- Sooo, so much to cover today. I think I'm going to have to scale back my TV reviewing soon though, because it's just way too much to write about in the limited time that I can devote to the ol' blog. This past weekend though, I saw some movies that I definitely need to write about. So, submitted for your approval:
BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT Review
- In 1982, director Ridley Scott unleashed a film that did what few others have ever done - it completely changed the film landscape and created a visual style that was like nothing that had ever been seen, serving as the influence for countless films that would follow. The film was Blade Runner, and if ever there was a classic film that begged to be seen not at home but in a theater, on the big screen, this is it. So this weekend, I had one of those true geek-out moments that reminded me why living in LA certainly has its perks for those of us who love movies. You see, in honor of Blade runner's 25th Anniversery, Ridley Scott is releasing an all-new DVD of the film, with a number of tweaks and small changes, and an all new digital refurbishing that ensures that the movie looks and sounds as good as it possibly can. However, the powers that be at Warners also decided to give the new cut of the film a very, very limited theatrical run. And by limited, I mean to say that it's playing, right now, in exactly TWO theaters in the entire country. Why they are giving it such a small release, I don't know, as everyone who considers themselves a fan of film should have the chance to see this. But luckily for me, one of the two theaters with the new cut is here in LA, at the Landmark over on Pico Blvd. So on Friday, the G-Man and I ventured down to the West Side for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the greatest movies of all time fully restored and on the big screen. And man, am I glad we went, because I was blown away by the brilliance that is BLADE RUNNER all over again.
I remember my first exposure to the movie - I had heard it mentioned in magazines and whatnot in hushed, reverant tones, but one day my uncle handed me a stack of old comics, and one of them was a comic book adaptation of Blade Runner. Excited and curious about this particular issue, I quickly read through it and proceeded to have my mind blown by Replicants, dystopian urban futures, and neo-noir sci-fi. As time went on, I would catch the movie periodically on TNT or SciFi, and then, finally, on DVD. It was one of those films that you coudl watch over and over, because half the fun wasn't even the film itself, but simply the ATMOSPHERE that it created, the world that it brought to life. It was a dark cityscape of monolithic buildings, flying cars, and neon lights - it was a place that was like nothing I had seen, and a place that you couldn't help but want to visit.
But seeing Blade Runner on the big screen, I couldn't help but reevaluate just how brilliant of a visual creation this movie is. It practically explodes off the screen with the sheer force of its ideas. Even now, 25 years later, the power of IMAGINATION that runs through this film makes most of today's f/x-heavy blockbusters pale in comparison. When I saw the opening shots of Blade Runner on the big-screen, polished-up and smoothed-over, but still a relic of the pre-CGI age, my eyes lit up. There, larger than life, was a sweeping shot of The Future - shining black structures lit by towering, fire-emitting silos, flying vehicles soaring through the air, a hellish night sky lit up by neon lights and the flames shooting from below. Wow - this was VISION, this was art, and 25 years later it was still pretty freaking breathtaking.
For the rest of the movie, the feeling of seeing art in motion rarely let up. The way the colors of a futuristic film-noir Los Angeles melded together in a clash of blacks and neons. The way each scene looked like it had come out of an art book, framed to perfection, with the camera lingering just long enough to draw you in, to immerse you in this brave new world. And yet, when the action kicks in, things are kinetic, visceral - you can't take your eyes away.
And then, the visual style mixes with an iconic cast to produce filmic perfection. This is Harrison Ford at his best - ruffled, world-weary, the classic noir detective transplanted into a future where his quarry isn't run of the mill criminals, but Replicants - robotic creations who look much like humans, but whose lifespans are tragically short - a fact that begins to weigh more and more on a particularly advanced group of Replicants who stage a revolt on an off-world mining colony, and then return to earth in search of their creator. Rutger Hauer simply rules it in this movie - Blade Runner is his shining moment that will live on forever - Hauer as the ultimate sympathetic villain, the leader of the Replicant rebels, an artifical being who becomes "more human than human," so to speak. Hauer is freaky as #$%& in this movie. The last act, that sees him in hot pursuit of Harrison Ford's Deckard, like some kind of blood-lusting werewolf, is can't-turn-your-eyes-away cinema at its best. The rest of Blade Runner's cast is, at this point, the stuff of movie legend. Sean Young as a Replicant who learns that all of her memories are artificial, and who finds a fellow lost soul in Deckard. Darryl Hannah as the harlequinn-esque Priis is simply character creation at its finest - a sci-fi icon with racoon eyes. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that you watch a movie like Blade Runner, and at nearly any point in the film, you feel like you could press "pause," hit print, and have yourself a great movie poster. The images and moments in the film are simply that good and that memorable.
I think what makes the film so iconic too is that it is really about the simplest of ideas - what is it to be human? - but that idea is never really pushed at you, per se, instead it lingers and lingersand hangs over the whole movie. A lot of people look at the film and disect its plot and look at instances where things don't feel logical or necessarily make for a cohesive plot. But this is a movie about ideas, told fairly abstractly. We never know Deckard's backstory or his lineage or his origins - this is a movie that simlpy drops us into a particular moment and runs with it, and that's part of the reason why it works as well as it does. Seeing it on the big screen, Blade Runner is also as much of a tour de force as ever - a movie whose visual style influenced countless stories and ideas about what the future may hold. I won't go into exhaustive detail about how this cut of the film differs from the original or the 90's Director's Cut. Suffice to say it still lacks Deckard's opening narration from the original cut, and keeps the more abrupt, bleaker ending of the Director's Cut, as well as the much-analyzed unicorn dream sequence, which serves to subtley impy that Deckard is not exactly what he seems. The only change I really took note of from the Director's Cut was a key line of dialogue from Rutger Hauer, in which his language is toned down - when he meets his creator, Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation. The original line didn't exactly make sense, but was cool as hell, so it was jarring to see it taken out. But the scene probably makes more sense now.
In any case, if you live in NYC or LA, this is something you need to see. Blade Runner on the Big Screen. A masterpiece of a movie, one of if not THE greatest scifi films ever made, a landmark that now looks better than ever.
My Grade: A+
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD Review
- You've got to love the current Western revival occuring in Hollywood. A few weeks ago, we got a great action-Western in 3:10 to Yuma, and now we've got JESSE JAMES, a sort of Western biopic told with an artful eye and a stylistic flair. This film is slow, deliberately-paced, and lengthy, but to me these qualities helped rather than hurt - because JESSE JAMES turned out to be one of the most absorbing, character-intensive, and thought-provoking movies so far this year.
There's two main things to note in this movie - one is the great cast, the other is the spectacular cinematography. To start with the latter, this movie has a quietly-absorbing yet ultra-intense pacing that, if you are in the right mindset for it, will completely suck you in. The cinematography is wonderful in terms of evoking the last days of the Old West - picturesque and sephia-tones, JESSE JAMES has a number of long, lingering shots that draw you into the moment, that paint a picture of a time when the frontier dream lived on, but the myth of the West was slowly dying as were its greatest legends.
And that's what we have here - a look at the last days of a legend, an outlaw who was on one hand a cold-blooded killer but on the other a sort of folk hero who was immortalized in his own time in dime novels and songs and in the dreams of young boys. Bradd Pitt is perfect in his role as Jesse James, and the role suits him as Pitt is usually at his best when he can tap into that slightly insane side, the unhinged, unpredictable persona that gets to shine in many of his best movies, like Fight Club or 12 Monkeys. Pitt brings that slightly crazed side of himself into play here - his Jesse James is a man wel laware of his own legend, to the point that his own myth is almost too much for the man to handle. The movie shows us a Jesse James whose glory days have passed - most of the original James Gang members have been arrested or killed, and so the great outlaw is forced to work with a second-rate collection of hangers-on and wannabes, and rather than great robberies or ambitious schemes, much of James' time is occupied by simply tracking down those who are plotting against him, taking out would-be backstabbers before they have a chance to enact their betrayals.
Caught up in these post-glory days is Robert Ford. Ford is kind of the Old West equivalent of the creepy fanboy - a guy who so idolized Jesse James as a kid that to him, the reality of his boyhood hero could be nothing but disappointment. James lived in a time when fiction and reality first began to blur - when the exploits of a criminal and murderer were glamorized in stories that painted him as a pulp hero and adventurer. Ford, played by Casey Affleck, is a total sketchball from the minute we meet him - and yet, the thing of it is, that Robert Ford really is, really should be, the hero of the movie, just as he now doubt envisions himself the hero of his own story. And that's what's so interesting about this film - Robert Ford essentially did the right thing in taking down Jesse James, but we begin to root against Ford simply because he goes about his plans in a less-than-heroic manner. In fact, the way Ford reacts to being wrapped up in James' band of outlaws is exactly how many of us would react - in a kill or be-killed world, is there really any room for heroism? And if not, then how did Jesse James end up as the hero and Ford end up as the villain? It speaks to America as a country that rewards style over substance, myth over fact, legend over truth - and part of why this movie is so effective is that it completely resonates with the issues facing modern society, in which celebrities, politicians, athletes - are put on a pedestal for all the wrong reasons.
And Casey Affleck as Robert Ford - it's been written about a lot already, but this is truly the definition of breakout role. Affleck the younger is just phenomenal here, painting a picture of a somewhat disturbed individual, someone unsure of themselves, someone who wants nothing more than to be a part of the same legends he grew up with even if it means killing them off. Robert Ford is somewhat of a loser, a squirmy guy whose calling may be as a writer or actor, but certainly not as a gunslinger. And Affleck does a great job of making us ponder this character - do we root for him? Hate him? It's all shades of gray thanks to Affleck's nuanced performance.
Meanwhile, the supporting cast is a lot of fun. Sam Shepard as the older James brother, Frank, was my personal favorite, as he brought that kind of over-the-top Wild West thing to this movie, with lots of fun lines said in a suitably badass cowboy drawl. Jeremy Renner and Paul Schneider to a great job as James Gang Members Wood Hyde and Dick Liddel, and Sam Rockwell is great as Robert Ford's older brother Charlie. Some of the female roles here are played by some pretty big names as well - Mary Louise Parker and Zooey Daschenal, and there are also a number of other great actors sprinkled here and there in relatively small roles, drifting in and out of various scenes. The bottom line is that the cast of this movie is outstanding.
This is an accomplished, deep, absorbing movie that was I found to be completely immersive and extremely thought-provoking. It's one of those movies that is an endless conversation-starter, with numerous scenes that will be recalled with enthusiasm and curiosity. The slow build worked for me, because it gave the entire movie one of on-edge intensity. When the movie's tranquil quietude is broken, it explodes with inspired action and conflict and drama. This one has Oscar-worthy direction and cinematography, a breakout turn from Casey Affleck, and one of Bradd Pitt's career-best roles. And, it is a classic tale of America and of the West - of its legends, its myths, and its slow, inglorious death.
My Grade: A
- Alright - a ton of TV stuff to talk about but it will have to wait for now. Stay tuned.