Blade Runner 2049: a review

This is a movie I knew I would see at the theatre as soon as I encountered the first trailer. Was I a fan of the original 1982 film? Or was I just a Harrison Ford fan in general? Neither, really. But my beloved husband has held the original Blade Runner (1982) as an important film of his youth and was eager to see the next chapter. I really like the sequel’s director, Denis Villeneuve, not just because he is French Canadian, but because of his recent films Arrival and Sicario. So there we were in an IMAX theatre on opening weekend.

I saw the original Blade Runner at my husband’s behest for the first time on DVD when it was re-released as a final cut version in 2007. At that time, I thought it was visually stunning, ahead of its time in its special effects, but the story was just ok. Having re-watched it a few days ago, in anticipation of this sequel, my opinion of the original has remained unchanged. Rather than reviewing that film, I will direct you to Roger Ebert here. It is as if he read my mind. A brief summary of that film for those unfamiliar follows: It was set in a dystopian 2019 and Harrison Ford was the titular character. He was a cop who hunted “replicants” or human-like androids. They were developed for purposes of slave labour and sent to other planets.  But some developed aggressive self-preservation behaviours and illegally returned to earth, in an attempt to pass as humans.

I enjoyed this sequel more than the original film. To talk about specific plot points risks spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the original film and builds upon the same themes (personal identity, free will, slavery, what it means to be alive, love). The result is a much more compelling and mysterious story with characters that seem more developed. I admired the cinematography immensely. It was a stunning homage to the visuals brought forth in Ridley Scott’s original film. The acting by Ryan Gosling in the titular role was appropriately subtle and Ford was more animated than I had seen him in a long time.

You don’t have to watch the original Blade Runner to enjoy this film. However, Blade Runner 2049 is a richer experience the more familiar you are with its world and characters. This is a great film for anyone who likes science fiction, existentialism, mysteries or just wants some  cool action sequences and flying cars. This is a long film (2hours 43min) but it didn’t seem so at the time. But pace you liquid consumption carefully because I agreed with the Runpee app which warned us that there very few opportunities to pop out to the loo. This film was well served by the biggest screen possible and I did not regret the extra expense of IMAX on this occasion. Pre-assigned seating was an added bonus!

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Killjoys: a review

 

I don’t consider myself a space opera fan. Unlike 1/2 my family, I have no affection for Star Wars and Star Trek. I have tried but it just didn’t take. Despite this character flaw, I do find myself looking back on Firefly and the rebooted version of Battlestar Galactica (BsG) with longing. These 2 shows were set in space but heavily character driven with some philosophical depth and terrific action. Of course Firefly also had some memorably witty dialogue. Those shows have been off the air for so long and nothing has quite filled the void they left. However, Killjoys comes pretty close.

 

 

Killjoys is a space opera centred around a team of bounty hunters (aka Killjoys), Jaqobi brothers, Johnny (Aaron Ashmore) and D’avin (Luke Macfarlane) and their fearless leader Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), . It is an original Syfy production created by Michelle Loretta. 3 seasons have aired (10 43 min episodes in each) and it has just been given a 2 season renewal.

This show is not as philosophical as BsG and doesn’t’t pretend to be. It is a fun action romp in space with a good balance of season long plot threads that are woven with episodes that stand as individual chapters. There is good character development, fun banter, kick-ass action and techy-nerd jargon that almost makes sense. As the series goes along we watch the killjoys expand their quest beyond simple warrants in order to fight political corruption that threatens their survival. Thankfully, the overall plot isn’t too complicated to follow.

This show films in Canada and the acting and writing are top notch. At times it feels like a Being Erica reunion. Many familiar faces from that beloved show have supporting roles. I especially enjoy the diversity in casting. And I simply love Dutch as an intelligent bad-ass in chic yet sensible footwear. Throw in some dysfunctional family/sibling rivalry between the Jaqobi brothers and I am all in.

So if you are looking for a fun space romp with some witty banter and good action, you may want to check this out.

 

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: a review

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My family saw Guardians of the Galaxy in 2D with friends in a packed theatre on opening weekend. The trailers looked like fun; the reviews were favourable and we were on vacation. What a great choice! This film kept a group of pre-teens (2 girls and 1 boy) and their parents laughing for 2 hours. It was super fun!

 

The plot is really secondary to the characters and the jokes. Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill aka as Starlord, an intergalactic smart-ass thief who teams up with a rag-tag group of outlaws. Rocket is a wily genetically engineered racoon bounty hunter (voiced by Bradley Cooper). His tree-like laconic partner Groot (his only words ever being “I am Groot” and voiced by Vin Diesel) is a CGI marvel of strength and size with a remarkable ability to regenerate. Gamora (Zoe Saldana, almost unrecognizable under green body paint and prosthetics) is an out of this world warrior princess and Drax (Dave Bautista) is a vengeful brute who is somewhat on the autism spectrum. Together they are trying to prevent the MacGuffin, which in this case is an orb containing an all powerful infinity stone, from being seized by the bad guy, Ronan (Lee Pace, heavily made-up as an alien). The infinity stone would satisfy Ronan’s need for vengeance, giving him the power to exact swift annihilation of his sworn enemy, the entire planet Xandar.   The plot can be rather confusing at times; luckily, it doesn’t really matter. This film is based on an esoteric comic book; so it isn’t expected to bear scrutiny.

The characters are well drawn and distinct. Their partnership is plausible and rather touching at times. The acting is superb. The comedy is not only dialogue driven; it is also physical and integrated with a classic rock sound track that defines Starlord. The actor-led action sequences are pretty fun, although some of the spaceship  battles, with their scenes of destruction, go on a bit long. Regardless, there was enough goodwill earned to ignore those shortcomings.

Kudos to director and writer James Gunn. He managed to take a group of fringe characters from an obscure comic book and craft one of the most entertaining and refreshing super-hero movies that I have seen in a long time. This is a zany film that filled a theatre with raucous laughter. The communal experience added to my enjoyment, even though it contributed to me missing a few lines to the sound of laughter . That is ok, I would be happy to watch it again at home in a few months.

Bubba Ho-Tep: Movies for Mothers and Daughters

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My girls have been after me for either comedic films or scary ones. So naturally I was itching to dust this one off. Bubba Ho-Tep is a litmus test of sorts. It measures what I like to think of as a fondness of quirkiness. This film is a horror, comedy drama mash-up with a dash of social commentary about how we treat our elders. It also stars Bruce Campbell as Elvis, why did I wait so long to revisit this gem? I am glad to say that both daughters (ages 10 & 12) loved it and “got it”.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) is a low-budget contemporary film, set in an East Texas nursing home. This unlikely place is haunted by an ancient and cursed,  soul-sucking mummy. Not many seem phased when the elderly residents bite the dust. But Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) know their neighbours didn’t die of natural causes. They don’t want to be next, so they take it upon themselves to bring the sucker down.

What sounds so silly in such a brief summary is really a delight! The writing and direction by Don Coscarelli transcend the limitation of his budget. The performance by the 2 leads never falls into camp territory. This is a film with heart and poignancy. It is a film that not only tackles a mummy but also the themes of friendship, aging, fame and the meaning of life. Okay, it is ridiculous at times, yet oh so fun. There many winks to Elvis fans and Kennedy buffs. It has great dialogue that is infinitely quotable. One of my favourite lines occurs after Elvis is attacked by a large scarab beetle and he is asked to describe it to an administrator.

Elvis:  Look, man, do I look like an ichthyologist to you? Big damn bugs, all right? The size of my fist. The size of a peanut butter and banana sandwich. What do I know? I got a growth on my pecker!

This remains a quirky, amusing and not so scary film that was just as fun the second time around. I have loaned my DVD to many friends and relatives who enjoyed it and I remain surprised that it still appeals to a broad age range. I was really glad when my daughters gave me the thumbs up on this film selection.

Scary Movies for Mothers and Daughters: The Woman in Black

My daughters have been after me to watch more scary stuff after our foray into the genre with Psycho. I thought I would introduce them to some of the classics of the golden age of Hollywood, like The Wolfman (1941, starring Lon Chaney Jr) which they thought was ok but not very scary. It is a difficult thing to balance, as I don’t want to traumatize them (no splatter gore, no torture) but would like them to appreciate the delicious frisson of getting freaked out while watching a movie. My daughters are fans of the Goosebumps books so I used that as a guide. The Sixth Sense was a hit and so was The Others, so I thought I would give The Woman in Black a try. It was a movie the whole family was keen to see based on the trailers, so we did.

What a great choice! This was a gothic horror that was not gory or particularly violent. It was very atmospheric, with very little dialogue. It did a great job, building tension and startling both my daughters into fits of shrieks as they hid their eyes.

It told the story of a vengeful spirit that haunted an estate that Daniel Radcliff’s character, Arthur Kripps, was forced to visit. He was the barrister in charge of tidying up the paperwork so that the estate could be liquidated. His career depended on the success of this assigned task. Apparently he had been underperforming at work ever since he lost his wife in childbirth, 4 years prior.

When he arrived in the country village closest to the estate, he was surprised to find himself shunned. The village folks tried everything to send him back to London. Clearly, there was something terrifying in that old house. Before you know it, he caught a glimpse of a woman dressed in black, which was surprising as the estate grounds otherwise appeared abandoned. This news was met with hostility in the village where the folks doubled their efforts to drive Kripps away. All because of the legend of the woman in black, who once spotted, was linked the mysterious death of the village children. Apparently this repeated tragedy had terrorized the village for years.

The plot is quite simple. We follow Kripps as he slowly uncovers the mystery of this apparition. He tries to appease it and we are left with a satisfying ending. Along the way, we are startled by moving shadows at the corner of our screen, ghostly images reflected in windows and mirrors and loud noises. These are pretty cliché, but extremely well executed and herein lay the strength of this film. There is nothing particularly original about it; but it succeeded in creeping out me, my husband and 2 preteen daughters. And boy was it fun watching the girls shriek (ok, I admit it, I shrieked a bit too).

This film probably won’t scare a seasoned veteran of modern splatter/gore films. However, if you want to introduce a young person to the thrill of a creepy gothic horror, this film is a good place to start. The acting is subdued and Radcliffe does well portraying a troubled young father. Ciaran Hinds is always guaranteed to please, and this film is no exception. The cinematography and sound (mostly startling haunted house noises) do a fine job upping the creep quotient.

The girls were scared enough to bunk together after the film but were nightmare-free and ready for the next onslaught of scary stuff. So I will probably continue revisiting old episodes of Supernatural on DVD with them until I pick the next film. Jaws, Blair Witch, maybe? I am open to suggestions.

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