Blade Runner Revival: Big on Atmosphere, Short on Story

I never would guess that a sequel to Blade Runner starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford would make the original look like some kind of masterpiece by comparison.  The deeply flawed original, at least, had some compelling narrative elements and methods, and a unique design sense.  The sequel has a lot of great visuals and impressive loud bassy sounds (at least in my Dolby 7.1 theater), and even a few entertaining scenes.

But mostly, it’s a lot of conversations that amount to nothing — much like P.T. Anderson’s Inherent Vice.  Like the Anderson flop, almost nothing happens in 2049.

Without those visuals and dynamic audio — the ambience of the film, and a little fun dramatic wrangling, we’re talking 2/10 and at nearly 3 hours, a colossal bore.  As-is: 4/10.  Still boring, but not as bad as nails on a chalkboard.

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A couple more comments about this movie.  First, it’s another one critics swung and missed at.  Same incompetence which would lead to panning Oldboy or the English version The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I reckon.

Now the whole thing about Replicants being some evil force, without ever depicting, and indeed barely explaining, why they’re such trouble.  With The Terminator, you know the cyborgs are bad.  In Alien, the robot is out for corporate interests at the expense of the crew.  In The Matrix, humans have been enslaved by the machines.  But Replicants don’t seem like much of a threat.  That is the utter failure of both Blade Runner and its sequel.

One more thing:  I appreciate slowness.  A movie taking its time.  David Lynch can just hold the frame whilst holding the audience in his grip.  Kubrick, with his slow scrolls and pans, kept you enrapt.  2049‘s director Denis Villeneuve is no David Lynch, and no Kubrick.  You see, that only works if you are already in the midst of compelling tale.  And if you are a competent director.  I liked Prisoners, but boy Villeneuve is in a slide.  To the abysmal Sicario, and lame Arrival, add 2049 to the growing pile of overrated claptrap by Villeneuve.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Her, Ex Machina, The Fifth Element; Not Recommended: Inherent Vice

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Film Brief: War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes features lots of great visual sequences, and a sense the filmmaker knows what he’s doing — which is refreshing.  A generally well-executed story, if a not particularly original one.  (SPOILER:) See Comparison Notes to understand why not particularly original.

War is inferior to the last episode of the franchise, but it’s still good.  Note: despite being billed as “the end,” it won’t be.  A fourth film is in the works.  7/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

A Colossal Mistake?

Colossal starts slowly, and I felt completely neutral through the first half.   In other words, it lacked zest.  Some audience members were laughing at what I guess were attempts at light humor which for me fell flat.  In this chunky manner it rolls along, until it turns in unexpected, even daring directions.  The film doesn’t gel into the compact punch it might, but it ends nicely.  6/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): Fido, John Dies at the End

 

The Life of a scary space octopus

FRAUDULENT TRAILERS ANNOY the heck out of me.  And it’s very clear what I mean by a fraudulent trailer: one that includes content which is completely devoid the film.  That was one of the problems with the insipid Silver Linings Playbook.  In the Life trailer, audio of JFK’s speech about the USA’s moonshot is featured prominently, as if to give a greater context to the film.  Why then the speech, and its full implications, go AWOL come movie-time can be explained by only one reason: incompetence.

And so what you’re left with is a scary space octopus version of Alien.  Like Alien, the nascent forms of the alien life-form are quite intriguing.  Unlike Alien, that’s the best Life gets.  Life quickly devolves into a very second-rate monster-chase film.

I did like the sequel-ready ending of Life, but overall there’s too much mindlessness.  Having to introduce a new tag “trailer perjury” doesn’t help.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): The Ruins, Alien, Moon, Passengers, The Mist, Splice

Arrival of Passengers

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CHRIS PRATT WAS PERFECTLY CAST in Guardians of the Galaxy.  Which is why he’s hard to take seriously in Passengers. Jennifer Lawrence, too, I have a hard time taking seriously these days.  Before she was the queen of A-List celebrity, I saw her in Winter’s Bone.  So I know she’s got acting chops.  But all the silly roles in silly blockbusters (stupid Hunger Games) and greatly overrated films like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle have taken their toll, as far as I’m concerned.

passengers-text-blockThose ratings.  Passengers was something of a test of Rotten Tomatoes.  Too often films with a high Tomatometer score, such as the other big Sci-Fi film this year, Arrival, I find phenomenally disappointing.  And too often I disregard films with low scores. And by disregard, I mean miss. Passengers — with a lowly 17% score among “Top Critics” — would have been one of those I missed, but I stuck to my gut instinct and was happily surprised.

Which, just like the non-failure of the AE-35 unit in 2001, just about does it for Rotten Tomatoes.  I’ll still refer to it, but that percent score by itself will neither compel me to, or dissuade me from, watching any given picture.

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Back to Chris Pratt.  His tongue-in-cheek countenance weighs a little on Passengers in the beginning, because after all he is in a quite dire, life-or-death situation.  But the film plays off that lightheartedness, and marries with it.  This is a tack the film takes which weakens it; a heavier tone could have turned this good film into a great one.

In other words, a little hokum runs as an undercurrent through the first half of Passengers, and Pratt fits that stream well.  The bits of corniness may be viewed as pandering to the lowest common denominator of audiences, and as I said a sterner approach would have produced better results.  Luckily though, this occasional dearth of depth is the film’s worst problem, and as such hardly ruins it.  I even liked Jennifer Lawrence.

I was sorely disappointed by Arrival, and the big “sci-fi” film of last year, The Martian.  Both highly regarded by critics, as reflected on the Tomatometer, and both really sucky movies.  The good news?  I reckon it’ll keep me writing these posts.  If I could find a source of criticism that I could rely on to only watch good movies, God knows I’d go with it.  But if it exists, I haven’t found it.

I very much liked Passengers, and it stuck with me through the night.  Overall very entertaining, and never boring.  The little glitches hold it to a solid recommendation at the top side of 7/10.

Comparison Notes: (Recommended): Moon

Film Brief: Arrival

Ugh.  If you’re looking for wonder, awe, magic and mystery along the lines of Close Encounters, 2001, Alien, Moon, or The Box, keep looking. Honestly, this made me reminisce for Skyline.  What’s not boring is either ridiculous or inept, and to make matters worse an impotent, muddled world peace message is unfolded through the second half.  A semi-intriguing alien language course salvages Arrival from the absolute dregs.

I suppose you could say that at least they’re trying; I would answer, not very hard.  3/10

Film Brief: Midnight Special

Midnight Special is bad Sci-Fi, and worse narrative.  Put another way: YAWN.  A cynical effort with little value.  2/10

PS RogerEbert.com has a complete HACK writing reviews for it.  Ebert must be turning over in his grave.

Comparison Notes (All much better): Starman, Firestarter, ET, Close Encounters

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