Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Posted November 19, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: action/adventure, adaptation, comic-book, foreign, one of the year's worst, science fiction, Uncategorized

Valerian-and-the-City-of-a-Thousand-Planets-(France)-1-FullI can’t quite bring myself to convince you that the entire two hours and seventeen minutes of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets are worth sitting through for Rihanna’s appearance some eighty minutes in. Soon enough, she becomes a blue blob and later turns to dust. But she’s fun while she lasts, as a shape-shifting performer named Bubble who helps the titular hero, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan), rescue his captured partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne). For twenty minutes or so, Rihanna is a suavely fierce nonactress adding some welcome grit and personality to a mix that includes far too many aliens and special effects, far too little humanity.

Valerian is great-looking but awful, a combination that has sadly become the stock in trade of the once-impressive Luc Besson (Leon, The Fifth Element, Lucy). Those who found The Fifth Element a jocular piece of futuristic excess but a bit on the empty-calorie side won’t find much to plug into here; the meaning of the movie is simply to get Valerian and Laureline from one hectic, shiny set piece to the next, barely stopping for a breath or even a scenery-chewing villain performance from the likes of Gary Oldman (who brightened Leon and Fifth Element). Here we get only the grouchy Clive Owen as our heroes’ commander, who gives orders to wipe out an entire species of alien pearl farmers, one of whom stows away in Valerian’s body after dying.

Look, I could go on discussing plot points to prove I saw the film, but you’ll just have to trust me. Valerian has tons of plot but no real story to speak of; our heroes hurtle to and fro to get justice for the aliens, and that’s all there is to it. The movie is so pointlessly eventful and convoluted, though, that it feels more complicated than it is. It doesn’t help than DeHaan and Delevingne have zero chemistry or presence; DeHaan has a gruff dudebro voice like Keanu Reeves’, only without Keanu’s soulfulness, and Delevingne often just seems vaguely inconvenienced, glassy-eyed with indifference for the material. (The two have matching hollow pouts, and they both have arrogantly unmusical voices.) DeHaan does bestir himself when trading lines with Rihanna, though that just serves to prove he has a pulse. Her boss, called Jolly the Pimp, is given a naughty twinkle by Ethan Hawke, but he’s not around for long, either. (I tend to think Hawke opened the script, saw his character’s name, and signed on just on the strength of being able to play a character called Jolly the Pimp.)

What we get here instead of interesting humans is a flock of CGI aliens (the one voiced by John Goodman is amusingly stern) and various scenes of the heroes’ spaceship streaking heedlessly through space, or through trippy environments, and for minutes at a time we might as well be watching animation demo footage unconnected to any context of any interest. Valerian may be welcomed as eye candy by kids and by aficionados of controlled substances, but it offers nothing for someone who merely buckles in for a good time at the movies. Besson also no longer knows what to do with interesting humans when he has them. Rutger Hauer is tossed aside after punching his time card for what our British actor friends call a cough and a spit role; Herbie Hancock is in it, mostly seen as a hologram scolding the heroes. An international cast mumbles stale dialogue in person or as the voices of aliens.

The overstuffed yet empty Valerian is nothing new, of course; we’ve been getting this sort of flatulent, pricey “entertainment” for decades, and it’s not going to end any time soon. Every so often a Get Out or a Wonder breaks out, because it scratches a previously neglected itch, or it speaks to people. Valerian and its ilk speak to no one, although they are engineered to appeal across continents, languages, cultures. Everyone understands things blowing up. Yet you have to drive out of your way for an hour to see, say, a French film for grown-ups (Valerian is based on French comics), while plastic junk like this blurts onto 3,500 screens in America — then slinks off after nine weeks having made back a fraction of its cost. Its failure in America (and in general, worldwide) would be encouraging if we didn’t still get a hundred movies like it every year.

