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Ryan Gosling

Blade Runner 2049

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Blade Runner 2049

When the original Blade Runner was released in the summer of 1982, it did respectable business at the box office. It wasn’t a smash like Star Wars, but it wasn’t a complete disaster, either. Mostly, it left a lot of people (critics and general moviegoers alike) scratching their heads. This slow paced, philosophical movie was sold as an action/adventure. The production design was meticulous, with dazzling special effects that still look great 35 years later. As critics began praising the movie after repeated viewings, Blade Runner also found a sizable cult following through home video release (a relatively new phenomenon itself at the time).

Director Denis Villeneuve, a filmmaker who has listed Blade Runner as a major influence on his own work, is imagining this intoxicating world anew in the sequel, Blade Runner 2049. The question is, since its predecessor’s vision is now the rule rather than the exception, will it have the same impact as the original?

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Song to Song

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Song to Song

The phrase “found it in the editing” describes a perilous method of filmmaking. Basically, it’s what happens when a movie has been shot with no clear vision – or there is a voluminous, unwieldy amount of footage – but during the editing process, the filmmakers are able to shape a story that is much better than the raw materials would suggest. A famous example of this is Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. That movie initially had very little to do with the relationship between the two leads, but during cutting, Allen and his editor created one of the best romantic comedies of all time. More often than not, though, this approach leads to a muddled mess.

Terrence Malick’s creative process lends itself to this kind of metamorphosis in the editing room. The notoriously private director shoots and shoots, sometimes for years, and hones his narratives in the cutting room, also sometimes for years. Song to Song clearly follows this pattern. In a rare interview to promote the picture, Malick said the original cut of the film was eight hours long. That’s a far cry from the 129-minute final version. Song to Song is also a far cry from the beautiful transcendence of his best films, like Days of Heaven or The Tree of Life. It’s not a complete mess, but it’s a disappointment to be sure.

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It's Not the Optimistic Musical We Deserve, but It's the One We Need: La La Land

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It's Not the Optimistic Musical We Deserve, but It's the One We Need: La La Land

It’s been a rough year. We lost Bowie. We lost Prince. We may have lost American democracy as we know it. The jury is still out on that one, 2016. Director Damien Chazelle couldn’t get here soon enough with the follow up to his breakout film Whiplash. It’s called La La Land, and it’s everything we need right now. It’s infectiously upbeat, idealistic, heartwarming, and joyous. Basically, it’s everything the world seems to be lacking right now.  In addition to being uniquely cinematic, La La Land is the breath givingnew life to the big Hollywood musical, a genre that’s best days have been gone for 50 years. What the 2011 surprise hit The Artist did for silent films, La La Land promises to do for musicals. Both films allow Hollywood to indulge in its favorite pastime, looking back to its golden days and reminding itself of its former glory. You’ll notice The Artist didn’t lead to a boom in production of new silent films. Neither is La La Land likely to lead to a major revival of musicals. The most magical thing that both movies do is remind us that the old cliché “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” isn’t exactly true. Sometimes they do, and it’s a rare and special enough occasion, so when it happens, we should count ourselves exceptionally lucky to witness it.

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The Big Short

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The Big Short

Does the revelation that the American financial system is a complete fraud, a rigged game, go down smoother if the message is delivered in the form of a zany mockumentary-style comedy? Director Adam McKay thinks so. The Saturday Night Live alum, whose film work includes outlandish comedies like AnchormanTalladega Nights, and Step Brothers, brings his trademark screwball style to the inside story of the economic crash of 2008. While the wacky comedy is firmly in place, The Big Short is also a departure for McKay, dealing with some very serious themes like what happens to the rest of us when members of the elite financial system decide to treat the economy like it's a casino. McKay’s sensibilities are a little too over the top for the story he wants to tell, but the director shows great promise at blending comedy and drama.

There’s an obvious comparison to be made to Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. That film dealt with an unscrupulous financial wizard who broke all the rules to make himself a millionaire, and it also uses hyper stylized action and outlandish comedy to tell its story. The reason Wolf works better than The Big Short is because each movie’s goal is different. The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t overly concerned with making the audience understand how Jordan Belfort went about gaming the system. It’s simply a tale of his excesses. The amped up, jittery aesthetic works splendidly to telegraph those excesses. In The Big Short, McKay wants to inform his audience about what went wrong, and he wants us to become angry at the lack of accountability in the aftermath of the crash. The fidgety style McKay employs, while wildly entertaining, distracts from his goals.

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