Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

 

Blade Runner 2049

One of many images that are entrancing in Blade Runner 2049

Despite some holes and question marks in the screenplay, Blade Runner 2049 still manages to be the best sci-fi sequel since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It is a movie that challenges the mind and brightens your eyes with some of the most gorgeous imagery of recent years. I have only seen the original once, but I know that I have to return to get some answers (though not all the questions will have them).

The plot is a lot harder to follow this time around, but not too terrible. Basically, the new Blade Runner in town is named “K” (Ryan Gosling). After reporting to his boss (Robin Wright, having a very decent year with this film and Wonder Woman) the discovery of a dead replicant who died giving birth to a child, he is sent out to erase the mistake and kill the child. As he digs deeper, he realizes he is more and more in danger. It eventually leads him to the Deckard (Harrison Ford).

I will stop there for two reasons: I don’t wish to ruin any plot points, and I am also afraid that I may have still misunderstood the plot. I can talk about a few other characters, however. Dave Bautista (Drax of Guardians of the Galaxy) is rather surprisingly subtle and reserved as a runaway replicant. The owner of the replicants is played by Jared Leto, proving to be a better villain (or is he?) than he was in Suicide Squad. One of my favorite performances came from Ana de Armas as Joi. Joi is basically Suri, but far more upgraded. She has been with K (who she now names Joe) for so long she is almost like a personal secretary. So lovely and ironic is it that she is one of the most human characters in the film.

Now we get to the visuals. They are, quite simply, marvelous and uncanny. It should come as no surprise, mainly thanks to two men. The first is director Denis Villeneuve (who recently was nominated for 2016’s Arrival). He knows how to pace the film at the right tempo: If you think there is not enough action in the film, you are not paying attention.

The second, and possibly most critical, is cinematographer and legend Roger Deakins. Here is hoping that his losing track record at the Oscars (0-13) might end next February. Watching the movie, I had that same feeling when watching films from Studio Ghibli. You could pause each shot, and look at them for hours. You know what? I take back what I said: Roger Deakins will win the long overdue Oscar, and will get a standing ovation.

Parents, even if you children may have seen the original, you should be warned that his film has a lot more nudity in it than the first one. While the only real sex is through blurry glass, there is still a bit of sound. Add in the swearing and (not so horrible) action/violence, and you have a movie for only High School and above.

I mentioned before that the plot does have some holes: one character clearly betrays another and then shows their utmost loyalty. Even so, this movie is worth seeing just for the visuals alone. They are haunting, spellbinding, breathtaking, cold,…seriously, words don’t do the visuals justice.

On the sights alone, Blade Runner 2049 is a movie that, once seen, is something we people will not believe.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

 

Stronger (2017)

Stronger

Tatiana Maslany and Jake Gyllenhaal, together, are Stronger.

Though I have not seen all of his films, I have been a fan of director David Gordon Green. Before he gave such comedies like Pineapple Express (2008), Your Highness (2011), and The Sitter (also 2011), he gave much more dramatic works such as George Washington (his debut in 2000), All the Real Girls (2003), and the highly underrated Snow Angels (2007).  Now he tackles the true story of Jeff Bauman in Stronger, proving again he is a director that is rather unsung.

The story is there in the previews. Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an everyday man of Boston. He works at Costco, lives with his mom Patty, and is a hardcore fan of the Bruins and Red Sox. He has been in and out of a relationship with Erin (Tatiana Maslany from the BBC show Orphan Black). He decides to cheer her on at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Of course, tragedy strikes and the two bombs go off. Jeff survives, but loses his legs.

Green is a director who knows the importance of supporting characters, and you get the clear sense of family in Jeff’s life (though I admit I am still confused how they are all related). We get some actors such as Nate Richman, Richard Lane Jr., and that great character actor Clancy Brown, to name a few. The stand out, however, is Miranda Richardson as his mom. She is given scenes that she plays with power and ease, and are likely to be remembered when the talks of Oscar begin in the next month or so.

The same can also be said of Maslany and Gyllenhaal. I doubt I can keep calling Jake Gyllenhaal an underrated actor, because he has given solid performance after solid performance in nearly all of his movies (even if it is a bit over the top, like in this year’s Okja). Maslany is also rather effective as his girlfriend (she herself is not injured, but notices Jeff in the picture of the aftermath). She is clearly what Jeff tries to lean on for support (for the most part), but also is not just playing a thankless woman role. The chemistry between the two is authentic and palpable.

Parents, the movie is R, and for good reason. David Gordon Green does not shy away from the violence and graphic details (though it is not as bad I guessed it would be). There is a lot of swearing, and one sex scene with partial female nudity that lasts about a minute. High School and above.

Though the movie does have some parts that drag, Stronger is still a movie with backbone and grit. I am not from Boston, but I can’t imagine any native of that great city not wanting to see this movie.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Detroit (2017)

Detroit

John Boyega stars as Dismukes, a security guard on duty one night in Detroit.

In the countless number of times I have been to a movie theater, Detroit had something that no other movie experience had: As I entered the theater, I passed two security guards (one even may have had a gun). Though I had an idea of what the movie was about, I did not know it may be this emotional for others.

Detroit is definitely an experience, to say the least, and director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) is perfect for the material . She is one of those directors who cares more about getting the point across than making the audience feel comfortable. She is one of the grittier of all film makers.

The film tells the (somewhat) true story of the events of July 25th, 1967, in the city of Detroit. There are no lead roles (though John Boyega gets star billing as a security guard who is forced to help the local police), yet every actor is uncanny. After playing with a toy gun, the police (led by a young actor named Will Poulter as Krauss) track the shooter (who they believe to be an actual sniper) to the Algiers Hotel, and won’t leave till they get answers. There tactics are beyond any words I can use to describe them. Let me just say that calling it heartbreaking and terrible is a horrible understatement.

Parents, I will be blunt: this movie is totally not for kids. There is a lot of swearing and violence, and some (very) brief nudity. Still, it is a movie I feel that everyone should see at least once. High School and above (I would hope some High School teachers would show it).

Earlier, I stated that the movie is based on a (somewhat) true story. Since it is all still a bit of a mystery, the movie cannot tell us the whole truth of that horrible night (much like JFK could not give us a full answer of the events of November 22nd, 1963). Instead, it deals mainly with how we as humans look at racism. Will it ever go away? Honestly, I don’t know. Our feelings on the subject of racism (and prejudice in general) are the same today as they were fifty years ago and beyond.

No wonder the theater had security guards.

Overall: Four Stars ****

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

war for the planet of the apes

Caesar (Andy Serkis) won’t let a gun to the head stop the “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Next to the original Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight Trilogy, I would argue that the Planet of the Apes trilogy is also as solid a movie trilogy as they come. I still, sadly, have yet to see the original with Charlton Heston, but I consider it proof that the reinvented Apes trilogy (which, thankfully, has nothing to do with the remake Tim Burton tried in 2001) is for fans of the original as well as those who have not seen it, and War for the Planet of the Apes is a startling conclusion.

It has been quite a journey for Caesar (Andy Serkis, proving his is not just a great motion capture actor, but a great actor in general). He has protected his apes through it all, but now learns from his son that there is another place beyond the trees where the apes can be in peace.

Sadly, there is The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who knows the apes as nothing but a pest. Caesar tries to head after The Colonel after he unravels tragedy upon Caesar. Along the way, Caesar’s buddy Maurice (Karin Konoval) meets a mute child named Nova (newcomer Amiah Miller).

The special effects are really remarkable here. At no point in this movie did I really have the feeling I was looking at a special effect. It also clearly helps that the filmmakers (lead by director Matt Reeves) have given so much depth and humanity to the apes that it is not too hard to root against the humans.

Parents, if your kids have seen the previous ones, they will be fine here. There is violence and action, but no sexual stuff of any kind (I honestly don’t even remember hearing any swearing.) Basically, middle school and above.

There are some things I admit I was confused on (how can a horse hold a big ape? Why is Caesar one of only a few who can speak?). Nevertheless, War for the Planet of the Apes is a cinematic win for the trilogy as well as the 2017 summer.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Ever the superhero, Spidey still has time to give directions

It is somewhat poetic that the person most excited about a second Spider-Man reboot is Spidey himself in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

After a prelude to the villain (more on him later), we see Peter Parker (Tom Holland) making a video diary of his first big outing as he fought on Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War (2016). We get no footage of how Parker got his powers: we know that by now. The movie is a few months after the encounter with Captain America as Peter is relishing in his new suit given to him by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) Despite Stark being busy moving his things from Stark tower up north, he is wanting Parker to keep his web crawling low-key.

He tells Parker “not to do anything I would do….and definatly not anything I wouldn’t do. There is a little gray area in there and that is where you operate.”

The only person who also knows of Peter’s “Stark Internship” is his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), the kind of best friend who still wants to show his awesome self-made Lego Death Star. He is loyal to the core.

The movie also adds a dash of John Hughes, mainly in the area of Peter’s crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), a senior (this is in Peter’s sophomore year of High School). They are part of the decathlon team, about to go to DC for the championship. There is also the fact that a new threat has evolved in the form of Adrian Toomes (a perfectly cast Michael Keaton), a weapons dealer known as the Vulture.

While this is not the best film in Spider-Man’s library (that will always be Spider-Man 2), it has two things that even that one lacked. The first is Tom Holland, who I think is easily the best on-screen Spider-Man to date (something I called out once the Cap’s shield was taken last year). Not only does he look the part (he is the youngest cast in the role), but he gives us the teenage angst we all had at that age. He wants to prove he is not just a kid (though there are times I thought he should have been called Spider-kid or Spider-Boy).

The other blessing is Michael Keaton. I doubt I was the only one smiling when thinking back that this is the same guy who was the title roles in both Batman (1989) and Birdman (2014). Still, Keaton is too smart and great an actor to just do the same performance more than once. We know he can go over the top (Beetlejuice, anyone?), and here, his performance is toned down just enough to the point where it is rather effective. He is probably the best villain Spidey has fought on the big screen so far.

Parents, there is one akward scene in the film. While there is no sex or nudity, there is one instance where Ned is on the computer, helping Spider-Man. Suddenly, he is caught, and, without an aliby, says he is watching pornography. It is played for laughs, but I still feel it should be mentioned just as a warning. Besides that, there is the casual swearing seen in any Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen those, they are fine here.

The movie is not perfect: There is one plot twist that, while affective and threw me off, I now realize is a little far-fetched. It also took me a little time to get used to the character of Michelle (Zendaya).  Still, for those who are recovering from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Andrew Garfield was good, but far too old) and (what was arguably the worst of all) Spider-Man 3, they will be pleasantly refreshed with Spider-Man: Homecoming.

It is a fresh, fun ride.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver

The only thing that may rival Baby’s driving skills is his playlist.

Very few things irritate me more than seeing people drive with headphones on. I am not stating I am the safest driver, and I almost always have music on when I drive. Still, headphones when you drive? So stupid, in my opinion. Possibly the worst thing about Baby Driver is that it may encourage drivers to listen to their music on headphones.

Anyway, enough on my driving opinions: you want to know my opinion on Baby Driver, and it is easily the most exhilarating heart pounding time I have had on the streets this side of Fury Road. It is another great action pick that shows that you can have all the CGI in the world (thought it actually looks like they were really all driving) but it means nothing if the script is strong and the actors are on their A game.

The film tells the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort, the male lead of The Fault of the Stars), a child delinquent whose parents died in a car crash and left him with a constant ringing in his head. After stealing the car of  Doc (Kevin Spacey), he is forced to be the getaway driver of Doc’s heists until he can pay off his dues. While Doc is obviously powerful enough to destroy Baby’s life in a heartbeat, there is no doubt he takes a liking to Baby (and it also totally helps that it is Kevin Spacey who is filled with his unbeatable charm.)

Many of the others in the groups that Baby drives (Doc does not like using the same group more than once) will question Doc if Baby is right or not. It does not take them (or us) long to see that Baby is such an elite driver it is as if he plays the Grand Theft Auto games in his spare time.

What is also so likeable (even lovable) about Baby is his heart. In one scene, the group steals a car of a mom and her child, who Baby makes sure to give to the mother. He still cares for his ailing deaf foster dad (CJ Jones).  He also starts taking a liking to the local waitress, Debora (Lily James).

All of the actors are stellar. Some of the crews that Baby works with include Griff (Jon Bernthal, who knows how to play a tough guy better than most guys in Hollywood), Buddy (Jon Hamm), his girl Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx). Along with Spacey and James, it is one heck of a lineup of thespians. In the end, however, the movie belongs to Elgort, who holds his own against all of them. Not for one second do you see the guy who fell in love with Shailene Woodley’s Hazel in The Fault in our Stars.

Parents, the R rating is for swearing and action/violence. There is no nudity or sex in the film (though a lot of making out between Buddy and Darling). Basically, High School and above, unless you have a very mature middle schooler (I would think you would be fine taking them to see it).

As of now, my only real flaw with the film is the last five minutes or so. I will leave it at that, so as not to give anything away. Still, the action in the movie kicks the crap out of any Michael Bay movie one can think of (I am still in stunned silence from the climax of the film). I have not even talked about the amazing soundtrack.

My only other hope is that the CEO of Uber does not show the movie to potential clients.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Ip Man (2008)

ip man

Ip Man (Donnie Yen) vs 10 opponents…

I have to confess that the older I get, the more cynical I appear when friends tell me about movies I should see.  It is not that I don’t care about other opinions or tastes. It is more that I know my knowledge and expertise at cinema is more than likely more evolved than that of a normal movie goer (or fanboy/fangirl). That being said, a lot of times when people offer me suggestions on films, I may reply that I have not seen them.

“What? I thought you were a movie guy! This movie is a classic! A great movie.”

(I often think to myself if they sometimes know what the term “classic” means, but never mind).

This leads us to Ip Man (2008), a movie that tells the story of the title character (played by Donnie Yen, who, pardon the pun, gives a near knockout performance) that, before seeing the movie, I thought was just some lame title for an asian superhero who was really good at martial arts. I was wrong. There was no way I would go into this movie knowing it was actually based on a real life person who would eventually train the legendary Bruce Lee.

The story takes place in 1930s China, where Ip Man and his wife Cheung (Lynn Hung) live in somewhat blissful harmony along with his young son. There are a number of Martial Arts schools in the village, but none can compare to Ip Man (how else to explain a guy who can knock the holster out of the revolver with one finger?) The film starts out with one master trying to fight Ip Man, but to no avail.

The one thing that Ip Man does not appear to have a love for is teaching, despite all the young men wanting to learn. Even the Northerners who rudely come in, trying to showboat their skills, are no match.

The movie eventually shows us the invasion of Japan in 1937, leading to even Ip Man having to find work shoveling coal. Eventually, the Japanese General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), a fan of martial arts, wishes to fight Ip Man after seeing him in action.

Now let us talk about the action in this film. There is no secret that Hollywood is known for making countless (and I mean countless) number of movies that rely on special effects (which is what most people want to see). While I am not saying the artists that make special effects are not talented, it is clear that fight scenes such as those in Ip Man are much more appreciated. It gave me the feeling I had when I watch legendary dance choreography from the likes of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. The scenes are so intimate that you just know those fighting are trusting the others not only with the movie, but their own lives.

Parents, the movie is rated R, but is one I think could be easily ok for kids in the PG-13 range. There is no sexual content (the only nudity is of a young man’s rear end that is played for laughs, lasting only about two seconds). The swearing is not very heavy (at least that much more than a PG-13 action flick). It is mainly the violence, which is no more so than that you would find on TV shows nowadays. Middle School and above.

Possibly the most surprising thing about Ip Man is that the makers knew not to rely heavily on the fight scenes. They use it mainly to enhance the story, which is what all good film makers do. Ip Man already has two sequels (another is in the works), and I plan on watching them right away.

Overall: Four Stars

Hero (2002)

Hero

Jet Li is literally untouchable as Nameless…

The first real martial arts movie I remember being introduced to was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), one of the very best the genre has ever offered. Afterward, we got other great movies like Hero, which, although not as good as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it still is a wonder to behold.

I have no idea if the martial arts are all choreographed in this film or not, but the movie is so gorgeous to behold that the story seems almost superfluos (its alternate time lines are the only thing negative about the film). Hero tells the story of a warrior (Jet Li) who is known as Nameless. He is brought to the Qin Emperor (Daoming Chen) after his completed assassinations. The movie is basically how those came to be. The movie also stars such actors as Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang (also in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and Donnie Yen (who is now known for 2016’s Rogue One).

I am not sure if Hero is the first movie one should see if they are hesitant about seeing their first martial arts film, but it is more than enough to quench the thirst of any hardcore fan of the genre. How else to explain a scene where (for about seven seconds) we see a sword fight where the two combatants seem to almost be playing ping-pong with water drops?

Parents, the PG-13 rating is due mainly to the violence (though none of it is gory or bloody). There is also one scene of sexuality to skip (though no actually nudity is show below the neck). Basically, the rating is justified.

The best thing that can be said about Hero (as well as all martial arts films) is that it shows the art of fighting (of being martial) is not just about the scenes, editing, or special effects. It is so much more deeper: the poetry, emotions, life, and serenity of it all. It is truly a delicate art.

The way movies should be treated, when you think about it.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot stars as Wonder Woman, sweeping in to save not only the day, but the DC universe as well..

Perhaps the best way to describe Wonder Woman is to remember her grand entrance toward the end of last year’s disappointing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) had finished fighting each other, and were about to be obliterated by Doomsday until Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) swoops in to save the day. Like that scene, the film Wonder Woman has finally given a good movie to let the DC Universe brag about.

Taking place long before the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman tells the story of Diana (Gal Gadot, who proves she is right for the part and not just because she looks like the character). She is raised by the Amazons, a group of women sworn to protect mankind. Her mother , the Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) does not wish to have her train like the others, but her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) sees it differently and trains Diana. One day there is a stray pilot who crashes in the water and is saved by Diana. This is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, who is able to play second fiddle to Gadot and does a rather great job). He is a british spy who stole plans from the Germans as they are facing the end of the first World War. Diana is convinced it is the return of Ares, the God of War.

The average audience member goes to a superhero flick for the action sequences, and Wonder Woman does not disappoint on that front. Directed by Patty Jenkins (who helped get Charlize Theron an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal in 2003’s Monster), she does not rely on the fact that Wonder Woman is finally on-screen, but that there is a story behind it (and one that is, thankfully, not too hard to follow). Gadot lets us feel every inch of the situations her Diana is in (even if it involves trying on new clothes), and has great chemistry with Chris Pine (who, of course, is no stranger to action pics).

As for the villain, I will not reveal who it is, as it will ruin the surprise (though one of the evil German scientists is very menacingly played by Elena Anaya). I will say that when you find out about the main villain, it was something I personally did not see coming at all.

Parents, despite Wonder Woman wearing kind of revealing clothing (as well as the other Amazons), the only other form of sexual content is a scene where Steve and Diana are talking about the knowledge of sex (which does produce much humor). There is also a brief moment (again, played for laughs) where a male character is naked, covering his crotch. The violence is surprisingly light (I did not see any blood), and I am more than sure there was not a single curse word. Basically, Middle School and above (or if your kids saw any other DC or Marvel movie, they are ok).

The movie is not all great: there are times where the action scenes did drag on a bit (especially at the end). Still, it is very refreshing to know that DC has finally given the world a movie that can rank up with a lot of Marvel’s movies (and is better than a good amount of them).

When Diana is told that the world does not deserve her, I thought “Maybe not, but I am still glad she finally got the screen treatment. It is so worth it”.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

 

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Rachel Getting Married

Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns home for the weekend for her sister’s wedding.

It has been almost a month since the passing of director Jonathan Demme, and the only two movies I have seen of his prior to Rachel Getting Married were The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993). Both of those had won Oscars for acting (Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in Lambs and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia). While Anne Hathaway was only nomintated (she lost out to Kate Winslet in The Reader), her performance is well worth mentioning with the others. It may even be better than the performance that won her an Oscar for 2012’s Les Miserables.

In Rachel Getting Married, Hathaway plays Kym, a recovering drug addict who has been in recovery for nearly a decade. After finally finding some light at the end of the tunnel, she is allowed to come home for the weekend to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt).

The details of the wedding and how they are presented are spellbinding. We basically see all the wedding and meet the people through Kym’s perspective. She reunites with her father Paul (Bill Irwin) and his new wife Carol (Anna Deavere Smith). She meets her future brother in law musician Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) and his family. We finally meet her own mother Abby (Debra Winger), whose relationship with Kym is tense to say the least.

I have read user reviews saying that the movie goes either too fast or too slow. It actually goes at just the right pace. You may think some things (such as speechs and dances) go on for too long, but isn’t that how it feels at every wedding? Especially the rehearsal part?

Hathaway is beyond words. You do begin to appreciate the performance when you realize the tragic event in her life (as well as the family’s). It is always a big credit to an actor when you forget they are playing the character in the first place.

Parents, the movie is very much not for kids. There is a lot of swearing, including one (brief) sex scene. There is also a very brief glimpse of nudity. Basically, the R rating is justified.

If you can handle it, seek the film out. Especially if you want to see what is still probably Anne Hathaway’s best performance to date.

Overall: Four Stars ****