Tag Archives: Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049

I watched the theatrical version of 1982’s Blade Runner on Friday morning to prep for a 12:30pm showing of Blade Runner 2049. I did this on a whim, but I’m very glad I did, because it made the parallels between the two films stand out, and not in a bad way.

It also meant I spent 5 hours in the Blade Runner universe, and that place weighs pretty heavily on the soul. Even the shiny parts of that future are unsettling, like blood on chrome, and the non-shiny parts are deeply bleak, like broken bones in sand.

But the parallels? Wow. Sure, there were plenty of obvious callbacks, like eyeball imagery, constant rain, and telling the computer to enhance images, but there were also thematic links in the camera angles, color palettes, and the pacing. Even the soundtrack, which was not the work of Vangelis, sounded to me like music which, under decades of environmental pressure, was driven to evolve from Vangelis¹. It’s different, but Vangelis is still there, like mitochondrial DNA.

I was amazed by the film, and I liked it, but Blade Runner 2049 still doesn’t clear my personal Threshold of Awesome. Mostly because I prefer to have a bit more fun at the movies. Setting that aside, however, it is an awesome film².

¹ My library contains several albums of Vangelis music, including at least one version of the original Blade Runner soundtrack. I suspect that Zimmer and Wallfisch spent many hours with a similar library before laying down anything in the studio.
²In the interest of letting moviegoers know what they’re in for: Blade Runner 2049 has more nudity and violence than the original film, and at two hours and 47 minutes it runs kind of long.

Atomic Blonde

This twisty, retro thriller is pretty amazing on a number of counts, but I’ll lead with this: The action is tight, with some through-composed fight scenes whose choreography runs across multiple blows and throws, and therefore requires the stars to be doing a lot of the fighting themselves. It feels real in a way many action movies don’t.

Atomic Blonde captures the look, feel, and soundscapes of 1989 quite faithfully, and creates a believable “untold story” in Berlin around the time the wall came down. The story’s plot twists run all the way to end, and are satisfying all the way through, which is difficult to pull off.

I enjoyed the film, but it wasn’t squarely “my thing,” so it doesn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome. If you loved John Wick (which I didn’t see in theaters,) you’ll probably love Atomic Blonde, too.

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower took a little while deciding what kind of movie it wanted to be, but I enjoyed it. It’s not my favorite Idris Elba movie, and it’s not my favorite Stephen King movie, and it doesn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome, but I enjoyed it.

I don’t have much emotional attachment to the novels, so the film’s departures from the text didn’t bug me. I did have a burning desire to get out of my hotel room to see a movie, so that may have artificially inflated the film’s joy factor a bit.

The weakest aspect of the film surrounded the parts that were the coolest to watch: when the Gunslinger is doing supernaturally awesome things with his .45 revolvers it’s just eye candy. There’s no emotional connection between him and the viewer. The stakes are high, but it’s difficult to really care. Had I cared more, the film would have been more enjoyable. Probably not Threshold of Awesome enjoyable, but still better.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is easily the least enjoyable film I’ve seen this year. It started off pretty well, and then our main characters took the screen and the movie began to plummet through my ratings, landing squarely at the bottom long before the final credits rolled.

At least two people walked out of the showing early and did not return. Perhaps they could no longer stand the embarrassment of continuing to watch the movie, or maybe they stepped out to use the restroom, and found that the smell of disinfectant was such a refreshing change they prolonged their excretory lounging by an hour.

Harsh? Yes, that’s pretty harsh. The movie earned it.

I really wanted to enjoy this movie. I was prepared to ignore major failings in order to get an awesome space opera fix. I brought my extra-strength suspenders of disbelief, and tried to pretend I didn’t care about character motivation, but it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. I found myself actually cringing in my seat, physically curling up in a sort of full-body wince, over and over, right up until the last scene, which was one of the worst of the film.

Here is a quick list of the movie’s top failings:

  • Infodumps! And not just maid-and-butler dialog, either. There were scenes that played out like a bored kindergarten teacher reading a Wikipedia article to a room full of robots.
  • Dane HeHaan¹, who played Valerian, sounded like he was doing a Keanu Reeves imitation, except he left out all the emotion.
  • Cara Delevingne², the actress who played Laureline, totally convinced me that Laureline was an android.
  • Half of the film’s dialog was throwaway lines like “bring thrusters up to full” or “scanning for DNA now.”
  • The romantic arc was obviously written by somebody who has never been in love, but who has heard lots of nice things about it, and maybe read a saucy book once.

There were some things that the film did well, of course:

  • The special effects were nice.
  • It was projected in an establishment that serves popcorn.
  • It was about the right length for a movie.
  • The colors were vibrant, and were on the screen instead of in my lap.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets deserves top billing in a future season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was only slightly less painful to watch than Cry Wilderness or Starcrash. It clears my Threshold of Disappointment³, obviously, and does so with such aplomb that I almost feel like apologizing to Transformers: The Last Knight.

¹ Dane Dehaan is a fine actor. I can only surmise that the director very vehemently demanded the most wooden performance possible.
² Cara Delevingne was one of the best things about Suicide Squad. Again, it’s my theory that Besson⁴ required her to pretend to be a replicant with poor social camouflage, and trouper that she is, she nailed the performance.
³ Some people will love this film, and will be quite angry at how disappointed I am with it. It’s important to realize that our reactions to art are mostly due to what we bring with us. The art only activates what’s already in our heads and hearts. I really wish I had a bag full of “You’ll love Valerian” with me in the theater, but I did not.
I have loved some of Besson’s other work, particularly The Fifth Element, which is still one of my all-time favorite films.