REVIEW – BLADE RUNNER 2049

REVIEW – BLADE RUNNER 2049 – La La Land sequel sets dour tone.

In Blade Runner 2049, Ryan Gosling returns to LA but now it is no longer ‘Another Day of Sun’. Rather it is rainy and sometimes snowy and sometimes dusty and always misty. Following a thirty five year break here is the Blade Runner sequel no one actually asked for. The good news is that it isn’t awful. Gosling is the replicant cop – no ‘is or isn’t he?’ nonsense here – who must hunt down runaway versions of his own kind and dispatch them. When he comes across a body buried in the ground, he finds himself unearthing LITERALLY a secret that could have huge ramifications on the world.

So the good things are as follows. It looks good. Roger Deakins and Denis Villeneuve have done a bang up job of filming the noir elements and making the world of the near future look real. Gosling is fine. His C3PO impression is well within his range. There’s not much Harrison Ford. As with his return as Han Solo, I find Mr ‘Which Runway?’ increasingly plays himself in a way that is distracting. And the story is interesting and well realized.

The bad things are niggles. So in love with its own visual flair, the pacing does drift into prolonged gazing at itself. The procedural detective work just involves Gosling going places slowly. And I didn’t like the way the film tries to be bigger. The original film was about Deckard killing four replicants. Not much was at stake. He didn’t even reallly have to do it. The new film posits the possibility of a revolution or war and epochal change. Weirdly this largeness is incomplete feeling as if it’s setting up another chapter. Jared Leto’s baddie is a creepy Jesus guy but his sporadic appearances feel like something wasn’t quite worked out.

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QUANTUM OF SOLACE IS THE BEST BOND MOVIE EVER

HOLLYWOOD – Daniel Craig’s second outing as secret agent 007 Quantum of Solace has been widely reviled but is actually the best Bond movie ever.

I’m putting it on the line here. Everyone had high expectations for the follow up to Daniel Craig’s brilliant debut as James Bond Casino Royale. But when Quantum of Solace hit the screens in 2008 there was a sense of dismay as Bond went too Bourne, Marc Foster’s hyper kinetic direction and  a sense of general confusion marred what should have been a triumphant second chapter. Many blamed the script strike which had Daniel Craig and Mathieu Amalric  trying to put scenes together themselves in the absence of a finished draft, or over enthusiasm on the part of the producers to cash in on the success of the first film.

However, re-watching Quantum of Solace I have to say it is the best Bond movie ever.  My reasons? Okay, if you insist.

The idea of starting the film directly from the end of Casino Royale sets the stage for the whole Craig cycle of Bond films. Of all the Bonds, Craig is unique in creating a through line and giving his character some genuine depth and development. In fact, even in Quantum of Solace, we see Craig change and learn. The only problem with this is that almost every Craig Bond is an origin story. Except perhaps Spectre, but even… well SPOILERS.

The film starts at 90 MPH and continues in pretty much the same vein all the way through. I admit that the first time I saw the film I found it difficult to keep track but every repeated viewing is a revelation. The action sequences have no fat on them at all. The lean economy means that Foster’s version is the shortest Bond at only an hour and a half and there’s something truly admirable by the way it disposes of car, boat and airplane chases without lingering for a second or giving you multiple angles when one will do.The fights are suitably brutal and even Bond skipping out of a hotel is done with such careless elan as to deserve a round of applause.

The script. Okay, there was this whole thing about the writer’s strike, but I like the confusion, the murk is curiously fitting. And this is the Bond with the least quips, frankly a part of the whole franchise that reached its apotheosis with Goldfinger’s ‘shocking’ and has been on a law of diminishing returns ever since. With not much talking, the long winded exposition goes out of the window and instead we have a series of pithy summaries. M (Judi Dench) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) actually get some really interesting political scenes to play with and this is one of the more subtle Bond films when it comes to assessing the geopolitical role of the secret service in the pre-Snowden but post 9/11 world.

Olga Kurylenko is a great character and doesn’t sleep with Bond and the characters around Bond begin to form a consistently believable universe, including Matthias (Giancarlo Giannini) and Mr. White (Jesper Christensen). And although Skyfall was rightly praised for Roger Deakins’ cinematography, but Roberto Schaefer’s camera work is stunning. The scene at the Austrian Opera House is beautifully done, impressionistic almost with the soundtrack dropping out. All the locations are given a sumptuous treatment, with Haiti and Sienna captured marvelously, and never has the desert seemed so parched.

Okay I will admit that the exploding hotel is a problem and is where the film rather depressingly reverts to type. Something has to blow up towards the end, but a hotel seems a tad random and here we really feel the lack of ideas. However, that said almost all Bond films have disappointing finales where everything goes boom and the baddie gets his. Pyrotechnics taking over from any real sense of satisfactory conclusion. In fact it is the quiet coda in a snowy Russia which is the real conclusion of the film and a deeply satisfying one at that.

I recognize I’m swimming against the tide of Bond opinion here and will be happy to read any comments you might have below and respond to them, if I can.

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SICARIO – REVIEW

SICARIO – REVIEW: Denis Villeneuve’s cross border thriller is a dark, complex investigation into the front line of the drug war.

Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, a Police officer who graduates from kicking in doors to join a special task force led by Josh Brolin’s amoral agent Matt. Matt is unconventional and so is his squad. The flipflop wearing dudester is obviously into rule breaking, with some kind of blessing from on high and we’re prepared for a classic Hollywood narrative as the young straight laced rookie learns to bend the rules to get results, getting a little crooked on the way. But like many things with Sicario, expectations are raised only to be subverted. Lines are crossed as well as borders as the team motor into a Mexico town to collect a potential witness, a  thundering convoy into a hellish Mexican town is executed with brutal excitement, an almost documentary immersion into the world.  A fog of compromise and doubt pervades the movie, which each character tries to cut through in their own way. The half-light of the Mexico-US border is caught by Roger Deakins amazing cinematography that imbues proceedings with a the kind of badlands noir that No Country for Old Men hinted at.

Another member of the squad is the apparently stateless  Alejandro, played by a magnificent Benico Del Toro. No one is sure where he comes from or what his relationship is to the cartels, or what his legal role is. And he glowers with the kind of dark history of a dead man walking, an instrument of darkness who Matt employs but never truly controls. Former TV actor Taylor Sheridan has crafted a screenplay that provides the sort of grim fare that made the Seventies brilliant and Emily Blunt does her best to maintain her calm even as the film veers away from her and into much darker territory. By the end we don’t really know where we are and for the first time, I was genuinely looking forward to the Blade Runner sequel.

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