Blade Runner 2049

October 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”)
Written by: Hampton Fancher (“Blade Runner”) and Michael Green (“Logan”)

Depending on how invested you are in filmmaker Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi/film noir classic “Blade Runner,” its sequel, “Blade Runner 2049” by Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”), will either surpass your expectations or be, at least, a worthy companion piece that adds to the original’s expanding mythos.

Clocked at a hefty 163 minutes, “2049” revisits a dystopian world where androids known as “replicants” are hunted down and destroyed by cops known as blade runners. Two-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) stars as “K,” a blade runner who is searching for the original blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) to get some answers he needs to solve a case. Jarred Leto slightly hams up the screen as a corporate villain who wants to create more replicants to do as he pleases.

First, Villeneuve, along with 13-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, who should pick up his first win ever this year if the Academy feels he has suffered long enough, creates a futuristic setting brimming with brilliance and style. Visually speaking, this is Villeneuve’s best work, which speaks volumes since every one of his prior films is memorable for the tone and look he gives the picture.

With “2049,” Villeneuve has more storytelling devices and tools at his disposal and the extra resources are evident in the way he and Deakins layer each scene to perfection through color and structure. This is especially true with the technology featured. While many of the ideas don’t necessarily feel groundbreaking (Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” felt more ahead of its time when it was released in 2002), Villeneuve’s vision is one of the filmmaker’s best assets.

Gosling’s laid-back demeanor can, at times, feel a bit canned, but when the script allows him to show some range, he owns his leading-man status fairly seamlessly, especially when playing opposite his hologram domestic partner Joi (Ana de Armas), whose AI-inspired character is breathtaking to behold. The love scene between Joi and K is depicted beautifully.

Still, despite its flawless atmosphere, “2049” doesn’t tighten up its convoluted script enough to make the storytelling as intriguing as it is picturesque. Questions arise about what makes someone human – emotions, memories, an actual body – but there is little room for an in-depth exploration of these interesting themes. If you consider the original film the mold from which every other sci-fi movie since has blossomed from, “2049” will have you hooked from the start. For everyone else, it’ll probably be an improvement from the first but still too familiar to leave the same kind of lasting impression the original has earned over the years.

War Dogs

August 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Big Short”)
Written by: Stephen Chin (“Another Day in Paradise”), Todd Phillips (“The Big Short”), Jason Smilovic (“Lucky Number Slevin”)

If, upon watching the driving, energetic, rat-a-tat-tat trailer for Todd Phillips’s “War Dogs,” you found yourself thinking, “Huh — looks kinda like “The Big Short, Jr.,” rest assured: You were neither (1) alone nor (2) wrong in that assessment.

Just as you wouldn’t (necessarily) have been alone or wrong had you drawn a line of comparison/inspiration/theoretical parentage between “The Big Short” — last year’s Oscar quintuple-nominee and Best Adapted Screenplay winner — and 2013’s Oscar quintuple-nominee “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Or between “Wolf” and “Goodfellas,” for that matter. (Or “Casino” and “Goodfellas.” Or “Blow” and “Goodfellas.” Or “Boogie Nights” and “Goodfellas.” Or 2009 internet-porn origin story “Middle Men” and “Goodfellas.” And on and on.)

The point: If “War Dogs” is “The Big Short, Jr.,” and “The Big Short” is “The Wolf of Wall Street, Jr.,” does that mean, by the transitive property or some-such, that “Dogs” is “The Wolf of Wall Street, Jr.-Jr.?”

Or, to a lesser extent, “Goodfellas Jr.-Jr.-Jr.?”

More to the point: Yes, kind of.

Even more to the point: That’s not altogether a bad thing.

Based on a jaw-dropping, eminently Google-able true story, “War Dogs” follows David Packouz (Teller), a restless Miami Beach masseur who reconnects with high school best friend/stoner pal (and small-time weapons dealer) Efraim Diveroli (Hill) and is summarily drawn in, at the ground-floor level, to the latter’s nascent get-absurdly-rich-reasonably-quickly venture: Capitalize on an early-2000s, post-Halliburton-scandal “trustbusting” atmosphere — in which federal arms contracts were suddenly opened up via online marketplace to virtually anyone who could fill the orders — by becoming go-between munitions suppliers to the United States government at the ripe old ages of 19 and 23. As Hill/Diveroli puts it: “This is the job. To do business with the people and places the U.S. government can’t do business with directly. It’s as simple as that.”

And, for a while, it is. Of course, what seems simple at first becomes less and less so (I mean, come on: Not to belabor this, but … you’ve seen “Goodfellas,” right?), stakes and price tags spiral upward, allegiances are tested and strained, and our dude-bro DoD diplomats find themselves in well over their heads.

The story is a dilly, and Phillips (who gave us the “Hangover” franchise, “Old School,” and “Road Trip”) handles it well. The presentation is largely slick, snappy, fun — the opening lags a bit, as it calls inevitably to mind other (aforementioned) films that are slicker and snappier — but once the yarn gets to unspooling in earnest, we clip along at a sprightly pace that both ramps up and relieves tension in appropriate and pleasing measures. The later portions of “War Dogs” hold a number of shocks, dumbfoundings, and flabbergasts, and Phillips sticks these critical landings admirably. (One is tempted to wonder — though the timelines probably don’t work out — whether seeing “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers’s” Adam McKay broaden his directorial purview and subsequently score with “The Big Short” made Phillips say, “I can do that.” Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome and ably-turned new leaf.)

The cast is watertight, as well. Hill, as Diveroli, cooks: He’s a hoot, dripping with charismatic, sleazy bravado and frequently emitting a curious (but effective and trademark-ish) high-pitched laugh, like air escaping a balloon, or a baked-out-of-his-mind comic book villain. Teller, tasked with the straight-man burden, is wholly believable, casually-but-adeptly comedic, and elicits much more sympathy than one would expect, for a character who says “bro” as much as he’s asked to. Ana de Armas is solid, Kevin Pollack charming, Bradley Cooper properly unsettling in a minimalist but intriguing cameo.

“War Dogs” will remind you strongly of films you’ve seen before — but they’re very good films, and there’s a strong enough combination of familiar structural/tonal elements, confidence in its own story and style, and harrowing ugly-truth-telling to keep things entertaining and eye-opening all the way through.