Film Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

Also known as: Batman Begins 2 (working title), Rory’s First Kiss, Winter Green (fake working titles)
Release Date: July 14th, 2008 (Buenos Aires & New York City premieres)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cillian Murphy, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Ritchie Coster, Michael Jai White, Colin McFarlane, Tom “Tiny” Lister, William Fichtner, David Dastmalchian

DC Comics, Syncopy, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” – The Joker

I was a bit apprehensive about revisiting this for the first time in a long time. The reason being, is that I remembered it as being perfect and it was the movie I saw in the theater more times than any other. But with so much time passing, I had worried that my take on it now could have soured a bit.

I’m glad to say that it didn’t, as this is still a masterpiece of crime fiction and social commentary.

As far as superhero films go, I still think that this is the greatest one ever made. I think a lot of that has to do with the realistic approach of the film and just how real and plausible it comes across even though it features a man in a bat costume and a criminal in clown makeup. Not to mention a guy with half his face burnt off and some wonky sci-fi gadgets like the incredibly high-tech sonar surveillance computer.

This is a film where just about everything went right. It was a perfect storm of great writing, great direction, great acting, stellar cinematography and an incredible musical score.

It was well balanced between action and drama and even with its somewhat lengthy running time, there isn’t a wasted moment in the film. Every scene has meaning and every scene does exactly what it needs to without dilly dallying and slowing the pacing down. At the same time, the timing is impeccable and this film perfectly creates tension when it needs to. The whole film is about escalation and the final product is a perfectly curated example of that.

It’s sad and tragic that Heath Ledger died before this was released. It would’ve been cool for him to have seen the final product and to have enjoyed the fanfare and praise his performance as The Joker got. It’s hands down one of the best performances of that decade and even though his death gave the role an added level of mystique and importance, it stands on its own as one of the greatest villain portrayals in motion picture history.

Additionally, I also really liked Ledger’s version of The Joker, as he kind of did his own thing with the character and it forced Nolan to kind of portray the character differently than what was originally intended. And while it might not be a perfect adaptation of the comic book Joker, which no film has done thus far, it kind of exists as its own, great thing and it added so much to this already stellar trilogy.

My only real complaint about the film was how growl-y Bale’s Batman voice was. I much preferred his voice in Batman Begins and I think most people did, as well. I’m not the only person to point this out and in fact, it sort of became a social meme after the movie’s release.

That being said, the Batman voice doesn’t wreck the film and I still think it’s a damn near perfect movie that transcended the superhero genre, forever changed it and hasn’t yet been eclipsed regardless of some of the superb comic book movies that have been released since.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: Batman Begins (2005)

Also known as: Batman 5 (working title), Batman: Intimidation (script title), The Intimidation Game (fake working title)
Release Date: May 31st, 2005 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Mark Boone Junior, Jack Gleeson

DC Comics, Syncopy, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“But I know the rage that drives you. That impossible anger strangling the grief, until the memory of your loved one is just… poison in your veins. And one day, you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you would be spared your pain.” – Henri Ducard

When this first came out on DVD, I watched it almost weekly for a few years. I loved this film and to me, at least at the time, it was the greatest Batman film ever made. Hell, before the DVD release, I think I saw this at least three times in the theater.

I would end up liking The Dark Knight even more but the Nolan trilogy started with this film and it was a great introduction to his more serious and realistic Batman film series.

In retrospect now, I like the 1989 Batman slightly better but it’s magic was undone by the later films that followed and even though it took eight years, Batman Begins was the cinematic reboot that we needed after the Schumacher Batman pictures.

This film is so good, as are the ones that follow, that I’ve kind of accepted that no one will ever make a Batman film series as great. Frankly, these are the best films that Christopher Nolan has made and while the first film in a trilogy can often times feel like a practice run, this one is fairly close to perfect.

My only real gripe about it is that the pacing feels a bit disjointed at times. But there is also a lot of story and a lot of characters to balance here. I think that Nolan got much better with that in the next film. These aren’t things that break the film in any way but if I can’t give this a perfect score, I feel that I should explain why.

This is still energetic and every scene feels necessary. But it also feels like so much was wedged into it that it could’ve actually benefited from an extra 20-30 minutes. And that’s not something I’m usually a fan of, as I love 90 minute running times and this picture is already well over two hours. But when a film is this good, I never seem to mind that it requires more of my time.

Nolan got the best possible performances out of all of the actors involved and everyone in this is absolutely perfect. This was well cast and even Katie Holmes, who was replaced in the sequel, pulled off the best performance of her career. Normally, I wouldn’t put her at the same level as everyone else in this movie but she held her own and I was disappointed that she was recast in The Dark Knight.

In closing, this is a stellar motion picture where everything just works in the right way from the direction, cinematography, acting, the musical score by Hans Zimmer and the great character development.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Also known as: Pirates 4 (informal alternative title), P.O.T.C. 4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: May 7th, 2011 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
Based on: the Pirates of the Caribbean amusement park ride by Walt Disney, characters by Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Sam Claflin, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Richard Griffiths, Greg Ellis, Keith Richards (cameo)

Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Walt Disney, 137 Minutes

Review:

“[comes out of his quarters and glares at Sparrow] Gentlemen. I be placed in a bewilderment. There I were, resting. And upon a sudden, I hear an ungodly row on deck. Sailors abandoning their posts, without orders, without leave. Men before the mast, taking the ship for themselves. What be that, First Mate?” – Blackbeard

I haven’t seen this Pirates of the Caribbean movie since the theater and frankly, back then, it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s not that this is a bad movie, it’s just a pretty boring one that feels smaller than its predecessors and seems to spend more time dilly dallying than getting down and dirty.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of action sequences, there are. But with Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan not appearing in this film, it just feels like it’s missing depth and narrative richness.

I guess the trade off is that you get to spend a lot more time with Jack Sparrow, as he has to fill in the blanks and carry this picture without his familiar co-stars.

But, at least, Geoffrey Rush returned as Barbosa and honestly, he’s my favorite character in the franchise.

Apart from that, we get Penelope Cruz, whose role is pretty forgettable. Especially, since she didn’t return for the fifth film.

The villain is played by Ian McShane and while I love him in just about everything he does, he doesn’t seem to do much in this movie until the end. He sort of avoids action until the final fight and just spends most of his time giving speeches and orders to a slew of one-off, disposable characters.

I like that this tapped into the Fountain of Youth story but it gets a lot of that legend wrong. I guess the plot is based off of an ’80s swashbuckling novel but I’ve never read it and I’m not sure how close this film’s story is to it. But I was anticipating seeing the characters romping around Florida, as opposed to Caribbean caves with magic gravity-defying water.

Anyway, this is an okay adventure film to kill a few hours but it pales in comparison to the trilogy of films that came before it.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Film Review: Black Rain (1989)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Craig Bolotin, Warren Lewis
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw, Luis Guzman, Stephen Root, Richard Riehle, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Paramount Pictures, Jaffe-Lansing, Pegasus Film Partners, 125 Minutes

Review:

“I usually get kissed before I get fucked.” – Nick Conklin

Ridley Scott has done some great films. While Black Rain isn’t often times in the discussion of Scott’s best works, it is one of his best looking motion pictures.

Being that this is pretty much neo-noir, it shares a lot of the same visual style as Blade Runner. However, instead of seeing a futuristic Los Angeles on the screen, we are given modern day Osaka. Or what was modern day in 1989.

Sure, this doesn’t have Replicants and flying cars but it does show us how late ’80s metropolitan Japan wasn’t too far off from Scott’s vision of the future.

The story follows two cops played by Michael Douglas, in maybe his coolest role, and Andy Garcia. They witness a Yakuza hit in New York City, capture the criminal and then have to escort him to Japan, where he escapes and they then have to work with the Osaka police in an effort to catch him and bring him back in.

What the cops soon find out, once their stay in Japan is extended, is that the Yakuza guy they caught is in a massive gang war. Now these two find themselves in the middle of it all while the local Osaka police are slow to act due to their hands being tied by their strict laws.

This is also like two buddy cop films in one, as Douglas’ Nick Conklin works with his New York partner for the first half and then has to work with his assigned Japanese partner for the remainder of the film. But unlike your typical buddy cop formula, we’ve got two guys from very different cultures, clashing but ultimately finding respect for one another. It’s kind of like what we would get with the Rush Hour movies nine years later and with less comedy and more testosterone.

The thing that I really like about this flick is not only the clash of cultural styles but the mixing of genres. You’ve basically got a neo-noir Yakuza biker movie. It also has a pretty hard edge to it and is unapologetic about its violence and what modern critics would deem “toxic masculinity”.

Black Rain is a cool fucking movie, hands down. While it is sort of a Yakuza movie seen through Western eyes and made for that audience, it really isn’t too dissimilar from the best films that genre has to offer. Ridley Scott doesn’t specifically try to replicate Japanese gangster cinema, so much as he just tries to make a film within his own style that just happens to take place primarily in Osaka. And frankly, it all seems to fit pretty well together.

Unfortunately, Scott had issues filming in Japan due to the budget. He actually had to shoot the big finale back in California. I really would have loved to have seen a sequel but I’m assuming that Nick Conklin only got one outing because of the financial strain of going back to Japan for another movie.

Then again, Scott didn’t really have much interest in sequels to his films until more recently. So maybe we can get Black Rain 2? Assuming Michael Douglas can still go at 75 years-old. But hey, Sylvester Stallone is bringing Marion Cobretti back, so why not?

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Blade Runner, Someone to Watch Over Me, Rising Sun and ’80s neo-noir.

Film Review: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Also known as: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (alternative title)
Release Date: June 4th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Halston Sage

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, 114 Minutes

Review:

“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares!” – Magneto

Well, I guess there’s a new rule. That rule is that if an X-Men film tries to tell a Phoenix story, it’s going to be the worst movie in the series.

I honestly didn’t think that the regular X-Men films of the rebooted/prequel era could get worse than Apocalypse but this one takes the cake.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it, I did. However, for the most part, this movie is a fucking mess and ignores previous continuity more than any other X-film from either era and this comes after they tried to course-correct five years ago with Days of Future Past.

The big narrative problem for me is that it was established that the Phoenix Force in the film universe was dormant in Jean Grey all along. When Days of Future Past corrected the wonky timelines of the film, that shouldn’t have been a reboot of every aspect of the film series. Otherwise, that’s just some J. J. Abrams Kelvin Timeline bullshit.

In this film, Jean Grey gets infected with the Phoenix Force during a space mission. It’s more in line with how it happened in the comics but it doesn’t make sense with what was already established. Also, in just the previous movie, she sort of taps into the Phoenix Force when she’s battling Apocalypse. So it was in her but then it wasn’t? Fuck, these movies are a goddamned clusterfuck of epically biblical proportions!

Anyway, like the three films before this one, this takes place in a new decade: the ’90s. Somehow though, no one fucking ages in these movies even though First Class was thirty years earlier than this chapter. Cyclops and Quicksilver were in their late teens in the ’70s in Days of Future Past. Here they look like they’re maybe in their early twenties. But whatever, it’s not like the filmmakers cared, as Dazzler is wearing her disco outfit in 1992 and everyone else is dressed like its 2019.

Another thing that irked me somewhat, is that I love Michael Fassbender’s Magneto but it took an hour for him to show up. Also, three movies into the subplot with Quicksilver and Magneto still doesn’t know he’s the kid’s father and it’s actually just dropped in this movie and not mentioned.

It seemed pretty apparent that the regulars didn’t want to do this movie. Other than McAvoy’s Professor X, the rest of the main cast were only in half the movie, got killed off or got beat up and put on the shelf. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was insufferable in this installment and I’m glad she got impaled.

The main characters that did actually appear for the entirety of the film were completely misused, however. Professor X was a careless prick and didn’t act like himself, Beast was super emo and almost became Dark Beast and Magneto switched his allegiances on a dime because he conveniently didn’t have all the information.

The threat in the film other than the Phoenix Force was a bunch of shapeshifting aliens that were obviously written to be the Skrulls but probably got changed late in production because Disney bought Fox and they couldn’t have Skrulls in an X-Men movie just after they introduced them in Captain Marvel.

Everything in this film feels scaled down as well. Every big battle is in a small area. There’s the fight at Jean’s daddy’s house, the confrontation on a small island, the big second act battle in front of a modest sized New York City building and its generic lobby and then the big finale which takes place on a train. They definitely didn’t do anything epic in scale, which seems like a missed opportunity considering that this is a movie that features the Phoenix Force trying to cleanse the Earth with fire.

Sophie Turner is also the focal point of the movie and I’m still not sure if she can act or not. This movie doesn’t help her case, as she was monotone in every scene, barely conveyed emotion and just acted like she was completely disinterested in the whole project.

While it sounds like I’m bashing the film and honestly, I probably am, I did like a few things.

For one, the Hans Zimmer score was damn incredible. It’s rare that I even notice music in movies anymore but I noticed it here and it actually made some scenes better and more emotional when some of the actors couldn’t even do that themselves.

I also liked the opening sequence, even if these teens going into space, untested, at the request of the United States President seemed strange.

Some of the new mutants in Magneto’s camp were also pretty cool additions in the New York and train battles but they were just kind of there and then discarded. The dude with the killer dreads was pretty badass; think Omega Red… but with dreads instead of hand tentacles.

I was really happy to see Dazzler show up too but she’s completely wasted in a cheap cameo. She sort of just hangs out in the background and doesn’t do anything else. Fans that have wanted Dazzler since 2000’s X-Men will probably feel cheated, especially since she was played by Halston Sage, who is dynamite on The Orville.

Additionally, I can’t say enough about how good Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are in these films. Their bond transcends the screen, it truly does. It just sucks that the material they had to work with here was so fucking lackluster.

On a side note, I really liked Nicholas Hoult too. He’s a solid Beast, even if I wasn’t initially keen on the casting. But like the other two great actors in this, he also had shit to work with in this picture.

To be fair, a lot of this film’s issues might not be the fault of the actual filmmakers. Simon Kinberg can do some solid stuff and he’s mostly handled this franchise well. However, Disney bought Fox just before this movie was slated to come out. It’s pretty well known now that they meddled with it in post-production because they thought it was too similar to Captain Marvel, which they were banking the entire future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on.

In the end, though, we got a really mediocre movie made by people that don’t seem like they care anymore. I guess it’s fitting that this incarnation of the cinematic X-Men franchise is now dead.

So I guess we’ll have to wait a few more years (or longer) to see what Disney does with the X-Men once they are rebooted into the MCU.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Fox X-Men films and spinoffs.

Film Review: Inception (2010)

Also known as: Oliver’s Arrow (fake working title), El Origen (Spanish title)
Release Date: July 8th, 2010 (London premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine, Pete Postlethwaite, Lukas Haas, Talulah Riley, Dileep Rao

Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, Warner Bros., 148 Minutes

Review:

“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.” – Cobb

Like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, I guess I’m the only person on Earth that doesn’t like this movie.

I can’t take away from the visuals though. This film is stunning to look at and all the strange physics of the dream world come off almost flawlessly and create a visual smorgasbord of cool shit. And because of that, this film had one of the most amazing trailers for its time.

Frankly, I think a lot of people were so blown away by the trailer and the visuals that they completely dismiss everything else.

Inception is one of those “science-y” word salad movies that no one wants to look uncool by admitting that they have no idea what the fuck any of this is about.

The film relies solely on you buying into Christopher Nolan’s bad science, which is constantly explained with more and more layers dropped on top of it all. I don’t think that Nolan really knows what the hell he was saying. It’s complicated, it’s boring, it’s really fucking lame and it’s only cool for those people that read I Fucking Love Science‘s Facebook feed for the headlines without clicking on the articles. It’s bullshit brain casserole for the normie that yells “Yay, science!” but hasn’t actually picked up and read a book by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, whose books are actually really easy for the layman to digest.

This movie wants so hard to be smart but it’s dumber than my cousin Sam after we found her under a bridge in Ft. Lauderdale following a twenty-six day opium bender.

On the flip side, the acting is top notch. I can’t fault the cast for anything. Well, except for Ellen Page who is dryer than a box of saltine crackers, opened and lost in the Sahara during a drought. However, good acting aside, every character in this movie is flat. Also, it lacks any sort of emotion because of the flatness of these characters and because the audience is hit in the face with “Yay, science!” every 8 seconds that you don’t have time to make a connection with anything.

Plus, this film isn’t as innovative as it thinks it is. It certainly isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, either. I wonder if Nolan stores his farts in jars to enjoy at a later date?

Also, Nolan’s directing is damn good. It’s just his writing that is terrible with this $160 million bullshit bonanza.

Fuck this movie. I hate it. I can’t give it a very low score because of the strong positives. But I can’t sit through this turkey in one sitting. I’ve tried. Watching it again, just to finally review it was like sitting through a four day root canal without drugs.

As for that ending, was DiCaprio dreaming? Who the fuck cares.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other Nolan films that don’t feature Batman.

Film Review: Bird On a Wire (1990)

Release Date: May 18th, 1990
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Louis Venosta, David Seltzer
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, David Carradine, Bill Duke, Joan Severance, Stephen Tobolowsky

Interscope Communications, The Badham/Cohen Group, Universal Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“You come to Detroit and you rent a Beamer? That’s like going to Germany and eating Jimmy Dean sausages!” – Rick Jarmin

I hadn’t seen this in a decade or so but I forgot how enjoyable this was until I revisited it.

I mean, it has Mel Gibson during the height of his career, coming off of the first two Lethal Weapon movies and the Mad Max trilogy. It also has Goldie Hawn who was the quintessential ’80s comedy damsel in distress archetype. You also have them being hunted by David Carradine and Bill Duke, alongside Stephen Tobolowsky, who I will always just see as Stu from Californication. I also can’t forget the small part Joan Severance has in this as a total badass.

Mel Gibson plays Rick but he has a bunch of different names because he has been bouncing around for fifteen years, as he’s under witness protection after sending David Carradine’s drug smuggling character to prison. Carradine gets out, re-teams with his old partner, played by Bill Duke, and they set out to finally take out Rick, the one man that can stop them from going back to their old ways. Rick runs into his ex-fiance Marianne, played by Hawn, and this exposes him to the bad guys. Rick and Marianne then spend the movie on the run from Carradine and Duke, as they are forced to revisit several people from Rick’s witness protection past.

The plot is pretty good, fairly believable and a nice unique narrative twist that calls back to classic noir. Although, this is not a film-noir in any way, really. It’s an ’80s style action movie with a lot of laughs.

The coolest thing about the entire film is the final showdown, which happens at an indoor zoo exhibit that features tigers, alligators, monkeys and other dangerous creatures ready to make lunch out of anyone that finds themselves in their path. I absolutely love the finale of this film and while it has a hokiness to it, it is just a badass and incredibly well shot spectacle. The sequence of Marianne running from the tigers is better choreographed than one would expect from a simple action comedy from 1990.

The other thing that makes this work so well is that Gibson and Hawn have incredible chemistry and are believable as ex-lovers that fell away from one another, only to reconnect and find the spark is still burning strong.

Bird On a Wire is a better movie than it deserves to be, honestly. That’s not a knock against the filmmakers or actors, it’s just that films like these aren’t typically this good.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Lethal Weapon 2Air America, See No Evil, Hear No EvilWildcats and Overboard

Film Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

Release Date: December 10th, 2016 (SVA Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Based on: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge

Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films, 20th Century Fox, 127 Minutes

Review:

“There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself! And I can’t use one of the handy bikes. Picture that, Mr. Harrisson. My uniform, skirt below the knees and my heels. And simple necklace pearls. Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay the colored enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch! So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.” – Katherine Johnson

I was really looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures. It is a film that tells the true story of the black women who were instrumental in helping NASA get John Glen into space and eventually, getting a man on the moon.

It starred a very capable cast, had a director that impressed me with St. Vincent and really looked to be a film that had all the right things going for it. There really could be only one major thing that might disrupt what should have been a solid film. Sadly, it is that one thing that holds this picture back: heavy handedness.

Going into this film, you know it is about black struggle and not just black struggle but the struggle of women in Civil Rights era America. The whole film itself is the point, the premise is the point. However, the film, as is so common with pictures with similar themes as of late, has to remind you at every single turn that these women are persecuted against. I get it. We all get it. But every single time a white person walks into frame doesn’t mean that there needs to be some sort of hostility towards these black women. Not every single white person was an asshole. If they were, the Civil Rights movement couldn’t have happened. Lots of people were more than just tolerant of blacks and it was those people that helped to usher in Civil Rights. I hate to be all soapbox-y but I feel like films that use this tactic, which is all too common, kind of dismiss the fact that there were good people on all sides of the racial spectrum that wanted equality and respect for all people.

Frankly, this film also cheapens the importance of the work that Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did at NASA by harping most specifically on the race issues. Hidden Figures actually takes some narrative liberties and just makes some shit up to enhance its need to focus on the racism in the film.

One example that I’ll give is Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is actually three different people pushed together into one character. He’s the “nice yet still casually racist white person that needs something to open his eyes” archetype that these sort of films all have. I guess Kirsten Dunst is the same thing too. Anyway, Costner’s Harrision is smacked in the face by a truth bomb from a very frustrated Katherine (in a tremendous moment of acting by Taraji P. Henson, mind you) about the racist bullshit at NASA. So Harrision walks down to the Colored Women’s Bathroom and violently knocks down the sign in front of a crowd of whites on one side and blacks on the other. Then he proclaims that there are no more colored toilets and no more white toilets at NASA. It’s a great feel good moment in the film but it never really happened and the whole subplot about Katherine having to run a half mile with mountains of files just to pee a few times a day, isn’t accurate. Segregated bathrooms at NASA were abolished in 1958, this film takes place in 1961.

I don’t want to be the asshole that just dwells on this shit but the point is, this had the makings of a beautiful and great film had it stuck to solid truths and focused on these women’s actual contributions and their incredible minds. Yes, that stuff is in this film but it doesn’t seem to be the most important statement. This is a picture trying to make a political and social statement about Civil Rights America and the racial divide that still exists on a level even today but there are already dozens, if not hundreds of films that have been tackling the subject for decades.

Point being, if you are an American, you know all of this. You don’t need it spelled out to you every second like your getting your first history lesson. And if you are a decent person, which I believe most people are, you already reject racism and bigotry against all types of people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or what have you.

The acting in this movie was pretty damn good. Especially from the three female leads but none of them have really disappointed me in anything that they’ve done thus far. I also loved Mahershala Ali in this and he’s becoming one of my favorite actors working today. He’s just got this electric charisma and he’s a stunning looking man with a powerful presence.

It was weird seeing Jim Parsons in this because I have never seen him in anything outside of The Big Bang Theory. I’d like to see him get other work, as his character of Sheldon Cooper is already one of the most iconic characters in television history. While I liked him in this, his NASA engineer character just seemed like an unfunny and bigoted version of Sheldon.

Despite my criticisms, I definitely liked this film more than it may appear. It was well made, well acted and was about science and history. I just wish that it would have been more accurate and focused on telling a story instead of feeling the need to make a statement we’ve all already seen countless times over and are very well aware of.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: For similar themes about the black struggle leading up to and through the Civil Rights era: A Raisin in the SunThe Great DebatersMalcolm X… there are so many.

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young

Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment, Thunderbird Entertainment, Warner Bros., 163 Minutes  

Review:

“Replicants are like any other machine – they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it’s not my problem.” – Rick Deckard

Here we go, I’ve been waiting for this movie since Ridley Scott first mentioned that he had an idea for a followup. This is the film I have most anticipated in 2017. So how did this sequel, thirty-five years after the original, pan out?

Well, it is mostly pretty damn good. It is also a very different film than its predecessor.

While Ridley Scott produced and was originally set to direct this, he gave the job to Denis Villeneuve, a guy who is really making a name for himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Between ArrivalSicario and now this, the 50 year-old director has found his stride and may be blossoming into an auteur for the current generation.

From a visual standpoint, while Villeneuve had a hand in it, the credit really has to go to cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s a veteran of cinema that has worked on some true classics, including twelve collaborations with the Coen brothers, three with Sam Mendes and now three with Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is something Deakins should truly be proud of and it may be his magnum opus as a cinematographer. His work and vision is a clear homage to the original Blade Runner while updating it and moving it into the future. It is still a neo-noir dreamscape with a cyberpunk aesthetic. It employs the same lighting techniques as classic film-noir, as did the 1982 Blade Runner, and it brings in vibrant and breathtaking colors. This is one of the best looking films to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

The screenplay was handled by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Fancher co-wrote the original movie and was partly responsible for giving life to these characters and their world. While the original Blade Runner conveys emotion in a more subtle way, by the time you see the character of Deckard in this film, thirty years later in the story, he clearly wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is a pretty welcome and refreshing change.

We also get little cameos by Edward James Olmos and Sean Young. With Olmos, we see how he has evolved and he gives insight into Deckard. Sean Young appears in order to get a reaction out of Deckard from a narrative standpoint.

Now the star of the picture is Ryan Gosling. Harrison Ford doesn’t really show up until the third act of the film. Regardless, Gosling really knocks it out of the park in this. He is one of the best actors working today and he gives a performance that is very well-balanced. Where Ford gave a pretty understated performance in the 1982 film, Gosling feels more like a real person, which is funny, considering that you know he is actually a Replicant in the beginning of the film.

The cast is rounded out by three great females: Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. Wright plays Gosling’s tough as nails commanding officer. De Armas plays Gosling’s right hand, a digital maid, companion and quite possibly the real love of his life. Hoeks plays the villainous Replicant who works for the story’s main villain and is sent into the field to fulfill his hidden agenda.

The film also features small but pivotal parts for Jared Leto and Dave Bautista. Leto plays the villain of the story and is the man who bought out the Tyrell Corporation and has made an even larger company that makes a ton of products but primarily focuses on further developing Replicant technology. Bautista plays the Replicant that Gosling is looking for in the very beginning; he has major ties to the film’s overarching plot.

One thing that makes the film so alluring, apart from the visuals, is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. It is a departure from the style Zimmer usually employs. While it still has his touch, it is a score that is truly an artistic extension of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner. It has those Zimmer flourishes in it but very much matches up with the audible essence of the first picture.

Everything about this film is pretty close to perfect, except for one thing: the pacing. While there isn’t really a dull moment in the film, it does seem to drag on longer than it needs to. Some of the details could have been whittled down. The thing I love about the first film is that it just sort of moves. While a lot doesn’t happen in it overall, it still flows, things happen and it isn’t over saturated with lots of details or plot developments. Compared to the first, this film feels over complicated. Plus, it is just so long. Maybe I’m getting old but I just don’t want to sit in a theater for three hours, unless it’s some grindhouse double feature. But I also sat through the first Blade Runner before this, as I caught this on a special double feature bill. I could have just been antsy after being in my seat for over five hours with just a quick intermission.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own film. It works as a sequel but it also works as a sole body of work. The fact that it doesn’t simply retread the same story as the first and instead expands on it quite a bit, is what makes this a picture that can justify its own existence. Was this sequel necessary? We were fine for thirty-five years without it. But it proved that it is more than just a Hollywood cash grab because of its brand recognition.

Few films these days are truly art; at least films from the major studios. Blade Runner 2049 is a solid piece of cinematic art. While not perfect, it’s about as close as modern Hollywood gets these days.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Dunkirk (2017)

Release Date: July 13th, 2017 (Odeon Leicester Square premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

Syncopy Inc., Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“Where’s the bloody air force?” – Irate Soldier

At one point, Christopher Nolan was my favorite modern director. Interstellar left a bad taste in my mouth, Inception was cool but tedious and I’ve always thought that Memento was a bit overrated. However, The Prestige and The Dark Knight Trilogy are some of the best examples of filmmaking in the last decade or so. When it comes to Nolan, I always remember the positives and I will always give his films the opportunity to captivate me.

Dunkirk is not a perfect motion picture, many films rarely are. However, it is solid, strong and a true return to form for the British auteur.

War movies have run their course for me. Many of them are just more of the same. They’ve become incredibly derivative and they all just sort of blur together. That is, until one that is unique or exceptional comes along. I wouldn’t quite label Dunkirk as exceptional but I would say that it is unique.

The film picks up right in the action and never lets up. It is pretty relentless but not so much so that you are forced into a stressful and intense two hour action sequence. There is enough story and character building to make you care about the people in the film, even if you really just get to peek into these men’s lives for a day or so.

The acting is incredible and the cinematography is beautiful and immensely breathtaking. The scenes with the fighter pilots are a real treat and the true highlight of the film. Especially with Tom Hardy just owning every scene he is in, even if he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue throughout most of the movie.

The scenes featuring Cillian Murphy are fabulous. He plays a soldier rescued at sea who is shellshocked by the attacks he’s survived. His character creates some major problems for others in the film but you can’t feel anything but sadness for him, despite the consequences of his actions. Frankly, Murphy proves time and time again that he is one of the best actors of the modern era but I don’t see him in enough films.

James D’Arcy and Kenneth Branagh command the screen when they are present. Branagh always has this sort of effect but it is great seeing D’Arcy really shine and get to sink his teeth into something meaty.

The only real negative about this film is that the multiple characters and their missions are all edited quickly together and the film jumps back and forth between them all. The issue, is that the timelines for each set of characters doesn’t line up. So when the boat scenes cut to the fighter jet scenes, we’re not seeing the same passage of time, yet they are edited together for dramatic effect. Honestly, I would have preferred the film to just sort of happen chronologically, as it would have been easier to follow. I don’t know if this was done to come off as more of an artistic approach or if it was just to make the action sequences flow a bit better but I had to keep reminding myself that certain things were happening from a different point-of-view that I had already seen earlier.

Dunkirk is still pretty incredible and it shows that Nolan has still got it. It also shows that war films don’t have to tread the same path or tell another version of the same story we’ve seen countless times. It’s also nice seeing a major World War II film that has nothing to do with America. Besides, the Dunkirk incident is an incredible story and it deserved to be told on the big screen, which hasn’t been done since the mostly forgotten 1958 film of the same name.

Rating: 7.75/10