Tag Archives: Denis Villeneuve

BLADE RUNNER 2049

“…airborne vehicles swoop in and out of the huge neon-lit monolithic tower blocks from which [these] holograms emanate, visually bringing to mind Rupert Saunders’ 2017 offering, Ghost in the Shell.”

Wayward Wolf.

There is a school of opinion that I’ve been made aware of a number of times since the release of Blade Runner 2049. It’s one that suggests the film is overlong and drawn-out, with a bloated sense of self-importance. Now, that’s a pretty harsh assessment in anyone’s book and not one that I necessarily agree with, yet it’s not entirely a mystery as to why such an exaggerated conclusion might have come about.

At getting on towards three hours in duration, Denis Villeneuve’s epic sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, Blade Runner, is certainly in no rush, and clearly not concerned with your average curtailed 2017 attention span, and other such modern phenomena.

There is also a propensity for Blade Runner 2049‘s early exchanges to veer towards technological overload at times with the director positively wallowing in gadget and technology porn, leaving us in no doubt whatsoever that this is a point in time in which there have been absolute quantum leaps beyond what would be considered high-tech in 2017.

Less prevalent is the incessant rain of Blade Runner, now largely replaced by an overcast, desolate and arid climate over which hangs a smog so thick you could cut it. Perhaps an indication of a planet whose raised mean temperature has ultimately led to water becoming something of a scarce resource?

The future Los Angeles cityscape that has been conjured up here is one in which holographic advertisements for everything from major corporations to virtual call girls reach out and interact with the public. And airborne vehicles swoop in and out of the huge neon-lit monolithic tower blocks from which these holograms emanate, visually bringing to mind Rupert Saunders’ 2017 offering, Ghost in the Shell.

In amongst this rather soulless, gloom-sodden backdrop we are introduced to the story of  ‘K’ (an appropriately dead-pan performance from Ryan Gosling), a replicant working for the LAPD, who, on successfully executing a mission to ‘retire’ one of the few remaining rogue replicants, stumbles upon the remains of a female replicant buried beneath a nearby dead tree. This in itself isn’t necessarily news-worthy, but the fact that the replicant appears to have died during caesarean childbirth having obviously been pregnant – an impossibility according to mainstream scientific thought – clearly is.

Such a scenario presents the possibility of a hugely volatile situation unfolding, deemed potentially explosive enough to cause great conflict between humans and replicants, and K is therefore instructed by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to track down the replicant child that had been born and eliminate it and all evidence that it had ever existed.

Blade Runner 2049 is noticeably built around a strong narrative, the slow and considered execution of which is very much to the benefit of the piece, building an introspective, mood-heavy work that offers its viewer ample time to consider and reflect upon the film’s myriad themes, not to mention opportunities to grapple with the film’s finer, slightly more cerebrally-taxing plot points.

Perhaps most impressive is its ability to elevate itself above 90% of any science fiction that has ever been committed to celluloid, by demonstrating considerable heart. Nowhere is this better exemplified than by way of K’s touching, if slightly unconventional relationship with his holographic other half, Joi (making full use of the seductive charms of Ana de Armas). Essentially, we’re talking about an android dating a moving picture here, yet Villeneueve successfully convinces us that such a scenario can be considered to be much more than just that, painting a picture of trust, intimacy, and dare I say it, something bordering on love? Not just a sequence of high-tech mechanics.

Joi’s frequent appearances are heralded by strains of Peter’s theme, from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Such a sonically beautiful interlude, no matter how brief, is a nice touch, and a refreshing reminder from within such a cold impersonal landscape, of the true essence of humanity and of genuine emotion; not to mention a nod no doubt to the enduring longevity of real works of art.

And talking of music: though lacking the soaring sonic themes of its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 – through the efforts of both Benjamin Wallfisch and the ever reliable Hans Zimmer – has at least tipped its hat to those sumptuous sensual swelling synth sounds of the magnificent Vangelis original, producing a soundtrack that, whilst unexceptional, at least offers some degree of continuity between the two films, and hence a reassuring familiarity.

Gosling, Wright and De Armas are joined in a strong cast by Jared Leto who puts in a powerful turn as Niander Wallace – a character that I felt a little more could have been made of – and naturally Harrison Ford is brought back in for a cameo role, reviving his portrayal of Rick Deckard, a move which thankfully proves to be far more than just a fleeting contractual obligation, with his character carefully and convincingly engrained into the film’s nuanced narrative.

It’s been 35 years now since Blade Runner first hit the big screen, and to even have attempted to create a sequel that does justice to the revered original was something of a bold move. The fact that Denis Villeneuve’s dystopian vision, whilst by no means perfect, not only doesn’t sour the lingering memory of one of the all time greats but proves to be a very fine film in its own right, is testament to the work of an excellent and courageous director.

 

 

 

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: Arrival

Denis Villeneuve sets the scene for his thoughtful science fiction piece, Arrival, by utilising Max Richter’s On The Nature of Daylight.
It’s a piece that’s been much-used over the last few years for all manner of purposes, yet despite now being a tad over-familiar to our ears, it still manages to evoke an over-riding sense of melancholy.
Such a poignant atmosphere endures throughout Arrival, a film more in tune with the subtlety of Blade Runner than the in-your-face nonsense of the likes of Independence Day.
Interestingly, it’s Villeneuve that will sit in the director’s chair for the forthcoming, much anticipated Blade Runner sequel, and if Arrival is anything to go by, the signs are encouraging, but not without room for improvement.
Arrival poses a simple question: how would we react if ‘they’ made contact. More-over, what would we do if ‘they’ actually landed amongst us? Such a predicament befalls planet earth’s powers-that-be when twelve extra terrestrial vessels dock at twelve indeterminate points around the globe. One such vessel lands on the prairies of Montana, with the U.S military quick to mobilise troops and set up camp just a few hundred metres from this mysterious semi-oval-shaped craft.
Linguist, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert in her field with prior translating experience for the military, is convinced by Colonel Weber of the U.S military (Forest Whitaker), to fly to Montana and lead an ambitious attempt to make contact with whatever it is that resides within the craft. Such tactics are consequently embraced worldwide in an attempt to keep relations peaceful. It’s an approach that’s in huge contrast to the public’s general panic and hysteria as they stock-pile supplies and head for the hills, no doubt foreseeing an imminent end-of-days scenario.
Accompanying Dr Banks in her task is Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), an expert mathematician.The pair of them will be very much under strict military control and supervision throughout.
Although understandably concerned for their own well-being, it’s Banks and Donnelly’s linguistic and scientific fascination with the project that underpins their enthusiastic approach to the task, yet there exists in their military chaperones a very tangible, underlying sense of mistrust and unease. Increasingly, Banks and Donnelly become all too aware that all of their best efforts could be undermined at any point through knee-jerk acts of military brute force.
As nation after nation begins to lose its nerve, convinced that the alien beings are intent upon some form of armageddon, it’s left to Dr. Banks, in a race against time – and going against military instructions – to prove that the extra terrestrials’ intentions are nothing but friendly.
Into all of this, Villeneuve weaves a story of loss and heartache.
Louise, at an earlier time in her life had experienced the loss of her daughter to illness; something that she has never been able to fully come to terms with, understandably, but somehow through her rapidly evolving understanding of the alien’s means of communication, she begins to re-experience the time she spent with her child through a sequence of flashbacks. Through this she makes a stunning discovery about the reason for the alien’s arrival, and even more startling, she learns about the true nature of time.
Arrival, much like Denis Villeneuve’s previous project, the very excellent Sicario, is a bit of a slow-burner which in itself is not a criticism, but there’s no escaping that Arrival feels slow. It’s a film built around a relatively simple concept, yet, is rather ambitious in its intentions to marry science-fiction with matters of the heart, bringing to mind Christopher Nolan’s similar aspirations with the bold but ultimately flawed, Interstellar.
On the positive side, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are very well cast and special effects are sparingly applied and used to very good effect. Abbott and Costello (Donnelly’s names for the pair of extra terrestrial heptapods that he and Banks attempt to communicate with), with their spidery, elephantine features, are revealed only through a sort of smokey white filter of fog; thus retaining a crucial element of mystery as to the true nature of their physical appearance. A good example of less being more, and typical of the director’s subtle approach.
Indeed, Villeneuve directs with minimal fuss, and although there are necessary token efforts to create suspenseful set-pieces, there’s little or no pandering to impatient audiences or to production companies for that matter. Arrival is, to all intents and purposes, a serious science fiction film and should be applauded for being just that. But it’s also a film that left me feeling that it hadn’t quite achieved what it set out to do, though it does make a good go of it, and I’ve found it difficult to pin point any one particular defining reason for this being the case.
That said, there are very few science fiction films capable of truly hitting the heights of say the aforementioned Ridley Scott classic, Blade Runner, or Stephen Spielberg’s masterpiece, A.I, for example.
But that’s OK, not being an instant classic shouldn’t detract from the fact that Arrival is a bold attempt to make something original with significantly more depth, meaning and layers than your average sci-fi flick, and on that basis alone it’s more than worthy of your attention.

FILM REVIEW: Sicario

Action thrillers are ten a penny out there in movie land and it takes something a little different not to mention a little special to stand out from the ever bloated crowd of contenders.

Sicario is one such film.
Director Denis Villeneuve’s tense thriller focuses on the ongoing, somewhat futile struggle faced by the American authorities to at least keep in check the murky world of drug deals and the ruthless cartels that make them their business.
Emily Blunt plays Kate, an FBI agent, who, whilst leading a mission into suburban Phoenix, Arizona, to free hostages from their cartel captors, stumbles upon a gruesome scene of death and mutilation by which she is suitably repulsed.
On the recommendation of top brass, she is encouraged to join a task force to bring those responsible to justice for which she volunteers without hesitation.
Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro, (a fine turn by Benicio Del Toro), head up this group tasked with rooting out the key figures in this atrocity, or so the official line reads anyway.
It’s a whole new world for Kate, exposing her to the lawlessness of not just Mexican border towns like Suarez, where bodies hang from bridges, mutilated, the victims of ruthless gang retribution, but of her own colleagues who appear to have thrown the rule book out of the window when going about their pursuit of justice.
“…we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto…”
Kate, like a frightened rabbit in the headlights, remains utterly bewildered by events unfolding around her, and little by little, with Alejandro taking centre stage and the true sinister nature of both his motives and those of the task force’s sorties into the Mexican badlands, revealed, the reason for Kate’s own inclusion on this mission bit by bit becomes clear.
Director Villeneuve’s use of long, atmospheric, sustained overviews of the U.S / Mexican border landscape, coupled with both the inspired notion of by and large never truly revealing a tangible enemy, combine devastatingly with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s raw and gritty soundtrack, to create a really unnerving sense of base fear.
At two hours long, Sicario is certainly not a short film and there could be a temptation to suggest that the subject matter might have been trimmed down without risk of sacrificing any of the key subject matter; but to do so would have been a big mistake.
It’s after all Villeneuve’s indulgence with time here and more importantly the protracted spaces in between the film’s key events that really make Sicario so effective. It’s a film that’s able to breathe, both allowing the viewer to wallow in and contemplate the air of trepidation that abounds, but more importantly, making the viewer experience the protracted discomfort and sense of foreboding that builds throughout.
Slick, stylish and beautifully shot, Villneuve has created an environment in which we’d most certainly never want to find ourselves and unsettling though it may be, in doing so, has created a film that stands up as one of the finest thrillers of recent times.