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.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford
Directed by: J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek Into Darkness”)
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan (“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”), J.J. Abrams (“Super 8”), Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”)

After more than a decade-and-a-half of heartache whipped into a frenzy of pain and anger by the rise of the internet and some cold, sub-standard prequels hatched exclusively from the brain of series creator George Lucas, “Star Wars” fans felt they had, ahem, a new hope when Disney bought the franchise in and immediately announced an Episode 7 of the saga—now known as “The Force Awakens”—would finally continue the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. Adding admitted fan J.J. Abrams as the director and “The Empire Strikes Back” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to the creative team, along with the pledge to return to some practical special effects and film stock instead of existing almost exclusively in the digital world as the prequels did, ramped anticipation for the film into the Dagobah system. After what seems like years of carefully navigating the news releases and leaks to avoid spoilers, the movie is finally here, and it most definitely calls to mind the classic “Star Wars” movies—for better or worse.

The spoiler-free synopsis goes like this: 30 years after the death of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished. The First Order has risen in the Empire’s place, and is on the hunt for the last Jedi, led by Vader-worshipper Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (motion capture legend Andy Serkis). A hotshot pilot for the Resistance, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), has the missing chunk of a map that leads to Skywalker’s location, and to keep it from falling into the First Order’s hands as he comes under attack from Ren, he entrusts the data to beach-ball droid BB-8 on the desert planet Jakku. BB-8 rolls his way across the sand dunes and encounters Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger waiting for her family to return after abandoning her years ago. Meanwhile, a Stormtrooper groomed from birth to be a warrior (John Boyega) grows a conscience and helps free Dameron from Ren’s clutches. The two escape on a stolen TIE Fighter, where Dameron gives his new friend the name Finn and tells him they need to retrieve BB-8. After crash landing on Jakku, Finn finds Rey and the droid, and the trio must run flee the planet to look for help as the First Order closes in. Luckily there happens to be an old, junky spaceship lying around…

In an effort to please the fans who felt burned by the relative crumminess of the prequel trilogy, Disney has rendered “The Force Awakens” as the mega-franchise version of Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s house. It’s cinematic comfort food with almost no exotic ingredients to make it different than the similar meals you’ve enjoyed before. Sure, some things were rearranged and there was a small sampling of a new type of gravy—look, what I mean is this “The Force Awakens” essentially serves up a greatest hits remix of original trilogy plot points. Desert planet? Check. Droid with secret plans? Yup. Planet-sized planet-destroying weapon with one point of weakness? Oh yes. A showdown between family members on the opposite sides of good and evil on a bridge over a bottomless chasm? Yeah, even that, and much more. But it still makes for a fine sci-fi fantasy, and Ridley, Boyega, Driver, and Isaac are all fantastic additions to a cast that includes old timers Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and the rare engaged Harrison Ford. I suppose the franchise needed this palate cleanser, but let’s hope the next adventure is a little more adventurous.

The Expendables 3

August 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford
Directed by: Patrick Hughes (“Red Hill”)
Written by: Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”) and Creighton Rothenberger (“Olympus Has Fallen”) and Katrin Benedikt (“Olympus Has Fallen”)

The movies in “The Expendables” series should be tons more fun than they actually are. They should be winking so much at the audience that you think they’re in some sort of distress. After all, why gather up all these action movie old timers and various MMA stars in the first place if all you’re going to do is throw them into a plot that seems leftover from some direct-to-Netflix action flick they’d be starring in anyway even without the combined ‘80s star power of your Stallones and Schwarzeneggers? Not that a spoof mentality or comedic take on the genre of ‘80s action cheese is what this assemblage of actors should aspire to, but man, would it kill the filmmakers to turn out something a touch less dour and routine?

