Tag Archives: Jared Leto

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

Suicide Squad (2016)

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I’ll be honest: Suicide Squad was probably my least anticipated blockbuster of the year. The trailers didn’t inspire me and expectations dropped even further after the disappointing mixed bag that was Batman v Superman. And so I’ll also give credit where it is due: I actually quite liked Suicide Squad.

Written and directed by David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch, Fury), Suicide Squad is officially the third film in the DC cinematic universe after Man of Steel and BvS. It is an ambitious project that tries to subvert the superhero ensemble genre by making the protagonists a bunch of “bad guys” who have to save the world. It is essentially a bizarro Avengers of sorts, with Viola Davis  playing Amanda Waller, a government official who decides to bring together a group of the world’s most dangerous criminals, some of whom are “metahumans”, to take down a new threat that has become seemingly unstoppable in the aftermath of BvS (no spoilers for those who haven’t seen it). It essentially the Nick Fury role played by Samuel Jackson in the Marvel cinematic universe.

There’s the hired assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), crazy babe Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), powerful ancient witch Enchantress (Carla Delevigne), Aussie bandit Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), firestarter El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and wall climber Slipknot (Adam Beach). Tasked with babysitting the so-called “Suicide Squad” is hero soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), along with his sword-wielding Japanese friend Katana (Karen Fukuhara).

That’s already a lot of characters and a lot of stars, but there’s still more. There’s Jared Leto as supervillain The Joker, Common as a gangster, Scott Eastwood as a lieutenant, and Ike Barinholtz as a sleazy prison guard. That doesn’t even take into account cameos from a couple of from Justice League members.

Despite the plethora of characters, Ayers does a fairly good job in introducing us to all of them and in trying to give each their chance to shine, including the use of an assortment of flashback sequences to reveal back stories for key characters. Of course, no one really gets enough time to become a fully rounded character, but I think it was about as good as you could get considering the running time is only 123 minutes. Even had they extended the film to 3 hours it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

Perhaps burned by the reception to BvSSuicide Squad had a lot more lighter moments and humorous dialogue where audiences could laugh and relax — predominantly thanks to Harley Quinn. There are still plenty of serious/emotional scenes, and even some scary sequences that would be unsuitable for children, but the film is decidedly not as dark or gritty as Ayers’ previous films.

And the performances are very good all around. I had been one of those people who felt Will Smith’s days as a box office A-lister were long behind him, but this movie shows he’s still got the charisma and presence to carry a film. He doesn’t need to do it here, but he’s arguably the best thing about the movie. I had also thought his character, Deadshot, seemed kinda lame, though I was wrong about that too. The film definitely frames his special abilities in the best possible light so that he can be one of the most impactful members of the squad.

The other standouts for me were of course Margot Robbie, who dominates just about every scene she is in as the sexy but nutty Harley Quinn, Viola Davis, who gets a lot of meat to chew in this film, and Joel Kinnaman, who adds a groundedness to all the mayhem and super abilities. He’s proven with this performance and in House of Cards that he is a fantastic actor who deserves bigger, more challenging roles in the future.

And now, the negatives. Truth is, the film doesn’t make much sense at all from a story standpoint. I can’t go into it too much, but even the very reason why the Suicide Squad was set up in the first place, and who was chosen to be a part of it, doesn’t quite add up. Many of the members of the squad — especially the non-metahumans with the exception of Deadshot — don’t really belong there. Captain Boomerang, in particular, basically offers nothing. It’s one of those movies where you have to put logic aside and go with the flow, because some of these metahumans are so powerful that contrivances have to be forced into the plot to balance out the field for the ordinary humans. Logic aside, and while the editing is far near perfect, Suicide Squad is still a more coherent film than BvS.

Another complaint I have — and it’s the same problem many had with BvSˆ– is that the characters bonded too quickly and too easily. I understand that Ayers had to create camaraderie in the squad, but it was jarring to hear them speak of each other in corny terms after a handful of interactions in literally just a few hours of time together.

The final issue I had with the film was Jared Leto’s tattooed, mobster version of the Joker. Some people may love it, but I hated it. My problem is less with Leto’s portrayal and more with the way the character was written and presented. I didn’t find him creepy or scary, and I could tell that’s exactly what they were going for. If Jack Nicholson’s Joker was iconic and Heath Ledger’s was legendary, then Jared Leto’s Joke is “meh”. It’s almost as though he tried too hard and it backfired.

Ultimately, Suicide Squad is not in the same league as any of the Avengers movies or Civil War, and it’s several notches below X-Men: Apocalypse. However, those movies did have the advantage of not having to introduce their core characters for the first time, whereas for Suicide Squad had a whole bunch of characters most regular moviegoers would not have even heard of. It is not great by any means, but at least it delivers good popcorn fun and some solid action sequences.  I personally thought it was better-made and more entertaining on the whole than BvS.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

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Matthew McConaughey is still unbearably smug, but with the daring roles he’s been taking on lately even I have to admit that he’s growing on me.

Dallas Buyers Club was among the last of the Best Picture nominees I had yet to watch in preparation for the Oscars next week, and it’s also one of the ones I knew the least about. All I knew was that it starred McConaughey and Jared Leto, who lost a lot of weight and tried to look like a woman.

As it turned out, it’s another true story (making it 6 of the 9 nominees — the only non-true story ones are Gravity, Her and Nebraska), about a womanizing, drug-taking bigot rodeo by the name of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) who discovers that he has AIDS and is told that he only a very short amount of time to live. At the time, the mid-1980s, AIDS was a relatively unknown disease largely associated with homosexual behaviour, which of course does not go down well with the homophobic Woodroof and his macho friends.

The core of the movie begins from the diagnosis, as Woodroof goes from trying to find useful drugs to prolong his life to selling unapproved AIDS drugs through the titular Dallas Buyers Club he ran with Rayon, a transgender HIV-positive woman played by an eerily recognisable Jared Leto. It is more or less a condemnation of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the ridiculous snail pace it approves drugs to combat life threatening illnesses. What is the point of being told that new drugs could save your life in a few years when you only have months to live?

McConaughey and Leto have been nominated for their respective roles and rightfully so, as it is their performances that drive the film’s engine. Both actors look like they lost a ton of weight for their roles and genuinely look like AIDS patients, which is impressive in itself, though it’s their back-and-forth chemistry that elevate Dallas Buyers Club into Oscar contention territory. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it is a buddy movie — it’s more about how imminent death sparks a bigoted, hedonistic man’s journey towards salvation — but the the dynamics of their contrasting personalities do provide the base for some entertaining interactions and conversations.

The supporting cast is solid too. Jennifer Garner, who rarely gets out these days from the prison of Ben Affleck, plays a doctor who sympathizes with their plight,  while Dennis O’Hare plays her antagonistic boss who believes he knows what is best for patients. Steve Zahn also has a minor role as a local cop torn between his duty to his job and to his friend Woodroof.

I found Dallas Buyers Club to be an unusual film. On the one hand I was impressed with the performances and how informative and insightful it was about the early days of the AIDS epidemic, but on the other I didn’t really enjoy it as much as the other Best Picture nominees this year despite its powerful subject matter. Part of the reason is because I had trouble connecting with both McConaughey and Leto’s characters. Leto has this one great emotional scene where he confronts his father, but McConaughey’s character is mostly self-serving and doesn’t show a lot of redeemable qualities until nearly the very the end. And unlike say a comedic farce like The Wolf of Wall Street, this was the kind of film where you really need to feel something for the protagonist early on for the film to work.

That said, I liked the lack of sentimentality in the direction of Jean Marc-Vallee (The Young Victoria) and can understand why the film has rated so well with critics. It’s a solid film from all angles and carries an inspiring message, but ultimately I wasn’t as moved by it as I thought I would be.

3.75 stars out of 5