Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

1982’s Blade Runner has been reworked and remastered more in the past three decades plus than most classic albums. Along with Alien, director Ridley Scott created a one two punch of science fiction classics in a span of just three years. While the former spawned a series of sequels and offshoots, it’s not until 35 years later that a proper Blade Runner sequel has arrived.

Mr. Scott serves as executive producer because he was busy making the mediocre Alien: Covenant. So it’s Denis Villeneuve handling behind the camera duties one year after his highly rewarding alien pic Arrival. He proves himself as a natural choice to revisit this dystopian future that’s been an incredible influence on many sci-fi experiences that followed.

That influence has mostly been in its bleak look and astonishing production design. 2049, as the title tells us, takes place 30 years after what we saw in the early 1980s. Our central character is K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant who serves the LAPD like Deckard (Harrison Ford) in the original. These days, K’s kind are programmed to be more obedient and their primary function is in slave labor. K’s day job involves hunting down old school replicants. In the ultra stylish night, he invents a relationship with the gorgeous holograph Joi (Ana de Armas).

One of K’s assignments leads to a startling discovery that suggests replicants have the ability to procreate. The existence of a being of that ilk is troubling to K’s boss (Robin Wright), fearing a war will break out between humans and replicants. The revelation also intrigues Wallace (Jared Leto), the blind owner of the corporation that manufactures the product. He envisions this as a considerable financial opportunity and tasks his chief enforcer (Sylvia Hoeks) to find the now grown child.

This all eventually leads back to Deckard, with Ford completing a trifecta of revisiting signature late seventies and early eighties roles. It also involves his romantic interest Sean Young from the original. She returns in the archival footage manner. 2049 expands the Blade Runner universe and also expands the running time, clocking in nearly 45 minutes longer than part 1. In that respect, the sequel takes a bit longer to get its motor running.

Luckily for us, the visuals that were so special 35 years ago are remarkable here as well. There are sequences that are bleakly beautiful. Those expecting a full update on Deckard’s dealings may be surprised to find he doesn’t appear until about two-thirds through the proceedings. This is Gosling’s picture to carry most of the way and he does so with a quiet intensity.

Like Villeneuve’s Arrival, this is a sci-fi venture more steeped in its themes than action sequences. Violence comes in short and sudden bursts and that’s in line with two of the filmmaker’s other efforts Prisoners and Sicario. It’s no accident that I’m comparing 2049 just as much to those three movies as I am with the Scott original. Villeneuve succeeds in making this long gestating follow-up his own while clearly valuing an adoration of the first. That doesn’t happen too often as even Scott has fallen short with his return to Alien world. The legions of admirers of what came 35 years ago should be pleased.

***1/2 (out of four)

A Quiet Place Movie Review

Prior to this, John Krasinki’s most notable contribution to the sound of silence was his wordless and humorous deadpan expressions that populated each episode of “The Office”. That all changes with A Quiet Place, his supremely satisfying horror flick that uses the absence of noise in scary ways.

Tense and well-crafted, the pic is set in the near future as alien creatures roam the Earth and destroy anything that makes a sound in its path. The Abbott family exists in a rural town where seemingly all other humans couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Lee (Krasinski) and wife Evelyn (the director’s real-life wife Emily Blunt) are raising three youngsters – their deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and two younger brothers. Their every move and action is designed not to elevate decibel levels to dastardly outcomes. A battery-powered toy causes a family tragedy.

About a year later, the Abbotts are coping with loss while Evelyn is in the final days of a pregnancy. This brings the natural question: how in the world can they survive with a baby on the way? The film takes careful consideration of the details to their staying alive. The characters are in a persistent state of worry. So are we.

A Quiet Place has a simple concept and wisely doesn’t waste time explaining the events that put the Abbotts in their predicament. We know we need to know. Make a sound and you’re a goner. Perhaps sequels or spin-offs will delve into the history. It’s not exactly necessary. Krasinski had previously made two comedic dramas that made little impact with critics or audiences. We did not know he was capable of something like this and it’s an announcement of a filmmaker who’s found a roaring place in this genre. There’s some Spielberg influence, a sprinkle of Shyamalan, some Hitchcockian stuff here and there. Additionally there’s an Alien vibe happening. That classic’s tagline was “In space, no one can you hear you scream.” The rule is Earthbound here. Yet it also feels highly original at times.

Much of the film is silent itself save for the solid musical score. We don’t even get the amount of symphonic jump scares that you might expect. Like many famous horror titles, A Quiet Place has something to say about parenting and you may find yourself reconsidering its themes of that subject once the credits roll. Krasinski and Blunt are convincing as the protectors of their always vulnerable flock. Simmonds (who is deaf herself) is terrific. The picture is pulled off well enough that you may find yourself tempted to tip toe immediately afterwards.

***1/2 (out of four)

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Ridley Scott is now nearly 40 years into his Alien franchise which started with his 1979 classic and preceded Alien: Covenant with the often confounding Prometheus from 2012. Scott has now made half of the six series entries. In many ways, this latest one is the least effective of all. It’s not bad and I’d say none of them have been (middling, yes). Covenant, however, lies in a strange place. The dark visual splendor and occasional jump horror scares are present at times. Memorable characters are not and that’s different than when we were rolling with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and others. The film is indeed a sequel to Prometheus, which was more of an existential exercise about where we come from and not a traditional xenomorph flick. Covenant wants to cover that territory, as well as bringing H.R. Geiger’s famed creature more in the frame.

There’s another crew in deep space and they’re on a colonization mission occurring a decade after the events of Prometheus. The membership of this crew (the Covenant) differs from previous ones in that they’re married couples. When a malfunction on the ship wakes them from their long slumber, they must deal with that quickly. A longer term problem is an unexpected xenomorph presence onboard which soon causes a growing widow population.

Katherine Waterston is Daniels and she’s basically new Ripley, but not as interesting. Danny McBride brings a little gravitas to the party as Tennessee, the ship’s pilot. Billy Crudup is the anointed captain. Yet it’s a Prometheus holdover that gets the most attention. Michael Fassbender is back as David, the android who stood out in the predecessor. When the crew must land on a planet they weren’t supposed to, they find him. Finding out what he’s been up to since the end of Prometheus takes up plenty of screen time. Fassbender doubles his time as he also plays Walter, a newer model droid that part of the Covenant crew. Their dynamic is somewhat intriguing in moments, but I never got over one big issue. I simply wasn’t begging for the unanswered Prometheus questions to be filled in, as that picture didn’t ultimately warrant the curiosity.

The talented Mr. Ridley never struggles to master production design and visuals. True here. And he strives to bring the gory action that we previously expected from this franchise. It’s here, but the mayhem is inflicted upon characters we won’t remember for long and with a xenomorph who’s popped out of better written people before.

** (out of four)

Life Movie Review

Calvin Coolidge was our 30th President of the United States and he isn’t talked about too often in the general grand scheme of Presidential history. There will probably never be a biopic about President Coolidge, but he does receive the honor of having an alien named after him in Daniel Espinosa’s Life. The term mild-mannered comes up frequently in relation to the President. His extra-terrestrial namesake is nothing of the kind.

Life takes place entirely on the International Space Station (ISS) where a six-member crew is returning from a Mars mission. They’ve made quite the discovery: Matt Damon and they’re bringing him home with his disco music! Actually it’s a soil sample that turns out to be the first evidence of life outside Earth. School children are given the ability to name this historic being and the lucky winners hail from Calvin Coolidge Elementary – hence Calvin.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Dr. Jordan, who’s been stationed the longest and seems to have a slight case of space institutionalization. Ryan Reynolds is engineer Rory, who keeps the Reynolds patented wisecracks to a minimum. Dr. Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) is the chief quarantine officer. Biologist Hugh (Ariyon Barake) is tasked with bringing Calvin out of his dormant status to life.

That turns out to be a bad idea because Calvin has only survival instincts in mind. The organism shows a mean streak when he wakes up and Life becomes all about the passengers on board clinging to their own.

Audiences have been treated (or in some cases subject to) a host of outer space themed pictures in recent years, from Gravity to Interstellar to The Martian to Passengers to name a few. Some of those titles had a hopeful tone about what lies beyond our planet. Life? Not so much.

The production design and technical elements are top-notch and the acting is just fine, even though no one really has a character to work with. Espinosa’s exercise is mainly an excuse to pay both loving homage and rip-off Alien, the granddaddy of this genre. In that sense, it does provide some genuinely scary moments and plenty of others that are just familiar territory. Life is competent if not memorable, which is also what some historians say about President Coolidge. 

**1/2 (out of four)

Alien: Covenant Box Office Prediction

Five years after director Ridley Scott returned to the franchise that got his career going, he’s back behind the camera again for Alien: Covenant next weekend. This is the sixth installment in the series that Scott began 38 years ago with the beloved Alien. 

That love did not quite extend to 2012’s Prometheus, which drew mixed audience and critical response. Michael Fassbender returns as android Walter with a cast including Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, reported return appearances from Noomi Repace and Guy Pearce, and James Franco apparently.

Five years ago, Prometheus opened to $51 million but its so-so buzz meant a front loaded overall gross of $126M. Reviews for Covenant have been mostly solid and it stands at 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. One encouraging sign: several critics have noted this gets the franchise back to its horror roots unlike its predecessor.

It’s also said to be a direct sequel to Prometheus and one wonders if the bad taste it left in some mouths will prevent this from topping it. I’ll predict Covenant does not reach the $50M+ achieved half a decade ago and that mid 40s seems more feasible.

Alien: Covenant opening weekend prediction: $44.6 million

For my Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Long Haul prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/05/11/diary-of-a-wimpy-kid-the-long-haul-box-office-prediction/

For my Everything, Everything prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/05/12/everything-everything-box-office-prediction/