore you to give it a watch. It is not spectacular as it is missing some spark that could take it over the top,  but I feel that it is a sleeper favorite to win Best Picture if things break right.

Grade: B

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