Blu-ray: Blade Runner 2049

35 years after the original Blade Runner changed the landscape of big screen science fiction, Blade Runner 2049 (2017) dared build on the dystopian portrait of the ecologically devastated urban imaged on screen by director Ridley Scott and his team of designers and artists. Just as in the original, this film is as much about the texture of the world on screen as it is the story of the Replicants (artificially manufactured humans created as slave labor) decades after Deckard first strolled the mean streets of L.A.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Ryan Gosling is K, the Blade Runner of this story, a next generation Replicant whose job it is to “retire” the last of the old models, the ones created with a more flexible will that led to rebellion. His new assignment unearths artifacts that leads directly back to the story of Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachel (Sean Young) and the legend of a Replicant child, a messiah myth for the Replicant underclass not unlike the Christian virgin birth: the first non-virgin birth of a race genetically designed in a lab. It’s a story that Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the techno-industrialist who took over the collapsed Tyrell Corporation, will do anything to bury and he sends his own Replicant enforcer, Luv (Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks), to eradicate the evidence.

This is science fiction spectacle and futuristic detective story as art movie tone poem, a conspiracy thriller with flying cars, blaster handguns, and big brawling fights that defies the breathless pace of the action genre.

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Blu-ray: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

StarWarsForceStar Wars: The Force Awakens (Walt Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) – J.J. Abrams takes over the reins of the Star Wars franchise with what is technically a sequel (“Chapter VII: The Force Awakens”) but is just as much a course correction, a reboot, and a return to the source. It’s been called a shameless remake of the original Star Wars and refreshing return to the innocence and energy and pulpy fun that first entranced a generation of fans. I lean toward the latter, but even for those who find it rehash, I would point out that The Force Awakens is not aimed at the adult fans who grew up on the original trilogy all those decades ago. I’m one of those who saw the film on its first run and was thrilled by it. I think that Abrams is trying to recreate that experience for a whole new generation eager to be captured by the charge and action and exotic Amazing Stories covers come to life in a fairy tale space fantasy that takes place long ago and a galaxy far, far away…

To that end, this installment (set 30 years after Return of the Jedi) picks up with another scrappy kid from a desert planet who finds a runaway robot with secret plans and escapes from the resurgence of the Republic with a hunk of junk ship that just happens to be the Millennium Falcon, teams up with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who are still smuggling and scamming through way through the galaxy well past retirement age, and joins the resistance under the command of Leia (Carrie Fisher). This time, however, the kid with the essence of the force within is a spunky, inventive young woman named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her running buddy is a former Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) who goes AWOL after his first mission, which turns into a pitiless massacre of innocents.

The echoes with the original Star Wars are unmistakable to any fan; there’s a bar filled with mercenary alien types (which Abrams creates largely with old-school make-up and masks), an even bigger and badder Death Star, a masked Darth Vader acolyte (Adam Driver as Kylo Ren) who leads the new Imperial army with the help of the dark side of the force, and yes, those plans reveal the weakness in the new planet-killing weapon. Abrams is clearly devoted to recapturing not just the mythology and style of Lucas’ original trilogy but the innocence and energy and fun. After trying to steer the Star Trek prequels into the Star Wars universe, he’s found the right vehicle for his instincts. But while he honors the original, he adds (with the help of co-screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, who scripted Empire and Return of the Jedi for Lucas, and Michael Arndt, who scripted Toy Story 3) some terrific touches and colors of his own.

The cast is far more inclusive than Lucas’ films, starting with our next generation heroes Rey, a capable and fearless young woman, and Finn, a young black man whose conscience pushes him to find courage he didn’t know he had. Oscar Isaac charges in as smart-talking flyboy and charismatic rebel hero Poe Dameron and leaves you wanting more (we’re sure to see more of him in future films). The roly-poly BB-8 is a delightful creation that rethinks the robot paradigm with both practical innovation and creative playfulness. And all those fabulous planetary landscapes and alien skies recall the wonder of Lucas’ visions without simply rehashing them.

So yes, there is a familiarity to it. This isn’t a rethinking of the space opera and Abrams doesn’t try to take the Star Wars universe into a more mature direction. But perhaps that is as it should be. We’ve already got comic book movies trying to rework the superhero mythos for adult audiences. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is aimed at the child within us all.

On Blu-ray and DVD with a superb transfer. The three-disc Blu-ray edition features the 69-minute “Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey,” which chronicles the production from the development of the story through filming, and a collection of shorter featurettes, all under ten minutes apiece. “Crafting Creatures,” “Building BB-8,” “Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight,” and “ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force” are production pieces that take the viewers into the creation of key scenes and special effects. “John Williams: The Seventh Symphony” looks at the composer who defined the music of the series from the first film. “The Story Awakens: The Table Read” features only brief excerpts from the first table read with the entire cast in a four-minute piece and there are six deleted scenes.

Also includes bonus DVD and Digital HD copies of the film.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Blu-ray]
Star Wars: The Force Awakens [DVD]
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Plus Bonus Features) [Digital HD]

Collectible: The Complete “Indiana Jones” on Blu-ray

Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Paramount) is just the kind of set that folks buy Blu-ray players for.

Sure, the cinephiles are waiting on “Lawrence of Arabia” and the “Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection,” but their sales pale next to “Harry Potter” and “James Bond 50” and “Indiana Jones.” Popcorn memories and genre escape is what defines most of home video libraries, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and its sequels, inconsistent though  they may be, stand out a pop culture landmarks that bring out the giddy kid inside us all, children and adults alike

Harrison Ford, fresh from the first two “Star Wars” films, stepped into the battered fedora and leather jacket of the archeologist adventurer in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981, renamed “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” for disc), the rip-roaring tribute to the cliffhanger adventures of the 1930s and 1940s from producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg. These movie brats were feeding their fondness for the pulp action movies of their youth, from the B-movies and cheap serials of kid matinees to the swashbuckling Errol Flynn adventures and the Technicolor splendor of “King Solomon’s Mines,” and their affection was infectious. The nostalgic trip through yesteryear thrills of non-stop action and skin of the teeth escapes, executed with Spielberg’s filmmaking sophistication and a contemporary tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and driven with runaway momentum, was a blockbuster.

A new franchise was born. Lucas had originally envisioned three films (what is it with Lucas and his trilogies?) and Spielberg helped him see his dream through, beginning with the slapstick romp “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984). Spielberg misjudges the material a little, bouncing from lighthearted action to (at least for kids) disturbing scenes of human sacrifice that he shoots like searing gothic horror. But if the script is negligible, Spielberg opens the film on one of the most delightful set pieces of his career: a screwball musical number executed with all the energy of a classic madcap thirties comedy.

Continue reading at Videodrone

“American Graffiti” – Where were you in ’62?

Lucas nostalgia

American Graffiti: Special Edition (Universal)

Where were you in ’62? George Lucas was cruising the strip in hot rods. After his first feature, THX-1138, flopped, he reached back to his formative experiences for this easy-going “night in the life” portrait of high-school grads on the last blast of summer before heading off to college. Richard Dreyfuss takes his first leading role as the ostensible lead in a big ensemble cast that includes Ron Howard, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark and Mackenzie Philips, plus Harrison Ford in a small role as a big-talking hot-shot looking for a street race. It’s the first Lucasfilm production, co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and the first film to really embrace the jukebox soundtrack: the score is essentially the song list played by deejay Wolfman Jack (playing himself) on the AM radio that every single car is tuned to.

Lucas supervised the digital remaster for the Blu-ray debut and recorded a new video picture-in-picture commentary for the release, which pops in and out of the film but it pretty consistent throughout. There’s also a function to identify the songs. Ported over from previous releases is Laurent Bouzreau’s excellent 78-minute “The Making of American Graffiti” and 22 minutes of screen tests.

More Blu-ray reviews as MSN Videodrone

Blade Runner – Wake Up. Time to Die.

[Originally published as part of the “MSN Cadillac” series.]

Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s visionary reworking of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was a box-office flop. Maybe it was too dark for a public flying away on the fantasy of E.T. in the summer of 1982, or too downbeat for audiences looking for a Harrison Ford adventure romp.

Regardless, the film came and went from cinema screens, but it wouldn’t go away. It returned for midnight screenings and campus showings. It became a cult film, rediscovered on VHS and embraced by new fans. It colonized in the imaginations of writers, directors and die-hard fans of science fiction.

Blade Runner's Los Angeles
Blade Runner's Los Angeles

It’s been branded a “flawed masterpiece.” I won’t argue with that assessment, but what makes Blade Runner the greatest film of modern science fiction cinema is how the “masterpiece” side of the equation overwhelms how it may be “flawed.”

Continue reading “Blade Runner – Wake Up. Time to Die.”

New Review: Crossing Over

Crossing Over (dir/scr: Wayne Kramer)

Call it Crash II: Imported Lives. Wayne Kramer’s oh-so-self-important tale of the the poor, the tired, the hungry huddled masses escaping persecution and the starry-eyed showbiz hopefuls all grabbing for their piece of American dream plays like contribution to the franchise of multi-cultural clashes in the lumpy melting pot of Los Angeles. He makes a point of tossing his (drag)net wide; there are Mexicans who have illegally crossed the border to work under-the-radar jobs, young hopefuls from Britain and Australia trying to break into show business in the entertainment capital of the world, an Iranian family who fled the increasingly repressive Iran under the Ayatollah, a Korean family about to become naturalized citizens while the teenage son is pulled into a gang, an orphaned African girl awaiting some kind of adoption. Meanwhile Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (led by Harrison Ford, who lends the film its only class with a quiet, understated performance as a sensitive agent who tries to walk through the morass with a modicum of empathy)  sorts the illegal arrivals from the legal immigrants.

Harrison Ford tries to bring some dignity to movie
Harrison Ford tries to bring some dignity to movie

A few years ago, Kramer created a delightfully lightfingered character piece called The Cooler. That Kramer is nowhere in sight. This is directed with fists gripping a sledgehammer to pound his points home.

The film is more pedantic than personal, but Kramer puts on a good show of outrage as he slashes through the complexity of the issues with superficial stories and simple emotional responses. The expediency of ICE agents can be heartless and terrorist fears result in overreaction. Generational struggles between immigrant parents and their American-raised kids erupt in tragedy. Or redemption. Or whatever.

With the film spread so thin over all these superficial stories, there isn’t much time to get to know the characters beyond their symbolic value. And given the life-and-death stakes of the disenfranchised who came looking for a better life for their kids, it’s hard to sympathize for the pretty, young show-biz hopefuls scheming to extend their visas. For all the bludgeoning insistence of Kramer’s contrived plots and blunt direction, there’s not much conviction to the outrage.

Read the complete review here.

What’s in Harrison Ford’s DVD Player? – and Spike Lee, too

Harrison Ford is the most recent film folk to be a part of my interview series on MSN, but he’s the first who couldn’t come up with an answer to the question that gives the series its title.

What’s in your DVD player?

(long silence) I’m trying to remember. I usually have a very specific ambition when I watch a film, either looking at a filmmaker’s work or the work of an actor or actress. It’s been a while since we’ve watched one.

Do you see many films on DVD?

We have a seven-year-old at home and have a busy life, we don’t usually sit down and watch a DVD all that often and when we do, it’s likely to be a nature film that we watch with Liam or some kid show. Otherwise, it’s work more often than not.

Do you have a favorite among your own films?

I had the opportunity to work with some very good filmmakers and so I think a number of the older films I’ve made are worthy of being seen again, not just for me but for the work involved and the quality of the film. Films like “Presumed Innocent,” “The Mosquito Coast,” those are films that I think that are especially high quality. I also think that the Jack Ryan films are especially well made.

I’ve always liked Jack Ryan because he was a reluctant action hero, more of a thinker than an adventurer. Who do you identity more with — Indiana Jones or Jack Ryan?

I’d have to say that my personal experience would lead me to a situation where I would identify more with Jack Ryan, because Jack Ryan is caused to engage in action when there’s a direct threat to his family. As you say, he only reluctantly engages because he is, by nature, an intellectual.

Read the complete piece here.

In case you missed it, the last “DVD Player” piece was with Spike Lee.

Continue reading “What’s in Harrison Ford’s DVD Player? – and Spike Lee, too”