Blade Runner 2049 (2017): Beautifully Disappointing (Review)

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The long awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sleeper hit “Blade Runner” is beautiful to look at and offers a ranging plot line but ultimately disappoints by the time the end credits run. Directed this time around by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) Blade Runner 2049 has the same dogmatic and plodding feel that the original film featured but with a lot more scope and, for lack of a better word, space. 

While the first film relied much more on the excellent Phillip K. Dick book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and a splendid cast that included Rutger Hauer as the lead replicant and a very young Daryl Hannah, this iteration moved forward in the verse to give us a different kind of “runner.”

K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner who is not human, he is a “new” replicant.  As he starts chasing down the remaining old replicants he finds a mysterious box after killing Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morgan. Inside the receptacle rests the bones of Rachel and evidence of childbirth. 

The film then follows K (or Joe as Joi – played with an aching poignancy by Ana de Armas – the computerized companion calls him) as he tries to find out who the child is. At one point we believe, as he does, that Decker (Harrison Ford) is his father, but later we learn more about this curious triangle. 

The performances in Blade Runner 2049 are top notch, with only Jared Leto letting the side down a bit with his take on Wallace.  De Armas manages to practically steal every scene she is in and it is nigh on impossible not to fall in love with this brilliant actress as she brings Joi to life.

Rutger Hauer may be missing from this tale but the Dutch are ably represented by the marvelous Sylvia Hoeks who manages to make her character suitably scary in all the right places.  Villeneuve does a good job recreating the verse that Scott initially brought to the screen but the film is over-long. Two hours and 43 minutes is a long time to sit and the slow pacing of the movie made this seem much longer at times. 

Like the first film the progress of the plot and story line plods along at a frustratingly pedestrian rate. Too much time is spent questioning something that the audience, if they have been paying attention, will have guessed  midway through the film.

Despite the film generating a overall feeling of mild disappointment, there are enough nods and winks to the original to keep fans interested and pleased. The origami sheep (made by Gaff – a clear nod to the Philip K. Dick book), the clear raincoat worn by Joi, the atmosphere of L.A. and the re-emergence of Rachel (Sean Young appearing in a clip and later as a CG creation that just was weird looking as the CG replication of the late Peter Cushing in Rogue One.

Blade Runner 2049 looks beautiful and feels like a logical carry on from the first. However, like Rutger Hauer has stated, the first film was almost sheer perfection. Any sequel, despite the love and care that went into it, was bound to fall short, as this does.

But…

This is a film that needs to be seen. It encompasses so much, while still falling that little bit short, that one must see it in the cinema to appreciate the sheer grandness of the world it presents. The sets, the costumes, the performances and the cinematography combine beautifully to take us into this gloomy downtrodden world.

The film manages to bring us into its tale of a miracle amidst so much decay and loneliness (which, ultimately, this sequel is all about) with a lot of care to detail and stunning visuals. Mild disappointment aside, Blade Runner 2049 is still one to watch on the big screen.

There is violence, not much in the way of nudity and very little foul language. While not as originally pleasing as Scott’s 1982 version, the film earns 4.5 stars in presentation alone. Similar to this year’s version of the Stephen King horror re-imagining “ItBlade Runner 2049 will deliver a potent punch for fans, while still managing to disappoint overall.

Arrival (2016): Amy Adams and the Hectapods (Review)

Amy Adams

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (the chap who helmed “Prisoners” and “Sicario“) with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer – based on the Ted Chiang short story “Story of Your Life – Arrival is a slow, moving and methodical delivery of almost unconsciously epic proportions. It features the ever watchable Amy Adams meeting some “hectapods” and Jeremy Renner in a different mode than his usual heroic onscreen presentation.

Some critics have commented on the uniqueness of the aliens in the just under two hour film and stated that they are unlike other alien depictions in the past.

Oh, contraire, ‘mes amies.’

Monsters, the 2010 guerrilla-made-on-a-budget film featured multi-limbed creatures that were huge and looked not too dissimilar from these aliens. “Battle for Los Angeles” also had multi-legged, or armed (it was hard to tell) aliens who took on a squad of Marines and one Air Force Technical Sergeant.

Leaving aside the small duplicity issue of this film’s version of little green “men” Arrival manages to hit a lot of notes in the time given. It stresses the need for communication above all else and throws a game changer into the mix with a time conundrum of sorts.

The film starts with what we assume to be memories (although in essence they really are just “future” remembrances) of a daughter who dies an early death and the mourning of the parent left behind. It then moves into the day of linguistic professor Jesse Banks (Adams) going to work and finding her class decimated.

Turning on the news, we learn that 12 alien spacecraft, looking like ovoid versions of Kubrick’s obelisk from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” have arrived, hovering above the earth in odd locations across the globe. In short order, Banks is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who wants her to translate the newcomers version of language and she is joined by Ian Donnelly (Renner); a scientist.

The build up to the underplayed epilogue of the film is slowly paced. This gives us an idea of how long it would take to learn an alien communicative system as well as giving us a reason why the creatures write in a circular manner.

Non-linear time-lines are the basis for the language and the gift that the visitors mean to bestow on a hostile planet. It is the crux of the plot and the thing that drives Banks throughout the film. Somewhat amazingly, for what is in essence, a science fiction “creature feature” Arrival is a bit of a “tear jerker.”

This is only accomplished by a subtle delivery of moments of truth along the film’s own timeline. Renner’s character’s clear excitement and delight at the prospect of entering the alien spacecraft.  Adams’ tough fragility and the emotions that she displays while “remembering” her dead daughter are just part of the mixture that really sells the film and its off-center plot twist.

Even the moment where Abbott, or Costello, tap the glass with one hectapodal limb (a clear gesture meaning, “it’s behind you” toward the end of the film) feels true and rational. After all, in terms of non-verbal communication, it makes sense that even aliens could point at something and it would mean the same thing in any world: “Look at that.”

The ending is sad, yet defining, and perhaps only Adams could have pulled this one off so perfectly. Renner makes the perfect partner for the actress in this scenario and he plays the enthusiastic scientist to perfection. At no time do we confuse Ian with that arrow slinging Marvel hero that the actor is so associated with.

Villeneuve has managed to put together a tale that relies on memory of things to come with a major plot device of “seeing” things in the future at the “right time” to affect the present.  The editing and the pacing of the film makes everything come together beautifully at the end. 

Arrival conveys the strictness of a military response to an alien visit adroitly. The humorless approach, by personnel used to dealing with threats, mixed with the more aesthetic players on the team works well and also has that ring of truth to it.

Somewhat surprisingly, Arrival only garnered one Oscar (for Best Achievement in Sound Editing) as it is a full 5 star film.  It never really misses a beat and hits all the right notes throughout. It is available to watch via streaming online or on DVD.

Catch this one if you can and have a box of tissues handy just in case. Check out the trailer below:

Spectral (2016): Another Video Game Movie (Review)

Promotional still for Spectral

While this is not a complaint, it is more an observation, Spectral is, in essence, a video game movie. Taking bits from classic survival horror game Fatal Frame, aka Project Zero and the horror shoot ’em up F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon this Netflix offering, produced initially by Universal and then thrown in the bin, is entertaining.

It stars James Badge Dale as Dr. Clyne, the man who invented the special lenses that the Army uses. Emily Mortimer is the CIA agent, Max Martini is the fearless leader, who looks incredibly authentic; right down to that chiseled cleft in his chin, and hotter than hot Clayne Crawford (minus his partner in crime Damon Wayans).

The story is that soldiers are being killed by these “spectral” images that can only be seen with the special camera lenses, a’la Fatal Frame.  Clyne is flown to the exotic location where these “glitches” are running through the fighting force like a hot knife through butter.

Local commander General Orland (played by the brilliant Bruce Greenwood in what can be described as an incredibly long cameo) asks Clyne to tell him what the ghostly images caught on film are.  The local spook advisor CIA agent Fran Madison believes the images are of enemy soldiers in advanced camouflage, Clyne disagrees.

The film follows the men that Clyne travels with, a group that do not trust the “tourist” in their midst.  The doctor invents a camera that will show the spectres without the camera lenses.

Eventually they learn what the deadly images are and how they are created, a process that is evocative of F.E.A.R., this information allows the military men to track the things down to their origin and attempt to destroy them.

The action is effective and moves the story forward. There is a sense of danger and the suspense factor is impressive. As the things chase and kill off a large number of soldiers when another one appears, the inclination of the viewer is to immediately tense up.

Deaths are, for the most part, bloodless. The “ghosts” zoom through their victim and they fall over dead.  The creation of the phantom Army is explained as being part of an Albert Einstein collaboration that has been improved upon.

Spectral could also be seen as being a sort of riff on the 2011 film Battle Los Angeles where the spectral images take the place of invading aliens. Regardless of any similarities between plot lines the film is clever with its own storyline and the characters in it.

The cast all bring something valid and quite truthful to the table. Clayne Crawford shows that he can command attention even when he is not in the boots of Martin Riggs. Martini’s very essence screams military leader, or cop, and Greenwood provides a sort of dry gravitas to any role he plays.

Emily Mortimer proves once again that when it comes to American accents, she has no peer. This English London born actress gives “good American.”

Dale is quite effective as the scientist forced to fight for his life in the field.  The effects in Spectral work very well and are indeed very evocative of the spooks in Fatal Frame.

Director Nic Mathieu gives a brilliant rendering of a science fiction thriller based upon a story Nic and Ian Fried;  George Nolfi wrote the screenplay. At 107 minutes the film does seem, at times, over-long but overall the action manages to make up any short falls in pacing. 

Spectral is a splendid 4.5 star film. It loses half a star due to its resemblance to other projects in the genre and for being just a tad overly long.

It is, however, well worth a look. It is classed as a “Netflix Original” and since they saved the movie from the bin, where it had been tossed by Universal, it is by all rights theirs to claim.

Head on over and take a peak, after finishing your holiday repast and see what you think.

James Roday Is Psych’d About Directing SyFy Series ‘Blood Drive’

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Universal Cable Productions (UCP) announced why will reunite with Psych star James Roday. The performer is slated to direct two episodes of the 2017 SyFy series “Blood Drive.”  The new series will be in the style of classic grindhouse and UCP have stated that they are very excited to be working with Roday.

The man who will helm two episodes of the new scripted series played Shawn Spencer on Psych. Not only did Roday play the keen-eyed consulting detective on the USA network series, but he wrote and directed a number of that show’s episodes.

His first feature film, Gravy, a comedy horror film, debuted last year. Roday also just finished working on Pushing Deada dramedy due for release 29 September.  James has also directed a number of episodes on other television shows: Rosewood, Battle Creek and Rush Hour.

Executive Vice President of Current Programming at UCP Richard Rothstein said in the 12 September statement that they were excited to have James “back in the family.” Accepted as a fan favorite from Psych, the VP explained that they knew Roday as an incredibly gifted director who loves the horror genre.

James calls the upcoming project a “ gooey, dystopian all-you-can-eat buffet.”  He admits being a fan for the genre and went on to explain that there is nothing like Blood Drive currently on television.  Roday admitted to signing up “with aplomb.”

The actor and directer confessed that it was great to be back and to work with the collaborative folks at UCP.

James Roland is the series creator and he wrote the pilot episode of Blood Drive as well. The series takes place in a “near-apocalyptic” future and will run for13 episodes.  The show  will follow Arthur Bailey (Alan Ritchson) who is the “last good cop” in LA.

Bailey works with a dangerous “vamp” partner named Grace (played by Christina Ochoa). She has a hidden agenda and is not happy to be stuck with Arthur as a partner. Grace will, however, find out that this “moral” cop is a born survivor. Apparently they have a lot in common.  

The series will be executive produced by John Hlavin, Fredrik Malmberg and David Straiton. Mark Wheeler serves as series producer and Roland, the show’s creator will also executive produce Blood Drive. The new SyFy production is currently filming in South Africa.

Roday’s feature film debut, Gravy, is a splendid first time effort. As a comedy horror film, the plot is outlandish and not afraid to take liberties with good taste. If this is indicative of James’t taste in the genre, the two episodes he directs of  Blood Drive will be very special.

UCP currently work with SyFy on three current shows, The Magicians, 12 Monkeys and Killjoys.  They have a number of scripted, and digital content, on offer across a number of networks. Their shows include Mr. Robot, Colony and Suits. UCP also has Hulu’s Difficult People as a notch on their metaphorical belt. .

Both SyFy and Universal Productions are part of NBCUniversal  which is a  subsidiary of Comcast Corporation. The “imagination-based” entertainment network has the tagline, “Imagine greater.”

Blood Drive is set to air in 2017.

 

Dark Matter: Stuff to Steal, People to Kill – Another Shocker (Review)

 Dark Matter - Season 2

Dark Matter flew into parallel worlds in “Stuff to Steal and People to Kill.” Mallozzi and Mullie continue to throw fans off balance. This time by “punching a hole” in space time.

This problem with Portia/Two equates to another shocker. It looks like those nanites have gone on the fritz.  Two may require a tune up if she survives…

Last week ended with the Raza blinking out of this world and this week it reappeared in a parallel world.  Instead of traveling light years, they only moved 1.2 miles.  (Three gets another “line of the episode award” for his “Guys, we could have walked that.”)

The device is broken and the ship is damaged. As The Android and Five begin repairs they notice, that there is another Raza.   Two decides that they need to find it after it blinks out of sight.

The Blink drive allows the crew to see where they would be without Five’s influence. Obviously in this world she was “spaced.”  It also appears that they have no “friends” in this universe.  The Raza 2 crew is also made up of different people.

Wexler,  (who is a douche in all worlds apparently) is now on the ship along with Tash, the incestuous sister from episode 111.

In this world, Six was caught before he could set up the crew.  Portia shoots him point blank. Five is nowhere to be seen. Jace Corso looks to be in charge. Wexler was not spaced and Tash has a thing for Marcus Boone, although not a good thing. Tash likes to play rough.

Boone also has a very different relationship with Portia, more akin to his set up very early in season one. Four is not on the ship in this world, he went back and took his throne. The is a plot point in the episode as it allows our Four to set up Portia and Marcus in this parallel world.

A lot is learned by our Raza crew in their incursion into this parallel world. The reason they jumped “sideways” had to do with temporal displacement. Portia smugly explains why. (They did not adjust the Blink device before trying it out.) Four learns how his parallel self retook his throne, and also what not to do.

The parallel versions  of the crew are also more hedonistic without Five’s influence.  Although,  similar to Wexler, the real Jace Corso (not Derrick Moss impersonating him) is also pretty much the same in both worlds.   A predatory creature with no ties to any of the crew.

The Android is also very similar. Although she appears to be devoted to Portia ” For making me what I am.”

(Three gets the line of the episode with is response to Tash. After she punches him and knocks him to the floor, she remembers what happened the first time she punched him.

“You said I hit like a girl,” Tash says. “You do,” says Three, ” Like a  super fit, well trained, scary, scary girl .”)

Truffault does a pre-emptive double-cross and takes over the Raza 1 while Two and Three are in the “Raza 2.”

Two out maneuvers the commander. The Android from Raza 2 helps in this exercise, as Truffault disabled the Raza 1 Android.  The end result is that the Raza 1 gets the working Blink drive from Raza 2 and now  they know how it works.  Three sets the device for their world.

Portia’s  hand tremor has gotten worse. A lot worse. It is affecting her vision and balance. She staggers across her room and collapses. Before that, however, the Raza 2s Marauder takes off from their ship. Two questions who they brought back from the parallel universe.

It could be  Wexler. The stinker was knocked unconscious while he was in the Marauder 2.  It makes sense that he would have been missed in all the orchestrations that  Two went through.

Or…

Could the Marauder contain  the other world’s  Emily Kolburn? Raza 1 Emily (Five) is adroit at hiding, using air vents and so on. Just because we do not see her on the Raza 2 does not mean she got caught and spaced.

Does this mean that Raza 1 will have to track down another Emily?

Or…

Did Jace Corso somehow manage to escape?

The possibilities are somewhat finite. Obviously somebody got on board from Raza 2 and slipped into another universe with the Raza 1. But who?

Dark Matter airs Fridays on SyFy and Space. Tune in and see what happens with Two and who came back to “our world.”

Who, or what,  do you think was on the marauder?

CAST:

Guest Starring Torri Higginson as Commander Truffault, Ennis Esmer as Wexler and Jessica Sipos as Tash.