Tag Archives: chad hopkins

Blade Runner (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 4 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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*very mild spoilers*

What is the appeal of the sci-fi genre? Certainly the potential of catching a possible glimpse of the future is a draw, and people are always glad to see the exciting action sequences that are typical in sci-fi works. But I would argue that what sci-fi does well, often better than other genre films, is ask questions, present new ideas, and generally give us life questions to ponder after the credits roll. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner accomplishes all of the above.

In 2019 Los Angeles, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought in by his former supervisor Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) and briefed on a new assignment: four Replicants – illegal androids – have escaped to Earth from off-planet human colonies, and they must now be killed. You see, Deckard used to be what they call a “Blade Runner”, a sort of bounty hunter tasked with tracking down these Replicants and “retiring” them. With Replicants being nearly indistinguishable from humans, Deckard has his work cut out for him, and he may just lose his humanity or even his life along the way.

The plot of the movie is relatively simple: good guy needs to hunt down robot bad guys and kill them before bad things happen. But, as I mentioned, the real highlights here are the questions…are the bad guys actually bad guys? Are the good guys actually good guys? What is right? What is wrong? What does it mean to be human? All of these questions carry quite a bit of heft and really drive the momentum of the film. I won’t attempt to answer any of these questions here – namely because my answers might be different than yours, as they’re meant to be.

Though the whole cast shines, there are three in particular that stand out in my mind when I watch this movie. The obvious choice is Harrison Ford as Deckard. As our primary human character, he brings us an interesting mix of the empathy we expect in a human but also the coldness and moral distance you would expect from a machine or, in this case, a Replicant. One of the biggest – if not the biggest – questions from this movie is whether Deckard is a human or a Replicant, and Ford masterfully plays along that fine line without definitively revealing anything either way. Another standout is Rutger Hauer as the Replicant Roy, who has perhaps the biggest character arc in the film, or at least the most interesting one. He possesses a strange energy that both endears and frightens, especially through the vibrancy of his bright blue eyes, but he also often shows more human traits than Deckard does: compassion, empathy, sadness, happiness, and he delivers one of the finest speeches to be found in any sci-fi film, or to be honest, in any film at all (and partially improvised, at that!). The last one I’ll mention here is Sean Young as the Replicant Rachael, who is particularly fascinating because her character initially believes herself to be a human thanks to implanted memories. Where Deckard is a human with many Replicant qualities, Rachael is just the opposite, and watching her cry as she learns that the memories of the life she thought she had were forgeries is heartbreaking. Throughout the rest of the movie, she expresses conflict between which faction she owes her allegiance to – the humans who created her or the Replicants who share her origin.

Vangelis, of Chariots of Fire fame, sets the tone of the film with another synth-based score that works extremely well in this futuristic dystopian setting; there’s a technological energy in the music as the film opens, but this eventually gives way to a strong feeling of melancholy and despair that matches the state of the world and the conflict going on within our characters’ minds.

The questions and the themes found in this movie could be talked about and written about for ages to come (and probably will be), but for now I’ll leave you to watch the film for yourself and ponder over everything on your own. If you do, I highly recommend checking out the basis for the film as well, Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Reading the book really helped me to get into Deckard’s head and to understand some of his motivations and internal struggles. Once you have watched the movie and maybe read the book, talk about it with others! Blade Runner is a film that demands discussion because of the complex questions found within, but, for the more casual moviegoer, it still has a lot to offer in the way of good sci-fi worldbuilding and action. However you take it on, enjoy the ride and consider: what does it mean to live?

-Chad

(P.S. – Watch the Final Cut.)

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: R – for violence and brief nudity


Frequency (2000)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 3 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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*very mild spoilers*

It shouldn’t be any secret ’round these parts that I am, let’s say, fond of time travel movies, Back to the Future (my review) being the top of the bunch. Time travel, however, can be a tricky subject, and if it’s not done well, it can be almost painful to watch. Thankfully, Frequency – which happens to be a time travel movie that doesn’t actually feature time travel – handles its subject matter with great care and gives us some great drama along the way.

In October 1969, we’re introduced to Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), a firefighter who loves his job, his wife Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), and his son John. Flash forward to October 1999 where we meet John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel), now a 36-year-old police officer who we learn lost his father in a fire…30 years ago. Struggling with the departure of his girlfriend and the impending anniversary of his father’s death, John discovers Frank’s old ham radio and, upon hooking it up, finds none other than his own deceased father on the other end of the conversation. Faced with the question of “what if” and all the implications that lie therein, John and Frank begin to reconnect but then must face the consequences that come with meddling with time.

As I mentioned above, this is a time travel movie that doesn’t feature time travel; instead, we have John’s ability to manipulate the past by communicating with his father and changing the way things “originally” happened, causing fascinating ripple effects that we witness in the form of memory flashbacks, changing pictures, and even matter being manipulated in real time. For example, in one scene Frank, in a moment of irony, accidentally sets fire to an object on his desk, and John, sitting at the same desk 30 years later, witnesses the scorch mark appearing first hand. Scenes like this (and another in which Frank writes a message with a soldering iron on the same desk) communicate to the audience that these two characters’ interactions at different moments in time are happening concurrently and have an effect on each other.

Speaking of these two characters, Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel are perfectly cast as a father/son duo. Quaid’s introduction as Frank shows us both the passion he has for his job and for helping other people – at his own peril – as well as his immense love for his family; dancing with his wife while singing Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” (my favorite Presley song) is a highlight of the movie, and Quaid’s natural ease and likability boosts the scene even further. Jim Caviezel’s John is tortured and depressed – his girlfriend is gone, he has grown up without his dad, and he’s distanced from his mother – but he ultimately shares in his father’s desire to help people. Once they are able to reconnect with each other via the radio, we get a great sense of chemistry despite the fact that they are never in the same room at the same time. One scene in particular has the two catching up on subjects such as life, baseball, and marriage, ending with an incredibly heartfelt “I love you” – something they haven’t been able to say to each other in 30 years. It’s this relationship between Frank and John that serves as the focus of the film and presents the majority of the heart.

Other characters I want to mention but won’t linger on too long for fear of spoilers are Elizabeth Mitchell’s Julia, or “Jules” as she’s affectionately called by Frank and others. She fills the dual roles of loving mother/wife and tough woman who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or others. As a nurse, she works hard to save others’ lives, but in a scene late in the film when her son’s life is in danger, she does what it takes to jump in and potentially sacrifice herself in order to save his life. Andre Braugher’s Satch, police pal of Frank and eventually John when he joins the force, has his moment in the spotlight as well in a scene where he expresses a huge range of emotions, from anger to incredulity to disbelief to tenderness, and at no point does it seem over the top. One more character to mention: Shawn Doyle eventually appears as the villain, and he’s a perfect mix of grounded while still maintaining a certain level of sleaze that makes you know he’s up to no good, but, again, he’s never over the top or hard to accept as a potential real person. (Worth noting that we also get a young Michael Cera in his first feature film role, playing the son of John’s long-time friend Gordo, who is played by Noah Emmerich.)

The rest I’ll leave to the podcast because it features some great discussion between Mugglecast‘s own Eric Scull and me. It isn’t the first time I’ve said it and it certainly won’t be the last, but I love time travel movies, and Frequency is no exception. Sure, it has its fair share of sci-fi and even a bit of action, but the real strength of this movie lies in its characters and the love that they show for each other…everything else is just an added bonus. This movie is underrated and is definitely worth the watch!

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense violence and disturbing images


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 2 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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My experience with Star Trek is limited, especially in regards to Classic Trek. In fact, JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot was my introduction to the franchise in any way, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I saw any Classic Trek at all. So when my friend TJ told me that he wanted to talk about Wrath of Khan when I asked him to be on my podcast, I did a tiny bit of research and preparation, but my goal was to view this as a non-Trekkie to see if it was not only a great Trek film but also, and more importantly, a great film as well, and whaddya know? It certainly is.

Following the events of the 1967 Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Space Seed”, in which Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) maroons Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) and the remainder of his people on a planet as punishment for the attempted takeover of the USS EnterpriseWrath of Khan features an older, dissatisfied Kirk – now Admiral – joining his former crew on the Enterprise once again for a routine training mission. However, things become anything but routine when Khan is revealed to have returned, angrier than ever and prepared to do whatever it takes to seek vengeance against Admiral Kirk. Faced with a new adventure and tasked with protecting the lives of his crew, Kirk and company must find a way to defeat Khan before he unleashes a technology with the capability of destroying all life on any planet he chooses.

*mild spoilers ahead*

Even with my limited experience in the classic Trek universe, what I’ve found that I love about it most is that the sci-fi/adventure aspect is almost an afterthought; yes, there are cool spaceships and futuristic technologies, but the main focus in everything I’ve seen so far has been humans (or aliens) having human moments with each other while going through human experiences. The setting is merely a setting – the situations are universal. This movie deals with themes such as mortality, youth, sacrifice, and love vs. hate, and it deals with these themes better than many non-sci-fi movies.

That being said, the character with whom we identify the most is Admiral Kirk himself. He is profoundly human in that he is flawed. He features strong charisma and leadership capabilities, and his love and duty for his friends and crew are apparent, but he, like all of us, is often emotional and reactionary, which leads to mistakes. Thankfully, he learns from his mistakes throughout the course of the film through self-evaluation and through listening to the advice of his friends, and by the end he is a better man because of it. Spock, played by the iconic Leonard Nimoy, is merely the other side of the coin. To contrast with Kirk’s emotions, Spock makes decisions through logic and necessity, but he shows by the end of the film that logic is not always the antithesis of emotion – that sometimes the two go hand in hand because the logical thing to do is to make sacrifices for the ones you love.

Khan, on the other hand, features a personality similar to Kirk’s in that he is driven by emotion, but his emotions blind and deafen him to the warnings of his crew. Montalbán gives a great performance here – you can see the calculating look in his eyes as he decides what his next course of action will be, and his fits of passion are just as powerful as the moments when he menacingly whispers, showing his ability to control a situation when he has the advantage. He’s a fantastic villain in the sense that you know why he is doing what he’s doing, which is what you want when it comes to the antagonist – believable motivation.

Storytelling and characters aside, this is a sci-fi film, and those elements are done extremely well. For a film made in 1982, the graphics hold up surprisingly well, with a particular CGI sequence made by an early iteration of Pixar being a definite highlight. Another element of note is the space combat, with the idea by director Nicholas Meyer to approach it like a submarine battle proving to be an effective action sequence. And I can’t praise the score enough; composed by a young James Horner, the music switches from horror to sci-fi/adventure to drama with apparent ease, and the main theme is such an earworm (pun intended if you’ve seen the film) that I was whistling it for 20 minutes after watching for the first time because I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I could go on and on about this movie because it really is so much more than just a sci-fi flick, and the whole crew gives outstanding performances – including a young Kirstie Alley in her first feature film role. There are moments of pure joy as well as scenes that are sure to guarantee tears, and all the while it feels firmly like Star Trek. With strong themes and solid characters, The Wrath of Khan is a prime example of how prioritizing story and characters is the key to success in filmmaking, no matter the subject material at hand.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for violence and language


War Horse (2011)

Steven Spielberg brings movie magic to the big screen yet again with his adaptation of the book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. 

One way to think of this film is as a modern-day – well, World War I-era – version of Homer’s The Odyssey, with war obstacles instead of mythical beasts. Joey/Odysseus, the horse, is just trying to find his way back home to Albert/Penelope, but to get there he first wanders through Europe/the Mediterranean Sea, coming into contact with various war scenarios/mythical creatures. Looking at it from that perspective, I enjoyed it even more since I was a big fan of The Odyssey. It’s an epic adventure with a war hero, except this time around he’s a horse, making it all the more touching.

Everything in this film was superbly well-done. Each of the actors and actresses held themselves to a high standard, presenting the audience with genuine, heartfelt emotion: despair that makes us cringe with worry, joy that makes us grin from ear to ear, and love that brings tears to our eyes. One standout performance comes from Jeremy Irvine, who portrays the lead character of Albert. His apparent connection with Joey is believable and warm, making their separation all the more upsetting and their eventual reunion incredibly satisfying.

Another great, albeit short, performance comes from Tom Hiddleston as Captain Nicholls, a man who resolves to look after a horse with as much love and care as was given by the boy he was taken from. Hiddleston, whether as Nicholls or Loki, has an uncanny likability that draws you into caring for him. Benedict Cumberbatch, another rising British star, also makes a brief appearance in the film as Major Stewart. This was the first time I’d ever seen Cumberbatch in anything; what strikes me as remarkable about him is that he seems to almost ooze authority with apparent ease. His stint as a major in the British army is impressive and powerful. Other notable appearances in the film are by Celine Buckens as Emilie, who is a perfect example of innocence, and Niels Arestrup as her grandfather, who delivers a brilliant monologue about how sometimes bravery is never looking down and always looking forward.

Spielberg’s talent for setting scenes in huge ways is very apparent here; the beauty of Europe as a backdrop is made exceptionally clear, contrasting deeply with the images of war and violence seen in the forefront. All of this makes the film feel large but in an intimate way, as if the war is simply the backdrop for the more personal relationship between a young man and his horse.

War Horse is a fantastic film that feels old-fashioned in a marvelous way. Spielberg has combined his natural talent for making dazzling films with an outstanding cast, a heartwarming story of friendship and loyalty, and an extremely beautiful film score by longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams to make the film his best in years.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of war violence


Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

I had never seen a Tom Cruise film before this one. It’s not that I necessarily made it a point to avoid them, but I definitely didn’t seek them out. Though I don’t agree with Cruise as a person, I must admit that I really liked Ghost Protocol.

I have never seen the first three films in this series, but I didn’t have too much trouble following the story; really, the story isn’t all that complicated. Ghost Protocol is a movie that delights in almost being a caricature of the action genre, which the title, Mission Impossible, already hints at. Why not make a ridiculous prison escape? Why not climb a skyscraper with zero safety equipment? Why not chase down the bad guy in the middle of a sandstorm? Tom Cruise has the sort of actor persona that allows him to perform these typically impossible feats without raising too much disbelief from the audience; we’re just here to sit back and enjoy the ride, and enjoy it we do.

I did feel that some of the action scenes dragged on a bit too long, though, particularly the aforementioned sandstorm chase and a later chase seen that involves a high-tech parking garage. I don’t think these scenes should have been scrapped altogether because they definitely did contain elements that were truly exciting and fun, but it went on for so long that I began glancing down at my watch and wondering how much longer Cruise was going to chase after the bad guy.

That complaint is small, though, in an otherwise fantastic film. It has action, action, and more action, but Brad Bird, being the expert director that he is (he is responsible for The Iron Giant and The Incredibles), approaches all of it in a way that is a pleasure to behold rather than a series of loud and excessive explosions, as might be seen in the typical Michael Bay film. With an awesome score provided by frequent Bird collaborator Michael Giacchino and a memorable performance from Cruise, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is an action-packed thrill ride that promises the world on a plate and gives it to you. I am no longer quite so reluctant to view Tom Cruise films.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: for sequences of intense action and violence

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Michael Giacchino, here!


Bedtime Stories (2008)

I’ve always felt that there is a difference between “good movies” and “movies that people enjoy”; for example, I don’t think anyone would argue with me if I said that Bedtime Stories, starring Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Russell Brand, and Guy Pearce, wasn’t a “good” movie, but I must confess – I enjoy the heck out of this movie.

I blame my love for this film on the likability of Russell Brand and Keri Russell. Brand has several delightfully quotable lines in this film (“I actually like ketchup on my face because it’s rejuvenating for the skin!”) that never fail to make me laugh, even on repeated viewings. Keri Russell, however, is charming and beautiful; I’ve been a fan of hers since I first saw her in August Rush, and she makes me smile every time she’s on screen. With fun stories told by a better-than-he-has-been-in-his-last-few-movies Sandler, cute kids, and an even cuter Bugsy, there’s plenty to like about this movie.

However, as I said before, this film wouldn’t typically be considered a “good” film. Sandler doesn’t come across as the kind of guy who should be telling kids bedtime stories. The voice-over from Jonathan Pryce is fine at the beginning and end, but there are a couple of instances in the movie when, as the narrator/Sandler’s father, speaks directly to Sandler’s character…it’s the one moment in the film that really irritates me. The story is cliche, the cause of the stories coming to life is never explored, and it is, admittedly, decidedly juvenile as a whole.

But none of that keeps me from chuckling every time Skeeter sees Bugsy’s eyes for the first time or when Rob Schneider makes an appearance as a Native American horse trader or when Russell Brand’s character wakes up from his so-called “sleep panic disorder”. Bedtime Stories is a kids’ movie through and through with some silly slapstick and obvious bits intended to make children laugh, but perhaps you’ll be able to find something to enjoy in it; as the Marty Bronson says in the film, “your fun is only limited by your imagination”.

-Chad

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for some mild rude humor and mild language


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) – Hans Zimmer

Zimmer Week continues!

Hans Zimmer takes the reins from Klaus Badelt in composing the score for the second film of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, Dead Man’s Chest.

Every single track on this album is outstanding…something I don’t usually say about a Hans Zimmer score, but it’s well-deserved in this instance. The opening track, “Jack Sparrow”, is fitting for the Johnny Depp character, with a drunken cello solo taking up the first minute and a half before it shakes off its stupor and takes off into a swashbuckling, adventurous pirate theme – something that Mr. Zimmer certainly seems to have a knack for.

Perhaps the best thing that this album has to offer is the use of the organ. While it may seem a bit strange to use an instrument like an organ so liberally in a film score, Zimmer puts it to good use. In “The Kraken”, we hear a brooding bass line that is almost reminiscent of John Williams’ theme to Jaws; it takes its own slow pace before building into a full orchestra playing just about as loud as it can, which then dwindles back down to a simple, haunting organ line. The rest of the track simulates the kraken’s hunting of its victims and their impending doom. It’s a terrific backdrop for such a terrifying creature.

The organ also features pretty heavily in “Davy Jones”. The opening of this track is very ethereal and music-box like, showing the more tender side of the character that the track is named for. However, this doesn’t last long before the organ takes over and turns the innocent theme into the inner turmoil that Jones feels inside. It ends the way it starts, but the theme is now slower…almost heartbreaking.

Other standout tracks on this album include “Dinner is Served”, which is aggressive and tribal before transitioning into a waltz that sounds more delightful than the part of the film it is featured in. The joke is, I think, that the swinging cages are meant to represent trapeze artists, an image that the music fits fairly well. “Two Hornpipes (Tortuga)” is raucous and fun, while “Wheel of Fortune” could be used as the definition for “adventure”.

I could go on naming tracks that I love, but let’s face it: I’ve already mentioned more than half of them. If you couldn’t tell, Dead Man’s Chest is my absolute favorite Hans Zimmer score, so go and give it a listen. Every single track on this album is fantastic…minus the DJ Tiësto remix of “He’s a Pirate” from the first film, but it doesn’t count.. Though I’m giving it the same rating, know this: this film’s score is better than Inception‘s. Enjoy!

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

  1. “Jack Sparrow” (6:06)
  2. “The Kraken” (6:55)
  3. “Davy Jones” (3:15)
  4. “I’ve Got My Eye on You” (2:25)
  5. “Dinner is Served” (1:30)
  6. “Tia Dalma” (3:57)
  7. “Two Hornpipes (Tortuga)” (1:14)
  8. “A Family Affair” (3:34)
  9. “Wheel of Fortune” (6:45)
  10. “You Look Good Jack” (5:34)
  11. “Hello Beastie” (10:15)
  12. He’s a Pirate (DJ Tiësto Remix) (7:03)

Total Length: app. 52 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad