Justice League

Justice League is a 2017 American superhero film directed by both Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon at separate points in production, featuring a screenplay written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, who, once again, came onboard much later in production, with the main story being written by Snyder and Terrio. Based upon the superhero team of the same name as created by DC Comics, Justice League is the fifth installment in the DC Extended Universe following 2013’s Man of Steel, 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, and this year’s Wonder Woman. The film features an ensemble cast including Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, and J.K. Simmons.

Following the events of Dawn Of Justice, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince are inspired by Superman’s sacrifice and set out to assemble a team of metahumans to fight against powerful threats to humankind. Meanwhile, the villainous Steppenwolf comes to Earth in search of the three Mother Boxes.

It is no secret that the DCEU, Warner Brothers’ answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been on shaky ground from the word go. While I didn’t hate Man of Steel, it was by no means remarkable, nor would I even call it “pretty good.” It was decidedly “eh.” The two efforts that followed, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, were train wrecks of the highest (or lowest, depending on perspective) order. I couldn’t even get through the first fifteen minutes of Suicide Squad it was so bad. I set out to review it knowing it was pretty much a dumpster fire of a movie, and I couldn’t even handle it knowing that. It should be telling that it took them until Wonder Woman, the fourth film in the series, to make a solid, objectively good film.

It is no secret that I am not a fan of Zack Snyder as a director and I consider him to be an absolutely atrocious screenwriter. I am not a fan of any film he has directed so far; I have nothing against him as a person. Midway through production of this film, Snyder’s daughter tragically committed suicide during production of this film, leading to Joss Whedon replacing him. Whedon edited Snyder’s screenplay and had control over reshooots and editing of the film. All of this production drama led me to expect a trainwreck on par with Suicide Squad. I was expecting it to be, at the very least, interesting in its badness.

I was ultimately disappointed by Justice League in a multitude of ways. It was not horrible, it was not a travesty of cinema, but it was also not good nor memorable in any way, shape, or form. Batman vs. Superman, as bad as it was, at least tried to do something. It tried to be a thing. Justice League is the cinematic equivalent of saltine crackers.

From the opening five minutes, I was quite bored. There’s no fun to be had here, no enjoyment to get out of this. It’s not even incompetent. It is an entirely competent, well-constructed piece of bleh.

When the DC Extended Universe was first becoming a thing, Justice League was meant to be split into two films. People are guessing that Batman vs. Superman alongside the two Justice League films were meant to comprise a trilogy, with Batman vs. Superman being a combination of the (very famous in comic book circles) stories The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. Batman v. Superman was always (probably) to end in the climactic death of the world’s best-known allegory for Jesus Christ, with the ending of the first Justice League movie being his triumphant return, and the second film being the whole team fighting together. On paper, it sounds amazing.

Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. Batman vs. Superman was a terrible mess and the death of Superman had absolutely no impact. As a result, the Powers That Be refused to take any kind of risk with this film and hacked what was on paper an excellent plan into a milquetoast bore fest that had me wanting to fall asleep in the middle of it. There’s nothing interesting about it. Superman’s Resurrection is seen as more of a practical plot point than an emotional one, and nobody in the audience felt any way about it. It’s only a big part of the movie for maybe ten minutes. Afterwards, no one seemed to care, not even Superman. It is obvious this was meant to be a much longer movie (God forbid), with emotional story beats that were supposed to be there missing throughout.

The cast is good, but they are straight up phoning it in. Ben Affleck looks fat and uninterested. Nobody in this film is really into it, and it shows. The CGI was wildly inconsistent; the last third was an entirely CGI battle that was very uninteresting and boring. I literally am not going to stop using that word, because it is a perfect descriptor. It was so boring, I’m unapologetically phoning in this review. It’s not worth expending a lot of energy talking about more minute details.

Warner Brothers was so scared of another monstrous failure that they made a film that was so factory-ready, competent, and inoffensive that it was boring. It was so very boring. It shouldn’t be boring, but it was. I can’t emphasize the boredom enough. I don’t really know what else to say.

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Coco

Coco is a 2017 computer-animated family comedy-drama film co-directed and co-written by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. The film stars Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, and Edward James Olmos.

Coco is based upon the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a tradition in which people’s deceased relatives are remembered and honored in the form of a shrine and a collection of offerings called an ofrenda, decorated with pictures of the deceased family members. It is said that these pictures permit the deceased to cross over from the spiritual world to the material world for a time to reconnect with their living relatives. As such, the ofrenda also contains gifts for these benevolent familial spirits.

Coco is set in the fictional Mexican village of Santa Cecilia. Coco follows the story of Miguel Rivera, a 12-year-old aspiring musician. Therein lies the problem. The Rivera Family is vehemently anti-music; back in the 1930s, Rivera patriarch Mama Imelda got her heart broken after her husband, a musician, left the family to travel the world, never to be seen again. Imelda banished all music from her life, learning how to make shoes as a way to support her daughter, Coco, Miguel’s great grandmother. Coco’s daughter Elena Rivera continues to enforce her grandmother’s ban on music, with most of the family following suit, save for Miguel.

Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, the most famous singer in all of Mexico, known for his wildly successful songs and films in the 1930s and 40s, before being crushed in a tragic bell accident. He dreams of being just like him. He plans to play in the town plaza during a Day of the Dead festival, but Abuelita Elena discovers this, and angrily destroys his guitar. A defiant Miguel steals the guitar of Ernesto de la Cruz, which unwittingly transports him to the Land of the Dead, where he meets the spirits of the deceased Rivera Family. He discovers that he is now cursed, and thus cannot return to the Land of the Living without it being lifted. He, with the help of his family and some new friends, must navigate the Spirit World and figure out a way back to his family.

Coco is a hard movie to review. It is hard to find any legitimate criticism of any kind. It doesn’t transcend the genre, mind you. It does not reinvent the wheel, but it does everything perfectly. It follows convention while avoiding cliches. Indeed, it does follow typical plot points and has “twists” older members of the audience will see coming a mile away, but this does not lessen the impact of the movie in the slightest.

The cast of Coco is excellent, and surprisingly comprised of largely unknown actors of legitimately Mexican descent. They are all brilliant, especially Anthony Gonzales, who voices Miguel. He’s 12; the deck is largely stacked against child actors, let alone child voice actors. The fact he was able to pull this off perfectly is very, very impressive. I like everyone in this film, but honestly the foreign names are hard, so just take my word for it, they are all very good.

The animation is also on par with normal Pixar, so it is excellent, as well. They make it look easy. Even the musical numbers are great, and I normally despise musical numbers. I think part of the reason I loved them is because, seeing as how the movie is about music, they actually work in the context of the film, so they weren’t random or jarring at all. They flow very well.

Everything in this movie, in fact, works well. On top of being a genuinely brilliant film in it’s own right, it also manages to insightfully portray Mexican people and culture, namely it’s largest, most well-known, and longstanding traditions, which probably has something to do, once again, with the multicultural casting and behind-the-scenes staffing of this film.

I will warn you, though, the one thing that prevented me from giving it a perfect 5 on Letterbox’d was the short shown before the movie. The short was Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Long story short, it was almost a half-hour long and I could not stand it. It colored my judgement of Coco, but ultimately I still gave it a 4.5 out of 5.

I don’t really know what else to say other than the fact that Coco is extremely good and deserves its praise. The casting, writing, singing, animation… everything just gels so well to the point where the last ten minutes literally moved my best friend, a grown, 21-year-old Computer Science major, to tears. That is not a dig at my friend. Rather, Coco is sincerely just good enough to do that. It is deserving of all of it’s praise and is almost certainly the best animated American film of the year; don’t be surprised if it wins a ton of awards. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky is a 2017 American heist comedy film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by an unknown screenwriter named Rebecca Blunt. The film features an ensemble cast consisting of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, Katherine Waterston and Sebastian Stan.

Logan Lucky follows the three Logan siblings in Charlotte, North Carolina: Jimmy, Clyde, and Mellie. The Logans are known for having a history of bad luck; Jimmy was an all-star high school football player who was prevented from going to the NFL because of an injury and Clyde lost his hand in the Iraq War. After being laid off from his construction job, Jimmy concocts a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Steven Soderbergh got his start creating indie films like Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989, but the acclaimed filmmaker is best known for directing The Ocean’s Trilogy from 2001 to 2007. Soderbergh, with a long and successful career, went on a much publicized hiatus from feature filmmaking in 2013 following the acclaimed Behind The Candelabra, saying that obstacles and studio meddling make it difficult for filmmakers to stay true to their artistic vision.

It is fitting, then, that Soderbergh’s return to the scene would be an independently produced, distributed, directed, and possibly written (many have posited that Rebecca Blunt is a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself) film that can be aptly described as “Redneck Ocean’s Eleven.”

Logan Lucky is a triumphant comeback for a talented director. With a style and sense of humor very similar to its spiritual predecessor, this hilarious film also benefits from wonderful performances from all involved, specifically Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. It is remarkable to see that the Englishman known almost exclusively for playing the classy superspy can also effectively portray a redneck white trash explosives expert with the same ease. All the cast does an excellent job, but these two, I feel, are the standouts.

It goes without saying that the writing of this film is very much on point. Logan Lucky was described while doing my research as “2017’s Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.” I can tell you right now this a very accurate descriptor and a factor that works to it’s advantage. It also features exceptional cinematography from Peter Andrews and suitable music by composer David Holmes.

Logan Lucky is a smartly-written, well-performed, exceptionally-shot, hilarious callback to a talented director’s magnum opus with a unique twist that humanizes and empathizes with redneck culture rather than making fun of them. It is certainly worth a watch… or a few.

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is a 2017 superhero action-adventure comedy film directed by Taika Waititi and written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost. Based upon the eponymous Marvel Comics character,  it is the third standalone film to feature the character following 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. It is also the seventeenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directly following Spider-Man: Homecoming (which I neglected to review but found very good overall) and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. This film stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, and Karl Urban.

Following the events of The Dark World, Loki has faked his death and claimed the throne of Asgard under the guise of his father, Odin. After his trickery is discovered by Thor, having returned to Asgard after spending some time searching for the Infinity Stones, the two discover Odin has retreated to Norway. He warns them of the coming of his eldest child, Hela, The Goddess of Death, who wishes to take the throne by any means necessary. The two estranged brothers end up on an alien planet run by the eccentric Grand Master. It is discovered that Hulk is also on this planet after crash landing the Quinjet two years ago following the events of Age of Ultron. Together, all three must escape the planet and battle Hela for the fate of Asgard.

The main problem, of which there are many, with the first two Thor films is the insistence that, barring a few solid jokes throughout the first two films, we take all of this as seriously as Winter Soldier or Civil War, and the problem with that is… you can’t. Thor, The God Of Thunder, Son Of Odin and Prince Of Asgard, travels between the Nine Realms of the Universe via a magical bridge named after everyone’s least-favorite Mario Kart map. There is no way to take all of this in straight. Thankfully, someone (maybe everyone) at Marvel Studios realized that and hired the director of the hilarious What We Do In The Shadows to help create what I found to be one of the funniest entries into the MCU so far; it is probably my #4 or #5 favorite Marvel Studios film and is definitely the best of all the Thor films.

Make no mistake, in terms of long-lasting emotional impact, there really isn’t any. That is not a detriment. I think it was very much by design. Waititi wisely decides to leave the emotion to another MCU film or something like its brilliant 20th Century Fox cousin LoganRagnarok chooses, in spite of its apocalyptic title and my serious-sounding plot synopsis, to be an unapologetically fun and hilarious romp that had the small theater audience (3:00 showing) laughing hysterically, and that includes myself. A good 60% of this movie is a joke followed by a punchline, and it was so much fun.

Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston give their best performances in the MCU yet. I feel as though it is the first movie in the entire series to effectively showcase how much onscreen chemistry the two actors have. It is quite clear the two are having a whole lot of fun in this film, something that wasn’t all that noticeable in the previous films. Jeff Goldblum is hilarious as the comical villain The Grand Master and Karl Urban, who I have always found to be woefully underrated, is great as Skurge. Mark Ruffalo, as usual, is great as Bruce Banner and is able to, as all of the actors are, flex his comedic bones as well as his dramatic bones for a brief, yet important time. The entire cast does an excellent job. The action and CGI are also impressive and excellent.

Thor: Ragnarok is not without its flaws, however. It is plagued by the MCU Curse of a forgettable villain in the form of Cate Blanchett’s Hela. Also, for a movie that has been built up for two years named after the Norse version of the apocalypse, I would have honestly hoped for a movie with bigger stakes, although that would have certainly been a much harder, and ultimately unnecessary, task for a director like Waititi to handle. Ragnarok was not what I think anyone was expecting, but it was certainly a great experience.

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the funniest Marvel films yet. It isn’t very serious in any way, but that certainly does not make it forgettable. With a hilarious script, a very talented director who, based upon this work, will probably become a much more established auter in the near future, an impeccable cast, and excellent special effects, Thor: Ragnarok (currently sitting at 93% on RT) is a fun ride that puts the Thor franchise back on track in an excellent way. It is a superhero movie that, due to it being a well-made and funny film on almost every level, will appeal to even the most anti-superhero viewer. It is a hilarious film and may be the funniest film to come out this year. I highly recommend it.

Blade Runner 2049 (First Viewing)

Blade Runner 2049 is a 2017 neo-noir science fiction film starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto. A sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic Blade Runner, 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Hampton Francher and Michael Green. Francher is one of the two people who wrote the screenplay for the original film. 2049 takes place 30 years after the original film and follows K, a Blade Runner employed by the LAPD to hunt down rouge and dangerous Replicants, bio-engineered humans. K uncovers a vast conspiracy which leads him to retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard.

I left the theater an hour ago and am still processing what I just saw. I am struggling to come up with words. Villeneuve, director of one of my all-time favorite films, 2015’s Sicario, as well as 2013’s brilliant Prisoners, will be credited with creating a piece of film history. It will not be immediately apparent, as some, like Forbes, seem to be ripping into this movie unfairly. I don’t understand their criticisms. 2049 is a slow burn, but so was the original, and, as I recently discussed, that is not at all a bad thing. I won’t go so far as to label it or put it in league with the greatest films of all time, the authority to make that distinction belongs only to history itself. I will, however, say that it most certainly lives up to, and may even surpass, the original masterpiece.

I don’t even know where to begin. Villeneuve and his director of photography Roger Deakins, who is the best cinematographer working in the business today, have managed to create a futuristic world that is a perfect continuation of what the future would look like in 2049, through the lens of the original’s version of 2019. It feels very natural, and it has, as I expected, the best cinematography I’ve seen all year. I would expect nothing less from Deakins, who has been the man behind the camera for all of Villeneuve’s English-language directorial efforts. The world of 2049 is nothing short of beautiful.

2049 is a completely organic continuation of the original in terms of story and characters, as well. Every character, new or old, feels like a part of this world. Absolutely nothing about this sequel felt forced or unoriginal; quite the opposite, actually. The best sequels are ones that can stand on their own as being good movies, without having to be compared to or unnecessarily reference the original film. 2049 comes to us 35 years after the original hit theaters, but there’s no forced nostalgia here. 2049 stands on its own, and it stands very, very tall.

Ryan Gosling is brilliant here. The new characters introduced in this film have more emotional and psychological depth than anyone in the original, including Deckard himself, and this is coming from someone who loves the original. K, explicitly a Nexus Class 8 Replicant, is a deeply conflicted and confused character, and Gosling portrays that confusion and K’s anger and rage perfectly. With 2011’s Drive and last year’s La La Land, I have grown to respect Ryan Gosling as more than just a pretty boy with less range than a wet piece of plywood, which is what I used to think of him. With K, my growing respect has now solidified, and I can now stand by him as one of Hollywood’s major players. Everyone else gives a flawless performance, as well. I was especially impressed with Ana de Armas’ performance as Joi. Harrison Ford gives his best performance in recent years, maybe since the original Blade Runner.

Like the original film, 2049 is a very philosophical and existential tale. It is one of the most weighty and complex films I have ever seen, in terms of narrative and the many layers found when digging deeper in. K faces prejudice in his life from nearly everyone he meets, even his empathetic boss. He is looked at differently for his unnatural origins, even though, like Roy Batty, he is essentially human in every other way. He has his own emotions, feelings, and ideas, and yet, he is seen as less just because he was not born, but created. He seems to have internalized these feelings, expressing that, since he was not born, he lacks a soul, an idea which his boss callously reinforces. This question of what defines a human was explored in-depth in the original, and Francher uses this opportunity to keep going, right where he left off in 1982. I spent two full college class periods analyzing Blade Runner, and the only reason we stopped is because we, regrettably, had to move on to another film. You could fill an entire semester of an upper-level philosophy course with questions from 2049 alone.

The original film asked a lot of questions and provided few answers. A large portion, if not a majority of the film, is left entirely up to interpretation, which added to the film’s legacy and reputation over time. 2049 could have easily been ruined by answering any questions. Answering questions definitively in a narrative such as this will confuse and anger people, because that would invalidate their thoughts and beliefs as to what the open-ended stuff means. Thankfully, 2049 answers nothing, and leaves audiences a fresh new pile of questions to ponder. I left the theater with nothing but more ambiguity and questions, and it was awesome.

2049, like its predecessor, is not for everyone. Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone liked the original. 2049, although a big-budget sequel to possibly the most influential science-fiction film ever, is not what I would consider a mainstream film. In fact, I would say that some sequences and elements of this film have a more art house/experimental feel to them. The original did, as well. They are both, as I have discussed, slow burns that focus more on theme than plot. 2049 is not a blockbuster action film. There are invigorating scenes of action in here on par with Sicario’s traffic jam scene, but they are few and far in-between. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Sicario, go watch it now.

2049 is a think piece. I think mainstream moviegoers might take a cursory look at Blade Runner’s legacy, completely misunderstand how and why it is so influential and why it has a legacy, and think it must have been a fast-paced, slick, awesome flick, because that’s what all good movies are, right? Wrong. It is not, and 2049 isn’t either. If you go into 2049 expecting anything like Baby Driver or John Wick, you will be woefully bored and disappointed. Both are low-concept, philosophical think pieces that use science-fiction as a vehicle; both are so uniquely their own I can’t think of appropriate comparisons.

With that caveat out of the way, 2049 is quite possibly the perfect sequel. I remember a lot of people were concerned that Scott was handing over the reigns to a different director, but French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has succeeded at the task of creating a sequel that not only stands up to, but in many ways surpasses the original, and considering how firmly entrenched in film history the original is, that should have been a near-impossible feat. Villeneuve has succeeded in a way no one else could, creating not only the perfect sequel, but also a film that may also end up with its own personal legacy 30 years from now. With excellent set design, excellent cinematography, excellent acting, excellent effects, and an extraordinary script, Denis Villeneuve is the director of not one, but two of my Top 10 Favorite Films, which is a first. I get if you don’t like it. Honestly, you very well might not. I, however, most definitely did. The parenthetical means I might go more in-depth on this someday, by the way. I should probably learn how to say Denis Villeneuve out loud, right? I can barely spell it.

 

In Defense of the Slow Burn & Blade Runner

So I am a big fan of Blade Runner and am very excited to see 2049 sometime this weekend. I begged my friends Mary and Kyle to watch it. Now, in hindsight, Mary doesn’t go in for that kind of stuff. She is much more partial to Baby Driver and faster-paced movies because, you know, attention span. She found it boring and couldn’t get past the scene where Deckard meets Rachel. Kyle, on the other hand, is the biggest nerd I know aside from his roommate Alec. I thought they would both be totally down for Blade Runner, and was disappointed when they said they didn’t really dig it. Mary, I get, though. Anyway, she sent me the Honest Trailer for Blade Runner.

I actually agree with the Honest Trailer for Blade Runner. It is slow but that isn’t a bad thing. Baby Driver was very fast in every regard, from the editing to the action. Baby Driver, though, never explored anything thematic. I can’t really tell you what the broader themes of Baby Driver are, but that’s OK. Baby Driver did not ask questions of the audience. Baby Driver was meant to be fun. It was not a character study; actually most of the characters were very thinly written. That’s not a criticism, they don’t need to be complex. It’s not that type of movie. The more complex the themes and characters in the film are, the more analysis needs to be done. The more analysis needs to be done, the slower the film needs to be. Slow does not necessarily mean bad, although being slow can often leave general audiences bored and distracted. I’m not saying Joe Public is wrong for not appreciating slower movies, but Joe Public, if watching a film, may need to be prepared to invest himself. My parents didn’t really enjoy Hell Or High Water because it ended up being a deliberately paced, slow burning character study rather than a high-octane bank robbery thriller. My parents aren’t one for slow. Some of the movies I enjoy a whole lot are ones they really don’t. I, knowing what type of film it was going in, found it rather enjoyable.

Of course, there’s rare films like Heat that can do both high-octane and deep at the same time. Those are very rare, though. Heat might actually be the only film I know to pull off that tightrope act successfully.

The Godfather, a film Mary and I both enjoy very much, is slow as balls. I tried to watch it at various points throughout my life. I hated it. I could not stand it. Because, on the surface, nothing ever happens. No crazy gunfights, no action, no flash, no style. I hated it. That is until I was forced to watch it in class for Sociology. By the time Kay closed the door, 17-year-old me was like “That was brilliant.” The Godfather isn’t Heat. It’s not a crime film. It is a family drama with crime as a backdrop. It is a complex, slow, methodical character study of a good man slowly and subtly driven to evil. You need it to be long, and drawn out for that reason. Films like that are an investment that some people, like my friend Lauren, my parents, sometimes Mary, and sometimes Kyle aren’t willing to make. And that’s OK. The thing is, people are then very confused at how anyone could enjoy this, mainly because they don’t understand the concept I am attempting to explain. I encountered this with my aunt. She didn’t like The Godfather, or at least, she didn’t enjoy it as much as I do. I was surprised, because she indirectly introduced me to The Wire, which, though different, follows the same logic I am trying to explain. Due to the fact that The Wire asks weighty questions about society, socioeconomics, institutional corruption, basically all the things, it has to be methodical. Exploration of those themes cannot be done quickly.

In the 1940s and 1950s, a popular genre of film was noir. Noir were films inspired by pulp fiction popular at the time. Noir movies, like the hardboiled detective novels which they draw inspiration from, focused on the seedy underbelly of society and featured characters of dubious morals and were chock full of violence and sex. The Maltese Falcon and Sunset Boulevard were two you’ve probably heard of. Noir films were often told through the lens of a detective or PI who must navigate and deal with these shady people in order to find and discover the truth. Stylistically speaking, noir films made use of low-light and exaggerated shadows to create a feel of mystery and bewilderment. A character’s face will be obscured by shadow until the lighting of a cigarette reveals his face, for example. I can’t find a good video of a scene that properly demonstrates this but you get it.

With the advent of color, the neo-noir was created. My favorite film, The Usual Suspectsis a neo-noir. Chinatown is another great example.

The core concepts of what we now deem science-fiction were created by a guy named Isaac Asimov. Interesting dude; I would recommend further reading. He pioneered the genre and used it to ask complicated questions concerning humanity and the meaning of humanity using robots as a proxy. I have read some of his work in grade school. I haven’t read anything by him since seventh grade, and I was too young to fully grasp the thematic approach to his work. Surface level, they were still excellent and captivating to young me and got me to appreciate the genre more. Seriously, he’s good. Back to Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott said from the get-go that he wanted to make a combination of neo-noir and science-fiction. At the time in 1982, a genre-bender like that had never been attempted. It was very ambitious and, although it underwhelmed upon its theatrical release (mainly because that cut sucked, but you can reread my review for further explanation), it found success after several other cuts surfaced over a period of several years showing Scott’s true vision.

Blade Runner asks a bunch of very complex Asimovian questions: What constitutes a human, the philosophical questions surrounding slavery, rebellion, emotions, personal experiences, the list could go on endlessly. My Film Studies class took two whole class periods analyzing the film’s philosophical implications. In order to sufficiently cover all these complex ideas, it has to slow down and pull a Godfather. And it does this very well. Not to mention the score is amazing and the special effects still hold up because of the Final Cut rerelease. It is slow, and I realize that, I think everyone does, but people appreciate that.

There are a lot of “slow burn” movies out there that mainstream audiences may not appreciate. Heck, there are a lot of truly great movies that I didn’t appreciate at first. Slow burners may very well require a passage of time, a change in perspective, multiple viewings, or a combination of all three to really get to a point of appreciation, as Chris Stuckmann explains in this video.

I’m fine with Mary, Kyle, and Alec not digging Blade Runner, although I do hope they give it another shot someday. Maybe they’ll never like it, and that’s OK. I really just felt like talking about Blade Runner again.

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde is a 2017 action thriller spy film directed by David Leitch and written by Kurt Johnstad. Based upon the graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Jonson and Sam Hart, the film follows MI-6 officer Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron, as she is sent into Berlin in November 1989, directly preceding the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the civil unrest that followed, to recover a list containing the names of every Allied and Soviet operative currently active. Lorraine meets up with David Percival, played by James McAvoy, MI-6’s top man in Berlin. Lorraine must learn to navigate the city and work with some shady individuals in order to recover this list.

If the plot of Atomic Blonde sounds disappointingly generic to you, that’s because it is. This film suffers a lot from a presumably low-effort script from Johnstad, the man behind such high-minded brilliance as both 300 films and Act Of Valor. Those are his only screenplay credits. Why anyone would hire this guy to make a memorable screenplay is beyond me and I was disappointed they didn’t find anyone that would try harder. The really infuriating thing about that is there are some would-be decent twists in this film, but the plot surrounding these twists is so meh I didn’t really care. This movie would be so much more interesting if there was a reason to really give a crap, but Johnstad instead uses a plot we’ve seen a dozen times before and does nothing interesting with it. Johnstad instead decided to rip off two of the most entertaining spy films in recent years. 1996’s Mission: Impossible and the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall both had the “spy list” plot, but both were able to turn it on it’s head and make it unique, which is, I think, part of the reason why those two films were so good and why they are still established and well-recieved franchises to this day. Skyfall actually said “screw the stupid list” at the halfway point and jettisoned the generic Macguffin for something better. Johnstad, in contrast, copy-pasted “spy story” from the internet and put it on a piece of paper.

I should mention that Atomic Blonde uses the cliche “in the interrogation room after everything went down with the main plot presented as a flashback.” These scenes feature veteran actors Toby Jones and John Goodman asking Broughton questions about events that happened throughout the film, interrupting the main Berlin narrative. These scenes accomplish nothing and bring the film to a screeching halt. Literally nothing is said or done in these scenes that it would be considered important to leave them in, and I’m not exactly sure why they did at all.

The acting from both Charlize Theron and James McAvoy is top notch, with McAvoy’s performance being something unrelated to the action that I really enjoyed. Sofia Boutella’s performance as a naive French Intelligence officer, though, left something to be desired. That’s another problem I had with the film, and of course, it’s related to the script. Spy films are, by their nature, full of twists, lies, and betrayal. There are usually several key players in the fold of the story to keep things interesting. There’s not a lot of room to manuver with twists when you just have three extremely underwritten, generic, and boring characters to work with. That’s all this dude thought was necessary and he was very wrong. I wish to reiterate that the screenwriter is a giant and near-fatal detriment to what could have been a extremely interesting and engrossing stylized spy film.

This is not to say the movie isn’t without its merits. Far from it, in fact; Atomic Blonde benefits from masterful directing from David Leitch, co-director of John Wick, which I found to be very entertaining. Make no mistake, he and Chapter 2 director Chad Stahelski are masters of Hollywood action and are quickly rising on my list of favorite modern directors. This film does not change that at all, because despite not being absorbed by the plot at all, Leitch was still able to present an extremely stylish Berlin, complete with a competent and catchy soundtrack of classic tunes that you would be remiss not to find on the radio at the time. The former stuntman’s signature balls-to-the-wall action continues to be present in full force here. Not to spoil anything, but there is a sequence approximately 3/4ths of the way through the film that I believe puts even the director’s previous works on notice. Atomic Blonde is efficient from a technical standpoint on nearly every level. David Leitch’s directing is this film’s saving grace, taking it from utterly forgettable to somewhat memorable and fun despite itself.

Atomic Blonde was a film that I was actually very much looking forward to, due to it being directed by Leitch. In some very critical ways, I was disappointed. In other ways, I was very impressed. I came in wanting brilliant action sequences. If I got that, I was going to be satisfied. Thankfully, I was. Sadly, I was secretly hoping to be more than satisfied. Due to the production hiring a lazy bum to write a script, Atomic Blonde was nothing more than “pretty darn good.” The visuals, action, and music were top notch, but the script is so heartwrenchingly lazy that the film gets tied down by it. I really feel that anyone could’ve done a better job. Even so, I was entertained. Atomic Blonde is a kind of movie where it really depends on what you came for, so I leave it up to you. I enjoyed it. You may very well not, and that is understandable.