This weekend at the movies, we have a long-gestating sequel (Blade Runner 2049, starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford), a plane crash into love (The Mountain Between Us, starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet), a My Little Pony movie (My Little Pony: The Movie, featuring the voices of Emily Blunt and Kristin Chenowith), a royal friendship (Victoria & Abdul, starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal), and a family finding its furry destiny (The Stray). What are the critics saying?
After Blade Runner
‘s 1982 theatrical run ended in box office defeat, a sequel was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind — not least because it was based on a Philip K. Dick short story with a beginning, middle, and end. But 35 years later, what was once a Ridley Scott flop has become a cult favorite that’s widely acknowledged as a towering sci-fi classic, and there isn’t a major studio left in Hollywood that isn’t eager to leverage a brand name property into a franchise. Enter Blade Runner 2049
, in which director Denis Villeneuve
attempts the unenviable task of following up a film that’s not only a generational touchstone of its genre, but ended up exerting a massive tonal and aesthetic influence. Is it even possible to continue the original in a way that honors Dick’s universe while living up to the first film’s brilliance? Time will obviously tell regarding its eventual cultural legacy, but as far as first reactions are concerned, critics have had no problem acknowledging Blade Runner 2049
as a brilliant cinematic achievement in its own right. Starring Ryan Gosling as K, a new Blade Runner whose replicant-hunting duties put him on a quest that leads him to Rick Deckard (a returning Harrison Ford), the film is described as a thoughtful, deliberately paced expansion of its predecessor’s world — and one that packs a thrilling visual wallop, courtesy of work from cinematographer Roger Deakins that has more than a few pundits pointing to awards season. Screen your copy of the Blade Runner
Final Cut and get to a theater; this is the rare thinking person’s popcorn flick that critics almost universally agree is worth the trip.
Being in a plane crash isn’t much fun, but surviving can be pretty cool — and if you get to walk away from the wreckage with Kate Winslet or Idris Elba, that seems like a nice bonus too. But it has its ups and downs in this weekend’s The Mountain Between Us
, in which Winslet and Elba are thrown together by fate after their charter plane crashes, leaving her Alex Martin (a photojournalist) to wander the snowy Utah wilderness alongside his Dr. Ben Bass (a surgeon) in an increasingly desperate fight to stay alive. Adapted by Paradise Now
director Hany Abu-Assad
(working from a screenplay by Chris Weitz
and J. Mills Goodloe
) from Charles Martin’s bestselling novel, this Mountain
has all the beautiful scenery — and beautiful stars — one could ask for from a sweeping wilderness survival romance, as well as a couple of terrific actors in the lead. Yet as far as most critics are concerned, it remains perplexingly less than the sum of those parts, with solid work from its stars hampered by a plot-driven story and undermined by some distracting clichés. The performances aren’t the problem here, and there’s plenty of pretty scenery to enjoy even without a truly compelling story; still, all things considered, the view from this Mountain
looks like a missed opportunity.
Once widely regarded as little more than a perfectly innocuous addition to the same girl-focused block of animated half-hour toy commercials that included Strawberry Shortcake
and Rainbow Brite
in the ’80s, the My Little Pony
franchise has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence over the last decade or so. Sparked by the wildly popular My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
series and stoked by its spinoffs, this colorful ode to equine harmony has never been more popular — which is what makes it a great time for My Little Pony: The Movie
. Of course, as filmgoers of a certain age may recall, this isn’t the Ponies’ first trip to theaters; there was also a My Little Pony
movie in the summer of 1986, but it arrived with neither the all-star voice cast nor the all-ages audience that this one has lined up. The storyline, which finds our hooved heroes trying to thwart a threat to Equestria, may be little more than a feature-length version of a show episode, but that might be exactly what Pony
fans are looking for. As for the rest of us? Not many critics have posted reviews of My Little Pony: The Movie
, but the few who’ve written it up say it lives up to its title, for better and for worse — if you want to see a My Little Pony
movie, this is for you; otherwise, feel free to give it a pass.
Dame Judi Dench has long since proven that she has more than enough talent to play any character she darn well pleases. But as evidenced by her Oscar-winning work in 1997’s Mrs. Brown
, she’s uniquely well-suited to the role of Queen Victoria — and fans of that acclaimed arthouse hit have something special to look forward to this weekend, as Dench returns to the throne for Victoria & Abdul
. Opening a chapter into the Queen’s later years, this Stephen Frears
-directed dramedy adapts Shrabani Basu’s book about the real-life friendship between the titular monarch and Abdul Karim, an attendant who served in her retinue during the final 15 years of her reign. Needless to say, there’s a lot of rich history to be mined from this fictionalized account, and while critics have been open in their disappointment with the soft-focus approach the film takes to the story’s more serious themes, most agree that Dench’s performance is enough to make it a worthwhile — albeit less than enlightening — watch.
There’s nothing quite like the bond between a dog and its human. For proof, we point you to the many, many heart-tugging dramas about pooches that Hollywood’s pumped out over the years — including the brand new The Stray
, which has the added bonus of including a faith-based component in its uplifting tale. Directed and co-written by former studio exec Mitch Davis
and inspired by events in his own life, it tells the story of — you guessed it — a stray dog whose arrival impacts one family in all sorts of miraculous ways. It’s a setup with all sorts of tear duct-purging potential, but the small handful of critics who’ve seen it say The Stray
scampers past “heartwarming” and goes howling into full-on melodrama, aggressively working the audience’s emotions along the way. If you’re predisposed to pup cinema or looking for some old-fashioned family entertainment, you might be moved; otherwise, it’s probably safe to wait until the movie’s on home video before throwing it a bone.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release
- Faces Places (Visages, villages) (2017) , a documentary about the relationship between filmmaker Agnès Varda and and photographer JR, is at 100 percent.
- Dina (2017) , a documentary capturing the days leading up to the wedding between two adults on the autism spectrum, is at 100 percent.
- Bending the Arc (2017) , a documentary look at the groundbreaking efforts of healthcare professionals who sparked a global movement 30 years ago, is at 100 percent.
- Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017) , starring Vince Vaughn as a man whose desperate turn to a life of crime leads to potentially deadly imprisonment, is at 97 percent.
- The Florida Project (2017) , a drama about the lives of children on the economic margins and the struggles faced by the adults in their lives, is Certified Fresh at 96 percent.
- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) , an investigation into the final days of the trans rights advocate whose 1992 death was ruled a suicide, is at 94 percent.
- Better Watch Out (2017) , a Christmas-set thriller about a babysitter locked in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a home invader, is at 90 percent.
- Barracuda (2017) , about a woman whose life is slowly upended by the arrival of the half-sister she never knew, is at 89 percent.
- Walking Out (2017) , in which a father and son attempt to mend their troubled relationship on a hunt in the Montana wilderness, is at 88 percent.
- Chavela (2017) , an overview of the life and musical legacy of Chavela Vargas, is at 83 percent.
- Cold Moon (2017) , in which a ghostly menace stalks the members of a small-town Southern family, is at 80 percent.
- Una (2017) , starring Rooney Mara as a young woman who seeks out the man with whom she had a statutory relationship after he’s released from prison, is at 78 percent.
- The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One (2017) , about a military man who disobeys orders to try and rescue his daughter when their planet falls into crisis, is at 75 percent.
- Paradise (Ray) (2017) , about a woman whose fate in Nazi-occupied Europe hinges on her relationships with two men during World War II, is at 70 percent.
- Overdrive (2017) , about a pair of car thieves forced to pull off a dangerous heist after they’re caught by a crime boss, is at 11 percent.