DEADPOOL – A MOVIE I WISH I COULD RECOMMEND

SHORT TAKE:

Airplane  meets Marvel.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Unfortunately, in all good conscience, I can not recommend this movie to anyone.

LONG TAKE:

I once heard that the definition of mixed emotions was seeing your mother-in-law go over a cliff in your new car. As I happen to be a mother-in-law I’m not especially fond of that definition though I can understand the intent of demonstrating intense conflicting emotions. I think a better one for me, as an avid fan of superhero movies, is watching Deadpool and its sequel back to back.

First off, Deadpool is not for children. Do NOT take children to see Deadpool. Fritz the Cat was an obscene animated short shown at "art" houses back in the ‘70s. Deadpool is no more for children than Fritz the Cat was. Do not take children to see Deadpool. Do not take teenagers to see Deadpool. Do I make myself clear?

Airplane, which came out in 1980 took every cliche of the disasters happening in a man made construction genre (yes, that was a thing in the ‘70's and ‘80's – Poseidon Adventure, Airport, Airport ‘75, Airport-Concorde, Towering Inferno), and played them for all they were worth – singing nuns, relationship conflicts which were resolved by the disaster, sick children being transported to a hospital, bad weather, hero with traumatic backstory. It was hilarious because it was true – all the movies capitalized on these themes and variations with predictable continuity. (FYI – The ‘90's and 2000's went after natural phenomena – Twister, Dante’s Inferno, Volcano, The Core, Armaggedon).

By the same token, Deadpool does the same thing with the superhero genre: reluctant hero, tragic love story, kids in danger, time travelers, opponents joining up to fight a common enemy, strange super powers and fighting – lots and lots of fighting. Only instead of the sanitized variety, it is quite graphic. So is the language. And the sexuality. And the nudity. And the blasphemy..

Deadpool started in the comics about a mercenary who gets cancer and is given a kind of Captain America super serum which makes him unkillable. Deadpool was never meant to take itself seriously but is the Monty Python of superhero movies. Ryan Reynolds plays the title character to the hilt.

This super… person who by his own admission is no one's idea of a hero… and by his own description is a bad guy who gets paid to kill worst guys than he is, is also very funny. He’s snarky and opinionated and comments constantly TO the audience breaking the fourth wall more than Groucho Marx did. Deadpool has much to commend it. It is well-acted, cleverly written, and has many admirable themes.

On the other hand – and here I’m beginning to feel like the conflicted Jewish patriarch, Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof – it is gratuitously gory with humans "splating" onto billboards and heads being chopped off. It is extremely sexual with but a paper thin line between some of the scenes and what used to be considered an "X" rating. It is profane in the worst way, sporting every way to insult God and the human body that the imagination can provide.

BUT…… while I was genuinely shocked at the level of sexual activity, profanity, and graphic violence in both the first Deadpool origin story and this sequel it is hard to hate a movie which is so very self-aware that even the credits include such titles as Moody Teenager, CGI Character, and Overpaid Tool. Ergo my dilemma.

Deadpool makes fun of everything, including itself, from Basic Instinct to the most recent Avengers movie of which it is almost in the same universe, both franchises being Marvel.

I always try to judge movies based upon their genre and intent so want to be fair to Deadpool, especially keeping in mind that Deadpool has never advertised itself as anything except an adult parody of superhero movies.

I cannot help but think of the Biblical parable of the two sons, one of whom is disobedient despite his initial verbal assurances and the other who says he will not do his father's will but then goes and does it anyway. Deadpool is the latter.

For example, although the sexuality in the Deadpool origin story is fairly graphic, it is between two people who are monogamous and fully intend to be married, have children, and start a family. This, frankly, is far healthier then your average James Bond movie where the sexual relationships are less visually intense but extremely casual, polygamous, and intended to be very short-term. 

I was genuinely offended by the blasphemous language, yet the actions of those same characters were often Christian – self-sacrificing, demonstrating mercy, seeking to help others to redemption, and aimed at protecting children from those who would take advantage of them, even when those children posed a danger to the heroes trying to save them, which is a whole lot more than I can say for more "acclaimed" movies like Blockers and Call Me By Your Name which tried to push pedophilia into the mainstream.

While I was offended by implications insulting to the Church – such as the headmaster at an abusive school using Bible quotes to justify his actions, or Deadpool, the character, casually comparing himself to Jesus – Deadpool, the movie, never seriously calls the existence of God or Jesus into question as movies like the Dan Brown series do. As a matter of fact, there is a moment when Deadpool is asked if there had ever been someone who was 100% altruistic and he replies "Jesus Christ". It goes by very fast and I had to have it pointed out to me, but that’s a lot more respect than movies like Dogma or Angels and Demons has for the Church.

While it is faint praise to say a movie is not terrible because of what it does not do, Deadpool also has the positive attributes of actively exercising the virtues of self-sacrifice, mercy, family, and marriage.

I can stand the violence as it's mostly cartoonish, I can even wince past most of the sexuality as it's between two consenting adults who intend not only to get married but to have children. However, what I found most offensive was the frequent verbal and referential blasphemies throughout. Sadly, this was the point at which Tevye would have had to have said, "No, there is no other hand."

So for all of its virtues, there is too much, if you’ll excuse the pun, DEAD weight on the other side of the scale for me to me give it a recommendation, even for the older crowd.

THE WEEK OF – A CRASS ADAM SANDLER MOVIE WITH A GEM AT ITS HEART

SHORT TAKE:

Adam Sandler semi-slapstick about a working-stiff middle class Dad trying to provide the kind of wedding for his daughter which will impress the family of his wealthy son-in-law to be.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Only for adults and then only for those who do not take offense at tasteless humor, raunchy sight gags, strippers, or bad language.

LONG TAKE:

The pickings were very thin this week at the movie theater so I decided to think outside the box and try a Netflix original.

There's an old Jewish folk tale called "It Could Always be Worse" wherein a poor farmer, grieved that his house was too small and his pantry too bare, seeks advice from his Rabbi. The Rabbi advises him to invite his lazy brother to come visit and open his house to his obnoxious neighbors and demanding friends. Reluctantly the farmer went home and told his wife, who, desperate to cheer her husband up, agreed. Soon every room in the house was taken up with noisy people who raided their pantry and slept in their beds and on their sofas and sprawled on their floor. Soon losing his mind the farmer returned to the Rabbi.

This time the Rabbi shocked the farmer by advising he bring all of his animals into the house as well – the chickens, the goats, the cow, the family dog, and all the cats. Soon even the obnoxious neighbors were complaining about the crowding and having their toes stepped on by cow hooves, the mooing and the barking in the middle of the night, and the smell.

After a full week the farmer was at his wits end and more miserable than he was before. Angrily, the farmer returned to the Rabbi who simply smiled and said now go throw everyone and everything out. Send your neighbors back to their own homes, kick your brother out, and put the animals back in the barn.

After sweeping up behind all of their departed guests the farmer and his wife discovered, much to their astonishment, how much bigger their house was, and how much more food they had.

