Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) movie poster

director Denis Villeneuve
viewed: 10/09/2017 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

The film nerd world is seeing its deepest desires brought to light. A new Star Wars trilogy? Ridley Scott returning to Alien? A new Blade Runner movie?

As we have come to learn, you need to be careful what you wish for.

Unlike the others, commercial success has not overwhelmed Blade Runner 2049 yet. So we may not be awash in the franchise-ization of the beloved 1982 film. Which may well turn out to be a good thing.

First and foremost, it’s overlong, by a long shot. Its 163 minutes move slowly, steadily, intentionally. But in the end, it drags, perhaps where it most certainly shouldn’t.

Yes, it’s gorgeous. Villeneuve and Roger Deakins along with some very pretty production design absolutely craft a film worth looking at.

But what’s with all the giant naked ladies in advertising and ruined statuary? Issues of the film’s representations of women aside, I’ve cultivated a theory. When watching Alien Covenant earlier this year I began to wonder if Ridley Scott’s Alien movies and his Blade Runner movies were meant to exist in the same universe and timeline. And whether or not that is true, the statuary of Prometheus (2012) featured giant sized men. Is this somehow a feminine counterpart? Sure, this is Villeneuve’s film, but Scott is still executive producer.

I watched this with my son, who managed to sleep through the original when I showed it to him. So, he was a little confused about the story, but he wound up really liking the movie.

Still several days out I’ve not really come to a full conclusion. It’s a gorgeous spectacle, though a slow-moving performance. Still contemplating its meanings and ideas.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) movie poster

director Matthew Vaughn
viewed: 10/01/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

My kids both wanted to see this so I complied.

None of us was overly impressed. We had watched and kind of enjoyed the first Kingsman movie, though the political reading of the film I’d read at the Guardian made me feel a little dirty.

I started to try to get my head around a political reading of Kingsman: The Golden Circle and it’s ripe for criticism and analysis. Matthew Vaughn is a talented action director, one of the few fairly conservative mainstream big Hollywood directors still pumping out A-list stuff.

I have to say this Kingsman is kind of interesting in its un-PC brashness, but it’s also kind of a flop as a successful action flick. The action is so over-the-top that from the opening car chase, we’re seeing wildly impossible flights of physical impossibility at such breakneck pace that even if you don’t have the time to question it, it’s impossible to pretend this isn’t anything but highly manipulated CGi.

I could go on but it’s not really all that worth it. A couple other thoughts:

  • Elton John was maybe the best part of the movie.
  • Channing Tatum was a bit of a bait-and-switch as he spends most of his time not doing anything.
  • I’ve got a feeling that this was more “cartoonish” than any of the comic books.

The Monster (2016)

The Monster (2016) movie poster

director  Bryan Bertino
viewed: 09/22/2017

Is The Monster a metaphor, or is The Monster not a metaphor?

In the end, it’s not a metaphor, but it really seemed like it wanted to be.

What’s left is a thriller about a dysfunctional mom and her daughter stuck on an isolated road with a shadowy beast. Who is not a metaphor for mom’s alcoholism.

Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine carry Bryan Bertino’s 2016 The Monster as far as they can. Unfortunately, his script and direction leave them shy of something totally worthwhile.

It (2017)

It (2017) movie poster

director Andy Muschietti
viewed: 09/17/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

How do you like your 80’s? Drenched in wistful retro pinings for a Spielbergian past? It (2017) channels the 80’s so hard, it’s not surprising that you’ve even got one of the kids from Stranger Things in this gang. Only Stranger Things is a better pastiche.

I never read Stephen King’s book and somehow managed to never see the Tim Curry TV series of It. 2017’s It is my first first-hand dealing with this story. My daughter has a friend who is reading the book right now, and made note of the whole second half of the book that is apparently going to be this film’s sequel.

It did not work for me. Much at all.

The CGI horrors of Pennywise the Clown’s morphing were extremely uninspired. I get it that he’s “all horrors” embodied but when everything is scary, nothing is scary. The point of the story was never made, for me.

Does my lack of connection to the novel or even the original adaptation make me immune to finding this interesting? Is it a necessity to feel the pull of sentimentality and nostalgia to enjoy this?

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) movie poster

director Colm McCarthy
viewed: 09/16/2017

The zombiepocalypse over-saturation probably hasn’t peaked yet, so it’s harder than ever to make something new in this genre. The Girl with All the Gifts does try to push the zombiepocalypse a little and its efforts are not for naught.

The film opens on a young girl in a jail cell who has to be strapped down in a wheelchair and rolled by armed guards into a classroom of other young people. Right off the bat it’s a bit interesting. What is going on? Why are the kids in wheelchairs? Strapped down? Why are they being educated?

Really, most films try to tell you what’s going on from the get-go so the audience doesn’t have to figure anything out. So right there, it’s already kind of interesting.

It doesn’t totally stay with that. We find out pretty quickly that these kids are infected with a zombie fungus on the brain, but that they are different from freshly infected adults in that some sort of symbiosis exists that allows them to maintain a form of normality when they’re not hungry.

Eventually the movie goes pretty The Walking Dead, except these are speedy zombies, infecting at zero-to-sixty in a second and running fast at their food.

The film turns again toward the ending with more of its inventive qualities about these second generation zombie kids and the fungal apocalypse. I’ve always liked Gemma Arterton, who plays the good-hearted teacher. Sennia Nanua is Melanie, the girl with all the gifts, and she’s very good too.

Just sort this list of zombie films by date and you tell me when you think we’ve reached max saturation in the zombiepocalypse market.

The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick (2017) movie poster

director  Michael Showalter
viewed: 09/10/2017 at Ua Stonestown Twin, SF, CA

I have this thing about comedies. They make me feel like I don’t have a sense of humor because I think most of them suck. And romantic comedies? That’s a genre I bypass largely as a rule.

But I do like Kumail Nanjiani (first experienced as Prismo from Adventure Time) and so does my son and so we went and caught The Big Sick.

Perhaps because it’s adapted from Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon’s real life experiences, The Big Sick isn’t quite as formulaic as many romantic comedies. The humor is more lowkey and turns on the development of their relationship in more quiet and naturalistic ways.

And Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are very good, making the most of their characters, probably the better written and best performed in the film. Zoe Kazan is good too.

We both enjoyed it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) movie poster

director Jon Watts
viewed: 07/16/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

My kids got back from camp for a brief weekend before other summer travels and I posed to them the idea of seeing a movie. Either Spider-Man: Homecoming or War for the Planet of the Apes. Surprisingly, they agreed on Spider-Man (they never agree on anything), and so Spider-Man it was.

I didn’t have high expectations, despite having liked Tom Holland’s brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War, was it?

Color me surprised. This is probably the second best Spider-Man movie, next to Spider-Man 2 (2004).

They dialed it back down a lot here, letting Spider-Man fight a more localized villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. He’s scavenging and stealing alien technology from government clean-up sites and selling the weaponry to small-time crooks. More like old-fashioned Spider-Man comics, the story is more concise and less existential in its threats. Peter Parker is believably a teen (though maybe barely) and the cast around him, particularly Jacob Batalon as his chubby, funny pal and Zendaya shows promise as the next film’s “MJ”.

It’s funny throughout. I particularly liked the Captain America PSA’s.

It’s not great film-making, but it’s more fun than it seems, and then you start to realize that the bar isn’t all that high for Spider-Man movies. It still has other issues and short-comings, but we all enjoyed it, and that is not a common enough result of a movie these days.

Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria (1977) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 07/15/2017

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is well-loved and well-praised and with good reason. It’s a spectacle of surreal imagery, colors deeply saturated, style out the yin-yang, strange and eerie and amazing. The interior designs are as lurid as porn, if porn was Art Nouveau.

There is a giallo vibe about the whole thing, but Argento lets the audience know pretty early on that this is not something explicable outside of the uncanny and supernatural. There is a mystery here, but it’s not a serial killer, but a witches’ coven, and a pretty serious one at that.

As vivid as it is (and it’s freaking vivid), I never encountered the memories of this film while re-watching it just now. For some reason, of my earliest encounters with Argento, it’s Inferno that mostly dominated my memory banks, while Suspiria left a much more vague impression. Maybe it’s an age thing; I was a young teen, and this viewing which I shared with my 13 year old daughter, she found it kind of confusing and weird.

It is indeed so striking and surprising, ornate and lush, quirky and twisty, the world of Suspiria is one of utter fantasy and nightmare, ruled by dream-logic, and drenched in Technicolor.

Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver (2017) movie poster

director Edgar Wright
viewed: 07/02/2017 at AMC Dine-in Kabuki 8, SF, CA

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a pop confection heist car chase action flick comedy. It’s a genre picture, made of genre stuff, and interpreted through an array of popular music selections. There is verve here, quite a lot of it at times, and it’s fun. It’s inventiveness does not lie within pure originality, but rather through its remixing and comic play.

For all its buzz, the trailer didn’t really “sell” me on the picture. Star Ansel Elgort is better than he looks in the trailers, the driver with an endless collection of iPods and sunglasses. He’s “Baby” as Kevin Spacey is “Doc” and Jon Hamm is “Buddy” and Jamie Foxx is “Bats”. Everyone is a nickname and a derivative caricature, and it’s almost as if Wright is daring you to think there should be more to this whole thing.

It’s all surface and action and some decent humor, playing out to syncopation, tuned to the music. Honestly, I enjoyed it throughout.

That said, since watching it, the excitement and fun has diminished and further thoughts have sort of petered out on it. Some movies tend to grow as you contemplate them. Baby Driver has sort of sat there in Park since the viewing, not even idling, just with its engine gone cold.

I’ll see where I’m at with it by the end of the year. It may still be one of the better films of 2017. It may even be a genre classic, cult or otherwise. We’ll have to see.

The Church (1989)

The Church (1989) movie poster

director  Michele Soavi
viewed: 07/01/2017

Michele Soavi’s The Church opens on some crusading medieval knights slaughtering cowering peasants who are apparently sworn against the church, marked as some of them are with crosses on the soles of their feet. Thrown into a mass grave, it’s unclear if the dead are already arising as they are buried, but a final escapee is caught, the teenage Asia Argento.

This is the prelude to the present-day setting, in a Gothic church in an unnamed European location, a mishmash of location settings. This church was built atop the bodies of the damned, constructed to self-destruct by a tortured architect, and has stood until now, as it begins to decay and release its repressed demons.

And demons to come out, in many hallucinogenic forms to the many who find themselves trapped within the church as its one set of doors shut. But this is the mixed messaging here: are the demons real demons? So were the knights right in killing those who worshiped otherwise? Or was the church always the real villain, and the return is only the much-deserved revenge on those Catholic/Christian repressors and murderers? After all is said and done, the final image of Asia Argento’s mysterious smile seems to indicate further return of the repressed evil.

Wheresoever Soavi places the good and the evil in this film, its strengths are in its vivid imagery, as incoherent, disconnected, and dream-like as it gets. Each person imprisoned, from child to aged adult, seems to receive some tailored terror of their very own. My favorite image was the cross in the floor dropping into the blackness below.

Outside its rather mixed message of righteousness, I quite liked it.