Thursday, October 12, 2017

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES

Adam Sandler   Ben Stiller   Dustin Hoffman   Emma Thompson   Candice Bergen
Rebecca Miller   Judd Hirsch   Grace van Patten   Elizabeth Marvel   Adam Driver

     If you want to see a dysfunctional family in action, see the Meyerowitz Stories on Netflix.  Much—especially in the beginning—is painful to watch and listen to, but as time goes on, and genuine caring and concern are mixed in with the rancor and bickering, it finally gets to laugh-out-loud funny.  Noah Baumbach, writer/director knows much of what he speaks in terms of the psychology of family interactions.  It’s dramatized, of course, and there are some scenes I wish he had toned down a bit to make the film more tolerable and plausible, but for the most part it’s a rich store of family dynamics.  Sibling rivalry and its sources (absence of parents, favoritism of parents), the neediness of people who have grown up missing nurturance and acceptance they craved as children, and the effects of divorce and remarriage on children and spouses live on in people’s adult lives—as clearly demonstrated by the film.
    Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman), the patriarch of this clan, is obsessed with his art to the exclusion of almost everything else.  He seems to have been a successful teacher, but the value of his art productions is not clear.  Harold’s obsession with his art and his place in the art world extends to his interest in his favorite son Matthew (Stiller), whom he sees as being a contributor to his art, despite the fact that his son Danny (Sandler) used to be a musician and in adulthood has been much more involved in his father’s life.  His daughter Jean (Marvel) represents the child almost completely forgotten by everyone, except she has managed to maintain a texting relationship with Matthew and Danny’s daughter Eliza (van Patten). 
   There are hit and miss visits among family members, none of which appear to be satisfying to anyone, then Harold becomes seriously ill, which serves as a catalyst in bringing out more pointed and emotionally productive encounters.  These inform us—and them—about the sources of their various discomforts and resentments and significant events they have endured, giving us a good picture of how the family members came to be who they are today.
    Baumbach’s direction is solid, and Randy Newman’s music and piano accompaniment throughout give a lilt to the drama and comedy onscreen.  Similarly, Robbie Ryan’s cinematography highlights, focuses, and shifts with the action, giving us the sense of being inside the picture observing a real family. 
     Both Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller are a question marks for me before I see one of their movies.  Adam was great in his work on “Saturday Night Live” and in Spanglish, but That’s My Boy, Big Daddy, and The Waterboy are insipid and show none of his acting skills.  Similarly, Ben Stiller has been exemplary in Brad’s Status and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, after bombs Zoolander 2 and Along Came Polly.  Here, with the good script and the direction of Baumbach, they are at their best, and supported by a number of good actors (Hoffman, Thompson, van Patten, and Marvel, with cameos by Bergen, Miller, and Driver). 

Picture of a dysfunctional family that comes together (mostly) during the patriarch’s life-threatening illness.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


HAPPY DEATH DAY

Jessica Rothe     Israel Broussard     Ruby Modine     Charles Aitken     Rachel Matthews


     The playful idea (borrowed from 1993’s Groundhog Day) behind this film could have been interesting, but it just doesn’t work for several reasons.  First, all the female figures are so stereotypical they are unbelievable.  (Note that writer Scott Lobdell and director Christopher Landon are both men in their 40’s and 50’s).  Second, it is hard to maintain interest in a story that keeps repeating the same scenes over and over again.  The filmmakers tried to make it as engaging as possible by slightly changing the scenario, which almost works, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from becoming impatient.  Thirdly, the main character is shown to be so obnoxious in the beginning scenes, the viewer has little empathy or sympathy for her during most of the film.  And finally, the resolution(s) at the end are so far-fetched, I had become completely disengaged by the conclusion.
    The story is that college student Tree (Rothe) wakes up in a strange dorm room belonging to someone she apparently spent the evening with, Carter (Broussard), who is polite and considerate and attempts to be kind and patient with her.  She is rather demanding (Tylenol!) and gives him a cursory glance before rushing out the door.  She heads to her own dorm room and is greeted by her roommate who tries to give her a birthday cupcake, which she declines.  Throughout the day, she has encounters with her sorority president (Matthews), her professor (Aitken), and others on the university quad.  These scenes are the ones repeated over and over, and at the end of each “day” (because they’re all the same one), she encounters a threatening figure who tries to kill her.
     Jessica Rothe is a good actress who manages the persona of this complicated character with ease, and Israel Broussard as the ideal understanding man portrays sincerity and genuine caring.  Rachel Matthews plays her role as the bitchy female leader well; it’s just another role I object to as stereotypical male kind of thinking. 
     In addition to the actors, the production is well done in terms of direction and cinematography (Toby Oliver).  I would say that the script is the weakest aspect, one that would be very hard to pull off, and one that doesn’t succeed here. 

Reliving a death over several days’ time can be tedious.

Grade:  D+                                    By Donna R. Copeland

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

Luke Evans     Rebecca Hall     Bella Heath     Connie Britton     J. J. Field


     Professor William Moulton Marston was an unusual figure in the 1930’s; he was a psychologist, inventor (one product being the forerunner of the current lie detector test), author of books on psychology, and a comic book writer.  He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard, earning a B.A., L.L.B., and Ph.D., then went on to further his education at American University, Tufts, and Universal Studios in California.  The fact that he created the super-hero(ine) Wonder Woman may seem odd, but she is based on his belief in the moral superiority of women, given that men (as he saw it) are more anarchic and violent.  To him, peace in the world rested on the leadership of women whose allure of love would lead men into submission to loving authority.  He said, “The only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity…Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world” (Jill Lepore, “The Last Amazon:  Wonder Woman Returns”, The New Yorker, 9/22/14).  Bravo!
     Marston (played by Evans) was significantly influenced by the principles of the suffragette movement at the time and by his wife, Elizabeth (Hall), and Olive Byrne (Heath), a niece of the suffragette Margaret Sanger.  Elizabeth is very frustrated, because she is not given tenure at Mt. Holyoke (sister school of male only Harvard), simply because she is female.  When Olive comes to work in the Marston’s laboratory, it is apparent that Marston is attracted to her as well as to his wife, and although Elizabeth is ambivalent at first, they eventually enter into a three-way personal relationship.  
      The film focuses primarily on this period of time, with the three main characters working through the complex arrangement.  Although some actual biographical elements are included—such as Marston’s dismissal from academic appointments, encouraging him to pursue comics with Universal Studios—and Elizabeth supporting the family financially, while Olive becomes their four children’s caretaker, we see mostly the relationships among the three main characters.
     Cuts are frequently made of Marston facing some kind of “decency committee” headed by a children’s author, Josette Frank (played by Connie Brittain), who is inserted into the drama by the filmmakers to represent those who objected vociferously to aspects of the Wonder Woman image—bondage, sexual allure, attire, large breasts, etc.  These sessions are extremely frustrating for Marston who uses reason and logic that don’t come through to a religious woman with fundamental beliefs.  She was not alone, however, in that society in general forced the trio to keep their true relationships quiet.
    This would be my primary criticism of the film—too much of a focus on sexual nonconformity with less emphasis on the production of the Wonder Woman comic books and Marston’s work with Max Gaines and his two companies that would eventually merge to form DC Comics.  On its fiftieth anniversary, DC Comics named Marston one of the Fifty Who Made DC Great.  This would have been much more interesting to me than so much emphasis on unconventional relationships that should remain personal.  It was gratifying, however, to see how the arrangements among the three were discussed beforehand, with all three voicing their opinions.
      Luke Evans embodies the complexities of the Marston personality very well, and the two women are a match for him in this regard, especially Rebecca Hall.  She keeps the dialog interesting with her ideas and snappy with her humor.

An unconventional background story showing how the superheroine Wonder Woman was carefully considered and based on sound principles.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

LOVING VINCENT

Voices of:  Douglas Booth     Chris O’Dowd     Saoirse Ronan     Eleanor Tomlinson
John Sessions     Robert Gulaczyk     Jerome Flynn     Martin Herdman


     This beautifully rendered film advances like a detective story, beginning with Vincent Van Gogh’s childhood and moving through his life and on to his death, all depicted in meticulously drawn images in brilliant colors like those used by the artist in most of his work.  It seems almost like an eerie prediction/curse when we learn that a son was stillborn before Vincent was born, and his parents chose to use the same name for their second son.  It did not help that his mother was depressed and followed an austere set of religious beliefs.  These circumstances may have set him up for his life.
Vincent did not fit into his family with generations of accomplished men.  Many were informed about art, including Theo, his brother, who supported Vincent financially throughout adulthood when he took up painting seriously in his late twenties.  According to the film, he survived only eight years after that, but left behind an impressive body of work—800 paintings.
     The film is noteworthy in several respects.  First, it traces Van Gogh’s personality and mental issues throughout his life plausibly, showing some of the important antecedents related to his distress. 
     Secondly, the story is told in the manner of a detective trying to establish the actual cause of Van Gogh’s death.  In the film, Postmaster Roulin (O’Dowd) gives his son a letter that was written by Vincent to his brother, but had never been delivered because of the death of both men.  Mr. Roulin had been a friend to both brothers, doubts that Vincent had killed himself, and felt duty-bound to see that the letter is delivered to him if he is still alive.  His son Armand (Booth) must go to Auvers-sur-Oise, France, Vincent’s last whereabouts, and uncover the mystery.  Although initially reluctant, and only wanting to indulge his father, Armand proceeds to the village and gets acquainted with everyone he can who knew Vincent:  His doctor-friend Paul Gachet (Flynn) and his daughter Marguerite (Ronan), the inn keeper and his daughter Adeline (Tomlinson) where Vincent lived, the local policeman Rigaumon (Herdman), the art supplies shop, and the local boatman.  Armand is given conflicting accounts, and he has to reason out the truth for himself—which maintains the viewer’s interest.
     Finally, images for the gorgeous animation are created by a team of 100 artists who pattern their drawings after Vincent’s artwork, primarily in the style of “The Starry Night.”  Some historical scenes are shown in black and white, reminiscent of pictures from the late 1800’s.  The music of Clint Mansell supports this work of art perfectly.
     Writer/directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman should be praised for coming up with this format to tell the story about a tortured artist who did not live to see his acclaim, part of which is that he is regarded as “The Father of Modern Art.”  This tragic figure only had one of his paintings sold during his lifetime.  Although he knew at some level he had the talent, he felt at a loss for convincing others.  Although I’ve heard some of this history and seen the one-of-a-kind Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, it was gratifying to be reminded of what I knew and to learn more about Vincent Van Gogh.

Loving Vincent is a fascinating way to acquire some art history.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


MARSHALL

Chadwick Boseman     Dan Stevens     Josh Gad     Sterling K. Brown     James Cromwell     Kate Hudson

     It’s usually inspiring to hear about how someone has achieved greatness, especially when the odds are stacked against the person.  This dramatized account of Thurgood Marshall’s journey toward sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court is just such a story.  Starring Chadwick Boseman as Marshall, it starts when he is a lawyer for the NAACP sent to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to defend a black man accused of raping a wealthy white woman.  Right off the bat, the judge (Cromwell) rules against his serving openly as the defense because, he is licensed in Maryland but not in Connecticut.  His colleague Sam Friedman (Gad) has obtained some kind of allowance for him, but the judge refuses to honor it, saying he can sit in on the trial, but he is not to speak.  This means that Friedman—reluctant to participate at all because criminal law is outside his practice—must take the lead, with coaching from Marshall.
    The film is something of a thriller in its focus on a trial with conflicting accounts, misleading information, the back and forth questioning and arguments of prosecution and defense, the protests in the community that condemn the prisoner Spell (Brown) from the outset and threaten Marshall, a black, and Friedman, a Jew.  The most dramatic scenes are between Marshall and Spell and later on the testimony and questioning of the victim (Hudson). 
     This case, based on the real one, The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell, illustrated that prejudice and discrimination against blacks in the north was very similar to that in the South, and Marshall realized that the NAACP needed to shift its focus to civil rights in the north:  “We will have to spend more money on regular defense cases because these [cases for] teachers’ salaries…and university cases [which constituted their case loads at the time] will not continue to keep our name going”, he told his NAACP adviser (Daniel J. Sharfstein, 2005, “Saving the Race”, legal affairs).
     Boseman is very at-home with the character he plays, who can be cheeky, quick with the comeback, quietly reasoning, witty, or seething with anger.  He and Gad are very much in sync, despite their characters’ very different personalities.  Sterling K. Brown doesn’t see much action until he is actually on the stand, when he gives a fine performance.  Dan Stevens, James Cromwell, and Kate Hudson make a fine supporting cast.
     Director Reginald Hudlin’s work has been primarily as director and producer in television, but he does a good job with this film in adhering fairly closely to the original story and maintaining good pace and focus.  Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel is skillful in transitioning between indoor and outdoor scenes and sustaining a sense of mystery with lighting and close-ups of faces during testimony. 

A significant case for NAACP Attorney Thurgood Marshall in his ascent to the U. S. Supreme Court.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Monday, October 9, 2017

PARADISE

Yuliya Vysotskaya     Christian Clauss     Philippe Duquesne     
Peter Kurth     Viktor Sukhorukov     Jakob Diehl


     Paradise comes from a different perspective on the ending of WWII in Germany, one in which previous leaders and a prisoner reflect on what happened from their viewpoints, why they made the decisions they did, and their regrets.  Olga (Vysotskaya) is a Russian noblewoman who joined the French Resistance and got arrested for sheltering Jewish children by Jules (Kurth), a French-Nazi collaborator with the occupying Nazis in Paris in 1942; and Helmut, a German nobleman who bought into the Nazi vision of Germany being a paradise with Aryans in charge.
     The movie depicts how these three people’s paths cross—and sometimes re-cross—in unexpected ways.  Olga and Helmut first meet at the seaside and again later at a festive occasion when she is married to a Jew.  They have a tryst, and he falls for her immediately, but she rebuffs him and doesn’t answer his letters. 
     Olga, who does not have children of her own and is part of the Resistance, ends up being interrogated by Jules after she is arrested because of her Jewish last name.  The film gives many examples of how people desperate for freedom will make desperate bargains with their captors, some for noble reasons, some for not so noble reasons.  Irrespective of Jules, Olga ends up being sent to a concentration camp, where Helmut, her admirer of years before, is now the Fuhrer’s representative sent to uncover corruption in the camps—not only perpetrated by the prisoners, but by those in charge as well.  Mostly by those in charge. 
     Helmut spots Olga just by the crook of her neck when he is on inspection, and is entranced by her just as before.  He then requests that she become his cleaning lady, which she does and a romance is lit. 
      This is one of the places where the film has value in showing the power of basic beliefs about life, and the ambivalence that arises when people are faced with situations that challenge those basic beliefs.  Helmut, who appears to be convinced that the Nazi principles are ideal, is flummoxed when he encounters their real-life effects.  His underlying beliefs are contradictory to some of his actions, and he remains in a dilemma.  Olga is shown to be noble throughout in her basic principles of love for humanity and a kind of practical view of what is best.  Jules acknowledges his mistakes, but still shows weakness and a willingness to give in to immediate gratification.  He misses the overall picture altogether.
     The biggest drawback of the film is its constant cutting from one interview and time to another, which makes it difficult to maintain a logical chronology.  This is a popular technique with filmmakers, used so many times without any reason for it.  In Paradise, when we first encounter the main characters it is not clear at all who they are and how they will fit into a story, introducing unnecessary confusion for the viewer.  Moreover, a better film title needs to be chosen; both the original “Ray” and the current “Paradise” are misleading.
     I liked the perspective Director Andrey Konchalovskiy took in presenting a view of WWII that is different from most films about the subject.  He is psychologically attuned to human motivations that are not unitary, resulting in ambivalence, and surprising turns in human decision-making.  He is in sync with cinematographer Aleksander Simonov and musician Sergey Shustriskiy in delivering a sometimes stark but very descriptive picture of humans under the stress of war.

A picture about dreams of a paradise that never comes to be, which creates horror on its way to would-be glory.

Grade:  C+                          By Donna R. Copeland

Friday, October 6, 2017

BARRACUDA

Allison Tolman     Sophie Reid     JoBeth Williams     Luis Bordonada


     From the side, barracudas appear to be finely formed, sleek, and silvery.  Take a frontal perspective, however, and you see a cavernous mouth with fang-like teeth of different sizes.  Barracudas are considered to be ferocious, competitive predators who use surprise and short bursts of speed to catch their prey.  Keep these images in mind as you see this picture with its apt title.
     Merle (Tolman) lives in Austin, Texas, and has inherited a ranch in nearby Fredericksburg, where she goes to relax with her fiancĂ©, Raul (Bordonada), his son, and sometimes her mother, Patricia (Williams).  She works at a children’s museum for a demanding boss, and while things are not perfect, she seems reasonably happy, albeit lacking in confidence and not likely to stand up for herself.  She clearly has unexpressed feelings, especially toward her mother, but seems to want to maintain a veneer of pleasantness around herself.
     Merle’s father, despite a number of personal faults, was a successful country musician with a band that traveled internationally, but he passed away a number of years back.  When a young British woman pops up at her door one day, Merle expresses surprise when Sinaloa (Reid) claims that they share a father.  Raul, who lives with Merle, believes her straightaway and wants to welcome her as a relative to their home, despite Merle’s reluctance.  This is an example of how Merle easily gives in without expressing her misgivings.
     Sinaloa is an interesting character who continually surprises with her talents and her swift actions.  She has no trouble standing up to people or offering them advice, but she is helpful and Merle enjoys her company.  She has a beautiful voice as she accompanies herself on one of Wayne’s old guitars, which Merle had on hand.  (Sinaloa’s had been stolen while she was on the road.)  As often happens in these situations, over time Sinaloa’s presence becomes irritating and stressful for the family, and they feel that something must be done. 
     As writer and co-director with Julia Halperin, Jason Cortlund has woven a thriller with suspense that builds from intent curiosity to increasing dread.  Sinaloa’s character reminds me of femme fatales like Alex (Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction and Amy (Rosamund Pike) in Gone Girl, complex women with a troubled past.  We the audience might see telltale warning signs, but the other characters in the stories inevitably get drawn into their webs.  Even though we might sense or recognize these signs, the character is so fascinating and unfathomable in her urges and plans, we stay with her.
     Sophie Reid fits into this role like a snug mitten; her character is attractive and engaging, with many appealing traits.  She can be playful and fun.  She shares just enough about her past to manipulate the listener into emotions she wants them to have, particularly sympathy and empathy for her.  But she can turn on a dime or just disappear in a second.  Allison Tolman’s character is a great foil for her, being willingly drawn into her wiles, but ultimately using her good judgment.  Tolman is particularly good at showing the subtle transformations of her character’s feelings toward Sinaloa, while maintaining the basic trust she generally shows toward others. 
     Two ways the film offsets the seamier sides of its story are by infusing playful times swimming in the lake and the music.  The score by Chris Brokaw, Sinaloa’s songs, and the family band at the ranch consisting of Texas musicians Colin Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Bob Livingston, and Richard Bowden, with additional contributions by Austin’s The Mastersons are pleasing to the ear and complement the story.

What happens when a British woman appears on an Austin, TX, doorstep, claiming she is also the daughter of the resident’s country singer father.

Grade:  B+                                                By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

MY LITTLE PONY

Voices of:  Tara Strong   Emily Blunt   Kristin Chenoweth   Liev Shreiber  
Michael Pena   Taye Diggs   Zoe Saldana   Sia   Uzo Adaba


     This frothy confection using a kaleidoscope of pastels is made for little girls who cherish dolls, animals, sugar and spice and everything nice.  Fortunately, it also conveys messages about friendship (“Friendship is magic”), teamwork, loyalty, creativity, forgiveness, and a sense of responsibility for those in one’s charge.  It has bold adventure, excitement, and near-escapes to balance out the sweetness and light. 
     It begins with all-too-true (for females) dithering by the main character Twilight (Strong), the friendship princess, about whether she will be good enough to lead the Festival of Friendship and convince her fellow princesses to exert their magic on the elements to create a successful party.  They look like they might come around, but suddenly the Storm King (Shreiber) and his commander Tempest (Blunt) burst in with the intent of stealing the magic of Ponyville where the princesses and their people reside.
     Twilight steps up to the plate, vowing it will never happen, and recruits her friends to look for support from Queen Novo of the Hippogriffs (Adaba).  Along the way, they will encounter a smooth-talking cat, Capper (Diggs), Captain Celaeno (Saldana) and her pack of erstwhile pirates forced to abandon their adventures and serve the Storm King, and finally, Queen Novo’s lonely, brave daughter Princess Skystar (Chenoweth).  They narrowly escape being sold and must continue to flee, with Tempest and the Storm King in hot pursuit. 
     My Little Pony was originally a television series, “My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic.”  The 2017 film, directed by Jayson Thiessen, with screenplay co-written by Meghan McCarthy, Joe Ballarni, Rita Hsiao, Michael Vogel, and Lauren Faust, is based on an original story by Bonnie Zacherle.  Its appeal is almost guaranteed for young girls, and may still be favorably received by older people who can appreciate its solid messages.  The coloring and animations are first-rate, and the music and songs by Daniel Ingram, Sia, the Lukas Graham Band, DNCE, and CL are lyrical and moving.
     I appreciated this film for its appeal to girls, with its messages about basic values of confidence, fortitude, adventure, and comedy that will stand them in good stead, whatever age they live in.

Young girls can dream of greater and greater accomplishments.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

Kate Winslet     Idris Elba     Beau Bridges     Dermot Mulroney


     Up in the snow-covered Rocky Mountains in Utah, a small plane is bobbing around, and then it falls.  One passenger regains consciousness and finds he is hurt, but alive.  He is a physician named Ben (Elba), who inspects the other passenger, Alex (Winslet), whom he had only met for the first time in the airport, and is relieved to see that she is alive too, but still unconscious.  He splints her broken leg and awaits her return to consciousness.  Alex is a photojournalist on her way to her own wedding; Ben was on his way to perform an emergency surgery on a child.
     This is a major dilemma; there was no flight plan, so no one knows Alex and Ben took this flight, there is no cell phone reception, and all they have are some flares in hopes that a passing aircraft will see them and send help.  What to do?  They argue (she’s much more comfortable with risk), they fight, they help one another through bad scrapes, but don’t always stick together, and through it all she tries to get to know him better, but he is not forthcoming and ends up being rather mysterious.  This will be a story of survival, but will also underscore what happens when two very different people get caught up in such life-threatening events.  Since it is based on a true story, I like so much that the filmmakers elected to include an epilogue to show the aftermath of their ordeal.
   Director Hany Abu-Assad has a keen sense for pacing, maintaining suspense, and choosing scenes that convey the amount of effort and psychological fortitude—plus using one’s or another’s sheer wit—to survive under snow-covered, isolated conditions.  The cinematography by Mandy Walker is, of course, breathtaking in landscape, but the close-ups of the actors’ faces and their interactions are impressive as well.
     I caught a couple of instances that made me wonder.  I won’t go into detail, but there is a dog on the plane, and Alex and Ben make friends with it.  At one point, a cougar approaches the wreckage and the dog runs out barking, but although the cougar attacks it, the dog lives.  (I thought a cougar would eat a dog in no time.)  The abrasions on Alex’ face come and go; sometimes her face is completely clear, but then later the red spot will be there.
     Both Winslet and Elba give superb performances that grab your attention and hold you to the very end.  Their chemistry is infectious, and we end up caring a lot about what happens to them.  There’s a bit of tragicomedy:  Listening to music on the cell phone during the last bit of juice, and “Do you actually think we’re going to make it?!”  But mostly it’s slogging through mountains of snow, cold, hunger, and sheer exhaustion, not knowing how it will all end, yet still you will stay entranced through it all.

If your plane crashes in the snow-covered Rockies, do you know what you would do?  (If you weren’t killed, of course.)


Grade:  B                                       By Donna R. Copeland

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Ryan Gosling     Harrison Ford     Robin Wright     Ana de Armas     Jared Leto     Sylvia Hoeks     Mackenzie Davis


   The cinematography (Roger Deakins), special effects and other-world atmosphere (production design by Dennis Gassner) give this film’s story the mystery and spookiness it deserves.  The 1982 Blade Runner film, based on Philip K. Dick’s graphic novel, has been updated by screenwriters Hampton Fancher (who also worked on the earlier film) and Michael Green under the excellent direction of Denis Villeneuve.  It’s fast-moving and suspenseful, leading the viewer down garden paths that make it seem predictable, but ultimately is not.
     ‘K’ (Gosling) is a blade runner charged by his supervisor Lt. Joshi (Wright) to track down out-moded replicants made by the Tyrell Corporation and retire them.  The new ones, manufactured by Niander Wallace (Leto), who bought the Tyrell Corporation, are considered to be so human-like a special test has been devised to distinguish between replicant and human.  ‘K’ must be tested each time he returns to base to be sure that he has not been tampered with.
     Something comes up in one of his investigations that arouses his curiosity, and he begins to pursue it, against the orders of Joshi.  This search constitutes the main part of the story with all its complexity, assortment of figures, and dangerous encounters.  He does eventually find Deckard (Ford), the original Blade Runner, who has become a recluse, and who is not very happy to see him, but K has burning questions Deckard can answer—or so he thinks.
     The picture of the future that Blade Runner 2049 constructs is alarming as well as fascinating.  Identities merge and transform with ease, paranoia about who is who is rampant, sophisticated space ships for rapid travel seem to appear out of nowhere any time, and most of the buildings look like tool shops inside.  Digitized figures (many especially in the form of sexy women) tower over the city, which is teeming with multitudes.  At one point, a character says, “We’re all just looking out for something real”, which is like the viewer’s experience throughout the story.
     2049 continues with the existential questions of the first Blade Runner, having a lot to do with issues about what it means to be human.  Yet, although it is enlightening to be familiar with the previous film, 2049 stands on its own; it’s not necessary to have seen the first film to grasp the import of the current rendition.

With robotics in our near future, it behooves us to consider what it is to be human.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland