Hard Boiled


The Hong-Kong classics seem to rarely receive the respect that they really deserve in the west. Most people know of them, some people enjoy watching them, but because of their sometimes over-the-top action, I think people don't take them very seriously as movies. Action movies in general tend to be seen more as escapist entertainment instead of genuine entries into film canon, as if they are somehow below the more dramatic pieces. While I do understand this mindset, I feel that it is one that leads to classics like Hard-Boiled being completely looked over. Not only is it an action movie, it's a Hong-Kong action movie, even more difficult to stomach for western audiences who are allergic in every way to having to read subtitles. This film has great depth to it though, and some of the most entertaining action sequences I've ever seen in any movie.

The basic plot of the movie is a somewhat familiar one. An undercover cop has infiltrated the Triads, and a loose cannon cop in the department butts heads with him early on, which leads to them attempting to work together in the second half. The main character is played by none other than Chow Yun-Fat, one of Woo's favorite actors to work with, and as Inspector "Tequila" Yuen, he becomes his most well-known persona. The opening scene starts us off with a gun fight in a crowded restaurant, as Tequila attempts to break up an arms deal in the middle of public. Woo alternates between chaotic, wide shots that are nearly impossible to keep track of, and closer, slow motion shots to emphasize a kill or a close call. This sounds somewhat obnoxious, drawing comparisons with exactly the wrong kinds of directors, but Woo is in a different league than them. It's difficult to write about action scenes, especially ones like Woo's, but if I had to use a single word, it would have to be this: stylish. Hard Boiled is a movie that seemed crazy exciting at the time, but it's influence has been so widespread that we may tend to see it as similar to action movies we watch today. Movies have completely embraced the style of gunplay that Woo popularized, still showing up in movies like John Wick to this day, but Hard Boiled still has something that none of these copies or homages have. It is simply, just impossibly cool.

This style is shown off best in the latter half of the movie. From the moment they enter the hospital to the very ending is pure fun in cinematic form. There's plenty of set-up, with Tequila and Long (the undercover cop) finally working together as they discover the information that the hospital itself is simply a front, and the entire Triad's store of arms is in the basement. I'm glossing over the plot details here, but I do need to mention that the plot in this movie is part of it's exhilarating charm. There's nothing wrong exactly with a movie being nothing more than a vehicle for action scenes (as 2011's The Raid shows us very clearly), but part of a Woo flick is the plot being a perfect build-up for the action. The crazy, balls to the wall, 40 minute long action sequence taking place int he latter half of the movie is that much more fun because at this point we're invested in these characters and we know exactly how cool they both are. Tequila and Long working together is that much more fun because of who they are, and because of the satisfaction of seeing them finally together, working towards a singular goal. Even without that though, the hospital scenes in this movie are a non-stop adrenaline rush. Our protagonists use everything in their environment to their advantage, sliding along on rolling hospital beds, gunning down everyone they see, taking the bad guys outfits to blend in before unloading on a group of unsuspecting Triad members, diving through windows guns blazing, you name it. Woo isn't afraid to embrace the pure movie-ness of it all, and that is where his strengths lie. Some directors do their best to make the audience forget that they're watching a movie with their camerawork, but here, we're reveling in the unrealistic cinematic flair, the slo-mo shots, the tracking shots, the pure action thrill.

Even as a member of a modern day audience, I found Hard Boiled to be a blast. It wasn't the revelation that it was to audiences of the time, since movies like The Matrix have been released since then, but on it's own merits, Hard Boiled is an instant classic. Any time you're looking to just have a great time watching a movie, this should be your pick.


The Killing of a Sacred Deer


 Yorgos Lanthimos is not a director that I thought I would ever be seeing so much of. Dogtooth, his big breakout film, got nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009, and it truly is a great movie, but it's also very brutal, very odd, and very cold. There's definitely not any mass appeal in it, in fact it does a fantastic job at alienating viewers with it's incredible weirdness. I saw this movie, then a few years later, I was suddenly seeing trailers for an English language movie by Lanthimos, The Lobster, which is also an incredible film I think about constantly. And now here I am, having seen yet another one of his movies, also in English, with a third coming next year. I couldn't be happier that Lanthimos is getting these opportunities, and a chance to go see a movie of his in theaters is a chance I relish.

I will preface this with my opinion upfront: The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the weakest of the three Lanthimos pictures I've seen so far. It is still a great movie, but I can't help but feel it could have been even better than it was. The movie seems to move at first with a near glacial pace, with several seemingly normal scenes being presented with music denoting the fact that something scary or tense is happening. This is all on purpose, and I appreciate it, because the movie holds a near constant pace, with the horror ramping up slowly, but non-stop. You're eased into it in a way that helps it to suddenly catch you off guard, because you barely even realize the frightening world you've entered into. Lanthimos' first foray into (mostly) straight psychological horror really highlights some of his strengths as a director. His ability to make the audience feel tense about seemingly innocuous things through devices like framing is impeccable as it always is, and his other movies always contain elements that are in their own way, horrifying, but never have they been straight up horror. His characters signature cold, robotic, detatched dialogue works both for and against him here as well. Martin, the primary antagonist to Steven's (Collin Farrell, in his second Lanthimos picture) protagonist, is a terrifying character through his uncanny calm throughout circumstances that should be emotionally trying even for the person causing them. Steven is essentially the only character in the movie to express any strong emotion, which while I appreciate in a way since we are tied to the protagonist more than the other characters, I still feel might have been a small mistake. Some actions lack the emotional punch that I feel they should have because none of the other characters react very strongly to them. Their lack of response is part of what drives the horror forward, but at the same time makes the horror seem a little bit too detached.

The plot here is incredibly strong and very inventive, the story of this movie was never uninteresting or boring (though as I said, it did seem slow at times). Martin inflicts terrible pain on Steven and his family through means that seem supernatural. How he does what he does is never explained, which personally I'm very glad about. Part of what made the film so horrifying and bizarre was this inexplicable disease ravaging the family that Martin seemingly had complete control over, able to make the symptoms disappear and reappear as he saw fit. Initially poisoning could be suspected, but as the movie goes on, it becomes apparent that whatever is happening is not something that can be explained by science. Martin at one point, when threatened with a gun, makes a comment that if he dies, Steven's whole family will die with him, saying "It'll be as if you killed 4 people with a single bullet". There is something otherworldly going on here, but just as in Lanthimos' other movies, the exact nature of this device is not important. It is simply the driving force behind the decisions that the characters have to make, and in that manner, it excels wonderfully. The soundtrack aids this feeling, sometimes striking like a physical blow, sudden and loud and chaotic to the point of being unnerving all on it's own. It even a few times overwhelms the characters and drowns them out mid-sentence, underlining the terror taking place. I would be remiss if I didn't mention it, because it very much adds to the uncomfortable atmoshpere that is built so expertly throughout the film.

My progression through this movie went from "This seems kind of odd" to involuntarily covering my eyes during the final scenes, not wanting to watch the outcome of this terrible tale, but being too curious to look away for more than a moment. Horror seems like something I would very much like Lanthimos to explore again sometime in the future. He has a knack for this kind of movie, and I think I view The Killing of a Sacred Deer as something of an experiment for him, seeing what does and doesn't work. As I said, it's a great movie, especially for any fans of Lanthimos like me, seeing him get a little out of his comfort zone is really interesting. As I left the theater, I felt slightly dissatisfied with the ending and it's suddenness, thinking back to the deep impact that the final images of The Lobster had on me and still have on me to this day. But as I think about it more, as I remember my visceral reactions to the final, climactic scene in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I'm coming around to the idea that Lanthimos may have constructed yet another ending that will haunt me as his other seem to do, forever sticking in my mind.



It's always interesting to go back and see the early days of a director or actor, before they hit it big, while they were still struggling to get recognition and work. Hunger is the film that put both Steve McQueen (director of the Best Picture winning 12 Years a Slave), and Michael Fassbender (who these days needs no introduction) on the map. It is a grueling picture, difficult to watch at times, but it is exactly that fact that makes it so interesting. You can feel both the director and actor pouring everything they have into it. Fassbender in particulardropped down to 125lbs at one point, and you can definitely tell. The dedication from both actor and director is something to be witnessed.

From the beginning, you can tell that the film is one that speaks with it's visuals more than with words. There is a short text introduction at the beginning of the movie about the basic plot, which revolves around a series of prison protests in the late 70s from Irish Republican prisoners who want political status, but after that, there is very little speaking. The first real back and forth conversation doesn't happen until at least 10 minutes in, and after that, not until the 30 minute mark. Primarily we come to an understanding about what the prisoners are doing by simply watching it, seeing the disgusting conditions that they live in and the vulgar things they do to protest against their treatment, such as not wearing uniforms and not bathing. An early scene involves Fassbender's character, Bobby Sands, being brought out naked from his cell, beaten by guards, dragged through the prison to the bathroom, and forcibly being bathed and having his hair cut before he is dragged back again. It's shocking to see, the kinds of things that these men were willing to go through to protest their treatment, and it's communicated extremely well through the visuals and the setting. 

That is what I get most out of this movie, McQueen's ability to communicate through strictly visuals. Many movies and TV shows are guilty of using exposition dumps to communicate information to the viewer, so that they can understand what's about to happen, or what has happened. Here, we get the exact opposite, with spoken dialogue being almost nonexistent or inconsequential, with the visuals being the key to knowing what's going on. He shows us that time is passing by healing a prisoners injuries, he tells us that their negotiations have been working through showing us improved housing. But we also understand the hatred that the government still has for them, as a SWAT team is called in to beat the prisoners nearly to death as cavity searches are forcibly performed. All of this is a wonderful feat to pull off for a directorial debut, and the actors, particularly Fassbender, help with this immensely. Acting is noticed when it's taken to it's extremes, but sometimes it's truly in the nuances, the small things, that an actor can succeed the most. Fassbender uses everything he has to be Bobby Sands, down to the little things that matter, like the small smile pulling at his lips even as he lays in his cell, bleeding and defeated. Where he really distinguishes himself though, is in one of the movie's most memorable scenes, a single, 17-minute long take of a conversation between Sands and a priest brought in to dissuade him from his hunger strike. It truly is an amazing scene, I never thought that a camera sitting perfectly still, watching two men talk for nearly 20 minutes straight could be such an enthralling thing. It has more dialogue than the rest of the movie combined, and serves almost as a break point between the beginning and ending of the movie. It's that dense, that it could be regarded as the 2nd act almost all on it's own, it's a powerful, exciting, well shot and well acted scene that completely deserves the reputation it has.

Afterwards, his hunger strike begins in earnest, and it is a sight to behold. Watching Sands as his body becomes more and more emaciated, diseased, and frail is quite an experience. It's almost terrifying seeing how far he's willing to go for his cause, which again Fassbender gets across with stark clarity. McQueen in unflinching in showing us the excruciating pain of starvation, as Sands body deteriorates, the camera becomes looser, less focused, and less steady. We feel as though we are experiencing it to some degree, with his hallucinations sometimes overlaying the screen, and his eyes unable to focus on anything due to his bodies complete breakdown. The director is careful to not make this a political movie, neither side are particularly displayed as good or bad, and Sands isn't made into a heroic figure. We just watch the facts, the intense pain that he and 9 other men put themselves through, and can't help but marvel at it even if we disagree with it. This is what men are capable of when they are utterly committed to a cause, they can willingly starve themselves to death to get their message across. I can't think of a single thing that was said out loud in the entire 3rd act, and maybe that's because there really are no words. There's nothing that any one of them could have said that would have added to the spectacle, what we see is projecting strong enough of a message that there is absolutely no need for words. Watching Bobby Sands slowly die of starvation is a cinematic experience that is going to stick with me for a very long time.


