The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2017!

List by Derrick Carter

Throughout the course of 2017, I posted 206 movie reviews on this blog. Though about a quarter of those were rewatches (covering the SAW and CHILD’S PLAY franchises before their latest installments, and also paying tribute to the passing of genre legend George A. Romero), I managed to catch plenty of fresh new films, forgotten flicks, and classics that I simply hadn’t gotten around to watching. As with last year, 2017’s “Best of” list will cover movies that I watched for the first time in my life. This means that old and new films are on the table, regardless of what year they came out. If a film was new to me and I loved it, then I’m including it with my favorite films that I watched in 2017!

Before I get into my 15 favorite films that I reviewed this year, there are some honorable mentions. I had previously seen THE EXORCIST, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE THING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIENS before this year. Otherwise, they would be on this list. As far as first-time watches, I truly enjoyed the groundbreaking drama MOONLIGHT and adored the 80s throwback STRANGER THINGS. Concerning new horror films, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER seriously disturbed me, THE VOID was a phenomenal Lovecraftian nightmare, and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was one hell of a zombie film! WONDER WOMAN also wound up as my second-favorite superhero film of 2017. As for indie thrillers, WIND RIVER was a gripping ride and GOOD TIME was a neon-lit throwback to Martin Scorsese’s early work.

Now, without further ado, onto my top 15 favorite films that I reviewed during 2017…

15. MY FRIEND DAHMER: Most serial killer films focus on chilling murders of their subjects, but MY FRIEND DAHMER is not like most serial killer films. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a chilling drama that chronicles the pre-murderous life of Jeffrey Dahmer and examines him as a high school weirdo. By somewhat “humanizing” this psycho, the film doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy towards its titular cannibal killer and instead shines a light on the fact that people we went to high school might very well turn into monsters seen in news headlines. Though there isn’t a single (human) murder to be found, MY FRIEND DAHMER joins the ranks among the best films about real-life serial killers (MONSTER, ZODIAC, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS).

14. FOUR LIONS: The idea of tackling Islamic terrorism through a darkly comic lens might sound completely misguided on paper, but FOUR LIONS is the best comedy that I sat through all year! The film follows four idiotic would-be terrorists as they attempt to execute a devastating attack, but constantly fumble over their own stupidity and reveal themselves to be bumbling morons. In my opinion, painting Islamic terrorists in this ridiculous light strips some of the power away from them in a similar way to what Charlie Chaplin did to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR or what Rogen/Franco did to Kim Jong-Un with THE INTERVIEW. If you’re down for dark comedy and don’t mind totally offensive punchlines, you should give FOUR LIONS a watch in the near future!

13. HARD BOILED: Last year, LADY SNOWBLOOD wound up being one of my favorite movie-going experiences as I saw it in a packed cinema pub screening. This year, that cinema pub moviegoing experience belongs to HARD BOILED. This shoot ’em up actioner is over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! Each gun fight plays out like a carefully choreographed dance and the film features one of the most jaw-dropping single take sequences that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Though it relies on a few cop movie clichés, it utilizes these in a loving way that makes the familiar material seem fresh. If you’re into action films and you haven’t seen HARD BOILED, then you need to remedy that immediately!

12. T2 TRAINSPOTTING: In all honesty, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING. I love that film and I know that novelist Irvine Welsh wrote a follow-up novel, but I didn’t know how that might translate into a cinematic sequel. Over two decades after its predecessor’s release, T2 TRAINSPOTTING serves as an amazing companion piece to the original. Using the same cast and experimental visual style (albeit through a much more polished lens), TRAINSPOTTING 2 delivers stellar performances and naturally follows the lives of the four ne’er do wells from the previous film. If you loved the first film, then you’ll probably love this one too. For a full experience, it’s best to watch both of them back-to-back in the space of a single night!

11. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: This may be blasphemy for a cinephile, but I actually haven’t seen many Alfred Hitchcock films. I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, and DIAL M FOR MURDER, but the rest of his filmography is basically a mystery to my movie-craving eyes. My first viewing of NORTH BY NORTHWEST took place in the best possible environment (a packed movie theater) and I was blown away by how thrilling this film is. This is basically a James Bond film before Bond ever hit the screen. Cary Grant serves as a charismatic leading man who’s on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the space of his death-defying adventure, we gets lots of suspense, action, and unexpected plot twists. I was on the edge of my seat for this entire film and walked away extremely satisfied. If the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography is anywhere near this great, then I’m in for a real treat as I continue to watch his work.

10. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE: Blending a Coen brothers style of humor with indie thriller sensibilities, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE might just be the most underseen and underrated film of 2017! This movie won an audience award at Sundance and then went directly to Netflix, where some people talked about for a couple of weeks and then it just kind of seemed to vanish out of the public eye. This is a vigilante thriller that’s believable in how inept real-life wannabe vigilantes might be and frequently dishes out shocking spurts of graphic violence. This might be the best Coen brothers film that the Coen brothers never made and I can’t wait to see what first-time director/writer Macon Blair cooks up next!

9. BABY DRIVER: What can I say? Edgar Wright consistently makes great films. BABY DRIVER is a passion project that Wright had in the works for years. In a similar fashion to how George Miller carefully planned out every scene, shot, and effect in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Wright constantly lets the viewer know that they’re in the hands of a visionary storyteller. This stylish crime tale about a getaway driver who (ironically enough) wants to get away from his criminal lifestyle is loaded with colorful characters, hilarious humor, and adrenaline-pumping action that’s synced up to one of the best damn soundtracks you’ll hear all year. I gushed over this movie back in June and I am still gushing about it now. If you want a joy ride of pure fun, BABY DRIVER will satisfy your cinematic craving!

8. THE DISASTER ARTIST: Never in a million years did I think that anything to do with Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-good THE ROOM would ever wind up on any “Best of” list. Yet, here we are. James Franco lovingly adapts the nonfiction book about the creation of THE ROOM to the big screen in a way that’s not only hilarious, but also genuinely touching. THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t take the easy route of being a goofy comedy about a loser who fails so spectacularly that he kind of succeeds. Instead, this film takes a more complicated drama-comedy approach and shows us the more serious side of oddball Tommy Wiseau…and his strange friendship with would-be aspiring actor Greg Sestero. THE DISASTER ARTIST is a moving must-see for ROOM fans and cinephiles who just love great movies in general.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049: I’m saying it right now, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. Over three decades after its predecessor’s debut, BLADE RUNNER 2049 recaptures the bleak sci-fi/noir spark that made the original into the cult classic that it is today. 2049’s cast all deliver amazing performances across the board, with supporting actors making the biggest impressions in their small minutes of screen time and Ryan Gosling serving as a fascinating new antihero. Besides delivering a complex mystery that unpredictably shifts directions as it goes along, 2049 also has one of the most beautiful romantic subplots in years and it features a literal “one-dimensional” character. For those who were bummed out by this film’s disappointing box office returns, remember that the first BLADE RUNNER was a box office flop and is now considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. A similar classic status will undoubtedly follow BLADE RUNNER 2049 in future years!

6. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: Seven years ago, if you had told me that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would be one of the best cinematic trilogies ever, I would have laughed in your face. It turns out that’s exactly the case though. 2014’s DAWN drastically improved upon the minor flaws of 2011’s RISE, but 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is stellar storytelling from beginning to end. Themes of revenge, survival, and forgiveness are examined throughout the film’s ever-changing plot. Performance wise, WAR fully shapes out intelligent ape Caesar (played wonderfully by Andy Serkis) as animal protagonist who’s more compelling than most human protagonists in films and also introduces Woody Harrelson as a monstrous villain who we want to see die in the most painful way possible. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the best possible way to conclude the APES prequel trilogy and is one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever sat through!

5. IRREVERSIBLE: I originally heard about Gaspar Noe’s rape-revenge drama from a podcast in 2008, but hadn’t bothered to give it a look until earlier this year. Though not strictly a horror film by any means, IRREVERSIBLE is a terrifying cinematic experience as events are told backwards. Unlike other linear rape-revenge stories, we see the revenge come first and travel backwards through the moments that eventually lead up to the violent act of justice. As the film plays out in reverse (ironic considering its title), we put pieces of this depressing puzzle together for ourselves and this already tragic event becomes even more tragic with each new revelation. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted and it’s about as bleak as they come, but IRREVERSIBLE is an uncompromising masterpiece that deserves to be seen by anybody who loves the serious artistic side of cinema!

4. LOGAN: There will never be a better Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. I’m saying that right now. Over a decade has been spent watching Jackman in the role of this weaponized mutant, so LOGAN serves as a suitable final chapter for Jackman’s reluctant do-gooder. The future X-MEN films have a tough act to follow, because LOGAN is a special kind of superhero story. Relationships between the small cast of characters drives the emotional core of this film forward, whilst the R rating finally delivers something that X-MEN fans have wanted to see since 2000: a bad-ass Wolverine slicing and dicing his way through bad guys. This film also has shades of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD crossed with a comic book story that’s about as unconventional as they come. Now that Disney is in talks to own the X-MEN franchise, we likely won’t see another film like LOGAN coming from this mutant-based series. LOGAN is a one-of-a-kind superhero film and one of the best comic book movies ever made!

3. EYES WIDE SHUT: Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an underrated masterpiece about the way in which people delude themselves into believing that they’re happy…and also there’s a creepy sex cult involved too. The entire film has a dream-like atmosphere as we watch the main character (Tom Cruise) venture through a single night odyssey that explores the sexual possibilities of cheating on his wife. Kubrick masterfully shows the dire consequences that might result from following our instinctual desires, whilst also putting us into the place of Cruise’s character. This is especially true of the ending which offers two distinct possibilities: one of them is easy and comforting…and the other one is ambiguous and dangerous. Whatever you might think of it or how you might interpret it, EYES WIDE SHUT is sure to keep you talking about it long after it’s over.

2. YOUR NAME: Eat your heart out Studio Ghibli! YOUR NAME just might be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever sat through. This film has gorgeous animation from beginning to end, while also delivering an entrancing tale of emotions and body-swapping. It’s initial set-up sounds like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY, but drastically becomes something far more charming and moving as its complex plot moves along. This might be one of the strangest love stories ever put to the screen, but its emotional resonance is undeniable! The characters are all built up to the point where the viewer feels for their struggles and deeply cares about them. This makes the film’s final third into a very suspenseful and gripping ride. Also, the climax is utterly perfect. YOUR NAME is a masterpiece and deserves every bit of praise it has received so far (and will continue to receive)!

1. MOTHER!: Much like my favorite film of 2016 (HIGH-RISE), I know that there will be people who loathe and downright detest MOTHER! Some will hate it for its sheer artsy nightmare-logic style and others will despise its controversial message, but I adored every single frame of this fucked-up little ditty. The film follows a woman and her husband in an isolated countryside house. After a strange couple pop in and just decide to stay, their lives are shifted in horrifying ways. I can’t get too into details, because it would spoil some of the film’s nasty surprises and metaphorical madness. I will say that MOTHER! is my favorite horror film of the 2010s so far and one of the ballsiest films to ever receive a nationwide theatrical release. People either really love this film or totally hate it. There isn’t much middle ground to be found and you will likely walk away with a very strong opinion about it. One of the film’s trailers promised that “you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw MOTHER!” and that statement is completely accurate. I’ve been thinking about this unforgettable horror film since its release and I can’t wait to dive into it again and again in future years to come!

Well, 2017 was a wild year for me…both on this site and in my personal life. I’m currently in the process of moving, so reviews will resume sometime in January! I plan to keep this little movie blog rolling, with plenty of reviews (both old and new) being pumped out on a mostly regular basis! A huge “thank you” to anyone who’s read this blog at all during the past year or any new readers who are discovering it for the first time. There was plenty to love in the world of film during 2017 and here’s to a just as great (if not better) 2018!

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, some Sexuality, Nudity and Language

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Written by: Hampton Fancher & Michael Green

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista & Jared Leto

In 1982, Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER bombed at the box office and polarized critics. Throughout the following years/decades, the film drew greater appreciation, gained a strong cult following, and is now widely considered to be one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. If anyone were to helm a sequel, they would certainly have their work cut out for them and would need to be among the top tier of modern filmmakers. Thank God that long-awaited sequel BLADE RUNNER 2049 (released 35 years after its predecessor) has master director Denis Villeneuve (ARRIVAL, SICARIO, and PRISONERS) as its guiding source. To put it bluntly, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen.

Set thirty years after the events of the previous film, 2049 follows blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) as he goes about his daily job of “retiring” (code for killing) older replicants (bioengineered robots). When he’s not at work, K spends his free time with his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas). However, K’s depressingly simple existence is about to get a lot more complicated as his latest job unearths evidence that a replicant child has been born. This was thought to be impossible and seems like an “abomination” of nature, so K is instructed to “retire” the replicant child and uncovers a deeper mystery that takes him to dangerous places, puts him in the sights of the evil Wallace Corporation, and brings back a blast from the past.

BLADE RUNNER 2049’s marketing is deceptive in that it paints this film as an action-packed sequel that has Harrison Ford playing sidekick for a majority of the screen time and sees Jared Leto as the main villain. However, the film is far more subtle than that and has occasional spurts of action…very much in the same vein of the 1982 sci-fi noir. It’s also worth noting that Jared Leto only has about 2-3 scenes and yet makes the most of every second that he’s on screen. The real threat comes from Sylvia Hoeks’s psycho replicant Luv. She’s scary as hell. Also, Harrison Ford’s Deckard doesn’t pop up until the film is over halfway over, but his presence is a strong point in the film’s complicated, super bleak plot.

Ryan Gosling is a fantastic leading man in the role of protagonist K. This blade runner is very much a replicant (while Deckard’s identity was merely an ambiguous idea at the end of the original) and struggles with his “soulless” existence. Gosling’s K is a depressed robot-killer who undergoes a transformation over the course of the film’s storyline, in a similar way to Harrison Ford’s Deckard in the first film. However, BLADE RUNNER 2049 differs in many respects and takes place during a whole new chapter of this neon-lit, robot-inhabited future.

One of the more twisted elements of this future setting is embodied by K’s holographic girlfriend Joi, played the gorgeous and extremely talented Ana de Armas. Even though she’s a literal two-dimensional character, Armas is fully fleshed out as Joi and is (pardon the pun) a joy to watch on the screen. The romantic chemistry between a robot detective and his holographic girlfriend is one of the most fascinating, emotional, and surprisingly believable things that I’ve seen on the big screen all year. Gosling and Armas have palpable on-screen chemistry and they share tons of scenes together throughout the running time. There’s also suspense built as we pray that nothing will tear their bond apart.

BLADE RUNNER 2049’s storyline is intelligently told in a deliberately paced manner that feeds the viewer small chunks of information and turns their eyes towards strange clues, but doesn’t ever talk down to them by spoon-feeding massive details in a giant exposition dump. Instead, conversations between characters feel entirely natural and director Denis Villeneuve shows us lots of things rather than simply telling us. Some of the BLADE RUNNER 2049’s most powerful scenes don’t have a bit of spoken dialogue and that’s something truly special to behold. It’s also worth noting that Hans Zimmerman’s score is fantastic and noticeably seems to have a bit of Nine Inch Nails influence thrown into it.

2049’s spectacle is impressive as hell. The blending of computer generated imagery with heavily detailed sets is seamless. I couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. The neon-lit, orange-dusted, and watery-colored locations all built their own atmospheres (from eerily creepy to just plain cool). The 2049 future was the most creative and believable cinematic setting that I’ve witnessed since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD‘s apocalyptic world. It felt like I was whisked away to another place while I was watching BLADE RUNNER 2049 and when I finally exited the theater, nearly three hours had flown by without my knowledge of them passing. You lose yourself in this film’s spectacular visuals and engrossing plot; and those are two of cinema’s most beautiful qualities.

With fantastic performances (from old cast members and new), smart storytelling, amazing visuals and effects, and a purely cinematic vision, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is easily one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. This follow-up brilliantly connects to the classic predecessor, while also serving as its own original story. I can’t think of a single complaint that I had with this science-fiction noir. I cannot wait until I am able to watch the double feature of BLADE RUNNER and BLADE RUNNER 2049, because these films fit together like two pieces of a giant movie puzzle. BLADE RUNNER 2049 is easily one of the best films of 2017, one of the best sequels ever made, and one of my favorite science-fiction films in years!

Grade: A+

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan

Starring: Harrison Ford, Paul Freeman, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliott, Wolf Kahler & Alfred Molina

Unlike many film fans, I didn’t grow up with an instant nostalgia for Indiana Jones. I vaguely remember sitting through the original trilogy, but most of my memories revolve around the infamous beating heart scene from TEMPLE OF DOOM and the awesome Disneyland ride. So when RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was announced as a title in this Spring’s Cinemark Classic series, I was pretty excited to experience this acclaimed adventure on the big screen (the way it was meant to be seen). It’s been a full day since watching the film and I’m still reeling from it. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is the cinematic equivalent of an exciting rollercoaster ride!

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Set in 1936, Indiana Jones may seem like an average college professor to his colleagues, but has an interest hobby of exploring dangerous places in search of rare artifacts. When some G-Men come knocking to inform Jones that the Nazis are searching for the fabled Ark of the Covenant, Indiana is intrigued by a potential new treasure hunt. In order to keep this mystical relic from falling into occult-obsessed Nazi hands, Indiana Jones makes a perilous trek to Cairo. Finding the Ark is easier said than done as ancient clues must be unearthed, danger lurks around every corner, and a familiar face from Jones’ past reenters his life, former lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).

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RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is non-stop excitement from its iconic opening to its memorable finale. This film is so fast-paced that the brief breaks it offers in between its many creative action-packed scenarios seem there entirely for the purpose of giving the viewer a quick breather before heading right back into the action. Director Steven Spielberg had a few hits under his belt at this point in his career (JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), but RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK could likely be considered the film that cemented his reputation in Hollywood as an unquestionable force to be reckoned with. The film perfectly balances comedy with action in a way that lets you constantly laugh while remaining on the edge of your seat.

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Besides being exciting and funny the whole way through, it should also be noted that RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is surprisingly violent. I was taken aback (in a good way) at how mean this movie was to its villains. While TEMPLE OF DOOM was the film that pretty much invented the PG-13 rating (along with GREMLINS), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK definitely had a hand in making parents scratch their heads at what was getting through the PG rating. People are impaled, stabbed, shot, have their faces melted off, and also get run over by trucks (complete with comically over-the-top hands and legs flying up to emphasize the impact). I’m not complaining (far from it), but I was genuinely surprised at how balls-to-the-wall RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was in its bloody portrayal of death and danger. It also adds the sense that threats are lurking around every corner (from elaborate booby traps to a floor filled with venomous snakes).

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It is hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones, even though Tom Selleck was originally offered the part. Eventually, Spielberg convinced a reluctant George Lucas to cast Harrison Ford in the lead role and averted another severely dumb Lucas decision (because we already have plenty of those floating around). Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and nobody else could possibly fill the character’s shoes. Ford is simply the perfect fit for the iconic fedora-wearing explorer!

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The film boasts memorable performances on the sidelines as well. The beautiful Karen Allen plays Marion Ravenwood and is slightly more than just another damsel-in-distress (though she finds herself in that position numerous times). She actually aids Jones in fighting off some of the baddies and contributes to one of the film’s most exciting sequences (a battle alongside a grounded plane). Aside from Ravenwood, another great character comes in Egyptian digger Sallah, John Rhys-Davies serving as a comic relief sidekick. The villains are one-dimensional, but entertaining nonetheless. Paul Freeman plays a rival archeologist who isn’t above trying to murder Jones in cold blood and working with the Nazis for personal gain. As far as the German baddies go, Ronald Lacey is unbelievably creepy as a sadistic Gestapo agent.

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Stellar production values and an unforgettable John Williams score are icing on the cake. Indiana Jones is one of the biggest heroes in cinema and though I never quite grew up with him in the way that many others have, I completely understand why people love this character! RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is pretty much the perfect adventure film. It never slows down, moves from creative set piece to creative set piece, occasionally might scare some viewers (the opening of the Ark is legitimately creepy), and will thrill you from start to finish. Harrison Ford’s performance as Indiana Jones really sells the whole film, but everything else would make for a stellar movie…even with the absence of Ford’s iconic character. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is a classic adventure for the ages!

Grade: A+

BLADE RUNNER (1982)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and brief Nudity

BladeRunner poster

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Written by: Hampton Fancher & David Peoples

(based on the novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by Philip K. Dick)

Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Brian James, Daryl Hannah & M. Emmet Walsh

Besides bringing arguably the most terrifying alien movie to the screen, director Ridley Scott also made a significant mark in the science fiction genre with BLADE RUNNER! This film polarized critics upon its release and underperformed at the box office, but has since gone on to become a cult hit with a large fanbase and modern critics praising it to the heavens. Believe the hype. BLADE RUNNER is not only one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, it’s also one of the best films of all time. Combining noir and science fiction into one wholly original and unforgettable combination, BLADE RUNNER is absolutely phenomenal.

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In the distant future of 2019, earth has become an industrial dystopia with off-world colonies. These colonies employ replicants, bioengineered beings who function as superhuman slaves. When four dangerous replicants make their way back to Los Angeles and begin a bloody quest to find their maker, retired cop Rick Deckard is pushed back into duty. You see, Deckard specialized in being a Blade Runner (someone who tracks down and kills replicants), so he’s the perfect man for the job. However, these four replicants are more human and dangerous than he expected. Decker also begins to discover that not everything is black and white.

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BLADE RUNNER is a special movie in that on paper it sounds like an extremely simple story: a guy with a gun chases down four robots. That’s merely skimming the surface of how deep this movie goes though. The world that Ridley Scott introduces us to is simply amazing to behold. It has since been mimicked in plenty of other films, TV shows, and video games, but this is definitely where the neon-lit mechanical future first came into play. The movie doesn’t waste any screen time in filling us in on exposition about this future, but rather introduces pieces of technology and new information in a natural flow that never distracts from the story at hand. Though I watched “The Final Cut” of this movie (Ridley Scott’s full vision of the story), I have to imagine that not too much was digitally altered (after all, Scott is not George Lucas) as this movie utilized a lot of wild effects and screen tricks that still hold up perfectly to this day.

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Besides the amazing on-screen world, this movie has lots of suspense and borders on becoming an outright horror film during a number of sequences. Though it was mis-marketed as an action thrill-ride and has the basic set-up of a sci-fi flick, BLADE RUNNER cannot be fully classified under either of those genres. When you consider its use of noir elements and the probing questions it asks, the film becomes the cinematic masterpiece that has held up over the test of time. The villains in BLADE RUNNER aren’t simply killer robots piling bodies up every which way they go, but instead, come complete with emotions and interesting (as well as understandable) motivations behind their violent actions. They become outright tragic figures of sorts by the end and that makes them more than just one-dimensional baddies. Thus, these four replicants (the two biggest stand-outs being a frightening Rutger Hauer and victim-turned-villainess Daryl Hannah) become some of the most interesting and compelling antagonists in science-fiction film history.

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By praising these replicants, I’m not trying to take anything away from troubled protagonist Rick Decker. This man is ostensibly a noir protagonist placed in a futuristic, neon landscape. Harrison Ford plays Decker unlike any of the other roles that I’ve seen him play. Instead of being a wise-cracking rogue (ala Han Solo) or a charismatic action-hero (ala Indiana Jones), Decker comes off like a depressed cop who doesn’t necessarily like what he’s doing…but remains good at it nonetheless. Alongside Ford’s Decker is the smoking dame Rachael (Sean Young) who initially seems like a throwaway side character, but becomes a far more important player as the movie goes along. The connection between Decker and Rachael also makes for a perfect, poetic conclusion that left me wanting more (I mean that in the best possible way).

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BLADE RUNNER is a masterpiece of science-fiction, noir, and film in general. The special effects hold up decades later in bringing to life one of the most beautiful and well-designed futuristic landscapes to ever hit the big screen. The world this movie throws the viewer into is so fleshed-out and interesting that I would love to spend more time in it. The complex characters and smart writing make an otherwise simple-sounding story into something profound and emotionally moving. BLADE RUNNER is as perfect as cinema can be. This is one of my all-time favorite films!

Grade: A+

STAR WARS Episode VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

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Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams & Michael Arndt

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson & Max Von Sydow

More than a year after its teaser trailer and announcement excited fans everywhere, STAR WARS Episode VII has finally arrived! What better way to get into my review of this first entry in a brand new trilogy than by briefly recapping the past Episodes. Regarding the original trilogy, A NEW HOPE is great, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is perfect and RETURN OF THE JEDI is where the series began to reveal noticeable weaknesses. From 1999 to 2005, Lucas managed to piss off diehard fans with an underwhelming prequel trilogy that spent way too much time on stale romance, over-the-top humor, and useless plot details, than it did on having much fun with its space opera material. PHANTOM MENACE was a massive disappointment, while ATTACK OF THE CLONES was okay and REVENGE OF THE SITH was the best of the prequel trilogy (faint praise, I know). 32 years after the original trilogy concluded and a decade after the prequel trilogy annoyed, THE FORCE AWAKENS has emerged as a hugely entertaining opening chapter to a whole new era of STAR WARS.

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Thirty years after Episode VI, Luke Skywalker has vanished. The only clue to finding Luke is a map stored inside the adorable little droid BB-8. A tyrannical new enemy, the First Order, has risen out of the Empire’s ashes and is viciously attempting to track down the map contained within BB-8. The masked Kylo Ren and his many stormtroopers encounter resistance as scavenger Rey, stormtrooper-turned-good-guy Finn, and X-wing pilot Poe try to safely get BB-8 (and the map) to rebel forces. Along for the ride are a couple of very familiar faces from the past.

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Props to J.J. Abrams for capturing the tone of the original trilogy so perfectly. Many fans will be relieved to find that the prequels and THE FORCE AWAKENS are night and day. Abrams picks up in the decades-old remnants of Episode VI and it feels like almost no time has passed at all. Tonally, this is the same STAR WARS that original fans grew up with and kicked off the cultural phenomenon. The plot is simple and doesn’t feel the need to overcomplicate proceedings with unnecessary politics (e.g. conversations about taxes, diplomacy, and trade routes). This to-the-point screenplay allows room for the characters to grow and what great characters they are!

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Obviously, everyone is excited that Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca are back. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher (who receives significantly less screen time than Ford) jump right back into the roles that made them famous as if not a second has passed them by. Even more impressive is the new blood that’s come into the series. Daisy Ridley is a bad-ass heroine for the ages (up there with Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Furiosa) as scavenger-turned-rebel Rey. John Boyega is wonderful as a stormtrooper who’s been given a second chance at life and delivers some of the best comic relief in the film. Oscar Isaac is great (though underused) as skilled pilot Poe, while Domhnall Gleeson (who starred alongside Isaac in EX MACHINA earlier this year) fills the shoes of an evil commander quite well. Adam Driver is a stand-out as the complicatedly evil Kylo Ren. I don’t want to tell you why his performance is so great (no spoilers), so I’ll leave it at that.

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As fun, fast paced, and highly entertaining as THE FORCE AWAKENS is, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of faults that kept the movie from being perfect or amazing to me. One of which is some spotty CGI that’s employed mainly in two characters: a big eyed alien and the Supreme Leader Snoke, the new stand-in for the Emperor. The latter of these characters was done via motion capture with Andy Serkis and it just isn’t quite up to the level that we’ve seen Serkis work with before in other huge blockbusters (Gollum in LORD OF THE RINGS and Cesar in PLANET OF THE APES). These are two silly looking characters in an otherwise effects extravaganza as the rest of the aliens (mainly done through practical puppetry and costumes) look fantastic. There’s also one sequence involving a giant beastie or two (made entirely of CG) that look Lovecraftian in design and I loved that!

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My second (and last) problem with Episode VII comes primarily from an overwhelming amount of hype and Abrams doing everything in his power to stick to a certain formula. As enjoyable as the plot of FORCE AWAKENS is, the story also hits many familiar beats that seemed to be put in purely for fan service. We get revised versions of a few scenes that have already occurred (multiple times) throughout the series, the key difference being that new characters are now placed in these well-worn scenarios. To say anything more would be giving away spoilers and I’m not about to do that, so I’ll leave my gripe intentionally vague. This isn’t a huge complaint though as I still had a blast watching this film, but it definitely leaves me hoping that Episodes VIII and IX will be more creative.

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Overall, Episode VII will likely satisfy legions of STAR WARS fanatics and ecstatic movie lovers alike. The film is constantly moving, packs in many exciting set pieces, and has stellar characters. Though it’s not perfect, I had a great time watching THE FORCE AWAKENS and many rewatches definitely lie in the future. A new chapter of a beloved, decades-old film series has arrived. It is going to please many old-school fans of the original trilogy, millennials who were brought in by the prequels, and an entirely new generation of movie goers. That in itself is a hugely remarkable feat. Well done!

Grade: B+

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