At the height of the Rabbi's lesson for the farmer, while the house was full of neighbors and relatives and animals, Kirby, the visiting father of the groom, in the movie The Week Of, would have noticed little difference between staying at the farmer's house or staying at the home of Kenny, the father of the bride.

SPOILERS

In the premise of The Week Of, Kenny, played by Adam Sandler, is a working stiff who makes a very modest living bringing dilapidated hotels up to passing health inspector levels. Despite his limited resources, he is determined to pay for his oldest daughter's wedding without the proffered help of the much wealthier Kirby, played by Chris Rock.

Unable to provide adequate housing for the multitude of guests and finding the hotel completely unsuitable despite his best efforts, many of the relatives on both sides end up staying at his modest-sized home. Amongst the participants are Seymour (Jim Barone – a real double amputee) his uncle, Noah his emotionally fragile cousin fresh out of rehab, Charles (Steve Buscemi) his raunchy cousin, loud obnoxious elderly deaf ladies and the monster sized German Shepherd owned by one of his visiting kin.

I normally do not watch this kind of movie and likely would have turned it off had I not been planning to review it. So watching to the end, imagine my shock to discover a tiny gem buried in the bottom of this pond full of less than subtle sex jokes and caricatures.

In classic Adam Sandler comic style, there's something to offend everyone. Sandler and Robert Smigel, the screenwriters, make fun of Jewish culture, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, and the elderly. It's hard to tell which is more cringey, the often crude and tasteless jokes or the fact that Chris Rock plays a straight man and is old enough to be someone who has a groom-aged son. But somehow, The Week Of still manages to make all these characters approachable, even likeable, giving each moments that makes them relatable and human. Part of it, I think, is that even though the situations make fun of these vulnerable and sometimes inherently ridiculous people, Adam Sandler's Kenny treats them all with genuine affection and respect.

At different points in the movie, Kenny, literally, carries his legless Uncle Seymour around. Kenny never acts as though it is a burden. And this becomes an interesting analogy for the entire movie. Despite Kenny’s lack of financial resources, despite his pride, and despite his occasionally bad judgment, everyone looks to Kenny whenever there is a problem. He is the one with the heart to usually do what he genuinely believes is the right thing for his family, has the cleverness to get it accomplished, and the determination to see it through to the end no matter how ridiculous some of the plans are. It eventually becomes obvious that it is not just Seymour he cheerfully carries on his willing back.

In a side note, despite the fact the story pivots around an interracial marriage, absolutely NO references are made to this, cliche or otherwise, and refreshingly, race is the ONLY thing about which Sandler does not shark up a cheap laugh. The race of the two families ends up merely being a convenience for the audience to help keep track of which of the dozens of characters are likely to be from which side of which family – like wearing different jerseys at a sports event or using shirts versus skins at a pickup game of basketball.

Chris Rock's character, Kirby, is an extremely successful cardiac surgeon who lives out of very swanky hotels with a succession of mistresses. Kenny on the other hand has three kids who he adores and dotes on, but for whom he can provide "only" a middle-class lifestyle. Kirby's life is reflected in the swanky hotels he stays in, his clean, quiet, organized, unencumbered, glass and steel life without distractions. Kirby's life, on the other hand, is cluttered, messy, noisy, and full of humanity, conversation, hugs, arguments, interactions and affection.

Kenny is always there, always in the mix, always doing his best and keeping a calm, optimistic perspective on even the wildest moments. So – despite all of the epic fails in Kenny's attempts to provide for his daughter's wedding, despite: the leaky ballroom, the poor choice of a magician to entertain the guests, using his 11 year old nephew as a wedding reception DJ, feeling shown up by the sumptuous wedding rehearsal dinner provided by Kirby, the crude bachelor party at a stripper trampoline exhibit, the death of one of the guests and a fire – it is Kirby who ultimately feels both overwhelmed and outclassed by the modestly resourced Kenny.

In one example, representatives of both families meet at the emergency room as a result (trying not to spoil TOO much) of one of the "high jinx". Tyler (Roland Burch, III), the groom, feels responsible and Kenny explains to him how the outcome would have been worse had the group not done what they did, then embraces him comfortingly. Kirby can be seen in the background watching this exchange, and in a lovely but easily missed moment, Kirby realizes he is the outsider – that his son sought advice naturally and first, not from him, but from his future father-in-law, who seems to understand how everyone ticks.

In a funny repeat motiff, whenever Kenny and his wife Sarah (Allison Strong, who played a very strange secretary in another and similarly themed Sandler movie, Click) disagree, both put on a happy face, retreat to their bedroom and audibly yell at each other, believing no one can hear them. One of the cousins asks one of Kenny’s younger children if they are getting a divorce. With the exhausted confidence that every child should have in their parents' marriage, he says, "They NEVER do."

The wealthy Kirby ends up: sleeping on the floor, suffering the indignities of living with about 50 strangers at Kenny's house, being made fun of during a Parcheesi game in Kenny's asbestos infected basement, and is conscripted to help catch bats in one of Kenny's crazy plans to save face. Kirby as a result, comes to understand that the sum of all this lunacy is a close-knit family that will suffer through and with each other because of a love based on a lifetime of intimacy. Kirby threw money at every problem his family encountered. Kenny throws himself into the line of fire whenever someone in his family needed him.

Kirby comes to realize that Kenny is indeed the much richer man. Realizing what a bad father and poor husband he has been Kirby apologizes to his ex-wife, begins to make amends with his children for his neglect, and looks forward to spending real time with his grandchildren. It’s a little like Mary Poppins for the Zohan crowd.

And meanwhile all this is set against some appropriately chosen Billy Joel songs. The ending genuinely had me choked up, and not just because I was sick to death of all the bad jokes. I can forgive a lot in a movie if it makes a good end. And I have to say that in spite of the raunchy humor, the borderline offensive caricatures, and the repetitive visual jokes – for the sake of the movie’s final couple of scenes ….. all is forgiven.

 

 

 

LIKE ARROWS: THE ART OF PARENTING – 50 YEARS OF REAL ROMANCE

SHORT TAKE:

Another family-endorsing, Christian-centered, Kendrick Brothers movie – this time following 50 years of one couple's epic parenting journey.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone and everyone.

LONG TAKE:

Since 2003 Stephen and Alex Kendrick have focused their careers on making intelligent, funny, engaging, spiritually uplifting, eccumenically Christian themed movies which have jumped the chasm between "religious" movies and mainstream cinema to become an integral part of our popular culture.

Their first, Flywheel, was a modern day Zacharias story about a used car salesman, originally intended only as a learning tool for the Kendrick Brothers' congregation at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Flywheel's astonishing success funded the next Kendrick movie, Facing the Giants in 2006, about a high school coach challenged with crises of family, career, and faith. Facing the Giants has the Death Crawl scene, five of the most inspirational minutes on sports "celluloid" I have ever watched. Fireproof in 2008, starring former child star Kirk Cameron, was next, about a fireman trying to rebuild his almost shattered marriage. Courageous, in 2011, is their masterpiece, about four policeman and a civilian friend who confront their shortcomings as fathers. 2015 saw War Room about a marriage shuddering under the weight of deceit. This year the Kendricks bring usLike Arrows: The Art of Parenting.

As overtly Christian themed and occasionally, what mainstream audiences consider, "preachy" movies, these often fall through the cracks of the average movie goers attention. That is a shame because these movies are funnier, warmer, savvier, more clever, more insightful, and will leave you feeling far more satisfied than most of the movies that get a lot of popular "love".

Movies like Titanic and The Notebook get a lot of publicity and huge budgets but they are shallow views of relationships which never get beyond the infatuation stage, rarely include children, and never deal with dirty diapers, resolving petty spousal fights, money issues or any of the other million challenges which face couples on a daily basis. Like Arrows presents a more realistic view of a marriage with far more depth, examining a relationship that endures in true heroic fashion with love, and describes a romance that perseveres for 50 years DESPITE dealing with family estrangements, money problems, career strains, and ……..catastrophically dirty diapers.

In Like Arrows, Charlie (Alan Powell) and Alice (Micah Hanson) are a cute young dating couple. A terrified Alice surprises Charlie with the news that she is unexpectedly pregnant. Charlie "mans up" and the rest of the movie follows them through five decades of marriage and parenting four children. For most of the movie Powell and Hanson are aged. But in the later scenes the elderly couple is portrayed by Garry Nation and Elizabeth Becka. I met Mr. Nation at a Christian Film Festival in connection with his starring role in Polycarp.  He is as gracious and patient off screen as his character is on.

Charlie and Alice’s family will seem very familiar. They are ordinary people who work hard and strive to do their best. But ultimately they discover their best is woefully insufficient to raise morally strong and family connected children without God at the center of their lives.

Again Charlie "mans up," takes responsibility for the family direction and leads them to a more spiritually fulfilling way of life, including spending more quantity (not just a little "quality") time with their kids, at church and in prayer.

The acting is good, the writing natural, often funny and occasionally even profound – Charlie’s best friend Kenneth (Joseph Callender) offers a disillusioned and tired Charlie advice on parenting: "The days are long but the years are short."

The title, Like Arrows, comes from Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children…." They are, as Mr. Kendrick explains, the messages parents send into the future. And, as the movie demonstrates, parents have an unshirkable, irreplaceable responsibility to be sure those arrows are strong and well guided enough to get to their intended destination and that resilience and confidence can best be crafted by working with the Hands of God.

Like Arrows is also the launching point for the new website 

which offers free seminars, sessions and classes on parenting. I’ve checked the website out and while it is a little awkward to maneuver through it is worth the effort. Video sessions are about 6 minutes long and could be done on a daily basis. Registration and access are FREE.

A lot of advice they give would have been considered common sense in previous generations but given the family-hostile culture in which we find ourselves today, the concepts of self and child discipline, lifetime committed marriages, spousal faithfulness, church attendance, prayer, and supervision of one’s child can be innovative life saving ideas to younger couples.

So endorse and encourage these family affirming films by going to see them. Check out Like Arrows where and when available or get it on DVD. Show your kids – likely future parents themselves, inform other young couples with this movie, show friends. Enjoy a 50 year love story with far more substance to it than popular infatuation stories which talk a good game and are fluffy fun to watch but are really only the cotton candy filler that substitutes for the true meat and potatoes commitment demonstrated in movies such as Like Arrows.

BISHOP BARRON: A QUIET PLACE – MODERN BOOK OF REVELATION

While my review of A Quiet Place focused on the monsters as allegory for all of the evils from which we, as parents, try desperately to protect our children, Bishop Barron, in breathtaking insightfulness recognizes the allegory of Revelation used by the Polish/Irish Catholic raised Krasinski to structure the story.

PLEASE READ BISHOP BARRON'S FAR SUPERIOR REVIEW:

(PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT THERE ARE A LOT OF MAJOR SPOILERS IN BISHOP BARRON'S REVIEW)

BISHOP BARRON'S REVIEW OF A QUIET PLACE

BLACK PANTHER – GOOD BUT FLAWED

 

SHORT TAKE

A solid entry to the Avengers universe and enhanced by the sterling performance of Chad Boseman as Black Panther, though handicapped by mistakes made by other sci-fi franchises.

WHO SHOULD GO: Family friendly with cartoon violence, no sexual activity, a few minor profanities, but has very loud music and special effects sounds.

CHECK OUT DETAILED AND SPECIFIC CONTENT STATISTICS AT SCREENIT.COM.

LONG TAKE

It is unfortunate that there has been SO much hype leading up to the release of Black Panther. For one thing there is no way any movie could possibly live up to everyone's world wide expectations. For another it leaves no room for analysis. Before anyone gets their panties in a wad, let me go on record as saying I liked Black Panther. I have been a big fan and advocate of Chad Boseman since I saw him in Marshall and I think the Black Panther character will be an excellent addition to the Avengers franchise.

That being said let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a British  actress comedian named Jennifer Saunders. She and Dawn French were staple comedians in the 1980's and by 1992 Saunders and the replacement co-star for French, Joanna Lumley, were able to parley a 14 minute1990 skit into a 6 year BBC show called Absolutely Fabulous. However, as my son has pointed out about the Roman Empire, in her victory was her downfall. By the early 2000's she had become so popular no one wanted to criticize her and her comedy had become so strident, bitter and redundant she lost  the audience she had worked so hard to gain. But during this fall she had so much clout no one had the nerve to tell her she was making mistakes. So the Emperor – or the Empress in this case – continued to wear "invisible" clothes and no one dared say she was naked.

Raise your hand if anyone reading this has even heard of Jennifer Saunders. Point made. Saunders became so successful that everyone thought it prudent to keep what should have been helpful and constructive criticism to themselves.

And so, I fear, it could go with Black Panther if reviewers are not honest and thoughtful. There has been so much wildly anticipated excitement about the “first” black super hero – everyone seeming to forget collectively the awesome Idris Elba’s Heimdall from the Thor franchise – that no one wants to take an objective look at it.

Don’t get me wrong – it is a welcome addition into the superhero universe, but it isn’t perfect. While there is much to commend it, it suffers from weaknesses other similar movies have had.

SPOILER WARNING

I want to lead this review by saying that the plot was very good. When contemplating the premise – that Wakanda is a secret kingdom flourishing in impoverished Africa – one might reasonably wonder why the beneficent leaders did not work to improve the plight of their desperately poor and suffering countrymen over the last several hundred years. The compelling theme of Black Panther examines why clandestine African Wakanda withholds aid from other Africans while the rest of the world donates billions in food and medical supplies? FYI the pictures of suffering Africa are not from the movie but real photos.

Does one keep such high tech secrets from the rest of the world or risk exposure and possible plunder in an effort to bring aid to others? And if one DOES decide to reveal the Wakandan advancements to the outside world should it be under the flag of conquest or compassion? Do the Wakandans emerge into the rest of the universe as prideful aggressors or humble aid workers?

This is the struggle which is personified  between T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) the rightful king successor to his father, murdered during Captain America: Civil War, who longs for peace, and his opponent/cousin Eric Killmonger (Michael Jordan) who hungers, like the Biblical Ishmael, to use these wonders to make war against the entire world.

And it would make an interesting sequel to explore the fall out from the Wakandan neighbors when it is discovered that much of the death, disease and starvation of their fellow Africans could have been ameliorated by a watching but silent Wakanda.

I think Chad Boseman is great. He is a joy to watch and can effortlessly generate chemistry with any actor he works with whether he is King of a futuristic African nation or a cortexaphan subject with powers to control energy in Fringe or Thurgood Marshall. Not bad for a fellow southerner. (Boseman is from South Carolina.) Like Michael Caine, Meryl Streep or Bruce Willis he brings a natural ease to his characters which makes him likeable and three dimensional. And yes, I know – Willis is not in the same league as Caine or Streep. Willis is a one note actor who plays the same person in every movie he is in with variations. But it’s easy to enjoy that one character and Willis does it extremely well. In addition, Willis creates that wonderfully comfortable ebb and flow with his fellow performers which Caine and Streep also manage that make it fun to watch them in whatever they are in. You don’t have to be a brilliant actor to be one who can create good chemistry with their fellow actors. And by the other side of the same coin, even some brilliant actors can not manage it – like Lawrence Olivier who was gifted but stiff…….but I digress.

 I want Black Panther with Boseman to be a successful franchise. And when the dust has settled down from the novelty of this movie there needs to be some close examination of its flaws if it is to do better than the first stabs at Spiderman or Hulk.

First  – if you have to do five minutes of blunt exposition just to bring your audience up to speed before the first scene of the movie, then you’re not being very clever with your story telling. This is the same weakness in Thor: The Dark World. Lengthy exposition marred the beginning of Dark World and helped relegate it to the weakest of the Thor outings and Black Panther makes the same mistake.

Second –  it is about 45 minutes too long. Some of that is due to the excessive emphasis on showcasing Wakanda and the tribal costumes, dances, accessories and artifacts. One is reminded of the first Star Trek movie where there were nerdgasms over the extensively long and loving fly over of the Enterprise  as well as extremely long sequences of the planet-sized V’ger. In an effort to overwhelm the audience with the splendor of both the flagshp and the opposing mechanical nemesis, the result, in 1979's Star Trek,  was ultimately the opposite and did not age well, weighing that first Star Trek movie down to one of the lesser ranked installments. There is only so much build up and pay off of the same material you can sit through until, like surfing a wave which eventually crests, after a while you wonder when the ride will be over.

Similarly, there is too much dependence on the “wow” effect of Wakanda and repeated recurrences of the character-citizens commenting about how beautiful it is, how much they longed for another view of it, how much they missed it – all followed up by multiple extended views of it.

    The presentation of the African color and lore and costumes, tatoos and plates in distended lips, ancient impractical traditional garb and spirit walks get to be so much that after a while it becomes at risk of being a parody of itself. It is understandable that the film makers wanted to take full effect of their first opportunity to demonstrate and showcase this new universe, but, as Donald O’Conner once said – you should always leave the audience wanting more. Instead the writers of Black Panther went at the movie like an excited child who tries to tell of an adventure in one breath as though afraid people will stop paying attention before he gets to the end.

Another problem with the length is the same flaw found in the Man of Steel – too much fighting. There are two lengthy hand to hand combat scenes, one very exciting car chase, as well as battles royale (literally) between the two princes, along with various and sundry skirmishes, an aerial combat and the final confrontation between the two opponents on a magnetic monorail. There are high tech spaceships shooting tasers and cables, power staffs, Bullet/ French Connection quality car chases, Spiderman quality leaping and jumping during the car chases, photon firing artificial arms, and – I kid you not – vibranium armoured rhinoceroses. While all super cool it was just…too…much for one movie. 

The writer and director should have had the confidence in their story to not bury it under so much of what Bishop Barron refers to as “whiz bang”.

Third – there were unnecessary incongruities in the Wakandan kingdom. While their labs, travel modes and medical facilities would rival those at Star Bases, their exchange of goods took place routinely in outdoor marketplaces wound through with dusty dirty streets. This didn’t make sense.

And the uniforms of the Amazonian guardswomen were too culturally reflective of Africa to be practical. All this high tech and the best they could do was sticks with a sonic boom effect? Now to be fair the island from which Wonder Woman emerged was similar in its cultural armament impracticalities and Asgard of the Thor franchise also had an odd juxtaposition of high tech and ancient (in that case medieval) trappings. But both Wonder Woman and Asgard were alien cultures, and both based in familiar Earth mythologies, so can be given a wider range in suspension of belief and peculiar behaviors and traditions. But Africa in general and Wakanda in particular are right here on Earth so can’t get that much leeway.

Fourth – Thor, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, for example are based respectively on established: Norse myth, the Greek Amazons and the Roman god of the sea Poseidon, all of which date back thousands of years and are part of the shared cultural background noise. So when origin stories are concocted using them as foundations it is an easy bridge into that world. There is no corresponding panther myth that I could find in Africa outside of the Black Panther comics which came upon the scene only about 50 years ago in 1966. The only established mythology I could find in Africa revolved around reptiles. So unless you are a serious comic book afficiando you wouldn't have known what they were talking about in Black Panther without exposition. But the writer, instead of weaving the background into the warp and woof of the story inelegantly chose to dump the entire story on the audience's head like — well — Thor's Hammer.

All that being said Black Panther is a fun though flawed adventure. I look forward to future installments and hope the film makers will gain confidence from the warm open armed reception they have received from the wider movie going audience and do a better job with the next one. Otherwise Black Panther will not age well or inspire longevity for the franchise – and that would be a shame.

LADY BIRD – TO ANYONE WHO KNOWS A TEENAGED GIRL – A VERY FAMILIAR AND FUNNY CHARACTER

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF LADYBIRD REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

A very familiar and funny story abut the growing pains of a teenaged girl having to face the prospect of adulthood and  her family which must endure the process with her.

LONG TAKE:

My oldest son pointed out to me that the Chinese symbol for war is two women under a single roof. He would know that because he has four sisters and a mother. And one might keep that in mind when watching Lady Bird.

Lady Bird tells the story of a girl (Saoirse Ronan) in her last year of high school who doesn’t know what she wants. All she knows is that she does not want to be associated with her modest middle-class family or life in her hometown of Sacramento. She even rejects her providentially chosen given name Christine, inexplicably preferring the appellation of Lady Bird. Her father, Larry, (playwright Tracy Letts) is kind and sensitive and tries to help her but is older and kind of beaten down by life. Her mother, Marion, (Laurie Metcalf from The Big Bang Theory as Sheldon’ mother and the voice of the Mom in the Toy Story franchise), and she are too much alike to be close. They try but it always ends up in acrimony. They cry at the same things and they spend time with each other, but their relationship is like a mosquito bite, they can’t seem to keep from scratching at it until it bleeds.

One example: they are shopping for a prom dress for Lady Bird at a discount store. Lady Bird finds what she thinks is the perfect dress. Marion can’t help herself but says: “Don’t you think it’s too pink?” setting Lady Bird off. Additionally, Marion is constantly plagued by money worries and she sometimes takes it out in acrimonious comments to her immature daughter. Example: Lady Bird can’t wait to come home and tell her parents about her first kiss but when she arrives all bubbly enthusiasm, Marion, while not quite going full boar Joan Crawford/Mommy Dearest on her, mercilessly rags on her for not putting her clothes away “properly”.

Conversely, Lady Bird, herself, is a big bag of dissatisfaction and teenage angst who longs for the material world, to the point where she thoughtlessly hurts others by what she says. For example: Lady Bird tells her new wealthy boyfriend that she comes from “the wrong side of the tracks,” which the beau artlessly elaborates on when he first meets Lady Bird’s parents, noting with some enthusiasm that he really DID have to cross railroad tracks to get to their house!

The father, Larry, an understanding soul, tries to explain to Lady Bird that she and her mother have very strong personalities. Being a sister, a daughter, and the mother of four daughters, I can tell you the interactions and dialogue are spot-on.

The parents, while not Catholic, fear for her safety and have sacrificed significantly to send Lady Bird to a Catholic School. The school is populated by beautifully and humanely portrayed nuns and priests who are at turns wise and endearingly funny.

The staff of the school meets occasionally with Lady Bird to give her advice and in a charming scene which reminds me of the old Hayley Mills-Rosalind Russell movie The Trouble with Angels, the Mother Superior (Lois Smith) even “confesses” her amusement at some of Lady Bird’s antics.

Another time when an older priest (lovingly portrayed by Stephen Henderson) has to take medical leave from his position as head of the Theatre Department, another priest, (played by Bob Stephenson), the school football coach, takes over. The resulting pep talk with the kids as he explains his plan of organization for directing The Tempest is priceless.

Unlike Juno, which involved an illegitimate mother, or Pretty in Pink, which culminated at a long anticipated school dance or Rebel Without a Cause, which finds its watershed moment of truth in tragedy and death, there is no real catastrophic or milepost moment in Lady Bird. Instead, we watch as Lady Bird slowly matures through her senior year from self-absorbed, conflicted angsty brat into an uneasy but promising adulthood. Not to give any spoilers, but rest assured there is closure to the story and a complete arc. But the significance is not so much in the finish line as the observation of her journey and the companions with whom the trip is taken which is most interesting.

 The Catholic Church and the religious who occupy it are refreshingly shown in a very positive, supportive, kind and wise light. Lady Bird is even at times gently framed in shots by crosses and pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe – not overtly but in fortuitous natural background.

Bishop Barron in his Word on Fire podcasts often reviews movies. I find him extremely insightful. One of the comments he makes about Lady Bird is that he suspects even the Saints might have had troubled or stressful youth and teenage years. And that it is necessary, especially for a strong-willed character, to go through these difficult antagonistic stages before they can become the people that we know. In other words, even Saint Peter, Saint Augustine, Mother Teresa and even St. Pope John-Paul II may have been pains in the butt as teenagers as most people are. But that God worked with and through those weaknesses and foibles to mold them into the brilliantly spiritual people they would become. And He will do the same with us if we give Him a chance. And that the writer/director, Greta Gerwig may have been showing us what she perceives as the undeveloped beginnings of such an embryo saint, even if she herself was not aware of it.

Lady Bird has garnered a number of awards, including best comedy for writer-director Greta Gerwig and best actress in a comedy for Saoirse Ronan. Every allocade it gets it will have earned.

Cautionary note: there are a few harsh profanities, though not the avalanche that can sometimes accompany films aimed at this demographic. In addition, there are subjects and at least two scenes I would not have wanted to explain to my 15 year old daughter. As a date movie I wouldn’t recommend it for your first.

There is great charm and insight into these obviously well loved characters created by Ms. Gerwig. And much to be learned and appreciated in this textbook example of the Chinese symbol for war, ironically made into a love letter for the turbulent teen everyone must pass through to adulthood.

PADDINGTON 2 – ADORABLE STAND ALONE BEAR OF A STORY

SHORT TAKE:

Family friendly stand alone continuing adventure of an anthropomorphized bear living in London who lives by the motto: "If we're kind and polite the world will be right".

LONG TAKE:

I knew nothing about the Paddington stories going in to see this sequel with my son-in-law and grandsons. I have not even seen the first Paddington movie. I was immediately charmed by the gentle, naive kindness of the titled bear and his adoptive human family, including Julie Waters (Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), and Hugh Bonneville (from Downton Abbey).

Paddington is voiced by Ben Whishaw (Q from the rebooted James Bond) who brings a lovely ingenuous confidence to the little talking ursine creature. Paddington is now a beloved integral part of his community who performs small kindnesses as a matter of course throughout the movie: cleaning a grouchy neighbor's windows gratis which affords the neighbor the notice of a lovely woman; reminding an absentminded neighbor to remember his keys before his door shuts on him; making lunch for a friend. Through these seemingly insignificant acts of random kindness Paddington manages  to help knit these otherwise at-odds neighbors into a community of friends. And this, I think, is the point of the movie. The rest is just McGuffins and window dressing to demonstrate the importance of the small actions which can mean so much to those around you.

I am reminded of St. Theresa of Liseux' book on the philosophy of The Little Way. That one does not need to be a celebrity or build a cathedral or die in a gladiatorial ring in order to become a saint. That for most of us, who are blessed with never being called to such sacrifices, it is our calling to offer all the little opportunities that come our way as the path to sainthood: opening a door for a stranger, smiling to the curmudgeon even when it seems they do not appreciate your offer of friendship, enduring with patience the unexpected suffering that does come your way…like being sentenced to prison for 10 years for a theft you tried to stop, not commit.

Such is the set up for this Paddington story. Paddington wishes to give his beloved Aunt Lucy a special birthday gift. So he goes to the eccentric and slightly dotty but goodhearted Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent of Moulin Rouge and Slughorn of the Harry Potter franchise). He decides on a rare but expensive book which he strives to earn through odd jobs but which is soon stolen by the unctous and self-absorbed Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, who creates the most amusingly horrible egotist since Kenneth Branagh's Lockhart in Harry Potter.) Paddington is accused of the crime and sentenced to prison where he befriends, again through small kindnesses, some of the inmates. (Don't try this at home kids – cute in a story but…..) His fellow prisoners include: Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody AGAIN from Harry Potter), and Noah Taylor (the Dad from Charlie and the Chocolate factory).  Rounding out the cast is Tom Conti (veteran comedian of a number of quirky British comedies including Reuben, Reuben and Saving Grace) as a grouchy judge with a grudge against the occasionally hapless bear, Michael Gambon as the narrator (the replacement Professor Dumbledore from…you guessed it, Harry Potter), and Peter Capaldi (the last male Dr. Who before Jody Whittaker) who has the unenviable task of being the only member of the community to take an instant dislike to our little furry friend.

Paddington's human family continues to believe in Paddington's innocence and the balance of the movie spends its time digging up evidence to free him. It's funny, charming, innocent fun and shows the benefits of striving to be….polite and kind – along with courageous, loyal, honest, steadfast, optimistic, hard working, and just plain nice.

I, my son-in-law, both of my grandsons, and the many other children in the theater and their parents, enjoyed the movie thoroughly. Don't feel like you need to even see the first one. Paddington the second is well worth your time and, I am even inspired to paraphrase a quote from my all time favorite movie – It's a Wonderful Life: "Each bear's life touches so many other lives," and when he isn't around the community of friends he has created will rally to help him, which, in itself, is a brilliant virtue to watch enacted with humor and affection for their source material.

It's quite nice to see a movie which everyone in the family can enjoy.

FERDINAND – THE BULL IS NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO WAS CONFUSED

SHORT TAKE:

Ferdinand has a poorly thought out plot based upon the charming 1936 kids' book The Story of Ferdinand, of a gentle bull who would rather smell flowers than fight. John Cena does a fine job bringing the main character to life but his charming portrayal is buried under lazy writing, unappealing side characters, and an inconsistent universe.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Little kids will get a kick out of it but it will quickly fatigue the older siblings and the attending parents who bring them.

LONG TAKE:

Every animated movie works within its own universe. For example in Snow White the animals acted like animals – kind of in tune with the leading lady but behaved much like the furry critters you or I might run into.

In Bambi or Finding Nemo the animals were again confined to animal limitations but the story was seen from their POV so we, the audience, could understand what they were saying and their mental capabilities were anthropomorphized.

Mickey Mouse, however, was an entirely different perspective. He stands up straight, wears clothes, speaks and actually has a pet. He and his friends are, basically, humans who look like animals. They drive cars, have opposable digits, live in human styled homes and speak the Queen's English.

Bugs Bunny is, again, another species. These guys are animals – they are hunted and it would not be considered murder – by Elmer Fudd (that is if he could ever catch the loveably infamous bunny). Bugs lives in a hole in the ground which he has dug, though it has rugs and chairs. Bugs not only speaks and walks on his back legs, wears clothes when the occasion demands it – though he usually sports only his "natural" fur – but he outsmarts every human that appears on the scene, plays a ukulele, makes snarky comments, coins witticisms and can do things nothing on Earth can. He can tunnel through the Earth at breathtaking speed, and survive falls and impacts which in a more realistically created world no living creature would survive. His movements can be unnaturally fast when the need arises at a speed Superman would admire – changing clothes, moving from one place to another, conjuring any number of Acme items to fit the needs of the moment – in seconds. In short, come to think of it – Bugs is not just ANTHROPOmorphized. Bugs is SUPERANTHROPOmorphized. In other words, Bugs is a creature not just given HUMAN attributes but envisioned with SUPERhuman attributes. Bugs is Superman and Harry Potter wrapped up in a fuzzy New York accented bunny rabbit suited con man.

All these worlds are very different from each other. And aside from the outliers, like Pluto in the Disney world – who acts like a regular normal, though unusually intelligent, dog, despite the fact Goofy is also a dog but anthropomorphized – these worlds generally do not merge.

I am a science fiction fan and am willing to accept all manner of outrageous premises…….IF the creators stay within the confines of the Universe they have created.

The problem with Ferdinand is that the writers couldn't decide on the parameters. It was the same problem had with The Secret Life of Pets. In both cases animals were established as normal creatures living with humans. They were assigned the normal limitations of animals supplemented by the extravagant definitions allotted through serendipitous and impossibly well timed environmental factors. They could, for example, blithely depend on perfect balance and the timely arrival of things such as clotheslines and moving girders to keep them aloft if they chose to scale down several stories of a building but they had trouble opening human doors without opposable digits, etc. BUT when Max, a terrier gets lost they come across a gangster bunny who can carve fully functional keys out of a carrot by chewing on them AND turn the key in the lock and other creatures can drive cars – completely outside the parameters of the universe they established. Finding Dory made the same mistake- by stepping outside of the rules of its universe.

And so it its with Ferdinand. Bulls and dogs and goats and hedgehogs act more or less according to their natural limits, and although we can understand them humans can not…that is until the writers paint themselves into a corner. Then suddenly critters can drive, convincingly do the hula in front of humans, and do a creative coordinated dance off including breakdancing with horses. One minute Ferdinand can not roll across a yard in imitation of a hedgehog, the next he is Moonwalking. This makes no sense.

In addition, the side characters, who in other movies so often steal the show, are off putting. The competitive German prancing horses next door act like an effeminate Nazi with his two fawning groupies. They gratuitously insult the bulls without context, purpose or wit. The goat, Lupe (Kate McKinnon), I assume is supposed to be their version of a "Dory" character – clueless but well meaning. Instead she is disgusting, creepy looking, annoying and unappealing. She drools, eats things then throws them up, attracts flies, sports two eyes that make her appear dead, has two protruding bottom teeth, and says offensive, occasionally inappropriate things.

The character of Ferdinand himself as voiced by John Cena is charming. I would love to see a sequel with this character but only with a far better script and almost none of the side characters. I did like Angus but am biased because he is voiced by my favorite Dr. Who persona – David Tennant – in full Scottish brogue.

And for all you sports fans Peyton Manning does the voice of Guapo.

In addition, the story leaves practical holes not really filled.

SPOILERS

Once Ferdinand escapes the bullring and his friends go to his home farm: HOW could a simple flower vendor feed all those enormous animals? Wouldn't the departure of his entire stock bankrupt the bull trainer? Even if Ferdinand used reward money (which we are never shown he gets so we're really spitballing here) for "defeating" the matador won't the bull trainer simply buy more bulls with it who will be doomed to the same fate Ferdinand and his friends escaped?

I know it's only a kid movie but those hanging points could have been EASILY dealt with even if only in credit sketches: the flower vendor hiring the bulls out to plow. The bull trainer turning his business into a petting zoo. I know it's just a kids' story but these loose threads were a distraction. The writers should have done SOMEthing to bring closure to this story.

In short – there's nothing really WRONG with Ferdinand. But there's not much really right with it either. Go read the book instead.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – ENCHANTING MUSICAL BASED ON THE SPIRIT OF P.T. BARNUM

SHORT TAKE: Captivating, beautiful, family friendly musical loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum's early business life and the people on the fringes of society he turned into a family.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT: EVERYONE!!!!!

LONG TAKE:

Donald O’Conner said: "Always leave them wanting more." And in the tradition of PT Barnum, about whom this movie was made – The Greatest Showman does just that.

Half way through the very first opening number I wanted to see it all again. Every scene, every song was a marvel – as compelling, exciting, absorbing and mesmerizing as the Barnum and Bailey Circus shows which enthralled millions of people for 146 years.

PT Barnum is best known as the inventor of the traveling circus, the King of Humbugs, the displayer of the human oddity, the man who said "There’s a sucker born every minute" EVEN THOUGH there is no evidence proving that he actually did say it! In fact, Barnum was also a philanthropist, the founder of Bridgeport Hospital, promoter of gas lighting, improved water systems, abolitionist, and pro-life/anti-contraception advocate.

However, the movie The Greatest Showman is not about his altruistic activities. The movie The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman is VERY VERY loosely based upon the life, enterprises, fortunes, failures and inspiration of PT Barnum as showman.

PT Barnum also once said: "A human soul, that God has created and Christ died for, is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit."

It is from the core of this latter philosophy that this screenplay was born. The Greatest Showman is more what PT Barnum represented than about the exact details of the man’s life. The Greatest Showman is about joy, life, family, turning chicken feathers into chicken salad, about never giving up, and overcoming internal as well as external handicaps, and rising above failure and rejection. It is also about embracing with gusto the challenges that God has bequeathed upon every individual soul – be it physical deformity, an unusual height, albinism, being a Siamese Twin, or whether the challenges come from being born into poverty and disadvantage. This story is about learning what is truly important in one’s life and what defines your home and your family.

Barnum’s biography as interpreted by screenwriters Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, directed by Michael Gracey, and choreographed by Ashley Wallen, starts as the son of an impoverished tailor. Barnum is bright, ambitious, hard working and imaginative. Barnum joins the railroad, takes clerical positions, tries to bring his innovative ideas to his employers and eventually earns enough to support a family. He marries his childhood sweetheart and lifelong friend Charity (Michelle "Oz the Great and Powerful" Williams), against her family’s wishes. They live a modest life but Barnum wants more. When the company he works for goes bankrupt he carves out a unique niche in entertainment singlehandedly with people who have largely been ostracized by society – not for anything they have done but for the physical attributes with which they were born.

In the troupe are Lettie (Keata Settle) the bearded lady and lead female singer in the circus, and General Tom Thumb (whose name in real life was Charles Stratton who was actually 2 feet 10 inches tall) played by the 4 foot 2 inch Sam Humphreys with effects that convincingly makes him fit into the smaller shoes of the original General Thumb.

Theater actor Eric Anderson has a small but rather adorable part as Mr. O'Malley, a skilled pickpocket Barnum meets while on the receiving end of O'Malley trade, who Barnum refashions into a magician and then his box office manager. Far too little is made of this charming character and he just kind of disappears after the first half of the movie in a regrettable editing decision by the film makers.

Barnum's gift is taking the weaknesses and apparent handicaps in others and turning them into strengths. He takes people who hide because of their birth defects and turns them into proud headliners for all the world to see. He takes a petty thief and puts him in charge of his money. He takes a drunken society playwright and convinces him to become the junior partner in an enterprise that will make him a societal outcast but a far happier and more fulfilled man. He takes isolated people and forms them into a family. Barnum understands people and cares about them deeply. This is his gift. But Barnum must learn that not all handicaps are visible and is eventually forced to confront his own prideful self inflicted deformities.

And the story is told with brilliant colorful musical numbers which light up and leap from the screen in the only way that really counts – not via 3D but through panache and vibrant beautiful melodies performed with style and absolutely irresistible enthusiasm.

Hugh Jackman as PT Barnum and Michelle Williams his wife Charity, sing with joyful abandon and dance with infectious charm, gravity defying skill, and tremendous energy. Zac Efron plays Phillip Carlyle, an unhappy swell with a flair for story telling who Barnum entices into his troupe. Efron has grown well beyond his High School Musical days into an accomplished actor and hoofer, and proves he can keep up with even the indefatiguable Jackman. Zendaya performs as the trapese artist Anne with whom Efron’s Phillip falls in love. Efron and Zendaya do all their own flying dancing swinging stunts in an incredible scene where they dance a love song as athletic as the barn raising in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers and as graceful as Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in — well, anything! Most of it is performed flying through the air on rigging and without nets (though interviews revealed they were, thankfully, harnessed for safety).

I can’t say enough good things about this movie. It’s uplifting, beautiful to watch, wonderful to listen to, with brilliant editing that meshes music to dance and slow motion effects used with admirable and effective restraint.

Honestly the only complaint I have is that there was not enough of it. It was too short. You know how some movies – a lot now a days frankly – would benefit from some serious chopping – the Hobbit trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Pearl Harbor all come to mind. But rarely do you come across a movie which you wish was LONGER.

The progress of Barnum’s jump from childhood to adulthood was blinked over and I would not have minded more of his progress from urchin to self supporting adult. Same for Barnum’s initial success as a "circus" owner to wealthy entrepreneur. Easily 5 or 6 more songs and another hour would have been more than welcome. There could have been more of Mr. O'Malley and included backstories on some of the other performers who are mostly seen in the group dances. And there were even a couple of my favorite lines from the trailer which were cut. It is almost as though the relative newbie director Gracey did not have the courage of his convictions. But he needn’t have worried. What is there is brilliant and entrancing.

I loved this movie not just for the performances by Jackman, Zendaya and Efron which were amazing – blending the acting with the singing and dancing seamlessly as only accomplished confident hoofers can. I also loved the morality tale played out in Barnum’s life as he is forced to reconsider what are those things that make his life worthwhile.

This is an uplifting delightful movie for the entire family. And although I would have loved for it to be another hour long, they employed Mr. O’Connor’s sage words and left us wanting more. I think I’ll just go see it again …. and take everyone I know.

PT Barnum also once said: "The noblest art is that of making others happy." The film makers of this movie about his life I believe are noble souls indeed.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

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SHORT TAKE:

Sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 release – Blade Runner – Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning as it continues in the original’s futuristic neo-noir style, picking up 30 years after the end of the first Blade Runner. Despite plot holes, preposterous coincidences required to propel the story and some internal contradictions, it is an interesting adult viewing if you don’t mind watching a movie the way one might stop and contemplate a mesmerizing painting at a museum.

LONG TAKE:

I will try to avoid revealing anything in Blade Runner 2049 that is not shown in the trailer.

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FULL SPOILERS FOR THE ORIGINAL BLADE RUNNER: The original Blade Runner, which came out in 1982, had a clear plot: replicants, self aware engineered human appearing creatures – Pris (Darryl Hannah), Roy (Rutger Hauer) and others – have limited 4 year life spans but extraordinary strength, speed and intelligence. They become “disenchanted” with being slaves on off planet colonies. They revolt, kill their keepers and come to Earth seeking to have their lives extended by their makers. When their Creator – Tyrell – either won’t or can’t upgrade them, they kill him. Deckard (Harrison Ford), the Blade Runner/replicant killer hunts them down and “retires” them one by one. Eventually in a face to face confrontation Roy gains the upper hand but in a final act of mercy, saves Deckard’s life by preventing him from falling off a building. Then, like a clockwork toy, Roy runs out of time and simply expires. Deckard runs away with Rachael, who is a replicant without the life span limit. The movie ends with their fate unknown and a final question unanswered – was Deckard a human or another replicant? Essentially a Bogart-like detective noir film including femme fatale and cynical narration by the protagonist updated to a dystopian future with flying cars and hologram advertisements in a depressing (“Hong Kong on a bad day” to quote director Ridley Scott) cityscape where it is always raining.

The story line of Blade Runner’s sequel, Blade Runner: 2049 is not quite as easy to follow.

While there are some spoiler-ish comments I need to make I will try to negotiate the territory between being too oblique and revealing secrets but not ruining any serious plot points. This will, unfortunately require some vaguery on my part.

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The new 2017 Blade Runner: 2049 starts similarly to the original, where the new blade runner, K (later called Joe) (Ryan Gosling), hunts down a rogue replicant. The replicant is hiding out in an unforgiving barren area raising grubs on a protein farm. If you couldn’t figure out Joe was a replicant within the first 45 seconds from his conversation with Joshi (Robin Wright) his handler/boss, then the beating Joe survives while bringing down bautistaDave Bautista’s character Sapper would definitely be a clue.

The subsequent plot is dependent on so many wildly unlikely coincidences that when it turns out there is no mastermind leaving bread crumbs it leaves one with a sense of disillusionment about their universe.

And although I appreciate a script writer who trusts their audience to accept certain unfamiliar details which make up the background to any futuristic, or sci fi story, there is a fine line between not spelling out everything and not explaining what the heck is going on.

An example of the puzzling backdrop is the “debriefing” Joe gets when he returns. He sits in an empty room and is barraged with a series of sentences to which he repeats certain words and phrases. Joshi comments afterwards on the results of his debriefing as good. But there is little context for the audience to appreciate what it means so that later, when Joe has a “bad” debriefing, I really couldn’t tell the difference. There were no hints as to what the debriefing meant so Joshi’s reference to a possible extreme reprisal for a continued inability to follow the “baseline” really didn’t mean anything to us. A little background would have gone a long way to making the test results have more impact.

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Elsewhere, the megalomaniac brilliant inventor of the modern replicants – Wallace (Jared Leto) – wildly successful, wealthy, and powerful, meets one of his new “born” replicants. He monologues to his female psycho hench woman, Luv, about how difficult it is to make enough replicants and how he thinks of them as his children, then coldly stabs the helpless newly formed replicant to death. OK, I get it, the guy’s a genius nutburger, but the track of his soliloque just was not tending in that direction so her death was more confusing than shocking and there was certainly no sense of suspense.

JoshiThere is a secret revealed by Joe’s unique abilities in a preposterous series of events which sets the majority of the plot in motion. Joshi is horrified but it is obviously something that Wallace would want to make use of. Joe is tasked by Joshi to root out the source. Neither Joshi nor Wallace have the moral ground in this. One wants to destroy an innocent, the other exploit that innocent to enhance their culture’s slave society. Joshi’s concern about “the secret” and Wallace’s desire to foster it seem to be at odds, which is another point of confusion as Wallace seems to be in a position to control everything including the police, making all the subsequent cloak and dagger of the rest of the movie unnecessary.

Further, given the entrenched class structure of this casually cruel society, I was unconvinced that the revelation of the secret to the public would have had the kind of dire consequences which would make the extremes to which Joshi asks Joe to go be required. Conversely, the attention Joshi brings to the “secret” by sending Joe after the source creates the very problem she claims to want to avoid. No exposition is offered to clarify any of these points relating to the “secret”.

Also, there is some debate as to whether the use of this “secret” which Wallace so wants to capture would aid or destroy his empire. AND – it is unclear how Wallace found out about this “secret”. Either he has so much access to so much information that he would already know where this “secret” is or he would not even know about the “secret” much less Joe’s involvement in it. Either Wallace is borderline omniscient or he isn’t – make up your mind. And what is it with his eyes? Is HE supposed to be some kind of replicant that perhaps Tyrell created – which would explain his inside information, gifted research abilities AND weird eyes – but this potential plot point is never so much as hinted at.

K is supposed to be a “new” replicant which is designed to obey. But later K doesn’t always obey and even lies to Joshi.

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The replicant hench woman of Wallace, Luv, cries when Wallace kills a replicant but then is randomly and pointlessly cruel, including to other replicants. This cruelty is not instructed by Wallace nor inherent in replicants. If the replicants of this era are supposed to be held in such a tight rein of obedience these acts make no sense.

Joe fakes another character’s death then brings that character to an extremely high surveillance area to meet someone important to the Wallace corporation. This would be like taking someone in the witness protection program on a tour of the White House and encouraging them to sneak into the Oval Office to say “Hi” to President Trump and expect their identity will remain a secret.

There are other similarly nonsensical actions taken by characters which left me wondering if the writers thought the amazing scenery would distract sufficiently from the sloppy plot points.

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HOWEVER – These critiques are not to say that Blade Runner: 2049 is not a decent to good movie. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission. Villeneuve faithfully recreates Ridley Scott’s vision, ambiance, and mood. The acting is stylized but excellent, especially Gosling. joe w joihologramHe does a lot despite his character’s inherent reluctance to express much obvious emotion.

And those of us with serious trivia issues will note that one very poignant moment in Blade Runner: 2049 features music from an equally poignant moment from the original Blade Runner. I won’t say the name of the bit of music as that would be telling, but fans of the first outing should recognize it when it happens. (If you REALLY want to know I will spoiler below.)

It is a stunning, surreal world which director Denis Villeneuve creates. But anyone expecting a rollicking sci fi the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars will likely fall asleep. The pacing is that of a performance artist whose every movement is intended to mean something so strikes poses and stands, statue-like, long enough for their audience to appreciate and think about what they are seeing.

There is a good deal of gory violence though the worst is done out of visual sight. There is some profanity, graphic moments of sex seen through almost opaque windows and a lot of naked holograms whose full frontal is frequently avoided only by inches.

The Blade Runner universe is a specific genre in science fiction – ground breaking in 1982, somewhat derivative in 2017. And while my viewing companions thought the movie had a clean ending, I thought the writer left major opportunities begging for another sequel.

Hope I have been sufficiently vague enough to prevent giving away too much to this peculiarly engrossing yet perplexingly convoluted story.

And OK – this seriously annoyed movie mavin mom will give one BIG SPOILER … more like an UN-SPOILER ——– duly ignoring Ridley Scott’s pronouncement as just another opinion despite the fact he was the original film’s director — after 30 years of waiting we STILL do not definitively know whether Deckard is a replicant or not!!!!!! ARGGGGGH!

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MUSIC RELATED SPOILER – BIG SPOILERS – BIG BIG SPOILERS – BE SURE YOU HAVE EITHER SEEN 2049 OR DO NOT CARE IF MAJOR PLOT POINTS ARE REVEALED TO YOU —- OK –  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED: The "Tears in the Rain" motif by Vangelis, played when Roy dies at the end of Blade Runner is again heard when Joe, seriously (mortally??) wounded, lies on steps leading up to the building into which he has sent Deckard to look for his daughter. He stares, wistfully, up into the falling snow. We are left wondering if Joe will die. Deckard does not know how badly Joe has been hurt but Joe has survived some savage injuries during the course of the movie so……?