Category Archives: 2007

Blade Runner 2049 (IMAX 3D)

Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) said he decided to take on Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the classic 1982 sci-fi hit, because he didn’t anyone else to “f#$% it up.” In the end, not only did he not f#$% it up, he might have made one of the best sci-fi sequels of all time.

It’s visually breathtaking, deeply atmospheric, thought-provoking and narratively satisfying. The scale is epic and yet the story is deeply personal. An instant classic that has shot right to the top of my 2017 list. For me, the most frustrating thing about Blade Runner 2049 is that I have to wait another week before I can see it again (and that’s because of a family vacation)!

I actually didn’t really know what to expect going into this one. I saw the original Blade Runner by Ridley Scott when I was in my late teens and didn’t find it particularly memorable apart from the visuals. What made me watch the movie in the first place was the Blade Runner PC game (released in 1997), which was a pretty shitty game in terms of gameplay but captivated me because of the bleak, rainy, neon-filled futuristic world it depicted. That awe-inspiring vision and atmosphere from the original film and the game (set in 2019) has been transferred to perfection and updated in the sequel (now set in 2049). The world is bleak

That awe-inspiring vision and atmosphere from the original film and the game (set in 2019) has been transferred to perfection and updated in the sequel (now set in 2049). The world still has those same elements but is now as bleak as ever, filled with desolate landscapes of metal and sand. The cities provide a stark contrast with their constant rain, seediness, neon lights and glowing hologram advertisements.

Ryan Gosling plays the central protagonist, a “blade runner” who tracks down old replicants (human clones) and “retires” them, just as Harrison Ford’s character Deckard did in the 1982 film. I don’t want to get into the plot much more than that, but suffice it to say that you don’t need to have seen the original to watch this movie.

There are some fantastic action sequences throughout Blade Runner 2049, but don’t expect an action movie — this is not the Star Trek reboot or Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It’s a true sci-fi film that explores big questions about the human condition, about who we are and what we are, about cloning and nature, about raw feelings and emotions and memories and how all of these things shape us and our reality.

Visually, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most captivating and jaw-dropping films of the last decade along with Inception and Mad Max: Fury Road. If nothing else, this is the type of movie where you can just sit back and enjoy the visual feast. It’s not just the seamless special effects but also the fabulous set designs, costumes, and cinematography of the amazing Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption and Fargo, two of my favourite movies all time, as well as Sicario, Unbroke, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, Prisoners, etc.) I saw it IMAX 3D — I like IMAX but hate 3D (it’s a shame they lump the two together to jack up ticket prices) — and will watch it in 2D next time. You really don’t notice the 3D beyond the first 15 minutes or so anyway, but having the massive IMAX screen was definitely a plus.

The film is a confident 2 hours and 43 minutes but doesn’t feel overlong or exhausting. It unfolds at its own pace — with a near-perfect rhythm that gives audiences time to breathe and think. While the storyline itself is unexceptional, the film is a joy to watch largely because of Villeneuve’s sublime vision and direction, well-crafted and thought-provoking ambiguities, gorgeous visuals and world-building, wonderful performances, and its simple yet blaring soundtrack.

There are layers of mysteries, some built upon the first film and some newly created. The script by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original film) and Michael Green (Logan and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) keeps many things intentionally vague and open to interpretation. Amazingly, it manages to expand on the same world and deliver a fresh story while preserving some of the most intriguing elements from the first film.  It trusts that viewers are intelligent enough to follow the film and make up their own minds. It’s the kind of movie that can be seen multiple times to spot more clues and be discussed and debated between friends and movie-lovers alike.

As for the performances, Ryan Gosling is absolutely superb, as good as anything he has been in. Harrison Ford is integral to the story but his top billing on the promotional material is a little misleading. The same can be said for Jared Leto, whose role is surprisingly small. The standouts for me are Dutch actress Silvia Hoeks as Luv and Cuban actress Ana de Armas as Joi, who both deliver a lot of power to the film but in different ways. Robin Wright and Dave Bautista also have relatively minor roles. Everyone is really good.

In all, Blade Runner 2049 is a masterclass in filmmaking from Villeneuve. We’ve seen plenty of sequels that come decades after the original in recent years, and pretty much all of them have failed. This is not just a rare exception — it’s arguably better than the original (not sure if it will be revered as much but time will tell) and certainly one of the best sequels and sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. I’m going to check out the Final Cut version of the orginal and check out the three short films made for the release of the sequel (see below) — and then see it again.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Forbidden Lie$ (2007)

I came across Forbidden Lie$, the phenomenal 2007 Australian documentary (directed by Anna Broinowski), while researching for an interview.  While perhaps not one of the best made documentaries from a technical standpoint, Forbidden Lie$ is definitely one of the most intriguing and exciting films I’ve seen this year.

Some may recall the worldwide bestselling book Forbidden Love (also known as Honor Lost in the United States), written by Norma Khouri.  Released in the aftermath of September 11, Forbidden Love tells the purportedly true story of a Jordanian woman (Khouri’s best friend) who was stabbed to death by her family in an “honour killing” simply because she was in a chaste relationship with a non-Muslim man.

The book brought the insanity of these honour killings to the Western world, and for a while, Khouri was a huge star, appearing at book festivals and on TV shows all around the world, discussing the subject like an advocate and expert.  She was pretty, charismatic, passionate, and yet completely inexperienced in love.  People lined up for hours just to shake her hand and book signings and people even wrote songs about her.  Forbidden Lie$ was ranked by Australians as one of their 100 favourite books of all time, and it was said to have sold over 500,000 copies around the world.

That’s certainly the way Forbidden Lie$ starts out, painting Khouri as a remarkable woman who fled from oppression to tell her amazing true story to the world.  But for those who know the story, things suddenly take a crazy turn.  I won’t go into it much more than that, but the title of the film says it all.

Proving that truth is stranger than fiction, the film unravels like a well-written mystery — is she telling the truth, just part of the truth, or is everything that comes out of her mouth a bold-faced lie (like George Costanza trying to lie his way out of more lies at all costs)?

Part of the reason the film progresses like this is because director Anna Broinowski approached Khouri with the intention of making a film that would tell her side of the story and exonerate her from all the allegations.  So in many ways, the film is really Broinowski’s journey as she goes from stern believer to unconvinced sceptic.  Just how far will Khouri go to prove her innocence?

There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns, as more and more secrets start coming out of the woodwork, and yet, as Khouri is often the voice we hear, we feel almost compelled to believe everything she says.

The final half-hour or so may be too long-winded and repetitive, and some of the tactics were a little cheesy, but on the whole Forbidden Lie$ is simply riveting.  I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about the documentary until only a couple of days ago.

4 stars out of 5

Good news for those who now want to see it: the entire film is available on YouTube in 10 parts.  Check it out yourself.  Here is the trailer.

And if you want to read more about the story (warning: contains spoilers), I would recommend this article from journalist David Leser, who also appears in the film — Norma Khouri: The Inside Story of a Disgraced Author

DVD Review: Eastern Promises (2007)

I had been wanting to watch Eastern Promises since it was first released in 2007 but never got around to it until now.  Directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) and starring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl, Eastern Promises is a brutal, uncompromising story about a British mid-wife (Watts) who becomes involved with the Russian mafia after coming across the diary of a young girl.

It’s an incredibly dark film that has won acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the Russian mafia in the UK, right down to the tattoos their bodies are covered with.  The film was nominated for three Golden Globes (including Best Picture — Drama), and Viggo was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (but lost it to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood).

Eastern Promises is not an easy film to watch.  It’s hard to call it “enjoyable” because of how deeply depressing and violent it is, not to mention the mumbling (though apparently incredibly accurate) Russian accents.  But at the same time, I couldn’t help but be engrossed in the film because it kept taking me deeper and deeper into this frightening world, and there were plenty of unexpected twists and turns that kept me on my toes, uncertain as to what might happen next.  Thanks to Cronenberg, there is also this creepy, unsettling tone underlying the entire film.

Of course, there is the one scene that everyone talks about which I won’t spoil, but it’s an absolutely remarkable piece of visceral cinematic brilliance.

And you can’t appraise this film without talking about Viggo Mortensen’s performance.  It’s hard to believe watching this man on screen that he was once Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, or the loving father from The Road.  He’s an insanely good actor and in any other year he probably would have won the Oscar for his portrayal of Nikolai, the family’s “driver”.

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: The Orphanage (2007)

Most of the posters for this film are very disappointing, but this Spanish one's not too bad

I’m a sucker for supernatural thrillers, and for the last couple of years I kept hearing about this Spanish film called El Orfanato (The Orphanage), the debut feature of director Juan Antonio Bayona, and produced by his good friend Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and soon, The Hobbit).

I finally got around to watching it, and admittedly, the hype is justified.

The Orphanage tells the tale of a woman who returns with her husband and son to her childhood home, an orphanage, which they intend to turn into a home for disabled kids.  Needless to say, stuff happens.  I don’t think it’s a premise I’ve seen before, but I’m sure it feels familiar.

Three things that tend to be common in ghost movies: big old house, weird noises and creepy children.  The Orphanage ticks all three boxes, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s going to be a formulaic, predictable horror.  The Orphanage is multiple notches above your average supernatural story for a variety of reasons.

First, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy.  It’s a film that builds up the tension gradually, using a combination of eerie stories and spooky moments.  It unsettles you, makes you feel uncomfortable.  It rarely relies on the cheaps scares that plague horror films these days.  There are also some clever tricks that I won’t divulge, but they are freaking terrifying.  There are a couple of scenes in particular that are classics in my opinion, and they always give me chills when I think about them.

Second, you actually give a crap about the characters.  Laura, the mother and the main lead, is exceptionally played by Spanish actress Belen Rueda.  You feel her pain, her fears, and her desperation.  Rueda makes her a flesh and blood, believable character you care about.  The father, Carlos, played by Fernando Cayo, has less to do here, but he has his moments too in a subtle, controlled performance.

Third, it’s a great story!  Given the premise I described above, it would have been easy for the film to collapse into your run-of-the-mill haunted house story, but there is so much more to it.  There is mystery, intrigue, twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming.

In a way, The Orphanage shouldn’t even really be called a “horror” as that downplays the dramatic aspects of the film.  I think the main reason the movie has done so well (won 7 Goya awards) is because of how emotional and heartbreaking it is, in a way you don’t expect horror movies to be.

Watch it before the obligatory Hollywood remake comes out! (New Line has already acquired the rights)

4.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Hot Rod (2007)

Box office flop 'Hot Rod' has become a cult classic

Every now and then comes a motion picture that appears to be absolute trash to the naked eye, a film so horrendously crap that it’s awesome, a movie so stupid that it may actually be a work of genius.  2007’s Hot Rod is one such film.

Hot Rod was one of those films that came out with little fanfare – low budget, no-name actors and poor marketing.  It also had a poster that was unfortunately very similar to a much more expensive film released just a year before – Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  Consequently, Hot Rod bombed at the box office.  To be fair, the fact that it received some scathing reviews might have had something to do with it.

(Click on ‘More…’ to read the rest of the review!)

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