Review // Blade Runner 2049

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The dystopian story continues as an LAPD detective uncovers a huge secret that will change the world.

We return to a bleak California where human-like robots called replicants are kept in check by Blade Runners, police who specialise in “retiring” these rogue machines. Blade Runner “K” (Ryan Gosling) is sent on a routine mission and pulls a thread that goes further than he could’ve possibly imagined.

BR2049 is a huge film on almost every scale. Decades in waiting and teased out in trailers, it delivers everything it flaunted and more. Sonically and visually it is a feast and the story is one any writer would be proud to have conceived. In a barren future, K searches for Rick Deckard, a former Blade Runner who has been missing for 30 years. During which time replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has pushed robotics to godlike limits and the environment of earth has significantly deteriorated.

Director Denis Villeneuve was a mere 15 years old when the original was released but thankfully there are a few key people who have returned. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard but arguably more important is Hampton Fancher’s return, writer of the original who has done a truly fantastic job penning 2049. The story is incredibly well written and with a run time of 2 hours and 43 minutes it really had to be. The continuity is remarkably comfortable but still easily understood as a standalone film, even if its main themes require a lot of thought.

The central performance from Ryan Gosling vindicates his position as one of the best actors working today but it is a great shame that some of the supporting cast are given little screen time to work with. Their performances are strong but the film could certainly have benefitted from greater depth or screen time for so many of the cast. Ford very naturally takes to his character and Dave Bautista shows how refined his acting skills have become in a short time. Yet while male dominated, it is the performances of the female actresses that are particularly strong, especially Sylvia Hoeks and Ana de Armas.

Villeneuve paired up with powerhouse cinematographer Roger Deakins for this undertaking but BR2049 is unlike any film either have worked on before. The scorched earth backdrop is meticulously composed and many sequences genuinely look as though they’ve been shot on another planet. The scoring process of BR2049 was not without controversy but hearsay aside it sounds fantastic and adds a lot to the film. Industrial and brash when necessary but eerily quiet and reflective at key moments. The audio and visual effects teams contribute to a wasteland nightmare we’d do well to avoid, setting the tone nicely for the cast and writing to shine.

As Mark Kermode noted in a recent blog post, the original Blade Runner is still heavily debated 35 years on. With that in mind, there are key scenes and motifs in 2049 that will almost certainly be pored over with the same vigour in coming years. BR2049 is a clever, thought provoking blockbuster, a rare beast in this day and age. The world has progressed significantly since the 1982 original but the responsibilities and repercussions of breathing life into machines has never been more pertinent than today. A fitting sequel to one of the greatest films of all time.

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Television // “The Deuce” Premiere

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James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Pernell Walker.

Acclaimed showrunner David Simon delves into New York’s 70’s porn industry in his latest project.

As creator, writer and executive producer of several of HBO’s greatest shows, David Simon is responsible for some of the best television ever produced. After lauded portrayals of Baltimore and New Orleans he turns to New York in seedy drama “The Deuce”.

The New York porn rise is chronicled through bar manager Vince Martino (James Franco) and prostitute turned porn star Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Vince is a recently single father helping pay his twin’s gambling debts and Candy has a young son she wants to provide a better life for. They spot an opportunity to make money as the industry literally takes off around them. In their endeavours they find themselves alongside many different walks of life, none of whom can be painted with broad strokes.

While only three episodes have aired in the US so far the direction the show is taking is very exciting. The Deuce takes a stab at the misogynistic and corrupt power systems in America with a modern slant. As always with David Simon, moral ambiguity is a strong theme and particularly interesting in the porn world where women hold such power but receive little respect.

The sensitive portrayals of sex workers are a refreshing change to stereotypical writing and the stories of those building the industry provide very intriguing television. It would also seem Simon is one of the few people able to reign in James Franco, as his turn as both Martino twins may be his finest performance yet. The cast are great across the board, unsurprising considering the number of familiar faces from “The Wire” and Simon’s other works. The Deuce has already been renewed for a second season and has the potential to rival HBO’s best if able to stay the course.

The Deuce premieres in the UK on Sky Atlantic tonight at 9PM.

Review // Close Encounters of the Third Kind (4K Remaster)

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Steven Spielberg’s first foray into science fiction is now 40 years old and well deserved of a re-release.

All across the globe strange things are happening that cannot be explained. In Muncie, Indiana, electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfus) has an late night encounter with a UFO that changes him forever. As the US government begin to decode strange sounds coming from the heavens, they realise they are establishing contact with intelligent life and prepare to receive them.

Close Encounters is often forgotten within the context of Spielberg’s other works despite being one of his greatest achievements. In this early career venture Spielberg dared suggest that first contact with extraterrestrials might not be as apocalyptic as cinema had stereotyped, an idea he would revisit several times in his later career.

While the story itself is a refreshing change of pace from the death and destruction of contemporary alien films, the special effects are what truly won audiences over. Famed visual effects artist Douglas Trumbull passed up working on Star Wars shortly before beginning work on CE3K and Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography still stands up as some the most beautiful in cinema. Richard Dreyfus gives one of his career-best performances as the conflicted family man Neary, alongside Francois Truffaut, Melinda Dillion and a young Carey Guffey excellently directed by Spielberg in his prime.

With John Williams’ iconic and profoundly moving score, Close Encounters is still a beautiful experience for all of the senses. Nominated for 8 oscars and with many classic cinema moments, perhaps none more so than its 5 tone motif and unparalleled landing scene. Close Encounters is a benchmark in science fiction that has yet to be bettered.

Limited showings.

  • Cameo Picturehouse, 18th September
  • Edinburgh Filmhouse, 19/20/21st September
  • Belmont Filmhouse, 15th September
  • Omni Vue, 24th September
  • GFT, 15/16/17th September

Review // The Lost City of Z

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UNCHARTED AMAZONIA HOLDS A LOST KINGDOM AND THE FATE OF A BRITISH SOLIDER IN THIS WARTIME ADVENTURE.

On an expedition mapping the border between Brazil and Bolivia, soldier Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) finds traces of a great civilisation deep in the jungle, but is ridiculed upon return for his lack of evidence. To prove his critics wrong he returns with the Royal Geographical Society to find the lost city of wonder, dubbed “Z”.

As a film that embraces the romance of the unexplored, The Lost City of Z is an impressive piece of modern filmmaking, as it feels and looks like a classic explorer film from a long past era. It nicely strikes the balance between the romantic nature of European “New World” pioneering, while still showing how difficult and unforgiving the jungle can be.

Hunnam plays stoic Fawcett, head of a large family with varying opinions on his ambitions. Tom Holland’s portrayal of his eldest son shows an actor with a great future and Robert Pattinson’s turn as haggard fellow explorer Henry Costin is impressively unrecognisable. Their odyssey, pitted against the outbreak of the Great War, shows the struggle Fawcett faced between leaving his family in England and his battle to right his disgraced family name. It’s a story that could easily be mistaken for fiction, but it’s as true as it is remarkable.

Christopher Spelman’s score is excellent, allowing the beautiful visuals to take over and the sweeping strings in the sombre scenes are genuinely moving. The hazy camerawork compliments the dense jungle, captured in it’s claustrophobic glory. The lucid night sequences were very reminiscent of Apocalypse Now which was clearly a big influence, but thankfully the film has its own distinct character. Director James Gray’s work with “The Beach” cinematographer Darius Khondji is a winning combination, and while the film doesn’t feel like a huge Hollywood blockbusting adventure, neither it should. Sitting far more comfortably as a smaller budget film with an artistic heart.

With some sporadic pacing and a slightly one dimensional performance from Hunnam, The Lost City of Z is not without its flaws. But it’s still a wonderful film, the likes of which has not been seen for a while. The sense of adventure is very genuine and Gray successfully pulls off a very difficult task. How do you make a film about exploring that’s exciting, in an era where no stone has been left unturned?

Review // Dunkirk

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The heart of British stoicism pulses like the tide in this outstanding epic, chronicling the greatest military disaster in our history.

Told from 3 different viewpoints, Dunkirk is the story of the 400,000 men left surrounded by German forces in Northern France, featuring Fionn Whitehead as a young Private stranded on the beach, Tom Hardy as an RAF pilot and Mark Rylance as a civilian captaining a drafted boat. Among these stars feature an incredibly talented supporting cast including Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles in his feature debut and Kenneth Branagh as commander of the beached forces.

The week-long ordeal is neatly split up across the three stories, each with their own climaxes and conclusion. Whitehead as the young “Tommy” is joined by Styles and Aneurin Bernard, forming a group of soldiers desperately trying to flee the beach. Tom Hardy gives a great performance almost entirely from the cockpit of a spitfire in airborne sequences that are absolutely enthralling. The civilian boat ordeal contains a sombre story, highlighting the sacrifices that everyday people made in order to rescue the stranded soldiers. In a jam packed 1hr 50mins, the film is never far from the action, avoiding politics altogether and all the better for it.

Nolan has been careful not to glorify any of the evacuation and every aspect of Dunkirk contains an element of struggle. From the constant screeching of the German bombers to the landscapes that never quite shake their misty coats, bleakness permeates every level. Hoyte Van Hoytema, cinematographer of Interstellar returned to shoot Dunkirk and the two are strikingly similar visually, having traded the heavens for the seas. Yet where Interstellar was technically contrived, Dunkirk is far simpler, allowing full cinematic freedom to be explored.

Screened in various formats including the holy grail of 70mm, Dunkirk is pure cinema at it’s finest. The production cost alone of shooting on such expensive film could only ever be justified by a director such as Nolan, and justified is the word. Having produced a film as fine as this, it would be unjust for anything other than a slew of oscar nominations to be thrown his way with a view to a clean sweep come awards season.

Dunkirk is a much a treat for the ears as it is for the eyes. A truly dread-inducing score from Hans Zimmer, complimented by terrifying sound effects bring the audience as close to war as is comfortable. It contains very little dialogue, focusing on the physical journey, allowing their exhausting movements and relentless obstacles to tell the story without unnecessary distraction. But when required, the speeches are moving and words are certainly not wasted.

In a career that has spanned more than two decades, Christopher Nolan joins the increasingly small list of directors who deal exclusively in cinematic works of art. Almost certainly his best film, Dunkirk must rank among the greatest British films and solidify his place as one of the best living filmmakers.

77 years on, there can hardly be a more terrifyingly realistic interpretation of this great disaster. Do yourself a favour and see this spectacle on this biggest possible screen and enjoy what will undoubtedly be remembered as a landmark film.