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Monday, 30 October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok



"Don't you understand? I'm not a queen, nor a monster. I'm the goddess of death." 


I must admit that I was lukewarm over the prospect of another ‘Thor’ instalment to the MCU, not that I’d regard the previous two as bad films but they’re also far from anyone’s favourite Marvel movies. However, the idea of a new Taika Waititi movie is something that greatly interests me, given that ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ and ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ have marked him out as one of the finest comedic directors working today. So could this be a match made in Valhalla?

Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), his former ally and fellow Avenger. Thor's quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

When I first heard the premise and title for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, I envisioned it as a more serious kind of Marvel movie, one that would raise the stakes and forever change the dynamic of the characters involved. So on that front I am a little disappointed that the end result leans more into comedy than anything else. But at the same time I shouldn’t have expected anything else from Waititi, as well as the fact that said comedy is hilarious as well as hugely entertaining. Make no mistake, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a fun and immensely enjoyable movie that maintains the standards of quality we have come to expect from Marvel by now.

So while it’s not a radical departure from the usual Marvel routine, it delivers in what any fan of Waititi and the MCU as a whole could want. I was initially worried as the movie starts off feeling terribly muddled. The pacing and structure of its opening act are all over the place, throwing one narrative beat and revelation at the audience in quick succession without ever giving them time to sink in. I think this is due to Waititi’s comic sensibilities leading to him pacing his movie as one would for a comedy film. It’s a light and breezy opening which plays high on laughs but fails to establish an immediate connection to the plot as it begins to unfold.

Luckily though, once ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ sinks into its stride it rarely looks back from there. It interweaves its comedy and moments of high drama nicely as well as some fantastic action set pieces that are as inventive as they are humorous. I’ll admit that I was never glued to the edge of my seat but I was thoroughly invested in each set piece as they continued to escalate. The highlight is undoubtedly the Thor vs Hulk throw down but Waititi’s method of gradually building each scene in scale as the movie progresses allows them to never feel stale. Save for a few clunky moments when handling the tone and plot exposition it’s satisfying.

The characters also feel well utilised. Watching Thor interact with Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner as well as his big green alter ego makes for a brilliant dynamic, as does his pairing with Tessa Thompson’s hard drinking bounty hunter. As ever Tom Hiddlestone is immensely watchable as Loki and though it’s disappointing that he never goes full blown villain his presence is more than welcome and leads to some cathartic drama. Despite struggling to feel like a prevalent threat for a majority of the movie, Cate Blanchett is also great as the all-powerful goddess of death. She manages to chew the scenery without ever feeling like an overbearing addition.

The clever use of characters lends itself to the fact that the strongest aspect of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is its superb cast. As I already said, each main player is bringing their all to the role and bounces off one another excellently. But all of this goes without mentioning the likes of Jeff Goldblum who I assume just acted as he would normally had he been at home, but here they just happened to catch it on film. The director himself also brings his always excellent comedic presence in an unexpected but hilarious role. Then there are the cameos which I won’t dare spoil as it probably stands as the single best cameo in the history of the MCU, and it’s not by Stan Lee would you believe it.

At the end of the day, the biggest complaint I can level at this movie is that of tonal consistency. Sometimes it does feel as Waititi’s priority was to bring forth the best performances from his cast rather than focus upon the movie as a piece of the MCU. The pieces that feel most jarring and out of place in its first act are those that are there to either tie up the continuity of the previous instalments or link it to other MCU properties. Even these scenes are still highly entertaining in their own right, but they don’t quite fit properly within this movie.

Despite a bumpy start, once ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ kicks into gear it’s a hugely entertaining spectacle of humour, heart and Hulk.

Result: 7/10

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Jigsaw



"Live or die, the choice is yours."


Much like ‘Friday the 13th’, the ‘Saw’ franchise has stemmed a diminishing set of sequels that marketed themselves as annual events that could be synonymous from Halloween itself, all based from the success of a first instalment that, if we’re being brutally honest, wasn’t that great to begin with. Now, a full seven years after the release of ‘Saw 3D’ (yes just like ‘Friday the 13th’ this franchise also had its redundant 3D gimmick instalment), there is a new entry to the series.

After a series of murders bearing all the markings of the Jigsaw killer, law enforcement officials find themselves chasing the ghost of a man who has been dead for over a decade, and they become embroiled in a new game that's only just begun. Is John Kramer back from the dead to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a killer with designs of his own?

I will at least give the ‘Saw’ movies credit for having a strict continuity. They are really committed to maintaining their own convoluted mythology throughout all six sequels, going so far as to kill of their central character in the third instalment and not immediately resurrect him. Instead they show Jigsaw through flashbacks detailing how he set up some elaborate trap to be executed posthumously. Admittedly the plot is astronomically dumb and fails to be even remotely watertight if you give it one second of thought, as well as the fact that I highly doubt any audience member for these movies is there to see the intricate plot and not the splatter-fest. But still, points for trying.

Now, if this sounds like I’m stalling by discussing the ‘Saw’ franchise as a whole more than this newest instalment then that’s because ‘Jigsaw’ doesn’t really offer much in the way of anything. More traps, more gory deaths, more Tobin Bell monologues about morality and ambiguity (even though there is no moral grey area here as I’m pretty sure anyone could conclusively call Jigsaw a murderer). If anything ‘Jigsaw’ seems like a tamer version of the ‘Saw’ movies as though there is still an abundance of gore it seems to be fairly sanitised, at least as far as this franchise goes. I assume this movie was intended to try and reach a wider audience above the long term fans, especially since it disregards the series continuity to be more accessible to anyone who hadn’t subjected themselves to the previous movies.

I will at least say that the traps this franchise prides itself on are somewhat inventive. The exact inner workings of them seems ridiculous in a way that doesn’t fit the tone the movie wants to create, but I can at least say they were imaginative in their conception. The environment in which the trap is in also makes for a refreshing change, as instead of opting for abandoned warehouse #5 we find ourselves in a day lit barn which in an odd way actually seems a little more menacing. But as I said the scenario is also so ridiculous that when contrasted against some serious police procedural as the authorities try to uncover Jigsaw’s identity the film starts to feel at odds with itself on a tonal level.

Another comparison to make between ‘Saw’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ is that the series transitioned away from the being about the victims to being about the killer. ‘Jigsaw’ does at least attempt to move back towards a focus on the victims as the characters themselves aren’t terribly drawn. At the very least it feels like some effort was put into them and they are not outright insufferable to watch on screen. The acting is far from anything that would surprise me but it’s decent enough. I can say that while I didn’t buy that any of these people were fully fleshed out characters I did at least believe that they were people stranded in a bad situation. So…progress I guess?

On a technical level the movie is directed decently enough. There’s a large amount of quick edits in scenes that are supposed to be highly intense that I found extremely annoying, but for the most part the movie maintains a consistent visual style and at least looks a little more cinematic than its predecessors. I understand that praising a movie for looking like a movie isn’t exactly high esteem but in this franchise you take what you can get.

Where ‘Jigsaw’ fails most is just how repetitive it feels. I’ve said before that there is nothing wrong with sequels repeating narrative beats from there frontrunners (see ‘The Last Crusade, ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Terminator 2’ and ‘The Force Awakens’) but when your character dynamic, plot structure, development, pacing, narrative beats and eventual arc are near identical to the previous movies as they are in ‘Jigsaw’ then it just feels like a redundancy.

While not as offensively terrible as some of the other entries in this convoluted franchise, ‘Jigsaw’ is still a long way away from reigniting any interest in it.

Result: 3/10

The Square



"The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations."


Even at the vast distance from which I saw this year’s Cannes Film Festival as it unfolded, it seemed to come as quite a surprise that the coveted Palme d’Or. Granted reviews were mostly positive but it seemed as if few industry commentators and critics had picked this as a frontrunner for the festival’s top award. The few contenders that I have seen include ‘Good Time’, ‘The Beguiled’ and ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ and they were all very strong so Ruben Ostlund’s film has a lot to live up to.

In the aftermath of the abolition of the Monarchy of Sweden, the Stockholm Palace has been converted into an art museum. Christian is a curator at the museum, who finds his progressive world view shaken when his mobile phone is stolen. While managing a space set to show a new installation piece, he finds a public relations company to promote the installation, creating a great deal of chaos.

All of that being said, I was intrigued to see Ostlund’s latest film without any doubt. His previous film ‘Force Majure’ was not only a darkly hilarious and surprisingly complex movie, but one that also ranked among my favourites of 2014. It was an intimate movie that tackled broad and highly existential themes. ‘The Square’ is still very ambitious in the themes it tackles but perhaps lacks tne personal touch that made ‘Force Majure’ as compelling and involving as it was. Ostlund’s commentary on art, its meaning and place in society is more of a sprawling epic, one that is as surreal as it is mesmerising.

I’d say the strongest aspect of ‘The Square’ have to be its visuals. With Ostlund’s use of long, Steadicam shots to capture his perfectly composed environments the film is extremely interesting on a visual level. Though the scenes of high urgency are few and far between, they still carry such a great sense of elegance to them that makes even the most surreal moments feel perfectly in tone with the more meditative ones. It also helps that the film has many interesting pieces of art to observe and ponder over as it takes us through the guided tour of its own surreal world.

Not only are these scenes well made but they are also highly entertaining. Many of them have a similar comedic undercurrent to that of ‘Force Majure’ in that the humour is subtle enough to be enjoyed whilst never interrupting the flow of the scene or overshadow the movie’s main message. The dynamic visual style turns even simple conversations into highly interesting spectacles and when the movie does want to showcase a greater sense of visual flair it well and truly goes all out. These select scenes are engaging and entertaining and when taken as individual pieces of cinema definitely rank amongst some of the most impressive filmmaking I’ve seen this year.

But sooner or later these scenes have to be analysed as more than just individual set pieces. Eventually they have to be taken as part of a larger whole and therein lies the problem with ‘The Square’, it doesn’t really do that. As impressive as these set pieces are they never really add up to form a cohesive, structured narrative. Even if it failed to that, had the film had any meaningful substance within it then I could overlook the lack of structure but in this case the movie feels like it’s wandering through several different topics without ever finding any resolution for any of them.

One could make the argument that the lack of meaning is in itself the film’s meaning, which is a valid interpretation. I certainly couldn’t deny that everything in the movie felt incredibly purposeful as it most certainly did. But I also couldn’t deny that the movie also felt somewhat pretentious as there was plenty of that to go around as well. The problem lies with the fact that what little purpose the movie has is far from ground breaking or original. Ostlund’s film is keen to bring up a lot of ambitious themes but rarely wants to actually explore them to any great degree. As the movie ploughed on the impressiveness of the scenes started to diminish as I gradually came to realise that the film wouldn’t incite meaning into any of them.

Of course, it’s not essential for a movie to have a deeper meaning in order to enjoy it, but when it is as high minded and unwaveringly ambitious as ‘The Square’ I expect something a little bit more complex than random, unstructured spectacle. It also doesn’t help that tonally the movie never quite ties itself together as it drifts up the spectrum of moods ranging from absurdist comedy to genuine moments of horror. I will say that I highly doubt I’ll see anything else like it for a while.

‘The Square’ biggest success and biggest failure is its sprawling ambition and lack of cohesive meaning.

Result: 7/10

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Only Living Boy in New York



"People do things without realising them all the time."


I’m all for second chances, and if anyone deserves a second chance it’s Marc Webb. Having made a great impact with the delightful indie romance ‘500 Days of Summer’ he was then thrust straight into the world of blockbusters only to be chewed up and spat out by the corporate machine as Sony failed to make their ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ franchise land. But Webb’s initial talent combined with the very likely scenario of studio meddling gave me hope that once Webb returned to his roots he would be back on form.

After graduating from college and moving into an apartment, young Thomas Webb (Calum Turner) befriends an alcoholic neighbour (Jeff Bridges) who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside shots of whiskey. Webb's world soon comes crashing down when he learns that his father (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair with a beautiful and seductive woman (Kate Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas winds up sleeping with her, launching a chain of events that will change everything that he thinks he knows about his family and himself.

There are two things a you can do with a coming of age movie (okay actually there are a lot more than two but for the sake of this just play along). You can either tell an honest and poigniant depiction of youth, or you can turn it into a shallow wish fulfilment fantasy. Guess which category ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ falls into, bearing in mind that its main character has the same last name as its director. Weirdly though, Webb didn’t write this. The screenplay was actually brought to us by Allan Loeb who penned ‘Collateral Beauty’, a movie so bafflingly terrible that the most effective criticism you can level at it is just repeating its plot summary.

It’s been a while since I saw a movie that seemed to have as much loathing and contempt for its own characters than ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’. But that contempt doesn’t result in any interesting studies of said characters, it just seems to flat out hate them and yet still expects the audience to empathise with them. There’s no clinical approach to the way it presents its characters, they are all deeply terrible people but the movie seems to expect you to be invested in their plight. It’s like ‘The Secret if My Success’ but without Michael J Fox, so basically without any value whatsoever.

That being said, while it does present its male characters in a way that is unflattering, it outright hates its female characters. Aside from the fact that any woman in the movie is written exclusively in relation to how they affect the men around them, that effect is exclusively negative. They’re treated as objects who are purely alluring or something that our protagonist has to earn as one would earn a prize. Normally I wouldn’t question a movie’s questionable gender politics providing it seems aware of those warped views and is utilising them to make a statement, but in this case it absolutely is not. According to this movie women seem to be evil and fragile creatures who prey on the men who are in turn also despicable but are forgiven for being so.

Going back to what I said earlier about being brutally honest in your depiction of youth, that isn’t to be found anywhere in this movie. I know many critics have already made this comparison but it’s far too easy. ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ is like ‘The Graduate’ but with no sense of ambiguity, intelligence, complexity, relatability or authenticity. In Mike Nichols masterpiece the characters are highly sympathetic, with Benjamin being portrayed as a nervous kid with no direction in life and Mrs Robinson is a woman looking for some form of companionship. There’s enough ambiguity in the story to sympathise with either side whilst the movie also feels authentic, with every character having the demeanour of what the movie establishes them as.

Putting aside the fact that the character motivations are never remotely established, ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ doesn’t have a shred of ambiguity that could allude to a deeper understanding of its story. Its simplistic and watered down to a point where you can’t help but think of it as a fantasy, because there’s no way anyone could be so deluded as to think that this is any kind of reality. What’s even worse is how utterly pretentious and elitist the movie is, concerning itself with themes that only the most self-concerned teenager would find relatable.  As I said, if the film showed any sense of self awareness that might indicate it was viewing the attitudes of its characters as a subjective aspect then that would be fine if not actually interesting. But if anything it seems to vindicate them.

Less of a coming of age movie and more of an immature wish fulfilment that never acknowledges just how contemptable it is.

Result: 1/10

Happy Death Day



"The way I see it, you have an unlimited amount of lives. Unlimited opportunities to solve your own murder."


So is ‘Groundhog Day’ its own kind of genre now? This year alone we’ve seen three movies in which the main character is caught in some kind of time loop that forces them to repeat the events of the day until they come to a revelation that will solve the problem in their life. There was ‘Before I Fall’ which I did see eventually and was left with a though roughly “meh” reaction. ‘Naked’ which I didn’t see because Marlon Wayans is the lead and….no I feel like that’s a good enough reason. Now there’s ‘Happy Death Day’.

 Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is a blissfully self-centered collegian who wakes up on her birthday in the bed of a student named Carter. As the morning goes on, Tree gets the eerie feeling that she's experienced the events of this day before. When a masked killer suddenly takes her life in a brutal attack, she once again magically wakes up in Carter's dorm room unharmed. Now, the frightened young woman must relive the same day over and over until she figures out who murdered her.

Snarky intro aside, as premises go ‘Happy Death Day’ isn’t a bad one. The idea of being able to deconstruct a slasher movie through this sense of repeated patterns and occurring tropes is an interesting concept. Of course, it was already done 20 years ago in ‘Scream’, and much more effectively but…the killer in this one has a different kind of mask…that isn’t even remotely scary. But maybe that’s not fair, because despite being of a similar self aware tone to ‘Scream’ I’m sure there’s plenty of opportunities for ‘Happy Death Day’ to distinguish itself.

There’s little doubt that this is a very commercial horror film. It limits the amount of genuinely scary scenes (to none at all in fact), severely limits the violence and ramps up the comedic aspects. None of this is necessarily bad providing that it’s what you set out to do. But ‘Happy Death Day’ constantly feels at odds with itself and repeatedly resorts to the cheapest tactics to block any sense of gore or bloodshed. The scene will be playing out like a straight horror movie (albeit a rather ineffective one) but will then awkwardly cutaway as the payoff happens. It’s a shame because for the most part these scenes are decently directed, but even before the end they are defused by the movie constantly feeling the need for force comedy where it doesn’t belong.

Normally with these kinds of movies I tend not to get caught up in the semantics of how precisely the whole time loop thing works or the exact mechanics of it since each movie makes its own rules. However, I would also expect said movie to be consistent to those self-established rules and adhere to them.  Maybe I could forgive them breaking the rules once or twice if they’re desperate for a happy ending (looking at you ‘Edge of Tomorrow’) but the way ‘Happy Death Day’ places such stress on the importance of the rules surrounding its own narrative, as well as how regularly it breaks them is something I have to bring up.

For starters the movie throws up plenty of logical ways in which the protagonist could potentially escape the killer or discover its identity. But she makes one mistake and then completely abandons it in favour of a new approach. But all the while I’m asking myself “Why don’t you just go back to the other tactic and remember not to screw it up in the way you did last time?” At least show why such an option isn’t available or come up with a better reason for abandoning it completely other than just “She forgot to lock the door so the killer could sneak in”. Just remember to lock the door this time!

As I said, normally I wouldn’t mind so much but the movie uses its own rules as a way to affirm various plot points when it’s already broken those very rules a dozen times. It disregards any sense of time or location in one scene but then treats them as absolute consistencies in another. As I said before, I’m with doing one or the other but be consistent in how you present your narrative. Don’t take the lazy way out and bypass something just because it suits the script.

These inconsistencies even spread to the characters, with each cast member struggling to pin down a cohesive arc for their character as their attitudes seem to be changing with each time loop. To make things worse once the central mystery is uncovered I defy anyone to actually argue that the movie makes sense. Leaps in logic are one thing but this conclusion simply makes no sense and in the context of the movie makes everything infinitely more difficult to believe.

‘Happy Death Day’ is a completely disposable movie that could probably be enjoyed by someone who’s never seen any of the various films that it’s similar to.

Result: 3/10

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Geostorm


"There's potential for catastrophic weather events on a global scale, a Geostorm."


One would think that after Roland Emmerich’s ‘2012’, people might accept that as a genre, disaster movies are a little dumb. That’s not to say there haven’t also been some truly phenomenal ones (check out J.A Bayona’s ‘The Impossible’) but on the whole it boils down to a guy running away from a lot of CGI effects, inexplicably surviving for way longer than he should in this convoluted catastrophe. Yet here we are.

After an unprecedented series of natural disasters threatened the planet, the world's leaders came together to create an intricate network of satellites to control the global climate and keep everyone safe. But now, something has gone wrong: the system built to protect Earth is attacking it, and it becomes a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything and everyone along with it.

It’s rare that a movie’s premise sounds as inexplicably dumb as that of ‘Geostorm’ (Gerard Butler runs away from bad weather) but it’s even rarer for the actual movie to be even more idiotic than said premise. I’m not sure what’s more baffling about ‘Geostorm’, the fact that its makers added plot points that are so ludicrous or that everyone within the movie takes these plot points absolutely seriously. You know things are bad when the movie begins with Gerard Butler being introduced as the smartest scientist in the world and that’s the least implausible thing in the film.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a big, dumb disaster movie. But in the case of ‘Geostorm’ it thinks itself as a film in which we’ll also be invested in the depth of its characters and the tightness of its political commentary. Obviously the movie doesn’t actually contain either of those things but it thinks it does and therefore it’s certain that the audience will as well. After all, where else could you see the compelling plot line of “man abandons his family to go on a dangerous mission to save the lives of many” before? We keep being told about the importance of these characters and events without ever actually seeing either of those things.

But aside from failing to evoke any empathy out of the audience, these failed attempts to do so make the movie so tonally jarring. We go from a scene that attempts to be one of intimate family drama to another of a giant CGI tornado wiping out a city. It isn’t even consistent in terms of what kind of disasters it’s showing. There is a subplot about kidnapping the president of America which culminates in a car chase while the world around the cars falls apart and crumbles. It feels like an entirely different movie was edited into the middle of this. Then at another point the movie turns into a bad knockoff of ‘Gravity’, only without the inventive camera movements and ground-breaking special effects. So basically just CGI nonsense followed by more CGI nonsense.

‘Geostorm’ doesn’t even feel like a disaster movie in its own right. It feels more like the knock off B-picture released a year after a much more successful and superiorly made movie. But in this case that superior movie is something like ‘2012’ or ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’. It comes as no surprise that the director of ‘Geostorm’ wrote and produced most of Roland Emmerich’s disaster movies, and now his directorial debut feels like an even paler imitation of those. There literally isn’t a single element of this movie that you couldn’t find in a different film, but executed in a way that makes it infinitely better.

It also comes as no surprise that Gerard Butler performance is identical to every other Gerard Butler performance. He plays the loud, obnoxious guy who would be insufferable to meet in real life but because this is a movie we’re told he’s the hero. The only difference is that this time the movie itself is so oblivious to how idiotic it is that it thinks it can have other characters call Butler a scientist and we’ll somehow believe that. Even the most idiotic fictional techno jargon seems to sound especially farfetched when it’s Butler saying it straight to the camera.

But the worst crime of all might be that ‘Geostorm’ doesn’t even commit to its own stupidity. Aside from a few scenes of weather destruction that we get to see play out at length, it’s mostly just a series of quick snippets that I can only assume were limited in time due to the effects budget. All of this is without getting into how its lengthy production schedule and multiple re-shoots really show, as characters feel woefully underdeveloped (by which I mean underdeveloped even by this movie’s standards) and subplots feel all too quickly resolved.

‘Geostorm’ is dumb in a way that few other movies are and isn’t even smart enough to realise.

Result: 2/10

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Loving Vincent



"Great artists are not peaceful souls."


Animation does open up a wide window of potential for filmmakers. I understand that sort of goes without saying but despite knowing that animation has the potential to be artistically driven even at its most basic level, there are still films that blow me away with their visual style and premise alone. The idea of a fully painted feature film is mind bogglingly ambitious, and what better subject can you find for such an experiment than a film about Vincent Van Gogh.

Mystery surrounds the death of famed painter Vincent van Gogh in 1890 France. One year after Van Gogh’s death, a postman requests that his son Armand (Douglas Booth) personally eliver Vincent’s last letter to his brother Theo, leading him on a journey through the late painter’s life and legacy.

It’s easy to be caught up purely in the visuals of a movie like ‘Loving Vincent’ because it really is a sight to behold. It’s not just the beauty of each separate image, it’s the way those images flow into one another. Each shot feels like a living, breathing entity as it moves with such grace and versatility. It’s high praise to say that a movie could visually be likened to a Van Gogh painting, and had they been unable to do that then it’s safe to say that the visual side of the movie simply would not work. But directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman more the succeeded in creating a film that evokes its subject on a visual level as well as being endlessly fascinating in its own right.

However, there is a downside to this animation. It’s definitely more expressionistic than realistic, which is fine on some regards given that Van Gogh’s work was of a similar nature. But here’s the thing, Van Gogh was creating a single image that could convey any broad theme, not a structured story. The animation is almost enclosing and weirdly claustrophobic in how it limits the viewer to observing one subject at a time. It’s difficult to become invested in this story or environment when it only ever feels like we’re being placed in one microcosm of it at a time.

I also have to ask myself, beyond its technical prowess would this be a compelling film, and sadly the answer to that is a resounding no. I hate to say it given that the movie is so visually stunning, but as a compelling drama ‘Loving Vincent’ fails to work. It’s a movie that doesn’t show nearly as much innovation on a written level as it did technically. If anything the animation feels like style substituting for a lack of substance or an idea that was conceived long before the actual story was ever formed.

But what precisely is wrong with the story? Well first and foremost I would say it is extremely repetitive. The protagonists journey into Van Gogh’s is interesting at first but as he moves from one subject to another it starts to become apparent that each segment is there to fill time rather than lend anything genuinely worthwhile to the story. We hear about various opinions regarding Van Gogh but rarely seem to get an insight into how he affected their lives or what his internal struggles were. There are a few scenes that hold more intrigue and that actually manage to dig into its subject but for the most part ‘Loving Vincent’ seems aimless.

But as well as not gaining an insight into Van Gogh’s own psyche, the same goes for almost all of the other characters. Armand is very much a vehicle to take us through this odyssey and we don’t get any detailed view of him by the end of the movie. Even his process of uncovering the mystery behind Van Gogh’s suicide becomes boring and stale. He questions someone, speculates on how their relationship with Van Gogh could have led to him committing suicide, they rebuff his theory, we move on. There’s never any dramatic intrigue to the plot, never any interesting studies of the characters that appear in it. It’s a very standard historical drama that doesn’t shed any new light on its subject for anyone that is familiar with it.

It’s hard to judge the performances since the animation doesn’t allow for any physical nuance to be captured. In fact it’s hard to tell which parts of the actors changing expressions are down to the art style and which is the actual performer. But as best I can tell, they were fine all round. None of them felt involving enough to make me believe I was actually watching a fully formed character but their reading of the dialogue was good enough for me to appreciate their accounts. It doesn’t help that virtually every actor’s job within the movie is to recite a monologue about Van Gogh and describe some kind of encounter they had before leaving the story.

Putting its truly stunning animation aside, there’s little intrigue to be found in ‘Loving Vincent’.

Result: 5/10

Friday, 20 October 2017

Brawl in Cell Block 99



"I'm not gonna tell you anything you don't want to hear, and prison will give me plenty of time to loom at guys I don't like."


You would be hard pressed to not be at least remotely sceptical over the prospect of seeing Vince Vaughn in a dramatic role. Even at his best the actor was more renowned for comedic roles, which is not to say one is better than the other but the transition between them requires a specific skill set, I’d say the closest he got to drama playing Norman Bates was Gus Van Sant’s remake of ‘Psycho’ and….yeah. Cut to a string of increasingly disappointing comedies later and here we are.

Bradley (Vince Vaughn) former boxer loses his job as an auto mechanic, and his troubled marriage is about to expire, leading him to enter the drugs trade. He soon finds himself in a gunfight between police officers and his own ruthless allies. When the smoke clears, Bradley is badly hurt and thrown in prison, where his enemies force him to commit acts of violence that turn the place into a savage battleground.

I will say that if any modern director has the capability to completely surprise me, then that is very likely to be S Craig Zahler. His previous film, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ began as a western only to do a complete 180 and become a fully-fledged horror movie, and a damn scary one at that. In a similar genre bending fashion, ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’ starts as an underground crime thriller before morphing into the brutal punch-up it becomes. It’s amazing how Zahler manages to avoid making that jump feel disconcerting. If anything the tonal shift feels natural and outright welcome. After an hour of patient storytelling and character building, to see all hell break loose feels like some great cathartic release.

Though this first half does suffer from some pacing issues, it’s worth it to see the film completely cut loose with its second half. Brutal almost feels like an understatement when describing its scenes of violence as we don’t just see the act itself in all its glory, but we see the long and painful repercussions of it. People aren’t killed quickly, the die slowly and messily. We see the toll this takes on those who have killed them as injuries mount up and the sheer endurance of their task becomes an obstacle in of itself. It’s made all the more obvious due to Zahler’s tendency to keep his actors bodies on full display during the fight scenes so as to constantly remind us of their increasing injuries.

But this level of detail carries over into every aspect of the filmmaking. Zahler wants to make the world of his movie feel versatile and lived in, that much is obvious, but he takes it a step further by applying those details in a way that enrich the characters as well as the story. We feel the hopelessness of this situation through the smallest touches in the environment, from the way the characters present themselves and how they interact with one another. It even works to endear us to those characters. It’s hard not to have sympathy for Bradley as he’s clearly painted as a martyr kind of protagonist, suffering in silence because it’s the lesser of two evils.

On the subject of that main character, Vince Vaughn is fantastic in the role. There is a distinct level of humanity to him that creates a level of empathy and Vaughn makes the most of that during the movie’s quieter scene. But when he really needs to throw his weight around he does that excellently as well. Zahler manages to frame Vaughn’s tall stature in a way that makes him feel more physically menacing than one would first think. He fully commits to the fight scenes as well, bringing a great weight to them as his presence is keenly felt. The fact that Vaughn’s casting is so against type make the moments of violence feel even more jarring than they already are.

But anyone (well not anyone but you know what I mean) could compose some decent fight scenes with a pulp-ish edge. What makes ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’ stand out is the way it radiates with sheer energy. It’s not hyper stylised, in fact it’s the realism that gives the movie a distinct quality, but the way Zahler has constructed the story allows it to feel like a shot of adrenaline once it gets underway. He gives each fight scene a consistent visual style so that they build upon one another rather than just feeling like an endless stream of set pieces. In some ways I could liken it to Gareth Evans’ direction for both of ‘The Raid’ movies and though this film never reaches that level of utter mastery it’s certainly good enough to feel reminiscent of it.

Completely brutal and utterly deranged, ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’ is an effective pulp story that gives Vince Vaughn one of the best performances of his career.

Result: 8/10

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories



"I didn't make it a month of college, because I liked drugs so much."


I’m always immensely curious to see Adam Sandler in dramatic roles. Yes I know ‘Punch Drunk Love’ was a long time ago but I’m still fascinated by how much untapped potential he seems to have as an actor when given the right character and put under the direction of someone who can best utilize him. Though he didn’t win there were several critics pegging Sandler as the front runner for the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where Noah Baumbach’s ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ premiered, so could it live up to such acclaim?

The story of siblings Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler), Matthew Meyerowitz (Ben Stiller) and Jean Meyerowitz (Elizabeth Marvel) contending with the long shadow their strong-willed father, Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) has cast over their lives.

The first act of ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ feels like it was lifted straight from Woody Allen’s best era of filmmaking. This isn’t surprising given that Baumbach seems to have held Allen’s work as a major inspiration for his entire career. He expertly weaves in themes of identity and heritage through a terrific blend of comedy and drama. All of this is still present as the film ploughs on but what changes is the movie’s outlook. As its characters develop so does the movie’s attitude towards its subjects and in doing so Baumbach turns the story into one that feels utterly unique to his own filmmaking style. It starts in a place of familiarity but soon delves into unexplored, sometimes uncomfortable, territory.

But first and foremost I have to praise the cast as they are terrific all round. Ben Stiller gives a performance that, despite not being too far outside his comfort zone, is very well done. He effortlessly conveys the distinct characteristics of Matt and makes his presence within the family dynamic seem notable when he both is and isn’t present. Elizabeth Marvel brings a dethatched quality to her role that makes her isolation issues and inner worries noticeable without ever having to say a word. Sandler is fantastic here as well, channelling some of that off kilter aggression he played so brilliantly in ‘Punch Drunk Love’ but arguably injecting it with more nuance as Danny is clearly a character with layered troubles and issues that go beyond his ever present limp.

I also have to praise Dustin Hoffman given that a large part of what helps ‘The Meyerowitz’ stories feel more comedic when it could be outright tragic is his own comedic ability. Hoffman plays Harold as a determined, stubborn and strong willed artist, but somehow rarely seems unpleasant because of it. His charm and grace never fail to make us laugh at his antics rather than be aggravated. But it’s written in such a way that when the siblings relate how is determination left a noticeable mark on their lives we end up sympathising with both sides of the argument.

What is so brilliant about the writing is how each of those issues are made to feel unique. The trauma each sibling carries is tied into their identity and so their entire persona feels so fully defined and fleshed out. They all react to the situations the narrative presents them with in different ways and it’s within those differences that a good amount of the comedy comes from. In fact I could also praise the cast for having such deft comedic timing as, much like the script, they are able to switch seamlessly from deep drama to farcical comedy.

This whole story of siblings reuniting and settling their issues concerning their eccentric father may sound eerily similar to Wes Anderson’s ‘The Royal Tenebaums’ (a comparison made more prevalent by the fact that both movies feature Ben Stiller, whose dynamic to the other characters in each movie even feels somewhat similar). But Baumbach’s film sets itself apart by being both hilariously and painstakingly real. It lacks the eccentric flourishes and joyful melancholia of Anderson’s movie but it draws both its drama and its humour out of feeling grounded. When Danny and Matt come to blows it feels almost awkward to watch these grown men uncomfortably wrestle one another. Then when Stiller has to break down in the middle of a speech, Baumbach keeps the camera focussed squarely on him for an amount of time that feels funny at first but eventually uncomfortable. We don’t cut to reaction shots or snarky statements, we just watch a man and his inner pain as it finally manifests itself. So while it does feel somewhat familiar in certain regards, ‘The Meyerwitz Stories’ does enough to distinguish itself as not only a fine study of several characters, but a brilliant meditation on a fractured family unit.

With a cast and script that are perfectly in tune with one another, Baumbach brings another great mix of comedy and tragedy like no one else can.

Result: 8/10  

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Snowman



"The only thing we know for sure, is that he's playing games with us."


I feel like I’ve been sucker punched here. For many months I was relatively indifferent to the upcoming adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s bestselling mystery novel. But upon hearing that it would be directed by Thomas Alfredson, director of the modern horror masterpiece that is ‘Let the Right One In’ the movie shot straight to the top tier of my most highly anticipated movie list. Now that I’ve seen it, well as I said, I feel sucker punched.

For Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), the death of a young woman during the first snowfall of winter feels like anything but a routine homicide. His investigation leads him to "The Snowman Killer," an elusive sociopath who continuously taunts Hole with cat-and-mouse games. As the vicious murders continue, Harry must lure the madman out of the shadows before he can strike again.

I’d say the most essential rule for any mystery thriller is that the narrative needs to feel involving. You can enrich with masterful filmmaking, complex characters and various twists in the plot, but if that initial mystery fails to grab me then it’s an uphill battle from there. ‘The Snowman’ lacks this central ingredient, as well as everything else I mentioned earlier. So the idea of feeling even remotely involved in the story is next to impossible. There’s no intrigue or urgency to the plot, nothing to draw me in and instead I became so bored that I began to see the central ridiculousness of building an entire snowman every time you kill someone. I mean if I want to escape a crime scene I don’t want the hassle of building an entire snowman before I leave, right?

It really is baffling that a film with as much talent behind it as ‘The Snowman’ could be this disappointing, especially since those disappointments come in the areas in which said talent usually excels at. The film was edited by Thelma Schoonmaker (or at least it was in part, as there are two credited editors which in light of the final product is not surprising) who as well as directing half of Martin Scorsese’s filmography (winning three Oscars for her work on ‘Raging Bull’, ‘The Aviator’ and ‘The Departed’). But the editing here is so muddled and unfocussed, never conveying a sense of urgency to the events as they play out or drawing any kind of larger structure from which we can see the film’s deeper meaning.

This may be the result of half of the movie feeling obviously reshot. I don’t have any actual evidence to base this on, but several cast members looked noticeably different in certain scenes, due to differences in hairstyling or makeup, as they did to others. It would also explain why the movie feels so radically offbeat on a tonal level. It’s very obviously a piece of construction that hasn’t come together. The movie even seems to be changing its priorities every few scenes, sometimes being obsessed with pushing the plot forwards and sometimes attempting to develop its characters but never is this carried out simultaneously. It’s as if each scene could only convey one aspect at a time.

The talent behind the lens of ‘The Snowman’ is only equalled by the talent in front of it, but the cast feel similarly wasted. Whether it’s Michael Fassbender looking as if he’s sleepwalking through half of the movie, never capitalising on the supposed inner pain of his character even though he’s done that brilliantly in other roles like ‘Shame’, ‘Steve Jobs’ or hell even as Magneto in ‘X-Men: First Class’. Rebecca Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg are treated like props as the movie never even tries to see them as fully realised characters. But worst of all, they made JK Simmons boring. I didn’t even know that was humanly possible to do until I saw this movie!

I could at least praise the cinematography as it renders the snow covered landscapes as an eerily pretty setting from which to stage this kind of crime drama. The images are, on the whole, well composed and occasionally highly interesting on a visual level. But even then the film comes across as being too tame to convey the weight of its own subject. I understand that sometimes restraint can be just as effective as a means to frighten your audience but the absence of violence in ‘The Snowman’ comes across less as a deliberate decision and more of being afraid to delve into the darkness of itself. It can’t grasp any broader meanings behind these killings, which would be fine if it was a character driven piece but it’s clearly not that either. What makes the whole thing more infuriating is that we know this director do both of these things because we saw him do that perfectly in ‘Let the Right One In’.

Bland and uninteresting, ‘The Snowman’ fails as both a character drama and as a dark mystery thriller.

Result: 3/10

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Good Time



"Don't be confused, it's just gonna make things worse for me."


It’s great to see a talented filmmaker reach a stage when a movie they craft can well and truly break out, putting their name on the map and establishing themselves as talents to watch out for. It’s a common misconception that this will be their debut as quite often filmmakers have to a point where one of their films hits a wider range of success. The biggest names working today like Damien Chazelle and Denis Villeneuve have both been present in the film industry for some time despite reaching huge levels of fame in recent years. Hopefully ‘Good Time’ is a break out film for its makers.

After a botched bank robbery lands his younger brother in prison, Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a twisted odyssey through the city's underworld in an increasingly desperate and dangerous attempt to get his brother Nick (Benny Safdie) out of jail. Over the course of one adrenalized night, Connie finds himself on a mad descent into violence and mayhem as he races against the clock to save his brother and himself, knowing their lives hang in the balance.

Above all else ‘Good Time’ is one of the most refreshingly stylistic movies you are likely to see in 2017. Not only is it clear that the directors Ben and Josh Safdie are intent upon creating their own distinct voice in how they make their movies but they employ that style on a consistent basis throughout the movie. Each stylistic choice within ‘Good Time’ feels consistent with the story the movie is telling as well as each subsequent scene in the movie. What makes it even better is how it very clearly was not a case of style substituting for substance, but rather style reinforcing the substance.

There’s no doubt that the plot of ‘Good Time’ lends itself to an exhilarating and heart pumping atmosphere. But still I have to commend that Safdie brothers for evoking that sense so acutely. I found myself on edge for the entire movie, never knowing where the plot would turn next and feeling every passing second with which the characters had to deal with the situation they had dug for themselves. You’re constantly aware of the ticking clock and always focussing upon how the characters are dealing with the escalating drama.

This is where the style of the Safdie brothers further complements the movie. Their use of long takes and close ups help create an instant sense of discomfort when they need them to. The long takes serve to make the time constraint feel even more prevalent, as just the action of a character running from one destination to another is made to feel excruciatingly long when it’s conveyed through one continuous take. Then the close ups serve to put added pressure on the characters, forcing us tight into their peripherals as the world around them goes rushing by.

The style also serves to enhance the raw look of the world crafted in the film. This vision of New York feels reminiscent of the one Martin Scorsese brought us in ‘Taxi Driver’. There’s real grime and grit to it that never goes unnoticed by the filmmakers. It’s a perfect mix of heightening the realism of the world in which the movie takes place but also stylising the way in which we are presented with the story. It’s a tactile world with real consequences. Even the editing and shot composition seems to reflect this with a style that is fast paced but never unclear in what it presents us with.

What further elevates ‘Good Time’ are the terrific performances from the cast, in particular that of Robert Patterson who gives what I’m confident in calling the best performance of his career. If I can make another comparison to ‘Taxi Driver’, I commended Robert De Niro in terms of how much courage it takes for an actor to portray a character in such a brutally honest manner, especially if it’s one with severe flaws. Not only is Patterson’s character flawed, he’s downright despicable. Beyond having an affection for his brother he basically lacks any redeeming qualities, and yet Patterson never seems desperate to make his role seem likable or sympathetic. While it does make for a protagonist that’s tough to empathise with, the movie makes it clear that it’s not the kind of movie where you root for the hero to succeed.

By putting limitations upon itself the script ensures that there is never a dull moment. Much like the characters it allows itself to be constantly moving due to the premise it quickly establishes. What is even more impressive is how any exposition and drama that the film evokes flows naturally from the plot. The narrative never stops to allow the movie to explain something to the audience, it keeps the pace up and the tempo quick, with the end result being one of the best thrillers as well as one of the best films of the year.

Stylish, energetic and highly involving, ‘Good Time’ is one of the year’s best.

Result: 9/10

The Mountain Between Us



"We might die together and I don't even know you."


I guess ‘The Mountain Between Us’ is going to be that annual movie in which I’m a huge fan of the cast but when you get down to the basic premise of the movie itself I could take it or leave it. I always feel like survival stories need a bold creative voice to bring them forward, people like Robert Zemeckis with ‘Cast Away’, ‘Alejandro Inarritu with ‘The Revenant’ or Danny Boyle with ‘127 Hours’. See I’m already listing a bunch of movies I would rather watch as opposed to survival movie #246.

Stranded on a mountain after a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Kate Winslet and Idris Elba) must work together to endure the extreme elements of the remote, snow-covered terrain. Realizing that help is not on the way, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing each other to survive and discovering their inner strength.

So despite what I said at the start I think there is definitely some potential to the premise of ‘The Mountain Between Us’. By making the survivalists strangers to one another it injects a possible sense of intrigue to the plot which could be used to good effect as we unravel their backstories and identities whilst also fighting for survival. There’s just one problem, this movie doesn’t do any of what I just said. Instead we find ourselves watching two actors stumble across a mountain where the danger of their situation never feels overbearing and their actual characters seem awkwardly placed next to one another.

There’s very little about ‘The Mountain Between Us’ to act as a hook to draw anyone in. Nothing within the movie heightens our empathy with these characters, nothing makes their situation feel vital to their character development and nothing comes close to convincing us that they should be romantically linked. As good as Winslet and Elba are, they don’t share much chemistry on screen as their characters feel utterly uninvolved from one another. Their characteristics don’t complement each other as they are never defined to an extent to which they feel unique.

It’s actually surprising that the film is this mediocre, given that its director is Hany Abu-Assad who gave us two politically relevant (and Oscar nominated) films in the form of ‘Omar’ and ‘Paradise Now’. In those films he did a remarkable job of making the premise feel intertwined with the nuances of his characters. But here the characters and plot feel completely irrelevant to each other. They move forward with each when it’s convenient for the script, not when it feels integral to the story they want to tell. The fact that the movie has no real structure and just degenerates into an endless slog through snow makes it even worse. Then there’s the pacing which is also non-existent. There’s never any urgency to a scene but nor is there a sense of meditation in which we can explore these characters. The film lacks quiet moments as well as exciting ones.

I can at least complement the cinematography as it’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing within its imagery that we haven’t seen before but there is nothing that seems displeasing on a visual level either. I will say though, whether this is an issue with visuals or general structure, that the movie does a terrible job of conveying any sense of time. Were it not for the characters explicitly stating how long they had been stranded for I certainly couldn’t have told you or even guessed. There’s no sense of presence to their environment, no prevalent sense of danger than makes me feel more involved in the movie. I never feared for the lives of these characters and nor did I sense the weight of the obstacle they had to overcome.

My only guess is that the movie assumed the audience would be more invested in the romantic side of the story rather than the survival aspects. The problem however is that said aspect seems even more poorly developed. The movie never establishes a sense of connection between Elba and Winslet and so it’s not only difficult to become invested in their relationship but it feels outright unbelievable. Then you have the way in which their relationship develops as it’s the most melodramatic, cliché ridden spectacle you could hope to see. It really does feel like a check list of every generic trope you could find in an on screen romance with no nuance or subtlety to how it unfolds. I really don’t know who would rush out to see ‘The Mountain Between Us’. If you’re a fan of Elba and Winslet then there are numerous places in which you can find a much better display of their talent. If you’re looking for a survival story or a romance, then it will almost certainly disappoint on that front as well.

Melodramatic but also frustratingly bland, ‘The Mountain Between Us’ fails to deliver on any of the aspects it promises.

Result: 3/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Trailer Review


Once again I find myself eager to talk about the trailer for an upcoming ‘Star Wars’ movie but being even more impressed with the poster. That’s not to say the trailer is bad, it is in fact amazing, but that poster truly is a work of art. The striking design and colour scheme is not only magnificent on its own but it stands in such stark contrast to every other ‘Star Wars’ poster before. Many of them use a similar visual style but this one really stands out from the crowd. Here’s hoping the movie it’s advertising is reflective of that, speaking of which;

While this trailer does allude to a lot of potential twists or revelations, I wouldn’t say it gave anything away. There’s definitely a sense of conflicting loyalties throughout the trailer, two separate entities in the form of Luke and Snoke duelling for the fate of their apprentices. There’s an immediate comparison in how they each use similar descriptions to emphasise the power of Rey and Kylo. Whereas Snoke seems to revel in the potential, Luke seems terrified by it. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Hamill’s performance as his few shots in the trailer convey such a sense of fear at the power in front of him.

There is endless speculation on where their identities will fall by the end of this movie. Regardless of what the final result is, it’s a bold move by Rian Johnson to cast doubt over the hero and villain whom were so acutely and firmly established in their roles in ‘The Force Awakens’. Kylo Ren killed one of the most beloved characters in the franchise and carried a villainous presence with him for the whole movie, Rey’s entire arc was purpose built to draw empathy and surprise towards her character. Now we’re faced with the idea of that all being cast into doubt.

While it’s very fair to think that the last scene could be a possible red herring for the trailer, as in editing two pieces of footage together as if they’re the same scene, I think even if these two shots are not from the same scene then they are very close together. There’s a clear orange glow illuminating Rey’s face and then for the reverse shot to Kylo he’s stood in front of that same orange glow. At least it’s better than the ‘Justice League’ trailer which has a shot of Wonder Woman saying something only for Batman to answer it in what is so clearly a completely different location that it’s infuriating they would think anyone could believe it was.

But I digress, while Rey and Kylo seem to be the central conflict of this trailer there is definitely a lot to be said about where the other major players are during all of this. Finn seems to be confronting his own demons as he duels with Captain Phasma (whose inclusion here absolutely isn’t a reaction to a common complaint about her character on the internet….I’m sure) which should add to his character and get me excited for John Boyega to further stretch his acting chops. Hopefully Poe Dameron also has a larger role to play here as well, both within the plot and in the group dynamic as he felt a little underutilised in ‘The Force Awakens’ despite still being great. Look, I just want some more Oscar Isaac in my life, is that too much to ask?

Let’s talk about the cinematography though because I feel confident in saying that ‘The Last Jedi’ could be the best shot ‘Star Wars’ movie so far if we’re to go from the trailer. The camera movement just feels so dynamic and every shot has such a depth of feel. The DP has accompanied Johnson on all of his films so far and I feel like that familiarity is what allows both of them to reach their full potential on this kind of scale. Their visual style complements one another and now they have all the resources in the galaxy to achieve what they want.

So in short, am I excited for ‘The Last Jedi’? Obviously. This trailer not only reaffirms my confidence in how well-crafted the movie will be, but also reassures me that Johnson and his team are not pulling any punches in where they are taking the characters. They want to shock us, they want to bring us something special. Given that this is the second instalment of the trilogy it will inevitably be compared to ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ so they need to pull out all the stops to make it worthy of such a comparison.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049



"The key to the future, is finally revealed."


I’ve said this a lot but it’s worth repeating, ‘Blade Runner’ is one of my all-time favourite films. It’s something that took a long time for me to absorb and appreciate on the level that I do today and if this sequel were being directed by any other filmmaker I would regard the idea as a travesty. But this is Denis Villeneuve, the director who has cemented himself as an age defining auteur and in my eyes is the only person capable of creating something that might live up to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece.

Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what's left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who's been missing for 30 years.

Regardless of anything I’m going to say in this review, for me nothing I state about ‘Blade Runner 2049’ can be seen as higher praise than this; it’s a worthy successor to the original in every way. Through this sequel Denis Villeneuve has crafted a film that complements its predecessor whilst taking the ideas, themes and concepts from it in bold new ways. It never resorts to merely repeating what ‘Blade Runner’ said thirty years ago. Instead it furthers the discussions and instead of trying to answer the mysteries of the first film it further evolves those mysteries. It’s a balancing act I’ve never seen any sequel achieve as well as this.

It should come as no surprise that the themes this movie deals with are far from light. It’s tries to grasp the very concept of what it means to be human as well as hints of persecution, revolution, social upheaval, grief, loss, sacrifice and a dozen other big ideas that I won’t spoil. But amid all of these hard hitting themes the movie never lets its narrative be overcome by said concepts. It keeps its focus on its characters and plot but uses them as a means to explore these ideas. Unlike the original ‘Blade Runner’, Villeneuve’s film feels more plot driven and whether that is a good or bad thing is likely to divide some. Personally I think his balance of theme and plot is pitch perfect so I have no issues with the direction he took.

To say the movie is ambitious would be an understatement, not just in its themes but in its whole scope. The variety of landscapes and set pieces we are taken to is spectacular, to an extent where it felt less like a science fiction think piece and more like a grand epic. Some of the images that still linger with me range from torrents of rain crashing down to the desolate and dry desert environment. But once again I find myself praising Villeneuve for his ability to keep the focus on what is vital to both his characters and concepts. He never holds the audiences hand through it either, telling his story in a bold and uncompromising fashion.

There’s no doubt that Villeneuve weaves a strong and distinct visual language, one you’re unlikely to find in any other $150 million dollar production. It really is an arthouse movie disguised as a blockbuster, without ever leaning too heavily to one or the other. The level of craftsmanship and detail that Villeneuve adds to the story is unparalleled, making this journey through the futuristic landscape feel seamless with the development of the characters who inhabit it. His use of practical effects is fantastic, whilst masterfully employing CGI to enhance it to a point where it becomes difficult to distinguish the two.  

Villeneuve is a filmmaker who so clearly trusts the intelligence of his audience whilst instilling his films with a sense of meaning that is never lost. Every single frame feels like a masterclass of directing. I can count maybe, one shot that looked imperfect due to a poorly rendered CGI effect and that’s about it. He evokes mood and atmosphere from scene to scene effortlessly, instilling great tension in one and meditative beauty in the next. But none of these scenes ever fail to feel consistent in how they are placed within the movie as a whole. The parts are fantastic individually, but the whole hey form is even better.

A lot of that visual mastery is down to Roger Deakins. I know Deakins is a DP who practically reinvented the medium with his work over the last 25 years, but ‘Blade Runner 2049’ may be his greatest filmic accomplishment yet. His use of colour, composition, framing, everything serves to create a film that is stunning on a visual level. There isn’t a single shot that doesn’t feel visually interesting or irrelevant to the story he and Villeneuve are crafting. It’s not just the striking nature of the imagery though, it’s how that imagery incorporates recurring motifs and themes that unite it as a masterclass of visual storytelling.

But for the occasions in which the film needs dialogue, it has actors who are equally brilliant. Gosling carries an air of ambiguity that instantly creates intrigue around his character. Yet at the same time he never plays it so vague that his motivations are incomprehensible, we can clearly see enough aspects of his character that we empathise with him but are denied enough that we want to uncover more. Harrison Ford delivers one of his best performances as he reprises Deckard, a man so clearly haunted by his past that the plot barely even needs to fill in the details. It’s tough for me to state what makes other members of the cast as good as they are without spoiling a vital characteristic but trust me when I say that they are all working on the same level.

However, for all of its technical brilliance, deep themes and mind bending ideas, my biggest take away from ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is just how emotionally impactful it is. It seems odd to me that almost no one seems to be talking about how profoundly moving the film is. It’s last scene in particular is the perfect embodiment of how the big ideas and social upheaval boil down to one simple concept, what it means to be human. This film never answers that question but it does show us plenty of ideas surrounding it, how something so perfectly constructed can reveal itself to be so deeply humane.

Masterfully assembled on every level, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a testament to the talent of everyone involved. It’s a sequel that honours the original whilst furthering its ideas in ways you could never have imaged.


Result: 10/10