It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019. This sequel is once again a visual spectacle that mixes super-cool images with a jaggedly engaging noir-style mystery that grapples with issues of memory and identity. It's a staggeringly beautiful epic, as director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) invests intelligence and artistry into each imaginative setting. He also avoids falling into the standard structure of an action blockbuster, skipping hackneyed things like chase scenes for much deeper emotions.
In the past 30 years, earth's eco-system has collapsed, leaving people scrambling for resources in grimy mega-cities like Los Angeles. Human-like replicants have been refined, but blade runners like K (Ryan Gosling) are still on hand to hunt down old models that have gone rogue. Then K discovers a skeleton of a replicant that apparently gave birth, which should be impossible. So K's boss (Robin Wright) instructs him to hunt down the child and erase all evidence. But Wallace (Jared Leto), head of the monolithic corporation that controls all technology, wants to find the child himself. He sends his favourite sidekick Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to follow K and his virtual girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) as they track down long-lost blade runner Deckerd (Harrison Ford), who is hiding in radioactive Las Vegas and might have some answers.
The plot is packed with implications that get K's mind spinning with possibilities, and the audience's as well. And Gosling is terrific as a guy who is cold on the surface, only barely concealing his conflicting feelings. His scenes with de Armas are superb, as she offers him some romantic hope amid the doom and gloom. Gosling and Ford also generate some terrific chemistry, exchanging physical and verbal blows. And as the villain and his henchwoman, Leto and Hoeks bring plenty of menace.
Continue reading: Blade Runner 2049 Review
By Rich Cline
Far too slow-paced to work as a thriller and too shallow to properly challenge us as science fiction, this film is unlikely to please many audience members. That isn't to say that it's unwatchable: it looks terrific, and features a strong cast who are solid in thinly written roles. But the material promises far more than the film delivers.
At the centre is Will (Johnny Depp), an artificial intelligence expert who is attacked by an anti-technology terrorist group. With only weeks to live, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and his colleague Max (Paul Bettany) upload his consciousness into his computer system, so after he dies he is able to transcend his humanity to solve far-advanced problems. He directs Evelyn to create a vast secret hideout to further develop the work, which progresses for two years until the terrorists, led by Bree (Kate Mara), find them. And now Will's old colleague Joseph (Morgan Freeman) and an FBI agent (Cillian Murphy) have to choose which side they're on.
This is precisely where the script fails: the sides are far too clear from the start. What should be a story packed with moral ambiguity is instead shaped into a straightforward good versus evil drama that betrays screenwriter Jack Paglen's mistrust of technology. And since everything is slanted so sharply, there's nowhere for the story or characters to go. First-time director Wally Pfister (the Oscar-winning Dark Knight cinematographer) makes sure everything look terrific, but everything moves so hesitantly that we feel like we're watching the movie in slow motion. It's as if the film is always on the verge of saying something important, but can never quite get the words out.
Continue reading: Transcendence Review
By Rich Cline
What makes this thriller extraordinary is its willingness to make us scratch our heads and ask questions as the tense, fable-like story patiently unfolds. This creates an almost unbearably involving vibe, from the slow-burn pacing to the unusual character detail. And all of this allows the cast members to dig deep inside their characters.
It starts as two families in rural Pennsylvania get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, then discover that their two young daughters are missing. Keller and Grace Dover (Jackman and Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Howard and Davis) search the neighbourhood frantically, then try to help local detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) with his investigation. He settles on an oddball (Dano) who seems unable to provide any information at all. With no evidence against him, he's released. But Keller can't bear to think of this man being free while the girls are missing, so he hatches his own plan to sort things out.
There's a lot of symbolism in this screenplay, as everyone reacts to the situation in his or her own way (clearly echoing the world's response to the War on Terror). But it's also a riveting personal story of the desperate need for justice and revenge. Jackman is terrific as the deeply religious man whose love of guns informs his decision-making. He impulsively reacts like Liam Neeson in Taken, charging to the rescue. By contrast, Gyllenhaal's Loki is more measured and observant, while Howard's Franklin struggles with his own moral decisions. The women are a completely different story, and equally provocative: Davis is feisty but helpless, while Bello crawls into her shell.
Continue reading: Prisoners Review
By Rich Cline
While this package has all of the key marketing elements to reach the Twilight audience, the film itself is rather a lot more fun, made with some wit and intelligence, plus a cast that's happy to chomp on the scenery. Based on a four-novel series, this film actually has more in common with True Blood than Twilight, with its Deep South setting and the clash between religious fundamentalism and supernatural beings.
At the centre is Ethan (Ehrehreich), a 16-year-old who is bristling against the isolation of his small South Carolina town. His recently deceased mother instilled in him a love of books banned by the town's hyper-religious leaders, and the local librarian Amma (Davis) helps keep his interest alive. As a result, he's more open than the other teens when Lena (Englert) arrives at school. But she's shunned because her Uncle Macon (Irons) is the town's pariah, a landowner whom everyone thinks is a devil worshipper. Actually, the whole family are casters, people with special powers that are designated good or evil on their 16th birthday.
The plot stirs up some suspense as Lena's big day of reckoning approaches. She's terrified that she'll go over to the dark side like her man-eating cousin (Rossum) or, worse still, her spectral mother, who does her mischief by inhabiting the body of the town's most pious housewife Mrs Lincoln (Thompson). This of course gives Thompson two insane characters to play at the same time, and she has a ball with it. As does Irons with the shadowy, snaky Macon. And at the centre, Ehrenreich and Englert both show considerable promise, with their strikingly non-Hollywood good looks and a depth of character that makes the film more engaging than we expect.
Continue reading: Beautiful Creatures Review
By Rich Cline
Life-affirming to the point of distraction, this comedy is so warm and cosy that it never even approaches believability. If only writer-director Graff had injected the film with half as much earthy energy as he puts into the terrific musical numbers. And let the cast out of the box.
At a down-home church in Pacashau, Georgia, GG (Parton) is peeved when she's not offered the job after her choir-director father (a brief Kris Kristofferson cameo) dies. The new leader is her rival Vi Rose (Latifah), who plans to win the upcoming regional competition with pure gospel. To further stir things up, GG's bad-boy grandson Randy (Jordan) is back in town, and he's smitten with Vi Rose's 16-year-old daughter Olivia (Palmer).
Continue reading: Joyful Noise Review
By Rich Cline
Relentlessly heartwarming, this film can't help but move us to tears. Honestly, it stars a disabled dolphin, an injured war veteran, a couple of cute kids and Morgan Freeman! It's also a great story, nicely told.
Shy 11-year-old Sawyer (Gamble) struggles to relate to other kids, and now his revered swim-champ cousin (Stowell) is heading off to war just as summer begins. One day Sawyer helps rescue Winter, a dolphin entangled in a crab trap, and gets involved in her rehabilitation with Dr Clay (Connick) and his daughter Hazel (Zuehlsdorff). Sawyer's mother (Judd) reluctantly lets him skip summer-school to work at the aquarium, which is under threat from mounting bills. And Sawyer convinces a prosthetic expert (Freeman) to help the now tailless Winter regain her ability to swim.
Continue reading: Dolphin Tale Review
By Rich Cline
Based on a remarkable true story, this film has quite a lot in common with Precious, although this is a much more mainstream movie with a more white-liberal perspective. But it's involving and very well-acted, earning Sandra Bullock an Oscar in the process.
Leigh Anne (Bullock) is a Memphis housewife with a fast-food magnate husband, Sean (McGraw), and two bright, witty kids (Head and Collins). Meanwhile, the hulking, black 17-year-old Mike (Aaron) has been admitted to her daughter's posh private school, and Leigh Anne takes an interest in him when she discovers that he's essentially homeless. Eventually he becomes part of the family, emerging from his shell after a lifetime of abuse and discovering that he has a skill for American football. Although he'll need a tutor (Bates) to improve his grades so he can play.
Continue reading: The Blind Side Review
By Rich Cline
Although it feels like a parallel story taking place at the same time as The Road, this post-apocalyptic thriller has the opposite effect, actually getting less complex and interesting as it goes along. At least it starts out well.
Eli (Washington) is a loner walking through a decimated American landscape some 30 years after "the war" brought about "the flash". His most precious possession is an old book, and he's willing to fight to the death to protect it as he heads west. Then he stumbles into a roughneck town run by the greedy Carnegie (Oldman), who's searching for the legendary book with his brutal henchman (Stevenson). And when the daughter (Kunis) of Carnegie's blind girlfriend (Beals) runs off after Eli, things get messy.
Continue reading: The Book Of Eli Review
By David Levine
If you really want to know what Mandy Moore did last summer, then check out her European travelogue called Chasing Liberty. But be warned, watching her travels in this film makes sitting through the reels of your grandparent's vacation seem like an easy walk in the park. Moore's third film about finding true love is worthless, and just about as believable as those vacation slides are entertaining.
Moore is Anna "Liberty" Foster, the 18-year old daughter of the overly protective President of the United States (Mark Harmon). She's in search of a life outside the White House, yet her dad refuses to let her leave home without an entourage of Secret Service agents (in today's world, I can hardly blame him). When her latest date bails on her because the agents are "way to out of control," she demands that her dad grant her some space while on their upcoming trip to Prague. He relents slightly, because unbeknownst to her, he has conveniently found a young secret service agent named Ben Calder (Matthew Goode) to befriend her and watch over her activity.
Continue reading: Chasing Liberty Review
At last the public's thirst for a David Spade-Sophie Marceau comedy is quenched with this story of a hapless restaurant owner who kidnaps his neighbor's dog in order to get cozy with her. Harmless, yet painfully stupid. The first down a black hole sucking that Sophie Marceau's career has taken since Braveheart. (See also The World is Not Enough.)