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I loved Ex Machina but Alex Garland’s follow-up falls short.  Given the film’s ambition, however, it is a noble failure.  Natalie Portman is an ex-military, now-professor whose Special Ops boyfriend (Oscar Isaac) goes missing after a clandestine mission.  When he returns, in very bad shape, she is drawn to the mission herself, and soon finds herself part of a five person team entering “The Shimmer”, a disorienting, disturbing, inexorably expanding mass of acreage that started when something from the sky hit the ground.  As the team enters to get to the source, they are transformed by their environment, and I’ll leave it at that.

It’s pretty damn cool.  But ultimately, Garland relies so much on the visual for his message that the picture serves as more of an aesthetic treat than a compelling story.  The ideas are boffo, but the execution is a bit dreary and drawn out, and frankly, like Arrival, this film may just be over my head.

There are other problems.  Portman’s harkening back to her transgressions in her relationship with Isaac seems silly given the gravity of her situation.  I was reminded of a stupid movie I saw years back about a group of gals who decided to have a bachelorette weekend spelunking, as most women do, and as hideous mole people chased them through caves, the fact that one of the women slept with the fiancée of another actually loomed large.  “Okay, okay.  I slept with your boyfriend.  Not cool.  Now, can we get back to the mole people?”

One last note – I’m down with 5 women on a military/scientific exercise, but one should be aware of the Ghostbusters re-make and maybe switch up the uniforms.  I half expected

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to show up.

On Hulu now.

 

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The orgasmic acclaim is a little much, but this is mostly good fun. A little Lion King, a little James Bond (they have their own Q, who shows off the technological gizmos, and a CIA operative Felix Lighter) and even a Millennium Falcon. There’s also some simplistic politics thrown in. Should Wakanda, a magical African kingdom powered by vibranium (a kick ass metal that provides strength, power and wealth) stay hidden in its borders or should it come out from shadows and take on the world struggle for the black and dispossessed?

I dunno. Who cares? Let’s cut the high-minded chatter about what happens when vibranium becomes plentiful and get to clever quips and fisticuffs.

As with most of these movies, it is weakened by the need to have comic book characters in silly suits address weighty matters (guess what? Vibranium is going to revitalize Oakland!) but as these things go, it’s a solid popcorn flick, and the action is first rate.

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This is what a superhero movie is supposed to be. Consistently clever, mainly for young people but with crossover to adults, and devoid of all the dreary seriousness of Gotham city and world politics and ethical dilemmas for people dressed up for Mardis Gras. Add the fact that the characters are almost impossible not to enjoy, the CGI is nifty rather than a blaring assault, and there are some really funny bits. And the finale is a blast (rather than a dark, dull, crashing snorefest ala’ Wonder Woman). The film also has a proper villain, the sleek, sultry, campy goddess of death Cate Blanchett.

Quintessential popcorn flick.

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I was underwhelmed by Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, mainly because of its dreary look and my own intellectual limitations.  Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 is visually dazzling with a plot that is intricate but not byzantine.  Ryan Gosling is a Blade Runner (i.e., a hunter of older model replicants – think Westworld – who have a tendency to go haywire).  Unlike Harrison Ford in the original film, Gosling is unequivocally a replicant himself, but in the process of putting down a replicant fugitive, he becomes ensnared in a larger, metaphysical mystery that melds corporate malfeasance, potential civil war, and Genesis.  It could have been ridiculously heavy, but Gosling manages a wry yet naïve countenance and the bloviations of the corporate would-be god (Jared Leto) are both few and leavened by Gosling’s running battle with a particularly fierce replicant (Sylvia Hoeks).

The film’s look is stunning and the real star is Gosling’s navigation of the eye-popping world around him.  Other than Robin Wright being horribly miscast as Gosling’s supervisor (her insistence on being ballsy is over the top, and her Sam Spade delivery is clunky) and the picture running a little long, this was well worth the time.

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Much like all of the rest of the DC/Marvel dreck, although this one is plagued by an even higher degree of contempt for the audience. The script is lazy and moronic. The look is cheap (Gal Godot reminded me of Harry Hamlin in Clash of the Titans). The slo-mo seems positively retro. The soundtrack is oppressive and unyielding.  The villain is obvious.  The homily (“only love can truly save the world”) overly earnest even for this kind of popcorn flick.  The Battle Royale finale a snore.

This is a movie you can’t even really fold laundry to.  Though Godot ain’t hard on the eyes and she and Captain Kirk have a few cute moments together, she’s at heart a dolt, wide eyed and stupid or, when she kind of gets it, petulant and stupid.

And the proof is in the historical pudding. After World War I ends, which coincides with the end of the film, she makes it her mission in voiceover to spread peace in our time.  We all know how that turned out.

The sequel to Prometheus, this is essentially that movie but shorn of all of “the beginning of man” mumbo jumbo and its hilarious inconsistencies/stupidities (I dug Prometheus, even though, in retrospect and after viewing this take-down, I felt a little ashamed):

In Covenant, a colonizing ship makes its way to the new planet, hyper-sleep is interrupted (note to self – no matter what sci-fi film you are in, hyper-sleep is a risky proposition) and rather than schlep to the first destination, our crew is enticed to another planet that just showed up on the horizon, one just perfect for colonization.  It’s almost too good to be true.  I mean, what could be out there?

Ridley Scott has a few decent scares and the plot moves, but the film is terribly derivative (hyper sleep went bad in Planet of the Apes, the poisonous Eden  is an old Star Trek, and synthetics getting too big for their intellectual britches is the sci-fi version of “it’s quiet out there . . . Yea.  Too quiet”) and adds nothing to the series.  And while I like Danny McBride, he’s not quite ready for dramatic, “just lost my wife” roles, and he’s too pudgy to be running around with a gun.  I thought one of the few benefits of hyper-sleep was weight loss?

My family took me to this yesterday, and while it lacks the fresh inventive feel of the original, quintessential summer flick, it is still a treat. The sense of humor is intact, the characters remain winning, Dave Bautista’s hilariously literal Drax again steals the picture, and Groot is now Baby Groot, so darling that the most vicious murderers in the galaxy cannot do him in because, as their leader freely admits, “it is too adorable to kill.”  The story is a bit ragged – Peter Quill’s father (Kurt Russell) is introduced and his plan is both overly apocalyptic and not necessarily reliant on the involvement of the Guardians.  The sentiment is also a bit heavy; a lot of pain is expressed within the theme of family interrupted, creating one too many lumps in the throat for a damn Marvel movie.  Still, a lot of fun.