Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Okay. Let’s get it straight right from the start. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) is one of my all-time favourite films. I own multiple versions of it, watched documentaries and read books about it, studied it and written academic papers about it. So, I went in to see Blade Runner 2049 with the academic side of me harbouring some fairly hefty concerns and the rest of me full of fan-girl anticipation.

I came out floored. I wasn’t expecting it to be THAT good. I think this is a wonderful film and is true not only to Scott’s 1982 masterpiece but also to the original source material, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K Dick.

The screenplay by Hampton Fancher (one of the writers of Blade Runner) and Michael Green is terrific and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is simply beautiful. But I think the big technical gongs go to Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer for the soundtrack and Joe Walker for film editing.

Wallfisch and Zimmer breathe life into a score that evokes the memory of the Vangelis original but takes it in new and interesting directions, and Walker’s editing (particularly of the fight scenes) is simply sublime.

Though I loved him in Drive (2011) I was uncertain about Ryan Gosling but I shouldn’t have worried. Gosling is excellent as the LAPD Blade Runner. Similarly, Harrison Ford puts in one of his better performances, reprising his role as Rick Deckard and Robin Wright steals every scene she’s in – as always!

Villeneuve obviously loves the original film – it shows in so many ways. The framing and shot selection, lighting and colour palette all fit with and hark back to the original. There’s a thoughtful stillness at the core of this film that is lacking in so much of contemporary sci fi, and it talks (much like the original) about identity and what it is to be human. Blade Runner 2049 is a loving tribute but also a huge step forward in science fiction film. More like this please!

Dunkirk

Dunkirk (2017) Directed by Christopher Nolan.

My parents were married only a few months before WWII started – yes, I was a very late baby for them! Although my father wasn’t allowed to serve in the armed forces (he was busy teaching people how to build machinery in munitions factories) both he and my mother had friends who served in Europe and the Pacific. By the time I arrived, my mother especially talked a surprising amount about the war, friends who made it through, those who never came home. So when I saw Dunkirk recently, it had quite a profound effect on me and bought back a lot of childhood memories.

I should say from the outset that Christopher Nolan’s vision isn’t entirely historically accurate as I understand it. The pontoon dubbed “the mole” was actually the main point of departure for evacuees and there’s little mention of the French forces and their role in holding back the German forces. Nevertheless, I think this is a stunning, beautifully made and quintessentially British film.

Like much of Nolan’s work, Dunkirk plays with temporality and after the first time shift, it’s an excellent device to show the different points of view of the three main protagonists. These are the young soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), the shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) and the RAF pilot (Tom Hardy). These main characters are ably supported by the likes of Kenneth Branagh and Mark Ryeland, who bring depth to proceedings.

There is more than a passing nod to other British film makers too, most obviously David Lean. The sweeping views of the beach, filled with real live extras rather than computer generated images, particularly brings Lean to mind. And the aerial combat is really wonderfully shot and edited, with Tom Hardy giving a great performance – mostly with his eyes!

For me though, the glue that holds it all together is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Perhaps it’s the musician in me but I find so many contemporary soundtracks intrusive and more inclined to bludgeon the viewer towards the required emotional response. Here, Zimmer creates a soundscape that works almost seamlessly with the visual tension to heighten both viewer response and immersion in the action. Yes, it is loud and at times almost overwhelming – but so is the subject matter.

Recommended for a cinema experience.

Logan

Logan (2017) Directed by James Mangold.

I’ve always been a fan of big, loud comic book movies. I love a couple of hours of mindless escapism, particularly if there’s well-constructed set pieces, computer graphics that don’t detract from the action, strong characters and a good story.

Suffice it to say, most of the X-Men franchise left a lot to be desired in many of these areas for me (despite my enduring love for Sir Patrick Stewart), and I always thought that they pandered to a far younger audience than the source material warranted. In particular, I always wanted to see a Wolverine movie that wasn’t sugar coated.

Finally, James Mangold gave us Logan and I couldn’t be happier.

Right from the outset, Mangold informs us that this is not a popcorn flick for the kiddies. The story is dark, there is plenty of bad language and a lot of quite explicit violence, which I think are all necessary in underpinning the humanity of this film. Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart reprise their roles as Logan and Professor Charles Xavier for one last time.

Logan is now visibly aged, his body is no longer immediately regenerating – even his eyesight is failing him, and seeing Wolverine wearing reading glasses was rather lovely. Let’s face it, this is Hugh Jackman, so he is still good looking, but no longer in a youthful, sensual way, which anecdotally some female friends found difficult to deal with. (Female spectatorship and objectification are very much alive and well!) Xavier is gaunt and elderly, suffering from a degenerative brain disorder and requires regular medication to stop him from killing everyone in his immediate vicinity. Logan is keeping him isolated near the Mexican border, and in the care of another mutant, Caliban (played very well by an almost unrecognisable Stephen Merchant).

Into this mix comes Laura, a young mutant who is on the run from a corporation. She is played with alarming ferocity and skill by Dafne Keen who manages to express so much with very little dialogue – it’s a stunning and incredibly mature performance. On the other side of the equation is Dr Rice (played with all the expected urbane menace by Richard E. Grant), who is performing ghoulish experiments on mutants, including young Laura.

The results are a violent, foul-mouthed, yet strangely beautiful and thoughtful take on universal questions about difference, friendship, family and death. This is the X-Men movie I’ve always wanted – a legitimately adult, well-made action movie, set firmly within a comic book universe that also tackles big themes with care and consideration.

I saw it in the cinema when it was first released in Australia earlier this year, and I confess I cried at a couple of key points, especially the end. I watched it again last night and I’m not ashamed to say it moved me to tears again.

Absolutely one of my favourite films of this year.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth (2016) Screenplay by Alice Birch (based on ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ by Nikolai Leskov). Directed by William Oldroyd.

The weather, (being spring in Tasmania) has taken a turn for the worse, so I’ve been watching lots of movies – and what better backdrop for an unashamedly Gothic drama. Lady Macbeth has been on my list since mid year, when I heard a very positive review by Mark Kermode on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review podcast. I don’t usually buy into movie hype, preferring to make up my own mind, but in the case of Lady Macbeth, all of it is true.

I should say that this is not a movie for the faint-of-heart and doesn’t hold back. It is by turns, breathtakingly beautiful, sensual, obsessive, passionate, brutally violent and tragic. And I loved every minute of it.

Set in 1860’s England, this is the story of Katherine, a young girl who was “purchased along with a piece of land not fit to put a cow on” by wealthy collier’s son Alexander Lester and becomes his wife. As Mrs Lester, she is forced to conform to what ladies are and how they should behave, though Alexander shows no sexual interest in her and Katherine has no interest in conforming for any man.

One of the most notable things about this film (and there are many) are the use of landscape and place. The house is cold and shuttered each night, and scenes of Katherine looking out to the surrounding forest are all the more effective as the trees are reflected in the windows that encase her. The surrounding moorland is bleak but strangely exhilarating and an opportunity for freedom for Katherine.

I was surprised to find this was William Oldroyd’s directorial feature debut, but his background is in theatre and opera direction and here, he shines. The framing and lighting are glorious and precise throughout and Oldroyd allows the actors to do their jobs without getting too much in the way. The silences and stillness tell as much as the characters’ conversations – but that is not to say that the dialogue lacks in any way. The fine screenplay by Alice Birch is an adaption of Leskov’s ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’, a 19th century work I’m not familiar with but I intend to seek out.

Overall, the sound design provides a sense of oppressive stillness in the house and there is almost no music in the entire film, relying instead on the natural soundscape. This works in tandem with the subtle direction and is a welcome relief from the many soundtracks in films that constantly tell the viewer what we’re supposed to be feeling.

The subjugation of women is a strong theme throughout the film but Katherine’s passion, which turns to obsession and finally, a twisted, steely resolve is central to the movie. The cast are without exception excellent – but Florence Pugh is utterly astonishing in the lead role.

In the final act, it would’ve been so very easy for this to descend into standard Gothic-themed melodrama, but it never does. The tragedy is too real for that.

A modern Gothic masterpiece.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) EuropaCorp Films, screenplay and directed by Luc Besson.

I’m a very forgiving film-goer. If a story is really good, or if a filmmaker has a particularly unique or ground-breaking vision I’m happy to buy into it. In short, I’d rather see films that are out of the ordinary and aren’t just playing it safe. Sadly, Luc Besson’s latest offering isn’t any of those things.

The source for this extravaganza are the much-loved and celebrated comic books by Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin, which first appeared in the 1970’s and I confess I haven’t read them, though I plan to in coming weeks.

I should point out my allegiance from the outset. Lucy (2014) and Subway (1985) are interesting films I really enjoyed, and Leon: The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997) while both flawed movies remain firm personal favourites. But from the very start, there’s something not quite right about Valerian.

It opened very promisingly, with the wonderful set up of Alpha (and a much too brief cameo by Rutger Hauer). In the first act however, there’s a narrative misstep that set up a dissonance which jarred and stayed with me for the whole film. On the plus side, the visuals are sumptuous, the styling is really beautiful and the fight scenes (hand to hand and space battles) are well choreographed.

The second act lost its way badly, getting bogged down in an unnecessary subplot. This held up the action and made me focus more on the actors. While I admire Clive Owen, I feel he was only there for the pay check. Sam Spruell was much better as General Okto-Bar and both Herbie Hancock and Ethan Hawke were too briefly on screen.

With respect to casting, three things stand out in this film. Firstly, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are very pretty and have the right look for the film. As a property that’s developed from an existing visual source, that’s reasonably important. Secondly, they couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper bag and have zero on-screen chemistry. One of the many saving graces of The Fifth Element is the casting of some serious acting talent, in particular, established action star Bruce Willis, who carries the film on his back, with able assistance from Ian Holm and the always watchable Gary Oldman. Sadly, there is no heavyweight help here – they don’t have enough screen time to pull it out of the mire. Third and finally, while I’m no fan of her music, Rihanna is fabulous as Bubble, and I think it’s worth seeing this just for her scenes.

I think in many ways Valerian shows how far ahead of its time The Fifth Element was. Besson has admitted that the original comics influenced his earlier film greatly and there were framing moments, edits in action scenes, even sections of dialogue in Valerian that took me back to it. So I think I’ll watch The Fifth Element again.

In conclusion, it’s an okay popcorn flick, the two leads drag it down but it was worth paying to see it on the big screen just for the spectacle.

Baby Driver

Baby Driver (2017) Working Title Films. Written and directed by Edgar Wright.

I really like Edgar Wright’s work. Going right back to the television cult classic Spaced (1999-2001) I’ve been a fan. But Wright was around before that, working with British comedy luminaries such as Bill Bailey and Alexei Sayle and making music videos.

Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013) (collectively known as ‘The Cornetto Trilogy’) are all excellent movies, though I’m still not entirely sold on the second half of The World’s End. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) is, in my opinion, an often overlooked minor masterpiece, using some interesting methods to bring Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel to the screen. (If you haven’t seen it, go do it – you can thank me later).

So, what about Baby Driver? First, and arguably foremost, it’s a heist film, in the classic tradition of The Italian Job (1969) and a car chase movie, paying homage to films such as The French Connection (1971). Into this frenetic mix, Wright has put an amazing soundtrack and a solid cast. Many of the characters are archetypes but I found by the final act, I was totally invested in Doc (gloriously played by Kevin Spacey), Baby (Ansel Elgort) and his love interest, Debora (Lily James), who has surprisingly few lines but makes the most of her screen time. John Hamm, Jaime Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez and C J Jones are excellent in support.

While Wright is on record as saying most of the car chase scenes were done without a lot of CG assistance, I think the real unsung heroes of this film are cinematographer, Bill Pope and editors, Jonathon Amos and Paul Machliss. Their work here is exemplary, with the end product being possibly the first Car Chase Heist Musical.

This is a project that Edgar Wright has been wanting to make for many years. There’s echoes of Baby Driver in much of his previous work, (have a look at the music video for ‘Blue Song’ by UK duo Mint Royale from 2003) and he finally started it properly when he famously (and some would say wisely) walked away from Ant-Man (2015).

Apart from possibly spawning a new sub genre, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking with Baby Driver – but it’s incredibly entertaining, and surely with the current state of our world, that’s not such a bad thing. On reflection, I’d rather have Baby Driver than a Wright-directed Ant-Man 😀

Rules of Conduct – A Rant

It was a damp Sunday afternoon, so I decided to go and see Baby Driver today at the lovely State Cinema in North Hobart. I’ll write a review about it in the next few days when I’ve had a chance to think about the film a little more but suffice it to say, I loved the music, the performances and the incredible editing. I’m just not certain about the ending – but I’ll talk about that soon.

What I want to discuss today are that unspoken guidelines that I’ve lived by all my life, the core rules of conduct in movie-going – that is to say, one is always silent while the movie is playing! The only exception is laughter. I’ve been heartened to see that people like Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo actively encourage this through their podcast but sometimes I wonder if it’s just because they’re a similar vintage to me and we’re just showing our age.

For those of you who are interested, here’s The Moviegoers’ Code of Conduct  from the Wittertainment wiki. Alternatively, Kermode and Mayo made this short video version a few years ago, which is recommended and very entertaining.

I grew up in a movie-loving, very cine-literate household, where both my father and older brother had their projectionist’s licence so trips to the cinema were our regular special event, and even when watching movies at home, the rules of conduct would be enforced. Even whispered conversations with my sister were discouraged during movies and I remember us being given oranges and a hand towel to take to the Saturday matinee because it made less noise. I do recall seeing my mother and father snogging once on a trip to the pictures, something they used to do when they were “courting” but never to the disruption of anyone else’s viewing.

Well, this afternoon, my friend and I got a coffee (in a china mug – not a disposable cup ❤ ) along with our tickets, wandered downstairs 10 minutes before the session started and selected a seat in the half full cinema and drank our coffee in relative peace before the feature started. Just as the trailers started, an older couple (maybe 60s) came in and noisily eased past the couple behind me. For the purposes of this blog, I’m calling him Mr Ignorant.

First, what I can only imagine was a biscuit packet came out, and a loud crunching and crackling. Then he started. Mr Ignorant talked all the way through the trailers, oohing and ahing at Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in Atomic Blonde, as well as Dunkirk and I found myself gripping the seat, hoping he was just getting it out of his system before the main feature started.

Alas, this was not to be.

Unfortunately, he kept up a near constant stream of chatter through the opening scene and drove me almost to distraction before the movie had even really begun. In an effort to stem the tide before the film really got going, I turned, and in the darkness asked in a loud voice “will you please stop talking?” Now, any of you who know me in the real world will know I have no trouble making myself heard, something to do with all that vocal training I’m sure! He stopped mid-sentence, almost affronted there was anyone else in the cinema and seemed to contain himself for the next scene.

Then the biscuit packet came out again. And the chatter started again. And I leaned in closer to my movie companion, who fortunately knows me well enough to not be freaked out by such behaviour!

So, with my head as far away from Mr and Mrs Ignorant as possible, I tried to lose myself in Baby’s shenanigans, only to be brought back again and again by the sheer ignorance of particularly the man behind me and that damned biscuit packet. I feel I need to go back and see the film again, without interruptions.

As soon as the film finished, they got up very noisily and left, making no illusion about their disdain towards me. Then, as the lights went up, two other patrons came over and thanked me for speaking up. They said they wanted to but felt they couldn’t.

But they should – we all should.

In fact, I should’ve gone out and found an usher and complained about Mr Ignorant. The only reason I didn’t is I’ve been waiting to see this film for a few weeks and didn’t want to miss a frame – or cause any more disruption to my fellow cinema patrons.

What do you think?

In the meantime, here’s a lovely, calming photo of some lovely, calming clouds. Take care friends and remember the Rules of Conduct next time you go to the cinema ❤

 

 

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