Blade Runner 2049

Directed by Denis Villeneuve who is best known for the 2016 Oscar-nominated movie Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 is an extraordinary film that lives up to its predecessor, the science fiction cult classic Blade Runner released in 1982 and based on a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel. Heavily influenced by the first movie’s director Ridley Scott who is one of the producers of the sequel, the film remarkably recreates the dystopian hallmarks of the original with beautiful cinematography of a bleak yet futuristic world of monolithic skyscrapers illuminated by extravagant neon signage rising above a rain-soaked suffering population. The story takes place thirty years after the first Blade Runner and follows an officer with the LAPD officer named K, played by Ryan Gosling, who is sent on a secret mission by his boss Lieutenant Joshi, played by Robin Wright, to discover the truth behind the discovery of a mysterious skeleton. K is what is known as a blade runner whose job it is is to hunt down and destroy renegade replicants, human-like robots originally created by the now defunct Tyrell Corporation featured in the original. Officer K is a replicant himself but of a more advanced and better controlled version built by the all-powerful Wallace Corporation led by the vicious Niander Wallace, played by the especially creepy Jared Leto. The Wallace Corporation is intrigued by the LAPD’s investigation because it may lead to a key development in their replicant program. Throughout the slow burn and sometimes complex esoteric scenes, K questions his own existence and whether he is in fact a human and not a replicant with implanted memories. The very nature of what it means to be human is the core of the film’s deep dive into the philosophical exploration of humanity and artificial intelligence. Eventually, Gosling’s character comes to a greater understanding of who he is after encountering Rick Deckard, the main character from the original played by a particularly gruff Harrison Ford. Deckard is a replicant who has been on the run over the past thirty years and had a romantic relationship with another replicant named Rachael who may have had a very unique capability desired by Wallace. Overall, although the heavy dose of sci-fi and philosophical elements may not appeal to all viewers, the movie is without a doubt a cinematic masterpiece as a result of being a visual marvel presenting a stylized dystopia complete with a very futuristic-sounding soundtrack emphasizing the dark and moody themes. If you are a fan of the original Blade Runner or any other sci-fi flick, you will not be disappointed by this long-awaited sequel. 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

The second reboot of the Spider-Man film series with the first starring Tobey Maguire beginning in 2002 and the second starring Andrew Garfield beginning in 2012, Spider-Man: Homecoming is rather unnecessary but nevertheless spins a entertaining web that takes a more lighthearted approach to the superhero. Played by the fresh-faced British actor Tom Holland, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is approached by Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., about the possibility of becoming a full-fledged member of the Avengers after assisting in an operation featured in the 2016 Marvel movie Captain America: Civil War. Unlike the prior Spider-Man films, Parker appears to be much younger and is shown as a relatively typical highschooler who tries to fit in and impress his popular crush Liz. Without telling anyone, including his guardian Aunt May, played by Marisa Tomei, Parker dons his Spider-Man outfit to combat mostly petty criminal activities throughout New York City. Eventually, he is faced with a much more dangerous criminal, a spiteful weapons dealer named Adrian Toomes who has stolen alien technology from the Department of Damage Control following an alien attack on New York. Toomes, played by the film’s real star Michael Keaton, uses the alien weaponry to develop a flying suit to become the villain Vulture and continues to steal more alien technology to enrich himself and increase his powers. Parker is faced with the dangers of being a superhero after he must rescue Liz and his other classmates during a trip to Washington, D.C. Back home in his “real life,” he makes a shocking discovery when he takes the young and beautiful Liz to the homecoming dance and must make a fateful decision to finally stop Toomes. Overall, I found it to be a fun cinematic experience that told a funny and more human side of Spider-Man, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would because of my initial misgivings about the originality of a movie that has been rebooted several times in the past decade.

Transformers: The Last Knight

The fifth film in the Transformers franchise that started in 2007, Transformers: The Last Knight is what you would expect from a Transformers movie: it is a loud and over-the-top CGI-heavy action extravaganza with a silly plot based on a line of Hasbro toys and filled with eyeroll-inducing dialogue. It is the second movie starring Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, an inventor now living in a junkyard in South Dakota, who is friendly with the good Transformers the Autobots at a time when all Transformers are oppressed by the government. Eventually, he joins forces with a young and beautiful British female professor (with the requisite tight clothing and excessive cleavage for the stereotypical female lead in a Transformers film) and later an English Lord tied to a lineage of secret Transformers protectors played by Anthony Hopkins. Humanity’s survival depends on their actions as the bad Transformers the Decepticons led by the evil Quintessa and the brainwashed Optimus Prime set in motion for the Transformers’ dead home planet Cybertron to destroy Earth in order to bring life back to Cybertron. With a connection to King Arthur readily apparent by the Medieval battle sequence at the beginning, the trio must travel the world to discover historical artifacts, including a powerful staff, that may help in their quest to save Earth and the human race. The best part of the movie is Anthony Hopkins for his perfect narration voice, but I was constantly thinking why on Earth would such a fine actor participate in such a preposterous action porn. Overall, I found it to be your typical Hollywood blockbuster franchise film that does not really add much to the genre besides showing off new ways to blow up stuff and lining the pockets of the movie studio. 

The Circle

Based on Dave Eggers’ best-selling 2013 novel, The Circle is a movie full of potential with an impressive cast about pertinent issues surrounding technology, but ultimately fails its lofty expectations as a result of weak writing and narrative structure. Emma Watson plays an idealistic millennial who is given the opportunity of a lifetime to work at the Circle, the largest technology and social media corporation in the world serving billions of customers. She is excited to work with a supposedly innovative company and amazed by the sprawling campus that offers everything a young worker would want, an environment remarkably similar to the headquarters of Facebook and Google. With the encouragement of the Steve Jobs-like co-founder and CEO, played by Tom Hanks, Watson’s character allows her entire life to be recorded for the entire world to see as a part of the company’s experiment for full transparency. After the project causes friction with her family and friends over their lack of privacy, she realizes that everything at the company is not as it seems, and there may be dark secrets that harm its customers. The film becomes a cautionary tale and raises the vital implications of technology for convenience sake being detrimental to basic privacy and people’s mental and physical well-being. Unfortunately, it feels like there is something missing from the movie, especially the lackluster ending that does not resolve much of anything and distracts from the overall message. Overall, despite its particularly timely subject matter and star-studded cast, I found it to be nothing more than your average technological thriller that was slightly entertaining and simply passed the time.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The sequel to the hugely successful 2014 comic book movie Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lives up to its predecessor as a raucously good time of a movie with the perfect balance of visually dazzling action, irreverent humor, and a nostalgic soundtrack. The movie takes place after the eccentric ragtag group of heroes known as the Guardians of the Galaxy help save the universe and are now tasked with protecting a set of high energy batteries with potentially deadly consequences. Chris Pratt plays the charming jokester Peter Quill or Star-Lord who is half human and the leader of the group, which consists of the green-skinned human-like Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, the large strong alien with a sense of humor Drax the Destroyer, played by Dave Bautista, the feisty genetically engineered talking raccoon Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, and the adorable tree creature Baby Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel. Eventually, their friendships are tested after Peter meets his father Ego, portrayed by Kurt Russell, who is a god-like alien form known as a Celestial, and Peter learns the previously undiscovered truth about his background. Through a series of spectacular CGI fight sequences, the team is emboldened to save the universe one more time after learning of a threatening malevolent force. In addition to the thrills and often uproarious humor and wit of the characters, in particular Chris Pratt’s character, the movie has an unexpected layer of sentimentality by revealing the complicated and endearing relationship between father or father-figure and son, as well as between close friends. The music, which is heavily from the seventies and eighties, is perfectly timed and so unique that it is an integral part of creating such a fun moviegoing experience. The most effective song was Cat Stevens’ classic lyrical Father and Son, which was played towards the end as Peter reflects on his real father and the mercenary Yondu, played by Michael Rooker, who really raised him. Overall, I found it to be one of the most fun and clever cinematic experiences of the year, and I would recommend it to even those who are not fans of the comic book superhero genre.

Life

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa, Life is a fairly typical ‘trapped in space’ sci-fi thriller that provides enough thrills and a creative twist on extraterrestrial horror to make for an entertaining film. Unlike most science fiction, the setting of the International Space Station instead of a futuristic spacecraft makes the storyline somewhat more plausible, as if it could take place today. The movie starts out with the six-member multinational crew making a significant scientific discovery of a small living organism recovered from Mars. However, the British biologist on board realizes the specimen is more than it seems and the Quarantine Officer, played by Rebecca Ferguson, must ensure that their discovery is kept contained in the quarantined laboratory as a result of the potential dangers. Ryan Reynolds’ character who is an American pilot for the space station risks his life in order to save the British biologist who is confronted with the very real dangers of the organism’s ability to cause harm. The specimen rapidly grows and becomes stronger in the presence of the oxygen-rich environment of the International Space Station. In several horrifying scenes, the entire crew, including the Russian commander and the American medical officer, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, must battle for their own survival as the space creature nicknamed Calvin causes irreparable damage to the space station in which all communications with Earth have been cut off and there is no easy escape. The filmmaker does an excellent job of re-creating what it must be like to live in space and seemingly presents the International Space Station in a realistic fashion, complete with the correct scientific implements. Overall, I found it to be a good but not great movie in a long line of films about the terrifying nature of space, and it is a excitingly fun sci-fi flick to pass the time.

Logan

The tenth installment of the blockbuster Marvel Comics’ X-Men film series since its debut in 2000, Logan is a superhero movie unlike any other by transcending formulaic conventions of the comic book genre to become a deeply emotional and serious drama about love and dying. Reprising his role for the ninth and likely final time, Hugh Jackman portrays Logan, often referred to as Wolverine, who is experiencing a great low point in his life and whose superpowers have increasingly diminished with age. Set in 2029, unexplained events have led to the practical extinction of mutants, people with genetic superpowers, and Logan is living a quiet, alcohol-fueled life as a chauffeur in El Paso. As a result of discrimination and attempted eradication from fearful non-mutants, the de facto leader of the X-Men Professor Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart, lives hidden away just across the border in Mexico with an albino mutant, played by Stephen Merchant. Logan visits often to make sure Xavier, the only person he has really loved like family, gets his medication since he is suffering from a debilitating and dangerous illness onset by age. Eventually, they, along with a young mutant named Laura who possesses the same powers as Wolverine and is depicted terrifically by the newcomer actress Dafne Keen, are hunted down by a sinister organization led by its vicious chief of security, portrayed by Boyd Holbrook of Narcos fame. Unlike most comic book adaptations, the movie shows the characters in a more empathetic and vulnerable light as they are chased across the country in hopes of reaching a place called Eden across the border in Canada. The theme of crossing a border out of hope while eluding dangerous and prejudicial forces is especially potent nowadays with the divisive rhetoric over immigration and discrimination. The superheroes themselves show their humanity: Logan, previously shown as indestructible, clearly suffers physically and mentally after several violent fights, and he is greatly affected by the increasingly frail condition of his beloved father figure Xavier. Largely unseen in other superhero films, there is an emotional connection between the super powerful characters Logan, Xavier, and Laura; it is as if they are on a road trip as grandfather, son, and granddaughter in which they have bonding time. With its chase storyline set across sweeping landscapes and a clear struggle between good and evil in intimate battles, the film also feels heavily influenced by the Western genre. Clearly alluded to this fact is when Xavier and Laura watch the classic movie Shane and later a quote from the movie is used at a particularly poignant moment at the end. Overall, I found it to be a refreshing take on the rather stale and predictable comic book superhero film genre: the filmmaker is able to craft a beautiful story about extraordinary characters dealing with ordinary and raw human emotions. The movie takes a slow-paced and nuanced look at characters and plot lines that have been generically rehashed over the years and ultimately results in probably the best film ever adapted from a comic book.