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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Creed: Movie Man Jackson

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“One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time.”

A name is just a name…right? Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) has lived a tough life during his 20-something odd years on this Earth. He’s been in and out of group homes never knowing his mother, or his father, who happens to be the deceased boxer and former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.

Adonis, like his father, is a hell of a fighter. But, after realizing his connection with the legendary prizefighter, he knows he needs to go all in to realize his true potential, knowing, however, that he wants to make it on his own without his father’s name. Which means leaving Los Angeles for Philadelphia to be trained by Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), now old and less than enthused to have anything to do with the ring. But, sensing something special in the kid, he relents, as Donnie may just have what it takes to be as good as, if not better than, Apollo.

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It seems like most, if not all, boxing movies pack the same punch story-wise, from the more recent Southpaw  to the granddaddy of boxing movies in Rocky. Really, Creed kind of follows the same structure. But, with that said, Creed is a complete crowd-pleaser. And, even though it is a standard boxing plot (coming up usually in a struggle, training, the main event), there are real surprises that give a movie a freshness that I did not know could exist.

“Your legacy is more than a name,” is the tagline, and message, that Creed carries. This message is one that isn’t seen too often, and makes a perfect point about accepting your “name,” history, and all that it entails while still making your own name and history. For some reason, I found this to be message and plotline to be hooking. As stated, this is the standard boxing tale of the rise of a fighter. But, the story doesn’t feel so rote because of the extra steps it takes to highlight aspects that aren’t about boxing. The fights outside of the ring are just as compelling as the ones inside of it. A few moments and dialogue can be a little corny, but it wouldn’t be in the Rocky universe without a little corniness and unintelligible speech, right?

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Make no mistake though, the action inside of the ring is a spectacle, filmed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station). He cares about the product that he’s putting out, mixing in many different camera shots (can’t remember the last time over-the-shoulder looked this great) to capture the sweet science so fluidly. The boxing is edge of the seat thrilling, with a haymaker of a score (with an great soundtrack as well) composed by Ludwig Göransson that brings in elements of the prior Rocky movies but ultimately making something original.

If there were those who believed that F4ntastic was a body blow to everyone, including Michael B. Jordan, involved in it, his knockout work as Adonis Creed proves that the man has a lot of staying power, if that wasn’t clear already. Adonis is a great character, with more to him than a man who just punches another man. Not to spoil anything as I believe the trailers did a relatively good job, but an early life reveal gives the younger Creed a ton of meaty backstory and actually differentiates him from most other cinematic boxers from a narrative perspective. He’s a complex character in the opinion of yours truly, full of confidence and self-doubt, his own man but not completely. Jordan gets the opportunity to show all of these aspects of his character and then some, and in the ring, he absolutely owns it, as fluid and natural as an actor can be. And though this shouldn’t matter, visually, he does look like he could be Apollo’s son.

Whoever thought that Rocky could ever be just as good of a trainer as Mickey was? As the old sage who is ready for life to pull the plug on him, ol’ Sly Stallone is better than he’s ever been since the first Rocky. He feels like a real character, going through real things that a man Rocky’s age goes through, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Criticism has been given to Sly in the past for taking too much responsibility in films he appears in and not excelling in one particular area. Here, with a little creative control, he’s just asked to act, and he’s all the better for it. Tessa Thompson’s Bianca levels out the intensity with the type of support that Creed cannot get from Rocky. As far as in-ring opposition goes, the “big bad” played by real life fighter Tony Bellow may not be all that memorable, but he is a competent foil for the titular character, and in the story, it makes sense as to why the finale would happen.

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The sport of boxing itself has been on a steady overall decline, but with Creed, there may be a future for it on the big screen. With a dazzling three punch combination of excellent writing, superb acting, and detailed production, Creed lands flush and precise punches.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to theatlantic.com, and popinquirer.net.

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