Blade Runner 2049

From the first frames, the visual feast that is BLADE RUNNER 2049 never stops. Neither does the multifaceted exploration of what it means to be human, deftly extended from the original 1982 science-fiction movie. Harrison Ford reprises his role from that seminal film, set in a future Los Angeles where synthetic humans (replicants) are hunted by the cops of the title; now that world, with replicant blade runners (Ryan Gosling) and a new corporate titan (Jared Leto) who manufactures them, has descended further into dystopia. It’s a fine setup with a fine story, but director Denis Villeneuve, who kept the phenomenal sci-fi of Arrival gripping, almost loses his grip on this narrative, so that it hovers on the precarious edge between deliberately paced and plodding. As if subjected to its own test for natural-born humanity, BLADE RUNNER 2049 catches the eye but can’t quite pass. –YSM

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Battle of the Sexes

BATTLE OF THE SEXES is a battle indeed, fought with humor, grace, and tenacity by women’s tennis star Billie Jean King (a fine Emma Stone), in theory against showy chauvinist Bobby Riggs (a nicely calibrated Steve Carell) in the 1970s on the court, but really against the entire male establishment in the court of public opinion. What kicks this retrospective to a real moment in time above mere retelling is the flawed humanity it allows both of its protagonists, from Billie Jean’s first tentative lesbian infidelity (you’d think this gay man would be the worst audience for it, but it left me flushed with the excitement of newfound love), to Bobby’s down-but-not-quite-out striving. In the best sports movie tradition, their intertwined fates all come down to the final match…in which this movie scores an ace. –YSM

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Mother!

Let’s save some time: Creativity Is Hard. It’s Hardest On Those Closest To You. And On Your House. There; now there’s no need to sit through writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s obvious-from-the-first-minute allegory MOTHER! (falsely touted as a horror movie), in which a writer (Javier Bardem) and his younger, home-improvement-minded wife (Jennifer Lawrence) play host in their isolated home to unexpected visiting strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer). The delicious awkwardness rapidly descends into a repetitive and bombastic mess that throws in everything from bombs (literally) to the kitchen sink (literally). Stay home. Literally. –YSM

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It

IT turns out horror doesn’t require recognizable stars; IT only needs a Stephen King classic that mines our primal fears—principally what might infest the depths of our sewers, ringmastered by the mother of all killer clowns (a terrific Bill Skarsgard)—and a director (Andy Muschietti) with a talent for zeroing in on all that creepiness. Add a mostly likable cast of youngsters (helmed by Sophia Lillis and Jaeden Lieberher) to band together against the evil, and IT transcends a somewhat episodic beginning to reach a scream-out-loud, satisfying climax…with perhaps more horror to come from this filmmaking team. —YSM

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Atomic Blonde

We’ve seen twisty Cold War Berlin action/spy thrillers before, but none with Charlize Theron as an uber-competent agent kicking ass to an ’80s soundtrack. You may get lost in the twists (drawing in James McAvoy, John Goodman, and Sofia Boutella) along the way—indeed, it may not all add up—but it doesn’t matter; the action sequences pack the visceral punch of a punk rock mosh pit. Dive in. —YSM

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

In the candy-colored, interstellar future of VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, bug-eyed primitives long to doll you up in pretty dresses, Rihanna pole dances with quick-change dexterity, and muppet-faced toddler aliens play shoot-’em-up with whatever species drops in. None of it has anything to do with anything, but these lightweight, meandering misadventures at least flaunt the visual creativity that a movie derived from a sci-fi comic book series ought to have. Sadly, that can’t distract from the core plot, whose themes were hackneyed even before Avatar beat  them into the Pandoran ground. (The wronged aliens even look a bit like the Na’vi and share their granola-munching nature-centric ways, to the point that one expects their princess, who greets the morning with arm-waving sincerity, to shoot rainbows out of her ass. Oh wait. She does it from her forehead.) Worse, director Luc Besson gives us zero reason to care about the heroes, human galactic federal agents Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Laureline (Clara Delevingne), and even less about their chemistry-free will-they-or-won’t-they banter, which only they never seem to tire of. Yawn. –YSM

 

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Dunkirk

Gripping from its first seconds, Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK–he wrote, directed, and produced this immersive experience of a crucial moment in WWII–focuses strictly on the 400,000 British soldiers stranded on a beach in France, and the seamen (Kenneth Branagh), airmen (Tom Hardy), and ultimately civilians (Mark Rylance) who try to rescue them. (The face of the enemy who has them hemmed in, stalking them at every turn, is never seen.) Its slightly fractured telling of time and sometimes inconvenient cuts between different theaters of action can’t undermine the inherent power of the tale or the visual sweep of Nolan’s conception. But this is as much composer Hans Zimmer’s movie, as nearly every minute is scored–usually a poor choice, but in this case it sets the grinding mood that’s key to sustaining the tension. Mercifully we can’t relive these young soldiers’ ordeal, but DUNKIRK lands as close as anyone is likely to get. –YSM

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Wish Upon

Stepping behind the scythe the Final Destination series left behind, WISH UPON gets right down to bloody business, wasting not a millisecond on niceties like character development or carefully crafted, evocative visuals; this is a pure pastiche of horror movie tropes. But WISH UPON mines them with such gleeful shamelessness that it achieves the level of mind-numbing stupidfun: It’s never a question of whether someone will die, but which one, and how, with the telegraphed answers teased out for maximum squirm-in-your-seat effect. Plus the heroine (Joey King), a high-school misfit who finds a cursed wishing box and uses it to predictably toxic results, eventually becomes so idiotic and annoying that you root for her next calamity. Best seen surrounded by a vocal audience, though few of them will be able to ID the once-young heartthrobs of yesteryear (Ryan Phillippe, Sherilyn Fenn, Elisabeth Rohm, Jerry O’Connell) aged into parental guardian roles. One minor end-credit postscript. —YSM

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War for the Planet of the Apes

How can WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES be so slow and ponderous, when A) it’s supposed to be a war, and B) the apes are so nimble and quick? Probably because this tale—pitting intelligent ape leader Caesar (the always excellent Andy Serkis) against an ape-exterminating Colonel (Woody Harrelson phoning it in) and his human soldiers—is freighted with biblical allusions from Christ to Moses, choirs singing, bells tolling, an angelic innocent, etc, ad infinitum. It may be time for this rebooted series to call a temporary cessation of hostilities against beleaguered audiences. —YSM

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Baby Driver

Not to be mistaken for an animated kiddie romp, BABY DRIVER–a high-octane heist/chase flick–may zoom off with the title of sleeper hit of the summer. Writer-director Edgar Wright’s gimmick: A youthful ace getaway driver called Baby (Ansel Elgort) has to drown out his tinnitus with tunes constantly piped in by his earbuds, meaning that as he falls for a waitress (Lily James) and runs afoul of assorted hard-bitten criminals (Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, and a terrifying Jamie Foxx), the action is married to pop music, even more fluidly than in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The story won’t entirely convince, but when you’re spinning at 120 mph to Martha & the Vandellas’ “Nowhere To Run” in wheels this slick, it doesn’t have to.   –YSM

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About Your Sacrificial Moviegoer

We love to sit in the dark with a big tub of popcorn amid a roomful of strangers. Reports on what we witness there come in two varieties: Bullet Reviews quickly and concisely convey our take on a film, always in spoiler-free fashion; Trailer Trash reveals Your Sacrificial Moviegoer's best prediction on whether an upcoming movie is worth seeing, based solely on the trailer (the short "previews" before the feature presentation).

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