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Out in Theaters: ‘BLADE RUNNER 2049’ 

Let’s get one thing straight, Blade Runner 2049 is superb and stupefying. Dreamlike production design, fiercely thoughtful direction, poetic and often brilliant storytelling, sublime world building and excellent performances across the board all add up to a sequel that fits perfectly into the cinescape that Ridley Scott imagined nearly 30 years ago while carrying its story forward in exciting, imaginative and wholly fulfilling new ways. Expanding on themes of humanity and identity native to Phillip K. Dick’s novella “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, Blade Runner 2049 both expands a world wherein humanoid androids and their homosapien masters co-exist while narrowing it down to a small ensemble of meaningful characters, all who have their part to play. This time the focus is K (Ryan Gosling), a LAPD Blade Runner who struggles with his own identity while hunting down and “retiring” outdated android models.  Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘ALIEN: COVENANT’

One thing’s for certain, Alien: Covenant is a Prometheus sequel. Ridley Scott doubles down on the 2012 prequel’s cerebral but ultimately sloppy storytelling, reveling in yet another cast of characters who make stupid decision after stupid decision in a misguided attempt to hoist ideology above character. In essence a film about discovering meaning, Prometheus failed to define its own, collapsing under the weight of its admirable ambition by throwing too much at the screen and having too little stick. By the end of that venture, everything remained a bit of a head-scratcher but Scott, for what it’s worth, attempts to make up for such here in Alien: Covenant. For its faults, Covenant brings the message of this deeply intertwined prequel series into focus here and its irreverent thesis is far darker than we might have anticipated: creation is nasty business. Our makers can be monsters. Gods and Devils are one and the same. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘THE MARTIAN’

Ridley Scott’s most mainstream-minded movie in years, The Martian is 80 percent more Apollo 13 than it is Duncan Jones’ similarly themed (but wholly superior) Moon. Like Moon, The Martian involves a Starman (David Bowie’s space anthem of the same name is used tremendously in Scott’s film) contending with crippling solitude and psychological tremors when he’s left for dead on Mars. Unlike Moon, the narrative is a straight-forward locomotive, employing the mantra “I think I can” to such a degree that you can be almost one hundred percent confident that everything is going to work out in the end. Read More

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Out in Theaters: EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS

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If there’s one thing Ridley Scott‘s Exodus: Gods and Kings gets right it’s the amount of hairstyles Christian Bale can rock in one movie. I stopped counting after about the eight iteration of mangy hair/trim beard to mangy beard/trim hair transformation. Eventually some gray enters the mix. It’s very life affirming.

That ever changing facial hairiness belongs to Moses, the badass war commander from the Bible. See you may mistakenly remember Moses as a peace loving, water-parting, commandment-carrying lover of all things Hebrew but Scott’s film reminds us of his true roots: slicin’ and dicin’ Barbarian hordes. Because what is a Ridley Scott movie without scene of “civilized” warriors running down rudimentary inferiors? In 3D, it’s all the more punishing.

Moses starts the film as a Prince of Egypt, a devout servant to the Egyptian throne and underling to the one and only Jesus (John Turturro with drawn on eyebrows). Moses is the cousin to hairless heir Rhamses, an antagonist with a serious case of the Charlie Browns and an even worse case of miscasting. Moses advices Rhamses in matters of … uh…  untold things? and tries to quell his overly developed Commodus qualities by being sword twinsies. Plucked right from Gladiator, Jesus (ok fine, Turturro’s real name is Seti) tells Moses he wishes that it could be him who takes the reins after his demise, but alas! that vexing bloodline thing! After a fraudulent Ben Mendelsohn ousts Moses as a Hebrew with a birthright (that being a birthright to drown in a river like all those other pesky Hebrew babies), Rhamses throws a hissy and gives Moses the boot from his kingdom of pyramids and cat statues. Plagues follow.

For what feels like forty days and forty nights, the film is as much of a slog as its title implies. The diaspora of narrative is as thinned out as Moses’ herd of hungry hungry Hebrews. No stone is left unturned as the screenplay by committee (four credited screenwriters) make room for just about every uninteresting element in Moses’ 120 year long life. See Moses struggle with leaving his (Muslim?) family, Moses trekking there and back again and then back again and then back again, Moses’ teach his flock to rise and rise again until lambs turn to lions and, finally, Moses waiting horrified in the wings as God unleashes a lashing of super gnarly pandemics.

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Squatting somewhere on a fence between super-naturalism and realism, Exodus never can make up its mind about how pragmatic it wants its divinity to be. The whole celestial curse comes with a footnote of “How the Plagues Could Have Actually Happened” (narrated by the film’s best Ewen Bremmer lookalike) that mostly involves alligator fights and acne. As things heat into a realm of “don’t mention it” magical realism, a deathly hallow of blackness consumes the lives of first borns a big fat dementor. When Scott gets around to revealing God as a neatly shaved, petulant child with an overdeveloped sense of vengeance, things get laughable.

Bale, as always, is up to the task, even if the film itself is not. He gives his all to Moses. Both the battle-worn soldier and the identity-confused harbinger of commandments are juicy with Bale’s overzealous commitment to character. The rest of the performances are disposable at best. Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, who FEELS NO PAIN!!!!) peeks around corners and catch Moses in the act of talking to God (aka talking to a bush like a madman) not once, not twice but a heaving four times.

Ben Kingsley shows up because it’s a movie about Egypt so Ben Kingsley has to show up. Signourney Weaver is stuffed inside some horrendous Egyptian dress to spout out some vitriol about something or other and then never reappear. But it’s Edgerton who suffers most under the weight of Rhamses’ stupidly whitewashed part. The character is dumb enough before draping itself in pale yellow anacondas.

To watch Exodus is to endure exodus. At 150 mins, it’s easily one of the most taxing films of the year and surely one of its least inspired blockbusters. Darren Aronofsky struggled to find his footing in Noah and misstepped more than once, but at least there was some kind of palpable driving force behind that film. Here, it’s a challenge to make heads or tails of the intent. It seems like a $140 million dollar tax write off starring Christian Bale’s hair-growing abilities.

D+

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Ranking Ridley Scott: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When asked about his diversity of films and if he himself had any idea what constitutes a Ridley Scott film, the 77-year old director admitted, “There never was a plan and there still is no plan. I just jump into what fascinates me next.” His fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants attitude towards picking projects is illustrated by his definitively wonky filmography. Read More

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Out in Theaters: THE COUNSELOR

“The Counselor”
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Dean Norris, Sam Spruell, Natalie Dormer, Goran Visnjic
Crime, Drama, Thriller
117 Mins
R

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When we think Ridley Scott, typically big, lavish spectacles pop up in our minds, which is why The Counselor comes as such an admirable surprise. Much more interested in cautionary talks than fits of physical violence, The Counselor plays mind games with its audience, toying with us intellectually and emotionally. One long con bleeds into a slow climb towards a heady climax of inescapable comeuppances, and we have front row seats to the scramble. If Scott’s former films are a series of taxing somatic workouts, The Counselor is the glistening sweat beading from his forehead once the Western dust has settled. Like a man with an agenda tucked up his sleeve, Scott wields an unblinkingly grim look at the allure of the international drug enterprise and the heartless abandon of cartel justice. As a piece of purely adult entertainment, it’s fearlessly mature and irreverent – the antithesis of studio expectation.

The narrative structure in which this ill-mannered tale of thoughtless vengeance unfolds is laid out like an eight-course table settings. A series of foreboding set-ups piece together a pilgrimage through the stages of greed, wealth, and power, all bonded by prosaic speeches. Various supporting characters all leaning against the post of lawlessness forewarn our hero, a man trying to dip his toe into the drug business, known only as the counselor (Michael Fassbender), of the potential gravity of the situation he’ll be marrying his money and his mouth to. No matter the caution tape they place, telling him to settle with hamburger while he can, the counselor’s taste can’t be satiated with anything less than Kobe beef. As it is, each rehearsed soliloquy is a trap set to spring later in play.

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Stepping into a new role as a screenwriter, author Cormac McCarthy is a maestro at establishing these simmering ideas that later erupt in bright bursts of bloodshed. Doling out a class of ironic justice, McCarthy defies civil expectations of “fair,” parsing romanticized ideas of criminal proceedings from the stark actuality of border politics. Standing on some dusty line in the sand and glancing into the sun, there is no line, no limit, no “fair” – only gory messes and dutiful cleanups.

In revealing this harsh reality, McCarthy and Scott know exactly how and when to play their cards.  As the adage goes, if you show a gun in the first act, it better go off by the time the credits roll. Throughout The Counselor, McCarthy and Scott show an arsenal of guns and give each a moment in the sun to pop off in the film’s home stretch. Though some may feel taxed by the grueling nature of Scott and McCarthy building this house of cards, the payoff is well worth the wait. 
 
Although McCarthy’s talky script flirts with being overly showy, like the teachers pet showing off, his larger-than-life dialogue works to convert this tale of untold tragedy into a thing of grit-toothed folklore, transporting it like smuggled heroin from the blood-in-the-sand shoot-em-up it might have been to a more uncharted territory. But make no mistake; this is entirely McCarthy’s intention – entirely his rodeo. His fingerprints smother the dialogue, fueling the jet black tone and unrelenting bleakness dripping from the screen. Dangling characters at the end of his puppet strings, using them as mouthpieces for his prosaic tact for conversation, McCarthy’s pithy word play is the star of the show.

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To the chagrin of those expecting a guns blazing actioner, The Counselor is only violent in rare fits, so for those going for a bloodbath – beware. When it does shift to the grisly side, it’s more of the full-stop violence of Refn’s films than anything this side of Kill Bill. This is violence as reality; violence as horror; not some glamorized Hollywood spectacle. But the elements that will really haunt you are the ones that slink into the shadows, the ones that are suggested, talked about in whispers, but never shown.

With a screenplay that exchanges high-octane thrills for moments of stressful self-reflection and one-on-one character conversations, Scott keeps the proceedings lively by punctuating them with anecdotal scenes that offer some of the lighter and more engaging moments. Between the gasps, the laughs, and the many talks, there’s not too much room for adrenaline. Much more a mentally stressful film than one that will have your blood pumping in thirsty gushes, all may be quiet on the western front, but it’s not in the minds of those living there.

For a movie that depends so much on the weight of these character chats, a rock solid cast is an absolute necessity. To the benefit of all, the top-tier cast lined up fully rises to the occasion. As the titular counselor, Fassbender continues to flex his thespian muscles, showcasing a spectrum of trade tricks that really makes his performance pop. Although still unconvinced of her true talent, at least in the English language, Penélope Cruz manages to be more than just eye candy and displays a woman who humanizes beauty and love requited. Brad Pitt continues to hit his mark in a solid streak of winning performances, although his Southern drawl may have started to wear a little thin. Cloaked in gaudy clothes and rings the size of dinner party costume jewelry, Cameron Diaz puts in the role of a lifetime. Sadly, that’s a low bar to hit and her performance fails to become the true stunner that it could have been.  

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As the gold-toothed Malkina, a sexual minx of any sinner’s fantasy, Diaz is on the precipice of something great but never trusts herself enough to take a true risk. In many ways, Malkina is a feminine ode to McCarthy’s Anton Chigurh. Though lacking the brute force of Chigurh, they share comparable devilishly savvy elements. It’s as if they are long separated siblings or lovers who will never be. Ironically, Malkina’s love interest here is played by Chigurh actor Javier Bardem, although his role here is more a thing of kooky-clothed comic relief than the stuff of day terrors. While Chigurh was driven by a distorted cosmic sense of justice, Malkina is ruled by authoritative greed. Too secure in her old image to take a blind leap of faith into the mysterious recesses of something fresh though, Diaz flirts with being great but doesn’t commit. Although I originally had her as a potential Oscar nominee, those chances are all but slashed.

As is becoming a trend for him, Scott throttles the line of brilliance but allows himself to get bogged down in the execution of it. Illustrating his potential for staggeringly intelligent storytelling, there are explosions of excellence scattered throughout The Counselor and a surgeon-steady backbone of thoughtful inspiration, it still gets a little muddled along the way. The wealth of intriguing ideas are there but I’m not convinced that they are fully realized.

Stepped in the tradition of the Old West, The Counselor leaves you wanting to know more, curious if you’d missed anything, and thirsty for another viewing. With the magic of a red pen and another few months spent on pre-production, this could have been an astonishing product, as it is, it’s Prometheus in the desert – brilliance pocked with gaping holes. With a little more polish and another couple edits, this could have been as solid gold as the cap on Cameron Diaz’s canine.

B

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Harrison Ford Talks Potential Role in BLADE RUNNER Sequel

In an interview with IGN, Harrison Ford has confirmed that he and Ridley Scott have been in preliminary talks around an as-of-yet unnamed sequel to Blade Runner, a much anticipated follow up to the 80’s cult-classic. Ford, who has been a household name since George Lucas’s wildly popular Star Wars films, originally played the lead in Blade Runner as Rick Deckard, jaded hunter of an fugitive androids known as replicants in the gritty and high-tech future of the movie.

Given that the book the original film was based off of, Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, has several sequels with the second happening only months after the first, it is unclear whether or not this sequel will have Ford reprising his role. Further, the official silence and thus rumor surrounding the sequel make it difficult to conclude what this interview could mean.

Ford revealed that he had Ridley had been “chatting about it” when asked whether or not he would reprise his role, but when pressed about his sometimes acrimonious relationship to the first Blade Runner, he responded, “Everybody has an ambition when they come into a film and that everyone’s ambition may not be so focused on the same thing. I truly admire Ridley as a man and as a director and I would be very happy to engage again with him [in] the further telling of this story.” 

A script for the project is currently being written by Michael Green, who wrote the screenplay for 2011’s Green Lantern along with scripts for TV series like Heroes, Everwood, and Smallville, along withHampton Fancher, the writer of the screenplay for the original Blade Runner. Previous details to emerge are that this sequel will probably take place years after the original and feature a female protagonist, although nothing will be certain until the screenplay is finished.

Scott, who will follow upcoming film The Counselor debuts will religious drama Exodus and potentially a Prometheus sequel on his plate before he starts work on the Blade Runner sequel, has confirmed none-the-less that the sequel will be coming up in the future: “It is happening.” About his talks with Ford, he remarked, “With Harrison Ford? I don’t know yet. Is he too old? Well, he was a ‘Nexus-6’ so we don’t know how long he can live.”  Given Scott and Ford’s production schedules and the dearth of much more information regarding Ford’s likelihood of being cast, or any of the other potential casting decisions for that matter, the rumor mill will no doubt keep turning for a while to come before more tangible information about this production is released.

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