Thursday, January 21, 2010

#97: Blade Runner

(Note: I've been away for a while due to school, work, the holidays and a ridiculous amount of other factors, but am working on getting back on track starting right now, so bear with me.)

A few years ago, I sat down to watch Ridley Scott's popular sci-fi film, Blade Runner, and after 30 minutes or so, I turned it off. I was bored, as was my father who was watching it with me. Today, after watching the whole thing through, my perception of it has gone up (there's something called a story that I never got around to the first time), but truth be told, I was still relatively bored. Everybody has a few of those critically lauded films that they don't like. Blade Runner is one of mine.

Now, there are about 136 versions of Blade Runner available and I can only assume that the one on the AFI Top 100 list is the theatrical version. However, I only had access to the Director's Cut, though from what I hear the difference in quality is minimal and this cut was what the film was supposed to be in the first place, so take with that what you will.

The film is set not too far off from present day, 2019, where a handful of replicants, biologically engineered human-like beings that work on other planets, have trekked down to Earth. Doing this is against the law and people known as Blade Runners find them and kill them, though they don't call this a "death." They call it a "retirement." Harrison Ford plays Deckard and he is tasked with tracking down the replicants after one murders another Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott is a masterful director. There's no doubting that. His impressive resume shows films like Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, American Gangster and his other sci-fi epic, Alien. But when comparing the latter film with Blade Runner, I can't help but find myself leaning enthusiastically toward Alien, which is one of my favorite films of all time. In my opinion, Blade Runner lacked the excitement and tension that Alien had. It moved at a snail's pace featuring a ton of exposition about a story I cared little about. The last 30 minutes is the exception to the rule. It was exciting and it kept my heart rate up, even if it did take a few liberties with time and space.

I don't know what else to say really. When I look at this and Alien side by side, two of the most critically acclaimed science fiction films of all time, I find myself wondering why it's so popular. Its futuristic setting now looks relatively modern (digital ads on roadway signs is commonplace now) and it shows its age. Alien, on the other hand, is still as riveting as it always was and its futuristic setting is still just as wondrous and unique. If you ask me, the alien design far exceeds anything that what was accomplished in Blade Runner. Is it a bad movie? No, of course not, but it's not one I'll be returning to anytime soon.

-Joshua Hylton

Saturday, January 2, 2010

THE GRADUATE - Seductive Genius!

"Are you here for an affair sir?" - The hotel receptionist talking to Dustin Hoffman's character in the 1967 classic, "The Graduate". That line is just so classic and brilliant. I literally feel bad that I have lived 25 years and never took the time to sit down and watch this masterpiece of cinema.

I can hardly contain myself right now. I know that I am 43 years late but I am going to say it anyways. THE GRADUATE is truly one of the greatest films ever made. One minute ago, the credits started rolling and I hopped on my computer to type out my feelings.

First of all, let me say that the film is GENIUS, SEDUCTIVE, BRILLIANT, FUNNY, BAD-ASS, INTENSE and HOT at the exact same time. Mike Nichols directs the film in such a way that even the simplest of scenes has an intense edge to it. There were times wheres I felt so agitated for Dustin Hoffman's character that I almost had to get off the couch and walk around. During the first 20 minutes or so of the film, his character was just so uncomfortable. He has this stress level to him that makes the audience feel so agitated. You can 100% feel this while his parents dress him up in that scuba-diving suit. As I sit here typing this, I am re-watching the opening sequence where he lands in that airport and is on that escalator traveling through the airport. Simon and Garfunkel's classic "The Sound of Silence" is playing in the background as there is a voice telling people how to ride the escalator. That already shows the agitation of the character.

As he gets home to attend his graduation party, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), asks for a ride home. At first, he seems a bit reluctant, but like everything else in his life, he is talked into it. Hoffman's character never really thought for himself until the incident with Mrs. Robinson. She essentially breaks him down.

After having the affair that no one was supposed to know about, he then takes Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross) out on a date, against Mrs. Robinson's wishes. Obviously, she is jealous that he will fancy her daughter over her. He ends up falling in love with Elaine and the situation gets a bit messy.

Hoffman's character stated in the beginning that he wanted his future to be different. You can tell that he doesn't want to follow the normal path and as you watch the film, his life takes many different awkward turns.

Let me first talk about Mike Nichol's direction. It honestly felt like I was just watching a real story unfold. I didn't feel like I was watching a piece of cinema, but a documentary on a real life story. For example, in the beginning of the film, Hoffman's father is talking to him about coming downstairs for his graduation party. In walks his mother and she just walks right in front of the camera and stands there talking to both Hoffman and the father. All we see on screen is her dress covering the entire frame. It was as if Nichols didn't care about the audience. The story would go on regardless.

Another shot that blew me away was at the Taft Hotel, where he first has sex with Mrs. Robinson. As he anxiously waits for her, he is snooping around the lobby and he walks over to the reception desk. We view this conversation he has with the hotel receptionist through a piece of wood on the desk. Again, it was if the camera didn't exist. We were seeing the story through Hoffman's eyes.

Throughout the film we are treated to a couple of fantastic Simon and Garfunkel songs that fit the film brilliantly. There is a beautiful song that plays throughout a montage sequence as he is trying to win Elaine back. The song was entitled "Scarborough Fair" and the lyrics stuck with me throughout the entire film.

Some issues I had with the film actually worked themselves out at the end. Throughout the movie, I felt the arcs that characters went through were sometimes a bit unrealistic. For example, when he takes out Elaine for the first time, he tries to be a complete dick to her because he doesn't want to piss off Mrs. Robinson. He then notices her tears as he takes her to a strip club and immediately apologizes which is followed with a kiss. He then somehow immediately falls in love with her. At the time I was watching it, I thought to myself that it was a bit quick. Though, as the movie went out, it all made sense. There was no path for this character. Everything happened for a reason and he just knew that she was the one. We didn't need a build up. They both knew they were meant for each other. The drama ensues when he has to tell her about the affair with her mother. His trek to win her back though is a like an action movie of it's own. Each time he was driving in that little red car, I felt so much emotion for him. What was weird is that Hoffman's face never really said much. He just carried a lot of weight in his face. You never really knew what his character was thinking.

I wanted nothing more than for he and Elaine to be together and he would stop at absolutely nothing to be with her. There are so many intense scenes between Ben and Mrs. Robinson, Ben and Mr. Robinson and Ben and Elaine. I felt a knot in my stomach the entire film.

Neither Ben nor Eliane ever knew what they truly wanted in life. They just knew they wanted to be together and we see in the last scene of the film that everything else in the world doesn't matter. Ben was the happiest with Elaine.

Some of my favorite aspects of the film were the little things. Throughout the film, we start to hear little notes and guitar riffs leading up to the classic Simon and Garfunkel song "Mrs. Robinson." As the film is coming to a close, the song is finally heard in it's glorious full form. As the climax of the song his and then calms down, there is a bit where the guitar is just chugging along. Ben stops at a gas station for directions and then drives off without getting gas. As the guitar riff slowly chugs to an end, so does his car. He runs out of the gas at the tune of the guitar riff. Simple and subtle, yet genius. I also really enjoyed the nervous noises Ben would make in the beginning of the film, as he was getting used to the fact that he was having an affair with a married woman.

Every aspect of the film worked. All in all, it's a rather chaotic movie. There is truly never direction for any of the characters, which I really loved. I wish more movies followed this formula. As it really threw me off at times.

I want to watch this movie again and again.

-Kevin McCarthy

A Change in Pace

Hey everyone. I apologize for being lazy and not updating this blog as of late. The last couple of months of the year are tough because movie studios are shoving tons of flicks down our throats for award season, which I love because it forces me to watch a ton of movies in a short period of time. The original plan was that Josh and I were going to simply watch all 100 films together and write blogs after each film. That is a bit of an issue because I live in Tysons and he now lives in Fredericksburg.

Therefore, we are now going to watch the movies separately and I have decided that I am going to watch them out of order. To be honest, sometimes I am just in the mood for a certain type of film. Today, I was randomly at home and I had just recently purchased the Blu-Ray for NORTH BY NORTHWEST. I have now watched and I am going to post my thoughts in the next posting. I have also already seen THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE MALTESE FALCON, which Josh and I watched together.

I believe Josh is going to continue the countdown in order.

Thanks for stopping by,

Kevin McCarthy