After intense works such as Arrival and Sicario, Denis Villeneuve has proven himself to be one of the most exciting directors to watch. He knows how to populate rather thinly plotted films with meaty subtext. Whether it’s what it means to be human or how love conquers all, there’s something to chew on.
Blade Runner 2049
Rated R, 164 minutes.
Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD and Digital HD.
5 of 5 stars
Like its 1982 predecessor, Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 asks existential questions that are just as relevant 35 years later. In Ridley Scott’s future-set original, he had his central character, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, who returns in a supporting role), chasing after four genetically-designed artificial beings while simultaneously coming to grips with his own humanity. Through quiet, meditative scenes, we gather there's a great deal of pain behind Deckard’s eyes. You can see that his admiration for android life has evolved to a point where he recognizes them to be more human than humans. Blade Runner 2049 furthers these concepts, but in a fashion that clicks with the present.
In the sequel, Ryan Gosling fills in the protagonist role with a new character of his own, who must find Deckard and uncover a buried secret. The DNA of the original’s classic storytelling is detectable, but it’s reassembled with modern gadgets. Even Jared Leto’s villainous character doesn't feel like a carbon copy of Dr. Eldon Tyrell, who created the replicants in Scott’s film. Leto's antagonist is blind and without mercy, but his unethical demeanor and dark vision of the future are scary in their own right.
The most influential and important science-fiction adventures are epic in scale but narratively tight. All too often, genre films pack their stories with too much baggage to warrant an audience's attention. Here, we merely watch Gosling's character follow the breadcrumbs of this detective mystery. The gargantuan and picturesque visuals don't overthrow the power of the story. Blade Runner 2049 is a modern American landmark.
Extras: The Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release includes more than a handful of featurettes that breakdown the characters, the evolution of the story and the overall design of the film. It also includes three prologue videos (also available online) that show certain characters or introduce new concepts before we arrive at 2049.
Twilight Time - December releases - Last month’s Twilight Time (a retro movie restoration company) titles featured resonant stories about love and tragedy.
Forever Amber (3 stars) - Normally I’m not one for novel-like period dramas - hence, why I still have yet to see Phantom Thread - but I found myself sucked into the vortex of this 17th century story.
1947’s Forever Amber centers on a strong-willed young woman named Amber St. Claire (Linda Darnell) who is seduced by her great love, the fickle Lord Bruce Carlton (Cornel Wilde as Rhett Butler, essentially), only the feelings aren’t mutual. As a result - and to put it lightly - Amber decides to become rich and powerful no matter what.
There are hard-hitting themes within that draw comparisons to what’s going in today’s world, such as a woman having to fight in a man’s world to be recognized. While the story runs a little too long and feels like an off-brand version of Gone with the Wind, Forever Amber is far more than the period soap opera it’s painted as. It has some solid characterization and it looks gorgeous for its age.
Not rated, 138 minutes.
Alice (2.5 stars) - Occasionally Woody Allen will take a rather ordinary concept and add a twist of magical realism to stir the pot. His endearing 2011 film Midnight in Paris took that route and it worked out quite spectacularly for him. He has another Oscar to prove it. But 1990’s Alice is a bit too out of touch for my liking.
It sees Mia Farrow as a New York woman who’s married to a wealthy man (William Hurt), but isn’t happy with how monotonous her life is. One day she visits a healer in Chinatown and - this is where it gets real kooky - is given herbal potions to steer her life in a more desired direction, including one that turns her invisible.
Alice lacks the philosophical and satirical precision of some of Allen’s other romantic comedies, but it has memorable performances and Allen’s signature anxiety-ridden dialogue.
Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Wuthering Heights (2.5 stars) - There has been so many adaptations of Emily Brontë’s classic tale about unfortunate lovers (Are you noticing a theme in these releases?) that there are bound to be dull versions. The 1970 Robert Fuest-directed film is one such rendering.
Starring 007’s Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall as the doomed lovers, Heathcliff and Cathy, this adaptation plays like those movies you would catch some z’s during in grade school. The cast and crew don’t quite have a firm handle on the material, but there are some shining moments (especially one haunting scene at a graveyard near the film’s end) that give it somewhat of a pulse.
Rated G, 104 minutes.
The Hospital (3.5 stars) - Paddy Chayefsky’s 1971 dark comedy about a declining big-city hospital and a middle-aged physician on the verge of suicide features a sharply-written screenplay and boasts a skilled cast (George C. Scott, Diana Rigg and Barnard Hughes), even if its pace doesn’t keep up with the intriguing thoughts it poses. One such explored thought is the scary lack of medical professionalism behind the scenes.
Rated PG-13, 103 minutes.
The L-Shaped Room (3.5 stars) - This 1962 black-and-white film concerns an unmarried pregnant woman (a very good Leslie Caron) who moves into a down-and-out London boarding house. It’s there she befriends the odd group of inhabitants and has an affair with one of them (Tom Bell).
The tender film deals with matters (abortion and premarital sex) that weren’t really addressed in American films for at least another decade. The L-Shaped Room was clearly made with a strong love for humanity. It just may open your eyes to your surroundings a bit more, and that doesn’t hurt.
Not rated, 126 minutes.
Extras: The Twilight Time releases (all sold separately through Twilight Time's website or on Screen Archives) include individually unique supplemental material such as isolated music tracks, original theatrical trailers, audio commentaries with film historians and biography featurettes on talent.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week: Better Call Saul: Season 3; The Cat Returns (2002); Cook Off!; Eye of the Cat (1969); Gangster Land; Happy Death Day; I, Daniel Blake (2016): The Criterion Collection; Loving Vincent; Macon County Line (1974): Shout Select; Matinee (1993): Shout Select - Collector’s Edition; The Snowman; and Whisper of the Heart (1995).