Blade Runner 2049

Posted on October 3, 2017 at 1:59 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and explicit peril and violence, characters injured and killed,
Date Released to Theaters: October 6, 2017

Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
I’ve got a bit of a conundrum here. As has been widely reported, the filmmakers have asked the critics to avoid spoilers (no problem, we are always careful about that), but they have done so with a very specific list of topics/characters/developments they don’t want us to reveal, so exhaustive that it leaves us with little to say beyond: the camerawork is outstanding (please, give Roger Deakins that Oscar already) and the movie is magnificently imagined, stunningly designed, thoughtful and provocative, and one of the best of the year.

I hate to admit it, but I think they’re right. I really do want you to have the same experience I did, including all of the movie’s surprises. So forgive me for being oblique, and after you’ve seen it, come back and we can discuss it in detail, all right?

In the original “Blade Runner,” based on the story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, Harrison Ford played Deckard, a 21st century detective sent to find and terminate four “replicants,” humanoid robots created to perform physical labor but who somehow are evolving to the point where they want to be independent of human control. Replicants are so close to being human in appearance and manner (and, in the future, life is so dystopic that humans have become less feeling, less compassionate) that it is increasingly difficult to figure out who is human and what being human means. Like Deckard, K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, sent by Joshi, his human boss (Robin Wright), to find the older generation of replicants and terminate them. The new generation of replicants is more obedient, or at least that is the way they are programmed. “It’s my job to keep order,” she tells him. She gives him a new assignment and when he hesitates she asks, “Are you saying no?” “I wasn’t aware that was an option.” “Atta boy,” she says approvingly. K has uncovered something that Joshi believes is an extermination-level threat to humanity as what accountants call a going concern.

This film explores ideas of memory, identity, and, yes, humanity. And it does that through a detective story that is grounded in a Raymond Chandler noir world of deception and betrayal, taking place in a gorgeous, brilliantly designed dystopian future of perpetual rain where organic material is barely a memory and huge, Ozymandias-like ruins carry faint reminders of better times and grander ambitions. Most people have never seen a tree, even a dead one, and a crudely carved wooden toy is priceless. A woman creates pleasant childhood memories to be implanted so that replicants will be more stable, more empathetic, and easier to control. The trick about control, though, is that nature will rebel against it, and those who try to maintain control by sending people or replicants or anyone out to investigate and ask questions is going to find that knowledge can dissolve authority.

That’s about all I can say except to add that Gosling and Ford are outstanding and Sylvia Hoeks is a standout as a character I can’t tell you anything more about, while Jared Leto is the movie’s weak spot as another character I can’t tell you anything about. So I’ll end by saying that this is that rare sequel deserving of its original version, not because it replicates — for want of a better word — the first one, but because it pays tribute (note touches like the see-through raincoat) and then finds its own reason for being, and we are lucky enough to come along.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/action violence with graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, reference to torture, drinking, smoking, some strong language, sexual references and situations, prostitutes, and nudity.

Family discussion: What elements or concerns about today’s society are the basis for this vision of the future? What rules would you make about replicants? What is the most human aspect of the replicants?

If you like this, try: the original “Blade Runner,” “Terminator 2,” “Total Recall,” “Children of Men,” and the writing of Philip K. Dick

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Arrival

Posted on November 10, 2016 at 5:26 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Very sad death of a child, peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 11, 2016
Date Released to DVD: February 13, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B01LTHYE0O

Copyright 2016 Paramount
Copyright 2016 Paramount
It’s called “Arrival.” Not “Attack” or “War of the Worlds.” In this thought-provoking, conceptually ambitious film, the creatures from another world just…arrive. At twelve points around the globe, huge, monolithic spacecraft that look like flying saucers turned sideways are suddenly just there. What do you do? How do you determine the intentions and capacities for harm from a species of creature with whom you do not have the most fundamental experiences and assumptions in common? Do they even have a language we are capable of understanding? Do they have the capacity to speak or write? Do we have the capacity to understand? Is this “ET” or “Battlefield Earth?” Or maybe that “Twilight Zone” episode where the book the aliens bring titled To Serve Man turns out to be a cookbook?

And how can we tell? This is not one of those sci-fi movies where the aliens get some TV signals and teach themselves English by watching game shows and sitcoms. So, the US military seeks out a linguist (Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks) because before we can decide what our response will be, we have to try to find a way to figure out how to communicate with them. “Language is the foundation of civilization,” she says to another expert being transported to the alien ship with her. “No,” he tells her. “It is science.” He is a physicist (Jeremy Renner as Dr. Ian Donnelly). If you think that both sets of skills will be necessary, that they will find a way to communicate, and find some connection with one another as well, you are right, but it will still surprise you all the way to the end.

Director Denis Villeneuve is not afraid to take on big issues and complex questions. And, as always in movies about aliens, it is more about who we are than who they are. Positioning us against creatures who are completely unknown requires us to think more deeply about our assumptions and capabilities.

Louise figures out a way to begin to communicate with the floating squid-like creatures. But is the word they are conveying “tool” or “weapon?” And will humans around the world be able to find a way to work together or will one country undermine our efforts to communicate by attacking the alien ships? We may be better at communicating with other species than our own.

The details really matter here and production designer Patrice Vermette fills the screen with thoughtful, illuminating touches from the Brancusi-like sculptural curves of the spacecraft to the calligraphy-like symbols created by the aliens. Striking images inspire awe and wonder in us as they do the characters. And the Chomsky-esque notions that language shapes our thinking even more than our thinking shapes language is conveyed in the film’s own structure as well as its dialog. Ultimately, it is a reminder of the power of communication, with movies themselves as one of humanity’s best examples.

Parents should know that this movie’s theme includes worldwide threats, with some peril, very sad illness and death of a child, divorce, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Which is the foundation of civilization, language or science? Or is it something else? What would you ask the aliens?

If you like this, try: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”

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