Ready Player One

(USA 2018)

Schmaltzking Steven Spielberg is in regular form with Ready Player One, his film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 gamer fantasy novel.

Reality bites in 2045, especially in Columbus, Ohio, where Wade (Tye Sheridan) lives with his aunt (Susan Lynch) and her no good boyfriend (Ralph Ineson) in “the Stacks,” a favela-like slum of discarded mobile homes piled on top of each other. Things have stopped working and people have stopped fixing them, and the world has taken on a dystopian futuristic Dickensian hue curiously stuck in the 1980s.

Wade, like everyone, escapes to the OASIS, a virtual reality alternate universe where one can be…well, anything. Wade is Parzival, a sort of Speed Racer adventurer. He’s on a mission to win a contest: find the “Easter Egg” left behind by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the dearly departed creator of the OASIS, and gain total control over the OASIS. Parzival just might get by with a little help from his friends — but he’s got to stay a step ahead of one particularly troublesome competitor, corporate bad guy Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who wants to rule the OASIS for all the bad reasons.

Ready Player One is a typical Steven Spielberg kid’s movie: pop culture, magic, and a total “feel good” ending. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that. It isn’t necessarily better than recent films like The Post (https://moviebloke.com/2018/01/26/the-post/) or Bridge of Spies (https://moviebloke.com/2016/02/25/bridge-of-spies/), but Ready Player One is a lot more interesting. Spielberg goes overboard with references to ‘80s films, some of which are his own projects — and I’m told he’s more aggressive than Cline is in the book. Still, the result is a lot of fun, and the details are wicked. A sequence dedicated to The Shining actually made me giddy. Mendelsohn looks so much like the principal from The Breakfast Club (https://moviebloke.com/2016/05/05/the-breakfast-club-2/) that I want to ask him if Barry Manilow knows he raids his wardrobe. Rylance plays Halliday with a strange mix of Christopher Lloyd, Steve Jobs, and, err, Spielberg.

I’m no fan of late or even middle period Spielberg, but I didn’t mind this one. Make no mistake, Ready Player One is a big, loud, overdone Hollywood movie, but it’s a decent one. Those who grew up watching Spielberg movies (like I did) no doubt will enjoy it even though they probably don’t need to see it a second time.

With Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Clare Higgins, Laurence Spellman, Perdita Weeks, Joel MacCormack, Kit Connor, Leo Heller, Antonio Mattera, Ronke Adekoluejo, William Gross, Sandra Dickinson, Lynne Wilmot, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Gavin Marshall, Jane Leaney, Elliot Barnes-Worrell, Asan N’Jie, Robert Gilbert

Production: Amblin Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Dune Entertainment, Farah Films & Management, Reliance Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Brothers

Distribution: Warner Brothers, NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), SF Studios (Norway), Tanweer Alliances (Greece), Karo Premiere (Russia), Kinomania (Ukraine), Roadshow Entertainment (New Zealand), Roadshow Films (Australia)

140 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Music Box) C+

http://readyplayeronemovie.com

Paradox

(USA 2018)

“Love is like a fart: If you gotta force it, it’s probably shit.”

— One of the cowboys

img_0112

One of its posters calls Daryl Hannah’s trippy-lite Paradox “a loud poem,” which I reckon is an accurate enough way to look at it. This is not a particularly noisy film, though, so I don’t know that “loud” is the right word. Anyway…

Set sometime in the near future, Paradox is a dystopian post-apocalyptic Western sci-fi musical comedy with a whiff of magic realism. Got that? The story, if you call it one, involves archeologist cowboys, a rock and roller sage known only as The Man in the Black Hat (Neil Young), and a not-so-merry band of feminist environmentalist survivalists.

Young sits in a chair in a field strumming his guitar while a crew consisting of his bandmates digs through dirt and rock looking for relics, mostly electronic devices used for communication — a phone, a fax machine, I may have seen a radio as well. At night, Young plays with his band, Promise of the Real, which includes Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. There’s this thing they do where they hold onto a rope as they rise into the air.

Relatively plotless, Paradox features some beautifully cool crooning around a campfire and a cameo by Willie Nelson, who robs a seed bank with Young. If the whole thing sounds silly, it is. It’s hard to tell what Hannah is getting at here, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the redemptive power of music. To be fair, she admittedly didn’t plan this as a feature film for wide release (http://www.indiewire.com/2018/03/daryl-hannah-interview-netflix-paradox-sxsw-2018-1201939587/).

I didn’t mind Paradox, but it’s not the kind of thing that begs for a mainstream audience. I can see a lot of people bored with it — or worse, hating it.

With Corey McCormick, Anthony LoGerfo, Tato Melgar, Elliot Roberts, Dave Snowbear Toms, Charris Ford, Robert Schmoo Schmid, Tim Gooch Lougee, Dulcie Clarkson Ford, Alexandra, Dascala, Hillary Cooper, Jess Rice, Sue Mazzoni, Dana Fineman, Hilary Shepard, Page Adler, Alyssa Miller, Hayley DuMond, Barbara Adler, Jessica James, Maia Coe, Haskins Khalil, Light Kentucky, River Ben Ford, Wes James, Ava James, Ace Adler, Phoenix Fuller, Thelonius True Heart, Skookum River, Blythe Ford, Dave Doubek, Doug Alee

Production: Shakey Pictures

Distribution: Abramorama, Netflix

Screening followed by a live Q and A with Daryl Hannah, Neil Young, Elliot Rabinowitz, and two other men (one may have been Corey McCormick but I’m not sure)

img_0111

73 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) C-

https://www.netflix.com/title/80242378

The Shape of Water

(USA 2017)

“The natives in the Amazon worshipped it like a god. We need to take it apart. Learn how it works.”

— Strickland

I knew only two things walking into The Shape of Water: one, Guillermo del Toro directed it; and two, one of the characters is a sea creature. I expected a dark and fantastical fable with del Toro’s trademark look and feel all over it.

I was right about everything except this being dark; the world where the story is set may be sinister and the color palette may be Cold War drab, but The Shape of Water is an uncharacteristically sweet departure for del Toro, at least what I’ve seen from him.

Set in 1962 Baltimore — far dimmer than the one in the John Waters classic Hairspray — Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute single lady who quietly exists on the fringes. She rents a rundown apartment above a movie theater and works as a janitor in a high-security government laboratory tucked away in a complex somewhere outside town. Her only connections to the world are Giles (Richard Jenkins), her aging homosexual next door neighbor, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a coworker who acts as her interpreter.

Elisa is drawn to a scaly amphibian (Doug Jones) dragged from the Amazon and kept inside a water tank in the lab where she works. She can’t stand the way Strickland (Michael Shannon), a wreckless government agent, treats him. She forges a bond with the creature, feeding him hard boiled eggs on the sly. He grows to trust her, proving to be a gentle soul under all those scales.

Elisa gets wind of what Strickland has in store for the creature — over the objections of Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a marine biologist who tries to dissuade him. Strickland insists. Elisa takes matters into her own hands to save the poor thing.

Written by del Toro with Vanessa Taylor, the screenplay isn’t as dark, intense, or innovative as, say, Pan’s Labyrinth. Nevertheless, it’s got its charm. The Shape of Water is sexually charged, which is interesting (and frankly pretty funny at one point). The story, a romance, is much sweeter than what I tend to go for. The plot elements are familiar: outcasts, forbidden love, a maniacal plan in the name of science, a dangerous rescue, a fish out of water (literally), even a bit of espionage. It all comes together in a magnificently magical if not exactly unexpected finale.

Del Toro’s execution is what makes this film soar. Visually, he recalls Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children and especially Delicatessen). His use of color is clever and often seductive, even with a lot of brown and grey. The amphibian’s costume is cool, straight out of Pan’s Labyrinth (those eyes).

I love the references to other films — Creature from the Black Lagoon, E.T., King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. An astute friend of mine posits that the real love story here involves movies, with all of us mute viewers who fall for the fantastic. I find his interpretation to be the best I’ve heard.

The Shape of Water seems to be a polarizing film, moreso than any other I can think of this year; some of those I’ve talked to loved it, others hated it — with a passion. I fall into the former category. I can see myself coming back to this one from time to time.

With David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Lauren Lee Smith, Martin Roach, Allegra Fulton, John Kapelos, Morgan Kelly, Marvin Kaye, Dru Viergever, Wendy Lyon, Cody Ray Thompson, Madison Ferguson, Jayden Greig

Production: Bull Productions, Double Dare You (DDY), Fox Searchlight Pictures

Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA), 20th Century Fox (International), Hispano Foxfilms S.A.E. (Spain), Big Picture 2 Films (Portugal), Centfox Film (Austria), Forum Hungary (Hungary), Odeon

123 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) B+

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/theshapeofwater/

Hellraiser

(UK 1987)

“Oh, no tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering!”

— “Pinhead” (the Lead Cenobite)

Roger Ebert famously derided Clive Barker’s directorial debut, the sadomasochistic horror classic Hellraiser, calling it “without wit, style, or reason” for its “bankruptcy of imagination” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/hellraiser-1987). Well, talk about tearing your soul apart!

Hellraiser isn’t particularly scary, but it is creepy and fucking weird. I certainly don’t find it lacking wit, style, or imagination; quite the opposite. It’s a ridiculous, kinky, and bloody telenovela. Based on Barker’s short novel The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser takes the idea of something in the attic to a place no one else has.

Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins) have a strained marriage. After leaving Manhattan to go live in his abandoned boyhood home somewhere on the Atlantic coast, Julia finds Larry’s brother — who’s her ex lover — Frank (Sean Chapman in the flashbacks and Oliver Smith in the present) reanimated without skin in the attic. The movie doesn’t explain it, but the novel does: Larry cuts his hand and drips blood onto the attic floor, right where Frank’s comeshot dried up in the floorboards. Nice.

An unrelenting hedonist, Frank lost his body and soul to demons in his quest for sexual gratification. It started with an antique puzzle box that opened a portal to hell and summoned the Cenobites, led by “Pinhead” (Doug Bradley), the apparent spokesman for the motley foursome. Now, Frank needs blood, which is where Julia comes in. Too bad Frank’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), keeps getting in the way.

The special effects look cheap and the plot is choppy. It isn’t clear at first whether the cuts to Frank and Julia getting it on are flashbacks or fantasy, so this detail could have been done better. Nonetheless, Hellraiser is totally engrossing (and at points, just gross). Barker makes a silly story bizarre enough to keep you interested in what happens next. Higgins effectively channels a tortured melodramatic ’50s B-movie damsel in distress. And her big ’80s hair and sunglasses are fabulous!

Perhaps the best thing Hellraiser has going for it, though, is its twisted sense of humor: all of this happens — and will happen again — because Frank thinks with his dick. Now that’s funny.

With Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Grace Kirby, Robert Hines, Anthony Allen, Leon Davis, Michael Cassidy, Frank Baker, Kenneth Nelson, Gay Baynes, Dave Atkins, Oliver Parker

Production: Cinemarque Entertainment BV, Film Futures, Rivdel Films

Distribution: New World Pictures (USA), Entertainment Film Distributors (UK), Highlight Film (West Germany), Paraiso Films S.A. (Spain), Prooptiki (Greece), Roadshow Film Distributors (Australia), Toei Classic (Japan), Vestron Benelux (Netherlands)

94 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B-

Music Box of Horrors

http://www.clivebarker.info/hellraiser.html

A Trip to the Moon [Le Voyage dans la lune]

(France 1902)

I’m guessing that a large number of people recognize a particular still from A Trip to the Moon — the one of the “spaceship” lodged into the moon’s “eye” like a bullet. I’m also guessing that a large number of people have never seen the film. I was one of them — until this afternoon.

Written and directed by French film pioneer Georges Méliès, A Trip to the Moon is a lot cooler than I expected. Imaginative and surprisingly sophisticated, it’s downright cinematic in the way it approaches its subject matter and tells its story. Méliès demonstrates far greater artistic and dramatic flair than his American contemporaries, at least from what I’ve seen.

In a Medieval chamber, a wise old astronomer (Méliès) proposes traveling to the moon, only to be scoffed at by his colleagues (Victor André, Brunnet, Henri Delannoy, Depierre, Farjaut, Kelm). Undeterred, he shows them how it will work. Soon, they’re heading for outer space in a vessel that looks like a big bullet fired with a cannon from the rooftops of Paris.

The astronomers land on the moon and deboard their “space bullet” — no need for space suits, of course. They set up camp. As they sleep, celestial bodies like a comet, the Big Dipper, and Saturn all appear in the night sky. A moon goddess (Bleuette Bernon) makes it snow. They awake and encounter huge mushrooms and insect-like aliens — played by acrobats in tights and a mask — that explode on impact. A mob of aliens captures them and takes them to the leader. The astronomers escape and flee to their capsule, aliens pursuing them. Will they get back to Earth safely?

I found A Trip to the Moon charming. It’s got a nifty surreal Alice in Wonderland meets 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea vibe. It’s theatrical and visually stunning, especially the hand tinted color — yes, color — version. The attention to detail is, in a word, heavenly.

Méliès was a wealthy Paris shoemaker who longed to be an artist. He ultimately sold his share of the family business to his brothers and bought a theater, where he performed magic shows (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Méliès). A demonstration of a cinematograph, a combination camera/projector/printer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinematograph), in 1895 sparked his interest in film. He’s considered a sci-fi groundbreaker.

With Jeanne d’Alcy, François Lallement, Jules-Eugène Legris

Production: Star Film Company

Distribution: Star Film Company (France), American Mutoscope & Biograph (USA), Edison Manufacturing Company (USA), S. Lubin (USA), Kleine Optical Company (USA), Niels Le Tort (Sweden), The Royal Wonder Bio (Slovenia)

13 minutes
Not rated

(YouTube) A

They Live

(USA 1988)

“I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

“I’m giving you the choice: either put on these glasses or eat that trashcan.”

“Brother, life’s a bitch. And she’s back in heat.”

— Nada

Director John Carpenter has done a few good pictures that probably will have an audience long after he’s gone; They Live isn’t one of them. At least, not in a good way. B-movie cult fodder all the way, They Live is a somewhat delayed and really heavy-handed reaction to ’80s conspicuous consumption. Based on Ray Nelson’s 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” and subsequent comic strip, Carpenter’s screenplay, written under the pseudonym Frank Armitage, is founded on a decent premise; it just doesn’t go where it could have.

Nada (Roddy Piper), a migrant construction worker who’s seen better days, picks up a job in downtown Los Angeles. He notices some weirdness going on with a television station that seems to be connected to a church across the lot where he and other homeless people have set up camp. His coworker Frank (Keith David) doesn’t want to hear about it. No one does.

One morning, Nada comes into possession of a pair of sunglasses. When he puts them on, he sees subliminal messages everywhere. A billboard with the tagline “We’re creating the transparent computing environment” says “Obey” with the glasses on. A travel ad beckoning, “Come to the Caribbean” says “Marry and reproduce.” “Men’s apparel” says “No independent thought.” Signs all around him order one to consume, conform, buy, watch TV, submit, sleep, do not question authority:

They Live Obey.jpg

Even the dollar bill has a different message: “This is your god.”

What’s worse, some people are not what they appear to be. At all. They aren’t even human — they’re skeletal reptiles, a kind of mutant species of Sleestaks or something:

They Live.JPG

What the hell is going on? Who are these things? What do they want? As Nada tells Frank, they ain’t from Cleveland.

I remember seeing They Live at the theater when it was new. It was okay. Three decades later, it’s still okay. It’s a lot sillier this time around, though. The whole thing gets off to a good enough start, but the momentum peters out just before midpoint. Carpenter — or anyone, for that matter — can get only so much mileage out of this story. They Live feels like 40 minutes of material stretched into more than twice that amount of time.

The denouement is not just predictable but anticlimactic, and the perspective here is adolescent at best. The lines are cringeworthy, falling painfully short of the Arnold Schwarzenegger zingers they aim to be. The acting is pretty bad, especially David and Meg Foster, both of whom are as stiff and lifeless as a dead gerbil. Surprisingly, Piper and his mullet are the best thing about They Live; Piper isn’t enough to carry it, though. And that wrestling scene in the alley is inane — misplaced, unnecessary, and too long, it adds nothing except maybe ten minutes to the running time.

The worst thing about They Live is that it seems Carpenter was serious — nothing here reads as tongue in cheek to me.

With George “Buck” Flower, Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques, Jason Robards III, Lucille Meredith, Norman Alden, Norm Wilson, Thelma Lee, Rezza Shan

Production: Alive Films, Larry Franco Productions

Distribution: Universal Pictures

94 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) D+

http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/they-live/

Wonder Woman

(USA 2017)

Director Patty Jenkins aims to do for Wonder Woman what Christopher Nolan—and I suppose to a lesser degree Tim Burton—did for Batman: take an iconic comic book superhero that got campy over the years and return it to its darker roots, producing something dramatic, perhaps weightier, and far more artful. Jenkins doesn’t entirely pull it off with Wonder Woman, but she’s on the right track. I see a sequel or two in the near future, so she’s got time to get there.

To Jenkins’s credit, Wonder Woman is not what I expected. Aside from a nod or two—and that goddamned tiara—all the cut-rate kitsch of the ’70s TV series is gone. This Wonder Woman means business even if she’s still, shall we say, absurd.

Jenkins goes back to the beginning: young Diana (Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey) lives on Themyscira, a hidden island inhabited by war-ready buff goddesses. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana’s mother, shields her from the strident ways of her subjects. It all has to do with an old score Ares (David Thewlis) seeks to settle—yes, that Ares, the son of Zeus and the god of war. General Antiope (Robin Wright), Hippolyta’s sister and Diana’s aunt/mentor, isn’t having it: she recognizes Diana’s potential and trains her on the sly. Diana blossoms into a beautiful woman (Gal Gadot) with serious supernatural power.

Diana stumbles upon Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a drowning American pilot whose plane crashes off the coast of Themyscira. She rescues him, unwittingly exposing the island to an invasion by German forces. Persuaded by the awesome power of Diana’s Lasso of Hestia, Steve confesses that he’s a spy in the “war to end all wars”—World War I. Spider-sensing Ares is behind it, Diana embarks with Steve on a mission filled with romance, adventure, and espionage in an effort to track down the god and stop the madness.

Wonder Woman starts out all Xena: Warrior Princess, silly and weird in a geeky softcore straight guy “lesbian porn” way that no doubt would appeal to the likes of Wayne and Garth. Thankfully, it moves in another direction once Pine shows up about 40 minutes in. I found myself enjoying Wonder Woman more as the story got to Europe—that storyline is more believable even if it too is silly. The battle scenes are decent with some Hollywood excess and humor thrown in. I love how the theme of gender equality is the star of every scene—neither subtle nor heavy-handed, it’s simply a given.

For all its perks, Wonder Woman is ultimately a typical blockbuster that emphasizes form over substance. If nothing else, it surprises, which is always a plus. Frankly, though, I could’ve kept going completely oblivious to the fact that Wonder Woman is more than Lynda Carter. She was more a lot more fun.

With Danny Huston, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Doutzen Kroes

Production: DC Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel & Unusual Films, Rat-Pac Dune Entertainment LLC, Tencent Pictures, Wanda Pictures

Distribution: Warner Brothers, Karo Premiere (Russia), NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), Roadshow Entertainment (New Zealand), Roadshow Films (Australia), SF Studios (Norway), Tanweer Alliances (Greece)

141 minutes
Rated PG-13

(ArcLight) C

http://wonderwomanfilm.com

Okja

(USA/South Korea 2017)

“We needed a miracle, and then we got one.”

—Lucy Mirando

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, now streaming on Netflix, is a lot of things; dull is not one of them. A slick, fast-paced, mesmerizing mix of fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, action, satire, and social consciousness, this film has a lot going on—and a lot going for it. I was lucky to see it on the big screen before its official release, and that’s how I recommend seeing it if you can. Sorry, Netflix, Okja is simply too good for TV.

The story begins ten years ago in 2007: in a desperate but brilliant attempt to rebrand a disreputable family business—to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so to speak—Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announces her master plan to breed an all-natural “superpig” that leaves a minimal footprint, feeds the world, and tastes great (https://superpigproject.com). Her company, Mirando Corporation, devises a competition, sending twenty-some piglets to real farmers across the globe to raise them; the company will monitor each pig over the next ten years and declare a “winner” based on the results. Mirando hires animal television show host Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), a zoologist whose star is fading, to lend credibility to the project as well as to generate public interest in it.

Fast forward to 2017: Mirando’s plan is coming to fruition without any hiccups, which makes her happier than a pig in…well, you know. Unfortunately for Mirando, a young South Korean girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), whose grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) signed onto the project, threatens to derail the entire mission. Mija, you see, essentially raised her grandfather’s pig, Okja. They’ve become dependent on each other. He never explained to her what the deal really is—that Mirando’s silk purse is nothing more than lipstick on a pig.

Dr. Johnny and his television crew show up at their home in the mountains and marvel over Okja, now a magnificently enormous hippopotamus-like creature. He presents her grandfather with an award and takes Okja to Manhattan—actually, New Jersey—for a pig roast sponsored by the Mirando Corporation.

To put it lightly, Mija’s not having it—she takes off after Okja on a chaotic chase through Seoul, where she encounters the Animal Liberation Front, a group of inept animal rights activists led by idealistic but ineffective Jay (Paul Dano). They make a pact, but unfortunately she doesn’t speak English. Mija ends up at the world headquarters of Mirando Corporation in New York City, completely unaware of the cards she holds.

I went into Okja blind—the only thing I knew about it was that its central character is a big pig. I left more than satisfied: the cast is stellar, the effects are flawless, and the script is smart and strong despite its flaws. If that don’t beat a pig a-pecking, I don’t know what does.

In simplest terms, Okja is about our complicated consumerist relationship with food. As one pig farmer put it best, “Okja’s a fake pig in a movie I watched on Netflix. But plenty of real animals are suffering inside a horrific system that don’t have to.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/okja-thoughts-from-a-pig-farmer_us_595bd1cde4b0f078efd98cbd). On this point alone, Okja will resonate with anyone who’s ever connected with an animal—pig, dog, cat, bird, horse, aardvark. The story has been compared to E.T. (https://moviebloke.com/2016/03/29/e-t-the-extra-terrestrial-e-t/), and it’s pretty wonderful. The final scene, which takes place in a slaughterhouse, is hard to watch—I got anxious. And queasy. I thought of Morrissey!

Appropriately, the acting is hammy; I love that Swinton plays twins again. She looks like a deranged Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. Gyllenhaal teeters on insufferable with his wimpy sniveling, but to his credit he manages to keep it in check. I’m usually unimpressed with computer animation, but here it’s amazingly well done; Okja looks as real as the humans. I think the trick is her eyes. Even with its Hollywood ending, Okja is definitely one of this year’s more interesting movies.

With Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je-moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-shik, Giancarlo Esposito

Production: Kate Street Picture Company, Lewis Pictures, Plan B Entertainment

Distribution: Netflix

118 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B

https://www.netflix.com/title/80091936

Donnie Darko

(USA 2001)

“Has he ever told you about his friend Frank, the giant bunny rabbit?”

—Dr. Lilian Thurman

 

“Every living creature on earth dies alone.”

—Grandma Death

Donnie Darko, a period piece set during a time I remember quite well—October 1988, the second full month of my college freshman year and the height of the Bush-Dukakis presidential election—has a great moody soundtrack that includes the likes of Tears for Fears, Joy Division, the Church, Duran Duran, and of course Echo and the Bunnymen. Even if it would have stuck out like a sore thumb, a song more fitting with the theme would have been Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

October 2, 1988: troubled and highly medicated loner Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a middle class teen in suburban Middlesex, Virginia, sleepwalks outside of his house and meets Frank (James Duval), a new “friend.” Frank is a guy in a creepy rabbit suit—he looks like he was plucked from the cover of a heavy metal album. Frank tells Donnie that the world is coming to an end—in exactly 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds.

Thus begins the apocalyptic timewarping adventure of Donnie Darko. After being rudely awakened on a golf course the next morning, Donnie lumbers home in a daze to discover that a jet engine fell from the sky and crashed into his bedroom. His family, obviously already having assumed the worst, is shocked but relieved to see him approaching from the street—except maybe his mother (Mary McDonnell). Federal investigators can’t trace where the engine came from.

At school, a new student, Gretchen (Jena Malone), interrupts Donnie’s English class—taught by the young and snarky Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore). They’re discussing their reading assignment, Graham Greene’s short story “The Destructors.” Gretchen asks where she should sit, and Ms. Pomeroy directs her “next to the boy you think is the cutest.” Gretchen sits next to Donnie. Duh!

Donnie and Gretchen dig each other, which is a ray of light to his psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross). The doctor has been concerned about Donnie’s “hallucinations” of Frank, as well as some of his erratic behavior. Donnie is growing more and more obsessed with a senile elderly neighbor he and his friends nicknamed “Grandma Death” (Patience Cleveland) and a book about time travel. Everything comes to a head at a party Donnie and his sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) throw while their parents are out of town on Halloween—which is 28 days from where this all started.

Simultaneously funny, foreboding, weird, and utterly thought-provoking, I can see why Donnie Darko has the following it does. Director and screenwriter Richard Kelly comes up with something unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. It’s a winning mix of teen comedy, science fiction, and fantasy. I caught an anniversary screening with my nephew, and this film is as fresh as when I first saw it in 2002. Loaded with indelible imagery, symbolism, ’80s pop cultural references, and clever narrative loopbacks, I find Donnie Darko‘s greatest asset to be its open-ended mystery; what exactly happens is left for the viewer to figure out. A quick Google search pulls up ample musings of the meaning of this film. I’ve seen this a few times, and I’m not sure.

Aside from the plot, the characters and the casting are terrific. Both Gyllenhaals are great, and you can actually see they’re both destined for more. Patrick Swayze is awesome as motivational speaker Jim Cunningham, but Beth Grant takes the cake here as passive-aggressive bitch Kitty Farmer. Oh yeah, this is also Seth Rogen’s first onscreen role—see if you can spot him.

Side note: Frank’s rabbit suit was designed by April Ferry, who went on to work for Game of Thrones (http://ew.com/movies/2017/03/31/donnie-darko-bunny-suit-frank-untold-stories/). I was hoping to catch the director’s cut, but this wasn’t it.

With Holmes Osborne, Daveigh Chase, Noah Wyle, Stuart Stone, Gary Lundy, Alex Greenwald, Jolene Purdy, Ashley Tisdale

Production: Flower Films

Distribution: Pandora Cinema, Newmarket Films

113 minutes
Rated R

(Capitol Theatre) B+

http://archive.hi-res.net/donniedarko/

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

(USA 1982, 2007)

Ridley Scott is hit or miss with me, Harrison Ford bores me, and I tend to eschew science fiction. So, neo-noir sci-fi drama Blade Runner doesn’t seem like something that would appeal to me. It does, though—in fact, I love it.

Like Alien, another gem by Scott, Blade Runner succeeds on so many levels. Executed near flawlessly, its themes and narrative, its structure and pace, its sets and technical aspects are all polished, eloquent, and downright cerebral. It cuts right to the heart of humanity—what’s beautiful about it and what isn’t, and what it is to be human.

Los Angeles, November 2019: six rogue artificial humans known as replicants that were banished to an “off-world” work camp in space return to Earth in a desperate attempt to extend their life. Created by tech behemoth Tyrell Corporation, this particular model, the Nexus-6, is the smartest and strongest replicant. However, it has a lifespan of only four years—and the meter is ticking. Fortunately for them, replicants are indistinguishable from real humans, except for their emotional responses. It takes a lengthy question-and-answer test to positively identify them.

Burned out former cop Rick Deckard (Ford), whose job as a blade runner was to track down replicants and “retire,” or kill them, is persuaded—okay, extorted—out of a self-imposed furlough to find and get rid of these troublemakers. Stat. The job isn’t an easy one, particularly where charmingly weird and conniving Pris (Daryl Hannah) and invincible badass Roy (Rutger Hauer) are involved.

As Deckard searches for his targets, he meets and gets to know the rather severely formal Rachael (Sean Young), assistant to replicant inventor Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel). Rachael doesn’t know she’s a replicant. Tyrell asks Deckard to retire her as well, but there’s a problem: Deckard realizes he’s falling for her.

Adapted from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—with the title taken from Alan E. Nourse’s novel The Blade Runner, which had nothing to do with Dick (https://www.neondystopia.com/cyberpunk-movies-anime/the-story-behind-blade-runners-title/)—Blade Runner is dark in every sense of the word. Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography is stunningly bleak. The setting might be Los Angeles, but Scott slyly references Metropolis—only he refits it to Hong Kong or Tokyo. Many of the ideas explored here are eerily relevant today, especially the way morality plays out with corporations, genetic engineering, a police state, the environment, and hierarchy of life and life forms.

Blade Runner is a weighty movie, but seriousness aside—I found myself entertained with a number of things that simply aren’t present today: PanAm, Atari, and TDK. Smoking indoors. Pay phones. Photographs. Even urban decay. I was also floored that one of the replicants was “born” 20 days after this screening. Plus, Roy is a bionic Ken doll and Pris looks like a club kid from Party Monster. Still, Blade Runner is timeless; I’ll see it again in three or 33 years and still swoon over it. Yes, it’s that good. The Final Cut is Scott’s own finetuned version of the original theatrical release. It kills me that after all this time, a sequel that I probably won’t see is coming out later this year.

In 1993, the United States Library of Congress deemed Blade Runner “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joanna Cassidy, Kevin Thompson, John Edward Allen, Robert Okazaki

Production: Ladd Company, The Shaw Brothers/Sir Run Run Shaw, Warner Brothers

Distribution: Warner Brothers

117 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) A

https://www.warnerbros.com/blade-runner