Blade Heads hoping to learn intimate details about Denis Villeneuve’s continuation of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi detective masterwork will be disappointed by this review. I’m treating “Blade Runner 2049” like a high tech “Crying Game.” Remember that? “The movie everyone is talking about... But no one is giving away its secrets.” Spoilers for the flick will likely be available on Twitter roughly 0.0001 nanoseconds after the film’s first public showing so check there. You won’t find them here.
I will say the new film is set thirty years after the events of Scott’s film. Ryan Gosling is Los Angeles Police Department’s Officer K, a blade runner who hunts down and eliminates rogue humanoid androids called replicants. When he makes a startling discovery in the field, his supervisor Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) sends him to track down the only person who can help save humanity, retired blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). "You're a cop. I did your job once. I was good at it," he says.
I will also say that Jared Leto plays a replicant manufacturer named Niander Wallace, that David Bautista makes an appearance and that it rains a lot. But that’s it.
“Blade Runner 2049” is a beautiful looking movie, simultaneously lush but austere. Villeneuve’s frequent collaborator, cinematographer Roger Deakins, creates eye-catching tableaus that blend moody film noir, desaturated dystopia, vivid neon cityscapes and more. Each setting in every scene has its own unique palette that has echoes of the original film, but feels fresh. It’s a movie that visually doesn't slavishly adhere to Scott's vision but grows organically out of it.
Thematically it harkens back while creating a new story. Like the original, it is still about discovering what is real, and what it means to be human but it expands on the search for self and the coming to grips with what you find, touching on real life issues like false memories and fear of progress.
Keeping it grounded are reverberations from our lives. A hologram that keeps K company is simply a logical extension of Siri, a comforting voice that tells you what you want to hear. Our brave new world of self-driving cars and machines that replace human interaction is simply the analogue “Blade Runner,” a prototype of the world we see on screen. Virtually everything we see is futuristic but not outside of the realm of possibility. These touchstones from our present lives and the primal search for self ensure the humanity of the story doesn’t get lost amid the technology.
Fans of the original will find much to like in “Blade Runner 2049.” It’s a skillfully made movie that works as a companion piece to Scott’s film and as a detective mystery. What it isn’t is easy. It’s a ponderous two-and-a-half hours long, grappling with ideas rather than with physically grappling with one another. There is the odd combat scene but the real action here happens internally.
THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US: 1 STAR
Mountain survival movies usually end up with someone eating someone else to stay alive. “The Mountain Between Us” features the usual mountain survival tropes—there’s a plane crash, a showdown with a cougar and broken bones—but luckily for fans of stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet cannibalism is not on the menu.
The melodramatic tale begins at the Idaho airport on Dec. 29. A storm is brewing and all flights are cancelled, grounding Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet). He’s scheduled to perform surgery the next day in Denver, she’s getting married to Mark (Dermot Mulroney) on the 30th. Desperate to make their obligations, professional and personal, the two strangers pay former Vietnam pilot Walter (Beau Bridges) $800 to fly them to Denver in his twin prop plane. The jovial Walt doesn't bother to file a flight plan because it's daylight and he's confident he can beat the storm.
All is going well until Walter suffers a stroke and the plane falls from the sky, crash landing at the top of a remote mountain. The situation? "Your phone is smashed," says Ben. "Mine has no bars and we're pretty high up in the mountains." They’re also banged up. She has a broken leg, he has lacerations on his side. Walt isn’t so lucky, but his dog, who came along for the ride, is unharmed.
Around them is a winter wonderland: cougars, and miles of ice and snow as far as the eye can see. Tucked away in the broken airplane fuselage, they wait for rescue. Ben, a man of logic and science, is convinced the airplane’s beacon will alert the authorities. Alex wants to move but is hampered by her injury. They bicker. He calls her reckless; she says he's afraid to take risks. He’s a neurosurgeon, all logic. "What about the heart?" She asks. "The heart is nothing but a muscle, "he snorts.
Days pass and then weeks pass and soon they begin their trek to safety. “Where are we going?” she asks. “We're alive,” he says. “That's where were going.” There will be no spoilers here but I will say the crash and story of survival changes them in ways that they couldn't imagine… but ways the audience will see coming 100 miles away.
The crash sequence in “The Mountain Between Us” is vivid and exciting but the rest of it, including the inevitable plunge-through-the-ice-into-the-icy-depths sequence doesn't have enough juice to get the pulse racing. Oscar nominated director Hany Abu-Assad is content, for the most part, to keep things light. It's a grim situation and yet they make cocktail party conversation. "Do you have kids?" "I hope I get to meet your wife,” rather than discussing more pressing matters. The gravity of the circumstances seems to be of secondary importance as she says to the dog, "Don't look at me like that." They flip-flop between cozy moments and bickering and their corny reactions don't ever feel like life-and-death reactions.
It’s all a bit silly—three weeks in and unwashed they still are a fetching couple—but at least there’s no cannibalism and no, they don’t eat the dog.
REBEL IN THE RYE: 2 STARS
“Rebel in the Rye” is a glossy look at author J.D. Salinger’s unlikely journey from losing a girlfriend to Charlie Chaplin to the Second World War, from eastern religion to Holden Caulfield. It’s a long strange trip, but would Caulfield label it phoney?
Nicholas Hoult plays Jerome David Salinger, a young man with a talent for words but a father (Victor Garber) who wants him to go into the meat and cheese distribution business. The sharp-tongued teenager isn’t accepted into uptown New York City society and is too square for downtown. The only things he's good at are getting kicked out of school and writing.
His talent leads him to Columbia University and the creative writing class of Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey). Burnett recognizes Salinger’s gift but isn’t sure of his commitment to the writing life.
Meanwhile, Salinger is a man about town who begins a tumultuous and ill-fated relationship with Eugene O'Neill's daughter Oona (Zoey Deutch), a pairing that begins his journey towards writing his most famous book.
First though, he yearns to get a short story published. Sights set on Esquire and The New Yorker, he receives rejection after rejection until Burnett publishes “The Young Folks,” in a small literary magazine.
Salinger gets some notice, a high-powered agent Dorothy Olding (Sarah Paulson) and a healthy disdain of “phonies,” superficial people who talk one way and behave another. “My father hides the fact that he's Jewish from our neighbours,” he says. “The first phoney I ever met was on my first day.”
At Burnett’s urging Salinger begins writing a book. “Holden Caulfield deserves a novel all his own,” Burnett drunkenly slurs after a night on the town. “Imagine the book you would like to read and then to write it.”
His burgeoning career is cut short, interrupted by the Second World War. Overseas he continues to write—he storms Normandy with six chapters of what would become the classic “Catcher in the Rye” in his pack—but when he returns to the United States he suffers PTSD and is unable to continue. "I have nothing left to say about Holden Caulfield,” he says. “Nothing left to say at all.”
Spiralling downward, his life is changed when he discovers meditation as a way to quiet his mind. He picks up the story of a troubled kid during the Christmas holidays, finishing “Catcher in the Rye.” The book is an immediate hit, capturing the consciousness of the nation. Salinger becomes a media star but his newfound fame and interactions with disturbed fans, people who think they are Caulfield, drive him from public life. In his remote New Hampshire home he builds walls, physically around his home and mentally, to keep everyone out. “When people become a distraction,” he says, you remove the distraction.” He dedicates his life to writing—something his mentor Burnett was unsure he’d be able to do—but removes the pressure of having to follow up one of the most popular novels of all time by never publishing another word.
The word “phoney” looms large in the legacy of J.D. Salinger. His process was a search for authenticity, a journey writer and director Danny Strong seems to have veered away from. The handsome production design and period details bring style to a film that is almost completely without substance. The complex issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss and connection that Salinger loved and brought to his work are reduced to platitudes. Yes, the Second World War scenes effectively showcase the horrors of war but Salinger’s reaction to them feel, well, phoney. Later, when he finally begins to create again it’s because he “learns to write not to show off his talent, but to display what is in his heart.” It’s a line that would have made the real life Salinger red faced and the movie is full of them.
From its on-the-nose title to the standard biopic conventions “Rebel in the Rye” could probably best be described by Caulfield himself: “You never saw so many phonies in all your life.”