BLADE RUNNER 2049

by Alan Yudman

The original BLADE RUNNER was based on the Phillip K. Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. If Dick had subtitled BLADE RUNNER 2049 it might have been “Do Androids Dream of Wooden Horses”.

That first movie is considered a ground breaking in the science fiction genre. It was dark and thought provoking. The hero was really an anti-hero. It dealt with themes such as humanity, what it means to be alive and slavery.

So, could Ridley Scott’s 35-year-old vision of the future be updated or expanded upon? Why even try? The answers are absolutely and why not? BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a worthy sequel to the original. It is the rare copy that is better than the original. Kind of like a Tyrell Nexus-8 is a vast improvement over the Nexus-6.

Rather than craft this himself, Scott turned the reigns over to Denis Villeneuve, the director responsible for ARRIVAL, SICARIO and PRISONERS. Sorry, “responsible” has a negative connotation. He is the genius that brought us those wonderful movies. The “franchise” is in good hands.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 shows us a more dystopian future. There has been a war. A new more compliant type of android has been developed by a genius (mad) named Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). The Blade Runners are now hunting down the last of Tyrell Corporation’s Nexus-8 models who are “blessed” with an open ended lifespan. One of Wallace’s improved androids is a Blade Runner. Ryan Gosling’s “K” has found one on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) is farming and living alone. While dispatching Sapper, K finds clues to something else. Something dangerous.
That is where BLADE RUNNER 2049 turns into a kind of noir detective story. K uncovers clues that indicate a Tyrell android gave birth to a child about 30 years ago. A dangerous idea in a society where androids are thought of as less than human. But if they can give birth? The ballgame will change.

Wallace seems to know all this. His androids are wonderful, but cannot parent a child. That makes them less than perfect in his eyes. He wants perfection. So he dispatches his “henchwoman” Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to shadow K because he knows this will lead him to the child and his/her father. And that will give Wallace the knowledge he needs to make his perfect creation. K has to track down Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to get answers.

That is the basic plot of BLADE RUNNER 2049. But there is so much more. It delves deeper into what humanity really is. It again addresses, but doesn’t answer the question of slavery. Wallace has a chilling monologue about that. That’s the thing. The movie asks questions, but does not really answer them. That’s ok. It is thought provoking in the best possible way.

Villeneuve’s vision of Los Angeles (and San Diego and Las Vegas) is right in line with the first movie. It is dark, dirty and depressing. Gloomy does not begin to describe the tone. The visuals are breathtaking thanks to Roger Deakins. The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is perfect.

Gosling is wonderful. How do you bring humanity to something that isn’t human? K has memories, including one about a toy wooden horse that is key to unravelling the mystery. But is that his memory or is it implanted. You can read the confusion and frustration in Gosling’s eyes. He is cold, but not unfeeling (he has a virtual wife). Gosling is subtle in all the right ways. Leto is a great villain. Not mustache twirling at all. But he is menacing.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 is nearly 3 hours long. But even though it is not packed with action, it is packed with tension and great filmmaking. So those hours fly by. We have waited a long time for the next chapter in this story. It was worth it. This is a great movie on every level.

AMERICAN MADE

by Alan Yudman

The story of Barry Seal is simply crazy. So maybe it needed a crazy movie to tell it well. Tom Cruise pairs up once again with Doug Liman to tell us about Seal, a former TWA pilot who ran drugs and guns to the Contras during the Reagan administration. It’s the genesis of what would be known as The Iran-Contra Affair.

Seal started by simply taking photos of communist insurgents in Central America while flying very low in his super fast plane. Then he started carrying messages for the CIA to Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.. Then he started ferrying cocaine to the United States for the Medellin cartel and was paid an insane amount of money for it.

Liman, working from a script by Gary Spinelli, has made a very stylish and funny movie. Funny drug kingpins. Funny CIA agents. Everyone is laughing all the way to the bank and ultimately their doom.

Cruise is pretty good. But not as good as he was in his last collaboration with Liman, EDGE OF TOMORROW. That movie forced him to tone down his “Cruise-iness” a bit. Not many winning smiles or much mugging for the camera in that film. I get that AMERICAN MADE forces him back into that box. Here he kind of combines his action hero skills with his charm to make Barry likable. I’m not sure Barry should be likable, but he is the hero of the story and the main character. I don’t think you could get Cruise to play an unlikable character.

All this indulgence is also Barry’s downfall. He seems to have no moral compass and just willingly goes along. He starts down a path that seems to have no way out. A fact made abundantly clear in the fate that befalls his brother-in-law.

My initial thought about all this was two fold. I laughed and then felt guilty about it because.. blech. How could you make fun of such criminal activity? There’s nothing funny about this. But maybe Liman and Spinelli are doing something very subversive here. On the surface we are laughing, but then we think about what is happening and the cynical nature of everyone involved and it reminds us how terrible all these people were. That’s pretty effective filmmaking.

