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)

Oscar Watch: Blade Runner 2049

24 hours can change the dynamic considerably at this time in the Oscar season. When I made my weekly Oscar predictions yesterday, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying was ranked 8th in my Best Picture possibilities with Blade Runner 2049 outside at #13.

Yesterday, support for Flag wavered a bit with a mixed critical reaction stemming from the New York Film Festival. On the other hand, Blade has sharpened its chances with reviews coming out this morning. Denis Villeneuve’s continuation of Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi pic from 35 years ago is drawing raves (it’s at 97% currently on Rotten Tomatoes). The word “masterpiece” has been thrown around by some critics.

Bottom line: its chances for a Best Picture nomination have risen dramatically. Just last year, Villeneuve’s Arrival scored eight nominations, including Picture and Director. That could happen here again. While I doubt any of the actors (including Ryan Gosling and the return of Harrison Ford in the role of Deckard) will hear their names called, there are other races in play. This includes Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Editing, both Sound categories, and Visual Effects (where it will almost certainly be named).

And then there’s Cinematography. Again, a nomination for its cinematographer Roger Deakins seems virtually assured. If so, it will mark his 14th nomination. The list of films he was nominated for? The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, The Reader, True Grit, Skyfall, Prisoners, Unbroken and Sicario. Number of wins? 0. There’s definitely a feeling that Mr. Deakins is long overdue for his gold statue and the 14th time could be the charm.

When I made my box office prediction for 2049 earlier this week, I compared my $44.1 opening weekend estimate to Mad Max: Fury Road from two years ago. As of this morning, I’m thinking the opportunity is there for it to come close to Fury‘s 10 Oscar nominations too.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Blade Runner 2049 Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (10/04/17): I have revised my estimate up from $44.1 million to $52.1 million

Arriving 35 years after Ridley Scott’s now classic science fiction work, Blade Runner 2049 hits theaters next weekend. The sequel has been in development for pretty much the entire 21st century. The reported $185 million production is headlined by Ryan Gosling as an LAPD officer in a dystopian future who ends up teaming with original Blade Runner Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. Denis Villeneuve, hot off his Oscar nominated hit Arrival, handles directorial duties with Mr. Scott executive producing. Costars include Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, and Dave Bautista. 

Fans of the 1982 original are many as Blade Runner has become a beloved genre pic. One legitimate question: are younger audiences familiar enough with the source material? It may not matter much as early word-of-mouth for 2049 is very encouraging. Official reviews won’t be out until next week, but screenings have indicated this is a satisfying visual feast like its predecessor.

So how high can this open? The current October opening record belongs to Gravity at $55 million. Even with the positive buzz, I don’t see 2049 running that high. Tracking has indicated $40-$45 million and that sounds about right. In fact, a $45 million opening would match the debut of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, another entry in a franchise that was dormant for decades and made a rousing return.

I’ll put this just under that mark for what should be a solid opening for Columbia Pictures, as it’s likely to perform well overseas too.

Blade Runner 2049 opening weekend prediction: $44.1 million

For my The Mountain Between Us prediction, click here:

For my My Little Pony: The Movie prediction, click here:

War Dogs Movie Review

In a way, War Dogs is a bit of a companion piece to The Big Short. We have a director (Todd Phillips) known for humorous material making a more serious and based on true events effort about controversial policies during the Bush/Cheney era. We have a mix of dramatic and comedic actors telling the tale. However, whereas Adam McKay’s aforementioned 2014 picture was a big success, Dogs falls short.

Its failings are certainly not due to lack of an interesting story. We begin in 2005 when the Iraq conflict is at its height. While the war is dividing a nation, David (Miles Teller) is living a carefree existence in Miami as a massage therapist. His major conflict is making enough cash to support him and his pregnant girlfriend (Ana de Armas). David’s financial issues are provided a boost when he runs into his junior high best bud Efraim (Jonah Hill). He seems to be doing just fine and David soon discovers his old friend is making a killing as an arms dealer selling product to the U.S. government. Efraim soon cuts David in as a partner and their deals bring them to the Middle East, including drab Albania. It is that deal, involving selling 100 million rounds of ammo to the military, that will provide their windfall payload. It also provides all sorts of dangerous problems.

Dogs wags an understandable critical finger at the ease in which these twentysomethings with zero government or defense experience managed their exploits. As Efraim and David become richer than they ever could have envisioned, their trappings of wealth storyline feels awfully familiar. David’s relationship suffers, Efraim’s already diabolical personality grows out of control, etc… Yes, this may be a true story, but all this material felt truly well-worn.

As for performances, Hill has shown himself to be adept at both funny stuff and less funny stuff (Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street as the prime examples). His performance here isn’t near as effective and I couldn’t escape the notion that he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to pull off his bad guy role. Teller is a talent as well (Whiplash as prime example), but his work here is a couple notches above bland. Bradley Cooper turns up for a few minutes as a shady dealer whose character is just interesting enough that I would’ve liked to see him more.

The source material (based on a Rolling Stone article) should have garnered a richer experience than what Phillips gives us. War Dogs has plenty in common with The Big Short in terms of personnel involved, but little in common with it as to lasting impression.

** (out of four)

Hands of Stone Box Office Prediction

***BLOGGER’S UPDATE (08/23/16): It was announced today by the Weinstein Company that they are significantly changing their release pattern for Hands of Stone. The film was originally scheduled to debut this Friday on approximately 2,000 screens. Now, it will premiere on only 800 screens with a wider roll-out on Wednesday (08/31). This forces a shift in my prediction for it. My $6.1 million estimate is now $3.2 million.

Centering on the relationship between real-life boxing legend Roberto Duran and his trainer Ray Arcel, Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz brings us Hands of Stone next weekend. Edgar Ramirez plays the fighter with Robert De Niro as his corner man. Costars include Usher (playing Sugar Ray Leonard), Ana de Armas, Ellen Barkin, Ruben Blades, and John Turturro.

The pic premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May to a mixed reaction after sitting on the shelf for over two years (not a good sign). Movies about the sweet science have been prevalent this decade with hits like 2010’s The Fighter and last year’s Creed. They had the benefit of critical acclaim and Oscar buzz. There was last summer’s Southpaw with Jake Gyllenhaal, which managed to do just OK with a $52 million overall gross.

Hands of Stone arrives in the dog days of August, where new titles typically fight to reach double digits. The Weinstein Company is distributing and they’re rumored to be making a push for De Niro in the Supporting Actor Academy race. They will probably not be successful like Sylvester Stallone was for Creed. And this will likely not pack much of a punch in the box office ring.

Hands of Stone opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million

For my Mechanic: Resurrection prediction, click here:

For my Don’t Breathe prediction, click here:


War Dogs Box Office Prediction

Director Todd Phillips brings his comedic sensibilities overseas in War Dogs, opening next weekend. It stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in the true life story of two dudes who make it big as arms dealers in Afghanistan. Ana de Armas and Hangover headliner Bradley Cooper are in the supporting cast.

Trailers and TV spots haven’t been shy about advertising that this comes from the Hangover team. Hill is a known commodity in the genre and he could help turnout. A few years back, just the involvement of Phillips would be a major box office pull. In the middle of the first and second Hangover, it even helped Due Date reached a gross of $100 million. Of course, the participation of Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis didn’t hurt. I’m skeptical the director’s name carries as much weight now, especially since his signature franchise ran out of steam.

I suspect War Dogs could have trouble finding a wide audience. War comedies can have a tough road. You can ask Tina Fey and the team behind this spring’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which faltered with only $7.4 million in its debut. Or George Clooney and the makers of 2009’s The Men Who Stare at Goats, which premiered with $12.7 million. This should manage to top that by a bit, but I’ll predict low teens for a lackluster start.

War Dogs opening weekend prediction: $13.4 million

For my Ben-Hur prediction, click here:

For my Kubo and the Two Strings prediction, click here:

Knock Knock Movie Review

Eli Roth is certainly one of the modern day architects of the genre dubbed “torture porn” with his popular Hostel series and Knock Knock finds him parodying that kind of pic with decidedly mixed results. This is a campy exercise that is neither very funny with horror aspects that aren’t that frightening. We essentially end up with a cautionary tale about adultery that has been used far better in more serious material.

Speaking of architects, Keanu Reeves is architect Evan. He’s a happily married dude to a lovely Spanish wife and their two perfect kids. The family goes to the beach for the weekend and he stays behind to work (on Father’s Day no less). His dull night is interrupted by a knock at the door and it’s two very attractive young women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armis) who claim they can’t find the party they’re supposed to attend. Naturally, the girls are drenched because it’s atmospherically pouring outside and Evan invites them in to dry off and find proper transportation. Of course, when he orders an Uber, the lag time is 45 minutes and that’s more than enough time for the lovely twosome to seduce Evan into a threesome. As an aside, there’s also enough time for Evan to show off his sweet DJ’ing skills from his former job many years ago.

There is no double walk of shame that follows. Instead Evan awakens to find the girl’s intentions with him are quite sadistic. The tone of Knock Knock becomes increasingly ridiculous as it lumbers along. All performances grow more hammy, including that of Reeves, whose dialogue eventually becomes more and more laughable. I’m fully aware that this is likely by Roth’s own design and there are some bizarre moments that do work. He’s a talented director who revels in B movie cliches, but the one joke premise here can only be stretched so far and the rubber band snaps rather quickly. There’s a lot of guilty behavior in Knock Knock but not much pleasure to be derived.

** (out of four)