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Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner came out in 1982—35 years ago. Scott has tooled around with the movie numerous times, resulting in a final cut that was released about 10 years ago.

While there was a lot of monkeying around (in a good way) with the original, it didn’t seem there was much thought of, or chance for, an actual sequel. After all, the original was not a box-office hit, and it didn’t start gaining its classic status until a decade after its release. In fact, critics beat up on it a bit.

Here in 2017, however, we actually do get a sequel. Blade Runner 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve, the visionary behind Enemy and Arrival. (Scott remains involved as a producer.) Harrison Ford, who has classically complained about the original movie, has nonetheless returned to play blade runner Rick Deckard. Ryan Gosling steps into the starring role of K, a new blade runner tasked with “retiring” older-model replicants, the synthetic humans originated by the likes of Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah in the original.

Other than the presence of Ford in the final act of the movie, and the Pan Am and Atari logos still present in the Los Angeles skyline, this does not feel like a standard sequel. 2049 goes off on many new tangents, bending the mind when it comes to topics like artificial intelligence, what really constitutes love, and determining what is “real” in this world. Villeneuve, along with writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, have concocted a whole new world—a realistic evolution of the one presented in Scott’s original.

The film opens with a scene actually meant for the original Blade Runner, one in which a farmer (Dave Bautista) is trying to live a peaceful life before being confronted by K. K finds things at the farmer’s homestead that trigger memories, and the excavation of a body at the site triggers even more. At the behest of his boss (Robin Wright), K goes off on a mission to find a lost child and, eventually, that old, cranky S.O.B., Rick Deckard.

There are many twists and turns along the way, which is no surprise, seeing as the movie is almost three hours long. This is not a complaint; there is something to admire in every frame of this movie. Cinematographer Roger Deakins puts pure art in motion with his camerawork, giving us a dirtier, gloomier and yet still beautiful Blade Runner. K’s travels take him to the ruins of major cities, and ruined cities have never looked this gorgeous.

As in the original, there are things in this movie you have never seen before. Amazing sequences include a battle between two men in an abandoned showroom. The showroom used to house a hologram show starring the likes of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, and that show gets started up again after somebody flips a switch. It’s one of the more surreal scenes you will see in any movie this year.

The same can be said about a moment when K meets Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), who makes memories for replicants. Villeneuve crafts an eerily beautiful scene in which K observes her creating a birthday-party memory, which we see as a hologram. It’s one of those movie moments where you just sit there thinking: “Now that’s some hardcore, original shit right there.”

Gosling is in top form as K, a confused member of a future society in which one’s sense of identity can be a very confounding thing. His home companion is a very lifelike and cognizant hologram named Joi (Ana de Armas). Much credit goes to Armas for making Joi something far more than a glorified Siri/Alexa. It’s heartbreaking stuff.

The film has a few flaws. Jared Leto, while not awful, pours it on a little too thick as Niander Wallace, creator of replicants. While the film’s finale is fine, it doesn’t live up to the excellence that preceded it.

These are minor quibbles, because the wonders that Blade Runner 2049 delivers far outrun the missteps. Villeneuve has done the legacy of Blade Runner supreme justice with this offering. I actually doubt Ridley Scott could’ve directed this better.

Blade Runner 2049 is shown in theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

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The DC Universe gets the blast of fun it sorely needed with Wonder Woman, a film that gets it right in almost every way—including a performance from Gal Gadot that makes it seem like the role is her birthright.

Gadot lights up the screen and commands the camera on the same level as Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr. She simply is Wonder Woman; I can’t picture another actress even attempting to play the character. She owns it. It’s hers. Game over.

There’s always a faction of fans who bitch about superhero-origin stories, who want films to jump straight to the hardcore action, but I love a good origin story done well. The movie starts with young Amazonian princess Diana running around her island paradise, practicing her fight moves and yearning to be trained as a warrior. After butting heads with her sister, Antiope (Robin Wright, rightfully cast as an Amazonian badass), Diana’s mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, yet another piece of great casting), relents, and allows Antiope to train her niece—as long as Antiope doesn’t tell Diana about the true powers Diana possesses. For those who don’t know the Wonder Woman back-story (I was a little rusty on it myself), it’s a sweet piece of mythology and mystery, and director Patty Jenkins (who made the Charlize Theron Oscar vehicle Monster) perfectly paces all the revelations.

Diana eventually winds up in Europe during World War I along with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a wartime spy who crash-lands on her island. Diana is convinced that the German military leader who Steve is fighting (Danny Huston) is the war god Aries, and she intends to take him out. This all leads to miraculously cool scenes of Wonder Woman leading soldiers on the battlefield against the Germans, and it’s nothing short of exhilarating.

Gadot has the best superhero smile since Reeve flashed his pearly whites in the original Superman (1978). When Reeve smiled, he drove home the fact that he was the sweetest, best darned guy running around on planet Earth (you know, back when Superman was generally happy rather than constantly moping about). Gadot has that same kind of smile superpower.

It says a lot that Gadot and Jenkins make you feel good in a movie with a lot of violence and villainy. Huston is a super-creep, and his evil sidekick, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), likes making poisonous gas—and there are moments when her evil-doings are flat-out terrifying. Yet no matter how dark the film gets, it remains an overall upbeat experience.

However, the film is not perfect. There are some occasional terrible CGI special effects, although there are enough stellar effects to balance things out. Still, maybe this movie needed a few more months in post-production, because the shoddy moments are glaringly obvious. They don’t come close to spoiling the movie, but they keep it short of excellent.

Pine is a total charmer as the confused spy who winds up romancing a goddess—a love story handled in a way that is surprisingly convincing and quite adorable.

Perhaps some of the joy in this movie will make it into November’s Justice League, or future Superman movies. (Hey, Batman can mope … that’s his lot in life.) Wonder Woman gives the DC superhero crew a new lease on life, and offers the summer movie season the adrenaline boost it needed after the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie stunk up the place.

After all these years, and all sorts of failed attempts, Wonder Woman has finally gotten her chance to rule on the silver screen. Gadot takes that chance and soars. May she have many more adventures as fun as this one.

Wonder Woman is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Ari Folman, the director behind the stunning animated documentary Waltz With Bashir, has delivered something altogether different with his latest, The Congress.

It’s two sort-of-connected movies in one. On one hand, it’s an effective satire of the current and future state of movies and acting. On the other, it’s an existential (and animated) meditation on identity, technology and life.

Both parts are good, but I was a little more interested in the first, live-action part, which deals with an aging actress getting a very strange offer.

Robin Wright, playing a fictionalized version of herself, is in her mid-40S, an age at which Hollywood normally starts turning its back on “B-grade” female stars. She’s never truly blossomed into the bona fide movie star her agent (Harvey Keitel) and studio head (Danny Huston) thought she would become based on her work in The Princess Bride.

The studio comes up with a plan that will return her to her youthful glory—and ensure that she will never need to truly act again: The executives offer Robin one final contract, which requires that her body and emotions get scanned for future use. The contract guarantees that she will never be portrayed as older than her early 30s, and that she won’t appear in porn, along with a few other conditions. In return, Robin can no longer appear in movies, plays, commercials, game shows, etc., unless they are Miramount projects. Her whole being will become the property of Miramount Studios.

Wow, right? This is a great premise for dark comedy, in which Wright is placed in all sorts of strange movies beyond her control. She rides off into the sunset with some big paycheck, and the acting profession, as we know it, dies.

Ultimately, that’s not where The Congress takes us. Instead, the film is more interested in messing with one’s brain regarding the overall state of humanity and identity, rather than just telling the story of actors and actresses losing their gigs.

After a mind-blowing sequence in which Robin is scanned into a computer, the action jumps forward 20 years, when her contract requires an extension. We see Robin in an action/sci-fi film in which she is blowing up robots. (Films at this time play on blimps in the sky rather than in theaters.) A trip to the studio now requires her to snort a hallucinogenic drug and become animated. She does this—and the movie delves into trippy, deep animation mode.

She attends some sort of bizarre, gigantic rally—sort of like an Apple event on animated steroids—during which the audience finds out Robin’s likeness can be consumed via their favorite beverages the next day. In other words, fans can actually become Robin rather than just watching her on big screens. She has become nothing but a product.

All of this is interesting, even when the film tries to go spiritually deep. In some ways, Folman can be faulted for passing up an opportunity for biting satire—but he actually does achieve biting satire for a good portion of the film. He just lets it go in favor of a more universal subject in the ambitious, animated second half.

Robin interacts with a bunch of virtual images, including those of Tom Cruise, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. She also gets a love interest who looks a bit like Clive Owen, but is voiced by Jon Hamm. In both Robin’s “real” and animated worlds, the one constant presence is her ill son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his special kites. It’s hard to explain; you just need to see it.

Wright is extraordinary and positively luminescent in a film that questions her relevance in not only the acting world, but the world in general. Huston and Keitel provide good, nasty humor before the film goes animated/existential (although Huston’s likeness does appear as a villainous presence in the animation).

The Congress might be a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s successful in much of what it attempts. It’s also the kind of showcase Robin Wright richly deserves.

The Congress is available via video on demand and online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in Reviews

From director Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) comes Adore, this beautifully shot tale of two female friends (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright) who watch each other’s sons (Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville) grow up to be rather strapping lads. So it only stands to reason that the women start sleeping with each other’s sons—and that causes all kinds of troubles and mixed feelings.

That’s about it for plotting; the film will not blow you away on a story level. However, it is well-acted, with Watts and Wright especially good as loyal friends who can’t help themselves.

Fontaine knows how to make a good-looking movie, and there are many shots of awesome-looking people in swimwear. The great Ben Mendelsohn is on hand as Wright’s husband, who gets a big surprise when he returns from an extended trip.

This is Wright’s best role in quite some time; meanwhile, Watts just needs to show up on a movie set to make things interesting.

Adore opens today, Friday, Sept. 6, at the Cinemas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews