I'm dead set on living
Life is directed by Daniel Esponesa and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds.
The easiest thing for someone to do while watching Life is to stand up out of their seat and shout at the screen, "Alien ripoff!" as it is indeed yet another movie involving people in space being hunted down one by one by some extra-terrestrial creature that cannot be communicated with. But what Life has going for it that those B-movie Alien ripoffs don't is that it's much sleeker and more professionally crafted. It's got recognizable people like Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson in it, so that would have to mean that the movie isn't totally devoid of substance if it could get the likes of them on board.
The plot: The Pilgrim 7 space probe is returning from Mars to the International Space Station, containing a soil sample that might have evidence of alien life. The probe enters an asteroid field and is damaged on the way back. The six member crew of the ISS manage to retrieve the probe and discover a cell in the sample. Exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is able to revive the dormant cell, confirming the existence of life beyond Earth. The cell's discovery is broadcasted around Earth, where a group of schoolchildren asking questions to the ISS crew decide to give the cell the name Calvin. Hugh continues to inspect Calvin, but Calvin eventually becomes hostile, crushing Hugh's right hand into a mangled mess of bone and tissue. Calvin escapes into the space station shortly afterwards, and the rest of the crew must work together to find Calvin and kill him.
Instead of some chomping lizard-like creature, the alien in Life is some sort of amoebic, squid-octopus hybrid that kills by literally sucking the life out of its victims. Calvin grows in size as the film progresses, the first bit of Alien theft. What is frustrating is how the crew makes rather idiotic decisions in their efforts in killing Calvin, bringing into question what kind of emergency training these people had before embarking into the deep reaches of space. Calvin continually outwits the six member crew, with Rebecca Ferguson's character acknowledging that the creature is incredibly smart. But instead of thinking to themselves, "we gotta find a clever way to outsmart it", the crew proceeds with the most trivial and straightforward ways that one stuck on a space station would go about dealing with an alien threat. There's no creative spark of any kind, and the movie puts the action on pause several times for scenes in which the characters simply discuss what they miss on Earth and what their lives were like before they came into space, all of which is just lazy character development.
- Oh do I hate it when I fail to find anything to discuss as a high point. While the acting and effects are satisfactory, no one is going to even come close to wowing the most hardcore acting and special effects judges of the world. Gyllenhaal is just going through the motions as Dr. David Jordan, and he barely does anything to give you the sense that he is the main character. Rebecca Ferguson is okay, and Ryan Reynolds brings a little bit of his quirky charm to his role. Really though, that's about all I can say, and there's nothing noteworthy about the effects.
- The ending of the film is bound to polarize people, and I will go so far as to say the ending is a cop out. Life only skims the surface on its relevant themes and ideas, and for the sake of some cheap shock value, the film ends in a way that only makes its approach all the more confusing and all the more cynical.
And I know I'm making it sound like Life is a pile of sci-fi trash, but it looks nice enough and it has enough sci-fi pulp so as to not be rotting garbage. There's just too much that happens to easily bring Alien to mind, and the movie as a whole just sort of functions. It just...operates, like a machine whose inner mechanisms aren't very interesting or inventive. Life was clearly designed by competent people, but it offers basically nothing that you can't find in other, better sci-fi horror works. Think of it as if someone was trying to offer you a juicy steak that's been sitting in the fridge for a couple days, as opposed to getting that same juicy steak fresh off the grill. And what would the juicy steak fresh off the grill be? Why, watching Alien, of course!
Spy on Drugs
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the 2017 sequel to 2015's Kingsman: The Secret Service with Matthew Vaughn returning as director. Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Mark Strong return to reprise their roles from the first film. Newcomers to the cast include Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, and Jeff Bridges.
The most natural instinct for a sequel of a highly successful action film is to be bigger and badder than before, while always running the risk of being more of the same and adding almost nothing new to the film's fictional world. History shows us that the sequels that offer us new material and rightfully expand upon the story told in the previous installment are the ones that come out the most successful. I point the reader to Aliens and Terminator 2 for the best examples. Since Kingsman: The Secret Service was a smash hit, it should come to the surprise of absolutely no one that a sequel was going to come around sooner rather than later. But like it did alongside John Wick, Kingsman: The Secret Service proved that the winning-est recipe for action films today is to be stylish and fun, qualities more than capable of picking up the slack for story smarts.
Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman team up again to write the screenplay, and once again they go after a world issue that they take no deliberate effort in exploring fully. This time, instead of overpopulation and how the human race is poisoning the Earth, the Kingsman are now going after the war on drugs. One year after the events of The Secret Service, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is living happily with Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hannah Alstrom) and has taken on the title of Galahad in memory of his mentor Harry Hart. One night, Eggsy is ambushed by Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a rejected Kingsman candidate who lost his arm and vocal cords during the previous film. Eggsy manages to escape after a chase with Charlie, but the severed cybernetic arm of Charlie is able to hack into the Kingsman security system in the car that Eggsy was driving. All of Kingsman's vital information is then placed into the hands of Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), the head of the world's largest drug cartel who is hiding in a 1950's style hideout in the middle of a jungle somewhere. Poppy destroys the Kingsman headquarters and wipes out all of their agents established in Britain. The only two survivors are Eggsy and Kingsman's tech guru Merlin (Mark Strong). Eggsy and Merlin follows Kingsman's Doomsday protocol, which leads them to the secret American spy organization, Statesmen, which is posing as a Bourbon whiskey distillery in Kentucky. Upon meeting Statesmen members Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), Eggsy and Merlin discover that Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is alive after being supposedly shot to death in The Secret Service, but is currently suffering from amnesia. As Eggsy, Merlin, and the Statesmen attempt to help Harry get his memories back, they must also band together to stop Poppy and her terrorist organization, The Golden Circle.
It is not a major spoiler to reveal the return of Colin Firth as Harry Hart. After all, he is on the poster and the trailers show you Eggsy and Merlin's reactions when they see him for the first time. Harry Hart's return comes to dominate the majority of the film's plot, and it's the watermark of a low point that I'll get into more detail about later. I had to take a bit of time to come to terms about how I fully felt towards Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and my conclusion is that I compare the film to eating junk food. There are a lot of parts that aren't good, but you're still going to enjoy consuming every bit of it.
- The action is as riveting as it was in The Secret Service, and what Vaughn does improve upon is the creativity of the Kingsman's supply of weapons. Eggsy uses a briefcase that contains a machine gun, missiles, and is able to turn into a protective shield when opened. One of the Statesmen, Jack Daniels/Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), uses a lasso that is capable of electrocuting its target. Like before, Vaughn makes sure the action stays in or near the center of the frame, using a wide range of energetic tunes to complement the punching and shooting.
- Now I turn back to that thing about Harry Hart dominating the film's plot when he comes into play. This leads me to discussing how The Golden Circle mightily struggles with handling its characters and various subplots. Harry deals with amnesia until Eggsy is able to snap him back to reality. Unfortunately, Harry's skills are rough around the edges, evident by a bar fight that is a glaring repeat of the bar fight from The Secret Service. There is no magical moment to help Harry regain his fighting prowess. He just...happens to get back to form, a prominent hole in the script. And if you got excited about the idea of Channing Tatum joining the Kingsman for some kick-ass action, think again, because Tatum is put into a deep freeze for the rest of the film after we learn he has become an unfortunate victim in Poppy's scheme. Eggsy gets his relationship with Princess Tilde strained when he tells her that part of his mission involves getting busy with Charlie Hesketh's ex-girlfriend. No, this doesn't go much of anywhere, in case you were wondering. And, finally, one more thing about Harry: he gets a hunch that one of the Statesmen is working as a double agent. The problem is how the film right then and there basically tells us, "Heads up, there's a twist coming involving a good guy actually being a bad guy." When the twist actually does happen, well, I'm hesitant to even call it a twist, because you can see it coming from miles and miles away, and the movie inexplicably told you about it beforehand.
- Julianne Moore is out of place as Poppy, who mostly acts like a cheerful mom that has her own cooking show on the Food Channel and is gloating every single minute of it. Moore is a fine actress that has too many credible roles to her name to count, but here, she is completely unconvincing. Moore has come out and said she based her characterization of Poppy off of how Gene Hackman characterized Lex Luthor in the early Superman films. The difference though is that Hackman successfully convinced us that Lex Luthor was a crafty mastermind who was fully capable of world domination, whereas Moore makes Poppy seem like she got spoiled with otherworldly power and let it all go to her head. I could see the role of Poppy going to someone like Charlize Theron, which would open the door to Poppy participating in a fight scene.
And for some odd reason, The Golden Circle has Elton John portray himself, stuck as a captive in Poppy's 50's jungle lair. There's a scene where Elton John attempts to escape, and he knocks out two of Poppy's henchmen using exaggerated punches and kicks. Why is Elton John of all people here? Because I have no idea whatsoever.
I'd be wrong if I said I disliked Kingsman: The Golden Circle, even though it offers plenty of nagging things to easily keep me from liking it. There's a lot of star power in the cast, and the action remains stylish and on-point. It does, however, spend too much time on the wrong end of sequelitis, and that prevents it from being a wholly satisfying experience. There's no better way of me to think of The Golden Circle then comparing it to eating junk food. It won't make you better off in the long run, but, every once in a while, you can enjoy putting a little junk through your system.
Recommend? Only if you really liked The Secret Service.
The name's man. Kingsman.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, and Mark Hamill.
There is absolutely nothing about Kingsman: The Secret Service that would suggest it to be anything groundbreaking. Frankly, I declare it to be flat out impossible for one to not think up James Bond when the words "British spies" are meshed together, and "British spies" are exactly what come to mind with Kingsman. But if there is any sort of primary function that Kingsman: The Secret Service dishes up, it's that the action genre is still fully capable of being stylish, exciting, and loads of fun. Based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman: The Secret Service was the project that director Matthew Vaughn decided to take up after dropping out as the director for X-Men: Days of Future Past, claiming that if he didn't direct Kingsman, someone else would come along and direct a fun spy movie. Vaughn has always loved James Bond movies, and he has described his vision for Kingsman as being similar to that of Steven Spileberg's vision with Raiders of The Lost Ark: taking a movie genre that you grew up with as a kid and reinventing it in a fresh, modern way.
The Kingsman are a group of secret, white, upper class English folks who carry out some of the world's most demanding spy work, without any oversight from the government. Colin Firth plays Galahad a.k.a Harry Hart, who makes a mistake while carrying out a mission in the Middle East, costing the life of Lee Unwin, one of the other Kingsman. Hart meets with Lee's widow Michelle to discuss Lee's death, giving her young son Gary "Eggsy" a Kingsman medal with an emergency contact number placed on the back. Seventeen years later, Eggsy has grown up and become a stereotypical chav, living with his mother and her abusive boyfriend. Eggsy is arrested one night after stealing a car, leading to Eggsy calling the number on the medal. Hart arrives, arranging for Eggsy's release. Hart explains the Kingsman organization to Eggsy, and tells him that a position is open after "Lancelot", another Kingsman member, was killed during a rescue mission. Hart, feeling he is indebted to Eggsy's father, takes up Eggsy as his candidate. Eggsy goes through rigorous training alongside the other Kingsman candidates, while Hart begins to investigate billionaire tech genius Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), whose company announces the debut of a brand new SIM card that people can use for free cellphone and Internet activity for life.
Imagine James Bond with more humorous scenarios and a villain that is too difficult to take seriously. Kingsman: The Secret Service goes for that kind of approach, and one that it takes head-on with absolutely no hesitation. But it's not that Kingsman is funny simply because Eggsy and the other Kingsman crack jokes and one liners when the situation calls for jokes and one liners. It's that the film presents you with various moments that are integral to the plot, and those moments are so in line with the characters' personalities and presented in such a gleefully over-the-top fashion that you can't help but laugh. There is one scene that involves the heads of various people exploding at the same time, and the exploding heads launch off a series of colorful fireworks, all being accompanied by some classical music. And without spoiling too much, it is a scene that is crucial to progressing the plot forward.
- Strictly from an action standpoint, Kingsman: The Secret Service is easily one of the best films to come out in the past 5-10 years. Everything is always in the center of the frame, with fights being vivid about limbs getting cut off, though remaining light on the amount of blood spilled. No action scene in the film tops the massacre taking place in a Church, which happens while Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird plays in the background. No fist fight or shootout overstays its welcome, and they're almost always accompanied with a funny remark or moment to remind you that the movie isn't being completely serious with itself. All of it amounts to a truckload of fun that is sure to slap a silly smile onto your face.
- Samuel L. Jackson plays a goofy Richmond Valentine, who shows a noticeable lisp. Valentine was originally not supposed to have a lisp, but Jackson did his first take with a lisp, explaining that he had a lisp before his acting career, eventually overcoming it. Valentine's lisp is a satirical take on how many of the famous James Bond villains suffer from some kind of physical difference or abnormality. Jackson is having the time of his life playing Valentine, especially because Jackson has mentioned how much he has always wanted to be in a James Bond film. He frequently wears a New York Yankees cap and makes frequent mentions of how he can't stand the sight of blood. Valentine is frequently smiling and going through with his dastardly plan with the morbid enthusiasm of a little kid who is joyfully defying the rules and restrictions placed by his/her parents. The way Jackson approaches his role matches perfectly with the tone of the entire film: having fun and enjoying every second of the ride.
- Kingsman's script makes no effort whatsoever to address the alarming political and economic issues that it unintentionally brings up. Valentine's sinister plot involves overpopulation and comparing the human race to a virus. I won't spoil the specifics of his plan, but let's just say it involves an unethical solution to a world problem. Eggsy, Hart, and the other Kingsman are never given an opportunity to share their thoughts on Valentine's plan, only seeking to stop him without bothering to understand where Valentine is coming from with his motivations. There's also an ongoing issue concerning the disappearance of various celebrities and world leaders, and it only makes the film's political and economic issues more maddening. Valentine's plan is something that a Bond villain would likely come up with, so there's that if you desire any specific Kingsman and Bond comparisons.
Issues with the script are easy to forgive, honestly, because Kingsman: The Secret Service is kinetic, stylish action that is too fun and humorous to detest. And with the kind of star cast that the movie boasts, it's hard to think that this movie could possibly be a failed experiment. Taron Egerton and Colin Firth are a memorable Kingsman duo, and Samuel L. Jackson is delightfully entertaining as the film's tech genius villain. There is not one notably dull moment in the film's 129 minutes, constantly moving along at a reasonable pace while maintaining its gleeful aura of fun. I'd bet money on Mr. Ian Fleming giving the Kingsman his approval if he was still alive today.
We're going to get you. We're going to get you. Not another peep. Time to go to sleep.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is the 2016 prequel to 2014's Ouija, being directed and edited by Mike Flanagan and starring Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Parker Mack, and Henry Thomas.
If there's one thing that dedicated cinephiles don't normally do, it's that they don't give some concept that fails badly the first time a second chance. It's not like any passionate movie goer walked out of the first Ouija movie and proclaimed to the world, "Well, that was a piece of shit, but I think the Ouija board deserves a second chance. I hope they make another one." Make a great, memorable movie, and people will eat it up no questions asked, maybe even ask for seconds. But make a crappy movie, and people will pray they never see another one like it. There's like some imaginative law with critics and audiences that if your concept isn't executed properly the first time around, then it's immediately off to the guillotine, because a second failed attempt at some particular movie concept is a sin against all of human nature.
If you're familiar at all with the first Ouija movie (and I highly recommend you be so before you continue reading this review), then it's not hard at all to see that it's pretty terrible. It has cliches out the wazoo, bad acting, and wickedly awful writing. So if you had the misfortune of seeing Ouija during its initial release, then surely seeing trailers for Ouija: Origin of Evil would send burning rushes of pain through your retina. Why didn't these morons learn their lesson that a Ouija board movie doesn't work? What could they possibly stand to gain from a second one? Turns out, they actually did gain something: newfound respect for a concept that initially seemed silly and pointless. And you know why? Because Ouija: Origin of Evil is a seriously creepy horror film that is a major improvement over its lackluster predecessor.
Given to us here is a look at the family that was cursed by the Ouija board before the bonehead teenagers in Ouija that were able to get it years later. Taking place in 1967 Los Angeles, the Zander family, consisting of the mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), the 15 year old, rebellious teenager Lina (Annalise Basso), and 9 year old Doris (Lulu Wilson), are all coping with the recent loss of their husband/father, Roger (Michael Weaver). The family is also struggling with finances, evident by a foreclosure sign that is posted on their front door early on in the movie. Alice and her two daughters run a scam at their house as a means to make money. They act together as a spiritual medium to "help" individuals and families get into contact with deceased loved ones. One night, Lina sneaks out to be with some of her friends, and they decide to play a Ouija board game together. Lina gets caught, but she tells her mother about the Ouija game and convinces her to go buy one in order to improve upon their scam. The rules of the game are just as they were explained in Ouija: don't play by yourself, don't play in a graveyard, and always say goodbye. Doris decides to try the board out herself, of course, and this leads to her unknowingly getting into contact with a spirit named Marcus. Marcus possesses Doris and slowly begins to cause disturbing changes in her.
Almost everything that Ouija got wrong, Mike Flanagan and company get right. And since he felt it was appropriate, Flanagan decided to give the film a retro feel to it. This is evident from the many post-production additions that Flanagan added on top of the fact that the movie was shot digitally. There is a "cigarette burn" in the top right corner of the frame every 15-20 minutes, and Flanagan utilizes various other retro techniques to make it seem as if his film was shot during 1971. He even goes so far as to use a retro version of the Universal logo (the one from 1963-1990). So while most of what Ouija: Origin of Evil has to offer might seem repetitive of Ouija, it feels brand new because of how much of a massive overhaul that Flanagan provides, as well as how he adds new elements on top.
- The acting is vastly improved upon, with the stand-out being Lulu Wilson. Wilson has the most demanding role in the entire film, going from complete innocence to evil, possessed girl that causes havoc for everyone else. Whatever the script asks for her to do, she nails it, being the main reason why the film is unsettling. Wilson's creepiest scene is when she talks with Lina's boyfriend Mikey (Parker Mack) as he is leaving her house one night. Wilson asks Mikey about what he thinks it feels like to get strangled to death. She then describes being strangled to death as if it was a show-and-tell item that she was showing off at school with the utmost confidence.
- Mike Flanagan's direction when it comes to setting up and executing the scare moments is uneven. Some of the scares are your atypical over-the-top loud noise jump scares, but there are also a few moments where Flanagan simply shows you the scary object without a loud noise. There are even some false scares that happen once in a great while. However, Flanagan allows you to pull back and temporarily relax when the false scares happen, treating them like silly jokes to reinforce the idea that the movie isn't totally humorless. In other words, the scares are all over the place, muddling how scared you could be feeling throughout.
Henry Thomas plays Father Tom Hogan, the principal at Lina and Doris' school who learns of the Zander's happenings with the Ouija board and eventually becomes involved with Doris' possession. You can see him being that cliched "expert on strange thing that is happening" character, but it's a cliche that Flanagan is able to dodge gracefully. And with his recent successful track record with the likes of the underrated Oculus and Hush, there was at least some hope initially to think that this Ouija follow-up was going to be at least a minor improvement over the 2014 clunker.
From writing, acting, and especially direction, Ouija: Origin of Evil allows us the rare chance to forgive the failings of a trashy horror movie from a time ago. It may have some cliches like a possessed young girl, and the scares are impossible to pin down, but the experience as a whole is a satisfying one that will give you some chills. Here's to hoping more bad movies down the road get redemption.
Recommend? Yes, though I suggest that you see Ouija first, unfortunately.
This chick is toast
It Follows is directed by David Robert Mitchell and stars Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, and Lili Sepe.
If you think about it, there's a recurring trend going on in the horror movie industry recently, and that's the use of the word "it". Most recently, we have a modern day retelling of Stephen King's It and Trey Edward Shults' It Comes At Night. There's just something magical about the word "it" as opposed to "them" or "they" that allows "it" to be phrased effectively with several other appropriate words. And while titles like Them and They Live might be evidence against my point, there just seem to be more examples of horror movies using "it" as opposed to "them" or "they". Most good horror movies aim to leave a sense of ambiguity right off the bat for the viewer, puzzling them with a title that opens itself up to mean various things. That's exactly what happens with It Follows, a clever title that is bound to catch your attention right away because you are intrigued by what "it" could be, and what is meant by this "it" supposedly following someone or something.
Being a dedicated horror movie viewer is a frustrating business, because you never know when a horror movie will come out and both the critics and audiences can stand up and say, "Yes, I liked that. That's what a horror movie should be." If the horror movie is layered and bereft of cheap jump scares, most likely the critics will gush all over it, but the audience will give it the cold shoulder. If the horror movie is filled to the brim with jump scares and involves some sort of ghoulish monster thing, then more often than not the audiences will come buying tickets in droves, while the critics face palm and question why such an abomination was created. Now, bare with me, I know that sounds like I'm calling horror movie audiences stupid, but the financial success of so many awful horror movies over recent years makes it evident to me that audiences don't care about thinking horror films, only wanting some quick scares to get a short-lived thrill rush. They don't want to retain anything in their heads afterwards, and because they don't, I am naturally led to believe that horror audiences are not very bright.
Once in a great while comes along a horror movie like It Follows which has a premise that assumes the audience is paying attention and can see things between the lines. The movie promotes itself like a scary creature feature, but one that more easily compares to something like The Babadook, because a supposed creature feature like The Babadook is more concerned with issues that extend beyond building up to the reveal of a big monster.
It Follows centers on college student Jay Height (Maika Monroe), a perfectly normal college student who spends quality time with her boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary). The two go to the movies one night, where Hugh mentions a girl wearing a yellow dress that is standing in the back of the theater. Jay says she cannot see the girl, which frightens Hugh and makes him ask that they leave. The two then spend another date out in the middle of the woods in Hugh's car, where Hugh and Jay have sex. Shortly afterwards, Hugh knocks Jay out with chloroform, and he takes her away somewhere. Jay wakes up tied to a wheelchair, and Hugh explains to Jay that she will now be followed by some supernatural entity that can take the form of any person that only she can see. The entity can only walk, but it knows where Jay is at all times, and if it catches her, it will kill her and then go after the previous person to have "passed it on." Hugh and Jay see a naked woman coming after Jay, but they manage to get away. Hugh drops an emotionally rattled Jay off at her house and flees.
The thing is, It Follows is only a terrific horror movie in small sections. The thought process and reasoning behind the "monster" are easily the best and worst parts, offering plenty of brain food and disappointment at the same time. It's refreshing for once to see teenage/young adult characters not behave like complete idiots, although there are some questionable decisions that they make along the way. While I'm on the subject, I should bring up the decision of Hugh to basically abandon Jay after she discovers what is now following her, becoming overwhelmed by his fear and pretty much disappearing altogether. What is perplexing is how Jay and her friends make little to no mention of finding Hugh until much later in the movie. That's just the tip of the iceberg of weird things that happen in this movie for no apparent reason.
- The "monster" that follows Jay and some select others is like a curse that is inflicted upon someone when they have pre-marital sex. Having sex at a relatively early stage in life is a choice you cannot take back, and one that can have dire consequences for you if you're not careful. It Follows creates a lot of fear out of having someone like Jay be haunted for the rest of her days because of her decision to engage in sexual intercourse at such a young age. The "monster" is her punishment. Just as the decision to have pre-marital sex is one that Jay can never erase, the "monster" that follows Jay will never go away, no matter how hard she tries. It's those kind of chilling realities that help elevate It Follows into something that is bound to stick with you at least some time after the end credits.
- The electronic score by Disasterpeace helps give the film its creepy atmosphere, using distorted and fuzzy sounds that enhance the tension and horrifying sense that trouble is right around the corner. I am one to always vouch for a prominent soundtrack, and no question It Follows delivers in that department.
- It Follows makes you aware of what's going on with its "monster" very early on, which is actually kind of a letdown. There would have been a serious mystery component to what is following Jay had the movie spent the majority of its running time teasing you about what exactly is following her. It could take the Jaws approach and not actually show you the beast until the time is right, showing you things from the "monster"'s point of view as it follows Jay wherever she goes. But since the movie gives you the most important details right off the bat, a lot of suspense is left behind. That's not to say the movie isn't completely scare-free the rest of the way. It just has a more difficult time generating fear because of how you know basically everything there is to know.
- There are many random moments that happen throughout the film that lead to absolutely nothing. Jay flees in a car one night, and then we see her parked in the middle of the woods, sleeping on the hood. I don't know about you, but if I were stranded with my car in the middle of the woods one night, I'd feel more solace sleeping inside with the windows rolled up and the doors locked as opposed to sleeping outside on top of the hood where a coyote or supernatural entity could attack me no problem. Anyway, this leads to Jay walking onto a beach, where she notices three men standing on a boat together. We see her undress and walk into the water. The next shot is then her driving back home. What happened with Jay and the three men is never brought up. There's also a scene where Jay is standing in front of a mirror in her underwear, when she gets interrupted by a ball hitting the bathroom window. She looks outside and sees nothing. After she leaves the bathroom, we see a young, black boy peering into the window. We could assume the boy is the "monster", but the movie never makes it clear. There are also no parents to speak of during the entire film, and an explanation of their absence is never properly given.
Quentin Tarantino shared his thoughts on the movie, particularly how he would make it better. He mentioned how there's no rhyme or reason in how the entity plans its attacks, and that the entity isn't casual enough in the environment. David Robert Mitchell responded in a sort of playful manner, asking Tarantino if he wanted to go out for a beer and talk over some notes. One other thing that Tarantino said that I'll mention here is how he thought It Follows has the best premise for a horror movie he's seen in a long, long time. Part of me wants to agree with him, because It Follows does have a premise that if executed in the right way, could result in one of the best horror films in the past decade. Some other reviews I've read have claimed It Follows to be the scariest movie released in the past decade.
I am more in the minority when it comes to thoughts on It Follows. There's a lot of it that does work, especially its take on the consequences of making irreversible decisions like having pre-marital sex. But too much of it is revealed way too quickly, and as a result, the movie isn't quite as suspenseful and mysterious as it could've been. The soundtrack is a great fit, some of the performances are strong (not all of them), and it's light on the jump scares (I counted only one legitimate jump scare). Damn it, though. I just hate it when something that you know could be absolutely terrific comes up short.
Recommend? Yes. Horror fans should definitely give it a watch.
Ouija is directed by Stiles White and stars Olivia Cooke, Daren Kagasoff, Douglas Smith, and Bianca Santos.
The Ouija board is an easy premise for a horror movie, as would anything with even just the slightest connection to the supernatural. And while any ghost, demon, or spirit can be made terrifying if executed in the right manner, Ouija struggles big time to evoke some semblance of fear out of you. That's because its scares are reliant on what happens when a planchette is moved around a wooden Ouija board, and I find it damn near impossible to develop jelly legs over, "Oooh, what happens when I move to YES?" So after you get past the "attempt to scare you with a board game" stage, up next is what really prevents Ouija from being at all scary or interesting: the bucket loads of cliches, laughable dialogue, and horrendous writing.