VICTORIA & ABDUL

by Alan Yudman

When I went to see VICTORIA & ABDUL I wasn’t sure what I was going to see. I though maybe I was in for a Merchant/Ivory story. I was apprehensive, but Dame Judi Dench convinced me to check it out. Now I’m glad I did.

If you are not familiar with the story, Abdul was an Indian Muslim who was selected to travel to England to present a commemorative coin to Queen Victoria near the end of her reign. But once he arrived and the two met, they struck up a deep friendship. One that continued until her death.

VICTORIA & ABDUL is delightful. Dench is perfect. But when isn’t she? In this case she plays the gruff monarch with a ton of humor. She’s outlived everyone she has ever known or loved. At the time she was he longest reigning monarch in history and she felt like it was over, but kept on because that is what she was supposed to do. But meeting Abdul (Ali Fazal, who is wonderful) she finds a reason to go on. He teaches her about India, Islam and becomes her teacher and trusted adviser.

None of this sat well with the stiff upper lip brigade. They were horrified because, well he was brown, low born, a Muslim. They were prejudiced and proud of it. They were protecting the Monarchy. It features two very good performances by the late Tim Piggott-Smith as her head of household Sir Henry Ponsonby and Eddie Izzard as her son and heir to the throne, Bertie the Prince of Wales. They are all horrible by today’s standards. They can’t see how Abdul has breathed new life into the Queen. How she was expanding their horizons.

The first two-thirds of the movie are peppered with a ton of humor. It is comedy of manners kind of stuff, but Dench pulls it off perfectly. There is a lot of harumphing and scheming from her staff. And a lot of cutting remarks from the Queen. It works very well.

Then towards the end the movie gets a bit too sentimental. The Queen falls ill and is dying and Abdul is kept from her for a time. Then when she dies he is treated horribly by the new King. He is forced to return to India with his wife. It’s not bad.. or eye rolling in any way, but it kind of turns the movie in a different direction.

Stephen Frears does a wonderful job bringing the “mostly true” screenplay by Lee Hall to life. The costume and set design are beautiful and the makeup work is fabulous.

VICTORIA & ABDUL tells an unusual love story of the unusual friendship between to very different people. But it is most certainly an enjoyable film.

REMEMBERING TOM PETTY

by Alan Yudman

Hollywood and Whine is normally about Movies and TV. But today I wanted to share my thoughts on the passing of Tom Petty. Thanks for indulging me.

In 1989 I moved to Montana to run the news department at a TV station in Great Falls. I moved away from everything I had known. No family. No friends. But I always had music. And that music included Tom Petty.

I was flying solo. So was Petty. He released ‘Full Moon Fever’ that year, his first solo album without the Heartbreakers (never mind The Traveling Wilburys and Mudcrutch). Man that album spoke to me. It’s like Tom knew what was happening with me. It was a frustrating time professionally, lot’s of challenges. So ‘I Won’t Back Down’ inspired me. I had just started my career, so ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ felt like theme music. And then in times of frustration ‘Free Fallin’’ was like a warm blanket.

So Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been with me all these years. Like a friend I could count on.

My favorite Petty song is ‘The Waiting’. Waiting for love and then finding it.. the song puts into words those feelings you have when it is all knew and you’ll do anything for her.

It took me way too long to see Petty in concert. The summer I first saw him I had planned to go to 2 concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. The Police was first. Petty followed a few weeks later. Frankly at that point I was more excited about The Police. They were reunited after years. But the concert was dull. Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland seemed to just be going through the motions. They seemed bored. Then the Petty concert arrived. I was blown away. I have seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 10 times. They are the most moving shows I have ever seen in my life. Petty is second on the list. His passion for the music, his love of his fans and The Heartbreakers moved me. He was humble and thrilled to be on stage.

Then their 40th anniversary tour was announced and I got tickets as soon as they went on sale. Another night with Tom and the fellas would be great. And it was. His humor, his love of the fans and Los Angeles was obvious. He truly seemed to love, as he put it, droppin’ the needle on a big old LP and playing songs he loved. He didn’t play ‘The Waiting’ which was a bit disappointing, but I though ‘next time’. Now there will be no next time.

The surprising news of Petty’s death knocked me off my feet. Literally. I had read it on my phone and immediately fell back into a chair and wept. Not Tom! He was so alive when I saw him a week and a half ago!! How can this be? It’s soul crushing. I couldn’t listen to his music for a full day. But now it’s a day later and I’m remembering the concerts and the music. His first band Mudcrutch, his duet with Stevie Nicks, the Traveling Wilburys. There is so much to love.

The love will always be there after the sadness passes. Fair seas and following winds Tom. ‘You belong somewhere you feel free’.