Mladen and Del review ‘Barbie’

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Barbie” Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, and others. Directed by Greta Gerwig. 1 hour, 54 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theatrical release.

Mladen’s take

I imagine Del will gush pink and salmon and, maybe, sky blue about “Barbie.” So, let me give y’all the straight dope. “Barbie” gets an F. How bad is the film? Margot Robbie, portraying the principal Barbie, will be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. Ryan Gosling as the main Ken will get the nom for Best Actor. The movie itself will be included as a contender for the Best Film Oscar. I suspect “Barbie” will also make Academy Award runs at best supporting actress, script writing, costumes, and production. The music is standard modern hip. It neither repulsed me nor had me singing along. 

Del always demands a lengthy, pedantic movie plot summary in our reviews that none of you internet-addled users will be interested reading. So, let me do you a favor. Here’s the plot in a handful of short sentences. This may prevent Del from going all philosophical on our asses. Barbie endures an existential crisis as Ken wonders about his manliness. All of this angst exists amid the movie’s quixotic landscape and the Real World. The two realms are opposites. In one, women dominate and man are objectified and, in the other, males rule and females are disenfranchised. There’s a happy ending, of course.

“Barbie” is a contrast to the toy films we’ve all watched. It’s the opposite of the absurd, overly kinetic, and CGI-drunk Transformer movies. And, it’s unlike the pure delight of the Lego films. “Barbie” targets grown ups. Even grown-ups like manly me. Pay attention to the film’s cultural and political satire. Its jab at the Supreme Court’s appalling Citizens United decision is precious. Would “Barbie” appeal to Fahrenheit 451 Ron, Florida’s governor; Jerkoff Jordan, the dick Congressman from Ohio; or Baby Gaetz, the U.S. House fascist automaton representing my district? Yes, but only because they could use it to condemn woke y ness. Yeah, equal rights and opportunities for women would be bad for society.

“Barbie” should have been rated R, but, as usual, the damned studio chickened out. If you’re using toys to convey adult emotions and urges, be smart. Take the next step. Go R. Go “Team America: World Police.” To illustrate Barbie’s and Ken’s “feelings,” solid cussing by our protagonists would have added to the movie’s inexplicable charm. Also, the film would have benefitted from a deft touch of well-timed, realistic violence, ideally gunfire and blood splatter, though I’d settle for hand-to-hand with knives instead of arrows tipped with suction cups. The Kens beach invasion dance scene would have been the perfect place to mimic the opening sequence of “Saving Private Ryan.” I mention that because “Barbie” riffs other well known movies such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Matrix.”

“Barbie” might not be the first non science fiction and non-war movie I buy on 4K disc. It’s that bad.

Del’s take

My exposure to Barbie is limited. My sister had a doll or two when she was a child, and from their presence I learned the following:

1. Under proper (boy) supervision a Barbie could undergo what SpaceX calls a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” with remarkable ease.

2. With repeated use Barbie’s hair developed split ends, which was instantly corrected by fire.

There was something unsettling about looking at a body-less Barbie head, its hair scorched into a butch cut, as if it had suddenly morphed into Sid Vicious Barbie, yet that vapid smile never wavered, as though it were staring into the plastic gullet of whatever god Mattel had created for it.

When I suggested to Mladen we review the most talked-about movie of the day, “Barbie,” I expected to hear the ululating cry of damned souls arising from all the way across town. Payback, Mladen, for inflicting “The Jane Austin Book Club” on me all those years ago.

Alas, that didn’t happen. He was surprisingly on board, which confirms my suspicions that as he ages, Mladen is becoming a mellow old coot. Soon he’ll be eating fish sticks and watching “Wheel of Fortune” with the rest of us.

Going into this movie I predicted a two-hour, candy-coated, diabetes-inducing advertisement for Mattel’s most famous product. Boy, was I wrong. “Barbie” is many things, but it most definitely is NOT what I expected.

For example, “Barbie” is the best-written movie I’ve seen since “Don’t Look Up” with spectacular dialogue that flies at you rapid-fire, as if SEAL Team 6 Barbie had just emptied the clip of her M4 right in your face.

“Barbie” is also hilarious, with jokes delivered not just at the expense of Barbie and her genitally impaired kinda boyfriend Ken, or the perfectly coiffed universe they inhabit, but the Mattel “mothership” itself, which surprises me. It’s not often you see a major corporation willing to laugh at itself.

And “Barbie” is super meta, with nonstop winks and nods to both events that take place in the world you and I inhabit, and events unique to the Barbie universe too.

But wait, there’s more. “Barbie” is surprisingly layered and complex. It not only acknowledges those aspects of the doll that have been criticized over the years, such as the impossible physical and beauty standards embodied in Barbie, but issues of women’s equality, glass ceilings and a claustrophobic male patriarchy that seeks to keep women in their place.

I felt sorry for the parents who brought their young daughters to see “Barbie” because to my mind it is not a movie children will appreciate. Part musical, part comedy, and part stinging commentary about current events and the role of women in our culture, with nods to “The Truman Show” and “The Matrix,” “Barbie” is a movie phenomenon. Everything about it is terrific – the writing, acting, and story.

I came into “Barbie” expecting a silly kiddie movie. I walked out impressed. It’s an exceptional achievement, and I predict it’ll be rewarded come Oscar season.

I give it an unqualified A.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Blade Runner 2049” Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright and Sylvia Hoeks. Directed by Dennis Villeneuve. 2 hours, 44 minutes. Rated R.

Del’s take

As I purchased my ticket for “Blade Runner 2049” the ticket taker said, “It’s entirely possible you will be the only person in the theater.”

He was almost right.

Initially I was the only person in the theater. I frantically texted my movie-going crony, Dusty. “Please hurry. I am the only one in the theater. It’s creepy.”

By the time the movie started there were 13 other individuals with us, not an auspicious showing for a much-ballyhooed sequel to a movie legend.

The original “Blade Runner” didn’t do much at the box office, pulling in a little over $32 million domestically over its lifetime. “2049” seems headed to a similar fate. The film has so far grossed $60 million and may never earn back its $155-plus million expenses.

That’s too bad because it’s a worthy successor to the original Ridley Scott classic, despite the fact that audiences don’t seem to care.

I suspect “2049’s” major problem is that contemporary moviegoers are too lazy to enjoy a movie that builds its tension slowly and requires audiences to think. Why should audiences think when they can coast along in a state of lobotomy-like bliss, voting for Donald Trump and watching crap like the upcoming “Geo Storm”?

 In “2049” Ryan Gosling is Officer K, a replicant hunter who belongs to a new generation of the genetically engineered lifeforms himself, compliant slaves who do what they are told. When he is ordered to investigate a possible older-generation replicant hiding in the environmental wasteland that Southern California has become, he tumbles onto a larger mystery that promises to “break the world,” as Lieutenant Joshi (Wright) puts it.

What follows is a journey across the hellscape of Los Angeles and beyond in search of the truth, which eventually leads K to Deckard (Ford) and a confrontation with agents of the Wallace Corporation, manufacturer of the new, compliant replicants. Wallace is headed by the cool-handed Neander Wallace (Leto), who is looking for a way to make replicants faster. Does K hold the solution to that problem?

“2049” is a replicant itself, duplicating the mood and pacing of the original “Blade Runner.” The score evokes the original Tangerine Dream soundtrack yet diverges in strange and interesting ways. The noir ingredients are still there – endless rain, sometimes interrupted by snow. Neon signs with gigantic holograms confronting pedestrians about their shopping choices. Retro technology and clothing styles. At any moment I expected to see Daryl Hannah back-handspringing into the fray.

Gosling measures up to Ford’s original performance, offering the same world-weary yet hopeful emotional resonance to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there is more to his manufactured life than even his makers were aware of. His exchanges with his holographic lover Joi (Anna de Armas) are simultaneously touching and heartbreaking. To know that these two artificial entities – one grown in a vat, the other digital – constitute all that is good about this world damns the future with sadness and futility.

The movie is long, almost three hours, and therein lies its flaw. The pacing is glacial – not the post global warming “glacial” of  retreat, but the inch-a-year growth of ice before mankind dumped his pollution and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. At times director Villeneuve seems to love his creation so madly he dwells on unimportant details, unwilling to slay his darlings as it were. It feels every bit as much as a three-hour movie.

Still, it’s three hours of arresting visuals, soaring music, and tantalizing questions: Who else might be a replicant? Will these new replicants throw off their designed constraints and launch a revolution? How will mankind survive without its slave labor force?

Fans of the original should catch “2049” in a movie theater to enjoy its visuals in their native habitat. Newcomers should probably watch the 1982 original before venturing to the theater.

Watch it now, because if “2049” doesn’t start making money soon, it may be another 35 years before we see Part 3.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.