(On Cable TV, June 2018) I suppose that given my positive-but-not-enthusiastic reaction to the original Blade Runner, the same is true and unsurprising for its sequel Blade Runner 2049. There are plenty of things I like about it—it’s mature, cerebral Science Fiction handled with a great deal of skill; it pays homage to the original film while expanding its themes; it features some impressive visuals thanks to Roger Deakins, and it does suggest a lot of depth to its imagined future. Alas, I can’t quite be enthusiastic about it. For one thing, it’s yet another dystopian vision of the future, and it feels far less distinctive than even the now-cliché original. The level of violence is high, the character motivations are opaque, and the final fight drags on and on. (Actually, much of the film drags on and on.) Harrison Ford is brought back from the mothballs in the latest example of his latest “hey, I used to be in all those great movies!” tour, but he’s allowed his wrinkles whereas Sean Young is digitally re-created to youthful perfection. There’s also a sense of intense déjà vu to the point of meaninglessness to the themes taken on by the film—it doesn’t help that in-between a dozen movies released between 2010 and 2014, as well as two seasons of Westworld, there’s only so much you can say about humanity and its android creations. What’ the point of resurrecting Blade Runner after twenty-five years if there’s not a whole lot to say about it? At least Ryan Gosling is maturing nicely as an actor, and there are plenty of good supporting performance—from Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and others—to make the viewing interesting despite the far too long running time. I couldn’t be happier that the current master of filmed science fiction happens to be a French-Canadian, but I’d like Denis Villeneuve to make more movies like Arrival and fewer retreads of tired old properties. I suspect that twenty-five years from now, we will still talk about the 1982 movie and not really about the sequel.
(On Cable TV, April 2018) There are stories that men tell each other in order to keep themselves in line. Don’t crush on crazy; don’t crawl inside the bottle; don’t run with criminals; don’t stray outside your marriage; don’t neglect your kids. Elementary life lessons, but worth repeating, often with maximal effect, in order to feel better about an ordinary life. When those morals are handled through genre methods, they become high-impact morality tales. Think Fatal Attraction. And if you give the story to a horror director like Eli Roth … well, you end up with something like Knock Knock, in which a good husband/dad finds himself powerless to resist the advances of two women when they show up at his doorstep when his wife and kids are away. What follows is a pair of steamy sex scenes. But what follows what follows is a merciless takedown of the man’s life using video and social media. The moral of the story here is clear enough: Destroy Facebook. Japes aside, does it work? Well, yes and no. Famously stoic Keanu Reeves is a curious choice as a good husband/dad, given that his innate reserve doesn’t really help him reach the emotional extremes required by the script. On the other hand, Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo are good picks as the ruthless temptresses—fortunately enough, since much of the Knock Knock’s credibility (or what passes for it given that it’s a quick-and-dirty exploitation film) depends on them—de Armas is particularly good, which explains why her career has taken off since then. Otherwise, though, the film does feel as if it doesn’t have enough depth to sustain its straightforward warning. It ends limply, in perhaps the tritest possible way. As a horror-erotic take on the home invasion genre, it sits uncomfortably between two very different genre—I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one (or fifteen) XXX-rated parodies focusing on the eroticism, and we’ve already seen an entire pure-horror home invasion subgenre come and go and come again. For Roth, who straddles the line between mainstream and extreme filmmaker, this is curiously tepid stuff—he’s obviously daring enough to feature two very explicit sex scenes, but the rest of the picture goes nowhere. As a result, Knock Knock doesn’t unnerve as much as it annoys, and that’s a fatal flaw in the kind of moral lesson it almost tries to be.
(Video on Demand, April 2016) What if you called for a police thriller and a psychological drama showed up? That was my first reaction after seeing the underwhelming Exposed, but after reading up on the film it turns out that the reverse is a pretty good explanation for what actually happened. Originally conceived as “Daughter of God”, a psychological drama with a minor police subplot, Exposed was radically restructured to put emphasis on the police subplot, leaving the rest of the film sticking out incongruously. (The director even took his name off the results.) It shows almost from the first few minutes, which presents what turns out to be a not-particularly objective sequence before the rules of the film have been set. The rest of the film feels a few frames away from a horror film, but turn out to have a rational explanation as long as your definition of “rational” includes hallucinations, twisted psyches and a gritty detour to the lower rungs of what humans are capable of doing to each other. It shouldn’t be surprising if the result ends up being a mess, and not a particularly likable one. The editing drags on, cuts weirdly and doesn’t do itself any favours with a deliberately off-putting mindscape even as viewers are conditioned to expect a straightforward police thriller. It really doesn’t help that Exposed ends abruptly, without tackling any of the consequences of what’s coming to the characters after the movie ends. A few good things do remain in the wreckage: a clean-cut Keanu Reeves isn’t a bad thing to watch (although his character doesn’t get any payoff from the cut-short ending). This is the first time I’ve seen Mira Sorvino show up in a movie in a long time, and the years have been kind to her, enabling her to play a minor role with far more gravitas than she would have been able to do a decade ago. But it’s Ana de Armas who shines in the lead role, doing well with a difficult character. Otherwise, the film just feels odd, and not in a deliberate way. The shift from police investigation to psychological horror could have worked with more forethought (I’m thinking about The Tall Man as an example) but here the film shows clear signs of production improvisation and it doesn’t take a tour through the film’s troubled production history to see the results of such tinkering on-screen.