This was the directorial debut for writer and special effects artist Stiles White, who has too many special effects credits to list and whose only other notable writing credits were the Nicolas Cage sci-fi thriller Knowing and the demon inspired The Possession. It is never clear as to what exactly was White's vision with Ouija, largely in how half the film was re-shot after principal photography came to a close. But one thing that is clear is that no one gave White the memo on how to create a horror movie that will get inside your head and stay there for a lengthy amount of time. I would be impressed if you remembered much of Ouija a day or two after watching it.
Here we have another who-the-hell-are-these-people cast, which should automatically lead you to conclude that it's another wonderful group of teenage horror idiots. The plot opens up on best friends Debbie Galardi (Shelley Henig) and Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke), who recall a childhood memory of playing with an Ouija board together. Debbie disposes of her Ouija board by burning it, believing something strange happened to it. The board magically reappears, and Debbie becomes possessed and hangs herself. Laine and her group of close-knit friends mourn Debbie's death, until they decide to try and communicate with her using the Ouija board. This naturally leads to some supernatural terror.
There's nothing to take away from here if you're a dedicated horror fan. White's feature debut is a lazy, non-scary, and uninspired slog whose best attributes could easily be located in other, better horror films. If Ouija is good for anything, it's being the source of bad movie entertainment for groups of friends holding pizza and beer parties.
- Bad acting is the norm for teenage idiots whose top function is to be fodder for horror villains. But I will admit that Olivia Cooke, the main actress, is making a clear effort to try and give a decent performance. Cooke does her best to maximize her efficiency in looking and acting scared, even though she has to work with a script that makers her spew out laughable dialogue and have her character make dumb decisions because that's what teenagers do in horror movies. Everyone else is just going through the motions, not looking like they care to be there.
- The jump scares are an odd mix of your generic, loud noise bursts and false scares. The false scares are frustrating, as some of Laine's friends just like to show up from out of nowhere, completely killing any and all tension that the movie might have possibly been building on. My favorite was when Laine and her friends are in Debbie's house, getting ready to use the Ouija board for the first time. The lights are off, and everyone is walking around and turning the lights on. Isabelle (Bianca Santos) turns on one of the lights, and right there is Pete (Douglas Smith), who supposedly was hiding in the dark. This only tells me that the movie shot itself in the foot by washing away all tension just minutes before the plot picks up. Why else would you think the movie wanes in interest as it drags along?
- Nothing is worse in Ouija than its awful writing. The plot goes along as if White was making it up on the spot, stringing together a series of nonsensical twists that don't take into account things that happened earlier. Even when the movie is trying to kick-start itself, it doesn't make any sense. The opening scene is Debbie and Laine as young children where Debbie explains the basic rules of the Ouija board to Laine. We then flash forward to the night where Debbie dies. and Laine is trying to get Debbie to come out of her house and go to their high school's basketball game, because Debbie's behavior has been rather awkward lately. Debbie tells Laine she'd rather stay home because the Ouija board was acting strange after she decided to play with it by herself a few weeks prior (we are told in the opening scene that playing by yourself is a big mistake with the Ouija board). Laine, being the best friend that she is, decides that everything is okay and leaves. The script insists on Debbie just brushing off her strange behavior like it's nothing, as well as not bothering to tell us what exactly the strange occurrence was with the board. Basically, Debbie dies because she insists on being a complete idiot and not running away from something that obviously is going to turn out badly.
But the worst thing is the how the script bridges Debbie's death to Laine and the others using the Ouija board. After Debbie's wake, Laine and the others insist that Debbie is still trying to speak to them somehow. They don't witness any sort of supernatural happenings initially to assume that Debbie is trying to communicate with them. They just...have a hunch. And because they have a hunch, this means they should all use the Ouija board, no questions asked. It's such a forceful way to move the plot along, reinforcing how the movie refuses to take the time to build on anything. This is all paired with lines to reinforce the idiocy of the characters, such as Laine mentioning how she didn't know that Debbie had a Ouija board (the board was the topic of their final conversation, by the way), and how Pete says, "Why are you asking me all this?" when Laine asks him about if he ever noticed Debbie acting strangely before she died (Pete was Debbie's boyfriend, but clearly not a good one).
I'm not sure why Ouija didn't get dumped into a weekend in January or February, because it has all the right elements in place to be a perfect fit for either of those two months. It's completely devoid of good scares, largely because of how poorly written it is. The characters have no dimension to speak of, the story isn't interesting in the slightest, and it becomes boring way too fast. You'll get more fright out of playing something like Operation. Kudos to you if you were able to laugh at Ouija and have fun with it in a way it was not intended for.
The circle is now complete.
Return of the Jedi, also known as Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, is directed by Richard Marquand and written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and Frank Oz all return to reprise their roles from the previous film(s).
The lofty heights achieved by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back could not be reached by Return of the Jedi, considered by many to be the least meritorious entry in the original trilogy. And while Return of the Jedi certainly has problems that I'll get into and discuss later, it is by no means a bad film on its own. The story had reached a point where the best that Lucas and Kasdan could do was give closure to everything that was still open by the end of The Empire Strikes Back, because why would Lucas continue to dish out more blaster battles and galaxy travelling if they were bound to be answered eventually with diminishing returns? A quick side note: I encourage you to look at the Jurassic Park series for the best example of diminishing returns. If we pretend like no other Star Wars film exists outside of the original trilogy, then it's not hard to feel satisfied by how Lucas was able to bring everything together and deliver a trilogy finale that you can look at and say, "Yes. The story can stop here and I won't feel any worse off if we never get another Star Wars film." But then the prequels happened, and now the sequel trilogy is under way. However, the prequels and sequel trilogy should do little to nothing to influence how you might feel about Return of the Jedi. Minor alterations were made to Return of the Jedi when it was re-released many years after its theatrical run, but for the sake of spoilers, I won't share them here.
On to the plot. Some time after The Empire Strikes Back, the Empire has undergone the construction of a new Death Star in order to end the Rebel threat for good. The Emperor arrives to oversee the final stages of the construction. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker and company devise a plan to rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt. After this mission proves successful, Luke and company meet up with the remaining Rebel forces who are preparing to launch a full-scale attack on the Death Star. The plan requires a group to travel down to the forest moon of Endor to destroy the shield generator protecting the Death Star. Luke is greeted once again by the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who tells Luke that he must confront Darth Vader again if the Empire is to fall.
