Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Greatest Showman - Musical Circus Magic Come Alive


"The noblest art is that of making others happy." - P.T. Barnum. 

Yesterday was such a thrilling day. Alongside my girlfriend and a dear friend of ours, we took in Hugh Jackman's latest musical spectacular. It was glorious. Songs that are catchy and memorable and engaging, a story that can resonate with people everywhere and a cast that binds it all together. This is The Greatest Showman, and it's a wild ride that shouldn't be missed.



Directed by newcomer Michael Gracey, for his first foray into the world of big movies, its a giant step. Not only is he working with Hugh Jackman, Zac Effron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Keala Settle, but this project is big because it's a movie musical. However, Michael has done a great job with Hugh on this and it is making big at the box offices currently.



Hugh Jackman is truly a great performer. Both on camera and on stage, his range is astounding. Taking on the role of P.T. Barnum, the man who gave America and the world 'The Greatest Show On Earth' is a role worthy of a talent like Mr. Jackman. There is such an electricity, such a fire and passion when he opens his mouth to sing or moves his feet to dance. Truly, Hugh is the very embodiment of 'the greatest showman'.


Standing by his side are Michelle Williams (Charity Barnum), Austyn Johnson (Caroline Barnum) and Cameron Seely (Helen Barnum). These three are Barnum's great joy, the reason for going into show business. And it takes the love of his family to help pull him back down from the high clouds (along with other things) and remind him why he started the circus in the first place. 

Now for a musical of this scale and caliber, an all-star cast is called for. Audiences will be overjoyed to see such talented and famous faces on camera alongside Jackman. 


Zac Efron, talented, funny, good-looking. He is a quint-essential Hollywood triple threat. Cutting his teeth first on High School Musical before doing other work, having him back in a musical movie is such a joy. The songs he shares with Jackman and the rest of the cast are pulse-pounding, catchy and excellent. His character Philip Carlyle, like many others, is an original creation. In this case Philip is a composite, based in part on P.T. Barnum's co-founder James A. Bailey. 


Zendaya, she is a star that is going to keep on rising. As with Efron, her's is a character created for the story. As trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, joining up with Barnum's circus allows her and her brother W.D. (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) the chance to use their gifts and attempt to break away from all the racism and stigmatism of the times. Along the way, she and Philip (Efron) find themselves drawn towards one another. Under magic of the big top, they find joy and love in one another. 


Keala Settle takes center stage as the troupe's bearded lady Lettie Lutz. A star on the Broadway stage, there is such an easy transition for her onto the big screen. She gets to sing a big, show-stopping number in the middle of the movie, one that describes part of the message of the production and also delivers a real pulse-pounder to audiences. 


Rebecca Ferguson is European singing sensation Jenny Lind. Lind is one of the true historic figures of this movie, who was brought to America by Barnum as part of a national tour during his years as head of the circus. Like Keala, she too gets to sing her heart out with a moving song that adds its part to the story. 


Additional circus cast members include Sam Humphrey as Charles Stratton (General Tom Thumb), Yusaku Komori and Danial Son as conjoined twins Chang and Eng, Luciano Acuna Jr. as the Dog Boy,  Natasha Liu Bordizzo as knife expert Deng Yan, and a whole host of others. A final cast member of historic note is Paul Sparks as theater critic James Bennett, whose original reviews of Barnum's shows are reprinted for the movie. 

Two things that help make this such a standout movie musical are its songs and an interesting fact. The interesting fact is that this is Hugh Jackman's passion project and it took over 7 and 1/2 years of development. This is because studios were wary of bankrolling an original movie musical. So far it has surpassed expectations and has more then made back its budget at the box office. 


Song wise, this entire movie is chock full of upbeat and fantastic numbers. With lyrics written by the team of Pasek and Paul (La La Land), this means that musical lovers are in for lyrical treats. Two songs in particular are "This Is Me", which was awarded 2018's Golden Globe for 'Best Original Song' and "From Now On". 


This Is Me is something of the anthem of the entire movie. It is powerful and passionate. Sung by Keala Settle and the cast of the circus, its bold. Settle and her fellow performers are still shunned by the general public for being different, for looking strange. So what do they do? They sing about how they aren't going to be beaten down and how there is a place for them in the world. 


From Now On is equally as powerful because its an epiphany moment for Barnum's character. After almost losing everything, he remembers why he went into show business to begin with, for his family, both of them (wife/daughters and his circus family). He sings of getting back to the way things were, being with people who are important to him and love him for just being himself, not the gilded bird that society demanded. 

In many ways, while this sets out to tell a loose story of P.T. Barnum and the founding of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, it serves another purpose. It gives audiences a message of not being afraid to be yourself, of stepping out of the shadows and into the light. This is something that movie goers of all ages can latch onto amidst all the songs and fast-paced dancing. 

Movie musicals are a genre that is not what it once was in Hollywood. Gone are the days of Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire. In its place are productions like this one. Big, loud, well-scripted, well-casted affairs that command just as much power as their forebears. The Greatest Showman set out to be the best it could be and to give people something magical, just like P.T. Barnum set out years ago when he first started his legendary circus. This cinematic musical wonderment receives a well-deserved 4 out of 4 stars. It is not something to be missed out on by people and almost certainly going to keep enshrining itself in the hearts and minds of generations of fans as they see it come alive. 


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast' - A Disney Classic



"Tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme. Beauty and the Beast." - Mrs. Potts.

This week is a very special and important week. Not just because it is the week before Christmas, but because it is also my girlfriends birthday week. And so in honor of her special day, I chose to write a piece on one of her all-time favorite animated films.

The 1990's was part of what was known as the Disney Renaissance. Labeled thus because of the vast creative output of films, it galvanized a renewed public interest in The Walt Disney Company as a whole. One of its most celebrated and successful animated features is the 1991 hit Beauty and the Beast.

Adapted from the 17th century French fairy tale, this is the story of a young woman named Belle, who feels like an outsider in her provincial country town where she is the only one who has a passion for books and knowledge. She finds herself drawn into an adventure full of wonder and romance when she selflessly takes her father's place in the castle of the Beast. During this time she not only makes new friends but also falls in love with Beast and finds in him a kindred spirit and a happy ending.

Every great animated movie always has several elements that help make it be the success that it is. Those parts are the production, the voice cast, and in the case of Disney, the music.

To detail every single aspect of the production of this animated masterpiece would take quite a while. So for the enjoyment of all, here is something special. The 'behind the scenes' story of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.


Behind every great animated character is a voice. For Disney's 30th full-length feature, a wide and wonderfully varied array of voice actors/actress's was cast. 



For the leading role of Belle, Disney found their voice in Paige O'Hara. She brought to the role a strength that has flowed over into both the Broadway show and the recent live-film version starring Emma Watson. Not only did Paige provide Belle with a sense of empowerment and individuality, but she also gave the character's songs a resounding melody that makes them some of the most-beloved numbers in the catalogue of classic Disney songs. 



In the part of the Beast, Robby Benson was the voice for both dialogue and songs. There is a lot of anger in his performance, all of it manifested from inside the Beast and channeled outward at the world and everyone in it. As the story progress's, he changes the tones from being pure gruff to having a warm and tender edge. And like Paige, his singing is pure magic, the sort one never tires of listening to. 

What helps make this story so stand-out isn't just the leading voices, but the support as well. Four of the most memorable voices are those of the Beasts key servants. 


Lumière and Cogsworth, what a pair those two make. Voiced by the talented duo of Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers, these two help propel Belle and Beast's relationship along. They also have a lot of great back and forth banter that adds humor to the story, not to mention their playing off one another makes their character's all the more loveable. 



Another pair of beloved members of the castle staff are Mrs. Potts and her son Chip. Mrs. Potts was given a stern but loving English voice by veteran actress Angela Lansbury, while Chip's precocious youth was sparked by Bradley Pierce. Together they are an adorable mother/son pairing, not to mention Angela's stirring performance of one of the movie's key songs. 

On a whole, Beauty and the Beast has songs galore that are just dynamite. Both the animated, Broadway and now live movie soundtracks are universally loved. All due deference must be given to the animated film for the precedent it set years ago. Especially with three songs in particular. 

'Be Our Guest' is in many ways the big song and dance number. It has an upbeat and fast-paced tune, fantastic singing from Jerry Orbach and the cast, not to mention its catchy and memorable lyrics. 


'Something There' is a sweet number. It speaks of the growing attraction between Belle and the Beast. Where there was once fear and misunderstanding, there is common ground, common interests, the beginnings of love. This is a song that speaks of the blossoming romance that is in store for the pair. 



The third and perhaps best song, is not just appealing on an auditory level, but a visual one as well. Sung by Angela Lansbury, this is a piece that has all the classic elements of a big romantic song. It speaks of the now there love between the protagonists, and how it started small and grew into something magical. Plus, it was the number that had a full cinematic treatment. Utilizing Pixar's CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), the animated figures of Belle and Beast were superimposed onto the computer generated ballroom which allowed for 'cameras' to dolly around them in 3D space. This provided a beautiful spectacle for audiences that capture the full force of this love story in a single moment. 



The Walt Disney Company and their movies are some of the most universally known and loved. Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937, it has been a non-stop ride of magic, songs and fantastic stories. Beauty and the Beast is in many ways one of the crown jewels because of how powerful, memorable and wonderful it is. 

This is why it gave me great pleasure to write about this for my girlfriend, because I know how much she loves this movie and how much it means to her. 

So the next time there is nothing to watch on TV or online, punch up a copy of Beauty and the Beast, sit back and relax as you are made the guests of a story that is romance given animated form. 



Monday, December 18, 2017

The Disaster Artist - The Best Worst Film Ever


"You're really gonna make this thing?" - Greg Sestero

"No, Greg. We are going to do it. Together." - Tommy Wiseau

Tonight, with my girlfriend and a close friends of ours, a hilarious movie. It tells the story of two friends, and their dream to make a movie together. What follows is them producing a film so horrible, it has become famous because of how bad it is. I am speaking of course about The Disaster Artist.



Directed, produced and starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau, Franco does a hilarious and disturbing job bringing Tommy to life on screen. Looking at clips from Wiseau's film The Room (part of the story of Disaster Artist), it is really quite frightening to see how strongly he emulates the character traits of Wiseau on camera. There are times one forgets that it is James Franco on camera.


Playing Tommy's friend and co-star Greg Sestero is Dave Franco. Greg's character is the straight man of the story. Like Tommy he wants to be a star and make movies. But where Tommy keeps trying to do all sorts of outrageous stuff on set (not knowing how story works or how movie-making happens), Greg is there to try and ground things. Seeing these two brothers working together and feeding off one another's energy is so much fun. They are their best co-stars on camera and it shows through their interactions and playing off one another.


Overall the entire cast does a fabulous job. Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Alison Brie etc. they all help contribute to the story and bring this crazy tale to life. There are even surprise cameo's from other famous faces, so keep those eyes open for them.

Something that made The Disaster Artist such a funny and refreshing piece was that IT'S ALL TRUE. This is based on a story of a movie that was actually made, and is so terrible it has been hailed as "Citizen Kane of bad movies". Because of its historical grounding, one would imagine that such a production means a movie about it would be equally as bad. And yet, as I said this is refreshing because there is such honesty and drive in it. Tommy doesn't let anything stand in the way of his vision becoming reality, not negativity, not anger from his cast/crew. He grabs for the stars and hangs on tight.

If anyone is looking for a movie that is going to bring lots of laughs, this is it. If they are looking for a movie that can inspire them, heck this is that too. Or if they want to see it just because they love James Franco, well then get ready for a whole lot of Franco on camera. Final analysis, a whooping 4 out of 4 stars to this laugh-fest about a movie that may be complete trash, but is still a heck of a story.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi - A Confusing Plot


"I know only one truth. It's time for the Jedi... to end." - Luke Skywalker.

Yesterday, for my girlfriends birthday I had the privilege of seeing the latest Star Wars film with her and my family. It was a wonderful and joyous time, getting to celebrate her special day with family. And while The Last Jedi was visually a grand spectacle, in some ways it did things that mucked around with the story and left me wondering "What is going on?".

Before diving into the things that left me wanting, I do want to touch on some of the positive aspects.


Firstly, while Director Rian Johnson did do a lot that had me and no doubt other Star Wars scratching their heads, he did do a lot right. In many ways he honored the overall legacy of the Star Wars franchise through its casting, story (to an extent) and of course with utterly amazing visuals.



This cast was superb. Each time another chapter of Star Wars is released, its cast is always one of the things that helps make the movie great. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran etc. everybody did supreme on camera. Some of the best performances came from cast members sharing scenes with other people, whether it was Mark/Daisy, John/Oscar, Carrie/Oscar etc. Old faces returned, newish faces came back and other new people (like Kelly Marie Tran's character Rose Tico), quickly won their way into audiences hearts. Whatever comes next with the sequel's cast, it will be just as great as this and previous films. 



Visually, as with all other Star Wars movies, The Last Jedi hit the nail on the head. While there is a great deal of visual action that take's place in space, there is other material down on various planets to satisfy audience's appetites. One such example is the final battle on the planet of Crait, because as seen in the trailers, there is great shots of speeders skimming along the surface kicking up red dust clouds. While yes it is the final showdown, there's a lot to be seen and said because of the speeders, the First Order's ground forces and a special surprise for fans as well. 

The biggest issue again is with the story itself. While the plot is solid, there are too many loose threads that don't really tie together. For example, its clear from the get-go that Luke will die/pass on in the movie, like Yoda and Anakin and Obi-Wan before him. With Han Solo already dead in The Force Awakens, how can Disney/Lucasfilm have another of its primary characters die, and leave General Leia alive, when Carrie Fisher is no longer with us? It just doesn't make any amount of sense. 


    

Another plot issue is that of Snoke and Kylo Ren. For those who haven't seen the movie it will become clear what is talked about here. So much about Snoke is unknown aside from his abilities/power with the Force and his clear influence over the First Order. He is clearly meant to be/set up as a sort of second Emperor, but even Emperor Palpatine had a more fleshed out backstory in the prequel trilogy. There are so many questions, like how did Snoke become a power figure? How did he meet/influence Kylo Ren? What is his true ultimate goal for Rey and Ren? None of these get answered or even remotely touched on. 

The Last Jedi was in all honesty, a fun watch. It set out to tell a Star Wars story and it accomplished that. Unfortunately it took a lot of jumps along the way and skipped over things story-wise that make Star Wars movies truly great examples of science-fiction cinema. Therefore, I am awarding The Last Jedi 3 out of 4 stars, mainly for missing the mark on plot. This however should not deter people from seeing this space-opera epic and enjoying themselves. It's Star Wars for gosh sakes, its fun no matter what is liked or disliked about it. So go, enjoy, and may the Force be with you. 


Monday, November 20, 2017

Justice League: DC's Heroes Unite



"People said the Age of Heroes would never come again" - Diana Prince.

Last night, alongside my girlfriend, my brother and a group of our close friends, all of us sat down to take in what proved to be a superhero cinematic masterpiece. In spite of the poor reception it has received in professional circles, Warner Bros. Pictures latest epic Justice League, far surpassed all expectations.

Many people who are lifelong DC Comics readers and devoted fans of all their other media will find this movie to be in many cases, exactly what they wanted. Others will not enjoy it as much, and that's okay, these sorts of productions can't please everyone.

    

With two directors attached to it (Zach Snyder and Joss Whedon), what is served up is a movie that is neither serious nor silly, dark nor light. Instead it is a balanced piece, equal parts serious with lots of action and equal parts humorous with excellent dialogue between League members. These two men working to bring this vision to life, instead did something far more.


This, the first ever live-action Justice League movie, evoked memories of the Bruce Timm cartoons that aired on Cartoon Network during the 2000s. Which is to say, it took itself seriously, but not so much that it didn't forget that not everyone on the team has to be dour all the time. There is room for humor and banter, especially with newcomers playing the roles of Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman.


Flash (Ezra Miller) is a very comedic character, but can be serious when there is need. This fits more or less with how Barry Allen's tenure as the Flash has always been, a man who can bring smiles to people's faces but when the chips are down, he steps up. People get a Barry Allen who is still fresh to the hero game. Aside from stopping small crimes (mostly by pushing people over like in Suicide Squad), this is that stepping up point for Barry. In stepping up, he moves past any doubts or fears he had about himself, and shows what the true mettle of a hero is.


Speaking of mettle, its time to talk about the metal man himself, Cyborg. Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) is a complex figure. Blessed or cursed with new life and powers that he doesn't fully understand, Victor goes through a very serious crisis of self, of where he fits into the world now and what his purpose is. It takes wise words from Diana/Wonder Woman for him to see that even with being more machine, its not the technology that makes a hero, but the person behind it.


The final newcomer and member of the League is the Sovereign of the Seven Seas, Aquaman. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is man of two worlds. For him, its not a struggle about his place, but what he wants to do with himself, being half human and half Atlantean. Like Cyborg and Flash however, he makes the choice to step up and stand alongside the rest of the team and save the world. In doing so, the brash loner attitude fades away, in its place is the warrior fighting with friends for a greater good.


Every great superhero movie needs a grand villain, a powerful threat to save the day from. Appearing for the first time ever in movies, is Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). Without giving away any of his role in the plot, here is his basic comic book background. Created by Jack Kirby and appearing in New Gods #7 (1972), Steppenwolf hails from the planet Apokolips. As head of the world's military forces, he is also uncle to its absolute ruler, Darkseid. His purpose on Earth in the film is that is of a mission from his master and nephew, and that's all to be said on that and not give away any spoilers. 

Even with it being a comic book movie, there is a great theme prevalent throughout the script. Like Diana's quote about the Age of Heroes, this story is about heroes. It takes more then just one man or woman to make a difference in this case, it takes people standing up and coming into the sun. Too long had the world gone without a light to provide hope in dark times. The Justice League coming together provides that light, that beacon. This story does a lot not only in terms of introducing the three newcomers as other charter League teammates, it also is a bigger springboard for DC to introduce the world to its vast and fantastic array of super characters.

Altogether, Justice League set out with a goal. To tell the tale of DC Comics premier team banding together on the big screen. With fabulous return performances from Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Henry Cavill, they are truly a sight to behold. There is also a storied and great support cast, with the likes of Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), Joe Morton (Silas Stone), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), JK Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Amber Heard (Mera), Diane Lane (Martha Kent) and Billy Crudup (Henry Allen). 

Not too mention Easter Eggs galore. To comic book fans and hardcore DC lovers, this is a picture chock full of them. It as if every other scene or sequence has a nod to something relating to the comics, the heroes or the DC Universe at large. For a complete (or near complete) list of all the Easter Eggs and references, click here to go to Den of Geek


As for the soundtrack, it was...super. With master music meister Danny Elfman at the helm, it was never going to fail. Beautiful and powerful orchestrations, the kind of music that made Superman and Batman celebrated DC movies in their time. There are three distinct nods to classic superhero tracks scattered throughout the movie. Keep those ears open and see if they jump out. 

If there was ever a time for a movie about heroes bringing hope to come out, its now. Every day the world at large seems like a dark place. Things constantly are on the brink of plunging into chaos at any moment. Even with it being a fictional tale, this was a much needed and welcome film. It not only underscores the classic hero concept, it shows what sort of difference can be made when people make a stand for truth and justice. That's a massive takeaway, especially in a world where superpowers don't exist and figures like Superman or Wonder Woman can't come racing from the sky to right wrongs. Justice League gets a whooping 5 out of 5 stars for plot, cast, strong themes, music and visuals and most of all, for at long last giving nerds and fans everywhere the great DC blockbuster they've always craved. 


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok - The End...And Beginning



"I choose to run towards my problems, and not away from them. Because that's what heroes do." - Thor.

Last week I, alongside my girlfriend, brother and a group of our friends, sat down for a real treat. We took in a showing of the latest superhero spectacular from Marvel Studios, Thor: Ragnarok. Third film in the line of Thor movies and the 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this was a very different film from its previous counterparts. Not only did it have Thor take up a new character aspects different from his usual demeanor, it was also very heavy on comedy instead of lots of action.


Directed by Taika Waititi, this was a very fun movie to watch. Particularly because of the comedy that was more prevalent then in other Marvel films, but also because of its casting and script and special effects. Taika took a story that could have been serious and instead made it one that also elicited laughs from the audience. 


Chris Hemsworth is always a delight to watch as Thor. Embodying all the swagger and arrogance of the Thunder God, this time around he also brought out some of the more serious nature of the character. Thor really steps up to the plate in this movie, not just in the sense of saving the world, but also in terms of taking even more responsibility then he had in the past. Faced with insurmountable odds and without his usual method of dealing with a problem (RIP Mjolnir), he uses his mind and his abilities, not just as the Thunder God but also humility and desire to make things right. There is some major character growth throughout the movie for Thor, so that by the end Marvel-lovers see what kind of hero is truly under the hair and power. He is a hero, willing to do whatever it takes to see that things are put right. 


Returning to the character of Bruce Banner after 3 years, Mark Ruffalo did a smashing job. Like putting on an old coat or getting back on a bicycle, he gives people a Bruce Banner who has been locked inside the Hulk's rage and anger for two years. Back in reality, there's a lot of shock over missing so much, and then suddenly being thrust into a conflict that is of catastrophic proportions. Nevertheless, it is all taken in stride and Banner/Hulk is back in the fight again. There's a lot of great improvisation between Ruffalo and Hemsworth, which makes for fantastic back and forth. 


Tessa Thompson nailed it as Valkyrie. One of the great warrior women of Asgard's elite, this is a figure who has been running from her problems all her life. Shame, afraid to face down the evil of that once nearly dominated all life. Face to face with Thor and the possibility of redemption (after some soul searching and goading), she stands and fights again for Asgard and for life. May her character return for future Marvel Cinematic movies, and perhaps even get her own spin-off adventures. There is a lot of great potential, both with Valkyrie within the confines of being in more Marvel teamups, and also having her own superhero film adventures. 


Cate Blanchett was truly terrifying as Hela. Despite being a one-movie villain, her impact as a nemesis felt even found resounding then that of say Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). The reasons for who she is (Goddess of Death) and for being the way she is, are more personal and deep then some of the usual superhero movie villains. Elder child of  Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and scored by him for being too power-mad, she is locked away for all eternity, released at last by the death of the All-Father. And with that release comes fury, rage and the desire to claim the throne of Asgard for her very own. This makes for a powerful performance with many great scenes and fabulous dialogue. Casting Cate in this role was a great decision, one worthy of an Oscar. 


It's not a Thor movie without Tom Hiddleston as Loki. There wouldn't be an sly villainy or clever witty remarks to toss at Chris without Tom. He experiences some growth as well. While it may not be as soul-wrenching powerful as Thor finally taking up the kingship of Asgard, its still deep. With high stakes at play this time around, the resentment he's always felt towards his brother finally is stripped away in some very choice words and acting between Chris and Tom. While these two brothers may not always get along, Loki may finally see how much Thor always cared for him, even when it seemed like he didn't.

For a superhero plot about the end of Asgard, there is lots of moments designed to make people laugh. But there is also a lot of seriousness underneath the funny. There's the big overarching element of Hela taking over Asgard and Ragnarok, the end of all things coming. Further inside that, is the story of Thor. Favorite son of Odin, God of Thunder, Prince of Asgard, Avenger. Thor eschewed the responsibilities of the throne for a life of adventure and daring do. Now, he must face up to all the things he pushed aside, and while ruling still means that there is adventure, it also means he has to stop running from the problem of feeling like he could never be the king Odin was.

That really says a lot for his character, and it can be seen in parallel with figures history. George Washington, after the end of the American Revolution, was ready for a quiet life of being the gentleman farmer. Living out his days with Martha at Mount Vernon. While he may not have wanted to be President, he still rose to the occasion and became the first in a long line of Presidents, and helped set the precedent for a peaceful transition of office. Another example is that of King George IV (rewatch 'The King's Speech' or early episodes of 'The Crown' to remember him). He never even truly wanted the throne of England, but in the end he accepted it. In doing so, he lead his people through some of the darkest days the nation ever saw during WWII.

The point behind these previous paragraphs, is that history and fiction alike are filled with reluctant leaders. People who do not wish to rule, but ruler-ship is handed to them no matter what. How they handle that responsibility and the duties that come with it, therein lies the true marks of what it takes to be a leader.

Other things about this movie that were great include the special effects and the additional members of the cast. Every Marvel Cinematic piece has eye-popping visuals that just blow minds and stun people. With Thor going way out to outer space, that means a whole new playing field for graphic designers and visual artists etc. Other members of the cast that did a bang-up job include Jeff Goldblum (Grandmaster), Karl Urban (Skurge) and with a fun and great extended cameo, Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange).

Thor: Ragnarok was many things. It was serious, funny, well cast, well written and very enjoyable to watch. Another stone in the bridge building up to Avengers: Infinity Wars, this not only broadens the scope of things for Marvel more, it also showed what can happen when a superhero movie doesn't try to take itself so seriously, and still can be good. It get's a five out of five stars with the hopes that for any further solo Thor films, they are just as solid as this one.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Solving a Long Ago Mystery


"I have memories, but I can't tell if they're real" - K.


Earlier this week I had the utter joy of sitting down with my girlfriend and a close friend to take in a highly anticipated movie. It's been 35 years in the making but at long last the dystopian world of Blade Runner returned, and things certainly did not get better in the 30 year time-span of that universe.


Denis Villeneuve may not be Ridley Scott, but he certainly dug deep into Scott's box of magic that produced the original Blade Runner and out came Blade Runner 2049. He presents many of the familiar trappings of the Los Angeles of the future, but there is a certain stronger grime to it now. The world has become a darker place, and some things are different, while some are the same. A fear and mistrust of Replicants is still present, but he adds in a wider acceptance of them as well. An entirely new plot with added twists and turns puts fuel to the fire that was started decades ago and has been fanned into a fantastic film that will hopefully have a sequel.





Ryan Gosling, cast as new character K, a Replicant Blade Runner, is painted as a different man then the character of Rick Deckard was. As a Replicant, K knows that people don't like him and trust him, yet he goes about doing his job of 'retiring' his kind. In doing so, he stumbles on a an age old secret that not only produces startling revelations about the world, but also about himself. Fans of Ryan's will love this he's cast in, because it allows them to see a different sort of persona for him to play, one that is serious, and has emotional depth, but it takes time for those emotions to come out from layers of programming.




Seeing Harrison Ford back on screen as Deckard was an absolute joy. While Deckard doesn't show up until the third act of the story, his presence and the case from the original plot are felt throughout the bulk of the film. He may be older and grayer, but underneath is still a man who believes in doing the right thing. But he is also haunted, by ghosts of his past, and now one of those ghosts turns up again, carried on wings by K and thrusting Deckard back into a world he long turned his back on. Anyone who has grown up a fan of Harrison Ford will appreciate seeing him put on the 'old coat' of Rick Deckard, especially after it having been a long gap between movies.



Ana de Armas takes an interesting part in the movie. She is Joi, K's holographic girlfriend and the only person who cares about him and loves him. While yes she is only a hologram, what makes a person? She is programmed to an extent, but its clear that interactions with K expand her digital consciousness, allowing Joi to grow beyond the original purpose she was designed for. The interactions between her and Gosling are sweet, movie-goers will clearly see the love each of them has for one another.



Jared Leto, oh what a role he is cast in. Playing corporate head Niander Wallace, he is the man who makes Replicants now, and he also has a sinister agenda at play. The character is a disturbing one, a person with zero empathy for life and willing to do whatever it takes to expand his operation. While mainly a secondary figure to Ryan Gosling and eventually Harrison Ford, Leto has some great scenes with both actors and delivers some chilling and well written dialogue. 




Robin Wright and Sylvia Hoeks have strong parts in the story. Robin plays K's superior Lt. Joshi while Sylvia is Luv, Niander Wallace's strong right hand. Both these actress's represent opposite sides of the coin of the future, Joshi is law and order, wanting to preserve peace for humans and Replicants. Luv is a sort of lawless chaos, doing whatever Wallace wants and is not afraid to get creative in the process. And both actress's fill parts laid out in the original movie by M. Emmet Walsh and Joanna Cassidy, law and crime (corporate crime). A lot can be said for these two figures, but that would give away too much plot. To put it finely, the choice of casting them was excellent, and Robin and Sylvia do well on the screen alongside Gosling, Ford, Leto etc.



Dystopian future is always painted as very bleak. A world that ought to be perfect but isn't. All the technological achievements and breakthrough's can't fix things that are broken. Confined originally to a dark and overcrowded Los Angeles, Blade Runner 2049 breaks beyond that, and goes past the city limits, showing more of the desolation that has come to what was the United States. Denis uses a lot of shadows for his movie, similar to Ridley Scott. There is light, but there is dark too, used primarily to showcase what has happened over the course of 30 years.

Sequels to science-fiction movies often fall into two categories, good and bad. Blade Runner 2049 definitely falls into the good category. This is a heavy story, one about finding oneself, freedom, a new age. While yes its a dystopian tale, it has glimmers of light underneath, and that light is what is a propellant for characters like K once the ball gets rolling. Despite some of the negative press it has received, I feel that fans of the original Blade Runner will appreciate the loose ends tied up by the sequel, as well as new questions and ideas put forth by the dialogue and story. 5 out of 5 stars for its cast, its scenes and most importantly, for being more then what was expected of a sequel movie 35 years in the making.