Review of reviews: Film
Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (R)
An android strives to head off a war.
As much as the original Blade Runner merits its reputation as a cinematic landmark, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel “could be more important in the long run,” said Brian Truitt in USA Today. Easily “the best film so far this year,” Blade Runner 2049 is a “superstylish” and surprisingly moving sci-fi masterwork that repurposes the sturdy detective-story architecture of its 1982 predecessor to present a mythic tale evocative enough to change how we think about identity, memory, creation, and revolution. Consider it “an incredible lucid dream,” said Peter Bradshaw in TheGuardian.com. This dazzling work of futurist fiction “simply couldn’t be any more of a triumph.”
Ryan Gosling proves “ideally suited” to play the story’s lead, said A.A. Dowd in AVClub.com. Like Harrison Ford’s character, Gosling’s K is a blade runner— an LAPD cop tasked with hunting down and killing androids who’ve outlived their usefulness. But we know from the start that K is an android, or “replicant,” himself, and Gosling’s innate aloofness makes K credibly “a mechanical man with something stirring deep inside him.” He discovers a secret early on, one big enough to spark war between mankind and its replicant servants. That puts him on a quest to learn more and triggers a cat and mouse in which he’s pursued by the right-hand woman of a wealthy industrialist and eventually finds Ford, who imbues his aging character with “an almost relaxed gravitas.”
Still, even Ford can’t recapture the spooky magic of the first Blade Runner, said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. As “sumptuous and surprising” as this 163-minute follow-up is from one scene to the next, it doesn’t haunt us the way the cryptic original did. It’s “a carefully engineered narrative puzzle, and its power dissipates as the pieces snap into place.” Given the movie’s length, you could also argue that Villeneuve, the auteur behind last year’s Arrival, “may have fallen a little too in love with his own creation,” said Leah Greenblatt in Entertainment Weekly. “But how could he not, when nearly every impeccably composed shot feels like such a ravishing visual feast?” Even when it disappoints on an emotional level, Blade Runner 2049 “reaches for, and finds, something remarkable: the elevation of mainstream moviemaking to high art.”
Directed by John Carroll Lynch (Not rated)
A 90-year-old loner reckons with mortality.
“If only every actor we loved could leave us with a farewell film like this one,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time. Harry Dean Stanton, who died last month at 91, had a face “so radiant in its ragged beauty” that it seemed ageless. In his final star turn, he plays a frail and superficially grumpy old man mindfully living out his final days in a dusty desert town, and the movie makes the most of Stanton’s inner light and deadpan demeanor. Alas, the film is also “a painful trivialization” of Stanton’s arresting persona, said Richard Brody in The New Yorker. It follows his title character through his mildly eccentric daily routine—yoga, a morning coffee at the local diner, daytime TV—and a few twee plot developments, such as having an old buddy, played by David Lynch, despair over the disappearance of a pet tortoise. Stanton plays every scene beautifully, but the character is a cipher, an empty vessel waiting for the moment the screenplay fills out his backstory. Still, regarding life’s great mysteries, this humble movie “nurtures a quiet sense of mystery,” said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. Lucky doesn’t believe in an afterlife and scoffs at the idea that people have souls. Even at that moment, Stanton’s presence represents a “magnificent” counterargument.
Victoria & Abdul
Directed by Stephen Frears (PG-13)
Queen Victoria befriends a Muslim servant.
“Is there a more monarchal actress alive than Judi Dench?” asked Mark Feeney in The Boston Globe. Twenty years after her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, the spirited dame again proves “she could play Victoria in her sleep.” Here, the queen is nearing the end of her 63-year reign when she strikes up an unlikely friendship with an Indian servant she appoints as her guide to the foreign land she leads from afar. There’s “something for everyone” in the ensuing blend of travelogue, costume drama, and comedy of manners. It’s “the kind of story about colonization that the colonizers always like to tell,” said Kristen Page-Kirby in WashingtonPost.com. Ali Fazal’s Abdul is based on a real person, but his relationship with Victoria is “bathed in a loving, golden glow” that “leaves no room for history’s more shadowy parts.” We’re even supposed to think Abdul was perfectly content to be torn from his family to humor Victoria’s whims. If the art of screen acting fascinates you, Victoria & Abdul is “worth seeing for Dench’s magisterial performance,” said Christopher Orr in TheAtlantic.com. “Just don’t mistake it for actual history.”