I think like everyone who first heard the news that a sequel was in the works to Blade Runner (1982) I was naturally very cautious. There have been a slew of sequels/reboots etc recently of modern classics made so long after the original that it becomes too much to even consider how a new film could follow on from a much-loved film. Then I saw Arrival (2016) directed by Denis Villeneuve which I found to be one of the best piece of science fiction in a long time to be seen on film. None of the standard flashy techniques or effects, everything paired down, to help inform the tone, that sees a female linguist fight to make first contact with visiting aliens. Wanting to use words not violence that is usually associated with the genre in the past, shoot first, ask questions later. On learning that the Villeneuve would be at the helm this film, alongside Ridley Scott as producer, it was a massive reassurance that the not so long-awaited/muted sequel to the 1982 classic would be in very safe hands.
Honestly it’s been a while since I’ve seen Blade Runner, the final-cut seen as Scott’s definitive vision of the film. The lingering images from the film meant its something special, which is going to be hard surpass. Last night, a month since Blade Runner 2049 (2017) was first released, yes I know it’s a long time coming and I’m glad I’ve finally seen what in short is a worthy sequel without trying to outdo the original, which would have been wrong to even try. As I’ve mentioned before in countless reviews, the trailer can really affect a film before you go and sit down to watch it. Here the marketing team have put edited together a misleading piece that allowed me to be blown away by the full 2 and 1/2 hours film. Wanting to focus on Harrison Ford‘s role in the film.
I could never forget the opening sequence of the original, the all-encompassing eye and the burst of flame that reflect within. The never-ending model miniature city-scape and flying cars that zoom across, its a future that we fear but want to explore to see whats in the depth. Film noir had met the future with all the bleakness you can have wanted. A film that is both hard to really top or even live up to. I feel that Villeneuve has definitely lived up to the challenge bring his own sensibility for the serious, insightful whilst maintaining the look, the legacy and the concepts.
Anyway enough of the build up, time to look in more detail at the film. I already knew from a few vague descriptions of the film that Ryan Gosling played a replicant working as a blade runner who we see on his latest mission touching down in a vast farming facility, ready to capture his next rogue replicant. There’s no pretense as to whether or not he’s a replicant unlike the original which had you guessing until the end the true identity of Rick Deckard until we get the unicorn at the films close. There’s less ambiguity at this point, we know who we are dealing with and following as he uncovers a new case that has the potential to change the balance of power in this dystopia. A skeleton of a former replicant is found with some surprising marks that are found during examination.
With K we see more into the Blade runner life, not just the found em and kill em aspect which we had before. Instead the life of a replicant, the regimented de-briefs/recalibrations which are scarily effective as Gosling just loses himself to this role. It’s quite intense to watch, the repetition and testing that goes on to ensure he’s inline and ready to function to the best of his programming. Very much the slave to his master, yet free to enjoy his time off. Spending most of that with his holographic Joi (Ana de Armas) who confined to the projector. It was the first reminder of another science fiction characters – the first of many reference – as I found in Arrival. The Doctor (Robert Picardo) or Emergency Medical Hologram/E.M.H. in Star Trek: Voyager whose confined to the holographic emitters in sick bay, a prisoner of his own programming and limitations. Until much like Joi they are given their freedom – a mobile Emitter or it’s Blade Runner equivalent. Carried by the program or the end-user. The E.M.H. character was exploring his sentience, whilst Joi was just discovering her new found freedom outside the apartment. We get under the skin, well the zeros and ones of how she perceives the world around her. Later touched in a a sex scene that reminded me of a very similar scene in Her (2013), technology connecting with another, via a biological host. Again this is explored more sensually from Joi’s perspective which made the scene more engaging to watch.
K’s investigation takes in some familiar places and faces (not Ford just yet) which again really gives the film stronger foundation that just being in the same universe, we meet old characters and others who reminds us of the original along with other little nods. If only briefly they contexualise what happened in the prologue which explains the 10 day blackout when most files from that time were erased. It doesn’t leave any detail out and woven nicely into the script without seeming forced. However on reflection that opening of the film, tried too hard in places to replicate the original tone that was then original, maybe this is more out of uniformity for the film. The world itself is very much the one I’ve visited before, relying on model miniatures to create as much of it as possible, allowing you to engage with the physical in this possible future which we maybe nearer too than we care to admit. Not only does it rain but it snow constantly too.
Turning to the Tyrell organisation, now under the weird control of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who sends his favorite replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to hunt down. We see so little of Wallace that I didn’t feel his presence in the film, Leto is again having a lot of fun with the role. Whilst Hoeks has a meaty role that makes her mark on the film. The henchmen of the piece, nothing stops her from getting what she wants, showing us that you don’t need to male, butch with scars to get the job done, you can be incredible feminine in appearance and still make your presence known, much like K’s boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) whose more fierce than Deckard’s predecessor.
Looking back at this very rich piece of science fiction that gracefully nods and acknowledges the original, it doesn’t try to repeat the past plot, instead it builds and expands with ease into this world that I wasn’t expecting to find. When Ford finally makes his first appearrence, which is for about 20 minutes or so of the film it feels natural, all the build up to find him. He doesn’t try to own the film or take it away from Gosling whose in complete control. The trailer wanted us to meet him early on, without knowing why. K’s investigation is a slow burner that had me glued in silence to the screen. I had returned to a world I had once explored with awe that has been expanded, getting our fingers deeper into this world. I do however miss Vangelis ‘s inspiring soundtrack, we do have Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer who do a more than respectable job in his strange absence. My only fear is that if ever there was another sequel, which again leaves me uncertain, I would hope that Villeneuve is somewhere within its production. I would also ask that this sequel would be allowed to breathe before anything happened, to find a place and be appreciated for what it is and has achieved.
There’s a reason why Moonlight (2016) won last night at the Oscars, even after the result was fudged up by Faye Dunaway and her old pal Warren Beatty did their best during the biggest blunder of the ceremonies 89 year history. Even before the result was corrected on the stage that saw the award go to La La Land (2016) I knew in my heart that it should have gone to admittedly the stronger of the two films – Moonlight. I’d like to use this as my argument for why it should and rightly so have been awarded Best Picture.
At first I wasn’t really fussed by seeing the film, know it was something special. It took reading and listening reviews for me to change my mind and check it out. A 3 act film that follows one Black guy from child to manhood, not so different on the surface they have been urban films before, but none that tackle homosexuality and so sensitively too. A social urban film that doesn’t play up to the stereotypes of African-Americans for a white audiences. Its story is ultimately human which has allowed it to transcend the barrier of colour. The humanity in La La Land’s restricted within the confines of a couple who are striving for their own dreams. Far more selfish than most those in Moonlight. Maybe it’s that we follow Chiron played by three different actors allowing us to spend so much time with him, it’s far more intimate.
La La Land is essentially a love letter to Hollywood by the machine that produced it, a musical that loves musicals. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, however it feels constructed with the intent to win votes for last night. I know that’s not the case, with a release and campaign doing that job for the film. With Moonlight the love is for the a hard-won emotion that Chiron who begins his journey with us under 10 as Little (Alex R. Hibbert) a cute and shy kid who has far more on his mind than most kids. Picked on for being different, but why is he different, at his tender age he begins to look in on himself to consider he maybe gay. Supported ironically by drug lord come mentor Juan (Mahershala Ali) (who rightly won best supporting) who is the cause of Little’s mum Paula’s addiction. Herself played by a dazzling Naomie Harris who filmed her scenes in 3 days in between promotion for the latest Bond film.
You feel nothing but sympathy for Little’s struggle on the street, at school, at home and with his own identity. Finding strength in his young friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) who we follow also throughout Chiron’s life. All you want to do is reach into the screen and hug the little man who has so much to deal with and nowhere to turn. Juan is the only father figure in his life, who is not wanted by Paula as we later learn.
Moving onto high-school and we meet Black (Trevante Rhodes) the teenage Chiron whose grown slightly in confidence, yet still painfully shy. Still friends with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) who will play a pivotal role in Black’s sexuality and future. As we have seen before in film, high-schools harsh world for some, filled with social pressures to conform as you leave childhood to become adult. You really get a sense of the angst that has been building up before it explodes after a fight on the playground that pits friends against each other. It’s nothing short of being a painful watch for the audience. In a way you see it coming, all the pent-up rage being unleashed after a moment of tenderness’s matched with one of betrayal before violence follows.
The final act sees an incredible transformation for Chiron (Ashton Sanders) who is now a drug dealer, beefed up and wearing bling to suit the life he has fallen into. On the surface it gives him power and confidence on the streets, no one questions him, the fear he can incite into those below him. It takes a few minutes to realise this is the same guy who we saw only moments ago. We are also bang-up-to-date in terms of period. La La Land does have a character transformation with that clever and controversial twist. Here in Streets of Atlanta, Georgia you could say Chiron has come full circle, taking on the role of his once father figure who took him under his wing. Yet its all a facade that takes one phone call and two visits to his mother and Kevin.
The last third sees everything come to a close, making sense of what has just happened, he’s come so far yet has not developed emotionally to have a romantic relationship, too insecure, too damaged by his past and his position prevents him from being truly happy. Very different to Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) who made personal sacrifices to fulfill the creative ambitions, their dreams come true at great cost to each other. In Miami and Georgia reality is against Chiron, his economic, family, social and sexual background are not in his favor. Its a much richer, human drama that wipes the floor with La La Land, which is a completely different film.
Now does this show a change in Oscar voting and ultimately American films, or is it simply a fluke that 3 Black films had prominent nominations in multiple catergories. For me, its a good start to see a much more varied mix of films to enjoy and celebrate, different stories to tell and share with audiences. It’s really too early to tell if this progress is here to stay or just simply lip service, lets hope this year sees more progress, more diversity whilst still exciting stories to
To put this film into perspective, the hype and buzz around La La Land (2016) which I caught last night at The Phoenix in Leicester, we decided to book ahead and eat before we went in to see the film, my first cinema outing of the year. My friends and family have grown towards this independent cinema in recent years because it’s a better atmosphere, different films that you wouldn’t get less than a mile away at the multiplex. Probably the busiest night at The Phoenix and we weren’t the only ones to say that. We had to queue for food, that’s before being told of the 40 minute wait for it to arrive. We had to sit on separate table for a time, yes it was that busy it was grab or share table. I can’t fault the staff, some of whom I know, which took it all their stride and carried on, it was just another night, but it wasn’t, this was next to possible Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) proportions, it was packed in that little two screen cinema that delivered the food just before the film was to begin, assured that we wouldn’t miss the film before the end of the adverts, which shows how confident they are at The Phoenix. In short I was impressed with how this big film on opening night was handled by my local independent. We had our dinner down and only missed a few minutes of adverts before going into a packed screening of one of the most uplifting films in a long time.
We begin in a traffic jam of one our L.A.’s busy highways, nothing unusual there until the camera stops on one of the drivers, whose already singing, the tones being set here in this first number, it’s both light carefree and uplifting, taking us away from the world for if only a 2 hours. The dancers are full of life and the Eastern sunshine, yes I’m comfortable, ready to be taken along for the journey. I also noticed an older couple, not so nimble on their feet, that didn’t stop them from also being part of this random event on the highway. We stay there for one quick scene where we meet aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) memorizing some lines for an audition, lost in her own little world, even as the traffic eases and drivers move on, she’s still there lost in the lines. Before being interrupted by Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who honks his horn, a motif he uses much like an instrument to alert her to his impatient. They meet only briefly from passing cars, it’s too early to say if they have chemistry or they will ever meet again.
I was sold this film as a musical about musicals, and a love letter to the genre I’m not so sure its the former, it does however celebrate the classic spirit of the genre, its light and carefree at times, whilst also very contemporary, one of the few films still shot in Hollywood, supporting their local economy, instead of shipping production to the U.K. with all the tax breaks. In the trailer the image of celebration and what comes images that reference An American in Paris (1951) (which I will get to later), gave me a slightly different impression of the film – that’s trailers for you. I gave up trying to find references to past films, which I was more successful with for The Artist (2011). Here I just sat back and soaked up the film.
