Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blade Runner 2049, The Florida Project, Breathe, Goodbye Christopher Robin, Marshall, Faces Places

Blade Runner 2049

The Florida Project


Goodbye Christopher Robin


Faces Places

Capsules on a mostly mediocre first half of the month:

Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049" lacks the frisson of newness that made the original "Blade Runner" a cult classic. This sequel is set 30 years ahead in time, but doesn't feel 30 years ahead of its time. Ryan Gosling as the new blade runner, Officer K, seems to be sleepwalking through the part; this talented actor is in danger of entering James Franco territory in terms of sheer laconism. He makes Harrison Ford's Deckard - croupy voice and all - a welcome sight about halfway through the picture. Deckard's new digs - amid the ashes of a latter-day Las Vegas - include elements (an empty casino, a holographic Elvis stage show) that threaten to excite the viewer, but don't - an apt description of the whole thing. For its 164-minute runtime, "2049" moves reasonably well, but a waterlogged fight between our heroes and the replicant henchwoman (Sylvia Hoeks of Giuseppe Tornatore's great "The Best Offer") to synarchist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) will not go down in cinematic history - basically, it ends when they wade over to the end of the stage set and the water runs out. Ana de Armas, whom I've singled out before (in "Hands of Stone" and "War Dogs"), plays Gosling's AI girlfriend, Joi, whose need for love feels more real and vital than all the reflexive dystopia $150 million can buy.

Sean Baker's "The Florida Project" boasts a 96% fresh rating on "Rotten Tomatoes," but one of the few pans nailed it for me: "Bring Advil - you'll need it." I found this bit of seedy red-state anthropology more redundant than anything, the adventures of its three motel kids (named Moonee, Scooty and Jancey - does that tell you everything you need to know?) and Moonee's hooker mom wearingly of a piece. It does, though, mark the first time in decades Willem Dafoe (as the soft-touch motel manager) has played a sympathetic character… Did Andrew Garfield - whom I like a lot as an actor - read the script for "Breathe" and suffer delusions of an Oscar campaign in the Eddie Redmayne-as-Stephen-Hawking mold? Perhaps, but this is no "Theory of Everything," and the contrast illuminates. James Marsh familiarized us with Stephen and Jane well before his ALS manifested; here, we know almost nothing of Robin Cavendish and Diana Blacker (lovely Claire Foy) before polio strikes him and his inventor friend (Hugh Bonneville) develops and later perfects a wheelchair that breathes for him. Andy Serkis, in his major directorial debut, thus lowers the emotional stakes, leaving us with paint-by-numbers prestige… I can save you ten bucks and two hours by suggesting you google the name "Will Tilston," the ridiculously adorably dimpled child actor who plays the son of Domhnall Gleeson's A.A. Milne in "Goodbye Christopher Robin," a surprisingly nasty movie about a childhood stolen by unsought fame. Why Margot Robbie took the part of Christopher's aloof and sometimes villainous mother Daphne I'll never know; if the audience hisses, you haven't found a way to convey the love underneath the unkindness. Gleeson's old-age makeup distracts in the later scenes, but the movie's ideas - about the unfair demands of fans and paparazzi and the value of work that speaks to children - aren't particularly compelling to begin… Director Reginald Hudlin, doing his first drama, chooses a strange structure for his biography "Marshall," about Supreme Court justice Thurgood. Hudlin devotes at least three-quarters of the two-hour runtime to a case Marshall tried early in his career, defending a black servant accused of raping his Connecticut employer's socialite wife. Josh Gad comes out best as Sam Friedman, the insurance-defense lawyer who reluctantly signs Marshall's petition to appear as an out-of-state attorney, but finds himself in the first chair when the judge (James Cromwell) bars Marshall from speaking in his courtroom. The movie lightens up in Gad's presence. Thurgood (Chadwick Boseman - who else?) is a bit of a prick; more problematically, he's a cipher. "Marshall" gives us none of the man's legal genius and little of his force of personality, let alone soul. (You can sense a movie doesn't know its shit when the books Boseman tells Gad to "bone up on" include the Restatement of Torts.) A hint of adultery - even more oblique than the one in "Selma" - is not enough to turn our hero from a standard movie saint into a flesh-and-blood person.

Finally, the one bright spot, poking out through the crap like a flower through a crack in the sidewalk: "Faces Places" ("Visages Villages"), a thoroughly winning one-off documentary collaboration between the visual artist JR and the legendary French directrix Agnes Varda ("The Gleaners and I"). The pair - fast friends despite a 55-year age gap - set off in JR's camera truck, stopping where they choose and inviting the locals to have their picture taken in the truck's photo booth, which spits out enormous black-and-white images that JR and his team then paste on their farms, homes, water towers, even a stack of shipping containers. It's just great fun to spend 90 minutes in the presence of the perpetually bespectacled JR and especially Varda, with her dichromatic bowl cut. She's got more sage aphorisms than Maya Angelou and twice the charm.

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