MOVIE BUFF-ET: Gosling adds heart to sterile world of ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Warner Bros. Pictures

Full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Ridley Scott’s original “Blade Runner,” not the original 1982 cut that features narration by Harrison Ford’s character Rick Deckard or Scott’s final cut that runs without the narration, which many fans prefer.

I’m just not a big fan of dystopian or post-apocalyptic science fiction in general. I’m generally a more hopeful sort. Give me the relatively utopian future depicted in the Star Trek sci-fi/adventure films over the doom and gloom that permeates most of sci-fi.

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However, I do recognize the quality of the original film, and the influence it’s exerted on cinematic science fiction since its release. The film is an outright classic, not just a cult-classic as it is often described. It’s a good movie, but just not my “cup of tea.”

That said, director Denis Villeneuve’s sequel “Blade Runner 2049” is a fine, thought-provoking movie, featuring a story with more heart than the original thanks to the performance of Ryan Gosling. Gosling bears the weight of the film on his capable shoulders. His performance makes the movie more than just another great-looking sci-fi flick.

Gosling plays K, a replicant or a bioengineered android, who works as a blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department. Blade runners hunt down and “retire” older model replicants who were outlawed after they rebelled and sought their freedom prior to the events in the original film. K is a newer, improved model of replicant, created to be more compliant to the dictates of its human masters.

The crux of the film revolves around K’s discovery that replicants can reproduce, which was believed impossible, and how that ties into his memories, which he believed were implanted, but may in fact be actual experiences. Telling much more of the plot would be giving too much away. However, K’s investigation does lead him to track down Deckard (Ford), who had disappeared following the events of Scott’s original film.

The cinematography of Roger Deakins is beautiful and the design of the film is truly a work of art. It matches up perfectly with the original film, but there are advances in the world that make sense considering 35 years have passed since the original.

Villeneuve imbues the movie with an epic scope that is entrancing, but Gosling provided the necessary heart to the film’s cold setting that made a non-fan like me care about his character’s quest for truth and meaning.

The story unrolls at a leisurely pace. The film has action, but it’s driven by K’s investigation not his fisticuffs. The movie is long, clocking in at 2 hours and 44 minutes, and that’s not including the trailers. However, the film is anything but a slog.

I think those who enjoyed the original will likely be pleased by the sequel that delves back into the world that Scott adapted from Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” and it may even give naysayers like me a reason to reconsider their thoughts about the original.

(R) 2 hr. 44 min.
Grade: B+

American Made

Universal Pictures

For Tom Cruise fans disappointed by his super-natural turn in “The Mummy,” his latest movie “American Made” might just be the palate cleaner needed to make you forget his summer folly.

Director Doug Liman crafts an entertaining film that tells the story of Barry Seal, a central figure in the Iran-Contra Affair, who ran drugs and guns out of an air strip in Mena while working as an informant for the DEA and CIA.

While dealing with historical events, Liman freely confesses his film isn’t meat to be a Seal biopic. Deadline reported that Liman described his movie as a fun lie based on a true story, during a press junket.

I’ve got no problem with a tall tale, particularly when it’s as entertaining as this film.

Cruise plays Seal as a charming and capable scoundrel, emboldened as much by his luck as his skill during his early encounters with the Medellin drug cartel of South America.

The film depicts Seal’s rise and fall in a cavalier manner with a tone that is somewhat reminiscent of “Goodfellas” and “The Big Short.” “American Made” isn’t as strong as either of those films, but the movie is an entertaining look into what was a deadly serious event that dominated the news cycle during the latter years of Ronald Reagan’s two terms as president.

Cruise makes the movie go, but he is capably supported by Domhnall Gleeson as Seal’s fictional CIA contact Monty Schafer. Gleeson plays the character as a mephistophelean tempter who appeals to Seal’s sense of adventure and his need for greed.

Sarah Wright plays Lucy, Seal’s Barbie doll-like wife, who is at first against Seal’s criminal antics until the appeal of massive wads of cash erodes her morals.

The film is a bit too flimsy to fulfill its Academy Award aspirations, but it’s an entertaining look at how greed, power, and money can subvert well-intended goals.

(R) 1 hr. 55 min.
Grade: B+

Classic Corner

House of Dracula
Monstober continues this week on Turner Classic Movies in celebration of Halloween. Dracula is the monster of the month, and on Sunday TCM is airing a trio of movies that don’t exactly fit the description of a classic.

TCM’s Val Lewton Film Schedule

7 p.m. — Cat People
8:30 p.m. —The Body Snatcher
10 p.m. — Martin Scorsese Presents Val Lewton: Man in Shadows
11:30 p.m. — I Walked with a Zombie
1 a.m. — The Seventh Victim
2:30 a.m. — Bedlam
4 a.m. — The Leopard Man
5:15 a.m. — The Ghost Ship
6:30 a.m. — Isle of the Dead

“The Return of Dracula” at 7 p.m., “House of Dracula” at 8:30 p.m., and “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” might be more at home on “Mystery Science Theater” than on a channel that purports to show the classics. But, if you can’t have spooky fun, sometimes schlocky fun isn’t always a bad substitute.

Actually, I’m somewhat interested in watching “The Return of Dracula,” not because I’m expecting it to be good, but rather because it’s a Dracula movie I haven’t seen.

The other two movies have something in common. John Carradine plays the King of the Vampires in both, which were made 21 years apart. Carradine also played Dracula in 1944’s “House of Frankenstein” and for a final time in 1979’s “Nocturna.”

“House of Dracula” debuted in 1945 when the Universal Monsters, which had been cash cows for the studio since 1931, were showing their age. To me, it’s the least entertaining of all of Universal’s monster movies.

The film not only features the Transylvanian Count but also Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man and Glenn Strange (Sam the bartender on “Gunsmoke”) as the Frankenstein’s Monster.

The plot centers around Dracula and Talbot seeking out scientist Franz Edelman (Onslow Stevens) to cure them of their fiendish maladies, but of course the plan goes awry.

As for “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula,” it’s every bit as preposterous as the title implies.

The Body Snatcher
While the Dracula-related films on Sunday are somewhat of a dud, TCM makes up for it on Tuesday by featuring the films of producer Val Lewton.

When RKO noticed Universal was raking in cash hand over monsterous fist with their horror movies, RKO execs instructed Lewton to crank out a series of low-budget horror movies to cash in on the nation’s appetite for thrills and chills. Lewton could have churned out slop, but low budget didn’t equate to low quality in his mind.

As producer/writer, Lewton teamed with directors Robert Wise, Mark Robson, and Jacques Tourneur to make a series of well-regarded, psychological thrillers and chillers that have held up better over time than the sophomoric Universal efforts that set them into motion during the same period.

TCM airs eight of Lewton’s films Tuesday evening stretching into Wednesday morning. Two I would highly recommend are “Cat People” at 7 p.m., and The Body Snatcher at 8:30 p.m.

The latter co-stars Boris Karloff in one of his better roles not involving the Frankenstein’s monster. Bela Lugosi alsomhas a supporting part in the film based on a Robert Louis Stevenson short story inspired by the real-life exploits of convicted grave robbers.

A documentary on Lewton and his films, produced and narrated by director Martin Scorsese airs at 10 p.m. followed by more Lewton films.