Friday, October 6, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Blade Runner 2049 and American Made

It was 35 years ago when Ridley Scott broke ground with his sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Trading action-packed thrills for a tempered and more cerebral science fiction endeavor helped make an impact on an entire generation of movie lovers. And if a sequel had to be done, what better filmmaker to take the reins than Arrival helmer Denis Villeneuve? Brandishing an intellectual screenplay and Villeneuve's keen visionary mastery, Blade Runner 2049 has clearly been placed in the most worthy of hands.

Set thirty years after the original, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a new-hybrid of replicant Blade Runner, programmed to fully obey his human masters. But as he becomes assigned to a very delicate case, the mystery he's supposed to solve slowly forces him to question his own existence. And with all of the answers belonging to former agent Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has gone into hiding for decades now, K must track down the legendary Blade Runner in order to finally unlock the truth to his cloudy past.

Much like Ridley Scott's Alien franchise, Blade Runner 2049 finds a unique beauty in its ability to pose more questions than answers. But despite a frustrating ambiguity that's assured to displease select audiences, Denis Villeneuve and company do an amazing job of expanding on the universe that Ridley Scott created 35 years ago. Taking the auteur's classic idea of building compassion for the replicant population and transforming that into a core principal within the structure of this new examination, Villeneuve enlightens the viewer with fascinating psychological quandaries and thought-provoking introspection. Ryan Gosling offers a stellar lead performance that's wonderfully complemented by a multitude of smaller, yet unbelievably effective, roles. And while Gosling undoubtedly hogs the film's face time, not a single side character wastes a moment on screen. Don't be fooled, though, Blade Runner 2049 comes with a fair share of criticisms. The film wallows in a sluggish and thrill-less delivery that snow-piles throughout an often painful 160-minute duration, and its uncharacteristically weak score with the great Hans Zimmer on board proves to be a bit of a disappointment. However, loyal and respectful fans of the original Blade Runner can look past these flaws and find solace in Denis Villeneuve's originality and heady subtext that rival the work of its predecessor.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Doug Liman returns with his second offering of 2017, re-teaming with his former Edge of Tomorrow star, Tom Cruise, in the wild true story of a commercial airline pilot-turned-CIA recon gatherer. American Made plays to a similar tone that we've witnessed on many occasions, shedding its light on the notorious Medellin drug cartel and leader Pablo Escobar. This aura of familiarity and a complete disregard for character building haunt Liman's latest and have us pining for the level of success he showed early in his career with hits like The Bourne Identity and Swingers.

After growing tired of the monotony involved in his everyday life as a commercial pilot for TWA in the late 70s, a rare opportunity falls in the lap of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) when he's recruited by the CIA to fly recon missions in South and Central America. Barry's thirst for adventure proves reckless when he finds himself immersed in a cocaine smuggling scheme under the behest of ruthless dealer Pablo Escobar. With all sorts of government agencies on his trail and danger certainly looming, Barry puts everything at risk when he makes a compromising decision that places him and his loved ones in grave danger.

Eerily reminiscent of Ted Demme's 2001 cult classic, Blow, American Made suffers from what can only be described as an apparent egotistical grandstanding from leading star Tom Cruise. You'd be hard-pressed to find any extended period of time without Cruise's long, flowy locks and devilish grin plastered across the screen. Sadly, the film focuses exclusively on Barry Seal, and its failure to properly address the impacts of Barry's decisions on everyone else in his life through an adequate development of side characters proves detrimental. Barry's family, most notably, is nothing more than a silhouette to Cruise's demanding character. But despite this glaring weakness and unforgivable oversight to the film, American Made still manages to attract an audience with an energetic and amusingly tragic story. As Barry continues to fall deeper into his corrupt world of drug trafficking and money laundering, its like watching a car crash develop, where you refuse to look away for fear of missing the most destructive moment of impact. Cruise isn't at his best but he certainly remains capable of carrying a film, even if we're forced to take him in overflowing doses. But for as engaging and consuming as American Made's story allows it be, you can't help but feel like Liman should have accomplished so much more.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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