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I Love You, Daddy

Posted November 11, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: art-house, comedy, drama

i-love-you-daddyWatching the edgy, abandoned-by-its-studio comedy I Love You, Daddy, which may be writer/director Louis C.K.’s last effort for a long while at least, is a saddening experience for one who has admired C.K.’s previous work in stand-up and on TV. In what has to be the most awkward case of timing since Husbands and Wives premiered after the Woody Allen scandal, this movie’s former distributor, The Orchard, mailed out its for-your-consideration screener discs; the screeners arrived a couple of days after the schlubby auteur’s acts of sexual misconduct were confirmed and attached to real names¹, and after C.K. himself acknowledged that the women’s “stories were true.” So now hundreds of critics are sitting with this damn thing, wondering whether to watch it in the first place, and wondering what the hell to do with it once they have watched it.

What I can do with it, having watched it, is to say that I Love You, Daddy requires a great deal of unpacking if one is unwilling to ignore the real life surrounding it. I can say that the movie is clearly the work of a gifted weasel — a man who writes scenes and dialogue that actors can latch onto and make sing, and also a man who has, on several occasions that we know of, pleasured himself in front of women without their stated consent. The film is about perversion and neurosis, as so much of Louis C.K.’s work is. It is also unavoidably funny, due largely to the terrific cast C.K. has assembled. It would be a true bummer if the hilarious apoplexy of, say, Edie Falco as a harried TV producer toiling against an impossible schedule, or the joie de sleaze of Charlie Day as a loutish TV comedy star, were lost in oblivion. Perhaps at some point in the future their contributions, and those of others in the cast, can be viewed and enjoyed.

C.K. plays Glen Topher, a successful television creator working on his second show, which he isn’t crazy about, but a prime-time slot was open and he grabbed it. Glen is also dealing with his rudderless 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz), who finds herself drifting into the orbit of Glen’s filmmaking idol Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who seems to be conceived as a cosmopolitan libertine in the mold of, oh, Woody Allen (whose influence on C.K.’s show Louie and on this film is obvious). Glen is appalled that the 68-year-old genius Leslie has taken an interest in his daughter. He has endless anguished talks about it with various women in his life, most of whom tell him he’s a schmuck, a bad father, a bad man. Even the movie star (Rose Byrne) who admires Glen’s work and may star in his new show soon finds herself regarding him with distaste and frustration.

The Louie persona has always attracted women, despite himself, and then repelled them, because of himself. Louis C.K. is more savage to himself (or to his character, but at this point it’s a distinction without much of a difference) than to anyone else in the movie, but that’s nothing new. What is new, and weird, is that I Love You, Daddy — in form an homage to Woody’s notorious Manhattan — both lionizes Allen’s work and deplores his pervy attention to women much younger. I wish I could say the movie worked as Louis’ apologia for his own skeeviness or as an artistic reckoning with it, but a late scene in which seeming justification for grossness — “Everyone’s a pervert” — is put in the mouth of China’s teenage African-American BFF (Ebonee Noel) is dodgy at best. Louis doesn’t dare voice this himself, so he has what he considers a beyond-criticism source — black and female — do it for him. It’s cowardly. It sucks.

It’s impossible to watch I Love You, Daddy except through the stained scrim of its creator’s actions — same as with Husbands and Wives, really, except that movie seemed to have more under the hood. Allen’s film also weighed in at just an hour and forty-eight minutes (generally he has never let his movies run much longer than that, with a couple of exceptions); C.K.’s goes on, often in bland, static two-shots (nicely photographed in b&w though they are), for two hours and three minutes. The movie has fleetingly interesting things to say about what men think female sexuality should be and about women’s “Oh, really?” response to that.

What if the movie had come from a sexually and personally unimpeachable artist? Then, oddly, it wouldn’t seem to have much point. I Love You, Daddy seems to want to be an excoriation of disgusting maleness from a man who knows the disgustingness all too well, who has lived in it and with it, but Glen isn’t disgusting, just a lame, opportunistic creator and an insufficiently assertive parent. The finger of scorn ultimately points not to Glen or even to Leslie (who seems imperiously sexless) but to the spoiled and flighty China, despite Moretz’s compassionate performance. The source of male agita is a teenage girl who has no inner life, has nothing much except a body to be lusted after, protected, or barely clothed. Which makes this an art-house version of the legendarily creepy ‘80s “comedies” She’s Out of Control or Blame It on Rio, and did we really need one? Even without Louis C.K.’s real-life sliminess, this movie wouldn’t sit well on the stomach.

¹As opposed to his behavior being rumored-about in blind items and such, which is where it had been for years unless you were female and in the comedy community.

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Posted November 6, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: biopic, drama, Uncategorized

goodbyechrisrobinTo the short subgenre of biopics about children’s-book authors (Lewis Carroll in Dreamchild, J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland, P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks) we must now add the modestly touching Goodbye Christopher Robin, about A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie-the-Pooh. This one, though, concerns itself more with postwar trauma than with the usual biopic tropes and beats. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) goes off to World War I, and is injured in the notoriously brutal Battle of the Somme. Once home with his young wife Daphne (Margot Robbie), Milne broods on war, how it seems to render all the world’s sources of happiness impotent. Then Daphne, with misgivings, bears him a child, who will lead him out of himself and into fame and fortune — and a whole other set of problems.

Directed with a stiff sense of dignity by Simon Curtis, Goodbye Christopher Robin is about men and boys, fathers and sons, losing and finding themselves. Curtis, though, with Gleeson’s help, convinces us that Milne has been broken by the nightmare meat-grinder of the Great War, and this runs underneath every scene Milne is in. It’s kept quiet, though, not obnoxiously obvious. And given that this is a very polite PG-rated film, with only the most oblique glimpses of war bloodshed, Curtis impressively conveys the eternal dread of the postwar life. We gather that Milne saw hell. Out of this darkness, improbably, blossoms one of English letters’ most enduring creations of whimsy (not beloved by all, of course, as those who recall Dorothy Parker’s legendary dragging of The House at Pooh Corner can testify).

Inspired by the playtime of his son Christopher (Will Tilston) using a variety of stuffed animals, Milne creates Ashdown Forest and its inhabitants, a place of safe and gentle adventure, as opposed to the real world and all its dangerous, vicious adventure. Milne gives himself a fantasy into which to escape, but in the meantime he has made an unwilling celebrity out of his son, upon whom the books’ Christopher Robin is based. The real Christopher is pressed into service hosting tea parties for lucky young contest winners and posing for photos with a fake Pooh bear. We spend most of our time with the younger Christopher, until the magic of movies telescopes time while he’s at school, so that he becomes a teenager (Alex Lawther) beaten and ridiculed by bullies because of his literary connection. It’s this Christopher, hardened after years of a public childhood, who decides to go off to war himself, this time World War II.

By then, we know what such a decision will do to Milne. A couple of fine, pained scenes between Milne and fellow WWI veteran E.H. Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore) — who goes on to illustrate the Pooh books — show us what this shared experience does to men, and there’s an equally fine scene near the end, when another pair of men sit and take note of the beauty that the world can also offer. When things look bleak, Daphne excoriates Milne for “fixing it” so that their son (who’d failed the physical) could go to war, but what could Milne do? It was what Christopher wanted, and for Milne to deny him would have driven the last wedge between them. Sidebar stuff like this, which has little to do with the origins of Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore, deals with things we seldom see in movies; a father and a son bonded by horror, ready to embrace the future and abandon the agony of the past.

Much of Goodbye Christopher Robin is honorable, even if the tears are jerked a little too strenuously near the finish. One thing, however, prevents me from giving the film more than a middling mark. I know this isn’t her movie, but the cavalier, seemingly unloving behavior of Daphne throughout the film is baffling, all the more so because no one else seems to notice it. She leaves her husband until he starts writing again; she seems ruthlessly unsentimental, which is fine, but it seems at odds with everything else in the movie. Margot Robbie plays her as a borderline flapper who seems to yearn for champagne and glitz over a stuffy old house with a stuffy old writer. (When they married, Daphne was 23, Milne 31.)

Eventually, offscreen apparently, Daphne gentles into a vaguely worried mom tinkering in the garden, and Kelly Macdonald steals the movie as Olive, Christopher’s faithful caretaker. Macdonald brings that tired cliché the selfless nanny to life, and her expressions of despair and later joy are far more compelling than anything else going on. Goodbye Christopher Robin is refined, tactful, competent. Its dark undertone of war and its deforming power lifts it above the usual schmucky Hollywood stuff. But it’s missing that gratifying sense of everything coming together to create a vision based on subtle thematic work — that almost audible click when the elements hang together coherently and with originality of purpose. (We feel this, for example, at several points in Pulp Fiction.) The movie seems to be about a man who, when creating a fantasy into which to escape war memories, inadvertently drives his own son into another war. How does a movie even begin to deal with that? This one doesn’t.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Posted October 29, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: action/adventure, drama, film noir, one of the year's best, thriller, Uncategorized

Brawl-In-Cell-Block-99-TrailerIn the first shot of Brawl in Cell Block 99, the heavy tire of a truck flattens a can of lite beer. This, I imagine, is a signal that you’re about to get a shot of the hard stuff. You may have read about how ferally brutal Brawl is, and what a change of pace it is for its star, Vince Vaughn, but the truly shocking thing about it is how tender much of it is, how much humanity even briefly seen supporting players are apportioned. The movie is hushed, almost meditative, as it lays the groundwork for a grand finale involving crushed skulls, faces scraped against concrete. The audience for the film may fall within a very tiny Venn diagram of those who can sit with subtly emotional, drawn-out scenes and those who can hang with the bone-cracking and bloodletting.

It is also some kind of grim masterpiece, fully delivering on the promise of writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s 2015 debut, Bone Tomahawk. In that Peckinpah-meets-Deodato epic, Kurt Russell and a small posse delve into hell — land of hulking cannibals — to save a woman from a fate worse than death. Here, Vaughn, as recovering alcoholic with a side order of rage issues Bradley Thomas, must descend level by level into a dungeon of horrors to rescue his pregnant wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) and their unborn daughter from an equally ghastly end. There’s a heaping helping of white-knightism in both films, but it doesn’t go unchallenged, nor do easy notions of manhood or machismo. Violence in these films is not to be relished, but to be engaged in with sorrow that it had to play out this way — without sadism but also without mercy. They are portraits of men in extremis, grotesque but fully alive and human.

After being laid off from his auto-mechanic gig, Bradley comes home to discover that Lauren has been cheating on him. He tells her to go into the house, then uses his fists on her car, finally ripping the hood off. We don’t need to be told that he is inflicting damage that he can easily fix; the same would not be true of wounds dealt to Lauren. And then a wondrous thing happens: after punishing the car, Bradley steps inside and faces Lauren, and they talk. They talk like adults in a movie for adults. This, too, is shocking. Everyone who meets Bradley seems to sense that he has, as a detective puts it, a moral compass. They can also see in his eyes that he would rather not hurt people, but is exceptionally capable of doing so if his hand is forced. Well, his hand is forced, in an odyssey that takes him from a minimum to a maximum security prison, and finally to “the prison within the prison,” ruled by the sportive cigarillo-puffing sadist Warden Tuggs (Don Johnson).

Brawl in Cell Block 99, like Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, doesn’t use brutality for a kick or a tickle. It’s lumbering, terrible, thudding stuff, with the fights often filmed in long takes so we can see that, yes, that is indeed Vince Vaughn and not a stunt double distributing pain like Halloween candy. Bradley is a bad-ass, but Vaughn isn’t interested in that aspect of him (nor is Zahler). You’re not meant to go “whoo!” when the fists fly and arms are splintered, the way you were at something like Sylvester Stallone’s back-to-basics 2008 Rambo. You’re meant to wince, avert your eyes. Vaughn brings an intelligent wit and vulnerability that play against his six-foot-five frame. Bradley is a man who could easily be a hero, except that fate has made him a villain.

He does it all for his woman and his unborn child. As with Bone Tomahawk, I couldn’t be less interested in unpacking the story’s politics (avoiding spoilers, but some of the plot hinges on a hot-button issue). A great many effective pulp fantasies of the past, of course, would not pass today’s ideological purity tests. I’m as lefty as they come, and whatever right-wing skeleton may be rattling around inside Brawl concerns me not in the slightest. There’s no agenda being pressed here, just a cracking story with across-the-board fine performances (it’s predictable that Udo Kier is in perfect creepy form as a crime associate, but how about the surprisingly authoritative work from Marc Blucas — the most boring presence on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — as Bradley’s racist drug-dealer friend?). I don’t know how S. Craig Zahler votes, but I have seen how he writes and directs, and I’m ready to say he’s the most exciting filmmaker working in the violent genres since Tarantino raised his flag 25 years ago. Watch him.

Strapped for Danger

Posted October 21, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: comedy, Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 2.29.56 PMLeave it to Richard Griffin, the bad-boy independent Rhode Island director, to put a large, engorged, heavily veined exclamation point on the filmmaking portion of his career. His latest and last film, Strapped for Danger, is not a bid for awards or respectability; it’s a party without a drop of seriousness in it. (Griffin’s previous film, the surreal and wistful Long Night in a Dead City, probably offers his heartfelt and genuine goodbye to the medium for those looking for that.) It also, quite accidentally and coincidentally, conveys more of the heat and wit of Tom of Finland’s artwork than last week’s Tom of Finland biography managed. Old Touko Laaksonen himself might have studied some of the scenes and risen to the occasion.

Gay male strippers Joey (Anthony Gaudette) and Matt (Diego Guevara), along with their hetero colleague Chuck (Dan Mauro), halt the festivities at their strip club and rob the clientele, taking a cop (C. Gerald Murdy) hostage. This arouses the ire of the cop’s partner (Anna Rizzo), who hates gays but swings into action accompanied by the club’s drag-queen hostess Piñata Debris (the fabulous Johnny Sederquist) to track down her partner (and tentative boyfriend). The strippers bring the cop to a frat house to hide out and locate a stash of diamonds. The script, by playwright Duncan Pflaster, gets to the satirical point quickly: frats are little but hothouses of crypto-gay rough-trade behavior, and sexy queer criminals fit right in.

Strapped for Danger has been billed as “very naughty,” and so it is; it has more penises than you can shake a dick at, as well as copious nipples, male and female, offered for pinching and caressing. It’s probably not an accident that Griffin has picked now to unleash the gayest movie of his career, a time when our only president thinks nothing of giving a speech at the virulently homophobic Values Voter Summit. Our vice president wouldn’t make it through the opening credits, either (the kidnapped cop, Rod Pence, might be named after him). Then again, the movie’s relevance could just be happenstance — certainly it has no overt politics weighing it down, just subtext for those who enjoy it.

Gayosity aside, the movie looks to be Griffin’s tip of the hat to cheeseball ‘80s action, of the sort produced by Cannon. Strapped for Danger looks slicker than most of those sleaze epics ever did, though; cinematographer John Mosetich dabs on the lurid reds of the strip club, the more naturalistic hues of the frat house or the police station. The actors cheerfully camp it up, which is the only thing you can do with material like this: if you’re at a party, you party. The stand-outs are the formidable Sarah Reed as Chuck’s snorting squeeze Beverley, Matthew Menendez and Brandon Grimes as hot-to-trot pledges, and of course the wicked wit(ch) Sederquist, who in another corner of his life performs as Ninny Nothin.

The occasion of this review is bittersweet for me, because I was there in August 2000 when Richard Griffin’s feature debut Titus Andronicus opened, I just barely thirty, he not yet thirty. The better part of two decades later here I am, a grayer ink-stained wretch, and there he is, a grayer director retiring from film but returning to theater. This means we can still enjoy his work, though not on a screen. To my dismay, and possibly to Griffin’s relief, this will be the last time I review a film of his (unless I go back and cover his earlier stuff … or write a book about his filmography, heh-heh). It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to do so. Strapped for Danger, with all its sex-positive weenie-flapping, turns out to be the perfect capper to a career that has delighted in tweaking squares and turning sacred cows into brisket.

Tom of Finland

Posted October 15, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: biopic, foreign, Uncategorized

tomoffinlandTouko Laaksonen, better known as the fetish artist Tom of Finland, liked to draw what aroused him: beefy men in uniform, or leather, or leather uniform. A veteran of World War II, Touko seemed to draw his aesthetic partly from the Nazis, with whom the Finnish army fought against the Soviet Union in an example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend — kind of.” (Finland stayed independent and never formally allied with Nazi Germany; near the end of the war the two countries got into it with each other anyway.) I don’t think the new Finnish biopic Tom of Finland gets into the Nazi thing, which is probably for the best; by his own admission, Touko was never particularly political at heart, though his work ended up being plenty political.

Touko (Pekka Strang) cuts an artsy figure — with his porkpie hat and mustache, he resembles a Eurotrash R. Crumb (whose bizarrely sexual comics, like Touko’s art, are as notorious as they are renowned). He slouches around Finland, furtively pursuing men in parks or at “poker parties” and risking arrest. (Homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized in Finland until 1971.) He has a job in advertising, and on the side he draws painstaking pictures of men posing alone or in twos or threes, sometimes busy, sometimes just bulging. What made Touko’s drawings so magnetic to gay men in later years, and what gives them a spark that transcends the usual porn, is that they come from such an obvious, desperate place of, well, concupiscence. It was his inner orgy life given form, though in technique it was, as one critic said, illustrative but not expressive. The men’s expressions are sullen or glazed over with lust (there are some exceptions). The blankness of their faces is a good screen on which the viewer can project his fantasies.

The movie’s Touko seems to follow suit, eventually shopping for leather-daddy gear and becoming one of his own stolid cartoons. Touku never seems especially cheerful or even happy. The frequent same-sex encounters are filmed rather neutrally by straight director Dome Karukoski. The heart of the movie is in the relationships between Touku and those who love him, such as his disapproving sister (Jessica Grabowsky), or his younger lover who succumbs to AIDS, or the Californian gays who invite him out to see the impact he had on American rough-trade culture (in the West Coast ‘70s as well as the Helsinki ‘40s, it’s all about butch hair and mustaches and shared cigarettes and sexuality so aggressively lunging it seems almost like Kabuki at times). What we don’t know is whether he loves them back — or can. The film cites Touko’s wartime stabbing to death of a Russian paratrooper as the event that froze his soul, took him out of the human race and sidelined him as a watcher, an artist.

Once the movie gets to California and the snarky twinks and amiable bears who revere Tom of Finland’s work, its outlook improves and it shakes off, at least temporarily, the Helsinki blues. It does spend a lot of our time beforehand being dreary (though, as lighted by cinematographer Lasse Frank, gorgeously dreary — not drearily dreary as in the recent England Is Mine). I found myself wanting a whole movie documenting Touko’s bright years in the ‘70s, before AIDS decimated the community and before Touko himself fell to emphysema in 1991. But in order to appreciate Touko’s liberation and vindication in his later years we need to see the repression/oppression of his youth. In the ‘40s, Touko passes one of his naughtier drawings under a toilet stall as a come-on; he gets a fat lip for his troubles. Fast-forward to the ‘70s, and dudes are dueling with giant inflatable phalluses at pool parties where wayward police, rather than being feared, are catcalled.

That juicy round of hooting at embarrassed cops who, in another time and place, would have been arresting the whole party is gratifying and about as close as Tom of Finland comes to pure comedy — except when it shows us Touko’s work. The drawing has the fizz of an artist mesmerized by his own onanistic images, like all those so-aroused-it-hurts drawings by R. Crumb of fat-bottomed girls, or S. Clay Wilson’s seething panoramas of filth. It has wit, and a refreshing lack of sentiment. Would that the same were true of the film, which goes a little soft (flaccid, if you will) near the end, with a bunny brought into a dying man’s hospital room — the scene is, I think, a mistake. But most of the handsomely assembled film pays tribute not to the man’s pornography but to the way it pointed gay men away from shame towards pride, like an arrow, or like something similarly shaped.

Blade Runner 2049

Posted October 8, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: action/adventure, adaptation, science fiction, sequel

br2049There’s a lot to say about Blade Runner 2049, the long-gestating sequel to the 1982 cult classic, but here’s my initial thought: see it, don’t see it, but know that something like this — a downbeat, two-hour-and-forty-four-minute, expensive (anywhere from $150 to $185 million), R-rated work of art — will not come along again any time soon. (Especially because its opening-weekend take was “only” $31 million, which is thought to be disastrous.) Eccentricities like this will be lost in time, as someone once said, like tears in rain. More than once, I was stirred by an image or a subtly broken line reading or the thunderous, doomy soundtrack. It’s a little baffling, though, how little of it has stayed with me — except in isolated shards of sound or picture.

That’s because Blade Runner 2049, like its dour predecessor, is a bitter tone poem about humanity’s pros and cons rather than an adventure or a mystery. It continues the vision of the hellish dystopian city that the first film practically invented, and expands on it somewhat, taking us further out from the slums of L.A. (Master cinematographer Roger Deakins nurtures beauty where the first film found mostly ugliness.) In both cases the plot doesn’t matter as much as the thematic and visual heaviosity the plot makes possible. The mission of the protagonist — K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant whose job is to find and retire previous iterations of replicants — is defined mainly by where the plot needs him to be. A buried skeleton has been found, and markings on the bones determine that the owner of the skeleton was (A) a replicant and (B) pregnant. K must wipe out all evidence of this birth, including whoever the child is.

If you’re paying all that much attention to the plot, you may sit there getting annoyed at the movie for making you pretend not to have guessed the film’s big twist long before the movie pulls a mild fake-out by saying “Nope, that twist isn’t true,” but then it turns out to be true anyway. (I think.) That sound you hear is Blade Runner 2049 brutally dismantling about half of the Blade Runner fandom’s most earnest theories, but it slyly leaves intact the biggest one of all — that the first film’s anti-hero, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a killer of replicants, was himself a replicant. Deckard was never a source of laughs (except when he posed as a dweeby inspector to gain backstage access to a replicant he was hunting), but when Ford appears well into the second hour, he brings some dry levity with him. Before that it’s mostly the po-faced adventures of Ryan, the Boy Who Isn’t a Real Boy. Gosling holds the screen capably, occasionally giving it up to livelier, usually female presences like Robin Wright as K’s hard-bitten superior officer and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a fearsome replicant who seems to have stepped out of a Frank Miller comic — Ronin, maybe.

Ronin, of course, like about five million other things, was heavily influenced by the original Blade Runner. The sequel wisely gets the first film’s iconic visuals out of the way quickly, and it doesn’t feel like a fan film but like a legitimate addition to canon. Like other films directed by Denis Villeneuve, it’s hushed and long and will put considerable pressure on some viewers’ patience. But I enjoyed its meditative tempo, and the way it uses violence is as upsetting as in the first Blade Runner but not as freaky and mean-spirited. The general tone of the original was fear and rage blended into a melange of futuristic noir; the tone of 2049 is sadness, loneliness, largely due to living in a society ruled by privilege and hubris. Everyone is walled off from everyone else, one person literally; the movie ends up saying that humanity isn’t all that important if artificial intelligence can create a better humanity. Cool story, bro! But as an experience of severe imagery and soundscape, 2049 delivers. Someday on Blu-ray it will be the go-to movie for the attuned to float around in for almost three hours, getting stoned on the bitter and doom-laden toxic mood.