Blade Runner 2049

For inSing

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Director : Denis Villeneuve
Cast : Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Carla Juri
Genre : Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time : 164 mins
Opens : 5 October 2017
Rating : NC16 (Violence & Some Nudity)

The sequel to one of the most influential sci-fi films ever made has finally arrived, plunging audiences back into the neon-drenched, rain-soaked, smoky environs of future Los Angeles.

As the title suggests, it is the year 2049. Artificially engineered humans known as ‘Replicants’ live amongst us, but previous incidents with Replicants that sought to break free of their programming have made Replicants the target of prejudice. K (Ryan Gosling) is a ‘Blade Runner’ for the LAPD – he hunts and kills older models of Replicants, tying up loose ends. K’s boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) sends him on an assignment, during which K inadvertently unearths clues to his past.

K is a solitary figure, finding solace only in his girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), with whom he shares an unusual relationship. Since K is a Replicant, he assumes that any childhood memories he has are merely implants. His quest to unravel a decades-old secret puts him on a collision course with the enigmatic and megalomaniacal Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who manufactures Replicants and sends his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to do his dirty work. K also comes face to face with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who has been in hiding for the last 30 years. What K discovers will change the balance of society forever.

While 1982’s Blade Runner initially received a none-too-enthusiastic reaction from audiences and critics, Ridley Scott’s film has since been acknowledged as a cornerstone of science fiction. The film was based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick’s work often deals in themes like what it means to be human, the interplay between man and machine in future society, and the subjectivity of memory. Every effort has been made to carry that DNA into Blade Runner 2049. While it’s clear that director Denis Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher (who also co-wrote the original) and Michael Green are aware of the burden they carry in making this sequel, they do not buckle under the weight of it.

Audiences, especially those unfamiliar with the first film or with Villeneuve’s filmmaking style, should be aware that this is not an action movie – even if some of the marketing makes it look that way. This is a deeply contemplative film, thick with philosophy that will alienate more impatient viewers. It is also constructed with great consideration – the cinematography by Roger Deakins, the production design by Dennis Gassner, the music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch – it’s all assembled with careful thought and superb skill. The atmosphere is kept consistent with that established in the first film, but Villeneuve doesn’t occupy himself with dishing out fan service, as one might expect from a belated sequel to a highly-regarded film.

Like its predecessor, this is a neo-noir, and K feels very much like a hero one would find in a classic noir film. He is a tragic, hollowed-out figure, numb to the anti-Replicant epithets that are constantly slung his way. Gosling comes off as distant and withdrawn, but never stilted or wooden. There’s humanity lurking just beneath the surface, humanity that K doesn’t quite know how to process. Gosling also handles the fight sequences well – while it’s highly unlikely Gosling would win a throw down with Dave Bautista in real life, it seems credible that K might gain the upper hand over Bautista’s character Sapper.

Ford makes his first appearance roughly 105 minutes into the film. What he lacks in screen time, he makes up for in presence. Ford is no stranger to revisiting iconic roles many years after the fact, but unlike Indiana Jones or Han Solo, Rick Deckard is not primarily a figure of fun. Ford sells the weariness that has accumulated in Deckard’s bones. Deckard is the king of his own domain: a lavishly appointed hotel in what once was Las Vegas, now an irradiated wasteland. Like K, Deckard was a Blade Runner in search of his own humanity, working a job that needed him to deny said humanity. K and Deckard represent loneliness in different forms, with Ford and Gosling playing off each other in a way that’s devoid of cheeky winks and nods.

Much as Blade Runner 2049 blazes a new trail, it conforms to genre archetypes in several ways: Wright’s character is a standard tough boss lady, while Hoeks’ scary henchwoman also is a commonly-seen character type. De Armas’ Joi is, by design, wish-fulfilment incarnate – a fantasy girlfriend with little say in the relationship. The dynamic between K and Joi is heartfelt and sorrowful, and even though their relationship is quite unlike most, is weirdly easy to relate to.

Leto’s appearance is quite brief and largely consists of him spouting cryptic philosophy as he hangs out in his Brutalist architecture lair. Beneath the posturing and overall eeriness that cloaks the character, he’s pretty much a standard sci-fi supervillain.

Blade Runner 2049 does not feel like a studio-mandated sequel. The presence of executives fretting over test screening results is barely felt. It is a work of art, but then again, art is subjective. The film’s 163-minute running time is excessive – 30 minutes of that could easily be trimmed away. However, far as cerebral sci-fi goes, this film certainly does its genre forebears proud.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Overdrive

For F*** Magazine

OVERDRIVE 

Director : Antonio Negret
Cast : Scott Eastwood, Freddie Thorp, Ana de Armas, Gaia Weiss, Simon Abkarian, Clemens Schick
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 29 June 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)

Given the rip-roaring success of the Fast and Furious franchise, it’s a given that other filmmakers would want to hop on that souped-up bandwagon. In the vein of Need for Speed and Collide is Overdrive, which to its credit isn’t even pretending that it isn’t a Fast and Furious knockoff – not that it deserves too much credit.

Andrew (Eastwood) and Garrett (Thorp) are half-brothers, and the world’s greatest car thieves. After a job in Marseille goes awry, they end up being targeted by ruthless crime lord Jacomo Morier (Abkarian). To get Jacomo to spare their lives, Andrew and Garrett agree to steal the priceless car collection of rival kingpin Max Klemp (Schick) for Jacomo. With only a week to put together a high-stakes heist, the brothers enlist the help of pickpocket and con artist Devin (Weiss), who is a friend of Andrew’s girlfriend Stephanie (De Armas). Andrew plans to propose to Stephanie and settle down, but Garrett is adamant that they continue being car thieves since they’re in their prime. Everything is riding on the biggest job of their career, as Andrew and Garrett must outfox the most dangerous criminal elements in Europe to stay alive.

Overdrive is directed by Antonio Negret, who has directed episodes of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Scorpion and the MacGyver reboot. It’s written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, who penned 2 Fast 2 Furious, arguably the worst entry in the Fast and Furious series. Taken director Pierre Morel is on board as a producer, taking a leaf out of his mentor Luc Besson’s playbook by making a European action flick geared towards Hollywood sensibilities. Overdrive has been in development since 2011, with Karl Urban, Ben Barnes, Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke all attached at some point or another. Instead, we end up with Scott Eastwood and Freddie Thorp. Oh well.

While it’s impossible not to view this as a bargain basement take on the Fast and Furious movies, the set pieces here really aren’t bad at all. We have a healthy number of collisions, flipping cars and explosions. The film’s climax also contains a fun sequence involving a collapsing bridge. Unfortunately, this is all bolted on to a painfully generic plot, with characters spouting excruciatingly unfunny dialogue, and the overall tone is self-satisfied rather than irreverent. The crew that is assembled for the ‘big job’ is neither distinctive nor memorable, and the big reveal is wont to inspire indifference. There are also only so many times audiences can be impressed by garage doors swinging open dramatically to reveal fancy cars. After all, one expects a garage to contain cars. If the garage doors had opened to reveal llamas, that would’ve been more interesting.

Eastwood, son of Clint, has earned his place in Hollywood as “budget Chris Evans”. Sure, he’s handsome, but is ultimately too cookie-cutter a leading man to make much of an impact. It is a little funny that he’s been cast in the actual Fast and Furious series, as an ersatz Paul Walker. The buddy dynamic between Eastwood and Thorp feels utterly forced. Thorp’s Garrett is supposed to be the witty fast-talker, but the character just ends up being annoying. Eastwood is American and Thorp is English; this is justified by having them be ‘half-brothers’, and leads into a particularly wince-inducing “brother from another mother” joke.

While De Armas seems poised to hit the big time with a starring role in Blade Runner 2049 later this year, she’s terrible here, playing the designated girlfriend who – you guessed it – gets caught in several ‘damsel in distress’ predicaments. Weiss’ Devin is meant to be seductive and wily, but she comes off as bland. Then we have the villains, wannabe Bond baddies if ever there were any – Abkarian even played the henchman Dimitrios in Casino Royale.

Negret displays a degree of style, employing several semi-clever transitions. For the first act, things move at a nice clip, then there’s that dreaded sagging midsection. Overdrive seems to know it’s not very smart, but just knowing that without doing anything with that self-awareness isn’t enough.

Summary: Bland acting, a generic plot and a smug vibe blow out the tires of what would otherwise be an entertaining if disposable action flick.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

War Dogs

For F*** Magazine

WAR DOGS 

Director: Todd Phillips
Cast :  Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, J.B. Blanc, Bradley Cooper, Barry Livingston, Kevin Pollak
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 54 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Drug Use)

War Dogs posterWar, what is it good for? If you play your cards right, raking in the dough. It’s 2005, and the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan is in full swing. David Packouz (Teller) is a directionless twenty-something living in Miami, reluctantly working as a massage therapist. When his childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill) shows back up in town for a mutual friend’s funeral, the two do some catching up. It turns out that Efraim has founded AEY Inc., an arms dealership, and has managed to secure several contracts supplying weapons and other equipment to the U.S. government. David goes behind the back of his pregnant girlfriend Iz (de Armas), who is against the war, and goes into business with Efraim. The pair soon find themselves in way over their heads, travelling to Jordan, Iraq and Albania as they chase lucrative deals. Is it just a matter of time before the dog that is success turns around to bite them?

War Dogs is based on Guy Lawson’s Rolling Stone article Arms and the Dudes, which he expanded into a book. Screenwriter Stephen Chin called on his own experience, having travelled to Iraq while trying to buy the rights to the story of two American businessmen who were setting up a radio station there. With War Dogs, director Todd Phillips of the Hangover trilogy fame faces the challenge of making the audience root for inherently unlikeable characters. Both Efraim and David idolize Tony Montana, with a huge poster of the Scarface protagonist decorating their office. They’re simultaneously scrappy underdogs and shady wheeler-dealers. Multiple artistic liberties are taken in the name of making things more exciting, and Alex Podrizki, the third partner, doesn’t feature in the film at all. That said, it does feel like the audience is getting a peek behind the curtain of a world most of us know nothing about. The technicalities of how Efraim and David go about their business are explained clearly enough without being too dry.

War Dogs Miles Teller and Jonah Hill 1

The narrative conceit is that David is the strait-laced one while Efraim is the brash go-getter, and as such, David is our way in and is the narrator of the story. It might actually be that way in real life, but it definitely seems like character traits have been greatly exaggerated to keep things interesting. Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf were initially considered for the lead roles, presumably Eisenberg for David and LaBeouf for Efraim. Instead, we have Teller and Hill. The two generate watchable buddy chemistry, and there’s an undercurrent of tension because we know it’s somehow all going to implode in the end.

Few can play dazed and confused like Teller, who for most of the film, is unwittingly being strung along. Of the two main characters, David is ostensibly closer to the traditional ideal of a movie hero, and the real David Packouz has a cameo as a singer at a nursing home. The real Efraim Diveroli wanted nothing to do with the movie. It makes sense that Teller is given the lower-key role, with Hill having the time of his life playing a character who is as boorish as he is savvy. Hill doesn’t have to be endearing or charming, and he steals the show with much gusto on multiple occasions. As expected, de Armas is relegated to the playing the stock nagging girlfriend who actually has a point, but is mainly in the movie to look pretty, since the two male leads don’t.

War Dogs Miles Teller, Ana de Armas and Jonah Hill

The world of “grey market” arms dealing offers plenty of dramatic storytelling possibilities, with room for sanctimonious finger-wagging as well – the compelling Lord of War comes to mind. Phillips tries to play down the seriousness of the subject matter, instead playing up the goofy absurdity of the premise. Just as Efraim and David find themselves in over their heads, it seems Phillips does as well, since the consequences here are graver than any of the mishaps that befell the Hangover Wolfpack. Speaking of those guys, Bradley Cooper makes a brief but memorable appearance as a notorious gun runner. Also, celebrity poker player and infamous playboy Dan Bilzerian cameos as himself. It seems the kind of people who idolize Bilzerian are exactly the target audience for this film.

War Dogs Jonah Hill, Miles Teller and Bradley Cooper

War Dogs mostly steers away from insightful satire, instead taking the “have your cake and eat it too” tack of glamourizing its subjects while also mocking them. It’s inevitable that impressionable younger viewers will aspire to be just like Efraim and David: who cares if it’s moral or even legal if there’s a payday to be made? It seems the takeaway is “if these stoner dude-bros could wriggle their way into multi-million dollar contracts, why can’t I?”

War Dogs Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in Albanian arms warehouse

It is entertaining and intermittently fascinating, but it’s hard to shake the sense that Phillips’ lowbrow slacker dude comedic sensibilities might not be the best fit for the true story. Yes, there’s comedy to be mined, but diving headfirst into the can of worms and actually making a statement about the implications of war profiteering might’ve been a more worthwhile enterprise.

Summary:  War Dogs plays to the strengths of both its stars, but in playing squarely to the dude-bro demographic, it passes up the chance to be searing and impactful.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong