Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Scott Free Productions

Blade Runner 2049 – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: Set thirty years after the original Blade Runner, after uncovering a decades old secret, Blade Runner Officer K (Gosling) goes on the hunt for information, and his investigation leads him to a very familiar face…

Review: In terms of a challenging project for a director to get their hands on, being tasked with making a sequel to one of the most beloved science fiction films of all time, is surely right up there with the hardest.  Having garnered quite the cult following, in spite of decidedly mixed critical reactions upon release, Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic has built a legacy that has endured.

So in a time when Hollywood certainly likes making a sequel or two, one was perhaps almost inevitable. Though a sequel was for a long time in development, with Scott considering the possibility of directing, those plans were shelved. As such, the chance and indeed the enormous pressure of making this fell to Denis Villeneuve, and well simply put, it’s a challenge that he rose to in magnificent style delivering a superb blockbuster that combines tremendous style with emotional substance.

I see your true colours shining through…

Right from the off, Villeneuve, re-teaming with the great Roger Deakins following Prisoners and Sicario, they beautifully recreate that futuristic and visually mesmerising world that was so elegantly brought to life, but once more with those murky undertones. With superb production design this time being provided by Dennis Gassner, it’s all just a stunning visual treat to watch. Having shown his ability to dabble in mind-bending science fiction with his astonishing masterpiece Arrival, Villeneuve has once again shown he’s a formidable force to be reckoned with behind the camera. Oscar nominations are surely bound to follow, and hopefully this time, this will be the time that Deakins takes the statue, one can hope. But Oscar or not, Deakins has added another visual masterpiece to his glowing portfolio.

The great risk of making a sequel to something so beloved is that if you fail to live up to those lofty expectations, it could taint the original for some. However, the story crafted by original Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher along with Michael Green, delivers a deeply personal story that expands the world that was so elegantly brought to life in the original film. At the centre of the new story is Officer K who works as a Blade Runner, and stumbles upon a secret that opens up a can of worms. Much like its predecessor, the film is a slow burn in terms of pacing, it is not all out guns blazing action. Instead the film takes time with its story, which works to its advantage, whilst delivering those moments of intense action when it really needs to.

In a world where humanity and replicant are deeply intertwined, the lines between the two are almost non existent, and no one exemplifies this better than K. Gosling’s performance shows him in his much grittier, more melancholic mood in the same a similar manner to his performance in Drive. Charisma to boot (as well as a cool coat) he makes for a very compelling protagonist. For Harrison Ford meanwhile, after having made a triumphant return as Han Solo, he’s on masterful form once again as Deckard.

Ford is not here to just collect a pay cheque, as he delivers a performance that really packs the emotional punch making Deckard a relevant piece in this dystopian world of futuristic Los Angeles. Other new figures also include Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace and his associate Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Leto might have copped a lot of flak following the much maligned Suicide Squad, but he is effective as the eccentric leader of a global corporation. Meanwhile, Hoeks’s Luv certainly makes her presence known.

The expectations were enormous. And with the pressure to deliver something to stand shoulder to shoulder with a film that has help to significantly define this genre, was equally gargantuan. Yet Villeneuve once again shows his remarkable credentials by delivering a sequel that beautifully pays homage to its predecessor, whilst at the same time, making things feel almost new and fresh. There will have been those who said that the original was untouchable, but we have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, and it is truly something to savour.

As visually mesmerising as its predecessor, and continuing the themes that are just as thought-provoking now as they were when the first film was released. A worthy sequel to one of the most significant films ever made.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Sicario (2015)

Image is property of Black Label Media, Thunder Road and Lionsgate

Sicario – Film Review

Cast:  Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya

Director:  Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: In the war on drugs on the USA/Mexico border, an FBI agent is recruited as part of an undercover operation to take down a leading drug cartel.

Review: Whenever you depict war on film, chances are the results usually aren’t going to be pretty, especially the story you’re telling is focusing on the war on drugs and drug cartels near the US/Mexico border. Some folks are going to get their hands dirty and things are going to get messy very quickly, with some fatalities along the way. Though this is an ongoing conflict, and even though the events portrayed here are fictional, you would be forgiven for thinking that you are in fact watching a documentary about this struggle, and not a fictionalised version of events.

The gritty and dark nature of the story then is perfect material for Denis Villeneuve, the director behind Prisoners, the dark and unsettling drama about a family who see their young daughters mysteriously disappear. Once again Villeneuve chooses a subject matter that will almost undoubtedly be very unsettling for some, but at the same time, it’s a story that is told with such conviction you will not want to take your eyes off the screen. The main protagonist here is Blunt’s Kate, an FBI agent who just wants to do what’s right, and that desire takes her into this conflict, and what she sees really opens her eyes. Alongside her is Josh Brolin’s Matt, an agent that is quite casual about the mission they’re on and Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro who by contrast, is not fucking around.

Don’t get in this guy’s cross hairs…

Taylor Sheridan in his debut screenplay tells the story in a very ambiguous way, is what we’re seeing right or is it wrong? There’s certainly some things displayed on screen that are certainly very wrong, and not exactly pleasant, but for a film about the war on drugs, that is hardly a surprise. The film might be a slow burner, but the script keeps you hooked in the story, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score will keep you on the edge of your seat. The three leading actors all deliver performances of a very high award worthy calibre, but special mention must go to del Toro who has perhaps never been better in his career and was mightily unlucky not to have received an Oscar nomination. He’s a man who is driven by his motivation, and that makes him one scary dude that you don’t want to anger, and if you have angered him, well you’re in deep trouble.

Villeneuve’s direction is masterful with some breathtaking wide shots of the FBI teams on their patrols, the camerawork is so authentic, it really makes you feel as if you’re on patrol with these guys. It kind of goes without saying at this point but Roger Deakin’s cinematography is as beautiful to the eyes, and Johannson’s score is to the ears. Deakins’s work, as is so often the case is just mesmerising to look at, even with the depravity that you see on screen sometimes. It’s incredible to think that he has never won an Oscar across his superb career, despite amassing THIRTEEN nominations. It’s only a matter of time before he lands that coveted Oscar gold, Blade Runner 2049 perhaps?

With a pulsating final sequence that will have you biting your nails until the credits begin to role, Villeneuve reinforced his growing reputation as a film-maker to watch, which he further cemented with his magnificent alien invasion flick Arrival. To make a movie about such a weighty subject matter cannot be an easy task, but with Prisoners and with Sicario, Villeneuve really proved more than anything than when it comes to directing, he most definitely is a Sicario himself, one that is absolutely deadly and does not miss.

Dripping with gorgeous visuals combined with some heavy subject matter seems an unlikely recipe for success, but with electric performances and assured direction, this is superb tense and gritty entertainment.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Arrival (2016)

arrival
Image is property of FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films, 21 Laps Entertainment and Paramount Pictures

Arrival – Film Review

Cast:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: When 12 alien ships mysteriously appear in places around the world, a team of experts are gathered to assess the extra terrestrial visitors, and to determine: just why are they here?

Review: Alien invasion, a classic trope of the science fiction genre, One that so often delivers films where you sit back and just watch a load of mayhem and destruction with cities getting blown to smithereeens and the aliens must be stopped at all costs. While these can be fun and very enjoyable, science fiction is a genre that has the potential to go really deep and provide the audience with a thought provoking piece of story telling that gets the brain working and leaves its audience in awe and spectacle, and this latest film from director Denis Villeneuve ticks that box, and then some.

Adapted from the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer, we focus on Dr Louise Banks (Adams) a brilliant linguistics professor who is called in by the US military to help deal with the mysterious alien invaders and to understand just who are they, what do they want, and above all are they a threat to humanity? Aiding her in her quest is physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner) and together these intelligent academics must decipher what these extra terrestrial beings are up to. Heisserer’s screenplay is excellent, exploring some really interesting themes that we have seen before in science fiction. Yet these are told in such a brilliant and engaging way that it keeps your eyes firmly transfixed on the screen. The mystery is maintained throughout the film’s running time as for a while, the craft of the visitors is not revealed, and it brilliantly keeps the viewer engaged. It is smart and very thought provoking story-telling that keeps you hooked from the very first shot, all the way to the last shot.

The centrepiece of this story is of course Adams’s Dr Banks, a wounded soul who has suffered some terrible tragedies in her lifetime, and yet, she remains strong willed, determined to do all she can to understand what the alien visitors are after, and not to bow to the will of her military superiors, most notably Forest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber. Adams has had a very distinguished career, earning five Oscar nods, and another one could very well be coming her way next year. She carries the film on her shoulders, and reinforces her reputation as a very stellar actress. Renner also gives a very grounded and superb performance, who does his best to sprinkle a bit of humour here and there into the story, but the limelight belongs to Adams and she absolutely bosses it.

arrival-movie

The directing from Villeneuve is masterful in its execution, aided by flawless cinematography from Bradford Young. The wide shots of the alien craft as they appear in the sky are truly something to behold. The flawless cinematography is aided by outstanding visuals and magnificent visual effects. The aliens themselves feel so real and authentic, you don’t see it as a computer generated image. Similarly with the alien crafts, though they do resemble pieces of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, are beautifully designed and like their inhabitants feel very real and authentic. Re-teaming with Villeneuve after Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is mesmerising to the ears, as Villeneuve’s visual brilliance is appealing to the eyes.

Language and science are two subjects that rarely go hand in hand, but here they most certainly do and the results are a joy to behold. The mystery will hook you in and will not let go. With the Blade Runner sequel being Villeneuve’s next film, fans of Ridley Scott’s classic can rest assured knowing that project is in very safe and capable hands.

A beautifully refreshing take on what is a very common sci-fi trope, with thought provoking themes and ideas, anchored by a powerful performance from Adams.

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