Taylor Sheridan is having a pretty good run at the moment. Last year, Hell or High Water, a neo-Western crime thriller starring Chris Pine, got nominated for Best Picture. This year, he finally directed one of his own scripts in Wind River, a much darker but equally thrilling look at a series of murders on an Indian reservation. A writer making a name for himself in Hollywood is difficult these days, the only other famous one that comes to mind is Charlie Kaufman. Yet there's something so real about Sheridan's characters, and you can't help but genuinely care about them as he ramps up the tension. This all started with Sicario however, a huge and well deserved breakout for Sheridan, putting his name out there in a way that would pave the road for his later successes.

From nearly the very beginning, a sense of unease and wrongness pervades every scene. It starts with a semi-routine police bust led by Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) that escalates quickly with the discovery of bodies and a hidden bomb in what appears to be some sort of Cartel safehouse. After this, Kate is tossed into an operation which she vaguely understands is related to the Cartel member she believes is connected to the home, and is shipped off with team members who have questionable credentials and even more questionable motives. It's at this moment, not even 30 minutes in, that things start to not feel right. Emily Blunt does a great job being the audiences vehicle, emoting exactly what we're feeling, this confused and apprehensive tone to her voice the whole time. The flow of information to her is controlled very well here by the writer to promote this sense of vague unease, as we're given enough info to understand mostly what's happening, but the details are kept hazy, and new pieces of conflicting and disquieting information keep popping up and throwing us off balance. All of this contributes to this feeling, this nagging feeling that something is wrong, something bad is happening and we can't figure out what it is. In the first big firefight of the movie, Kate at one point can't help but yell out "What the f*** are we doing?" as people are mowed down around her in full view of civilians, the exact thing that every audience member should be wondering at that exact moment.

All of these things are a part of what drives the tension in Sicario. Kate is an FBI agent, thrust into a world where the rules are less strict, the lines between good and bad much less clear, where her allies have their own agendas that don't line up with how she normally does things. She's dragged into something that begins to affect her personal life, invade every aspect of who she is, and it's unsettling. Sheridan's movies are all very good at keeping things tense, but Sicario especially has a sense of imminent danger that comes with the subject matter, and he plays it very well. Even in her downtime, even on her own home turf, Kate becomes a stranger, a pawn in a much larger game that she has no hope of controlling or understanding. This is not to say that she is a weak character, she is simply a person who is thrust into a world that is darker and more ambiguous than she is used to, who is forced at gunpoint to do things that she views as wrong. She is presented with a situation in which no rational person would know what to do. It is only these CIA agents, with years of murder, espionage, and who knows what else under their belt that can traverse this world without coming out uninjured. Kate is not one of these people, and she comes out of this film worse for wear than she started. She has seen what goes on in the shadows, what occurs in secret operations, and it has scarred her, knowing that these people will get away with what they've done. She stares institutional corruption in the face, and she gives up not because she is weak, but because her strength means nothing in the wake of such a beast.

Benicio Del Toro deserves his own little blurb as well, because his character is absolutely terrifying. From the beginning, he is always in control, always two steps ahead, and always doing whatever suits his needs best. He has a singular mission, and is simply using whoever he can to complete it. This works just fine for the CIA, as they essentially don't care what chaos he wreaks along the way as long as he completes his mission. But through the eyes of Kate, we see a man who stands for nearly the opposite of everything she does. He doesn't care about procedure, about human rights, about jurisdiction, or about collateral damage. He is the personification of this institutional corruption that Kate faces, a man who is essentially untouchable, and chooses to use this power to hurt people in the name of his own interests. There's a particular scene near the end, where all of Del Toro's face is covered in darkness except for a small part around his left eye, and you can feel the power that he wields in that moment, and you understand that whatever he wants, he will get, one way or another.

All of this is beautifully rendered on screen by Villeneuve, everything is put in exactly it's right place at the right time. Part of the fun of following Sheridan is seeing how different directors treat his scripts, and having Villeneuve direct Sicario was just brilliance. Especially the tunnel scene towards the end is shot and edited in such a great way, so many memorable images, and once they're in the tunnel, there is such a claustrophobic feeling to it, once again heightening the tension and helping the audience feel exactly as Kate does: lost, hurt, and confused. Having someone like Villeneuve direct his first major picture was an incredible opportunity for Sheridan, and one that clearly paid off. Sicario is an exciting thrill ride that will keep you tense and on the edge of your seat for it's full 2 hour runtime, and it'll leave you with images and scenes that you'll be thinking about days later.

Blade Runner 2049


Around 2012 or 2013, news came out about Ridley Scott possibly wanting to direct a Blade Runner sequel. At the time both I and the rest of the world were, very understandably, reluctant to even consider such a thing. Blade Runner as a movie is a singular entity, there's nothing about it that suggests or demands a sequel necessarily, and at the time poorly thought out sequels to decades-old properties were becoming the new "thing" in Hollywood. Over time though, this project has changed significantly. Ridley Scott stepping down and Denis Villeneuve taking over was the first sign that perhaps there was something here, perhaps this sequel had the potential to be something more than a nostalgia-driven cashgrab and a paycheck for Harrison Ford.

After finally seeing it, I can assure you that this movie is not only a more-than-worthy successor to the original, but an absolute masterpiece in it's own right. The fact that this is the movie we ended up with is incredible. Visually, this movie is absolutely stunning, and is something that has to be seen in theaters. The grungy, dystopian Los Angeles is grey and boxy, full of noise and bright neon lights, holographic advertising all but taking over the city. The irradiated Las Vegas, silent and empty, covered in an orange haze which fills every shot and permeates the environment with a strange, alien feeling. The Wallace HQ, filled with lighting that seemingly has no source, slowly moving as if it has a will of its own, constantly alternating darkness and light in an otherworldy fashion. In one scene, a broken holographic projector is turned on, set to play performances of old rock stars like Elvis and Sinatra, but the sound and visuals are corrupted, so what we get is a hauntingly silent image of Elvis singing nothing on stage, punctuated with sudden bursts of glitchy sound that immediately fades back to silence.

I could go on and on about the brilliance of the visuals of this film and the extremely well-made set pieces, but no words I could say could do it justice. It builds on the original Blade Runner so well, creating a setting that is completely familiar, but obviously even farther in the future than the original. The world they live in is one that doesn't seem too far off from what ours could become, but is just foreign and futuristic enough to be exciting and interesting. The setting communicates the history of the world the film takes place in, every sign printing it's message in multiple languages, suggesting a much more multi-cultural world than even the one we live in now. The dreariness of every day life, the prominence of prostitution and sex, the overwhelming poverty, all of this contributes to a world that is clearly over. Off-world colonies are where everyone truly wants to be, and everyone left on Earth is suffering through what we've done to the planet. It's a disgusting, beautiful world, draped in technological advancement that proved to be completely useless when it comes to human happiness.

Spoilers Follow

Exploring this incredible world is Ryan Gosling as K, in what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of his best roles. Not too long ago, Gosling was simply another actor in the rom-com lineup, but after his breakout role in Drive, he is proving again and again to be one of the finest currently working actors. We learn very early on that his character is both a Blade Runner, and a replicant, a character cursed to be hated by both human and replicant alike. His job is to hunt down old Nexus-8 models, which Tyrell secretly built an indefinite life span into, and "retire" them. It is on his first job of the film that K discovers a secret that could cause chaos if it were to be discovered by the public. An old Nexus-8, 30 years dead at this point, somehow gave birth. A replicant was born into this world, not made. Wallace, played by Jared Leto, is the token villain of this movie, out to use this secret for his own personal gains. It's unfortunate the little screen time he gets; out of the entire 2 hour and 44 minute run time, he has a grand total of two scenes. The driving force behind our protagonist though, is not necessarily the forces of evil trying to stop him, but the desire for knowledge, so this lack of a compelling villain isn't as bad as one might think.



Soon enough we discover through evidence that seems rock solid, that K himself is this Child. His artificial memories of childhood, that are implanted into every replicant at creation, are actually real. He carries that knowledge with him through the movie, always with a look on his face that suggests he knows more than whoever he's talking to. We as the audience feel that as well, probably having guessed that K, being the protagonist, would end up being the special character in this movie. This is a very brief summary of a very emotional journey for Gosling's character, and we are taken through several exceedingly impressive set pieces as a part of this. Several parts of this movie are just Gosling by himself (or with his holographic, AI girlfriend), and he carries these scenes expertly. Just watching his solitary actions is enough to captivate the audience.

Eventually, K must seek out Deckard (played, obviously, by Harrison Ford). It is over 2 hours into the movie when he shows up for the first time, and you can see every single one of the years has taken it's toll on him. He's old, paranoid, violent, and seemingly uncaring. It's confirmed that he is in fact the father of this child, and that he's been forced to live in seclusion in an abandoned wasteland, never to see his kid, because, as he says, "sometimes to love someone, you have to be a stranger". K comes face to face with the man who may in fact be his father, and their dynamic is great. The scenes with just Ford and Gosling in them feel so good, as new and old clash physically and ideologically. Ford is no Academy Award winning actor, but in this movie he plays Deckard exactly as he should. He is not a hero, or a savior, or a leader. He is a lonely old man who is even more of an ass than he used to be, but still underneath all of those layers, you can see the genuine goodness that he has in him.

Unfortunately before any real answers can come to light, Deckard is kidnapped by the Wallace corporation to be interrogated about his knowledge of the Child, and K is taken in by the replicant resistance movement (which is another kind of weak plot point that seems to exist only as sequel bait). They seek to take the knowledge of the Child public, so that replicants across the solar system will rise up and break their bonds of slavery. It is in this moment that we learn the most important piece of information in this film, and the entire point of this film is made. The Child is in fact, a girl. The resistance knows where the Child is, and it is not K. It's an emotional punch in the gut, as we and K attempt to reconcile what we know with what this woman is saying. "You imagined that it was you", she says sympathetically, as K comes to terms with the fact that he was wrong. The memories in his head are simply, coincidentally, the memories of the Child, implanted into him when he was made. He is not special. He is a run of the mill, mass produced, nobody.

This revelation is the genius of this movie, and what makes this the Blade Runner of our generation. All our lives, we've been told that we're special, that we are different, that we deserve everything we want. But in the end, when faced with reality, this convenient fantasy all comes crumbling down. We, like K, are unremarkable. There is no inherent meaning in our existence, we simply are, just like the other billions of people on the planet. As K walks the streets of Los Angeles, contemplating just how pointless his existence is, that he comes to the decision that reveals the philosophy of this film. Yes, K is a nobody, he is not special in any way. He is just another replicant put in a random job. But K decides that he has the chance to change that. He makes a choice to be more than his unremarkable existence suggests. We, like K, are not made special, we must make ourselves special. It is K's actions, not his mere existence, that makes him the hero of this movie, and it must be our own actions that set us apart from the rest of the world. 

So, is Blade Runner 2049 an incredible movie? Yes, by far one of the years bests. Is Blade Runner 2049 a better movie than the original? Technically, yes, it is a much better film than it's predecessor . But, is Blade Runner 2049 a better Blade Runner movie than the original? Only time will tell. The original has almost 4 decades of fan theories and analysis behind it, it's grown to live in the cultural consciousness and influence the way we view the future in so many ways. Only the passing years will show if 2049 has such an impact. But at the very least, it can be agreed upon without a doubt, that is is more than a worthy sequel to one of the most beloved science fiction films of all time.