The third film in the franchise opens with Barney Ross (Stallone) leading his team of grizzled warriors on a mission to rescue their long-lost compatriot Doc (Wesley Snipes) from a prison train. After busting him out, the Expendables are sent by Drummer (Harrison Ford, snoozing) to take down a villainous warlord revealed to be Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson, digging into the role with glee) who also happens to be a cofounder of The Expendables. When his team fails, Barney fires them and decides it’s time for some new blood, soliciting Kelsey Grammar to recruit a quartet of bland youngsters who are promptly captured. So once again it is time for the old dogs–plus Antonio Banderas as a scene-stealing newcomer—to save the day and take out the bad guy.

The premise, even if it is worn out by the third film in the series, of having “action” stars of generations past (though I’m not sure Kelsey Grammar and Antonio Banderas really count at all) team up for a fresh take on a tired genre is ripe for a good time, but alas, the only people that seem to be having any fun with this material at all are Gibson and Banderas, with Gibson making his case to be a big Hollywood star again, provided he go hat in hand and apologize for his past insanity. But that’s neither here nor there, and even crackling turns from Gibson and Banderas can paint over the fact that supposed ringer Harrison Ford is so incredibly disinterested in the whole affair that he plays one confrontation scene with Stallone while standing perfectly still. Ford’s attitude was likely “Who gives a shit?” It feels like that sentiment is the defining characteristic of the whole movie.

Ender’s Game

November 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfield
Directed by: Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Rendition”)
Written by: Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”)

Based on a well-regarded 1985 young adult novel by Orson Scott Card, the film adaptation of “Ender’s Game” has been a long time coming. The plot concerns a future Earth existing in the aftermath of a devastating attack by an insect-like race of aliens known as Formics. To thwart the next attack, the International Fleet trains the world’s children in an effort to find the next great leader of the armada capable of destroying the Formic threat once and for all. Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford, delivering a halfway-interested performace) believes young cadet Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) to be that child. Ender is shepherded to Battle School by Graff, wherein Ender exhibits a mastery of war games that leads to his being put in charge of the battle to determine the fate of the human race.

While “Ender’s Game” offers a glimpse of a moral compass often missing from space-faring sci-fi, screenwriter and director Gavin Hood never quite manages to get the film going. The whole endeavor feels like a a build up–which I suppose it kind of is, with a series of follow-up novels lined up should this prove to be a hit—and ends up as a dull slog through tropes we just sat through over the course of eight “Harry Potter” movies: the journey of a savior from child to a leader of men. As a result, “Ender’s Game” suffers the same fate as “John Carter,” another long-gestating sci-fi adaptation: it feels like a knock off.

From the first act, Ender’s “chosen one” status is never in doubt. Graff and Major Anderson (a wasted Viola Davis) see something special in Ender through constant surveillance—though the movie never really lets us in on what the big deal is with this kid. Sure, it tells us, repeatedly, through Graff, but it doesn’t show us why. His victories seemingly come too easily. His breeze through Battle School feels rushed and incomplete, problems undoubtedly the result of cramming a lengthy novel into two hours of screen time. Toss in an obtuse iPad-like game featuring an avatar of Ender’s beloved sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) running around a strange castle that the film insists is full of symbolism along with some other confusing technology (so children are more capable than adults at commanding a spacecraft remotely, yet those remote vessels still need crews?) and “Ender’s Game” ends up as another anonymous young adult sci-fi snooze.

Cowboys & Aliens

July 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”)
Written by: Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”), Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”), Mark Fergus (“Iron Man”), Hawk Otsby (“Iron Man”), Damon Lindelof (debut)

Throughout movie theaters across the country, the trailer for “Cowboys and Aliens” was met with uproarious laughter when the title card was revealed. Although seemingly not any more preposterous of a plot than a teenager infused with spider DNA, audiences chuckled incredulously. With audiences laughing at the mere concept of the film, there was added pressure on director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) to keep a serious tone and to strike a convincing balance between the western and sci-fi genre. What we actually get is a film with no true identity.

The film opens with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the middle of a desert not knowing where or who he is and with a strange device attached to his wrist. When he heads into the nearest town, Lonergan discovers that he is a wanted criminal and is set to be turned over to the feds. While Jake is intercepted by the begrudging Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), aliens attack the town of Absolution, taking many of its residents with it. Though confused and shocked by the events, Jake, Colonel, the mysterious Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), and others band together to go on a rescue mission to fight the alien race and recover their loved ones who have been abducted.

For a film starring two strong actors and a supporting cast to match, the acting in “Cowboys and Aliens” is incredibly flat. Both Craig and Ford seem to be going through the motions, giving plastic performances with only a few explosive moments. Not even the always-dependable Sam Rockwell (“Moon”) can muster a memorable performance.  However, the actors are not totally at fault here. With a cheesy, cliché-ridden script, the writers (five accredited ones to be exact) take a solid cast and give them nothing to do with their characters. No effort is made to give us a reason to root for these people other than the obvious “us vs. them” reasoning.

One of the biggest problems surrounding “Cowboys and Aliens” is that it attempts to combine two genres, and in the process fails on being a good version of either. The Western elements are not nearly compelling enough. While the familiar costumes and sets are there, the swagger and strong characters of true Westerns are sadly missing. The film incorporates its sci-fi elements with generic and predictable action beats, there for the sole purpose of showing the aliens and what they can do. It has the same tired and predictable sci-fi moments that you’ve seen a hundred times before.  You know when an alien is going to meet its end and you know when some unsuspecting human is going to get snatched.  It’s been done before, and in much more interesting ways. When coupled with some spotty CGI work, the end product is a film that turns out being a mediocre sci-fi movie set in the Old West.

But beyond all of its shortcomings at mashing genres and at a run time of about two hours, the biggest problem is that “Cowboys and Aliens” is unnecessarily long-winded and isn’t very much fun. It relies so heavily on mesmerizing you with its visuals that no care is given to the story.  And while the trailer provided audiences with laughs, the actual film is more likely to produce yawns.

Morning Glory

November 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton
Directed by: Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”)
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”)

If “Morning Glory” were an actual segment on a news program it would be the equivalent of the fluff piece that comes somewhere during the show when the anchor replays a YouTube video of a parakeet whistling old TV show theme songs. It pointless, harmless, and sometimes even a little funny, but is also usually always forgettable.

What saves “Morning Glory” from becoming totally unmemorable after leaving the theater are the charming performances it features from most of the cast. It starts with Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”) who plays Becky Fuller, a New Jersey morning show senior producer who is dealt a heavy blow when she is let go from her position after some restructuring.

Her unemployment, however, doesn’t last long when a struggling news station in New York City calls upon her lead their understaffed and underfunded morning show back into contention. It’s no “Today Show,” but Becky accepts the job and commits to it. Although most people don’t think she’ll last, including longtime co-anchor Colleen Peck (an underutilized Diane Keaton), there’s no denying her tenacity.

When Becky is left with an empty co-anchor seat, she seeks out veteran newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to bring in some journalistic integrity onto the set. But when Mike’s arrogance begins to get in the way of the show (he refuses to cover news stories he feel are beneath him and uses words like “aggregated” on air), Becky must try to find a way to make everyone happy before their show gets cancelled in favor of game show reruns.

Directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”), “Morning Glory” doesn’t try to be something it’s not. While there are hints the film will examine how the media industry is evolving in this new century, this isn’t’ a film like “All the President’s Men” or even last year’s underappreciated “State of Play” (another media-based movie McAdams stars in).

Instead, “Morning Glory” is a peppy movie that follows the same blueprint as a film like “The Devil Wears Prada,” both of which are written by screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna who, like in “Prada,” trips up the flow of the narrative with an cliché love story that benefits no one.

What “Morning Glory” needed to do was stay within the confines of the newsroom and make those relationships feel more authentic. It would have been nice to see more of a give and take between Harrison and Keaton, who butt heads whenever they share the spotlight. It would have been nice to know a little more about Becky aside from her failed attempts at dating and gluttony for work.

But McKenna and Michell take the easy way to the finish line. While the cast manages to stay likeable (even Ford’s unlikeable anchorman is fascinating in a pompous, Meryl Streep in “Devil Wears Prada” sort of way), the script comes together sporadically and without paying much attention to the multi-dimensional value of any of its characters. It all adds up to lighthearted entertainment that isn’t as newsworthy as it should have been.

Extraordinary Measures

February 5, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Kerri Russell
Directed by: Tom Vaughan (“What Happens in Vegas”)
Written by: Robert Nelson Jacobs (“Chocolat”)

“Extraordinary Measures” is one of those inspirational movies that would have worked better if it had stayed in the pages of a nonfiction novel or newspaper article. Instead, director Tom Vaughan and screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs attempt to take this story of parental love and whittle it down to form a film with some kind of emotional resonance. It works to a point if you’re a sucker for tearjerkers, but the simplistic filmmaking and script is far too much to overlook. Harrison Ford does what he can, but in the end “Extraordinary Measures” is about as affective as the last hour of a day-long telethon.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

May 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Spider-Man”)

The idea worked with Sylvester Stallone when he got back into the ring as “Rocky Balboa” in 2006. It missed the mark when he returned this year for another “Rambo.” Resurrecting a film series after its last movie hit theaters more than 15 years ago seems to be the hippest thing to do in Hollywood these days. So, when director Steven Spielberg was attached to a fourth installment of “Indiana Jones” (the last one, “The Last Crusade,” premiered in 1989), it really was no surprise, especially in a cinematic day and age where original screenplays are about as hard to find as Indy artifacts.

What is a bit astonishing, however, is how very aged this series feels with the newest edition of the epic adventure “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” No, we’re not talking about the fact that Harrison Ford is returning as the title character at the age of 65. Instead, it feels worn out because there isn’t any type of evolution after almost 20 years. Where “Rocky Balboa” developed was in the way it changed from over-the-top choreographed boxing matches to realistic pay-per-view bouts. And although the recent “Rambo” lacked in story, no one can deny that the violence in this one made the first three look as vicious as Estelle Getty packing heat in “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!”

In “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Ford dusts off his fedora and goes on a search for an ancient, Mayan crystal skull said to have mystical powers. Actually, it is a group of Soviet KGB agents who want to get their hands on the skull and have forced the professor of archeology to come along for the ride. Leading the Russian antagonists is Irina Splako (Cate Blanchett), a dominatrix-looking (grab that whip Indy!), Ukrainian-sounding Soviet who kidnaps Jonsey and forces him to help her solve the skull’s secrets.

Set in the 1950’s (“Last Crusade” takes place in the late 30’s), Indiana is flanked this time by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a huffy, motorcycle-riding greaser who comes to Indy when his grandfather (John Hurt), an old colleague of Jones, goes missing in Peru while searching for the lost city of gold.

Following the same exact formula as the prior films, we are given all the creepy-crawling bugs, blazing chase scenes, and basic humor the previous trio delivered. It’s a step slower, however, as screenwriter David Koepp mismatches genres and add some sci-fi to the mix, which really doesn’t work to the film’s advantage. There’s no question that Steven Spielberg knows his extraterrestrials (“E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “A.I.,” and “War of the Worlds”), but in “Crystal Skulls” the supernatural, alien storyline becomes careless and flat.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Indy fought Nazis in “Last Crusade” and Spielberg has gone on to bigger and better things (“Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Minority Report”). It’s almost like Spielberg has found his high school letterman toward the back of his closet and tried it on just for the heck of it. Sadly, it doesn’t fit. It might be nice to remember the good times, but with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” only the biased albeit faithful fans will enjoy another less-impressive journey.