Taking it as a love letter to the genre as these two dreamers who over the course of 5 seasons Winter to Winter meet, fall in love and pursue their dreams. They want to live the Hollywood dream. Jazz pianist Sebastian passion for the music blinds him to staying in a job for more than a few nights. A night at a bar where he was previously fired, has to stick to a set list of Christmas numbers before the need to go freestyle on the ivories compels him to let rip before he’s given the boot. Whilst Mia the barista aspiring actress has just been to the latest in a string of clichéd auditions, we’ve seen them all before, all treated with a light touch, as Mia takes them seriously Stone can see the funny side, probably drawing from her own past on the audition circuit. She’s the one we’re supposed to identify with, the dreamer, who takes every opportunity to get a step closer to living the Hollywood dream. She knows her world inside out, even pointing out the window from Casablanca (1942)
Whilst Sebastian has the drive, the passion but can’t get close to his dream because he has let go of what is important to support himself to get to fulfilling the dream. As his old friend Keith (John Legend) reminds him that he’s living in the past whilst he needs to look to the future. There’s a re-opened bar as a Samba-Tapas, not one or the other, a combination which offends the traditionalist Sebastian who knows Jazz like the back of his hand, he breathes the music, if only he could be supported by it
It’s not your standard boy meets girl in a musical, it’s by chance and handled with a light touch, Mia starts the ball rolling in Spring when we meet them again before their first number together. Both are not naturals to the all dancing singing routines but seem to have really taken to it well. They are no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers who had a dynamic which can’t easily be replicated. Instead we have a youthful energy which collides with sexual energy exerted through innocent dance. La La Land doesn’t claim or aspire to be a classic MGM musical filmed on the back-lot. It’s more natural – as a musical can be, breaking out into a number. The two leads have a natural screen chemistry that allows us to move through Summer and Autumn with noticing the seasons have changed.
Reality hits them late on, as Sebastian is finding success, the principled Gene Kelly type who take an opportunity at the cost of his dreams, to be loved and adored is easier to come by. Whilst Mia is putting it all on the line to make her dreams a reality. Both dreamers in their own ways, both escapists, only one a realist when it matters. Leading me back to the only real homage that is to An American in Paris, I noticed weeks ago the minimalist design and the Parisian references, it could only mean they have reworked the ballet sequence, a 13 minute scene that melts time to a halt as you are taken into this romanticised world of the studio where dreams are created. We are told in a near dialogue free sequence what happened after the love affair, how we have reached this conclusion.
I can’t finish this review without touching on the music, some of which is throwaway, whilst other numbers have stayed with me. I guess repeat viewings and a growing love for the film, I will be buying a few tracks to listen at leisure. I also have to mention the sometimes jarring cinematography that sees the camera panning that blurs to the extreme until we stop at either Mia or Sebastian, It’s a style which when sitting at the front of the screen is too much, it can be forgiven slightly as I understand the intention of sweeping past/through the crowd. A small negative among a heap of positives that leave you feeling light and care-free.
I’ve been looking forward to catching The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), if only to see Ryan Gosling in action, always making an impact whenever he is on-screen. Well this time here is shorter than I expected. A brave move by Derek Cianfrance who worked previously with Gosling on Blue Valentine (2010) who spreads the impact of a month in the life of Luke (Gosling) over 16 years, how the actions of two men affect all those around them.
Even though Gosling gets top billing his time on-screen is fleeting in comparison to Bradley Cooper who really impressed me in the first straight role I’ve seen him in. With Luke with have another man who can handle himself, after the stunt driver from Drive (2011), independent and dangerous, with a heart deep down. His heart is in the right place, even if his fists isn’t. On leaving the circus as a stunt biker he wants to provide for the son his only just discovered. Being told by his only friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to channel his skills to rob banks. Something that will later lead to his demise 45 mins into the film, muck like the ill-fated Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) Psycho 1960) killed off in the first half hour. This could both divide or bring and audience closer to the narrative as police officer Avery Cross (Cooper) on patrol intercepts Luke in the only scene they share together, passing on the baton of the film from one to another.
Becoming about Avery and his recovery from the shooting that takes out Luke so soon. Surrounded by family who have not had him around since the arrive of his own son. Wanting to return to work, a world that has a few corrupt cops led by Deluca (Ray Liotta) and Doc Crowley (Luca Pierucci) who go to the home of Romina (Eva Mendes) who Luke was trying to provide for. The off duty cops search the house for cash that was stolen. Invading their privacy and grief, whilst at the same time acting as a wake-up call for Avery a by the book cop, which smells heavily of Serpico (1973) playing out for a good half our before a sneaky deal is broken leading into the last third of the film.
A third which really takes sometime to get used to, as we move to the next generation, the sons of the men who we first met in the 1990’s, both 17 years, both from fragmented families. AJ (Emory Cohen) and Alex (Alex Pulling) meeting in high school, just by coincidence (well not really being in the same neighbourhood), one with a father who’s hardly in his life, having taken to drugs, whilst the other is beginning a life of petty crime, not really knowing who his real dad was. It feels like a little contrived at first putting them both together. Handled so well allowing the past of their fathers to catch-up and come full circle, the past was never really dealt with, a man was killed in the line of duty, not something that could have been avoided. It’s Alex who really has to deal with his past as he learns more about his dad, finally vengeance is being sought and delivered. Having been on hold all his life, closure is at hand. Leading to a confrontation that reminded me of Miller’s Crossing (1990) where scores were settled and lies were hidden.
I could say the film is original, but it’s not when you break it down begging, borrowing from other films to allow this otherwise fresh film alive. Maybe it’s a clever way of progressing the story. It shows the harsh reality of family life living with crime, from either side of that world, the police and criminals and those who are directly affected by their actions. Resolutions are sometimes left lingering if we just carry on and don’t deal with how they can change us. Was it worth the wait really when Gosling was killed off not even half way in? Yes and no, he was the main draw for me, yet his departure allows things to continue, they maybe partly recycled elements from other films which I can forgive to an extent too.
I have probably viewed one of the best films of recent times the other night, short in length yet make up for it in volume for what you get on-screen with Ryan Gosling who is indeed on fire in Drive (2011). Which sees a by day stunt driver and mechanic single handedly take on the world around him in Los Angles.
From the get go, we know we are in for a thrill-ride that like a race around town and many twist and turns, never looking back, always forward with the action. Pulling in for a few pit stops to take in an o-off romance with Irene (Carey Mulligan) who lives conveniently next door. We only know Goslings character by his job description, driver, opening up all kinds of possibilities for the audience who see man different men in combined into the lone man who wants to do what is right.
We first see Driver going about his night job as a getaway driver, staying impartial and cool under the pressure of the police pursuit that could draw the curtains on his night-time activities. He does it more for the thrill, knowing he has the upperhand, the skill to outsmart them, He treats it like a game or a science, with a radio tuned into the police frequency, whilst also listening to a game. One to distract him, the other to stay on top of it all , whilst he moves his car with great precision around night time L.A. Before we see the next day, him making a few bucks with his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) on film set. A man who means well to all he meets, throughout his life getting in over his head and paying the concequences all the time. It seems that Cranston is in a period of great success, from the early 2000s with Malcolm in the Middle to more recent a cult success Breaking Bad. He can do no wrong. Here he is the champion of the lone man who drives the streets, Much like Robert De Niro‘s Travis years before in Taxi Driver (1973). Everyone needs someone to root for.
What could be seen as just another possible romance between neighbours Driver and single mother Irene with her son, whilst her husband is in jail, is something more than just another screen romance, complete with sexual tension that goes untapped until one other tense scene in a lift that is destroyed in seconds. He wants to be there for a woman who wants the company of a man, whilst feeling obligated to her husband Standard (Oscar Issac) who is soon released from jail. The final element that brings everything that has been building to the epic second half. All the strands which could have been passing character start to come together. From the racing car syndicate owned by Shannon and Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his gang ties with Nino (Ron Pearlman).
It’s Goslings presence as a macho driver complete with racing jacket of the scorpion that makes this all worth while, biting back in brutal fashion against all those who cross him. Wanting to get his neighbours out of an awful situation. Wearing it with pride, like a suit of armour that brings him more than just protection, it transforms him into a street fighter who can take on the world and all that it throws at him. Fighting for good, wanting to be fair to those who deserve it, which is reversed to the criminals who want to destroy the lives of innocent people.
Complete with heavy eighties tones of style and soundtrack that transports us to a world of speed and danger, the thrills of live on the edge whilst want to skirt away from it. A tender and techno soundtrack that emphasises the lone driver and the heroine who doesn’t know she’s being saved. Gosling becomes a Brando-esque figure who wants to save Mulligan’s princess from the thieves below her castle tower.
The sparse dialogue is made up in volumes by the beautiful driving scenes that just happen and drift us through the film, gliding through the city with purpose in grand style of youth and living on the edge. A film that is rare these days, Gosling is lucky for now to work in mainly independent films that are benefiting his career, a turn at Batman in the next few years may change all that, unless he keeps his eyes open to the fresh scripts that can go unnoticed and forgotten. Thank god for Gosling.