By David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.
APPETIZER: Review of Blade Runner 2049
Any tiny buds of hope that 2049 will be a good year are prematurely trampled by Blade Runner 2049. An avalanche of posturing visions, almost three hours long, this follow-up to the 1982 cult film (loved by me and many) is a severe case of sequelitis deformatus. Director Denis Villeneuve showed he could bulge budgets and taffy-twist ideas in Sicario and Arrival. Now he blows the roof off a factory of sci-fi concepts, lavishly mutated from Ridley Scott’s masterwork (which at age 35 – ancient in multiplex terms – still has more beauty, texture and emotion).
Scott went on to make the most humanly rooted and scientific of modern space hits, The Martian. He also pointed the way to this overload, with his 1992 “director’s cut” of Blade Runner and then a “final cut.” Villeneuve’s cram-o-rama deserves about 40 minutes of cutting. Instead of Harrison Ford as Deckard, the deadly “blade runner” cop who tracked down “replicants” (slave androids) in a rainy, trashy, retro-futurist Los Angeles, the star is Ryan Gosling. As young blade K (the nod to Kafka’s Joseph K is made explicit), Gosling’s face is often a mask of bland but manly puzzlement. Maybe he’s missing his L.A. jazz club in La La Land.
K’s L.A. in 2049 is a cold, brutalist hell, with most of the past city a radioactive death dump of ruins and refuse. K owns a pop-up holographic bimbo, played with love-sofa lips by Cuba’s Ana de Armas. Up in a high tower, grim and ruthless Robin Wright serves the big corporate devil (Jared Leto, his intensity black-holed by dead eyes). The pass key here is fixated nostalgia. The movie assumes that we not only revere and recall every wrinkle of the first film, but yearn to smooth them out with this injection of improved paranoia. The result has some remarkable sights but is finally sedating. BR 2049 is a dreamy lab mummy, like Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and the Spielberg/Kubrick A.I.
Old theme: Are the blade runners themselves androids? New twist: Can replicants reproduce sexually? Such fanboy vapors blow through a kind of theme park for the 2049 “Die Like a Droid” issue of Vanity Fair. The film’s ideal viewer is a smart kid who dreams of becoming the master nerd at Comic-Con. Hyper-designed settings blast our eyeballs, climaxes spawn offshoots, digital nudes offer kinky winks of sex. Instead of 1982 robo-hunk Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), dying in tropical rain (so movingly that the big brute won audience tears), a replicant expires in soft, gentle snow. Finally, at last: a Perry Como Christmas special for cyborgs.
But look who’s back! Harrison Ford! Age becomes him. No, age is him. The crags sag, the voice is blunter than ever, the nuances growl and explode. But his Deckard has a ravaged poignancy that upstages Gosling, who remains a sullen Hamlet looking for a script (or a styling comb). The central limitation of this almost interminable saga – spiced with hip plugs for Kafka, Nabokov, Tchaikovsky, Elvis and Sinatra – is that we welcome dear old Deckard while caring little for K. How do you hug a guy whose full name is KD6-3.7?
SALAD (A List)
Harrison Ford’s Ten Best Efforts, starting from the top:
1. Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive (1993), 2. Rick Deckard in Blade Runner (1982), 3. John Book in Witness (1985), 4. Jack Trainer in Working Girl (1988), 5. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981), 6. Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast (1986), 7. Han Solo in Star Wars (1977), 8. Deckard in Blade Runner 2049 (2017), 9. Jack Ryan in Clear and Present Danger (1994) and 10. Bob Falfa in American Graffiti (1973).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
A bias against Orson Welles, before the Hearst attacks on Citizen Kane, began showing itself with the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast and its “panic”: “For a decade, newspapers had gradually lost ground to radio in both ad revenue and timely reporting, owing precisely to the innovation of flash news bulletins of the type Welles dramatized in War of the Worlds. Among old-school newsmen there was a distinct ‘anti-radio’ sentiment (which) in turn lent an anti-Orson slant to the press coverage. Welles recalled: ‘Editorials ranted about how irresponsible CBS and Welles were, insisting that I would never be offered another job in show business, and how lucky I was not to be in jail … they assured their readers that newspapers would never sink to such reckless disregard for the public’s welfare.” (From Patrick McGilligan’s invaluable Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path of Citizen Kane.)
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“No young star entered the 21st century from a better starting block than Matthew McConaughey. He had the best male star-bod since Paul Newman; the structural definition of Gregory Peck; film’s finest flash-smile since Jack Nicholson; the most confident entry role since Cagney and Gable, and a voice with the rooted American appeal of John Wayne. Add the virtues of absence: not agingly boyish like Tom Cruise; not a middleweight McQueen like Brad Pitt; not macho-stolid like Matt Damon; not fetchingly fey like Johnny Depp; not a goofball like Nicholas Cage; not a beef buffet like Channing Tatum, and not a red-carpet totem like George Clooney. Here was the best Texan for movies since Tommy Lee Jones, and far more likeable.” (From the Matthew McConaughey/Dallas Buyers Club chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)
DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
Rutger Hauer’s deathless (though dying) role, as replicant Roy Batty in the original Blade Runner (Warner Bros. 1982; director Ridley Scott, cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth).