In Theaters Now

It’s always a treat to welcome a cinema classic back to the big screen. So it is with the 35th anniversary of director Ridley Scott’s noir-esque sci-fi masterpiece, “Blade Runner”  (web site).

In advance of the release of the original film’s much-anticipated sequel, “Blade Runner 2049” (web site, trailer), later this year, some cinemas, such as Chicago’s Music Box Theater, have brought back a little-known version of the picture to the big screen. This edition, titled “Blade Runner – The Final Cut,” was originally released in 2007 in celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary. It had a limited run in theaters at the time, becoming known mostly by way of home video sales.

The film, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is set in a dark, dystopian version of Los Angeles of the near future. It tells the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), former member of a special police unit who’s coerced out of retirement by his old boss (M. Emmet Walsh) for a special assignment. Prior to his resignation, Deckard belonged to a specially trained investigative group known as “the blade runners,” a team of detectives responsible for smoking out and “retiring” renegade robots known as “replicants,” artificial life forms virtually indistinguishable from humans but who possess superior mental and physical capacities.

With his arm twisted, Deckard reluctantly resumes his duties, but he becomes hesitant when he learns he may be charged with retiring a replicant for whom he’s developed a personal connection, Rachael (Sean Young), the lovely and refined personal assistant to the technology’s creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel). But, given the stakes involved and the potential havoc that could be wrought by four other renegade replicants (Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy, Brion James), Deckard realizes the gravity of the situation and embarks on his task, one that takes him into the darkest, seediest places of Los Angeles – and of his own soul.

From the foregoing description, the film may sound like prototypical sci-fi fare, but that would be selling it short. Its layered narrative and superb screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples plumb the depths of a number of deeper, meatier issues, most notably what it means to be alive, what it means to be human (and humane), and the very nature of what we call existence. The picture brings this to life through the superb performances of the ensemble cast, Scott’s impeccable direction, the haunting Vangelis soundtrack, a wealth of positively stunning visuals created by special photographic effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull (also known for his work on “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and “Brainstorm” (1983)), and the incredible production design of Lawrence G. Paull and art direction of David Snyder.

Unlike the original theatrical version, released in 1982, and the director’s cut, released on various viewing media between 1991 and 1997, “The Final Cut” is the only edition of the film over which Scott had complete and direct control. It closely resembles the director’s cut but includes material not found in that version. Moreover, it differs from the theatrical version by incorporating an alternate ending and eliminating the familiar voice-overs, which Scott claimed he never liked.

Even though the film has evolved into a highly revered cinematic milestone, as well as a cult classic, “Blade Runner” fared only modestly at the box office and drew mixed evaluations from critics (although astute reviewers correctly predicted that it would easily stand the test of time and come to be recognized for its depth and insights). It didn’t help that the film also faced considerable competition from other sci-fi and fantasy releases at the time, including such heavy-hitters at “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “The Thing” and “Conan the Barbarian.” That tepid response kept the film from receiving the accolades it deserved, too. The picture earned only two Oscar nominations and one Golden Globe nod and took home no awards in either contest, although it fared far better in the BAFTA Awards competition, where it won three awards on eight nominations, all in technical categories.

For those who haven’t watched “Blade Runner,” make a point of doing so, especially if it’s available on the big screen, the way this film was meant to be seen. It’s essential viewing for moviegoers in general, and it’s especially important to those who want substance from what they screen. This picture delivers across the board, and it’s an experience one won’t soon forget – even if you try to.

On the Radio This Week

Join host Frankie Picasso and me this Thursday, March 30 at 1 pm ET for the next edition of Frankiesense & More radio. I’ll join Frankie for the entire show this time as we interview Sunil Shah and Renu Vora, director and producer, respectively, of the engaging metaphysical drama, “The Wisdom Tree” (web site, trailer), which is available on DVD and Blu-ray disk. Tune in live or listen to the on-demand podcast for some lively movie talk! And, for a complete review of the film, click here.

Quantum physicist Steve Hamilton (Patrick Alparone, left) and neuroscientist Dr. Trisha Rao (Sheetal Sheth, right) embark on a remarkable journey of discovery into the nature of reality in the insightful metaphysical drama, “The Wisdom Tree.” Photo courtesy of The Wisdom Tree, LLC.

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The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Loving”

Who we fall in love with is no one’s business but our own. However, it wasn’t always that way. As recently as the 1960s, interracial marriage was illegal in a number of U.S. states. But, in the end, laws weren’t enough to separate people whose love destined them to be together. One couple’s precedent-setting fight to assert this fundamental innate birthright provides the basis for the touching historical drama, “Loving” (web site, trailer), available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on-demand.

The profound love between Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man, and his soul mate, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), a black woman, was obvious for all to see. But, in 1950s rural Virginia, such relationships were generally looked upon disapprovingly, even contemptuously, and these attitudes were backed by the force of the state’s anti-miscegenation law. Nevertheless, Richard was adamant about marrying his pregnant fiancée, and he sought to circumvent the restriction by legally wedding Mildred in the District of Columbia, a jurisdiction where no interracial marriage ban was in place.

Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton, left) and his fiancée, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga, right), take the extraordinary step of marrying out of state at a time when their home jurisdiction forbid their interracial relationship, a courageous effort chronicled in the historical romantic and legal drama, “Loving.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

After the ceremony, Richard and Mildred returned to their home in Virginia. But, not long after their return, they were arrested by the local sheriff (Marton Csokas) for violation of the anti-miscegenation law, despite possessing a legally valid marriage license from the District of Columbia. They were jailed and brought before the local judge (David Jensen), who had no tolerance for such “disdainful” relationships. The Lovings’ lawyer (Bill Camp), a friend of the judge, managed to negotiate a plea deal to get Richard’s and Mildred’s prison time dropped, provided that they agree to move out of state for 25 years. Given Mildred’s pregnancy, the couple agreed to the judge’s terms, and they relocated to the city of their wedding ceremony.

While in Washington, Richard and Mildred began raising their family of three children. They lived largely free from persecution, but Mildred abhorred city life. She was concerned that her kids didn’t have an opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of the country, a concern exacerbated when one of her sons was hit by a car while playing in the street. She desperately wanted to move back to Virginia and sought help to realize her goal.

With the rise of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, Mildred wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to seek his help. Her impassioned letter, in turn, led to a referral to an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll), who agreed to take her case. Aided by experienced civil rights attorney Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass), Cohen viewed the Lovings’ situation as an ideal test case for the Supreme Court. And, even though Richard and Mildred weren’t especially anxious for the publicity that would accompany such a legal battle, they went along with it, especially if a ruling in their favor would benefit not only them, but also others similarly situated in the 16 states that had anti-miscegenation laws in place at the time. It was a gamble that paid off handsomely.

Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton, right) and his wife, Mildred (Ruth Negga, right), defy state laws banning their race-based marriage in director Jeff Nichols’s historical romantic and legal drama, “Loving.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

“Loving” beautifully depicts what it means to love someone, regardless of the obstacles, a message that continually needs reinforcement when prejudicial attitudes threaten the sanctity of such relationships. Director Jeff Nichols’s heartfelt, personal take on a big story with wide-sweeping implications effectively shows the human impact on ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. The film’s understated writing, nuanced performances and successful handling of legal issues that could have easily become unwieldy lend much to this well-crafted biopic.

Despite some occasional pacing issues in the second hour, this picture was truly one of the standout offerings of the 2016 awards season. And, for its efforts, the picture earned its share of recognition, including Oscar, Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Independent Spirit Award nominations for Negga’s lead performance; Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award nods for Edgerton’s lead performance; Critics Choice and Independent Spirit Award nominations for best director; a Critics Choice Award nomination for best picture; and a Palme d’Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival, the event’s highest honor.

The Lovings’ legacy was substantial indeed. In addition to overturning the interracial marriage ban, their case helped set the stage for the Supreme Court ruling affecting same-sex marriage many years later. That says a lot about what it means to love someone – and the power it carries for effecting change where it’s sorely needed.

A full review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.