From start to finish, Return of the Jedi is on point with its story and characters, opening with the confrontation against the nasty Jabba the Hutt and easily transitioning into the final showdown with the Empire. One thing worth noting about the production history was the question of would Harrison Ford make a return appearance? Ford was in the midst of considerably the best stretch of his career, becoming even more of a star on top of Star Wars with the releases of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner (the latter was misunderstood until many years later). It was producer Howard Kazanjian who convinced Ford to come back, even though Ford's contract was for just a two picture deal. Ford was hoping for Han to play a self-sacrificial role during the film, but Lucas rejected the idea. George Lucas also decided on a happy ending as opposed to a more bittersweet one so as to not impact the marketing and merchandise sales in any negative way.
- Return of the Jedi is able to recapture a lot of the entertainment value and sense of fun that made Star Wars such a stand out during its initial release, featuring plenty of space combat, lightsaber swinging, and blaster fire to satisfy. The film doesn't feel anywhere near as long as its 134 minutes, never featuring a dull moment that would throw a wrench into the plot. The way the film opens is similar to that of how Revenge of the Sith opens, throwing you right into the midst of a confrontation. Revenge of the Sith begins right in the middle of a heated space battle over Coruscant, where Return of the Jedi places us directly in the zany palace of Jabba the Hutt, and it doesn't take long for a fight to ensue between Luke and Jabba's pet rancor monster. Between the three original films, I'd say Return of the Jedi has the least amount of exposition, largely because a lot of the story has been told already, and now all that's left is to bring everything together in a finale.
- Ian McDiarmid makes what was his first appearance as The Emperor, a villain who further enhances the Star Wars watching experience, just when you thought Darth Vader himself provided for enough menace. No one in the Star Wars universe embodies evil the way that the Emperor does, and McDiarmid plays the role magnificently, utilizing a croaky voice that fits The Emperor perfectly, as well as avoiding elongated moments of bad guy laughing so as to never seem ridiculous or over the top. The Emperor does have a memorable bad guy laugh, though.
- So there's a lot of good to be had with Return of the Jedi, but there are also some issues that need to be addressed. Easily the worst problem in Return of the Jedi is how tonally confused it is. Star Wars focused on having fun, while The Empire Strikes Back was dark, serious business. Return of the Jedi, tone wise, is wedged somewhere in the middle. This leads me to the one thing that everyone seems to point their fingers at when someone asks, "What's wrong with Return of the Jedi?" The Ewoks. Ah, the Ewoks: those primitive, midget teddy bears that come to assist the Rebels after they take up C3PO as some kind of god. They are never referred to as Ewoks by anyone during the film, and it's hard to take them seriously simply because of how impossible it is to not think of teddy bears when you see them. The Ewoks battle the Stormtroopers with sticks, rocks, and logs, as well as utilizing the element of surprise. Oh yes, and the Stormtroopers still can't shoot anything, so the Ewoks have that going for them too. It all plays off as goofy banter, which I think would be acceptable if sequences of the Ewoks vs. Stormtroopers weren't juxtaposed with the dramatic confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader. Having the tone be all over the place is not the ideal way to send out this terrific trilogy.
- The script doesn't really try to take any risks, but I bet on that being because George Lucas felt that nothing could top or at least come close to matching the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke's father. If there's anything I can say about all of the Star Wars episodes (well, probably not the prequels), it's that they find a way to squeeze in at least one memorable surprise. Return of the Jedi takes comfort in being a straightforward sci-fi adventure, and considering what Return of the Jedi is following up on, a lack of surprises isn't something to get too upset over.
So no, Return of the Jedi isn't another legendary piece of cinema like A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, but it has everything you'd want in its efforts to close out the trilogy on a high note: entertaining sci-fi action and an ending that would've been as good of a way as could be for the Star Wars saga to go out permanently. As George Lucas gives the original trilogy closure with this film, Return of the Jedi is our opportunity as an audience to be truly thankful to Lucas for giving us a sci-fi galaxy that will forever be loved and adored by people far and wide. The world will always be a happier place with Star Wars around.
Recommend? Yes, but watch A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back first.
Friends until the end
Unfriended is directed by Levan Gabriadze and stars Shelley Hennig, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, and Courtney Halverson.
It would only be a matter of time before some director or writer would look at Facebook, Skype, and every other part of social media and technology and say to themselves, "You know what? I think I can make a horror movie out of that." When something like social media is now such an integral part of our daily communications, eventually there will be someone who would utilize it for a horror gimmick. In other words, when something has or still is a popular thing in the world, you'd better bet on there being a movie about it. Just look at the likes of Trolls and The Emoji Movie for all the proof you need on that. The likes of Facebook and Twitter are valuable sources to go about catching up with old friends and keeping in touch with current ones. How else is your son or daughter going to let all their friends know about a graduation party? Amidst all the good that goes around social media, there's also a lot of bad, and a lot of that bad comes in the form of bullying, whether its a simple derogatory post towards another when two people can't get along, or the posting of an embarrassing picture or video by a friend who realizes too late the stupid mistake they made.
Bullying, cyber or in-person, is nothing to laugh at and brush off as short-term nonsense, and that's what makes it a solid foundation for a horror movie. In Unfriended, bullying is taken to a real extreme: being the cause of someone to committing suicide. That someone is high school student Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). Laura suffers relentless bullying remarks when a video of her passing out and defecating herself at a party is posted on Youtube without her permission. The bullying leads to Laura shooting herself in public, and a video of her suicide appears on LiveLeak. One year after Laura's death, her former best friend Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) is on a Skype group chat with her boyfriend Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm). The two are joined by their classmates Jess Felton (Renee Olstead), Adam Sewell (Will Peltz), and Ken Smith (Jacob Wysocki). The group notices that a user under the name billie227 is in their chat, despite not being invited in by anybody. Their various attempts at disconnecting billie227 fail, and everyone believes that they're being pranked by another classmate. But it soon turns out that billie227 is not a pranking classmate, but a haunting force that is using Laura Barns' Skype account.
To hate Unfriended is a relatively simple task, because the plot is heavily dependent on a group of teenagers having made idiotic decisions in the past, with those idiotic decisions now coming back to bite them in the ass. Then again, these are teenagers, and teenagers normally do stupid things. It's just that the movie puts us at such a loss about who exactly should we be rooting for. Blaire and company are responsible for being a part of a cruel act of bullying, and they're getting punished for it in an eye for an eye manner. Is Laura's cyber-ghost going too far, or is the cyber-ghost's actions completely justified? Something that doesn't help the cause is how there is no clear effort on the part of director Levan Gabriadze to flesh out the characters and make any of their deaths impactful in any emotional way. Blaire and her group of friends are padlocked into respective stereotypes such as The Jock, The Geek, and The Slut, with the most you could possibly say about anyone capable of being summarized in ten words or less. I am hesitant to place the non-existent character depth as a low point, but only so much can be done in a brisk 83 minutes and especially when the movie as a whole is dependent on its teenage victims being idiots.
- The use of Facebook, iMessage, and Skype is actually pretty creepy and effective. The sound effects such as when you receive a new message on Facebook pop up every now and then to make the terror more realistic (they are the actual sound effects). I also credit this high point to a complete lack of a soundtrack and the fact that the movie plays in real time, starting right around 9 P.M. and ending shortly after 10 P.M. Also frightening is the various times in which Blaire is unable to close out of a video or delete a mysterious message from the Laura-ghost, because who in their right mind has ever used Facebook, Google Docs, or something else similar and not ever experience frustration when it comes to not being able to find the button/icon you need to click? Unfriended finds quality fear out of one of our most common frustrations: technology not cooperating with us. The live video feed breaks up several times to make things more uneasy, especially when it's obvious that someone is about to die. The Universal Pictures opening theme has purposeful break up to set the tone right before the movie even begins.
- The entire film takes place on Blaire's computer screen, and that might not go over very well if you're watching the movie on a TV screen. I'd say Unfriended is a better fit to watch on an actual computer screen. The only times are eyes can move is if they dart around to notice all of the extra things on the margins of the screen, mainly on Blaire's Facebook page. The low point is the film's rigidity, like watching a theater show in which everything takes place in a confined space on stage left. It's these kind of movies that make me appreciate watching a camera move. Is a "computer" movie going to become a new gimmick down the road?
Say what you want about the technology, social media gimmick, but the fact of the matter is is that Unfriended is a surprisingly unnerving scare feature that tackles a tough idea in cyber-bullying, or bullying in general. Some might not like the whole "looking at nothing but a computer screen" for 83 minutes, but the movie gets enough mileage out of its intended goals to get the job done. Think of it as a digital slasher, because there's no hooded figure butchering everyone with a sharp blade. The figure to fear is vengeance coming to strike you down for crimes committed in a not-too-distant past. Remember, kids: idiocy isn't good for you.
The idea is to die young as late as possible
Final Destination is directed by James Wong and stars Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, and Tony Todd. It is the first film of the Final Destination film series.
There are a lot of things that Final Destination tries to be, and, for the most part, it largely succeeds, even though it can never shake how nonsensical and over-the-top that a lot of everything is. The clear message at work here is that death is inevitable, and that like taxes, it's gonna get you one way or another. And not only is death inevitable, but it can come and get you in the most unpredictable and unthinkable ways, which is a lot of how Final Destination is a black comedy. It's no one's fault that people throughout history have died in the most bizarre ways imaginable, like death by falling out a window into a pile of manure or death by a falling coconut. Now, such simplistic methods of dying are just not good enough for Final Destination, which goes to the most extreme, absurd lengths to go about attempting to axe off its characters.
Those characters are Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), Carter Horton (Kerr Smith), Valerie Lewton (Kristen Cloke), Tod Wagner (Chad E. Donella), and Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott). And before I proceed any further, allow me to point out that a lot of those last names are indeed the same as some famous horror directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Tod Browning, Val Lewton, etc. The movie loses subtlety points right there, although it's not really trying to be subtle with much of anything, so there's really nothing for it to lose there. But anyway, back to the plot, the names mentioned above are those of some of the students and teachers at Mt. Abraham High School in New York. A group of students from the school are about to depart for a ten-day senior trip to Paris, France. Alex Browning has a fear of flying, but he musters up enough courage to tag along and board the flight. Just before the plane is about take off, Alex has a vision in which he sees the plane suffer a massive engine failure and catch fire, killing everyone on board. As a result, Alex suffers a panic attack, resulting in himself, a few other students, and teacher Valerie Lewton (the other names mentioned above) being removed from the plane. The plane explodes shortly after take-off and kills all of the remaining passengers. Alex is suspected with having something to do with the explosion, but things only get further complicated when the other plane survivors begin to die one by one.
It is interesting that the premise of Final Destination began life when screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick put together a speculative script for an episode of The X-Files. He read a story about how a woman changed her flight because her mother called and said she had a bad feeling about the flight. The plane that the woman would have been on crashed, which got Reddick thinking what if the woman was supposed to die on the flight? Reddick, however, never submitted his script to The X-Files when a colleague suggested to him that he turn the idea into a feature length film. James Wong and producer Glen Morgan accepted the script, with the idea that Death would come not as some hooded Grim Reaper figure, but instead as some unseen supernatural entity that has an influence on events that lead to someone's death. Wong further explains how the entertainment value comes from the "ride" that leads to the eventual outcome, and that there is a philosophical component to the premise because of how death is inevitable and what could happen if someone somehow cheats death.
- Final Destination's premise has a lot of promise, because death is undoubtedly a scary thing that no one wants to confront until they're old and gray and have made the most out of what life has given them. The even scarier thing is that no one goes through life having any idea how they will die. You could die the next time you go out for a drive, because that one drunk driver just happens to be driving the same way you are. Or you could die the next time you step into a grocery store, because there just happens to be a crazy lunatic with a gun there who gets fed up and decides to go on a killing rampage. Alex and the other characters are stuck in a hopeless situation, because they can only cheat death for so long. Every human being is doomed to die one day, and it may just sneak up on you when you least expect it. There is some real, genuine horror there.
- While Final Destination is not a slasher film, it is nasty, gore fun that doesn't try to hide the fact that it's kind of hilarious in stretches. One of Alex's classmates asks Alex to go to the bathroom with him, telling him of the importance of taking a shit right before a seven hour flight. This is not only because airplane bathrooms are no better than porta-potties, but it's also because you don't want to be the person who takes a nasty shit on the plane right before a hot female classmate who might be next in line. And if that hot female classmate knows you are the one leaving the pungent odor in the airplane bathroom, you lose any and all hope of getting together with hot female classmate. I mention this because of how such a ridiculous conversation it is and how it shortly follows the tragic disaster that unfolds with the plane exploding. It's hard to be saddened by the deaths of a bunch of high school students when a conversation right beforehand is about how saving your shit for the airplane is a bad idea. The plane crash is followed up with another pointless conversation at the school's memorial service in which another of Alex's classmates tells him of how he barely passed his driving test. And at the same time, that's where the movie finds a lot of its black humor. You also can't help but laugh at how so many ridiculous things happen in succession that lead to a character's death.
- The plot makes less and less sense as you piece everything that's happening together. Alex's premonition on the plane leads to himself and a few others on the plane cheating their supposedly planned death. But the premonition doesn't make sense in the grand scheme of things because Alex and the other survivors aren't able to cheat death again, so why would death allow just a few select people on the plane to survive when they are all going to die anyway not long afterwards? Death is supposedly playing a game with the survivors to prove a point as to how you can't avoid him forever. The problem is how you can't make heads or tails of why death just delayed the inevitable for Alex and a few others, when it's apparently clear that all of them are supposed to die at that stage in their lives. None of them are supposed to grow up and live full lives, because death just happens to hate this particular group of teenagers.
- Oh how over the top and ridiculous the death scenes are after the plane crash! It's not like the characters can just get struck by a stray lightning bolt or get smashed to bits by a falling piece of debris (actually, one character does get killed by a swinging piece of debris, but the chain of events leading to that death is simply absurd), because where is the fun in that? I will admit the movie wouldn't be as darkly humorous if it wasn't for the over the top death scenes. The issue is how the movie doesn't rely enough on its characters' stupidity or having someone like Alex say, "Oh come on! That just doesn't happen!"
It's easy to appreciate Final Destination for being a bloody killing spree that relishes in being as ridiculous as can be. But remember, this is a movie that is attempting to be philosophical in its commentary on death and the horror in how you can't cheat or avoid death. Death being all around us is a neat concept for a horror movie and one that offers a lot of worthwhile potential. The problem is how the movie is ineffective in its execution, confusing in what our exact takeaway is supposed to be in having its characters cheat death, only to have death come and get them in some other form later on. There are laughs to be had, and given the absurd ways in which its plane surviving characters get killed, that's the most you can ask for.
Recommend? It's worth a look if you can stomach some nasty gore.
Sequels are like any other machine. They're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem.
Blade Runner 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto.
It has become increasingly clear to me by the day that there is now not a single film in the perpetual library that is the cinema that is entirely, without question, sequel proof. If the likes of Jurassic Park and Star Wars can get sequels this far into the 20th century, then why the hell not Ridley Scott's masterpiece Blade Runner? It was actually back in 1999 that ideas of a Blade Runner sequel were in development, when British filmmaker Stuart Hazeldine wrote a sequel called Blade Runner Down, based on the novel The Edge of Human by K.W. Jeter. The sequel was turned down, though, and it took Ridley Scott years and years to try and get something going. It wasn't finally until early 2015 that the sequel was confirmed, with Denis Villeneuve slated as the director and Harrison Ford and original screenwriter Hampton Fancher also set to return.
I have yet to find another science fiction film that conveys the theme of man vs. machine better than Blade Runner, and I was highly optimistic when I learned of a sequel that offered us the opportunity to further explore the techno-fueled world of humans and replicants. Anyone who had seen any of Denis Villeneuve's previous works before seeing Blade Runner 2049 would have substantial reason to think that he could deliver us yet another exciting and sharp-minded experience, because exciting and sharp-minded experiences have been Villeneuve's track record as of late. My own personal experiences with Villeneuve's films have been somewhat disconnected with what the general agreement seems to be with the majority pool of critics and audiences. Critics and audiences raved about Sicario and Arrival, while I sat there watching both of those films thinking to myself, "I don't see where the masterful-ness is in these films." Don't get me wrong, Sicario and Arrival are nowhere near bad films. They just don't strike me as holier-than-thou movies that deserve to be preserved in the archives of "Best Films of the 2010's" as some other people have made them out to be.
So going into Blade Runner 2049, I had the luxury of having Blade Runner as my favorite science fiction film in my back pocket, so there was just no way that I couldn't love Blade Runner 2049. It had an acclaimed director at the helm, and Harrison Ford was back to reprise Deckard. All the pieces were in place, and if that wasn't enough, a good leading man in Ryan Gosling was coming along for the ride. And so what is the verdict? It's good, but not great.
Thirty years after Blade Runner, we meet new blade runner Officer K (Ryan Gosling). K is a newer replicant model who is designed to obey without question and is trained to hunt down and "retire" older replicant models. K is investigating a supposed replicant freedom movement, leading him to a farm where he discovers a box that contains human bones. The bones are discovered to be those of a female replicant who died from an emergency C-section. This is met with shock and disbelief by K and the rest of the LAPD, as they always believed pregnancy in replicants was impossible. K is ordered to destroy all evidence of the case and retire the child, as the knowledge of replicants being able to reproduce is seen as dangerous and capable of leading to war between the humans and replicants.
My only major fear with Blade Runner 2049 was that Denis Villeneuve was going to turn it into an action heavy sci-fi adventure that doesn't enhance anything about our understanding of replicants and what else might be going on outside of Los Angeles. Crisis avoided. I mean, Denis Villeneuve could've done the exact same thing with Sicario and Arrival, but neither of those films succumb to action overload. The exact opposite, actually. Sicario and Arrival, the latter not being any kind of action film whatsoever, have very controlled sequences of violence that only come when the script calls for them to. As for Blade Runner 2049, a film with a hefty 163 run time, it only brings its violence in small bunches, much like Blade Runner. Much of the space is reserved for the purely detective part of the plot, in which Officer K must uncover clues about the large mystery at hand that serves as the overarching component of the story.
- The story always remains intriguing, so much so that the film doesn't feel anywhere near as long as its 163 minutes. The absolute best thing that the story does is expand upon our perception of replicants by addressing the one remaining thing that might've still divided humans and replicants: reproduction. Our understanding of replicants from Blade Runner was that they feel no sense of empathy, detectable by the Voight-Kampff Test. But as the opening words tell us, more advanced replicants were developed in the thirty years between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, and now the understanding is that the new replicants are now soulless beings who just follow orders. Evidence of a replicant pregnancy changes everything. Now what is the dividing line between humanity and replicants? Are replicants now truly more human than human if they are indeed capable of reproducing? All of this is more thematic meat to chew on and savor.
- Once again, the Blade Runner world is a visual feast that never ceases to be a delight on the eyes. One of the neatest visuals is watching K's holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) when the two are together in K's apartment with another girl named Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). Joi "syncs up" with Mariette so that K can be intimate with her since K cannot physically touch Joi. Joi and Mariette's faces continuously fade in and out as we see their bodies meshed together into one. There are also eye-candy holograms that we see throughout Los Angeles while K is either walking or flying around doing his work. You can't help but just marvel at at least something.
- While the plot is interesting and expansive, it also is heavily jumbled. A subplot involving Jared Leto's character goes absolutely nowhere, and it takes a little too long for the plot to get out of its strict detective stage. Blade Runner was relatively light on plot, always remaining highly philosophical about its world and what it could mean in relation to us as a human race. Blade Runner 2049 is crowded with solving a mystery, which, while interesting, does take away from a deeper look on its man vs. machine take that could've made it truly great up alongside Blade Runner. The film largely slides on the surface of truly great for short stretches, but just can't quite make the big impact.
My ongoing relationship with Denis Villeneuve can be best summed up as me finding his films to be good, but struggling to uncover why they're considered great. The beat goes on with Blade Runner 2049, a film that is a worthy sequel to Blade Runner, but not quite a terrific science fiction film in its own right. And in case you were wondering, it does set itself up for another sequel. It took me multiple viewings to fully appreciate Blade Runner for what it really is, and that might mean I need to give Blade Runner 2049 multiple viewings down the road to honor it with masterpiece status.
Recommend? Yes, even though it's very long. Watch Blade Runner first.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: