I started writing movie reviews in the summer of ’09, shortly after graduating from high school. It was something I had been wanting to do; I had really gotten into movies just a few years before, and writing reviews seemed like a way to not only express my love for cinema, but also make it tangible. So there I was, hunched over my laptop, drumming up a 416-word review of the animated 101 Dalmations to post on “Movies,” which was Flixster’s Facebook application at the time (if you recall being given 50 movie titles to rate out of five stars on that application, then you have a good memory). I found the process fun and rewarding, and I spent the rest of that summer cranking out reviews. Thus began a journey that took my newfound hobby from “Movies” to the New University, UC Irvine’s college newspaper, and then from sentence-long Facebook statuses to here at MediaBrewPub. Now, I’ve decided it’s time for that journey to come to an end.
Making a sequel to a classic film that doesn’t need one? I suppose such a task would induce more outrage if we weren’t so used to seeing this happen nowadays. Still, a sequel to a film like Mad Max and Star Wars is one thing, whereas the idea of Blade Runner sequel should ruffle some feathers. Accuse me of being pretentious all you want, but anyone who’s familiar with Ridley Scott’s 1982 landmark sci-fi picture will attest to how its specifically crafted thematic complexity, brimming with hypnotic ideas and cloaked in just the perfect amount of ambiguity, permeates the film and places it in a class of its own. A sequel would have to pull off an incredibly delicate balancing act, offering a new story that honors the original’s characters and themes while also introducing new compelling characters and ideas of its own. That said, director Denis Villeneuve has essentially done the impossible with Blade Runner 2049, an intoxicating and profoundly affecting experience that rivals its predecessor.
The relentless energy of American Made, coupled with a charming Tom Cruise performance, keeps this Barry Seal quasi-biopic intriguing and moving along. Gary Spinelli’s script certainly has a patchwork feel, as evidenced by the number of characters (played by noteworthy actors) dropping in and out of the story as well as the way it jumps from scene to scene. To compensate, director Doug Liman injects the film with a snappy vigor and bolsters its comedic punches. Doing so not only allows cinematographer César Charlone to get creative with his camera movements and placements, but also milks all the charisma it can from Cruise, whose broad grin is nearly omnipresent. As funny as the film is, it begs for a compelling protagonist, which the flat Barry is not. Sure, one could say that the character represents American foreign policy during the Carter and Reagan eras, but he lacks an arc worth investing in, which gives the impression that the story skims over the subject matter instead of really diving headfirst into it. Still, it does offer some impressive treats, like Domhnall Gleeson’s role as Barry’s sleazy CIA handler and Dan Weil’s faithful period design. The picture may be rather lightheaded, but it’s undeniably entertaining and well crafted.
* Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures