movie reviews Oct 2017


Happy death dayblade runner 2049

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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Blade Runner 2049
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

This sequel to 1982's Blade Runner, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival), is an unqualified visual triumph. Building on the original film's influential vision of 2019 Los Angeles, production designer Dennis Gassner and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins have extrapolated the urban decay of the first film another 30 years into the speculative future. The results are both suitably familiar and breathtakingly revelatory.

LA, it seems, has evolved from a dystopian pit of shadows and rain to a yellowish ball of perpetual smog, out of which emerge glowing flying cars (or “spinners”), glaring neon billboards, and multi-story interactive 3-D holograms of naked females (also billboards, of a sort), the rest of the city dissolving into an indistinct maze of concrete bulwarks. This sequel also expands the geography of its predecessor beyond LA, across a barren gray California landscape (farming, to the extent that it is still practiced, is conducted indoors), to San Diego, which has been repurposed as a colossal landfill, and eventually to the lurid red ruins of a now-defunct Las Vegas. It’s a vision that deserves to be experienced on the big screen.

Beyond the stunning visuals, however, Blade Runner 2049 is less ambitious and less satisfying than its predecessor.

As in the original film, Earth is populated by humans and “Replicants,” a type of organic bioengineered humans. Designed to withstand harsh working conditions, the original replicants served as slave labor in off-Earth environments. Harrison Ford appeared as Rick Deckard, a cop tasked with tracking down and "retiring" those replicants who had developed sufficient insight and emotion to rebel against their condition and return to Earth.

In 2049, a new, more compliant breed of replicant has been introduced into Earth duty by blind tech guru Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), whose transparently sinister Wallace Corporation has followed in the steps of original replicant manufacturers, the now-defunct Tyrell Corporation.

Our blade runner this time around, like his predecessor, sports a long coat, a long face, and a solitary existence. While Ridley Scott left audiences guessing about whether Deckard was real or Memorex, our new hero is quickly identified as K (Ryan Gosling), short for KD6.3-7. His identify as a replicant is known to everyone around him, which sets him apart — at work and in the street — from humans and fellow replicants, alike.

The plot centers around a discovery that K stumbles across on one of his assignments, long-buried evidence that the already fine line distinguishing replicant from human may be finer still, or even nonexistent. As his superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) warns, “This breaks the world, K.”

The issue of identity lies at the center of Blade Runner 2049, but, unfortunately, while the film raises issues of simulacrum and reality, the screenplay by Hampton Fancher, co-writer of the original film, and Michael Green (TV's Heroes, Logan) buries these themes beneath a nearly 3-hour, convoluted slog of a plot, which punctuates its glacial pace with sudden bursts of blockbuster-style action sequences (a fight amid the dusty environs of an abandoned Vegas casino bar while a holographic Elvis performs onstage being among the most compelling).

More interesting than the film’s labyrinthine mystery is K’s private life, which revolves around his relationship with another type of facsimile. Replicant K’s “girlfriend” is Joi, a commercially produced holographic program with some sort of artificial intelligence capabilities. Joi is the male-oriented incarnation of woman-as-object, appearing with the flip of a switch in 50’s noir-girlfriend garb to light K’s cigarette and to serve him the holographic illusion of a steak to mask his regular ration of gray soylent. At his request, she magically transforms outfits. And at her request, she refers to him as “Joe,” humanizing him in a way the rest of the world refuses.

Joi is clearly a product, an entertainment designed to distract Earth’s lower classes from the robotic repetition of their existence, a non-religious opiate of the masses. As such, she is a simulation of a human in service to another type of artificial human.

Just as clearly, K is in love with Joi, spending the bonus from one of his assignments on an “Emanator,” allowing her to escape the mechanical confines of K’s apartment and experience tactile sensations.

As Joi, Cuban actress Ana de Armas gives the most complex, most affecting — most human — performance of the film, creating ambiguity about Joi’s identity and motivation, and allowing us to share K’s loss at her destruction.

So strong is De Armas’s performance that those of her fellow actors (a muted Drive-mode Gosling, a typically over-the-top Jared Leto, and a reliably charismatic Harrison Ford) fade into the stunning production design, making the Joi-less third act even more of a disappointment. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted on 10/27/17)


Happy Death Day
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

Released mid-October to avoid competition from the studios' serious Halloween contenders, Happy Death Day intends to be a breezy romp through slasher movie tropes, a superficial Scream by way of Groundhog Dayfor a generation that grew up with neither.

Sorority mean girl Tree (short for Theresa) wakes up the morning of her birthday hung-over in the dorm room of a stranger. As the camera follows her walk of shame back to the sorority house and through the remainder of her day, we witness her selfishness and the casual cruelty she inflicts on anyone who crosses her path. On the way to her "surprise" birthday party that night, however, Tree is brutally murdered by a hulking assailant in a plastic baby mask, only to wake again to the same scene: same dorm room, same hangover, same guy -— same day.

Despite changing her actions each time around, Tree seems able to alter only the location and manner of her demise, as she is variously stabbed, strangled, and beaten into the next replay.

The screenplay by X-Men comic book writer Scott Lobdell introduces an Agatha Christie-style roster of suspects, all of whom would just as soon see Tree dead: sorority president and rival beeyotch (or bitch) Danielle (Rachel Matthews), unassuming roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), a one-night stand she didn't call back, the professor she's screwing (Charles Aitken), and his suspicious wife.

The sole exception is the stranger who greets her in the dorm room each morning, nice-guy Carter (Israel Broussard), who earnestly attempts to help Tree, no matter how offensive her behavior. And as she gets to know Carter with each successive life, the script shifts gears into romantic comedy territory, as the dorm geek is revealed to be potential boyfriend material.

And so Tree's quest changes from solving her own murder to becoming worthy of Carter.

By this point, though, it's rather hard to care what happens to her. Each time danger looms, we know she's simply going to reboot (the film haphazardly tosses in some suggestion that Tree's injuries persist from life to life and are accumulating, but it's too little, too late), and her deaths are both mundane and, with a PG-13 rating, essentially bloodless. Even director Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse) seems to realize this when he chooses to compress Tree's search for her killer into a montage played for laughs.

What keeps the whole affair afloat is the central performance of Jessica Rothe as Tree. Rothe, one of Emma Stone's singing, dancing roommates in La La Land, shows compelling presence as a comic actress and as a B-movie scream queen.

Still, there's something creepily misogynistic about this little exercise. The all-male team of writer, director and producer expend one of Tree's lives simply on a naked march across campus. And while the ostensible feel-good lesson is that every day offers a new chance to be a better person, it's difficult to ignore the implication that Tree somehow deserves the brutal treatment she receives, that the only way for a woman who drinks, sleeps around, and does as she damn-well chooses to learn her lesson is to be brutalized into submission. PG-13 Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 10/27/17)



Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com
Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Mike Ireland can be contacted at mike.e.ireland@gmail.com


 

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