Tag Archives: Blade Runner 2049

Box Office Report: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ hammers home fourth largest debut of 2017

After a few slow weekends, the box office has been reinvigorated by the God of Thunder. The Taika Waititi-directed, Chris Hemsworth-starring Thor: Ragnarok took home an estimated $122.744 million in its opening weekend, which is the 4th largest debut of 2017 and the 7th largest of the MCU. The film has already made over $430 million worldwide, which means, on a budget of $180 million, the film is already and will continue to be a massive financial success. The first two Thor films ended, respectively, at $181 and $206 million domestically — numbers that Ragnarok will far surpass.

In second, and over $100 million less than first place, was A Bad Moms Christmas, with an estimated $17.03 million. The film actually opened on Wednesday, and it’s total since opening is $21.55 million. On a budget of $28 million and riding the success of the first Bad Moms film, this second in the series — strangely released over a month before Christmas — will still likely make its money back despite the rather poor critical standing of 31% on RottenTomatoes.

Spots three through nine remain in the same order as the previous weekend — JigsawBoo 2!GeostormHappy Death DayBlade Runner 2049Thank You for Your Service and Only the Brave.

While most other box office stories don’t say much that already hasn’t been said, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird soared onto the scene with a 2017 box office record. While Lady Bird only opened in four theaters across the country, the film made a per-theater-average of $93k, which is 2017’s best, beating The Big Sick‘s 5 theater-$84k PTA. As the film continues to expand — it goes wide over the Thanksgiving holiday — it’s likely that it will find similar financial success as Kumail Nanjiani’s romantic comedy, which could then fuel the momentum behind the film as a serious awards contender.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via Marvel.

Box Office Report: ‘Jigsaw’ saws its way to the top in slow weekend

In an expectedly slow weekend before the release of Thor: RagnarokJigsaw took the top spot at the box office with an estimated $16.25 million. As seen by Happy Death Day in the weeks prior, horror films, especially around Halloween, tend to do well — although Lionsgate likely hoped that for a better result with this being the last weekend of October. Regardless, the film, which sits at $25.75 million worldwide, has already crossed even on a budget of $10 million.

In second place was last weekend’s winner, Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween. With an additional $10 million, the 7th Madea film climbed past a domestic total of $35.5 million. International numbers are currently low, but the film should still cross even within the next week.

Geostorm earned an estimated $5.675 million for the third spot, a 58.6% fall from its opening weekend. These numbers are abysmal, and even though the film is over $136 million worldwide, it’s one of the bigger flops of the year considering its $120 million price tag.

Happy Death Day and Blade Runner 2049 also stayed in order, shifting down just one spot to 4th and 5th. The Groundhog Day-esque horror film added over 200 theaters, and made $5.099 million. The sci-fi sequel made only $3.965 million, and left 782 screens. The film will not cross $100 million domestically, and needs a huge run in China — of over $60-$70 million — to cross even, which is doable.

The second new release in the top 10 was Thank You For Your Service, which took home an estimated $3.702 million for 6th place. The film follows soldiers as they return home from war and deal with the effects of PTSD, and is the directorial debut of American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall. Right now, the film sits at 78% on RottenTomatoes after 72 reviews, and is one of the few favorably received new releases.

The third new release in the top 10 was the Matt Damon starring Suburbicon, which essentially bombed with only $2.8 million. The film has been panned by critics as well as fans, currently standing at 26% on RottenTomatoes and receiving a D- on CinemaScore.

Next weekend should blow up massively with the third Thor film and many critically acclaimed pictures, such as The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Lady Bird, either releasing, releasing limited or expanding.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate.

Box Office Report: ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ scares away competition

This past weekend saw the release of three critically panned films: GeostormTyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween and The Snowman.

With Happy Death Day in its second weekend and Blade Runner 2049 in its third, one of those three critical failures was poised to take the top spot. And with the strangely wide appeal of the franchise, Tyler Perry’s 7th Madea film won the weekend with an estimated $21.65 million. While that is the second worst opening for a Madea film, it’s still a financially impressive weekend as its production budget is only $25 million — which likely means that more Madea films will come.

Coming in second was Geostorm with an estimated $13.3 million. On a production budget of $120 million, it’s a foregone conclusion, and not a surprise at all, that the film will be a box office bomb.

Happy Death Day fell more than expected, however, only pulling in an estimated $9.375 million — a 64% drop from its opening weekend. Regardless, the horror film’s budget is only $4.8 million, meaning that it’s already extremely profitable.

In 4th, and still struggling to make money despite outstanding critical reviews, was Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, taking home an estimated $7.155. Standing at $194.1 million worldwide on a $150 million budget, the film will also lose money — unless markets it’s yet to be released in, like China, can get it to the approximately $300 million it needs to cross even.

The only critically acclaimed new release of this past weekend, Only the Brave, earned $6.01 million for the 5th spot. The film recounts the true story of the brave team of firefighters who fought the massive Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013. It currently sits at a 90% on RottenTomatoes.

Jumping past The Foreigner, which made $5.45 million, and It, which made $3.5 million, new release The Snowman, starring Michael Fassbender, only made an estimated $3.442 million. The director has come out to say that the production ran out of time and they weren’t able to shoot 10-15% of the script — as some sort of excuse for its low critic scores. Regardless, the film is shaping up to be a financial failure as well.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via Chip Bergman/Lionsgate.

Box Office Report: ‘Happy Death Day’ kills ‘Blade Runner 2049’ for top spot

Blade Runner 2049 had a chance at repeating at the top spot in its second weekend, considering its outstanding reception from both the critics and the general public. However, financially, the sci-fi blockbuster is fairing similarly to the original: not well. It only made an estimated $15.1 million this past weekend, bringing its domestic total to just over $60 million. Worldwide, Blade Runner 2049 has taken in $158.5 million, and, with a budget of $150 million, it’s looking as though the film’s best hope is to barely break even. It would have to make approximately $300 million worldwide to do so.

What ended up killing the Denis Villeneuve film was the new Groundhog Day-esque horror film Happy Death Day, which won the weekend with an estimated $26.5 million. Horror films are often successful in their opening weekend, and this was no exception. Add in the relatively favorable reviews, and the film should stay in the top five for at least another weekend, but likely longer.

Behind Blade Runner 2049 was the Jackie Chan action flick The Foreigner, which took home an estimated $12.84 million in its opening weekend. Overseas, the film has already made an additional $88.4 million for a $101.24 million total. On a $35 million production budget, The Foreigner is already profitable.

Rounding out the top 5 were It, making an estimated $6.05 million, and The Mountain Between Us, earning approximately $5.65 million. The Stephen King adaptation continues its dominance, with just over $630 million worldwide, while the Idris Elba and Kate Winslet romantic adventure thriller is struggling intensely.

One of the other new releases, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, failed historically this past weekend. The film made only $737,000, one of the worst debuts for a release in over 1,000 theaters. With a fantastic 87% on RottenTomatoes, its financial disappointment may point to failures in marketing. Granted, it still is only its opening weekend, and things could change with word of mouth and expansion.

However, A24’s The Florida Project, which opened in just 4 theaters last weekend and expanded to 33 this weekend, took home an estimated $401,141 for a total of $623,949. Assumedly, the small independent film should have a rather small budget, meaning that it’s shaping up to turn profitable as it continues to expand. It’s also one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, and a hot contender for Best Picture at the Oscars.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

Trial: What is ‘Blade Runner 2049’ director Denis Villeneuve’s best film?

*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*

This week’s question: What is director Denis Villeneuve’s best film?

Writers: Harrison Tunggal and Levi Hill
Judge: Kyle Kizu

*Warning: Spoilers for ‘Blade Runner 2049.’*

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Levi’s argument:

It’s not an easy task to take a beloved science-fiction classic — one that American Film Institute listed as the sixth greatest science fiction film of all-time — then one-up it. But that is exactly what Denis Villeneuve has done with his masterpiece Blade Runner 2049.

In an age of stale, repetitive blockbusters (lesser “replicants” of their former self), Denis uses this very meta-textual set-up to make an outwardly replicant of the original film. The original film followed a blade runner, Agent Deckard (Harrison Ford), as he begins to hunt down replicants that just want to be human. Because of this, the film created a human perspective from the outside looking in of things that just want to be treated equal to the humans they are modeled after. From this perspective, the film was calculated and cold. Ford played a detective tasked with murdering and murdering (mostly) innocent replicants — until he just can’t anymore because he has fallen in love with one, Rachael (Sean Young). All the while, he is increasingly haunted by memories of violence, and an unicorn running free.

The film leaves us cold, if visually enthralled.

Is Deckard a bad guy? Is he a replicant? Are memories only real for humans?

Wisely, Denis has created another cold, calculated story from Ridley Scott’s template, but frames the story entirely from the *spoiler alert* replicant perspective. Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is indeed a replicant (Nexus 9 model), and once again, is tasked with hunting down the Nexus 6s and 7s that can live as long as humans, if not much longer. However, unlike other replicants we have seen, he has a timed life span, unable to live longer than any other human. He also is made to obey orders from the LAPD — facing a strange PTSD test that questions whether he has established any lasting emotional capabilities after each bloody mission of killing his own kind.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Think A Clockwork Orange’s eyes wide-open scene, but with the humanity removed.

Thus, when K experiences a “miracle” that threatens to “break the world,” Denis’ intelligent placing of the main character as replicant creates an emotional pay-off about the very definition of what constitutes a “human.” The audience’s alignment creates an emotional journey that explores the politics of a rebellion, the cost of human life in a looming war, the power of memories and the sacrifices people make for just wanting to be free.

Acting as a sequel or a “replicant” of the original story, Blade Runner 2049 is the only sequel I can think of that is finally more human than the original — “more human than human.”

Besides this storytelling ambition, that posits itself as a meta-textual statement on how stories can play on established world-building, Denis has also crafted a story more experimental than Enemy, more intense than Sicario, more sprawling than Prisoners and more intellectual than Arrival.

A factory scene, with a grinding, synthetic score rivals the poetic, haunting, surreal beauty of anything Tarkovsky created in Stalker or even in the also lyrically tinged Enemy. A late stand-off between K and a highly-skilled foe adds more bone-crunching intensity than any of Sicario’s many gruesome shoot-outs. The scope of the film, that constantly reimagines what is capable for the medium of film, blows any recent Bond film out of the water and definitely dwarfs the complex, expanding mystery in Prisoners. Then, the very existential question of what it means to be human, and how one becomes “human,” carries more weight here than the equally intellectual questions regarding memory and communication in Arrival.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

With Denis’ controlled direction, each drawn-out, beautifully framed moment stands out as a work of art and the highest class of blockbuster filmmaking. With repeated overview shots of an overpopulated, water-soaked LA, or the orange dust clouds that pervade every frame in the Las Vegas setting, Denis creates a visual structure that only can be registered in all of its majesty on the big screen. It’s the first film Denis has made — and the first film this year, outside of Dunkirk — that visually cannot be truly appreciated without the biggest screen and the loudest sound.

And let’s not forget, this film is following one of the already most visually accomplished works of all-time.

Oh, and Denis proves why Harrison Ford, after many years of taking roles seemingly only for a paycheck, was once considered the most sought after actor. Ford arguably has never been better, and while the actor needs to be praised for bringing an unexpected amount of soul, much also has to be said about the bold choices Denis makes regarding the iconic character.

Every choice Denis makes here — in storytelling, composition, editing, sound, score, acting and design — acts as a culmination of what he has done before.

Not-so-simply-put, in every single facet of filmmaking, this is Denis’ home-run. This is his masterpiece. This is his classic.

Paramount/Courtesy

Harrison’s argument:

Arrival is Denis Villeneuve’s best film because it is the sole entry in his filmography that will define and inform our national conscience for years to come. The film released in the US the weekend after the 2016 election, and it was a clarion call for empathy and rationality, and a denouncement of violence and xenophobia — all of these qualities coalesce to become, at once, a warning against belligerence and a message of consolation in the face of vitriol. There hasn’t been a more timely film in recent memory, a film that speaks to our hearts so frankly, elegantly and warmly. The film’s screenwriter Eric Heisserer himself admitted that writing Arrival came from a place of necessity, the need to invite people to empathize and communicate with each other. It was a cinematic invitation that won him the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

On the level of craft, Arrival is made with precision and purpose, all of which make it yet more profound (especially when paired with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ethereal score). Bradford Young’s cinematography is utterly jaw dropping, and while he might not have the experience of the seasoned Roger Deakins, Villeneuve’s frequent collaborator, Young delivers shots that are just as jaw dropping as any of Villeneuve’s Deakins-shot films — particularly Dr. Louise Banks’ (Amy Adams) first glimpse at the heptapod spaceships, as clouds roll away.

Paramount/Courtesy

Choosing a mellow, soft color palette of blues and grays to reflect the film’s message of nonviolence was an inspired choice by Young, who shot the film digitally, leveraging the color grading that such a format allows. Arrival is an example of what humanity can strive for, but it is also a fine example of what digital filmmaking should aspire toward.

Then, the production design, the look of the heptapods and their language are astounding feats of design. The towering alien figures are as majestic as whales, but with just a touch of humanity. Their language is beautiful to behold, an example of how design mirrors theme, since the heptapod view of time is nonlinear. The meticulousness and originality that went into creating the heptapod language is itself worth the price of admission.

Ultimately though, Arrival is the story of a mother and her daughter, and we see how time spent with someone, no matter how brief, is worth it if there is love. That’s a message that, regardless of political era, is resonant and timeless. Beneath the film’s linguistic theory is a warm, beating heart, featuring arguably the most emotional climax in any Villeneuve film. Though Arrival is a film of our time, it is also one that prevails throughout cinema henceforth.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Levi’s rebuttal:

Harrison, I don’t disagree with anything you have mentioned above, except that Arrival is Denis’ best film. Rather, it is his second best film, as Blade Runner 2049 took everything that made Arrival a modern landmark, and then one-upped it by giving each of those themes (xenophobia, communication between different species, rationale before violence, familial bonds) a greater sense of purpose and clarity in Blade Runner 2049, albeit with the bigger risk of following up a top ten science fiction masterpiece, while maintaining the very pointed political critique.

Plus, it doesn’t have the most atrociously handled line of dialogue in an otherwise excellently written film — “let’s make a baby” — or the asinine plot contrivances of the Chinese General Shang telling Louise Banks, in the future, that her former/present self should tell his former/present self his wife’s dying words to create world peace. It still doesn’t make sense to me, how a film that did so well for 95% of its run time, can botch the last 15 minutes so severely. Should have it been powerful? Yes. Was it? If you like your movies overly sentimental and don’t fret about plot holes completely untouched, maybe it was — but not for me.

As for Blade Runner 2049, it’s hard to discuss the story at all, but the plot holes that might be present in the film are meant to be there. It’s not a conclusive picture of an entirely built world, but rather, it operates as a conclusive story for Agent K and in some ways, Agent Deckard. The audience is left to ponder real ideas, without given either/or answers. Arrival poses big questions, but rarely allows ambiguity to remain once the final frames brace us. If there is a flaw in Arrival, it’s that.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Say what you will about the lengthy run time of Blade Runner 2049, but if you take any individual scene out, the aura of the mystery, the power of the last 45 minutes and entire grandeur of the project are lost, like tears in the rain. Can you imagine if Lawrence of Arabia was condensed? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Godfather? Lord of the Rings: Return of the King? Hell, even Interstellar cannot be trimmed and fully be seen as the experience it needs to be. Some films need that time to work us over and create new visual and audial scapes for us to experience. Blade Runner 2049 is one of those films.

Then Leto, yes, he sort of seems off in the film (to some, not me), as a less dimensional villain. However, isn’t that the point? He is one of the only human characters in the world given significant screen time, and humans have created this travesty of the earth where the ice caps have melted and we’ve become so overpopulated that people are crammed in high rises living in hallways, not rooms.

With this, does it not make sense to make the incomparably privileged and wealthy Wallace (Leto) an egotistical, calculated, business-is-cutthroat monster, hell-bent on seeing his own agendas accomplished? Great or fine, Leto’s performance here is not bad, and in fact, it works for the film’s message.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

This is a film that even refuses to paint the main antagonist of the film, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), as anything resembling simple. While a replicant and forced to obey Niander Wallace (Leto) at all cost, Luv even finds a sense of depth in her constructed humanity that Marvel, D.C. or any comparable blockbusters haven’t come close to since the Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight.

Add in the symbolism of Wallace’s blindness, unable to see the world for what it is, and Luv’s uncontrollable tears when near him, and the duality of the two characters comment on how seeing is believing within Blade Runner — whether you are a human or a replicant.

There’s an immense sense of complexity in every frame, the most minute of details matter here. The opening shot of a green iris of an eye, followed by a match cut of the barren landscape of the outskirts of Los Angeles say more about the world and tone and theme of Blade Runner than most filmmakers accomplish in a career. And that’s not taking into account the more experimental flourishes that appear in Blade Runner — and are absent from Arrival — such as when Joi malfunctions in San Diego and, instead of quickly cutting, we see an extended take of her heartbreaking malfunction in stop-motion, as the world around her remains shot in real-time.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

I haven’t even touched on the fact that, somehow, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch may have outdone the original Vangelis score by adding more bombast to giddily jarring purposes, or that every female role in the film creates the agency and urgency in the story, or the other big fact THAT HARRISON FORD IS ACTUALLY 100% ACTING AGAIN, which, considering the potential of him showing up here simply being a fan service-y extended cameo, like what some have argued his scenes in Star Wars: The Force Awakens are, says a lot about Denis’ care to make sure that every element of the film operates as a soulful, humanistic, impressionistic exploration of the fundamental question to existence: what does it mean to be alive?

Designed from beginning to end to be enrapturing, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most accomplished directorial visions we’ve ever seen — taking an already highly touted vision and making it fresh, unique and cinematically groundbreaking all over again.

If that isn’t enough to convince someone Blade Runner 2049 is the greatest Denis Villeneuve film (so far), a film that not only excels with the given template of blockbuster cinema, but truly advances what is capable for big-budgeted storytelling, then I don’t know what is.

Blade Runner 2049 is what it looks like when the highest of art has finally perfectly synchronized with the spectacle of $150 million of pure, crowd-pleasing imagination. Seriously, the fact that an esteemed film critic has compared Blade Runner 2049 to an Andrei Tarkovsky film says a lot about this film’s poetic, epic beauty.

Take a bow, Denis.

Paramount/Courtesy

Harrison’s rebuttal:

Without a doubt, Blade Runner 2049 is proving to be not just a great sci-fi film, but one of the greatest sequels of all time, deserving a place alongside Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight. However, it is by no means a perfect film. For starters, Jared Leto has yet to wipe his take on the Joker from our memories, and his portrayal of Niander Wallace doesn’t do him any favors. He continues to harp about his method acting, which gives the character a built-in invitation for dislike. Even without such promotional antics though, his portrayal of Wallace is neither threatening, nor as profound as the rest of the film. In contrast, there isn’t a character in Arrival that is the least bit distracting. An ancillary performance from Forest Whitaker lends the film with a gravitas that Leto can’t pull off, while Stuhlbarg highlights the baser elements of our humanity. Leto might gesture toward grander ideas, but doesn’t succeed as well at conveying them as Arrival.

Additionally, while Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is noteworthy, it doesn’t pick up the baton from Vangelis as elegantly as it could have. Much of their score in Blade Runner 2049 veers toward bombastic sound design, and while this approach worked for Zimmer in Dunkirk, it feels jarring when the expectation is the melancholic synth-jazz riffs of Vangelis.

Paramount/Courtesy

Moreover, when it comes down to picking the best Denis Villeneuve film, choosing Arrival feels like the best representation of Villeneuve as a director. The aesthetic choices, production design and the internal logic of the world feel more unique to Villeneuve, whereas in Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve is forced to play in a sandbox created by Ridley Scott. While Villeneuve succeeds in conforming to the rules of Scott’s universe, the originality present in Arrival makes it a better candidate for choosing Villeneuve’s best film. The endings of both Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 are very emotional, but while the latter film incorporates imagery and musical cues from its predecessor to elicit emotion, Arrival does not have such a reliance. Instead, the emotional finale of Arrival is achieved solely by the characters crafted within it, lending it a sense of originality that just slightly puts it ahead of Blade Runner 2049.

Even though Arrival is based on a short story by Ted Chiang, the characters onscreen and the subversion of sci-fi is still a wholly original cinematic experience. For once, we see a strong female intellectual be the hero of a film. Sure, we’ve seen various professors lead their respective films, but how often is it that a female professor is the star of a film, let alone a female humanities professor? It’s impossible to understate how significant it is that the humanities save the world in Arrival. Ultimately, Arrival boils down to a story about mothers and daughters, and when the box-office of Blade Runner 2049 is partly due to a lack of female audiences, Dr. Louise Banks, and the film she inhabits, is worth celebrating.

Kyle’s decision:

Both arguments are intensely passionate, informed and well-crafted. And this has proven to be one of the better Trials as the arguments and rebuttals are rather different. Levi jumps in with an expansive, overwhelming (in a good way) comprehension of film itself while arguing for Blade Runner 2049, placing it not only within Villeneuve’s filmography and not only in conversation with the landmark original, but within the landscape of film today and in harmony with the history it fits into. It’s an extensive but fluid argument — one that makes me feel the need to put a word limit on Trials as it becomes difficult to not be persuaded by so much excellent argumentation.

But Harrison fights back with fervor, making a more humanistic case for Arrival, a case that pleads for the importance of film outside of the boundaries of film itself. The parallels between Arrival’s themes and today’s problems are harrowingly emotional, and you brilliantly lay out how affecting Arrival is through not just the presence of those parallels, but through how expertly they’re pulled off. You also do a better job in your opening at pointing out the coherency of those intangible elements of the film, theme and emotion and humanistic importance, and how the color palette, the design and the subject matter exist truly as veins of the film, rather than just facets.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

After reading the openings, I realized that these arguments may be calling into question what “best” really means. Levi made the better case for Blade Runner 2049 as Denis Villeneuve’s most brilliantly crafted film, while Harrison made the better case for Arrival as Denis Villeneuve’s most important film. In the rebuttal, I needed more from Levi about Blade Runner 2049’s importance outside of film. I got more about the brilliance of it as a film in film history, in comparison to the original and in Denis’ filmography. I got some small rebuts of Arrival as a film. I got some superfluous detail that didn’t need to be there and threatened the stability of the argument. But I did end up getting that idea of the film’s importance outside of the art form it comes in, how it also has many of the relevant, pressing humanistic themes that Arrival has — not just ideas of humanity in general — and makes use of them well within its own story.

Harrison bounces back with a very fine rebuttal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t present enough in terms of Arrival’s brilliance within the scope of film nor does it take down Blade Runner 2049 in regard to those elements, only offering rebuts of a performance and the score. The rebuttal, however, solidified that, if this were an argument of “importance” rather than “best,” Harrison would be the winner.

But Levi does too well to be overcome. While you may slightly lose out in the “importance” battle (and “slightly” is the important word as anything more severe might’ve cost you), you are undeniably convincing in every other area in regard to defining what “best” is and placing Blade Runner 2049 into that.

Winner: Levi Hill

 

Do you agree with Kyle’s verdict? Or would you have picked a different Denis Villeneuve film as his best? Sound off in the comments.

Staff records:

Harrison Tunggal: 2-1

Levi Hill: 1-0

Kyle Kizu: 0-2

Sanjay Nimmagudda: 0-0

 

Featured image via Warner Bros. and Paramount.

Independent films that need to be seen by more

This past weekend, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 released to unbelievable acclaim. The blockbuster follows the landmark classic sci-fi original. Villeneuve’s last film, Arrival, is a stunning, beautiful science fiction tale, one that received eight Oscar nominations. If one were to think about Villeneuve’s other films, Sicario, a gritty, dark story about drugs on the U.S.-Mexican border, and Prisoners, a harrowing, haunting film about kidnapping, would likely come to mind.

Enemy wouldn’t for most, which is a shame, as it’s one of Villeneuve’s more enthralling and singular pictures, a Kafka-esque, macabre movie about a man who finds his doppelgänger. It’s one that more people should seek out.

Too often are absolutely brilliant, but rather small independent films criminally washed over. These films are always some of the best of the year, but factors outside of the movie’s control — marketing, star-power and so on — hold it back.

So, it is our job, as film critics, to point out these independent films, to give them their fair share of the spotlight and to hopefully bring some more eyes to them. Here are three wonderful gems to consider:

Desierto

STX Entertainment/Courtesy

Desierto was co-written and directed by Jonás Cuarón, who co-wrote Gravity with his father, Alfonso Cuarón. The film has some hefty credentials to it, and it doesn’t disappoint, offering thrills that unnerve throughout the film’s taut, purposeful 88-minute runtime. Desierto follows a group of Mexican migrant workers including Moises (Gael García Bernal) and Adela (Alondra Hidalgo) as they attempt to cross the border, and it becomes a horror film of sorts when sharpshooting vigilante Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his tracking dog start hunting them down one by one. The film is compulsory viewing for us in 2017, as the reality of the Trump administration’s xenophobia gets projected onto the characters, adding considerable weight to the conflict of the film.

More simply, Desierto also functions as a damn good horror movie — Sam is a Xenomorph while Moises and Adela are Ripley. For a film with a $3 million budget, there are genuinely good set pieces — an initial chase scene involving Sam’s bloodthirsty hound, and the final, desperate confrontation between Sam and Moises. One begins to see how the younger Cuarón might have influenced the thrills of Gravity. By all means, seek out Desierto for its rush of adrenaline, but more importantly, for a chance to walk away with some higher degree of empathy for those being hunted by the Sams currently in office.

— Harrison Tunggal

Neruda

The Orchard/Courtesy

Premiering only a few short months before his critically-acclaimed Natalie Portman vehicle, Jackie, director Pablo Larraín’s mesmerizing love-letter to his native Chilé, Neruda, defines the director’s mastery over the intricacy of the cinematic character study. Although the film wasn’t written by Larraín himself, Neruda is the kind of film wherein a director’s presence, his vision so to speak, can be seen and felt within every shot, line of dialogue and narrative beat throughout the course of the film. Those who have seen Jackie will know that Larraín is no stranger to and can adeptly capture the emotional weight behind a biographical drama, but crafting a cinematic enigma, part biopic, part fantasy, focused about the one and only Pablo Neruda cements the Chilean filmmaker within the annals of directorial history. Neruda is an undoubtedly personal film and it’s that personality that imbues a larger-than-life figure such as Pablo Neruda with an unbridled intimacy which cannot only be seen, but felt as well. While Jackie may have garnered Pablo Larraín the recognition he deserves on the world stage, Neruda will remain a testament to his honed technical skills as a filmmaker, willingness to take risks as a storyteller and unabashed pride as a Chilean.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

Locke

A24/Courtesy

Sometimes the word “cinematic” can be used to describe a massive, sprawling, experiential film such as Mad Max: Fury Road. And sometimes, “cinematic” can be used to describe a film set in one place, about one man. Locke’s 85 minutes play out (almost) entirely in a car, a space we inhabit with Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy alone (as Ivan Locke), and we’re taken on a Shakespearean journey about the mistakes of a man and his attempts to stop the world he knows from crumbling. That epic sense is driven into the viewers’ bones — Locke is surprisingly visual, making use of double exposure to imbue the dark-but-vibrant colors of the highway on top of Locke’s mental state. And Steven Knight’s screenplay is one built with history and scope beyond simply the car; we remain in it, but we feel the past of Locke and the magnitude of his impact. But what truly cements Locke as one of the truly special films of the decade is Tom Hardy’s performance. The British actor is entirely transformed, despite being at his most stripped down. Sporting a Welsh accent, Hardy delivers each line with a tangible, bodily desperation, an anger that can be seen building up to his shoulders and a raw vulnerability as that body shatters inside. On top of that, Hardy offers his most dynamic and engaging use of his eyes. Often, Locke is staring in the rearview mirror, imagining his father in the back seat, and we receive the visceral impact of his piercing gaze. If for Hardy’s performance alone, seek out Locke. You’ll get a tragic and beautiful tale on the ride.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Featured image via A24.

Box Office Report: ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is slow out of the gate

Blade Runner 2049 won the weekend handily, taking in an estimated $31.525 million. However, that number is well below the initial $45 million estimates and a definite disappointment for a film with a $150 million price tag. The sequel to the landmark classic Ridley Scott film has gotten outstanding reviews so far, currently sitting at an 89% on RottenTomatoes, and it’s directed by recent Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve — all of which poses questions about how studios will value talent behind the camera and a well-received film against how well said film does financially. With another $50.2 million from international markets, and it still to release in more markets, the film has a road to profitability, especially if the good reviews and word of mouth give it legs. But that will be answered by next weekend’s numbers.

Coming in second is The Mountain Between Us, making an estimated $10.1 million. The Idris Elba and Kate Winslet-led film has crashed critically, and needs to hit approximately $70 million to recoup its $35 million budget and marketing costs. It currently stands at $13.7 million worldwide.

Continuing its dominance is the Stephen King adaptation It, grossing approximately $9.655 million. With that, its domestic total has crossed $300 million and if it doesn’t completely fall off, it should overtake Spider-Man: Homecoming’s $332.8 million domestic total.

The third new release this weekend, My Little Pony: The Movie, placed 4th with an estimated $8.8 million. Animated films have been sparse this year with Pixar’s Coco still not releasing for over a month.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the actual winner of the previous weekend, dropped to 5th with an estimated $8.1 million. While the film doesn’t have as golden of a critics’ rating as the first, it’s well into profitability, which could warrant a third if director Matthew Vaughn wishes.

In 6th, the Tom Cruise-starring American Made made an estimated $8.073 million, bringing its domestic total to $30.444 million. While some were concerned about its slow start last weekend, the film will end up making its money make, sitting at $98.544 million worldwide on an estimated $50-$60 million budget.

This upcoming weekend sees the release of Happy Death Day, and horror films always end up rather successful in their opening weekends, so Blade Runner 2049 will have to fight off scares to forge a trajectory to success.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

‘Blade Runner 2049’ Review: Sci-fi sequel is a masterpiece that questions the constitution of humanity

What does it mean to be human? Is it the capacity to feel emotions? To feel sadness? Happiness? Fear? Is it the ability to live with a purpose? To die? To remember your past?

If so, then can replicants be the next evolution of mankind?

These are all questions the landmark 1982 Blade Runner wisely posed, but refused to answer in simple measures. This year’s follow up, Denis Villeneuve’s visual masterpiece Blade Runner 2049, brings all of these questions back to the forefront, only to magnify the stakes, in an event that multiple characters either say will “break the world,” or be a “miracle.”

Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with getting to the bottom of this event, slowly uncovering the hidden truths from the world. Gosling, in full Drive-mode, stoic and commanding for the entire run time, carries this complex, intellectual film with ease. With a performance that starts as closed-off from portraying emotions (a battle-hardened blade runner), he, over the course the film, sells his character’s quiet, but moving arc about a man placed in a burgeoning war between man and its closest competitor: the replicants.

In fact, all of the actors bring their A-game, with Ana de Armas (War Dogs) and Carla Juri (Wetlands) making the most of their relatively small screen-time. However, outside of Gosling, it really is Harrison Ford — reprising his role of Deckard — who steals the show. Where Ford’s performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was pure fan service, his role in BR2049 is much more demanding, much more emotional. In every scene Ford inhabits, the camera and the other actors are as glued to him as the audience is, watching this withering, soul-crushed character coping with memories lost in time. Whether it’ll gain awards traction or not is a different debate, but seeing Ford this committed to bearing his heart and mind is stunning.

What else is stunning is the incredible craft work on display. The production design, the score, the sound and the editing, despite its nearly three hour run time, are consistently spectacular. Yet, it is Roger Deakins and his mastery of light and composition that dominate the film. It’s arguably his most showy cinematography ever, yet it’s all in service of the film’s controlled atmospherics. With straight line designs, piercing rays of light through the darkest of locations, or an extended take involving a crashing vehicle, BR2049 is inarguably the showcase for all of Deakins’ exquisite powers behind the camera. After 13 Oscar nominations and no wins, it appears it’s finally his time.

Regardless of awards though, Blade Runner 2049’s insistence on posing the biggest of big existential questions, and powerfully refusing to offer simple answers, makes this a modern science fiction masterpiece. Denis Villeneuve, much like Christopher Nolan, takes his spot alongside the pantheon of great cinematic artists who push big budget filmmaking to another level — finally making blockbusters “more human than human.”

Grade: 9.6/10

 

Featured image via Warner Bros./Columbia/Sony.

When Harry Met Movies: Breaking Out the Nostalgia Goggles — Column

I remember going to see Ex Machina with my parents, and pointing to a standee in the movie theater lobby. It was Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle with a pack of velociraptors flanking him. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but it might have been something like this. I was excited, not just because I was about to see Oscar Isaac get his disco on, but because in a month, Jurassic World was going to take me back to Isla Nublar, a place where I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time cavorting about.

I am speaking figuratively, of course, but I’m sure toddler Harry would refute that statement. Donning my Alan Grant fedora — I never called it an “Indiana Jones hat” — I would spend untold, infinite hours on that island taming (plastic) dinosaurs, watching them fight and sometimes feeding them Batman and Han Solo.

If you couldn’t already tell, Jurassic Park has always had a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first movies I ever remember watching, as evidenced by the chewed-on, mostly destroyed cardboard sleeve that barely houses my VHS copy of it. Why my parents let their three year old watch a movie featuring Samuel L. Jackson’s severed arm, I’ll never know, but they’re awesome because of it.

Fast forward to November 25, 2014, and I was a senior in high school. I was in the midst of college applications, one of which was destined for the University of Chicago, where I was hoping to take Paul Sereno’s (more or less, Alan Grant in real life) paleontology class, go on a summer dig, discover some new and fantastic species of dinosaur and make all those hours spent in Isla Nublar worth something. But at the moment, none of that mattered, because I was trying to hide the fact that I was watching the Jurassic World teaser trailer in class. There it was, at 2:12, Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle next to freaking velociraptors. For a hot second, I was three again.

Actually watching Jurassic World was a different experience entirely — I wasn’t three years old with a too-big fedora on; I was a crotchety old man waving his fist in the air, smelling vaguely of prune juice, yelling at Colin Trevorrow to get off my lawn. The film didn’t resurrect dinosaurs as much as it did nostalgia for dinosaurs, and if anyone was going to buy into it, it would have been me.

And yet, the nostalgia goggles didn’t make the film’s characters seem any less two dimensional. Moreover, there’s an insidious cynicism that such nostalgia inspires, as if to say remember the good ol’ days? Great! Because it’s not going to get much better than that. Nostalgia makes progress impossible, setting standards so far back in time that the laws of physics and the fictionality of a time-hopping DeLorean make them impossible to achieve.

Yearning for glory days long past, rather than imagining ones still to come, makes Jurassic World seem like the guy that hangs out in the high school parking lot next to the football field, futilely trying to retain some tenuous grasp on a history that will never be repeated. And somewhat frustratingly, nothing sells quite like nostalgia — the current cinematic landscape thrives on it.

Of course, not every film that looks fondly on the past is doomed to mediocrity. It, steeped in 80’s culture, is proving to be one of the biggest critical and commercial hits of the year, and later this week, Blade Runner 2049 promises immaculate, mind-bending sci-fi. But it’s worth remembering that nostalgia also gave us the MAGA cap.

Nostalgia shouldn’t be something to eschew completely — I’ll always look back fondly on my childhood obsession with Jurassic Park, but I’m not going to bust out my Alan Grant hat, and start lassoing plastic dinosaurs. I’ll write about it instead.

‘When Harry Met Movies’ is a bi-weekly column from Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic Harrison Tunggal about movies that shape us and why we love them.

 

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Director

Christopher Nolan finally got his long awaited first Oscar nomination for Best Director, almost a decade overdue after being snubbed for 2008’s The Dark Knight. In fact, Nolan should be on his third nomination, as he was also snubbed for Inception.

And while he deserves to win (and in this writer’s opinion, it shouldn’t even be close), he won’t. He’s the one that could put up the biggest fight, but there’s a clear favorite.

Guillermo del Toro has won both the BAFTA award and the Directors Guild of America award, the two massive indicators that all but tie a bow on this race.

The Nominees
Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk
Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water
Paul Thomas Anderson — Phantom Thread
Jordan Peele — Get Out
Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Will win: Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water
Could win: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk
Should win: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk
Should’ve been nominated: Luca Guadagnino — Call Me by Your Name

 

Featured image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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