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Wed06192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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.

Published in Reviews

The new Star Wars doesn’t suck! The new Star Wars doesn’t suck!

What a relief, right? Ever since Disney absorbed the Lucasfilm empire, some fans and cynics have speculated that the Mouse plus George could equate to shite. Then the Mouse handed the reins of the Star Wars universe to that bespectacled guy who reinvigorated the Star Trek universe.

Fret not, for director J.J. Abrams and crew have done exactly what they did with Star Trek: They created a fun movie that not only respects the blessed canon of a beloved franchise, but stands on its own as a piece of supreme entertainment. It is 2015’s most entertaining film, and a movie that stands up proudly in the realm of Star Wars movies.

In many ways, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best movie in the franchise. I won’t say it’s my personal favorite. (I think The Empire Strikes Back still holds that post; a little more time will tell.) Its storytelling is solid; its special effects are first-rate; and the performances are easily the best the franchise has ever seen.

That’s due in part to Daisy Ridley, an incredible talent who is now an instant star as Rey, a scrappy scavenger on a Tattooine-like desert planet. She delivers the best all-around dramatic performance in the Star Wars universe. She does some of the year’s best “face acting”; you’ll have to see the movie to find out what I’m talking about. With this new star at its center, the revitalized Star Wars universe takes life around her with a bevy of new characters and, of course, returning oldies.

Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, who happens to be the guy who wrote Empire, combined on a screenplay that follows a lot of the familiar beats from past Star Wars films. They took over writing duties after Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) took a failed stab at the task. (Arndt still gets a credit.)

The universe is being tormented by the First Order, an offshoot of the former Empire. Rey, after rummaging around in a fallen Star Destroyer, discovers a lost droid (BB-8, who is adorable), and eventually finds herself on a space adventure with familiar and new faces.

That’s it. That’s all I’m saying about the plot.

Harrison Ford, cryptic and snarky about his Star Wars pedigree in the past, returns as Han Solo, and his newfound enthusiasm for the part is infectious. Ford slips back into that laid-back, charmingly sarcastic smuggler role with ease, while his old buddy Chewbacca has become some sort of comedian in the last 30 or so years: The old Wookiee scores some of the film’s biggest laughs. Seeing the pair together again is an invaluable movie gift to be treasured.

As the movie’s central villain, Adam Driver is multi-layered and appropriately disturbing as Kylo Ren, a masked, obvious riff on Darth Vader who is a bit of a fanboy of the long deceased Sith Lord. I’m a Star Wars fan, and I have a few nice toys in my possession—but Kylo Ren has the Holy Grail for Star Wars collectors in his chambers!

John Boyega brings a new, welcomed dimension to the Stormtroopers. (Hey, there are actual people under those helmets!) Oscar Isaac a brings funny charisma to Poe, the best pilot in the galaxy.

I think I got through this review with no major spoilers, so no Star Wars geeks will kill me. My life force will not be extinguished, and I will make it to next year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Episode VIII, which is due in the summer of 2017.

Gone are the days when we waited decades for new Star Wars chapters. Oh, the spoils of Disney.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Sylvester Stallone and his awesome band of old crows take some major missteps in The Expendables 3—an unfortunate leap backward for the aging-action-star franchise.

Stallone and company jettisoned the smarmy Bruce Willis in favor of the growly Harrison Ford, and this is a great change. They also added Wesley Snipes as Doctor Death, Antonio Banderas as fast-talking comic relief and, most notably, Mel Gibson playing himself (aka The World’s Biggest Asshole).

Stallone and director Patrick Hughes should’ve stopped right there and given the group (which also includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and many others) a decent script. This is a sufficient cast for any action movie—so get cracking with the pyrotechnics, and focus on a story that makes sense!

Alas, that didn’t happen. Perhaps because the production could only afford the big guys for a minimal amount of time, the script has Stallone’s Barney Ross putting the old guys on ice after the first 30 minutes in favor of a new, mostly younger crew—and most of that new crew is uninteresting and lacks the charisma of their older counterparts. Too much screen time is given to the likes of mixed martial arts superstar Ronda Rousey, who can most certainly kick the shit out of people, but can’t act for squat. Names like Kellan Lutz (the Twilight films) and boxer Victor Ortiz round out the boring faction of the new cast.

The plot is a mish-mosh of action-movie clichés, as Barney finds himself gathering the new team to go up against Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable turned arms dealer and bad guy. Gibson gets a couple of scenes to show off his catcher’s-glove face (seriously … stop smoking, Mel!) and act all crazy.

After some tedious scenes introducing the new crew (featuring Kelsey Grammer, of all people), Barney eventually lets the old guys back into the movie, and this results in a halfway-decent finale during which many things blow up. It also has a typical showdown between Barney’s good guy and Stonebanks, during which the villain gets the upper hand, yet throws away his weapon in favor of hand-to-hand combat. Gibson vs. Stallone is a bit outlandish, even if Stallone is something like 95 years old.

I did like the sight of Harrison Ford piloting a helicopter, Han Solo-style, and Snipes is fun in his few scenes. The screenplay has a lot of inside jokes about his tax-evasion jail sentence that warrant a chuckle or two. Dolph Lundgren’s “Sore Loser” T-shirt also put a smile on my face, as did Terry Crews, once again letting loose with his really big gun.

I don’t understand the Jason Statham phenomenon. He’s been OK in a couple of films, but most of the stuff he slums in is trash. I’m sort of grateful that this movie puts him into more of a background role.

In an effort to give the film more earnings potential, it was made for a PG-13 rating (while the previous installments were R-rated). Dumb move. The target audience for this sort of stuff likes movies filled with bloody carnage and F-bombs. This boneheaded move, along with a pirated copy of the film that has been downloaded by millions, resulted in The Expendables 3 having a bad box-office opening.

Unless this movie catches fire overseas, the franchise may be in jeopardy. If you can’t get it done in the third installment, you are usually toast in Hollywood.

The Expendables 3 is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Orson Scott Card is a pigheaded loser who has spoken out against gay marriage and has compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. Hey, Orson: Go have an asshole tea party with Mel Gibson and Woody Allen!

Still, Ender’s Game and its sequels are prophetic and intuitive when it comes to modern technology.

The story has a protagonist named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a genius boy who is a master of futuristic video games and strategies. He’s targeted by a colonel (crusty, craggy Harrison Ford) as the savior of the human race—somebody who can save Earth from a second attack by an alien insect species called the Formics.

Ender enters a training program in which he is secretly fast-tracked to the point where he’s commanding his own ragtag group of teens, including True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld, through elaborate exercises. One involves a zero-gravity room in which they play laser tag with paralyzing rays; another is a large video game featuring alien-annihilation scenarios.

The movie has some impressive special effects and some great ideas at its core. What it doesn’t have is an engaging performance by its central actor: Butterfield just doesn’t cut it as Ender, as he opts mostly for a quiet intensity that results in boring stretches. Steinfeld acts circles around him.

Something about this movie feels vastly abbreviated. I can’t help but think this franchise would’ve fared better as a series or miniseries. The Ender’s Game finale feels tacked on, super-condensed and rushed. Ender is required to switch emotional modes in a way that is too quick; it feels false.

Card’s “One who can save us all!” premise, with its biblical ramifications, acted as a prelude to the Harry Potter series and The Matrix series. The master-gamer aspect of Ender was conceptualized in a book that was published in 1985, when modern man was just saying goodbye to Colecovision and ushering in the age of Nintendo. The first Playstation was nearly a decade away. In other words, Ender’s Game was a masterfully intuitive novel.

Therefore, it’s a shame that director Gavin Hood has delivered such a muddled effort. The movie, while visually breathtaking at times, is a flat, joyless affair. I couldn’t help but think of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, and how much fun that was. Instead, Ender’s Game has a lot of moping and routine teen angst.

Ford is actually my favorite aspect of the movie. He manages to mix in occasional warm and funny moments as the determined engineer of Ender’s fate. Watching him in Ender’s, I found myself rooting for a deal with J.J. Abrams to have Ford reprise his Star Wars role. His work here could act as a nice bridge back to that franchise.

On the confusing side, Viola Davis is on hand as Major Gwen Anderson; she’s some sort of counselor/protector of Ender who is constantly at Ford’s side, telling him his plan sucks. I got the feeling Hood and Davis weren’t quite sure about the arc for this character; she virtually disappears for long stretches of the film.

There’s some barracks-bullying involving a character named Bonzo (Moises Arias) that doesn’t feel fully realized. I got the impression that there should’ve been more to this character’s story.

Ender’s Game is not a bad movie. It has many respectable aspects, but it is marbled with dullness. It’s supposed to be the start of a franchise—but I have a feeling that the films may end here for now.

Ender's Game is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Spike Lee tried for many years to get a movie about American sports hero Jackie Robinson, starring Denzel Washington, off the ground. However, he couldn’t make it happen. That’s too bad; I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special.

Instead, we got 42, from director Brian Helgeland (Payback). While it’s really good at times, it gets awfully hokey at other times, and as a result, the film is just OK.

Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black to play Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford also delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors. Christopher Meloni leaves the movie too soon as Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended the year Robinson made his debut.)

Boseman, who looks a lot like Robinson, shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this different. However, I just can’t buy some of the fictional moments created for this movie, including an all-too-sweet moment between Robinson and Rickey just beyond the dugout stairs. (I am pretty sure that Rickey never put his head on Robinson’s shoulder.)

Also: Robinson went through major hell, and the movie only scratches the surface. A movie that really showed what he went through would have trouble getting a box-office-friendly a PG-13 rating, and wouldn’t offer fake moments of relief. Still, this film offers a decent representation of the sport, so perhaps it’s good that kids can go see this movie and get an idea of what Robinson did for civil rights.

Special Features: The Blu-ray package offers a few looks behind the making of the movie and Robinson’s legacy.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spike Lee tried to get a movie with Denzel Washington playing Jackie Robinson off the ground for many years, but couldn’t make it happen. I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special with this story.

Meanwhile, this effort from director Brian Helgeland (Payback) is OK, and even really good at times, but gets awfully hokey.

Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors, and Christopher Meloni leaves the movie all too soon as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended in 1947, the year Robinson made his debut.) Boseman shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this craggy and different.

This film is good, but it should’ve been great. 

42 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews