Tag: harrison ford

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

To follow up one of the most influential science-fiction pictures is no easy feat, but director Denis Villeneuve is able to meet and surpass the best qualities of “Blade Runner.” Notice how movies within the genre often forget that ideas should come first. After all, the goal of sci-fi paves the way for conversations involving humanity’s place in time, on this planet, and beyond. And so many of these films, often standard and disappointing, end up being filled with empty action, generic explosions, and senseless violence—filler masquerading as entertainment. “Blade Runner 2049” shines exactly because it offers a more cerebral experience.

The plot is filled with small but beautiful details best discovered for oneself. Instead, I offer to describe the elements which make the film so enthralling as the hypnotic plot unfolds. Perhaps most noticeable is its use of score—and at times the decision not to use anything but complete silence. We are so used to hearing a signal when an important plot development is about to be revealed. While there are moments when do hear the booming and bone-chilling score, particularly as the camera glides over futuristic lived-in metropolis, take note of instances when K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner for the LAPD, discovers bizarre coincidences that force him to question his own identity.

This strategy works because when there is a close-up, there is no music that distracts from the surprise, terror, and confusion the cop undergoes during a pivotal moment. Although the character is supposed to be professional, calm, and collected, tight facial shots with no distraction allows us appreciate Gosling’s ability to communicate paragraphs only with minuscule changes in his facial expressions. In a way, the picture is not only for the intellectual hoping for philosophical questions but also for the emotionally intelligent.

There is a variety of landscapes shown—from metropolis filled with towers blanketed in mist, communities living amongst garbage, to sun-scorched deserts as far as the eye can see—all of them beautiful in their own way even though some of them may be unappealing. Of course, the story spends most of the time in the dark, brooding, often rainy Los Angeles, but there are plenty of details worth appreciating if one chooses to look closer.

Look in the background and notice extreme fashion; how advertisements are colorful, comedic, and hyperbolic; how looks on people’s faces suggest an overwhelming unhappiness with their existence. In addition, we wonder whether a person we are looking at is a human or replicant, the latter being bioengineered humans who are created to obey at all costs, almost like slaves, yet critical to the former’s survival. And if a person is indeed a replicant, is he or she an older model that must be “retired” by a Blade Runner? The environment is alive and buzzing with energy. Imaginative viewers will not be bored.

“What does it mean to be human?” is perhaps the most important question “Blade Runner 2049” takes from its predecessor and continues to explore. Revelations in the latter half force us not only to consider what the protagonist is going through emotionally and psychologically but also rethink previous scenes presented an hour or two prior. Credit goes to screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green for creating material that is smart, rich with implications, and worth exploring, debating over.

Finally, notice how the picture ends. Clearly, there is room for further discoveries and yet we feel in our bones that this chapter is complete. Considerably less elegant films fumble and tend to do one of two things: end before before the journey of the protagonist is complete or shamelessly setting up a sequel without tying up the biggest, most glaring strands. Here is a picture that understands the spirit of sci-fi, what it is and what it can achieve.

Presumed Innocent

Presumed Innocent (1990)
★★ / ★★★★

Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) is a prosecuting attorney whose job, in its very nature, is to punish criminal behavior. The morning he comes into work, he learns that a colleague, a fellow lawyer named Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi), has been found murdered. She is believed to have been strangled, raped, and beaten. The crime scene suggests there is no sign of her forced entry in her apartment. Sabich is assigned to handle her case by the big boss, Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). However, soon the lawyer himself becomes a prime suspect. And since he has had sexual relations with the victim, is the case a classic crime of passion?

“Presumed Innocent,” directed by Alan J. Pakula, is beautifully shot and strongly acted but I never found it compelling. It is partly because of the pacing, so sluggish and at times desultory—the flashback involving Sabich and Polhemus’ affair does not help. Another reason is its eagerness to be regarded as a very serious, tight-lipped drama, from its solemn score to the decor of homes, offices, and courtroom. The material is not boring but the approach is certainly one-note.

Stories told from the defendant’s point of view should be thrilling, suspenseful, exciting. The picture, based on the novel by Scott Turow, appears to want to deliver the antithesis which might have been interesting if there had been intrigue in its skeleton. Instead, we are given expected recurring themes such as corruption behind city officials and lawyers readily changing masks.

What I found refreshing is Sabich’s wife played by Bonnie Bedelia. I enjoyed that there is no subplot involving her finding out about the affair once her husband is accused of murder. Instead, the focus is on her lingering feelings of insecurity and anger that perhaps her husband, even though he comes home to her, may still have feelings for another woman—even though the other woman is now dead. I wished the character, Barbara, had been given more scenes, especially in her interactions with Rusty, because she is arguably the person who is easiest to relate with.

The courtroom scenes are tedious and overdone. There is little tension because just about every piece of “evidence” presented by the prosecutors is speculation at best. Because the opposing team is weak, when the defense presents its case, it is not as interesting or engaging. Why not make the prosecutors real formidable so that we feel threatened that a potentially innocent man could end up in jail?

The film’s most critical misstep is the final five to ten minutes, when a character is shown having to explain everything to justify the driving force of the conflict. It should have given us doubt, not certainty. The former would have given the audience something to talk about while the latter closed the case. This decision is not parallel to the picture’s important themes.

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Fifty years since a bug-like alien race called Formics failed to colonize Earth, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) is desperate to find a child who has the potential to lead against a second wave of invasion—one that he is convinced will happen soon. His search seems to be over when he comes across Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a cadet who fought back against a school bully. Eventually, Ender is informed by Col. Graff about his admission in Battle School, an elite training facility in outer space where gifted teenagers learn advanced military tactics.

There is a surplus of movies that run over two hours for absolutely no reason other than to create a semblance of importance, so when a picture that actually deserves to have its story told over a span of two-and-a-half hours, maybe even three, but gets a final cut of just under two, a part of me cannot help but get irritated. This is because “Ender’s Game,” based on Orson Scott Card’s novel and adapted to the screen by Gavin Hood, is high level entertainment as well as an intelligent commentary about the qualities one must possess in order to be considered an effective leader.

The hurried pacing dilutes what could have been a compelling psychological portrait of a character who is continually told, in subtle and overt ways, that he is gifted and special. While still interesting, we are only given snippets of the doubts that cross his mind when these are the elements that should have been expounded upon so that the material can stand above increasingly familiar “chosen one” franchises. Instead, the middle section almost relies on a formula between battle simulations and Ender’s troubles with figures of authority.

The action sequences look stunning. The zero gravity scenes where recruits must work as a team in order to take out members of the opposing team, a game similar to laser tag, command a level of excitement that is unexpected because we know that the weapons are designed only to disable via temporary paralysis—with zero level of pain. The various effects and acrobatics had to be done with CGI but as hard as I tried to pinpoint which exact elements are obviously done on the computer, my efforts were to no avail. The fluidity and seamlessness of every action and reaction—without the camera resulting to the increasingly annoying shaking tactic in order to induce thrills—allow the images look very polished, professional, and appropriately futuristic.

I also enjoyed the acting, especially by Butterfield and Ford. Ford has mastered the low, menacing growl and I believed him as a man of authority who thinks that his way of thinking and doing is the only right path and proposed alternative routes leave too much room for risk and therefore failure. Viola Davis, who plays Major Anderson, does a good job as a sounding board against Col. Graff’s domineering personality and ideas. We can detect that her character is also strong but on a different level. However, because of the aforementioned time constraint, it appears as though Major Anderson’s role in Ender’s extensive character arc is a bit unripe.

As with Butterfield, he has a knack for crossing the thin membrane between someone who can easily be pushed around one minute and then the next someone who has gotten control of a situation who may or may not push things a bit too far. He gives Ender a bit of edge by allowing him to be slightly dangerous. In addition, it is important that we believe that the protagonist is a highly intelligent tactician—on and off the simulations. Butterfield is able to embody this quality. He looks lanky, awkward, determined, and smart—and these contradictions work for him. I felt there was a soul in the character I was watching. I wished, however, that Bufferfield avoided tears in order convey sadness or heartbreak. Sometimes holding it all in thereby allowing only the audience to go through the catharsis is a more effective avenue.

I demand a sequel—one that is longer but equally ambitious. For instance, I wish to know more about Ender’s crew (Hailee Steinfeld, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Khylin Rhambo)—the friends he made while in Battle School—and the specific qualities they put on the table to make a great team. Though director Gavin Hood’s “Ender’s Game” has weaknesses that are recognizable, they can just as easily be overlooked when it is able to deliver on the material’s inherent potential and you find yourself invested in what is going on, what is going to happen, and what certain decisions might entail given it has a chance to continue.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
★★★ / ★★★★

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) sent C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) to collect Han Solo (Harrison Ford), encased in carbonite, from the gangster Jabba the Hutt (voiced by Larry Ward), but the droids were unsuccessful in their mission. Later, they discovered that Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) had also been captured. It was up to young Skywalker, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to rescue their friends. Meanwhile, the rebel groups found out that the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) and Darth Vader (David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) were building a new Death Star. Word went around that it was still non-functional so it was best to attack as soon as possible in order to end the rule of the evil Empire. Based on George Lucas’ original story and directed by Richard Marquand, “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” had some serious problems in terms of pacing. The first third of the picture was exciting. Although it ended in violence, Han Solo’s debt to Jabba the Hutt had finally been settled. Luke facing a truly ugly Rancor, strong but not very smart, was a joy to watch as well as the battle on the flying ships that hovered over a desert monster. Everyone who fell off the ship was eaten in a gruesome fashion. The ships rocked back and forth and crashed into each other which sent our lovable protagonists up in the air and near the mouth of the hungry creature. But when our heroes reached the forest moon of Endor, the story became painfully stagnant and, at its worst, cloyingly cheesy. I had difficulty believing that the cute Ewoks could be menacing. The most critical misstep was allowing the Ewoks to be front and center while Han Solo and company were brushed to the side. What I found highly enjoyable about “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” and “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” was the fact that the rebel groups were constantly outnumbered. Using sheer creativity and determination, they somehow disentangled themselves, while making some key sacrifices, from sticky situations. In this installment, the Ewoks did most of the work in defeating the Stormtroopers while Luke faced Vader and the Emperor in the new Death Star. In the latter, there was a lot of talk about going to the Dark Side but I felt no tension among the three powerful characters. Without tension, the one-dimensionality of the dialogue became apparent. The director failed to take advantage of the relationship between Luke and Vader, the push and pull of the way they felt toward each other versus their loyalty for their cause, and what being a Jedi meant to them. Still imaginative and exciting but noticeably less effective, “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” needed less of the Ewoks’ cuddly warmth and more epic adventures designed to tie together the series’ overarching themes.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Death Star was destroyed but the war between the Empire and the rebels was far from over. The rebels aggregated in Hoth, a planet covered in ice, and Darth Vader (David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) had just found them. There was a full-on attack on our heroes and they lost. Upon their retreat, they were divided into two groups. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) traveled to Dagobah to find a master Jedi called Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) upon the request the ghostly Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Meanwhile, their ship unable to go into hyperdrive, with some amusing consequences, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) attempted navigate their way through an asteroid field in order to evade Vader and his pesky minions. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” directed by Irvin Kershner and from the original mind of George Lucas, was a quintessential sequel: it proved that just because the special and visual effects were grander and the action-sequences were more heart-pounding, the story and character need not be sacrificed. Although the picture didn’t mention how many months or years had passed since we last saw our beloved characters, we didn’t need to. Luke was more mature and more confident in the way he approached problems, the robots were more useful and wise-cracking, Chewbacca was more lovable, and the arguments between Han Solo and Princess Leia felt more like necessary friendly bantering/flirtation instead a hindrance to the story’s mood and momentum. The sequel challenged itself by constantly offering us something new. Let’s take the environment. In its predecessor, the characters spent a third of its time navigating their way through a barren desert. In here, we were immersed in a chilly tundra. Instead of going straight to the action of Vader’s troops demolishing the rebel base, it wasn’t afraid to take some risks like Luke being kidnapped by the Abominable Snowman-looking creature. It had a sense of fun. We never truly believed that Luke was in real danger. However, it was a necessary scene because it reminded us of Luke’s increasing connection to The Force, a key element in eventually defeating the evil Empire, and that he was no longer just a farmer trying too hard to be a Jedi. There was also an interesting contrast between scenes of the swampy Dagobah where Luke trained and the futuristic floating city where Han Solo and company took refuge. Despite the differences in images, the alternating scenes didn’t feel forced because the characters were consistently working toward a common goal. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” unafraid to explore its darker themes regarding loyalty and betrayal, unexpectedly romantic and chock full of surprises, was an adventure in the highest order.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A young farmer named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) found out that one of the two robots, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), his uncle purchased contained a message from Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), one of the rebels who wanted to bring down the evil Empire, seeking help from a former Jedi knight named Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness). She was captured by Darth Vader (David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) and was ordered to reveal the location of other rebels. Failure to do so on her part meant termination. Luke, Obi-Wan, and the two robots hired a mercenary named Han Solo (Harrison Ford), along with his friend Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), to infiltrate the Death Star, capable of destroying an entire planet, and save the princess. Written by directed by George Lucas, “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” was an ambitious and exciting picture, worthy of the reputation of being one of the most influential films ever made. I was impressed with the risks it took right from the beginning. For the first ten to fifteen minutes, we were asked to pay attention to the two robots. One of them could speak but other could only utter beeps and whistles. Somehow, the material was able to get away with it because, despite the two being non-living objects, they had chemistry. I’m doubtful if such a risk could be taken today and be as successful. I enjoyed that we were immediately taken in the middle of the warring members of the Empire and rebel groups. Background information were mostly revealed through conversations. Not only did it feel organic, it was efficient with its time. Although there was weakness in the dialogue at times like when Han Solo and Princess Leia would get into cheesy and sometimes cringe-inducing arguments, the tirades happened in the middle of action-packed sequences so it almost felt negligible. I especially liked the scene when the protagonists plunged into a garbage chute. We were led to believe that the threat was the creature that lived in there. It turned out that it was the least of their worries because the walls eventually started closing in. Lucas’ signature direction was always present. Every room revealed new surprises that ranged from soldiers of the Empire just waiting for a target to interesting- and tired-looking aliens just having a drink in the middle of the day in a hot desert town. The energy was palpable as if The Force, the spiritual energy in which the Jedi believed to bind everything in universe, compelled us to fixate our eyes on the screen. The first entry of the “Star Wars” saga was a prime example of the level of success a film could have when there was synergy among special and visual effects, an absorbing story, and adrenaline-fueled adventure of epic proportions.

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) woke up in the middle of the desert unable to remember anything prior to his collapse, not even his name. In a state of confusion, he looked at his left arm and there was a bulky bracelet around it. Despite its imposing appearance, it seemed harmless enough. So, he made his way to Absolution, a mining town, its economy depended on Woodrow Dolarhyde’s cattle business (Harrison Ford). The residents feared him greatly so they allowed his son, Percy (Paul Dano), to act like a fool and bully others. But not Jake. When Percy pulled a gun on the amnesiac, the young man was greeted with a knee in the groin. Later, when Jake and Woodrow met to settle an old score, spaceships flew over Absolution, fired destructive laser beams, and kidnapped select citizens. Based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, “Cowboys & Aliens,” was a somnolent lullaby despite the staccato of horses’ hooves, swooshing Indian arrows, and thundering explosions followed by beautiful hovering dust. When certain characters met their demise, usually induced by the aliens’ sharp claws, I felt no emotion toward the person struggling for his last breath. This was because the characters were not given enough depth. More time was dedicated to the characters riding horses, squinting at something from a distance, and arguing which was the best course of action in order to track down the extraterrestrial base. The script didn’t help the otherwise good actors who were very capable of embodying heroes we could root for despite forcefully convenient plot devices. Jake and Woodrow were motivated by very different things which was appropriate considering that each figure symbolized a different type of hero in the American Old West. The former wanted to know the truth about who he was while the latter hoped to rescue his only son, internal and external motivations. Yet when the two interacted, the dialogue was so egregious, it sounded like Jake and Woodrow were not really speaking to each other but through one another. Jake’s stoicism and Woodrow’s irascibility became exasperating. I wondered what else the material had to offer, if any, and when, or if, the sluggish pacing would eventually pick up and get the adventure going (or started). Furthermore, the aliens were not very interesting villains. They landed on Earth to look for gold and extract them. Did they need the metal for food, as fertilizer to sustain their dying planet, or was it some kind of a panacea for their diseased or dying comrades? We weren’t given the exact details. But why not? I don’t know if the original material offered a reason, but even if it did not, that was no excuse. Somewhere in the middle of the film, Jake began to have feelings for Ella (Olivia Wilde), a woman who seemed to know Jake’s history. Their feelings for each other poisoned the movie. Not only did their relationship not make any sense, their scenes together took away time from possible explanations about the aliens. This was another example of using romance to band-aid holes in the story that ought to be dealt with directly and astutely. “Cowboys and Aliens,” directed by Jon Favreau, was a failed mash-up of the western and science-fiction genres. It offered no magic nor a sense of adventure.