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Blade Runner 2049 ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Blade Runner 2049 ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

The 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner is notable for its spectacular futuristic vistas, its haunting music score and brooding tone. You probably know (or maybe you don’t) that the story in Blade Runner is about those delightful synthetic humans called “replicants” that are so close to being real that nobody can tell them apart. Replicants were manufactured as a disposable work force, but, only trouble is, they were so highly evolved that they developed a will of their own, staged an insurrection, and murdered a lot of real humans, after which the manufacture of replicants was banned. (We saw this same premise used, but not as effectively, in the HBO television series Westworld.)

Now, thirty-five years later (can it really be that long?), there is Blade Runner 2049, a sequel, of sorts, to the earlier movie. The main character is called K (played by Ryan Gosling). He doesn’t have a name because he is himself a replicant, but he’s the good kind, not the kind that goes around murdering humans. K is a Blade Runner, meaning it’s his job to hunt down and kill the replicants that are still living and walking in the world, disguising themselves as real people. K is so human-like that he has human emotions. This is going to get him into trouble.

Before the production of replicants was banned all those years earlier, the mad scientists who made them added a new wrinkle: a replicant woman was able to mate with a human man and have a child, which is exactly what happened. Remember the character Deckard (Harrison Ford) from the 1982 Blade Runner movie? At the end of that movie, he fell in love with a replicant named Rachel and absconded with her. It turns out that Rachel was one of those replicants who could have a baby with a human father. Well, we find out in Blade Runner 2049 that, not only did Rachel have a baby by Deckard, she had twins, a boy and a girl, after which Deckard disappeared. Can K be the half-human/half-replicant boy that was born to Rachel and Deckard thirty years earlier? If he is, where is the twin sister? What happened to her?

In Blade Runner 2049, K spends a lot of time literally flying around in these futuristic cityscapes to a pounding (heavy on the kettle drums) music score, looking for pieces to the mystery that consumes him. Holograms are very popular in this world. There are holograms of Elvis Presley, Liberace and Frank Sinatra, and holograms just about every place else, including a fifty-foot-tall, pink, naked lady with blue hair by the side of the road who promises that you will see everything you want to see and hear everything you want to hear. Oh, and one of the most prominent features of this world is that it’s dark all the time and rainy because, well, the atmosphere has been messed up.

There’s lots of information thrown at the audience in Blade Runner 2049, maybe too much, which makes the story murky at times. (For example, what do the beehives mean?) The writing could have been tighter and the length could have been shortened by thirty or forty minutes. Otherwise, it’s a wild sci-fi trip to a dystopian future world that you might have to see more than once to absorb everything in it.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

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It ~ A Capsule Movie Review

It ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Early in It, a small boy named Georgie has an encounter with a strange, though interesting, clown in a storm drain during a rainstorm. That’s the last that’s seen of little Georgie. His older brother Bill misses Georgie terribly and refuses to believe he’s dead. Bill and his group of adolescent friends (all troubled in some way) believe there’s something terrible going on in the little town of Derry, Maine, in the late 1980s. There are far too many missing kids and nobody knows what’s happened to them. The self-absorbed adults in the town don’t seem very interested in solving the mystery, so it’s left to Bill and his friends to confront the evil force, whatever it is. Welcome to the world of Stephen King. It is based on his massive, 1200-page novel.

There’s a pattern to the bad things that happen in the town. In 1908, an ironworks exploded, killing over a hundred people. Every twenty-seven years since 1908, tragedies have occurred. It’s now 1989 and that’s twenty-seven years since the latest town tragedy in 1962. By studying maps, the boys figure out that the places where the tragic events occurred all have something in common: they are all connected via the town’s sewer system and a thing called the well house. Just where is this well house, and how do the boys find it?

The clown, Pennywise, is by far the most interesting character in It. He is the personification of the evil force in the town. He lives in the town’s labyrinthine sewer system. Depending on your own perception of clowns (I like them), Pennywise is grotesque, scary, fascinating, creepy, compelling, or silly. Maybe all of these things.

Most of the characters in It are like cardboard cutouts. Some of the kid actors who play the parts talk so fast that we don’t understand a lot of what they say and they aren’t very convincing or likeable, with the exception of stuttering Bill and the one girl in the group, Beverly, who has to fight off the advances of her creepy, leering father.  If you are a Stephen King fan, you will probably love this film adaptation of one of his most famous works. If you are not a Stephen King fan, you might find the onscreen horror of the ho-hum, obvious kind involving thirteen-year-olds and things jumping out at you in the dark.

We don’t know until the end of It that we have just seen chapter 1 of the story, meaning there will be more. The young girl who plays Beverly in the movie looks very much like the fortyish actress Amy Adams, so I’m figuring that Amy will be in the next movie playing Beverly as she would now look in the year 2017. And Pennywise? He’ll be back! He may be down but not out. Oh, that clown!

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Dunkirk ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Dunkirk ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

In 1940, in the early days of World War II (before America entered the war), German forces had Allied soldiers (British, French, Canadian, Belgium) pushed to the sea and surrounded in a place called Dunkirk in northern France. Some 338,000 Allied soldiers were expecting destroyers to come and pick them up, but no destroyers were available. In what is known as the “Dunkirk Evacuation,” hundreds of small civilian boats (yachts, fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats) crossed the channel to France and carried as many soldiers to safety in England as they could. It was a turning point in the war that could very easily have spelled disaster for the British war effort.

The new movie Dunkirk is a stirring recreation of the evacuation at Dunkirk, told from three points of view: from the land (the “mole”), the sea, and the air. We shift back and forth from one to the other. We follow a young British soldier, a young French soldier, a combat pilot (Tom Hardy), the men on the beach waiting to be picked up, and a small yacht piloted by an older British man (Mark Rylance) with two teenage boys. There’s lots of intense action and many harrowing moments, as when the pilot runs out of gas (he glides gracefully to the ground in enemy territory); when a civilian teenage boy on the yacht is hit by a Nazi bullet; and when a young flyer crash lands in the sea and can’t get his hatch open to get out as his plane sinks. All of it has a kind of “you-are-there” feel to it, but the movie has an unconventional structure and there isn’t much in the way of exposition, especially at the beginning, so it’s going to be difficult for people to understand what is going on who don’t know the circumstances beforehand.

World War II provides a seemingly endless supply of material for filmmakers. Dunkirk is a rarity: a serious summer movie not aimed at the youth market that is entertaining and informative. If you’re looking for a summer movie that doesn’t have comic book heroes, intelligent talking apes, space adventure, or raunchy sexual situations, Dunkirk might be the movie for you.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

The Mummy ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Mummy ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

An Egyptian princess from five thousand years ago thought she was going to be next in line for the throne of Egypt, but her father’s wife gave birth to a son who instead would become the next pharaoh. The Egyptian princess at this point embraced evil and murdered her father, his wife and infant son. When her crimes were discovered, she was entombed alive and, because she was a disgrace to Egypt, her body was laid to rest in a tomb in Mesopotamia, a thousand miles from Egypt, in what is present-day Iraq.

A crusaders’ tomb from the thirteenth century is found underneath London. One of the crusaders entombed there had a stone buried with him that he picked up while crusading in Egypt.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), adventurer and plunderer of antiquities in Iraq, just happens to accidentally find the forgotten tomb of the disgraced Egyptian princess while dodging bullets from insurgents. He is with a hapless male colleague and a curvaceous female archaeologist named Jennifer Halsey, who recognizes the significance of the tomb from an archaeological standpoint. They crate up the mummy case containing the remains of the Egyptian princess and are flying it back to home base, when the plane crashes over England. All on board the plane are killed except Jennifer Halsey and Nick Morton.

Opening the five-thousand-year-old tomb of the Egyptian princes has released her, or has at least has released her malevolence. She causes the plane to crash over England so she can reclaim the crusader’s stone that goes into the hilt of her magic sword. She recognizes Nick Morton as her redeemer, her restorer, and the new love of her life because he was the one who found her tomb. All he has to do is abide by her wishes and the two of them will enjoy a life together of everlasting evil.

The Mummy is a silly, summer, action-adventure movie, with the emphasis on action instead of on intelligence or subtlety. Tom Cruise seems to have forfeited all pretentions of being a good actor by making movies like this one. And what about (the now-portly) Russell Crowe? Is he on the side of good or evil? It’s hard to tell. He is wasted here as a character named Dr. Henry Jekyll, who seems to serve no purpose unless it was to add an extra male star to boost box office receipts.

The original The Mummy was made in 1932 and stars Boris Karloff. It is a creepily atmospheric excursion into horror, a truly memorable classic that spawned a spate of sequels and added to the horror lexicon. The new The Mummy won’t be a classic. It’s not terrible, just another forgettable summer movie. Check your brain at the door, or, better yet, wait for it to come to HBO and save your nine dollars.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Alien: Covenant ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Alien: Covenant ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

The year is 2104. A disparate group of characters are traveling on a gigantic spacecraft (called the Covenant) to a new, distant planet to start a colony. (Earth, you see, is dying.) It’s a long journey and a hazardous one because there’s no telling what these travelers might encounter in the vast, uncharted reaches of space. When they are still a long way from where they’re going, they receive a mysterious, seemingly human, transmission fairly close to where they are. They veer off-course for a few weeks to investigate the source of the signal and we, the audience, know it’s a mistake because we’ve seen this plot device before.

Some but not all of the travelers get on a smaller spacecraft and land on the alien planet where the mysterious signal originates, not knowing what they’ll find but hoping it’s something good, like an appealing, habitable place where they can start their colony and not have to go on to their original destination. Among the group is a “simulated human” (they never use the word “robot”) named Walter, the only non-human on the mission.

They find the alien planet earth-like but with no birds or animals. Soon two of their number become mysteriously ill and we witness, once again, the hideous creature come bursting out of their bodies. The thing has been incubating inside them, don’t you know, and when it comes out, it’s fully formed, though miniature-sized, and ready for killing humans. In this instance, it’s rather lizard-like, moves with lightning speed, has an elongated head, multiple limbs, a slobbering mouth, and a tail. If you’ve ever seen any of the Alien movies going back to 1979, you are familiar with this creature and hope you never meet one.

Once on this alien planet, the travelers discover the wreckage of an enormous spacecraft called the Prometheus. If you saw the movie Prometheus in 2012, you may remember what happened at the end of it. Well, this movie picks up the thread from that movie and continues the story in a way, or, as the saying goes, after a fashion. You may remember from Prometheus a “simulated human” named David. Well, it turns out that Walter, the simulated human from the current movie, is identical to David, meaning, I suppose, that they originated from the same source or the same creator. The only difference is that David can “create” and think on his own, while Walter is only compliant with the humans he works with. (You got that?) It seems that David, in the ten years since the Prometheus crashed, has become an amateur zoologist and, more to the point, he doesn’t think much of humans.

Alien: Covenant is pretty standard stuff. Nothing new here. After the initial banal “setup” that takes a half-hour or so and shows us lots of space hardware and contains lots of difficult-to-understand dialogue (and, really, who cares what they’re saying?), we find ourselves in another who-will-die-next situation. And, of course, there’s the usual claptrap about the “origins” or human life. (Will that question ever be answered to our satisfaction?) The most interesting characters by far are the two simulated human “men,” Walter and David (both played by Michael Fassbender), who show us the conflicting sides of good and evil. And, as you might expect, the story is left at the end for yet another installment to come in the ongoing saga.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Moonlight ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Moonlight ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Moonlight is a modest “art” film that made a big splash and walked away with a ton of awards, including Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, where La La Land was heavily favored to win but didn’t. Moonlight is an exploration of the life of a young black male named Chiron (pronounced Shy-rone.) We see Chiron as a boy of around nine, then as a teenager in high school, and then as a man in his thirties.

Chiron lives with his troubled mother in a drug-riddled section of Miami. She is alternately loving and frightening and takes Chiron’s money to feed her drug addiction. Chiron has other problems, too, besides his mother: he is perceived as being “different” by his classmates and is bullied and mistreated.

Chiron meets Juan, a drug dealer who, despite his profession, turns out to be a positive male influence in Chiron’s life. Juan and his kind girlfriend, Teresa, befriend Chiron and treat him in a way he is not used to being treated: with kindness and consideration. They feed him and give him a place to stay when he needs time away from his mother and the awful problems in the neighborhood.

When the second act begins, we see Chiron as a high school student, silent and withdrawn, still being bullied in a vicious way. (Chiron exacts revenge upon the most vicious of the bullies in a satisfying way.) Juan, the drug dealer who treated him kindly, is now dead, but Teresa, Juan’s girlfriend, continues to be take an interest in Chiron and help him whenever help is needed.

Besides Juan and Teresa, Chiron has few friends, but there is one boy is own age who stands out from the others. His name is Kevin. He connects with Chiron in a way that nobody else does. After years of friendship, Chiron and Kevin have a brief, unexpected sexual encounter on the beach one night. Kevin shrugs it off, but we know how significant it is to a boy of Chiron’s sensitive nature.

In the third act, Chiron is a self-confident man in his thirties. He has, we assume, buried the difficulties of the past. Now living in Atlanta, he receives an unexpected call from Kevin, whom he hasn’t seen or heard from in more than ten years. Kevin has been in jail and is working as a cook in a restaurant in Miami; he has been married and divorced and is the father of a small son. A few hundred miles separates Kevin and Chiron. Here is the chance for Chiron to connect with the one person in his past he hasn’t been able to put out of his mind.

Moonlight is an effective, memorable story, told in a minimalist style. There’s no razzmatazz, no special effects, no explosions, car chases, boobs, murders, stabbings or fistfights. There’s truth here, pain and hope, always hope, that a terrible life can be made better. Talented filmmakers don’t need a hundred million dollars or more to put an effective story on the screen that audiences can connect with. If talent and creativity are in play, it can be done for a tiny fraction of the cost.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Lion ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Lion ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Five-year-old Saroo lives with his mother, his older bother, Guddu, and his younger sister, Shekila, in a small village in India. The family is poor but loving and close-knit. Saroo’s mother can’t read or write. Saroo and his brother scavenge coal and exchange the coal for food. When Guddu goes out at night to look for work, Saroo insists that Guddu takes him along. When Saroo becomes sleepy, Guddu leaves him on a bench at the railroad station. Many hours later when Saroo wakes up, Guddu hasn’t returned. There is nobody around at all, so we assume it’s the middle of the night.

In looking for Guddu, Saroo boards an abandoned train that is just sitting there. He falls asleep on a bench on the train and when he wakes up the train is in motion. He’s locked in and can’t get out and can’t get anybody to hear his cries for help. Two days later the train is 1600 kilometers away in Calcutta. Saroo is alone in the big, frightening city. He, of course, doesn’t know where he is, nor does he understand how he got there. He is just alone on the streets with hundreds of other children in similar circumstances.

Saroo experiences kindness from strangers, but he also knows that he must be wary of them. A seemingly kind woman takes him in and feeds him and gives him a place to sleep, but Saroo overhears that she is going to give him to a man, for what purpose Saroo doesn’t know. Another kind man spots Saroo on the street outside a restaurant and takes him to the police. The police question him about where he comes from, but they speak a different language, so Saroo isn’t able to tell them anything. When he says the name of his village, they don’t know what he’s talking about.

After months on the streets of Calcutta, Saroo ends up in an orphanage. The orphanage people try to reconnect him with his family by running ads in Calcutta newspapers, but nobody comes forward to claim Saroo. A kind welfare woman informs Saroo that a couple in Australia wants to adopt him.

Saroo travels to Australia and is taken into the home of John and Sue (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman), an almost-too-good-to-be true, middle-class Australian couple. (David Wenham played a pumped-up Greek warrior in the movie 300.) Twenty years go by and Saroo grows into a man. He is smart, decent and respectful, everything John and Sue hoped he would be. Sue tells Saroo after he is grown that she and John opted not to have any children of their own. “There are already enough people in the world,” she says. When she was twelve years old, she says, she had a “vision”  that one day she would take a “brown-skinned” child into her home and give him a better chance at life.

As happy and well-adjusted as Saroo is as an adult, he can’t forget his family back in India. He becomes obsessed with finding them again and letting them know what happened to him. When somebody tells him about Google maps on the Internet, he spends many hours looking for clues to where he came from. Even if he finds the place, he has no guarantee that his family will still be there, or that they are still alive.

Finally, his searching pays off. He recognizes features on Google maps that he recognizes from childhood. When he learns the name of the place, he knows it’s what he was trying to say, but he was saying it wrong. He travels to the place in India that he has located by way of Google maps. More than twenty-five years have gone by since he disappeared. What will he find when he returns to his childhood home?

We never know where Lion is taking us. Where we end up is not where we expected to be. It’s an engaging and emotional (real emotion as opposed to melodrama) movie with many fine touches. If you are capable of being moved by the plight of a homeless five-year-old boy in the slums of Calcutta, India, you will be moved by Saroo. He’s like a little animal with a haunting voice and enormous brown eyes. He loves his mother, his sister, and his brother, and he wants desperately to find them.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp