Blade Runner 2049

13 Oct
Ryan Gosling (right) brings a subdued performance to a dismal future filled with spectacular visuals

Warner Bros. Pictures

Ryan Gosling (right) brings a subdued performance to a dismal future filled with spectacular visuals.

At over two hours, Villeneuve paces the film effectively, smartly holding back and ever ratcheting it up — a feat the director didn’t quite master in his last sci-fi outing Arrival (2016). As you should expect, the action takes place in 2049. Los Angeles is a lot more crowded but still a dark, rain-slicked Gotham with shocks of neon blooming above the drab cityscape. Opening info tells us the Earth’s been beset by overcrowding and famine. There’s nothing green anywhere anymore, so protein farms where mealworm larvae are harvested to feed the masses Soylent Green-esque pap in ramen bowls have popped up. Not to mention there’s the great “Blackout of 2022” where scads of data files and historical records were lost. Gone the way of Lehman Brothers is the old Tyrell Corporation. The manufacturer of “replicants” (biorobotic androids for those unfamiliar with the earlier film or the Phillip K. Dick novel it was based on), are made by Wallace Industries who make the new line “skin jobs” more obedient, yet still physiologically superior to humans, and all imbedded with memories, even though they are self aware they are implants — which seems somewhat illogical and superfluous given the implant process is an arduous one. Continue reading

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The Florida Project

13 Oct

 

Two years ago, wunderkind Sean Baker blew away audiences with “Tangerine,” a film that cut into deep new territory – not so much in that it featured transgendered heroines on a quest to bust one of their men for fooling around with another, as the narrative succeeded loftily on many levels, but because it was shot on an iPhone, making it both a throwback and cutting edge. Filmed on the passively seedy streets of Los Angeles and drenched in orange and yellow, it was a scrumptious feast to drink in, not to mention being deftly humorous, moving and a bellwether for aspiring filmmakers.

It was also a promise of what might come next, and that’s here: “The Florida Project.” Something of a minor miracle and, so far, one of the best films of 2017 (joining “Get Out” on that short list), this is a beacon of hope for the future of independent film as Harvey Weinstein sinks into an abyss of shame and disgrace. Baker trades one sunshine locale (California) for another (Orlando, Fla.) while still hanging out with affable strugglers on the low who can’t get out of their own way. The film begins with two 6-year-olds spitting on a woman’s car from the balcony of a purple motel. When confronted, the pair offer four-letter retorts and buzz off, laughing gleefully. “Where is their moral compass?” You might ask. Have they escaped the cellular confines of “The 400 Blows” or “Salaam Bombay”? Continue reading

Battle of the Sexes

4 Oct

Emma Stone and Steve Carrell square off in Battle of the Sexes

Courtesy Fox Searchlight

 

Battle of the Sexes is more than just an empowerment victory lap for women and others seeking equality. It’s also a heartfelt tale of two intimate love stories — with the least surprising of the two registering the more surprising result. Oh yeah, it’s also a fantastic time capsule resurrecting the early ’70s with aplomb and a sad reminder of just how deeply chauvinistic mainstream culture used to be (and still is). Take the venerated sportscaster Howard Cossell commenting in the preamble of the titular event (an ABC prime-time broadcast that was almost as big as the Super Bowl) that if tennis pro Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) lost her wire-rimmed glasses and bland bob, she might shock the world with movie star good looks. Did Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe ever get brought up for their appearance?

King by all rights was a trailblazer, the first female professional athlete to earn over $100K in a year and a reluctant feminist icon who sought more equal pay for female players who were paid “eight times” less than their male counterparts. Resolute and unwavering to pro tennis tour honcho Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and his claim that men were the bigger draw, King quickly retorts that the women sell just as many tickets at the same price. Solid logic that gets brushed aside.

That’s when King and tennis promoter Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) decide to create their own tennis circuit (what becomes the Virginia Slims Circuit). Kramer initially can’t believe the bluff and goes on the offensive in the media saying the idea will fail when it begins to take root. Not onscreen much, Kramer becomes the film’s de facto villain, more so than Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), the other half of the “battle,” who at age 55, an anointed tennis legend (Grand Slam winner, former No. 1 player, and tennis hall-of-famer) bored with life and addicted to gambling, reinvents himself by calling out King after her fiscal milestone. He’s a lover of the limelight and needs more than the bare-knuckle tennis matches he and his scotch-sipping cronies stage — with a handicap of course. In one deftly comical scene, Riggs has to hold a pair of Afghan dogs on leash while dodging a series of folding chair obstacles placed on his side of the court. For his troubles, he wins a Rolls Royce. Continue reading

Stronger

21 Sep

‘Stronger’ Is Everything ‘Patriots Day’ Tried To Be

Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman in "Stronger." (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)closemore

Late last year — as if it were hoping to be an Academy Award contender — the well-intentioned, but misguided “Patriots Day” turned the Boston Marathon bombing into a vehicle for local boy Mark Wahlberg. It awkwardly tried to show a city ripped apart through a fictional cop’s heroics. Now, in David Gordon Green’s “Stronger,” the story is flipped as we register the emotional toll of a victim reluctantly pushed into the role of a hero.

We follow the quiet, painful struggle to rehabilitate for bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) honestly and viscerally. “Stronger” is everything “Patriots Day” swung for and missed.

The actual bombing and subsequent search for the Tsarnaev brothers never takes center stage — that all happens on the news or in brief, well-staged flashbacks. The tale here is a deeply personal one about wrestling with demons — sometimes embarrassing ones — and finding your way after being dealt a losing hand.

Tatiana Maslany as Erin and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff. (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
Tatiana Maslany as Erin and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff. (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

Based on Bauman’s memoir (co-written by Bret Witter and adapted for screen by John Pollono), “Stronger” recounts the harrowing travail after the Chelmsford native had the misfortune to be standing on Boylston Street during the 2013 marathon. Losing both his legs was a grueling ordeal for Bauman — one that comes in uneasy and uncertain strokes. And while that resonates with earnest pain, the heart and soul of the film registers most palpably through the eyes of Bauman’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin (played by Tatiana Maslany). Maslany, the small screen star of “Orphan Black,” makes the most of her go on a bigger canvas. Continue reading

American Assassin

20 Sep
American Assassin assembles a crew short on character but high on laptops

Courtesy CBS Films

American Assassin assembles a crew short on character but high on laptops

It’s got to be more than just a tad coincidental that the jingoistic revenge fantasy American Assassin comes out on the tail of the 16th anniversary of one of the most ominous days in our country’s recent history — you can almost see the studio bean counters hovering over the calendar and rubbing their hands together. Bristling bravado and vengeance drive the film based on Vince Flynn’s best-selling novel directed by reliable TV helmer, Michael Cuesta, who showed such promise with his edgy coming-of-age drama L.I.E. (2001). It’s a fairly straight-ahead go that reaches for the technocratic wizardry of Tom Clancy and frenetic energy of Robert Ludlum, but only succeeds in aspiration. The one thing the posse of screenwriters and Cuesta leave out is character development — it’s hard to have a hard-boiled thriller if your hard ass is a cardboard cutout with nothing interesting to say. Running at just under two hours, Assassinfeels longer than it should and you never get that necessary pang of empathy to keep your head in the game.

mother!

15 Sep

‘Mother!’ Is A Provocative, Swirling Contemplation On Our Relationship With The Earth

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from "mother!" (Courtesy Paramount Pictures via AP)closemore

Biblical allegories and weighty world matters abound in Darren Aronofsky’s latest tempest of anger and wonderment that takes mankind to task. Part horror story, part existential ponderance and ever doing cinematic backflips, “mother!” is a movie that certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But those who see it are certain to be held rapt from the very first frame to the film’s fiery crescendo.

Things begin serenely enough as we catch up with a young woman immersed in restoring a grand country manse, where there no cell service and nothing but trees and grass as far as the eye can see. The woman is never identified onscreen, but called “Mother” in the credits — and Jennifer Lawrence carries her heavy emotional burden well.

Her selection of earth tones to plaster the walls is of no coincidence. She tends quietly to these finishing aesthetics as her husband (Javier Bardem), identified in the credits simply as “Him,” broods about struggling to reboot his creative juices. He’s a beloved poet who’s been blocked since the death of his previous wife and is wildly possessive of the crystalline shrine he has erected in his study to memorialize her.

His aloof peculiarity strikes a chord early, but then again he’s a creator and, as with anyone whose artistic process breeds success, idiosyncratic methods often get overlooked. Then “Man” (Ed Harris) shows up, believing the stately octagon shaped estate is a B&B. The two men get bombed as if they’re old friends and later, Man wretches up an organ. Then there’s that troubling picture of Him that Mother finds in Man’s bag. Continue reading

Ingrid Goes West

25 Aug

‘Ingrid Goes West’: That Internet stalker just showed up, and desperate to be loved

What happens if your online stalker happens to be just a sweet, lovable

What happens if your online stalker happens to be just a sweet, lovable mess? Hard to imagine, but that’s the oblique question at the heart of “Ingrid Goes West,” in which Aubrey Plaza plays the titular Ingrid, a sympathetic introvert with a need for attention from those at the top of the virtual trending list and an impulsive streak that often ends up going off the skids no matter the depth of her good intentions.

True to the title, Ingrid heads west after trading one unhealthy obsession for another. In the brief opener we witness her vengefully pepper-spraying a bride at a wedding she’s not invited to. What gives? It turns out the wedding crasher with an ax to grind showed up because of one online thread where she and the bride-to-be briefly connected and, in Ingrid’s delusional mind, believed the two were instant besties. In the wake of the humiliation and shame – and a stay in a psych ward – Ingrid’s next fixation becomes perky Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s living the fab life in Los Angeles “influencing” followers as to what to buy and where to nosh. Ingrid can’t get enough of Taylor, and with a $60,000 check from her mom’s estate decides to cross the continent to check out the healthy avocado toast at the new-agey cafe Taylor “just loves.”

Ingrid’s goofy attempts to “accidentally” ingratiate herself with Taylor come off awkwardly endearing at first – so much so you can almost forgive her for that mace incident – but then she kidnaps Taylor’s dog with the notion of being the hero that returns the Instagram-famous pup. It works for a moment as Taylor and her floundering artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell), who makes hashtag art (yes, you read that right), take a liking to their new friend. Ingrid revels in the union and postures that she has an actor boyfriend and a much more interesting life than that of a recently released inpatient.

It’s clear Ingrid’s a broken soul desperate for a human connection, virtually or otherwise, and just as the films looks as if there might be a happy ending, with all the principals realizing their vapid material dreams, Taylor’s gonzo, good-looking brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) shows up. He’s the most vapid of the lot but has it in for Ingrid, digging with malice, trying to unmask and shake her at every turn. Needless to say, the unbridled vehemence subverts the film’s quirky buoyancy and matters turn dark.

Much of the film’s success can be attributed to Plaza, who makes her sociopathic wallflower remarkably nuanced and empathetic, beyond the trappings of the script. It’s a turn that’s tougher to pull off and more pivotal than Robert Pattinson’s conniving street urchin in “Good Time,”also opening in the area. The two films would make a heck of a double bill; moviegoers coming out of such a downer of a pairing might whip out their phones to move up their next therapy session.

Besides Plaza’s bravura take, the film gets a big lift from O’Shea Jackson Jr. (so good as his father, Ice Cube, in “Straight Outta Compton”), as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord and stand-in boyfriend on a double date. His Dan Pinto’s able to roll with the punches and sees something in Ingrid – that the audience does too – but chances are if Ingrid rolled up on your Facebook page and began to insinuate herself as relentlessly as she does here you’d be torn between a virtual hug and the block button.