Tag Archives: Dave Bautista

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

Heist (2015)

heist-2015

Bus 657 might not be a great name for a heist film, but it’s at least less generic than Heist, the name they later changed it to. And that’s ultimately the problem with this star-studded movie — everything about it feels awfully generic. It’s might be better than your average straight-to-DVD action flick, but you’ll just as likely forget about it next week.

Take the first three sequences of the film, for instance (too early spoilers, no?). It starts off with a bunch of masked robbers hijacking a bus full of people. In the next scene, a couple of people are being threatened and tortured by someone working under Robert De Niro, whose character is the ruthless boss of a casino. The third scene shows Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character working at that casino and desperate for money due to a sick daughter. Now, I bet you have basically figured out what this movie is all about.

You’re right, Heist is essentially a casino robbery meets Speed. You’ve got the robber with a heart of gold who is doing naughty things because he has no choice. You have the bad guy accomplice who deserves all the blame (Dave Bautista) because he’s doing it for selfish reasons. You have the scary casino boss who wants his money back. You’ve got the young police officer (MMA star Gina Carano) who develops a connection with the robber and the chief who will do whatever it takes to rescue to hostages (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).

It is absolutely by-the-numbers, even with the obligatory little twists thrown in along the way. Soon I started guessing how the plot would develop with high accuracy, and even when I missed I wasn’t impressed by what they did instead because it was even more cliched than I anticipated. While I would not call the film dull, the strong generic feel and predictability never got my heart pumping either.

The biggest problem I had with the movie was all the plot contrivances that stretched the limits of credulity. The characters did a lot of things that made little sense, but the film asks you to take them at face value instead of setting them up to be believable. I just didn’t buy their motivations and reactions.

It begs the question why so many name stars or at least former stars would latch onto this project, a film with a reported US$2 million production budget, no less. Usually you’d get maybe one star looking for a quick paycheck (think any Nicholas Cage film made in the last five years), but certainly not this many. I doubt they’re all starving, anyway. I haven’t even mentioned the highly-billed Kate Bosworth cameo and DB Sweeney’s role as the bus driver (hey, don’t knock DB Sweeney — he was pretty big back in the Fire in the Sky era). I’m sure there was something about Heist that made them think it could be a hit, but for whatever reason the potential did not translate to the finished product.

I’m probably harsher on this film than I would have been had it just featured a bunch of no-name actors. If you strip the expectations away, Heist is probably an above average rental or VOD given that it is generally adequate in most areas, from the production value to the direction of Scott Man (The Tournament), the execution of the action and even the dialogue. I guess it’s one of those unusual films where the great cast is a detriment because it develops unrealistic expectations. It’s always better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed, no?

2.75 stars out of 5

Spectre (2015) (IMAX)

spectre

Truth be told, I’ve never been that big a fan of the James Bond 007 franchise. It’s always kind of the same, no? A suave super spy who loves the sexy ladies and whom the sexy ladies love in return. Slick cars, cool gadgets, and a whole lot of style.

The reason Daniel Craig has been so loved as Bond is because he supposedly makes the character more vulnerable and more human. I really enjoyed Casino Royale, almost fell asleep during Quantum of Solace, and quite liked Skyfall (review here), though I still don’t think it lived up to the hype. Yeah, Sam Mendes made a very nice looking, very artistic film, but I didn’t think there was much substance behind the simple yet unnecessary convoluted plot.

The same can be said for, Spectre, which could very well be Craig’s final outing as James Bond (he’s signed on for one more, but the rights to the franchise are going up for auction and whoever wins it might decide to start afresh) — except it has more problems than just a lack of substance. I don’t want to say I disliked the movie — it was enjoyable on some levels — but it’s definitely weaker than both Skyfall and Casino Royale (can’t compare to Quantum of Solace because I can’t remember it). And for what is supposed to be the “climax” of the Daniel Craig franchise, that’s disappointing.

Spectre starts off with a bang in Mexico City, with Bond on pursuit of a mysterious criminal. I remember being blown away by the opening sequence of Skyfall on that moving train, and Spectre arguably tops that. I saw it in IMAX too, so it was even more spectacular.

The ensuing title sequence they have for all Bond films is also done very well through a catchy blend of artistic imagery and the soulful voice of Sam Smith. It also provides flashes of characters from the previous three films to jog our memories as Spectre ties it all together.

From there, however, the film struggles to keep up. Granted, there is more plot that Skyfall, and the surveillance technology premise is well-suited to the post-Snowden era. Further, the technical execution is still excellent. The action, from what I remember, is perhaps better than that from Skyfall, with a few explosive and eye-popping set pieces that keep the adrenaline pumping. A lot of guns and a lot of explosions, a few slick car chases and nicely choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes. And of course Sam Mendes ensures everything looks as pretty as ever and Craig remains as suave and unflustered — for the most part — as he possibly can be.

But amid all of this is a whole bunch of ham. Ham-fistedness, that is. The Bond cliches start pouring out, and they feel unnecessary and contrived. From the women and romances to the villains and their moronically elaborate tactics, so much of Spectre gravitates towards the tropes that Craig is supposed to be steering away from. I don’t want to divulge spoilers, of course, but ‘m not kidding when I say this film does the exact sort of things Austin Powers has made fun of.

I was disappointed in the female characters too. I absolutely love Monica Bellucci, but her role in this film is ridiculous and a complete waste of time. I also thought Naomi Harris, who didn’t get to do much in Skyfall, would play a bigger role this time. She does feature more prominently, though just barely, though her presence all but disappears in the second half of the movie. You almost forget about her. Of the Bond girls, only Lea Seydoux has a meaty role. She’s awesome and sassy, but if you think about it, her purpose is still quite conventional — to look sexy and to be rescued.

That brings me to the villain, played by dual Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He’s supposed to be the baddie of all baddies. The ultimate nemesis. The guy who makes the villains from the previous three films look like pussies. He’s certainly built up to be that guy, and on paper Waltz is perfect for the role. And yet, he totally sucks. Every one of his appearances — every damn one — is preceded by a long, elaborate and over-the-top introduction. And it’s not like we don’t know who he is. Everyone knows it’s Christoph Waltz! And yet it seems he always feels the need to hide in the shadows for five minutes before unveiling his face. The amount of effort Mendes puts into setting Waltz up as the king of villains only ends up accentuating how inept he actually is.

I sound harsher than I mean to. Spectre is skilfully made, looks fantastic (especially in IMAX) and still has its moments, like the opening sequence and some of the scenes involving badass Dave Bautista. Ben Whishaw’s Q is also very likable and Ralph Fiennes does a solid job of stepping in for Judi Dench as M. It’s just that, after three films of making us feel that Daniel Craig represents a different and better kind of Bond, Spectre brings us right back to the formulaic version of the character and tropes that I never cared much for. There’s no other way to call it other than a step back.

3.25 stars out of 5