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Review of BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+/B
2017, 164 min., Color
Sci-Fi drama
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: A-/B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

Blade Runner 2049 is rated R, but if you have older teens (15+) they’re probably begging you to let them see it, so I’m reviewing it here.

More homage than sequel or remake, Blade Runner 2049 picks up 30 years after the action of the groundbreaking 1982 sci-fi film from director Ridley Scott, who probably would have directed this one if he wasn’t already working on a project. For fans, Blade Runner 2049 offers the same bonus attraction as Star Wars: The Force Awakens—the return of Harrison Ford to an iconic role. For a new generation, the appeal is current Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling, who plays a 2049 version of Ford’s LAPD replicant-hunting cop. The twist this time? By 2049, replicants (bioengineered synthetic humans) are so common and integrated into society that they even work as Blade Runners—those cops who track down and “retire” the old versions that are no longer functioning as they were programmed to do.

After K (Gosling) catches up with and eliminates an old replicant in the opening sequence, he discovers a box buried near a tree that, though dead, is still a rarity in this post-apocalyptic world. Rarer still are the small flowers he finds on the ground next to it. As it turns out, they were marking a grave, for inside the box are bones that have a number on it. A female replicant who, forensics explain, had died in childbirth. To them it’s a frightening discovery, for if replicants are capable of reproducing in the traditional way, it means they may also have feelings that the corporation that engineered them hadn’t programmed. That raises all sorts of questions. If they can reproduce, can they also harbor grudges? Can they mount a unified rebellion? Can they produce and store memories of their own, rather than being limited to those that are programmed into them?

K’s superior (Robin Wright) orders him to locate and take care of the replicant child in order to keep the truth from coming out and spreading panic—though this post-nuclear holocaust landscape is so bleak you wonder if anyone—replicant or human—is capable of extreme feelings. If that sounds like a slam, it’s not. The production design of Blade Runner 2049 is one of the film’s great strengths. It’s exquisite, if a bombed-out wasteland can be called that. The landscape and rubble and building remnants are as stylish as they are eerily believable. Is this where we’re headed? You can’t help but wonder, the terrain created by Dennis Gassner (Skyfall, Spectre, Road to Perdition) is so powerfully convincing—especially with a sound design and Hans Zimmer soundtrack that pulses like a futuristic heartbeat on life support.

The original Blade Runner wasn’t exactly a sprint to the end credits, but by comparison Blade Runner 2049 seems slow-paced—at least through the first act and the start of the second. Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival) embraces a pace so deliberate in the beginning that it gives the film a brooding quality. Blade Runner fans will love every minute of this homage and its richly imagined futuristic world, but younger viewers who are more into Gosling than they are sci-fi will find the beginning slow-going enough to wish that Villeneuve would have cut this 164-minute film by another 20 minutes.

If those same younger viewers were hoping to see Gosling shirtless, get ready for another disappointment. Blade Runner 2049 derives its R rating from violence, some sensuality, language, and female nudity—some of it quite gratuitous. So, #Timesnotexactlyup, basically the film reinforces that sexism and the objectification of the female body are alive and well in the even creepier corporate-controlled future.

Since Jared Leto has a relatively small part as the slightly insane CEO and Ford doesn’t come into play until the third act, this is really Gosling’s show, and fans will find him incredibly understated as K. This is L.A. in the future, not La La Land. But as a futurescape it’s a thing of beauty, and the main plot, though different, is faithful to the tone, message, and emotional core of the original 1982 film. Just be warned: though a woman

Yes there’s a female killing machine and there are perilous situations, but Blade Runner 2049 is not so much a sci-fi adventure, sci-fi action film, or sci-fi thriller as it is a serious sci-fi drama. It did quite well abroad but disappointed at the U.S. box office, and executive producer Ridley Scott told Yahoo! Entertainment he thought the reason why was because it’s “slow” and “too long. I would have taken out half an hour,” he said.

So would my 15-year-old daughter—the minimum age for this film, I would think—who spent much of the time on her phone.

Language: A handful of f-bombs plus a few lesser swearwords
Sex: Hologram nudes, female frontal nudity, naked replicants in glass cases
Violence: Occasional but significant, with people’s stomachs slashed, people shot point-blank in the head, an underwater strangling, and a bludgeoning that turns bloody
Adult situations: Some alcohol use and smoking, and prostitutes presumably engaged in their trade (but nothing graphic shown)
Takeaway: Good movie, but it would have been interesting to see what Ridley Scott’s version would have looked like

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Review of IT (2017) (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+/A-
2017, 135 min., Color
Horror-Thriller
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B+ (nice interview with King, great feature on the kids)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

The 2017 reincarnation of It might be rated R, but it was one of those exceptions that under-18s begged their parents to take them to see in theaters. Why? Because that young audience absolutely loves the hit TV series Stranger Things, which pays tribute to ‘80s movies and takes its central structure from It, the Stephen King novel that inspired a popular 1990 TV miniseries before it did this remake.

In It, as in Stranger Things, the plot revolves around a fantastic sci-fi/horror force that is somehow involved in the mysterious disappearances of local children. And in It, as in Stranger Things, a group of pre-teen friends defy parents and secretly try to solve the mystery and stop the disappearances. Not coincidentally, there is one girl and one black boy in this group of bullied kids who band together, just as there was in Stephen King’s novel and TV miniseries.

The book does a much better job of explaining how “It” came to Earth like an asteroid, crashing into the small Maine town of Derry, which King based on his experience living in Bangor. “It” is a shape-shifter who surfaces every 27 years and feeds on children after preying on their fears—one of those fears being clowns, a shape that Pennywise, as the character calls himself, relishes. If you weren’t afraid of clowns before the 2017 version of It, you might be. Bill Skarsgard plays the creepy character with the same kind of unpredictable, hypo-energetic madness that Heath Ledger brought to the role of The Joker in The Dark Knight.

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Review of PILGRIMAGE (2017) (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: C/C+
Entire family: No
2017, 96 min., Color
Adventure-Drama
RLJ Entertainment
Not rated (Would be R for violence)
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Trailer
Amazon link

Pilgrimage is an average movie with above-average atmosphere and cinematography, thanks largely to the Irish landscapes where it was mostly filmed. It’s also a movie that plods along into eye-rolling territory until, suddenly, there’s a burst of violent (some would call it ultra-violent) action. Though it’s billed as a medieval thriller, this Jekyll-Hyde movie lurches between tedium and frenetic action, while viewers may well wish that the filmmakers had opted for some sort of happy medium.

The plot is simple: an emissary from Rome shows up at an Irish monastery in remote Western Ireland with instructions to take a holy relic back to the Pope, who believes it has enough power to end the Crusades. An opening scene showed just how that relic came to become “holy”: it was the large rock that ended the life of a Christian martyr who was being stoned for his beliefs. Fast-forward to 1202 A.D. and Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber) shows up in a white robe asking for the relic.

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Review of THE WEDDING BANQUET (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B+/A-
Entire Family: No, older teens and up
1993, 106 min., Color
Comedy-drama
Rated R
Olive Films
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS Mono
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

Though Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet is rated R for language and brief frontal nudity, it’s included here because the 1993 comedy-drama deals with issues faced by people on the fringe of society. Suitable for families with older teens, it’s the kind of film that can put a humanizing face on the LGBT and immigration headlines, the kind of film that in the process will have you both laughing and tearing up.

It’s almost hard to believe that The Wedding Banquet is more than 25 years old, because it’s still so topical and relevant. It’s about a gay Chinese man who has yet to come out to his family, and a Chinese artist who needs a green card or must marry an American citizen to stay in the country. Lee (The Life of Pi) does a fine job of exploring the anxieties faced by people in their situations, while also managing to create a thoroughly entertaining and absorbing film. An added bonus is the insight we get into another culture, as the wedding customs themselves will fascinate family audiences.

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THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (Blu-ray combo)

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edgeofseventeencoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No (17 and older)
2016, 104 min., Color
Universal
Comedy-Drama
Rated R for sexual content, language, and some drinking, all related to teens
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: D
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

More than a few critics have remarked how ironic it is that some 17 year olds might not be able to get past the ticket-taker to see the R-rated film The Edge of Seventeen, which stars 20-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as a teen whose world is turned upside down after her only friend starts dating her only sibling—a brother who is everything she’s not, and who has never shown her any kindness. In fact, the only person young Nadine felt connected to died several years ago, and that’s no spoiler: we see it fairly early in the film.

edgeofseventeenscreen2Nadine and best buddy Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) really capture the behavior of teenager besties, while Blake Jenner as the got-everything-going-for-him older brother struts his stuff—those perfect abs, great hair, and jock standing that make him popular. The gap between the outgoing and accomplished Darian and his introverted and awkward sister is so great that you wonder if they’re really brother and sister . . . until you see more of the mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and realize how incapable she seems of handling life’s problems. The ratings paradox, meanwhile, is the result of another gap: the one between reality and standards of decency. Are today’s teenagers drinking, swearing, and having sex? Not all, and maybe not even most . . . but many, certainly. Do parents feel comfortable admitting this? Not remotely.

The Edge of Seventeen is a film that teenagers would like, and a film that ultimately models the kind of behavior most parents would hope would be their children’s default, no matter how much they experiment or stray (as even the best ones are apt to do). Nadine sexts the boy she’s crushing on and she goes with him in his car to an isolated spot, but her default morality kicks in when it matters most. It’s implied that another couple has had sex, since they’re in bed together, but aside from bare shoulders and a hand moving up and down under the blanket, nothing is shown. Aside from teens making out at a party, that’s the extent of the sex in this 2016 film from newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig. I’ve seen PG-13 films that have had more explicit moments.

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THE COMMITMENTS (25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)

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CommitmentscoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
1991, 118 min., Color
RLJ Entertainment
Rated R for language throughout
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Trailer
Amazon link

Like Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), who auditions people in his home for a band he fantasizes will be the next big musical act to come out of Dublin, director Alan Parker listened to a non-stop parade of raw home-grown talent: 64 bands, 1500 individuals at an open casting call, and another 1500 audition tapes. Not coincidentally, they both came up with the same people to form The Commitments—one of the great movies about rock ‘n’ roll . . . or, more precisely, soul, of the Wilson Pickett, Mary Wells, James Brown, Otis Redding variety.

Parker was famous for directing Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), and The Commitments is his light side of the moon tribute to rock ‘n’ roll—a love letter to American soul music and the gritty side of urban Ireland.

Commitmentsscreen1Like Almost Famous and This Is Spinal Tap, The Commitments is one of the classic behind-the-scenes movies about the life of a band. It’s funny, it’s raw, it’s energetic, it’s authentic, and it’s filled with wall-to-wall music and images of Dublin that tourists never see. But don’t expect much in the way of plot. We see a little where-they-are-now before Jimmy does his auditioning, and after that the band rehearses, performs, rehearses, performs, and gradually gets on each others nerves so you can see why, by movie’s end, they will eventually break up—though they sound so good you want them to stay together.

In a six-page booklet that comes with the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray, Parker writes, “It was pointed out to me that there were as many as 1200 bands playing in Dublin, which is extraordinary in a city of just over a million people. . . . I think the film captures a little of the spirit and spunk of the working-class kids in Dublin’s Northside.” It looks great on Blu-ray and Parker’s commentary track and additional bonus features are well worth watching.

Though rated R, The Commitments has just pair of minor incidents of violence and one bedroom instance of implied coupling innocent enough to be included on the trailer. There’s really nothing that would make it inappropriate for young teens except the language, which is non-stop. And hey, all the characters are Irish, so it’s tough to understand half of those swear words anyway—so much so that RLJ Entertainment felt the need to provide a glossary on the inside cover.

Commitmentsscreen2The Commitments practice and perform a lot during the film, and at least three songs are complete. They’re so entertaining that you’re glad of that, and glad that Parker made the decision to go with near-constant music. By the end, you’ve absorbed so much that you really feel as if you’ve experienced the band and not just witnessed it. Along with a later cover by Buddy Guy, their rendition of “Mustang Sally” could be one of the best I’ve heard. And the shots of Dublin’s “mean streets” and alleyways are mesmerizing, almost lyrical, given the musical backdrop.

For many viewers, Colm Meaney will be the only recognizable cast member. Meaney plays Mr. Rabbitte, whose reverent obsession with Elvis is illustrated by the fact that a painting of Presley hangs just above a portrait of the Pope. But you’ll also see two people whose names were not familiar then but are well-known now: Glen Hansard (“Once”) as one of the band members, and Andrea Corr (The Corrs) in a non-singing role as Jimmy’s sister. And that’s okay. Not knowing any of the actors adds to the realism to where it almost feels like a guerilla-shot documentary—especially with Jimmy doing imaginary press interviews about the band throughout the film.

Both of our teens liked it a lot, and The Commitments remains a gem of a movie even a quarter century after it was filmed. Crank up the volume and enjoy!

Language: F-bombs dropped by characters of all ages, plus lesser swearwords and Irish variations; it’s pretty much nonstop
Sex: It’s implied that one “player” has been intimate with three women, but nothing is shown
Violence: One band member is beaten up and bloodied, and another bar fight emerges
Adult situations: Lots of smoking and drinking, plus a bar brawl
Takeaway: The Commitments still feels fresh because it has always felt honest and a word that’s often used today:  immersive

KEANU (Blu-ray)

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KeanucoverGrade: B
Entire family: No way
2016, 100 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

It’s rare when Family Home Theater reviews R-rated movies, but the line between PG-13 and R movies has been blurring as of late. And nothing blurs the line more than a cute little kitty.

Keanu (2016) is a cat-lover’s movie, an action comedy that will appeal to anyone who has dressed a pet in an elaborate costume and taken pictures. In terms of its comedic structure and spirit, Keanu is a lot like the PG-13-rated Date Night, in which Steve Carell and Tina Fey were a boring couple whose night started to fall like a string of dominoes after they assumed the identity of another couple in order to get a table at a swanky restaurant, and it got them involved with all sorts of unsavory characters. Only here, the premise is that a kitty like Keanu is so darned cute that people—ruthless people—will do anything to keep him or get him back. In other words, Keanu is more like Date Night meets the Coen Brothers. It’s for families with high school students who like buddy cop flicks and crime capers.

The violence is mostly comic, the drug use isn’t much different from what you typically see in a PG-13 movie like Date Night, and there’s one very brief background moment of female frontal nudity—which also has been getting by the PG-13 censors. The one big difference is in the language. F-bombs and “mother” F variations are almost as common as the liberal use of the “n” word. But savvy parents know that high school students already hear it all on a daily basis.

keanuscreen1Keanu is the brainchild of MADtv alums Key & Peele, whose Comedy Central sketches have been a favorite of teens and twenty-somethings. The comic duo plays a pair of cousins who are about as streetwise as the nerdiest black characters TV sitcoms have given us over the years.

Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) is so straight-laced that he’s more at home in the suburbs than the streets and hasn’t learned how to let his hair down. When his wife and daughter go out of town on a trip with another family, he checks up on his cousin, Rell (Jordan Peele), whose girlfriend just dumped him. But fate intervenes. A cute kitty that Rell names Keanu turns up on his doorstep, and in no time at all the little guy becomes the focus of his life. Rell turns the house into a cat “pad” and spends all his time shooting a Keanu calendar in which the cat is shown in different movie scenes. Cute? You bet. And all that cuteness is a terrific counterweight to the tongue-in-cheek unsavory elements.

Keanuscreen2When Rell’s apartment is trashed and Keanu turns up missing, Rell’s marijuana-dealing neighbor (Will Forte) tells him that a local gang called the 17th St. Blips might have been responsible. Once Rell convinces his cousin to impersonate street toughs “Tectonic” and “Shark Tank” and enter that world of gangs, gangsters, drug dealers, and killers, the comic dominoes start to fall.

Key & Peele are, in fact, hilarious as two would-be bad asses, and I wouldn’t be the first critic to comment on how especially funny it was to see a cross-cut scene of Clarence sitting in a getaway car outside a mansion teaching a carload of gangstas to love and sing along with George Michael while Rell was inside with a tough gangsta gal named Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) playing a life-or-death game of Truth or Dare with Anna Faris and her houseguests.

Keanu won’t be for everyone, and it’s definitely only for families with children in high school who can handle the sometimes bloody comic violence and non-stop language. But it’s a funny buddy crime comedy with a kitty that constantly threatens to upstage everyone—no matter how bad-ass they are.

Language: F-words, mother-f variations, and liberal use of the “n” word and street language throughout
Sex: One strip-club scene shows background frontal nudity for a very brief moment
Violence: Mostly comic, including the bloody stuff; people are shot at point blank range and there are threats of cutting off fingers
Adult situations: Drug use and mention throughout, with drug dealers at the center of the plot
Takeaway: The only thing funnier than watching white people try to act like streetwise blacks is watching two nerdy blacks attempt it

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