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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Top Five // Ryan Gosling

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Before the release of Blade Runner 2049 we pick our highlights of its leading man.

Blue Valentine (2010) dir. Derek Cianfrance
Charming and heartbreaking at the same breath, Blue Valentine follows the best and worst days of a tumultuous marriage through flashbacks and the present day. Gosling plays a removal man who falls for a young student and does his best to keep her in spite of great odds. One of Michelle Williams’ many great performances and a powerful soundtrack from Grizzly Bear make this an all round fantastic film.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2012) dir. Derek Cianfrance
Stunning moral tightrope act. A travelling motorcycle stuntman discovers he is a father and resorts to crime to provide for his new found family. Gosling’s second outing with Cianfrance is absolutely justified. Bradley Cooper plays a policeman deeply affected by their dramatic encounter, casting a shadow on their children’s lives and prompting questions of fate and legacy.

Drive (2011) dir. Nicolas Refn Winding
The go-to response whenever Gosling’s early career is brought up. His first big commercial and critical success in an impressive performance as an almost mute getaway driver. With a bizarrely iconic leather jacket, our driver with no name is a stuntman by day and wheelman by night caught in a web of mob deceit.  An iconic soundtrack that compliments the neon vibe beautifully and the first of Gosling’s films with Winding.

La La Land (2017) dir. Damien Chazelle
The musical that briefly won Best Picture at the Oscars earlier this year. Aspiring jazz pianist Seb takes a shot at the big time in a film inspired by the golden era of Hollywood. Gosling reportedly practiced piano up to 4 hours a day for several months prior to shooting and it really shows. Despite losing Best Picture, La La Land picked up Best Director, Production Design, Score, Original Song (City of Stars) and Cinematography so it may have lost the battle but certainly won the war.

Half Nelson (2006) dir. Ryan Fleck
Low budget indie film where a high school teacher shepherds a vulnerable student while juggling addiction and personal demons. This was a huge role for Gosling as he pushed into challenging dramatic territory and earned his first Academy award nomination. Noticeably smaller in frame than nowadays the boyish fragility of a younger Gosling is well utilised as he plays a teacher the kids respect but underestimate how much they may have in common.

Review // Song to Song

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A group of intertwined people cavort in the Austin music scene battling vices, heartbreak and derailment along the way.

BV (Gosling) and Faye (Mara) are songwriters working with music tycoon Cooke, (Fassbender) a man of great means but a penchant for control of anyone he crosses paths with (Portman). Their trials and tribulations under the Texas sun show the darker side of stardom and the sacrifices that must be made to succeed in the music world.

With four of today’s biggest stars in a web of artistic and sexual aegis, Song to Song has a hell of a lot of chemistry. But one must first indulge Terrence Malick’s many signature tropes to enjoy it. The film’s basic premise, the quest for success, is fleshed out by his typically existential dialogue and oddly beautiful camerawork. The performances themselves are as we’ve come to expect from some of Hollywood’s greatest assets; convincingly tragic. With Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling shining in particular.

The soundtrack regularly varies from New Orleans bounce to Saint Saens. A jarring combination that much like the opening 10 minutes of the film, takes a long time to settle. While they’re modern musicians, EDM still feels very out of place when consistently juxtaposed with recognisable classical music, when interludes from the likes of Patti Smith & Lykke Li offer a far more refined musical break.

Despite the cyclical tour-based storyline, the film ticks along nicely and the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki is absolutely breathtaking. This is their fifth collaboration and there’s no doubt that they’ve crafted some of the most beautiful films of the last 20 years. However, their “show but don’t tell” style filmmaking has recently left audiences lacking and could definitely be argued for this venture too.

Occasionally distracted but always beautiful. Song to Song takes influence from films like Mulholland Drive and more recently La La Land, asking the age-old question. Is the suffering worth the art?